“Fun With Substance”

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

At first, you have:

“fun with substance, then very gradually less fun, then significantly less fun because of like blackouts you suddenly come out of on the highway going 145 kph with companions you do not know, nights you awake from in unfamiliar bedding next to somebody who doesn’t even resemble any known sort of mammal, three-day blackouts you come out of and have to buy a newspaper to even know what town you’re in; yes, gradually less and less actual fun but with some physical need for the Substance, now, instead of the former voluntary fun; then at some point suddenly just very little fun at all, combined with terrible daily hand-trembling need, then dread, anxiety, irrational phobias, dim siren-like memories of fun, trouble with assorted authorities, knee-buckling headaches, mild seizures, and the litany of what Boston AA calls Losses … then more Losses, with the Substance seeming like the only consolation against the pain of mounting Losses, and of course you’re in Denial about it being the Substance that’s causing the very Losses it’s consoling you about—”—David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

A Sense of Loss

Huell Howser (1945-2013)

Huell Howser (1945-2013)

Every evening after dinner, I usually get on the computer and enter my income and expenditures on QuickBooks. During that time, about twelve feet from me, Martine watches one of Huell Howser’s TV shows on KCET, usually California’s Gold, California’s Green, or Visiting. What all three shows have in common is the amiable host paying homage to some locale or event or person connected with California.

People have made fun of Huell’s Tennessee drawl and his seeming naiveté in doing his interviews. There’s even a drinking game in which the participants have to take a swig every time Huell says “Wwwwwooooowwww!” or or “Gooooolllllllyyyyyy!” or “That’s amazing” or “historic” or any number of other of his habitual expressions.

Many were the times I would walk away from my computer and sit next to Martine because I found myself getting interested in one of his interviews. Over the years, Huell and I have visited many of the same places—because Huell got me hooked.

But now we no longer have Huell Howser, because he died yesterday in Palm Springs at the age of sixty-seven. He had retired in September from his show, sparking rumors that he was being forced out. Despite his approachability, however, the Tennessean was a private person who was fighting a long illness which was getting the upper hand.

Both Martine and I feel a sense of loss. In a city where there are not many really likeable public figures, everybody loved Huell. And he loved California and delighted in introducing interesting sidelights of his adopted state to anyone who would listen. And listen we did. For KCET, insofar as I’m concerned, he was the whole station’s raison d’être. When some people leave us, they leave behind a gaping hole. Who can replace someone so amiable, so knowledgeable, so adventurous, and withal such a character as Huell?

I know that his shows will continue to be watched in reruns. He will continue to influence our road trips through the State of California, especially in our Southern California neck of the woods. A neck of the woods that somehow has gotten more lonely without Huell to appreciate them.

To get a flavor of his shows, watch this video on YouTube (about a dog that eats avocados). And read this tribute that appeared in today’s Los Angeles Times.