I spent much of my twenties at a restaurant called Joe Mama’s. The happy hour crowd was a cultish bunch of bohemians and ne’er-do-wells, and they have remained some of my closest friends. The bar was big and U-shaped, and there was little distinction between regulars and staff; we bantered for hours, talking life, art, sex, and politics as the Pittsburgh skyline darkened outside. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.
Damien worked as the all-star bartender, a boisterous and heavily bearded young man with a golden sense of humor. The moment I learned that Damien had (also) studied creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, we’d spend whole evenings swapping favorite book titles and book summaries and ideas for future books.
Then Damien did something that I had always dreamed of doing: He moved to Prague and started to teach English as a second language. I had plotted to do this for years but always found a reason to stall. But Damien dove in, embraced his new Eastern European lifestyle, and has lived in the Czech Republic ever since.
And then he published his novel. Senseless is goofy and booze-soaked, but it’s also a sensitive story about families, particularly fathers, brothers, and sons. Anyone would enjoy the weirdness of this book, but Pittsburghers of a certain age will recognize its many familiar monuments, and anyone who knows Damien will find a thousand inside jokes.
Here’s hoping Damien has collected enough European stories to produce a second volume. Not everyone can pull off semi-autobiographical novels, but Damien did, I can only hope he will again.