I knew that I had to meet and have a beer with Portland author and editor, Brian Doyle, when I saw the Portland Tribune article – “An Egghead Walks Into a Bar.” It reports on his work with University of Portland alum and inventor, John Beckman, to create what has become the annual Brian Doyle Scholarships in Gentle & Sidelong Humor – $3,333.33 per student for one academic year, during which the multiple recipients must create and publicly share a project of some sort that “brings the community together in laughter…”
According to Brian, who is the Editor of the University’s award-winning magazine, “The Humor Project” makes UP, the only university of its kind to have this type of project, and affirms a key personal philosophy – “Humor defeats fatuous pomposity and arrogance.” Realizing that Doyle’s talents are creativity and marketing – not administration, one of Beckman’s stipulations was that Brian was to be integrally involved, but not in charge of the project!
Reinforcing my intent to have a brewski with him was the quote in the preface to Doyle’s book, Osama Bin Laden’s Bald Spot. After one of its short stories, “Hurtgen,” won a national award from the Catholic Press Association, he wrote, “(This) was pretty cool, although there was no beer in it for me…..”
So I wrote Brian and told him that I wanted to “honor” him in the Beerchaser blog. I was pleased, if not somewhat surprised that he accepted this unusual request and we met in his favorite bar – The Fulton Brew Pub. (To be reviewed in this blog in the next month or two along with Brian’s essay on the pub.)
In preparation, I read some of his essays, a bunch of short stories and watched videos of a few of his speeches. His creativity, humor and well….his off-the-wall idiosyncrasy was impressive. One does not know how many of these tales are based on his actual experience, embody some embellished conceptual truths or he just dreamed up when he was ruminating in his den. But after chatting with him for ninety minutes at his favorite pub, I would suggest most are the former.
Let me give you a few examples:
One of his short stories – “Three Basketball Stories,” chronicles:
“…. a basketball league once in Boston that was so tough that when guys drove to the hole, they lost fingers. One time a guy….got hit so hard his right arm fell off, but he was a lefty and hit both free throws before going to the bench….
I heard that his team later had a funeral for the arm with everyone carrying the casket with only one arm as a goof but they all got so howling drunk that they lost the arm and had to bury the casket empty and then they spent the rest of the night trying to remember every lefty guy in the history of sports……”
(Brian was named to a city league all-star team in Boston in 1983 and has the jersey framed in his office. (Fortunately, he did not appear to have a prosthetic device for his right (drinking) arm.)
One of his short stories, “The Boyfriends Bus,” is about a guy who organized a field trip with nine of his wife’s former boyfriends – another example of the writer’s active imagination:
“….So we rented a bus for the day, a small bus, sort of half a bus….and we hired a guy to take us out in the wine country for the day….Anyway, we all got sizzled, the other nine boyfriends and me, and all day guys were ribbing me for having won her hand, I was elected president of the bus and got to make decisions about which wineries to stop at and all, and in the end it was kind of poignant…..
Each guy said with genuine affection and respect that my wife was a wonderful woman, absolutely, an unforgettable woman, that his time with her was really a highlight of his life.”
Speaking of bars…..there’s an essay – “On the Misuse of Adverbs” – in which he relates the hilarious account of his five brothers and him getting kicked out of a New York City bar based on an altercation. It erupted when they were defending a young woman — and the English language:
“Finally there was a moment when the young man leaned toward the young woman and gently covered her exquisite digits with his offensive paws and said:
‘Hopefully, you and I… ‘ at which point my brother Thomas stood up suddenly, launched himself over the balcony rail, landed with a stupendous crash on their table, and said to the young man, ‘Never, and I mean never, begin a sentence with an adverb.”‘
While some of these tales may lead you to think that Brian is a total flake, that would be the wrong impression – he’s mirthful and loves humor, but is a gifted writer and editor of the superb University of Portland magazine, Portland, and very serious about his craft.
Brian is the second editor of the quarterly journal – assuming the position in 1994 when he came to UP. “The intent is not to have a glossy piece for alumni public relations. The objectives are to make you laugh, cry, lose your temper or kneel in prayer while concurrently punching you in the gut.”
The first Portland article I read (and excerpted for this blog ) was Father Patrick Hannon’s wonderful essay about the Twilight Room – the fifth bar I reviewed on Thebeerchaser Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs.
I am now a regular reader based on articles such as Brian’s profile of Portland swimmer and speaker, Karen Gaffney, who just received an honorary doctorate from UP for her achievements and work on Downs syndrome.
Or read Brian’s 2009 essay, “The Terrible Brilliance,” based on the art therapy work his wife does for young children with serious illnesses – a piece which both punched me in the gut and brought a tear to my eye because my daughter, Laura, works as a pediatric oncology nurse with these same children.
Portland Magazine, won Newsweek Magazine’s “national championship” of college and university magazines, beating out the Harvards, Stanfords and the other powerhouses in the SEC and Pac 12 that have academic programs even their football players admire. It has also won five Gold Medals. Perhaps it’s because the magazine is, “addicted to silly humor, roaring anger and is deliberately provocative.”
Even though I had two outstanding pints of Nebraska Bitter (first brewed at The Fulton Pub in honor of Nebraska Street where it was first brewed) and Brian had two glasses of pinot, we ran out of time to talk about his ten books – his next novel (The Plover) will be published in April and Mink River was a finalist for an Oregon Book Award in 2012.
If you do a Google search like I did to research Brian Doyle, you will get 3,230,000 potential hits and discover there are other famous Brian Doyles – a Canadian children’s author, a former New York Yankee who starred in the 1978 World Series (even though his career batting average was only 161) and even a former Deputy Press Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security – forced out after conviction of a felony.
In fact, Brian decided in 2002 to write letters to the other 215 Brian Doyles he found in a national directory to learn more about them:
Tell me a little bit about yourself, I wrote us recently. How did you get your name? What do you do for work? What are your favorite pursuits? Hobbies? Avocations? Have any of us named our sons Brian? What Irish county were your forebears from? Where were you born? Where did you go to college? What’s your wife’s name?
He spoke to or corresponded with 111 and his essay, “Being Brian,” was published in Harper’s Magazine. “Oddly, we were all neurotic about getting to airports early (at least two hours) and all had terrible handwriting.” After talking to Brian, I have a feeling he would have undertaken this endeavor even if his name had been Jim Johnson or maybe even Alexi Fronkiwiecz……..
While there may be 215 or more Brian Doyles across the US – and who knows how many more in Australia, Asia, Africa and Antarctica – we are fortunate to have our own right on the University of Portland campus.
In 2006, he wrote a book, The Grail – a chronicle of “A year ambling and shambling through an Oregon vineyard in pursuit of the best pinot noir wine in the whole wild world.” Maybe that’s when he converted from drinking beer to wine although he admits he will still have a Hammerhead at the Fulton if it is really hot.
Brian Doyle is a gifted story-teller with a great sense of humor and a good jump shot, albeit a slowing first step to the hole. He’s also a man of strong faith and values and a good dad.
Doyle is humble and has the courage and conviction to castigate both institutions and individuals for hypocrisy or pomposity whether it’s the Catholic Church or a politician. And his gift of language makes his criticism piercing and memorable.
The above reasons explain why a guy who now drinks wine instead of beer can still be the Beerchaser of the Quarter.
Read his stuff – you will admire and enjoy it!