Interview with Hank Stuever * Washington Post Reporter & Author of “Off Ramp”

SM: When was the last time you found yourself talking your way into trouble?

HS: At the District of Columbia’s DMV. I needed to change the address on my license and car tags and failed to bring in the exact three kinds of documented proof that I live where I say I live. (Like anyone would fake living in DC. Even terrorists.) I argued with them in my white-collar capital-M Man voice, which was exactly the wrong thing to do. They took particular delight in making the entire experience that much harder for me. I neglected my standard Zen approach to being a customer in line: Get in touch with the part of you that doesn’t care if you get what you came for.
Let that be your aura, let them sense the following: “I care less than you, the person behind the counter.” This approach works wonders, whether at CVS Pharmacy, the airport ticket counter and most delis.

SM: How do you make your way around an unpleasant party?

HS: With a notebook and a pen, and on deadline.

SM: When was the last time you found yourself high above the surface of the earth?

HS: US Airways, DC to Boston. More interesting, I think, is that in dreams I find myself soaring very low to the ground. Some people dream that they are flying, whereas I dream that I’m belly-down on a kind of large,
modified skateboard, doing 75 mph on the freeway, my chin about six inches from the ground. I weave in and out of, and underneath, traffic. I occasionally push my hands on the asphalt for momentum. It’s better than flying.

SM: When was the last time you performed a feat requiring copious amounts of nerve and courage?

HS: Live television comes to mind, but really that just requires a free morning and a ever-so-slightly-fake, peppy attitude.

SM: In the middle of the interview, an anecdote is requested.

HS: I was just on “The View” a few days ago, the morning TV show with four women all talking at once. Candace Bergen and Missy Elliott were the other guests that day, and we all waited off stage in this darkened living room/green room type place. I wore a dark gray suit and a baby blue crew neck sweater. I think the whole thing was worth it just to see the following — and immortal to me — words scroll across the TelePrompTer:

I kept repeating those words in my head all day.

SM: If we were to hire you to lecture on a topic of your choosing tomorrow to a crowded city street full of strangers, on what would you be speaking?

HS: Conspicuous piety. (Against.) It would be a rant on the times we live in, with the yellow cancer bracelets and patriotic ribbon magnets on SUVs and drywallers getting weepy on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” when discussing their own selfless acts of charity ad nauseum. My speech would be your basic contrarian claptrap. Then I would try to feed the people with loaves and fishes, only it would be something else … black-bean burritos I guess.

SM: What’s your preferred method of climbing trees? (If you have never climbed a tree, how do you suppose you would go about it?)

HS: Jump up and grab on to the lowest out-of-reach limb and lift legs up over limb and hoist self up, with ass-crack showing at this point. (Grace is not the point.) Mom always refused to boost me up into trees when I was a boy, insisting that you have to get up in the tree without any help, otherwise you’ll never get down.

SM: When was the last time you acted on an unusual urge?

HS: For months now I’ve been having this urge to be in a spectacular (though non-injurious) car wreck, so I’ve been looking into entering my car, a ’95 Ford Thunderbird with 107,000 miles on it, in a demolition derby in Maryland. (And the key part is I want to drive it myself in the derby.) I’m looking for a Karate Kid-type master demolition derby expert to take me under his tutelage and help me prep and reinforce and paint my car for competition.

SM: Please describe your voice to those of us who haven’t heard it.

HS: I have what some social linguists now call GA, for “gay accent,” which is basically that sort of wry, quick, and frequently effeminate lilt that most people hear in a man and think, “He’s gay.” Carson Kressley from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” has very high GA for example; Rock Hudson, at least in public, had low GA. Most gay men on television have slight traces of GA, zippily narrating their tasks of making over people’s homes, wardrobes, bodies. What’s interesting about GA is that linguists are discovering it in all cultures and languages. Hindu GA sounds like Japanese GA sounds like Oklahoma GA. No one has yet fully explained its origins or evolutionary significance.

SM: T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis and William Blake disappear, with a blinding flash, from the makeshift bathtub/time machine you spent the morning building together. How do you go about recovering these vanished authors?

HS: Wait, what just happened? Are they now erased from history’s memory, like they never existed? Or are they just “gone missing” and I’m going to be in serious trouble? If they’re now in a state of never having existed, I might look around, make sure the world is still pretty much as it was (minus the Chronicles of Narnia, etc.) and just walk away and whistle nonchalantly, because who’s going to know? They’ll find something else with which to torture high school English classes. Working from memory only (since there are no texts existing anymore), I suppose it’s now up to me to suggest “Cats” to Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’m not going to rush that, though.