Magazine Goodness


A couple of magazine articles well worth your time… a shockingly sincere essay from a comedian in Men’s Health and a perfectly Saunders-esque description of a quest to Nepal in GQ.

I haven’t seen Craig Ferguson on CBS’ The Late Late Show and I previously didn’t know a damned thing about him. But if he ever writes a book, I’ll be the first one in line to buy it. In the June 2006 issue of Men’s Health, Ferguson provides a moving essay about the passing of his father. Ferguson realizes that he’s now the male at the wheel, with no one to give advice or make the tough decisions. And, he argues, it is a reassuring feeling.

Ferguson’s essay is poignant. He describes his trans-Atlantic flights to Glasgow to be with his father in the final days. “My father knew that he was dying. He had esophageal cancer that had spread to his liver. You just don’t walk away from that.” Without becoming maudlin or sappy, Ferguson emotionally examines what it means to be a man and to watch your guidepost slip away.

At the risk of spoiling the essay, I’m going to provide the final parts of it. This passage should give you an idea of how soulful this piece is.

I was a pallbearer at my father’s funeral a few days later. Scotland is an old country, and there are traditions to be observed. As my father’s cortege drove from the church to the graveyard, I sat in the car following the hearse, holding my mother’s hand. People at bus stops and by the roadside bowed their heads in respect. Deliverymen and commuters slowed their vehicles and kept clear, honoring the passing of things, and I became grateful once again to be from these people. Sometimes, to my shame, I have forgotten this.

Life is full of joy and sadness, but the death of my father was no tragedy. That I carried his coffin that day was a blessing. Fathers should die before their sons, and when I go, I want my son to carry me. God forbid it should be the other way.

So I am strangely reassured by my father’s passing. He raised me, I loved him, and when his time came, I got to say goodbye. This is how it plays if you are lucky. After the funeral, I did what my father wanted me to do. I returned home to raise my son right.

Longtime readers probably recall my interview with George Saunders. His new book, In Persuasion Nation, is drawing rave reviews. I haven’t read it yet, but his article, The Incredible Buddha Boy, in the June 2006 issue of GQ reminds me of just how much I love Saunders’ work. An editor asked Saunders if he would trek to Nepal to investigate a 15-year-old boy who had supposedly been meditating for seven months without food or water.

Many people think the boy is a prophet, or even God (in one form or another) himself. Critics contend the boy is nothing but a hoax designed to steal money from pilgrims and people desperate for hope. The hardest thing to get over is the claim that he has gone without sustenance for seven months. Early in the piece, Saunders deftly puts this extraordinary feat into perspective in a very sly way.

The article begins with Saunders recounting his trip. He details his long flight to Vienna, where he will catch a connection to Katmandu. Still fresh off my own bit of flying across the world, I was squirming in my seat with Saunders’ description. And then after he sets you up, he hits you with the whole reason for the description in the first place.

Then I begin having Restless Leg Syndrome, Restless Arm Syndrome, and even a little Restless Neck Syndrome. Gosh, am I thirsty. Boy, is my breath going to be bad when this stupid experiment is over. I imagine a waterfall that does not have to be requested via the stern flight attendant but just comes on automatically when I press a button on the overhead console marked MINTY WATER.

The mind is a machine that is constantly asking: Which would I prefer? Close your eyes, refuse to move, and watch what your mind does. What it does is become discontent with that-which-is. A desire arises, you satisfy that desire, and another arises in its place. This wanting and rewanting is an endless cycle for which, turns out, there is already a name: samsara…

I know this. But I’m still full of desire. I want my legs to stop hurting. I want something to drink. I even kind of want another hot roll.

Seven months, I think? This kid has been sitting there seven months?

It’s easy to become jaded with the slicks these days. It seems like too many magazines provide endless coverage of the latest teen feud (this week its Brandon Davis versus Lindsay Lohan) and empty advice that makes you feel worse that you did before reading it. But these two articles, one by a writer previously unknown to me and one by a master, are enough to restore some faith for a while.

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