Top: Eustace Conway
Bottom: Matt Smink as Eustace Conway in a classroom assignment by my American Literature Class
On a recent visit to Boone, NC, I decided to move there. Upon making that decision, I experienced the very best of omens. My very first day there, I walked into the only Thai restaurant in town, and guess who should march in after me but "Davey-Fuckin'-Crocket!" That's right, Eustace Conway: The Last American Man himself!
I recognized his warm, windblown face and wild main of hair immediately. I had been teaching his biography, The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert, for the past year. In case you didn't know, Elizabeth Gilbert also wrote Eat, Pray, Love and is something of a big deal.
I have taught Eustace's incredible life story in three separate classes. I've made my kids run around in the woods, sleep outside, set up photo shops, make traps, write letters, write essays, write journal entries and, in doing so....reconstruct their entire world paradigm, just from reading this book. We've read articles about Eustace, had classroom debates, googled him, google imaged him, and youtubed him. He is the catalyst of my famous "Squirrel Bone Pop Quiz."
And now there he was...walking in the door....being seated right behind me....ordering the seafood special! I put down my fork. I got up. I had to! I walked right over and introduced myself. He was just as Gilbert had described him: gleam in the eye, warm enveloping handshake, a broad smile that made his eyes disappear beneath smile lines....the kind of smile you might just do anything for....even dig up squirrel bones in January. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, go read the book.)
It was more than surreal. I know some personal things about this man, some of which are highly controversial. I've had many arguments with my students about all the unforgivable ways he has treated his employees and his women (as teenage boys, they are quick to jump to his defense.) But standing there conversing with him was a complete thrill nonetheless. I told him all about teaching and how I was moving to Boone and something about my birthday, I'm not sure why. I was a bit star struck. Not that I'm a total rookie with celebrity sightings- I've stood behind Brittney Spears on an escalator once- but this was way better.
As soon as I got back home, I mailed him a letter, determined that one day I was going to work at Turtle Island, his nature preserve home. And Lo and Behold, today he wrote back: