University of Arizona “Piety Center” Newsletter - by David Foster Wallace and Jt. Jackson
This is way outside the focus of this blog, but I didn’t know where else to share it.
This afternoon I had a three hour conversation over coffee with Jt. (pronounced Jate) Jackson, a good friend of David Foster Wallace’s when they were students together at The University of Arizona. The two of them were sort of rabble-rousers at U of A. The were in the Masters program together and some some major differences with the Faculty and Administration at the school. They put together the above newsletter parody of U of A’s Poetry Center called The Piety Center. (Notice the multiple puns on the cover - Department of Slanglish, University of Aridzona). Wallace wrote and edited most of it. I got to skim it, although out of context it didn’t make a lot of sense. It mostly takes aim at other students and some faculty in the MFA program, including a entire page full of lightbulb jokes written by Dave. They published it anonymously although Jackson was identified as one of the culprits, being the one whose job it was to distribute the newsletter to the campus mailboxes. Most of the students took it as good-natured fun but some humorless members of the faculty took issue with it. While Wallace was able to retain his anonymity, the administration used it as an excuse to flunk Jackson out of the MFA program.
Jackson is a very interesting guy. He claims that the character of Michael Pemulis is partly based on him. It was Jackson who invited Dave over one day to listen to record of a local Arizona musician named Michael Pemulis, whose name Wallace appropriated for one of Infinite Jest’s most popular characters. I asked Jackson if he still had that record and he said that he still owned a copy of a worn cassette but that a friend of his owned a vinyl LP. I’m hoping Jackson will be able to dig that up because it would be an interesting artifact for Infinite Jest fans.
Jackson himself is quite a character. He looks like an older, more intellectual, version of the X-Men’s Wolverine. He formerly served in the Marine Corps as a machine gunner. Like Wallace, he claims that he used to be capable of complicated math, but lost that ability after a near fatal car accident. He also told me lots of stories about Wallace’s younger days and said that his relationship with Wallace informed a lot of Wallace’s earlier stories in The Girl With Curious Hair.
I asked how a former Marine grew into such a rebel. “It’s a long story, but I was set up to be good.” Then he told me a story of how he walked onto a military base as a Sergeant with a military ID in a Jodie Foster’s Army t-shirt, which featured a bullseye painted on the forehead of the beloved then-president Reagan. Needless to say, he was asked by a superior officer to change clothes before he would be allowed on the base.
While I’ve only been a David Foster Wallace fan for about a year, it was still quite a treat to speak with someone so close to one of my favorite writers.