Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Evening at the Columbus Circle Borders: Geoff Wolinetz, Nick Jezarian, and Josh Abraham's "Underrated"

We might have a special affinity with things that are underrated because we once found ourselves, along with our friends Michael Martone, Benjamin Kunkel and Halldór Laxness, on a list at something called the Underrated Writers Project, where mention was made of "the publishing world's inexplicable shunning of his iconoclastic talent." (Our subsequent critical acclaim and best-seller status resulted in our being dropped from the 2007 list.)

Anyway, now that we've got that nasty bit of self-pitying self-promotion out of the way, we can tell you that we've just returned from the most underrated cultural, civic or miscellaneous event we've attended all summer. Yes, we were at Columbus Circle, in the Time Warner Center's Borders bookstore, at the authors' talk and book signing of Underrated by Yankee Pot Roast editors Geoff Wolinetz, Nick Jezarian and Josh Abraham (in reverse alphabetical order - also Geoff did the most work and while the others like Josh, you know, he's not really their favorite).

Yankee Pot Roast, of course, has been running hilarious daily features since its creation five years ago by these creative guys as their own comedy showcase after they spent many hours goofing off at work sending each other amusing stuff they'd written, only to discover that every website then in existence would reject it.

They've since featured work by many brilliant wits and a few half-wits like this "elderly recluse who leaves his apartment only for daily mall-walks in Brooklyn's Kings Plaza Shopping Center."

And their work on Y.P.R. brought Geoff, Nick and the other guy fame, fortune and the interest of a producer of Afropunk music -- no, wait, we've mixed up our memo pads from covering events this summer -- ahem, the interest of a book publisher, or some underpaid trustafarian at a publishing company we've never heard of who convinced his boss to look at their ultra-funny "birthday cards to celebrities," a recurring feature at their website.

This top-ranking editor stayed up all night reading their stuff and laughing so hard that he called them from the hospital the next morning saying he wanted to do a book of them, but then, after they'd worked many drug-and-alcohol-fueled hours on the project...well, this is a book publishing story, dammit, and they all end up the same way, with the editor leaving the publishing house and the writers hoping he'll take their book project to his new job but of course it's always in a different career other than the dying and hateful book publishing industry that inexplicably shuns underrated writers. In this case, the man started a vineyard.

But happy ending: he sent Geoff, Nick and, um, Josh, a case of wine. No, seriously, their agent pitches new ideas to the publishing house (which, we were joking, is not really unknown or obscure, except maybe to you) and the new editors, who manage to stay in their jobs because no one else will hire them, like this great idea for a book about things and people that are, da-da, underrated.

Like the Chipwich. Yeah, the three authors (dressed oddly differently, with Geoff in a T-shirt, Nick wearing a suit and tie, and Josh in a Fidel Castro outfit) began by evoking this legendary but underrated frozen dessert that we've actually never had, us being abstemious and un-obese since the 1980s and all.

And that came after a long and convoluted discussion of the mathematical formula they devised to create their index of underratedness and overratedness - with all kinds of variables related to arithmetic principles and signs that we don't understand any more than we did back in 1966-1968 Midwood High School, when we were forced to take eleventh grade math over three semesters in remedial class they called "fusion" (our poor seatmate Gil Hodges Jr. would cheat off us even though we kept telling him we hadn't a clue as to what cosines even were).

Frankly, we don't know what the Yankee Pot Roast guys were talking about, but the formula looks like this:

And it has, like, factors related to commercial and critical success and other scientifically verifiable principles. They accepted our stories, so they must know math and statistics, right?

And Geoff also explained how they did extensive research for the book using this amazing tool called "open source research" - which basically sounds like looking things up on Wikipedia to us, but then if we knew anything, we wouldn't be so shunned in publishing and reduced to publicizing the books of friends who are young enough to be our children if we had known their parents intimately back in the 1970s or 1980s or whenever Nick, Geoff and, um, the third one were born.

Anyway, they discussed other underrated things and argued a little, giving us a good feel for how they worked on the book and the complete disgust they must have for each other by now, though they have to hide it, of course, since they're trying to sell this book so they can write, of course, another book, Overrated, which will be much more fun since most people prefer to make fun and criticize others and their creations, which is the point of all blogs except this one.

Other underrated stuff like the Chipwich (which they compared to something called the Nutty Buddy, which we've never heard of and don't believe that any of the old Jewish people in the sparse Borders crowd had heard of either) includes The Godfather III (Nick, or maybe it was Josh, explained how Sofia Coppola's bad acting is actually a plus for that movie) and the War of 1812 (on this, the Y.P.R. guys were truly brilliant, having figured out that this important historical war would be more deservedly acclaimed if only it had been given a name, not just a year that actually is inaccurate since it lasted until 1814 and maybe later since one of them said the British and Americans kept fighting even after the truce because no one bothered to tell the troops that the war was over).

Underrated is truly a great book. It has blurbs by Neal Pollack (Neal Pollack!) and other famous and funny writers, and it features more underrated people and things like Donovan, U.S. Senate whips (we've heard about the one John and Cindy use to spice things up), the Indian Ocean and Futurama (which actually was a micro-neighborhood in Flatlands, in the East 50s between Avenues J and L, long before it was a cartoon show).

Also, the guys dedicated their book to Clint Howard, who is the patron saint of the underrated, who we have loved ever since he was a little kid on that TV show with the bear who, unfortunately, wasn't as popular as Andy Griffith.

Please buy Underrated and make Geoff, Nick and Josh and their relatives and girlfriends and Geoff's cute little dog, one of the few in attendance at the reading, happy. Their agent, Janet Rosen, was sitting next to us and pretending to be a total stranger so she could ask them if they thought guacamole was underrated, so it seems like they're really desperate to sell copies.

One wiseguy, the first person called upon during the question-and-answer period, asked if the authors really preferred the underrated, then did they look forward to sparse sales and mediocre reviews? The Underrated authors rose up and said definitely not. Then they shunned this jerk the rest of the evening. Isn't life wonderful!

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