Best American Essays 2009-2010

It’s a little after ten a.m. at Portland International Airport, I’ve had my shoes scanned and remembered to put my belt back on, and now I’m on the other side of security, waiting for my flight to LA to board. I’m not the only one going to MLA: I saw a professor of Spanish cursing, in Spanish, at the self-check terminal earlier this morning.

I had an hour to kill before my flight, so I did what all Americans do: looked for a way to spend a few dollars. Powell’s had an outpost just down from my gate, so I stepped in there and browsed the sales table. It was there that I found a discounted Best American Essays 2009.

But I should back up a minute. Last year, back when I was still in Russia, I learned from Jodee Stanley, the editor of Ninth Letter, that an essay of mine, “My Year of European Underwear,” which ran in Vol. 4, No. 1 of Ninth Letter, had been named a “notable work” in Best American Essays 2010.

Good news, right? Especially as this was the first time I’d been so named. Well, when the anthology came out last fall, I flipped to the back and saw it was my ghostly double who had in fact been recognized for the first time: Stephen Clark. Same story, same magazine. But the author of this piece was Stephen, not Stephan Clark.

Been happening all of my life, so I should’ve been prepared for it. But I still couldn’t stop looking at it. C.J. Chivers, they got that right. Billy Collins and Ted Conover, yes. They even nailed Sandra Cisneros. But that other guy . . .

So this is what recognition feels like? Needless to say, I didn’t buy a copy of the anthology.

But now cut to today, the PDX Powell’s, and there I am flipping through the back pages of the 2009 edition of this same anthology, looking to see who I should be jealous of, and who do I find but Stephan Clark? For his essay “The Reno Hotel,” which ran in Salt Hill.

I suppose in another world, Stephen Clark is very depressed. In this one, I bought a book.

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