Happy Insomniac Writes Inappropriate Celebrity Correspondence!

by Karen Gsteiger and Mandy

Because Karen and Mandy are tag-team writing this article, to make things more readable, Karen will write like this, and Mandy will write like this. Got it? Good.

Lately I've noticed that I've become a bit celebrity obsessed. I blame the tediousness of my day job and the existence of Defamer and Gawker (and yes, I keep up with current events, so kindly lay off if you're going to go all self-righteous on me). If I've got my choice between proofreading diligently or making fun of Tom Cruise, well...

Mandy and I have never been good around celebrities. We both get overexcited, and Mandy kinda goes paparazzi if she's got a camera in her hand, and my mind starts churning out bizarre inquiries. Either that, or I'm like Ralphie facing Santa Claus in A Christmas Story. Paralyzed, stuttering, terrified. We never, ever, ever play it cool. Recently we were at the House of Blues before a Psychedelic Furs concert when our waiter quietly informed us that Nicholas Cage had just walked into the room. He was filming out at Northwestern at the time, as I recall. Mandy and I were both very, "Nicholas Cage!!!" She was getting that look in her eye, and I totally would have gone along with whatever she wanted to do, but fortunately we were kept in check by my husband and Sam. Probably would have been a better anecdote for this essay though if we had made assholes out of ourselves. It's important for you to understand that I will not hesitate to be an asshole for Happy Insomniac, as long as it does not result in my arrest. (For the record, Nicholas Cage looks exactly as he does in the movies, and he was gesticulating in an interesting manner.)

I think in my case, though, this phenomenon goes somewhat deeper. I never knew much about my Swiss grandfather, Adolf. He died (along with the majority of my father's side of the family) when I was very young. He was by all accounts often a difficult man to live with. I like to think that he and I had a special bond, though. When I was presented to him shortly after my birth, my "Oompah" (my family's bastardized version of "Opa") happily proclaimed, "She's a Guernsey heifer!" (He was a dairy farmer.) I made him play with me until I absolutely wore him out. He was my pal, and too bad I only have one distinct memory of him. I think I took German in high school partially to make him proud (even though he was long deceased and even though I wouldn't have understood a word of whatever dialect he probably spoke). He was a bit of a cipher, though. Lots of unasked questions and repression. He lived to lose one son to World War II and one to cancer in the 1980s. He had a strained relationship with my Uncle Richard. And it was not until Uncle Richard's death that we learned Oompah was totally, totally celebrity obsessed. Well, at least with one celebrity in particular. In one of my previous blog entries, I said it was Debbie Reynolds, but it was actually Dinah Shore. Going through my family's old papers and photographs, I came across the most extraordinary letter: a fan letter, returned to sender, sent by my Grandpa to Ms. Shore in care of CBS TV. It was sent in 1980, so my grandpa was undoubtedly writing out of a senile haze, but we had heard stories that he was particularly fixated on Dinah Shore throughout his life. The most interesting thing about this letter, approximately nine handwritten pages, is that he doesn't once address his admiration of her talent or her accomplishments. Instead he relates some story about a trip to California during which he was stopped by a police officer for jaywalking. He also alludes to some secret of vim and vigor in old age, which he claims to possess but does not reveal in the letter: "That is my strickt secret I said. I would like to know that secret. [the officer] said. There is no use in telling you that secret. I said. You wouldn't believe me anyway and further more you would not follow the rules."

So maybe this letter is something that some family members would bury as an embarrassing skeleton. It is without a doubt the single most interesting letter in our collection. I just think, geez, now I know where I get it from, at least. Oompah understood the essence of Inappropriate Celebrity Correspondence. So the rest of this essay is dedicated to him.

Like Karen, celebrity correspondence is in my DNA. My mother has long maintained that as a girl, my Aunt Patty sent a fan letter to Ringo Starr. This was allegedly before the birth of his first child. My mother thinks it's no coincidence that Ringo named his son Zak after receiving a fan letter from one Patty Zak. From whence I come, people, from whence I come.

Thank God for the Internet, is all I have to say. It's now easier than ever to send Inappropriate Celebrity Correspondence, and what's better, many celebrities seek out this kind of interaction with their fans. Because I want to make one thing clear...we only contact celebrities through channels that they approve of and never seek out private and personal information. We don't bother them all that often, and we don't get all crazy. Hopelessly nerdy and awkward? Yes. Threatening? No. Stalking is not cool, folks. Let's keep it light and lively, shall we?

So let's take a look at some of our absurd interactions with the famous and successful:

Eric Idle (Karen's Celebrity Crush #13!), Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin

Pythonline used to have the coolest message board that there ever was and ever will be. You could write questions to the Pythons--THE Pythons!--and there was a good chance that you would receive a response! Eric Idle, the fan's patron saint, was most prolific, but the Terrys would occasionally log in as well.

The best thing about Pythonline was that absurdity was expected and encouraged. It kind of ruined me for celebrity interactions thereafter, but it's the reason that the Pythons have such a special place in my heart.

Mandy and I had this very silly running debate. She maintained that George Harrison was the "moody" Beatle, and I disagreed. I knew George to be a huge Python friend and patron. Life of Brian would never have been made without George's financial intervention. Anyone who is that into comedy can't be that moody, right?

I know that a scant ten years ago or so, I had many reasons to believe that George Harrison was the moody Beatle. However, since his passing, and with age, I have let my stance slide a bit. As best as I can recall, I thought Mr. Harrison was "moody" (and we always used that word, never any synonyms) mainly because of an article I'd read (God knows where) that stated people had been trespassing on George's Hawaiian property. Because of this, the Quiet Beatle was quoted as saying, "They're raping me." What? That's a bit of a leap, doncha think?

The other reason being that I mistook cynicism for moodiness. Looking at George's contributions to the Beatle catalogue, none of his songs were "favorites." You'd have to work for the IRS to love "Taxman." And don't get me started on "Only a Northern Song." The song that was the most telling and that I never appreciated (because I never read the lyrics) was "I Me Mine." I probably first heard this one when I was 14. And I thought it was one big word "imemine," whose definition eluded me. And if you hear it, he *totally, totally* sounds depressed. "all through the day, imemeine, imemime, imemine." He sounds like a man who had given up on hope. Only in the last four or so years have I learned this song was actually a dig at John Lennon and Paul McCartney and their egos. "all through the day, I, me, mine. I, me, mine." Oh, damn, George was the subversive ballsy one. Who knew? But my ignorance gave birth to several Inappropriate Celebrity Encounters.


We finally decided to take the issue to the Pythons, people who actually knew George Harrison and who were available to be asked. To Eric, I wrote the following:

"Dear Eric, I wouldn't normally write to you about such a silly, trivial matter, but a friend of mine is absolutely convinced that George Harrison is moodier than 30% of the population. I tend to disagree. Since you actually know him, could you settle this for us once and for all? Thanks so much for your time! Strewth!"

Eric, God bless 'im, responded:

"30% than the population of where? I need a few stats to make a judgment here. Moodier than Melbourne? More melancholy than Manhattan? More morose than Moosehead? In any case I certainly hope so. Imagine being more frivolous than Frisco? Or sunnier than Sun City. Or duller than Deluth. George is mainly known for being the quiet one, which is of course a big joke since he never stops talking...Best E"

Sigh...that just makes me smile. At a signing for the book Road to Mars (a very funny novel, btw), we had Eric autograph a printout of this correspondence. I'm not quite sure what he wrote on it...it kind of looks like, "To Karen, I'm the fab four nice one" or something like that. I don't know. I've gotten Eric's autograph a couple of times, and I immediately go into Ralphie mode and try to run away as quickly as possible.

Anyway, that didn't quite settle things "once and for all." We also asked Terry Gilliam on Pythonline. I can't find that printout at the moment, but as I recall, Terry Gilliam dispelled accusations of Harrison moodiness and pointed out that George was an avid gardener.

Most infamously, however, was when Mandy and I went to a Michael Palin booksigning (for Hemingway's Chair, also a very funny novel!). Michael was the first Python I met in person, and although I was studying in Bloomington, IN at the time, I rented a car to make a special trip back to Chicago just for this event. We sat in a very long line and waited and waited and waited, but as soon as Michael strode into the room, my brain immediately turned to jelly. I was absolutely petrified! When it was finally my turn in line, it was as though someone had super-glued my teeth together, "Hi, Mr. Palin," I said inaudibly through clenched jaws. I had him autograph his novel and the Holy Grail screenplay. Mandy, who is not anti-Python but is not enchanted with them to the point of stupefaction, was in charge of photography. She promptly blinded him with the camera flash. We then asked The Pressing Question. Michael looked very confused and then thoughtfully replied, "He has his moods, like anyone else. But he's a very funny man." Bystanders tittered. We fled.

So there you have it, folks. Three out of five surviving Pythons say that George Harrison was not moody. And that's good enough for me.

Neal Pollack

It's 12:36 a.m., and I'm starting to run out of gas. So I'll let Mandy take the reins on this one:

Neal Pollack, formerly the World's Greatest Living Writer, is someone I have favored for both personal and professional reasons for about two to three years now. A few friends and I used to have a book club, NOBO (Non Oprah Book Organization), and through this club, I came to read a Pollack selection. The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature has been referred to as the "book that killed NOBO," but I really enjoyed it and soon found myself checking in with Neal via his blog and eagerly attending a reading of Never Mind the Pollacks. It was at this reading that Neal endeared himself personally. He agreed to be interviewed, and his answers were amusing and insightful. From time to time, I'll run across a Pollack piece, and think "oh, goody."

Lately, I've been getting my Pollack fix on Salon. On this site, Neal has described his need for antidepressants, his concern for Dave Chappelle, and his worries about his son being expelled from preschool. The last item caused quite a stir among readers, and it inspired a brief and surprisingly normal correspondence between Karen and Neal. (Karen's note: In essence, I wrote, "Blah, blah, blah, I got your back!" Neal wrote, "Thanks.")

Well, happy insomniacs, I got a new gig. You may have noticed I haven't written an iota since May. June has been very eventful for me. The only drawback is that I can no longer spend my work days surfing the net. So when Karen mentioned last week that Neal was going through a rough patch, I had to write to him. Even though I really didn't know what was going on. (Karen's note: I very briefly and very badly summarized the hoopla around the preschool article and Neal's New York Times essay "Persona" and Dave Eggers' response to this article.)

Oh, and Karen and I have a history of asking celebs to let us buy them a thai dinner. (Karen's note: I don't know that we have a "history," per se. There was just that one indie band we interviewed in an extremely unprofessional manner. No one, no one, no one, no one is going to take up our email offer of a Thai dinner, and we know that. Now it's kind of turning into a tradition, though. We don't mean to come across as stalker-ish. We're just generous with our spring rolls.)

Mandy's Letter to Neal:

From: Mandy
Sent: Wednesday, June 22, 2005 10:21 AM
To: Neal Pollack
Subject: Well Wishes and Support

"Dear Neal,

I just wanted to send you a letter of good cheer. I don't really know all of the sordid details, but I hear you're having another topsy turvy week. I recently started a new job, and thus, have not been able to surf the internet ad infinitum as I had for the last 6 years. I am aware you are on Wellbutrin (good for you!) and that your son was kicked out of preschool/daycare for biting others, and that Salon readers have been harsh to say the least. What I don't really know about is the spat with Dave "war on snark" Eggers. I want you to know that when you marry someone named or are named Vida Vendela Vavoom, you're just asking for the snark to come pouring in. you really are. So if you said something snarky, I applaud you. Hey, we met briefly at a reading of "Never Mind the Pollacks" at Quimby's in Chicago. You were even so kind as to do a "5 question interview" with my friend Karen (who has also sent you correspondence) and myself. You described your worst date as "Rebel Without A Cause and incessant farting." Anyway, we really enjoyed meeting and speaking briefly with you on that night. If you ever come to Chicago, Karen and I would love to take you and your wife out for thai food. There's a great place near Quimby's called Roong. We could have panang curry and spring rolls.

I also want you to know that I love the "bad sex" column.

Behind you 100%,


Neal thanked me for the kind wishes and alerted me that he was in fact coming to town later this year. The offer for Thai food and the subject of Dave Eggers were conspicuously ignored.

One last note from Karen on Neal Pollack: Every time I have interacted with him, I have had an enjoyable experience. He is a very talented writer and a real mensch. Probably the most approachable and least egotistical writer I have ever met, and I've met a LOT of (wannabe) male dickhead writers. Stop giving him flack on his parenting or his persona and buy his autobiography when it comes out, okay?

Trent Reznor (Karen's Celebrity Crush #298!)

One of the most dangerous places on the web is nin.com's "Access" page, where you can ask Trent Reznor questions like a Magic 8 ball. Sometimes he even answers them like a Magic 8 ball. It's so easy to submit questions, and c'mon, who wouldn't want to know Trent's opinions on all manner of topics? It takes considerable restraint not to ask, "Hey, I magically gained three pounds last night. Do you think it's water retention?" It's hard, though, to attract his attention (or his intern's) when you've got millions of the Three Types of Nine Inch Nails fans all asking him questions at the same time. What are the Three Types of Nine Inch Nails fans, you might ask? 1) The Musical Techno-Geeks: "On 'Into the Void' did you use a ME368X-9 or a PR9417-P for the gurgling effects?" 2) The Lust-Crazed (with whom I sympathize) who don't so much ask questions most of the time: "OMG, Trent, you're sooooooooo hot. I want to copulate with you in the manner of a beast." 3) The Broken, Suicidal, Tortured Poets (who also do not ask questions): "Every day is a painful reminder of the falseness of everyone else's happiness. I have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Btw, Trent, you're really hot."

I had asked some somewhat legit questions that have so far been ignored, and I was going to leave well enough alone. Until all of a sudden, Trent started expressing a strange animosity towards Germany. Not terribly surprising, I suppose, that he would hold a bit of a grudge against those who famously threw sausage at him when he was opening for Guns and Roses. But he managed to keep it in check until recently. It was when the phrase, "Deutschland kann meinen Kugelsack lecken" (rough translation: Germany can lick my scrotum" although "Hodensack" would be the correct term) appeared on his website that I just had to get to the bottom of the matter and perhaps extend a German-American olive branch. (And I have the authority to do this because my friend's father informed me at a wedding that I was "mehr deutsch als amerikanisch")

So when I was running late one morning last weekend, I hastily typed the following (to the best of my recollection):

"Oh, is there anything that can improve relations between Deutschland and the People's Republic of Trent?

Here are a couple of haikus:

Germany isn't
so bad. It can't be worse than,
say, Antarctica.

Ach, du lieber! Trent
isn't having a good time.
Here, have a pretzel.

Take care.


Or at least, that's what I intended to write. God, I hope there weren't any egregious typos...then again, this is the guy who kept saying "have chose" on The Fragile, so I'm not going to take any grammatical shit from him.

Anyway, we'll see what goes down. There's got to be at least one "WTF is your beef with Germany?" question on the next "Access" update. If he actually responds to my question, he'll earn 5,000 crush bonus points. 50,000 crush bonus points if he replies in haiku form.

Billy Corgan

Speaking of haikus...oh dear.

Billy Corgan is another of my favorite rock gods from the '90s who has decided to communicate with the masses. You can check out his "Confessions" on his website to read poignant tales of his (at times) unpleasant childhood and his eternal love for Jimmy Chamberlain. He has also graciously set up a MySpace site, where you can listen to his album for free!

You know, I wasn't even initially intending to take the "Billy Corgan's on MySpace" bait, but then I thought, oh, it would be good for this essay, and I think that was my Icarus moment.

The night before I emailed him, I had had one of my migraine thing-eys, where I was alternately experiencing a throbbing head and nausea (and still managed to hammer out a movie review!). So I was up most of the night, not even taking into account my normal dysfunctional sleep patterns (the "happy insomniac" theme is not just me being cute, folks), and if I had gotten four hours of sleep that night, I would consider myself lucky. Probably not the best state in which to send unsolicited email to a celebrity. But I was itching to write this essay just because the topic tickles me so, thus, I hammered out the following:

"Dear Mr. Corgan:

I hope all is well with you! Thanks for making yourself so accessible to your fans. I've been enjoying your website.

As the founder and editor of a literary website (http://www.happyinsomniac.com), I am currently working on an essay with a friend of mine about absurd correspondence with celebrities, and as fellow Chicagoans, we could not in good conscience leave you out. So here are some haikus that I wrote just for you, counting out the syllables on my hands while driving to work:

I work in a small
windowless office. Your music
has enhanced my life.

Your confessions are
enthralling. It's weird
when you talk sex, though.

I would see you in
concert, but I dropped the ball
on buying tickets.

Good luck to you with
the Pumpkins reunion. I
would eat that shit up.

That's it...I hope that this hasn't been too painful of an intrusion. Take care and good luck with everything you're doing.


Karen Gsteiger"

Which, you know, is stupid. But that was the whole point, and I was feeling pretty pleased with the whole project and was getting on with my work day (because contrary to how it appears in this essay, I do have a life of my own), when I had one of those chilling "Wait a minute" moments. I reviewed the email and to my horror realized that I had totally fucked up the syllabification of the first two haikus. (A more accurate term would probably be "syllable allotment," but "syllabification" seems more satisfying to me.)

Wha???? Why???? How???? I mean...how many fucking haikus have I written in the past couple of months??? I wrote three the night before...how could I possibly violate the 5,7,5 rule at this point? Now I look like a dorked-out moron who can't count on her own hand.

I thought and thought and thought about this unhappy situation. Chances are, he'll never read it. Chances are, even if he did, he wouldn't notice. Perhaps I should just accept that Trent got the superior rock star haikus.

On the other hand, it would give me more fodder for this essay if I wrote an even stupider email. So I did.

"Dammit, Janet, I'm sorry to bother you again, but I recently realized that I totally fucked up the syllabification of those goofy haikus I sent you for the sake of absurdity. Now while math may not be my strong suit, I can still count.

Please accept these amended haikus and my regards:

I work in a small
windowless office. Your songs
have enhanced my life.

Your confessions are
enthralling. It's kinda weird
when you talk sex, though.

And a special bonus haiku because I feel like an asshole.

It's dorky to send
unsolicited haikus
to Billy Corgan.

Thanks for all you do.


Jesus, what a mess. I'll be happy to put this one behind me. Thank God he probably received approximately 11,346 equally dorked-out emails today.

So that's all for the "Inappropriate Celebrity Correspondence" report for today. I'm sure that this piece will be updated over time. Because if Mandy and I are in the vicinity of a celebrity, you know we will do or say something completely asinine.