My Favorite Gal-Pals by Guest Author Wade Rouse

waderouseWe’re very pleased to welcome Wade Rouse to the ball today. He’s the author of three critically acclaimed (and very funny) memoirs America’s Boy, Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler, and his latest, At Least in the City Somone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life. USA Today calls him “wise, witty and wicked,” and The Washington Post says he’s “an original writer and impressive new voice.” His latest book was selected as a Summer Must-Read by NBC’s Today Show.


I made it!

Deb for a day!

It’s a phrase that strikes a thrill in my heart, almost as much as “Do you have that in an extra small?” and “Kenneth Cole: Take An Additional 75 Percent Off!”.

But there’s also a great pressure in being a guest blogger on a site beloved by its fans. It’s a little like being a substitute teacher to a smart yet rambunctious class of senior girls. Or being asked to take over for Vanessa Redgrave on Broadway.

And you’re Charo.

I’ve been a man-fan of the Debutante Ball for a while now, relating closely to the lives and stories that our Debs – and all emerging authors and diehard readers – share via this blog.

The reality is this: All gay men love their gal-pals. Once you’re in, you’re in.

In fact, my first two gal-pals were my mother and Erma Bombeck.
And I blame them both for my current lot in life.

Both conspired, it seems, to make me not only a writer but a damn humorist. (And if you think art and books are subjective, try humor.)

As a kid, I used to write about everything going on around me in my tiny Ozarks town: Whether I was forced to go cowtippin’ with the country boys or watch my mom the nurse make dinner in her bloody scrubs, it seemed to be only the only way I could make sense of the world.

For a while when I was young, I called my mom “Digit,” because she became infamous in our little town for being the go-to gal whenever a local cut off a toe with a lawnmower, or whacked off a finger with a chainsaw.

My mother would answer our giant red, rotary phone, the kind presidents use in comedy skits when they are about to launch a nuclear bomb, and calmly say, “Do you have your big toe? Well, can you locate it? Good!”

And then she would rush out of the house, often barefoot, in a nightgown, with a little Igloo cooler filled with ice. She would retrieve the detached digit, and personally rush the injured idiot to the ER of the neighboring hospital where she worked.

She, of course, eventually found my journal entries about her, and ended up – one morning when I was inhaling a bowl of Quisp for breakfast – shoving the daily paper in front of my nose.

“You need to read Erma,” she sighed.

I immediately adored her.

From that point on, I was devoted to Erma Bombeck’s column, “At Wit’s End,” in our small-town newspaper, and even clipped a few of my favorites to adorn my corkboard wall.

Though I was very young, maybe 11 or 12 at the time, Erma connected deeply with me.

She was a humorist and human who made the mundane memorable.

She wrote about family and food, laundry and life.

She wrote about everyday stuff with which I could relate.
For instance, “The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” was funny, yes, like its title, but it was also deeper: Along with daily suburban family issues, Erma tackled diet and self-image in this book.

And for a chubby little gay boy in the middle of nowhere who had a fondness for ascots and dreams of being a writer, I found a role model in a middle-aged mother who seemed to be dealing with just as many self-esteem issues as I was.

Actually, make that two middle-aged mothers.

From that day my mom led me to Erma, I wrote and journaled more earnestly about my life, yet I always tried to do it with humor, just like she did. I found laughter softened the pain, made life seem so much more bearable, even through incredible tragedy.

And that would be a fortuitous lesson. The summer my older brother graduated from high school, he was killed. That was followed in subsequent years by the deaths of my mom’s father and sister.

When my mother seemed no longer able to laugh, to dream, I made it my sole goal to bring her back to life. I read to her from Erma. I read to her from my journals. I held her hand. We became more than mother-son, we became friends.

I vividly remember the New Year’s Day in 2005 when I stood in front of my city mailbox clutching a fistful of query letters after I’d spent two years completing my first memoir, AMERICA’S BOY. It was cold, and I was shivering, but not because of the temperature. I was nearly 40. I hated my job. And my mom was tired, after having lost a son too early, of her only remaining child being unhappy, unfulfilled, not living his dream.

“Here’s to rejection!” I said, waving my query letters.

“Here’s to dreams coming true!” my mom had said.

She forced my hand into the mailbox, made me drop the letters, and then promptly slammed the slot on my fingers.

“Thanks, Digit!” I told my mom. “I’m glad you’re here, so you can save my fingers, or I’d just be all nubs and unable to type the letters H, J, M, N, U or Y, forever knocking words like ‘hominy’ and ‘yum,’ from my vocabulary.”

“This is meant to be,” she said, laughing. “And, I’m retired now anyway. Really, how many times are you ever going to write, ‘I love hominy. Yum!’”

Two weeks later, I had three formal offers of representation from literary agents, and a few months later – when I went to visit my agent for the very first time in New York – I was overwhelmed by what greeted me when I entered her office: Knee-high stacks of manuscripts and packages swallowed the lobby.

“This is what you were picked from,” I was told. “The slush pile.”

But, oddly, that didn’t overwhelm me; it emboldened me. It made me realize that if I – an odd Midwestern boy with zero connections in the publishing and literary world – could get his foot in the door, then anyone with talent, drive, thick skin, and a gut-wrenching desire simply to write, could do the same.

“People are going to read about you now, mom,” I told my mom after I returned from New York. “And some of it’s not pretty.”

“Good!” she told me. “Life isn’t pretty, sweetie. It’s life. That’s why you better have a damn good sense of humor.”

raccoonMy mother passed away this June, but only after seeing my current memoir, AT LEAST IN THE CITY SOMEONE WOULD HEAR ME SCREAM, featured on NBC’s Today Show as a Summer Must-Read Selection.

“To dreams!” she had said from her hospital bed. “And laughter.”
Though my mom and Erma are both now gone from my life much too soon, they remain with me: They continue to make me laugh, think, dream, and appreciate the fragility and foibles of people and life.

Because those are the things that truly are most beautiful: The imperfections in each of us.

And that’s what I still try and remember every day, focus on in each and every memoir: I write about everyday life from a unique perspective – with a whopping dose of humor and cynicism – touching upon those themes that touch us all, be it unconditional love, loss, family, sex, relationships, jobs, self-esteem, neuroses, dreams. I believe that the very best books force us to hold a mirror up to our collective faces and take a good long hard look at what’s reflected back.

And that image always looks so much better if we somehow manage to smile, even through all those damn tears.

21 Replies to “My Favorite Gal-Pals by Guest Author Wade Rouse”

  1. Thanks for being our guest today, Wade! We’re excited to have you at the ball today. Your writing is wonderfully funny, and I can’t wait to try one of your books.

  2. Thanks, Meredith … It’s great to be here at the Ball! And, just so your fans and readers are aware, Gwyneth Paltrow has generously agreed to let me to “borrow” the dreamy, light pink gown she wore to the Oscars the night she won for “Shakespeare in Love” here today for my debut at the Ball. I just wanted to look “right,” you know? And the gown fits like a glove.

    OK, I’m wearing a tanktop and running shorts, while slugging down a latte, which my 80-pound mutt Marge seems to think is a “treat” for her, but still, it’s all about setting a “mood,” isn’t it?

    Love your site … love your blog … love the debs … !

  3. Thanks for a beautiful post. *brushes away some tears* I’m moved.

    This really is one of the most beautiful blog posts I’ve read. I really like your voice. My to-buy list just got a few books added to it!

    I wish you all the success that’s possible. 🙂

  4. Wade, what an unbelievable guest post. Your writing took me from laughter to sadness back to joy in the space of just a few paragraphs. Your Mom must have been so proud to have you as a son, and your love for her shines through in your writing. The image of her slamming the mail slot on your fingers is priceless! I can’t wait to buy At Least in the City…. thank you so much for this gorgeous blog.
    xo — Sarah
    P.S. Gwynnie shares clothes? Could you ask her if I could possibly borrow just a few pairs of shoes? I swear I’ll return them, possibly even un-chewed by my dog.

  5. Oh, Wade, your mother sounds like an amazing woman. I love this post. I can’t wait to read your book(s)!

    One of the things I love about humor is that it can turn any ordinary story into something special. I fell in love with my husband because he was not only one of the smartest people I’d ever met, but he can make me laugh.

    Oh, and borrow Gwyneth’s gown if you must, but don’t let her talk you into shellacking your legs like she did on the Tonight Show. 😉 That was just plain weird.

    Thanks so much for being our guest.

  6. Thanks for the all the nice words … and, yes, my mom — a lifelong nurse and hospice nurse — truly embodied the word grace. She also had a wicked sense of humor, too, which is the trait I seem to have been passed (along with a wicked arch and a love of coffee)! Thanks, all, for adding my books to your reading lists, and please let me know what you think!

    And, no, I will NOT shellack my legs … I’m bizarrely “sheeny” enough as it is, considering the amount of moisturizer I use. I’m like a cute eel!

    (And what is with all my exclamation marks today? I’m like a sixth-grade girl writing in her diary! See … !)

  7. If your books are anywhere near as funny as this post you are officially on my auto-buy-even-in hardcover-despite-the-fact-the-economy-is-tanking-and-I-have-a-writers-income list. As you may imagine this is a very exclusive list. I still have my mom’s copy of Bombeck’s If Life is a Bowl of Cherries- what am I doing in the pits. She made me want to write.

    Thanks for your post.

  8. I think I love you, Eileen … and the books are WAY funnier (but I hope just as honestly touching). Now, go out there, gurl, and stimulate that economy … I need a new pair of Kenneth Coles (or, at least, an end-of-summer $1 pair of Old Navy flip-flops!

    And, fyi, my original set of Erma books sits on my writing desk facing me every single day … At Wit’s End, Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, Cherries, I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression …

    Just remember my what I always say, my deeply profound words of advice: “Hardcovers are worth it because they’re hard!” Which is similar to what I say at the gym: “These weights are heavy.” Which is close to what I always say too late to my partner, Gary, every time he tries to fix a bad haircut with cuticle scissors: “Your ear sticks out.”


  9. Hi Wade,
    I too discovered Erma around the same age as you and was instantly smitten. The first one I read I found on Mum’s shelf called PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISY’S. And I learned from Erma all about MOTHERHOOD – THE SECOND OLDEST PROFESSION (and learned what the first oldest profession was!). I grew up to be an actress doing mostly comedy and improvisation, and eventually turned to writing young adult fiction, but the truth is…I harbour a desire to write humourous essays myself… Gee…wouldn’t my agent be thrilled? But you never know…

    I’ll definitely look for your books!

  10. I think you should always follow your desire and passion … and if your agent can sell it, I’m sure he or she would be thrilled!

    And you’ve listed more of my fave Erma … let me know what you think of my books!

  11. Wade! so glad you could come out and dance with us! I also read my mother’s Erma Bombeck books as a kid! I thought she was so damn funny, and I used to love watching her morning TV segments just before I went off to school. Not exactly her target demographic, but that’s a testament to her appeal.

    And yours! I haven’t gotten to your new one yet, but CONFESSIONS OF A PREP SCHOOL MOMMY HANDLER made me a Wade fan forever. Or, in gal pal fashion, “4-evah.”

    I’m so sorry for your loss, but so glad you got to share your mom with us, and the world.

    See you around West Michigan someday…


  12. A boy! A boy! There’s a boy at the ball! Finally! So great to have you dancing with us. And you look mahvehlous in Gwyneth’s gown, btw! Now, straighten out that tiara!

    I love your sense of humor and will definitely be checking out your books. I too, have long loved Erma. I believe my query letters compared my memoir to Out of Africa if it were written by Erma Bombeck and included the line “the grass really WAS greener in Uganda but that’s because everyone kept shitting on it!”

  13. I think I love you! I will now order all of your books and add them to my collection (Erma Bombeck, David Sedaris, Jill Connor Browne, Lauri Notaro, Susan Reinhardt) that I turn to for inspiration when writing my newspaper column or my WIP, FOLD YOUR OWN DAMN LAUNDRY.

    Kris, thanks for sharing the link.

  14. Wade, I’m wondering how I missed reading Erma all these years. Yikes! Clearly that is what was wrong with my childhood and may still be crippling me now in some unseen way.

    You are wonderfully vivid and funny and darling in the dress and I can’t wait to read the new book.

  15. Wade, I’m sorry your Mom died.

    I’m also a big Erma fan and have called my “Kimoir” (just sold) “a cross between Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris.” I re-read Erma’s books often. I get a bit tired of the gravity of some of today’s books. Goodness, we need to laugh!

    I’m off to see if you book is on the Kindle. If not, Amazon here I come!

    Thanks, Debs, for a great guest blogger.


  16. Hi ! I’ve been ultra-slack at stopping by but felt compelled to when I saw my fellow Debs enjoyed your post so much. I now can’t wait to read your book (wow! John S. picked your book as a great read for the Today show! that’s awesome!). I love a good humorist and I can tell from your post alone that you have a lovely mix of funny and poignant that will tug at my heartstrings…

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