A Writer's Life

By Michael Lukas '02 / September / October 2000
October 26th, 2007
My first job at Brown was as a caterer for the creative-writing department. Every time an author gave a reading, it was my responsibility to buy and set up a little spread of cheese and crackers for people to eat afterward. Someone else had to buy the wine — I was only nineteen. The job was easy, and sometimes I got to take home the extra cheese and crackers.

During the readings I usually sat by myself in the back of the room. The most exciting part for me, more exciting than listening to the person reading, was watching all the professors and graduate students. Collectively, they embodied the writer I wanted to be. I copied their reserved and ambivalent sarcasm. I wondered what they did during the day, what their apartments looked like. I wondered what they talked about when they got drunk at parties. Most importantly, I wondered: how can I be like them?

When second semester rolled around, I put together a selection of the least embarrassing poems I’d written in high school and applied for a spot in a poetry-writing workshop. With a stroke of luck I got in. It was a fun class, but a little repetitive. How many times can you talk about someone else’s love poetry? My thoughts often drifted, and sometimes I imagined myself teaching the class...

The students call me, simply, Lukas — like Faulkner, Foucault, or Proust. Because I am a famous and brilliant writer, I can afford to be eccentric in class — singing songs, doing cartwheels — and everyone eats it up with a spoon. "Wow," my students tell their friends, "I can’t believe what Lukas did today in class." They love me not just for my brilliance; they love me because I am a great teacher and because I truly care about their lives. At least it seems I care.

In my musings, I am a shining star in the literary sky. My books are serious yet accessible; they are read in college literature classes and chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. I’m the people’s author and an intellectual at the same time. I wear slick suits one day and a Hawaiian shirt with jeans the next. I am famous and brilliant; I can wear whatever I want. I give readings drunk. I teach class drunk. I pretend to be drunk when I’m not and cancel appointments for no reason. Everyone still loves me.

But I am easily bored. When I grow tired of the academic life and its petty, back-stabbing politics, I fake my own death — a messy, sudden tragedy involving a poorly designed bridge and my reckless younger brother. I am eulogized on the front page of the New York Times Book Review under the headline "Out of the Blue and into the Black: A Supernova Falling Star." Everyone mourns; the funeral is an elaborate, drawn-out affair with weeping ex-girlfriends and family members. My book sales shoot through the roof. (My publisher would have to be in on the plan and sending me royalty checks.)

Then, when everyone starts to forget about me, when I get tired of lounging around in the Caribbean, when my book sales start falling, I return. Triumphant, tan, and full of life, I launch a resurrection tour to promote my latest work, Watershots: A Light Romance. People, not knowing whether to be angry or overjoyed, all buy the book. Another best-seller.

The last stop on the book tour is at Brown University, my alma mater, where I first dabbled in the craft of writing. I wear a trenchcoat and wire-rimmed glasses, despite my perfect vision. A former student introduces me as a "true American hero," and the audience thunders in agreement. As I walk to the podium, I stumble — pretending to be drunk — and the crowd gasps. I take a deep breath and a drink of water and begin. "I’m going to tell you a true story," I say, "about my first job at Brown." I point to the nervous, scrawny freshman hovering near the cheese and crackers at the back of the room, and all heads turn. This, I say, is how Michael Lukas got his start, as a caterer for the creative writing department. Another gasp, then a moment of silence. The room bursts into applause.

Michael Lukas is a comparative literature concentrator from Berkeley, California. He is currently working on his first book.

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September / October 2000