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Remembering Dan Fante

By Douglas Mallon.

I met Dan Fante at one of the darkest times in my life. I didn’t know who he was, what he’d done, or who his father was either. I’d never read Ask The Dust — the seminal American novel I now hold to be one of the two most beautiful novels ever written. (All Quiet On The Western Front being the other). It’s just so amazing as I sit here in a Starbucks in Santa Monica all these years later — just killing time — waiting for the noon 26th & Broadway meeting to start — how masterfully this “thing” some of us call God orchestrates the countless subtle miracles that continually escort me on my journey across the plains of this existence.

You can tell based on that last sentence that I didn’t major in English at Columbia — though I did score some weed near the campus a time or two throughout my wayward youth. But now, here I am, on the outskirts of twunny-five years clean and sober, a published author, free of the obsession that was driving me further and further into new realms of darkness that it appeared I’d never return from — and it was Fante that “God” sent to pull me back from them. All those years ago the obsession that I was trapped in came in the form of a five-foot-two, one-hundred-twunny pound raging beauty — fifteen years my junior who I’ve come to call Jacqueline in all the fiction I’ve written relating to her.

Not to get too sidetracked but right after I got divorced I had a torrid, sexually explosive romance with Jacqueline that came to a sudden and unexpected end. Just like in a country western song, once she was gone, I realized what I had in her and tried to get her back. But she’d slammed the door shut permanently. I just couldn’t accept it. I did drive-bys, wrote her letters, stalked her endlessly on Facebook. It got to the point that my every waking moment was filled with thoughts of Jacqueline. One night, coming home from work at 3am, I drove past her apartment building and hit some guy on a bicycle! (What that guy was doing tooling up Venice Boulevard at 3am on a bicycle might make an interesting story in and of itself). There I was, eighteen years clean and sober, an actively involved parent — even had a new girlfriend — yet this obsession had its hooks in me and I couldn’t tell a soul.

The night I met Fante at the meeting hall I’ve dubbed “The Scumbag Center”, I was there hoping Jacqueline would be as well. Fante was the speaker that night. Before the meeting he was holding court with several admirers. Horizontally challenged, bald, 60s, incredibly charismatic, Fante exuded confidence and cheer and was the very embodiment of the transformation our wonderful fellowship has performed on so many of us throughout its miraculous history.

So the meeting gets underway. Fante tells his story. Its froth with emotional torture, torment, obsession — MADNESS! He shares that at five years clean and sober he put a gun to his mouth — all over a woman! Long story short, I get his number, call him, spill the beans about my ever darkening obsession for Jacqueline. “Doug,” he tells me, “for guys like you and me God is the only answer.” Fante prescribed a morning prayer regimen that I still practice to this day. (The 3rd Step prayer, The 7th Step prayer and the 11th Step prayer, twunny minutes of meditation and a note of thanks to God). Miraculously, I haven’t driven by Jacqueline’s place, nor written her a letter, nor called her in the more than six years that have passed.

But that’s only part of the miracle. As I’ve said, I didn’t know who Fante was or who his dad was either. Not long after the night I met him, he was speaking at the noon  Scumbag Center step-study meeting where people ask the speaker questions. It was during that meeting that someone in the crowd called Fante his favorite author. Favorite author? Fante’s a writer? I Googled him when I got home. Holy fuck! His five novels, Chump Change, 86’d, Mooch, Spitting Off Tall Buildings and Point Dume are all emblazoned with the New York Times quote, “Dan Fante is an authentic literary outlaw.” Holy fuckin’ shit!! “Hey Fante, it’s Mallon. You know? The stalker guy? I’m a writer too. Can we get together and talk about writing?”

I met him at the Starbucks on Sepulveda and Washington. He brought a copy of Chump Change and I brought a copy of Fact & Fiction that I’d self-published. At that point in my evolution as a writer I’d still never hired an editor and though the premise of the story was strong — an aspiring writer murders his wife, pins it on a guy who just got out of prison, writes a true-crime best-seller — it was froth with dangling modifiers, split infinitives, a myriad of typos and a litany of structural calamities — a grammatical holocaust of the English language. But Fante made no mention of that. “It’s as good as anything being written today,” he told me when next we met.

Inspired by our meetings, I began writing a non-fiction confessional about my sordid sexual history that soon morphed into my fourth novel, Jerkoff. I’d email Fante excerpts and he continued to offer encouragement. The further the story went the more he became involved. (In fact, Rick Romano, one of Jerkoff‘s most pivotal characters, is based entirely on Fante). When I told him that Jerkoff had just broken into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment to read her journals, Fante said, “make sure he steals her dildo when he leaves!” When I told him about Jerkoff’s housewarming party — designed to lure a love interest over — Fante said, “make Jerkoff find a stray cat or dog and make sure he keeps him — it’ll make readers sympathize with him.” Done, Fante! Good call. Thanks for the tip. Fante’s fingerprints are all over the aftermath of Jerkoff’s accident at LAX as well. When an apparition of Jacqueline causes Jerkoff to total Johnny Messiah’s SUV –sending Johnny to the hospital and sidelining Iron Messiah’s reunion tour, Fante instructed: Send Jerkoff to a Personal Injury attorney, a shyster chiropractor and get him on worker’s comp as well. I remember thinking? OK, lemme get back to you about all that, but ya know what? — it all worked.

Fante was busy working on his own stuff — raising his son, teaching writing classes at UCLA (which he invited me to attend free of charge) — but he always took the time to meet with me and talk about the progress of Jerkoff. He even put me in touch with an agent or two. No matter what the problem; obsessions with women, the IRS, Fante was always there and I began to cherish the time I got to spend with him at whichever coffee shop we’d meet up at. I followed him to readings all over LA. One night we met Permanent Midnight author Jerry Stahl. At that point, Fante wasn’t on board with Jerkoff as a title. So the three of us were standing there and I said, “Hey Jerry, whadda ya think of this title… Jerkoff?” Stahl looked perplexed. “One word?” He asked.

“Yup,” I answered. He nodded his head in the affirmative and said, “I like it”. I looked down at Fante who rolled his eyes with disgust. On that note, lemme tell ya sumthin, Fante could be a real prick too. It’d piss him off if I eulogized him as a walk-on-water, touchy-feely, soft as a pillow, kind and loving to everyone at all times cuddly old teddy-bear. He loved calling it to my attention that I was a self-published author — that I didn’t know the first fkng thing about the publishing game. I countered by telling him that if it weren’t for his father–he wouldn’t either! Fante shrugged that off with ease. That he’d ridden to success on his father’s coattails was something he was used to hearing. And yeah, maybe there’s some truth to it. Maybe the Fante name brought attention to Dan’s work initially. But once you open the pages of Chump Change, or 86’d, or Mooch, Point Dume, or my personal favorite, Spitting Off Tall Buildings, Fante’s spirit jumps out to pummel you and soon you are just as bruised, battered, twisted and tormented as his drug and alcohol addicted alter-ego, Bruno Dante.

For a very brief time, Fante and I weren’t on speaking terms. I forget the exact circumstances but I think it had to do with him repeatedly reminding me that I didn’t know Jack F. Shit about writing. Whatever, Fante. You’re becoming more trouble than you’re worth. Good riddance. I finished Jerkoff and hired an editor on the cheap and came up with a reasonably polished final draft. I sent a few queries to agents and publishers but all were rejected or ignored. Screw it. I’ll self-publish. Next up was the artwork. How about a girlie-mag themed cover? I found the perfect picture on an internet photo site; a blonde bombshell in a pink negligee.

The plan was to surround her with blurbs from “made” writers. Mark SiFranko, a long time friend of Fante’s agreed to send one, Caveh Zahidi, a film maker I’d met in a sex addicts meeting many years earlier, sent one as well, as did Neil Melinkovich, the sex addict featured in Time Magazine‘s article on sex addiction. Still I needed one more. “Hey Fante, it’s Mallon — I need a blurb for Jerkoff.” Five minutes later Fante answered, “Jerkoff is angry, pornographic, relentless and insulting. It is a most original work from a most original voice. READ JERKOFF.” That was Fante. Need a friend? Here I am. Wanna fight? Put ’em up.

Fante played the illness he was battling close to the vest. But when we did talk about it his attitude was always upbeat. Not once did he ever wallow in self-pity or seek comfort–at least not in front of me. It was in the throes of his battle with cancer that he counselled me about how to deal with the IRS, and everything he told me was based on his own experience. I went to see him at his house just before he died. He appeared enthusiastic and surprisingly energetic. I left thinking I’d see him in another week but I never did. A few days later he died at his home, surrounded by his wife, young son, and others dear to him.

It saddens me that Fante left so soon. He was such an immense literary talent, and beyond that, in the realm of our 12-Step community, he was a bright light of encouragement, generosity and good cheer. Strangely, as if he’d never left at all, his voice escorted me across the pages of my next novel, LA Limousine. In one chapter, Bruno Dante, owner of Bruno Dante Limousine, hires the novel’s main character, Wreck Reynolds on the spot and later shepherds him through the fallout of an unexpected tryst with a sociopathic socialite in a fashion I’m confident Fante would’ve smiled upon.

I still go to the 12-Step meeting hall where I met Fante all those years ago. Man, the way he used to dash across Washington Boulevard, daring traffic (in both directions) to punch his ticket right then and there. Lemme tell ya sumthin, I’m from New York City, and I consider myself a black-belt jaywalker — but Washington Boulevard?! No thanks. Yet I never once saw Fante use the crosswalk. Sixty-sumthin years old and sprinting across six lanes of LA traffic to hop into the gold Hummer he tooled around town in. That was Fante, swimming upstream from the minute he was born.

When he died, I took all those other quotes off the cover of Jerkoff and placed his right in the center atop the blonde bombshell in the pink negligee. I added a picture of him inside the book as well with an inscription thanking him for all he’d done for me in the brief time that I’d known him. Today, Fante is still with me. There’s a framed picture of him hanging on my wall, right above my workstation. He’s glaring down upon me from under that white Fedora he got in Italy, somehow still reminding me that I don’t know Jack F. Shit about writing. Thanks for the reminder Fante.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Douglas Mallon is the author of several novels including Sex Slaves, Jerkoff and LA Limousine. Originally from New York City, he lives in Los Angeles where he works as a chauffeur to the stars, ferrying the elite of Hollywood from one red carpet to the next.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, February 16th, 2019.