Buying Guns N' Roses in a Canoe: Nathan Deuel returns to Miami

Added on by Scott Cunningham.

Nathan Deuel is the author of Friday Was the Bomb. Named a Best Book of the Month by Amazon, Friday Was the Bomb is a non-fiction account of living in the Middle East, losing his father, and becoming a father himself.

Before he moved to the Middle East, he was a staff writer for The Rolling Stone and The Village Voice, and before that, Deuel was an adventurous, nerdy kid in Miami. He was the founder and editor of the long-running zine, Dilirium, the name of which was later changed to S.854 after the band Delirium sent him a cease-and-desist letter. Why S.854? "It was the prisoner's number in [Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's] One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," he says. He interviewed bands like Fugazi for the zine and was the kind of 12-year-old who, on a whim, biked from Palmetto Bay to John Pennekamp. 

"I also canoed all over the place. I think I even took a canoe to buy [Guns N' Roses's] Use Your Illusion I and II at Spec's," he says. "Until I was 14 I basically was always on my bike or in a canoe." What happened at 14? "I discovered punk rock."

Deuel is back in his hometown for a book tour after recently returning to the States with his daughter, and his wife Kelly, a national correspondent for NPR. He reads at Books & Books in Coral Gables this Tuesday, June 3rd, at 8 p.m

PSC: Where were you when you learned your dad was sick?

ND: We were in Yemen when I learned he was sick, in Qatar when he had the surgery, and by the time I got to Jacksonville, where he was at the Mayo Clinic, and he had 13 days to live. It was brutal and gross and agozining, fighting for a guy who was dying in such pain. And then shortly thereafter NPR offers [my wife] Kelly the job in Baghdad. I am a shell of a man, and move to Istanbul with our one-year-old daughter. So while I'm staggering around, hung over, Kelly is being mortared at a compound in Iraq, guarded by 50 mm cannons, and I am supposed to be this single dad? I was not good at it.

PSC: So Kelly is going back and forth from Istanbul to Bagdad?

ND: Yeah, she'd be in Iraq for 60 days, then get 30 days out. We Skyped every day and tried to stay in touch. My full time job was basically to facilitate her digital motherhood and to keep Loretta safe and warm and fed. 

PSC: You were getting drunk to deal with the pain of losing your father?

ND: Lots of boozing, for sure. I mean, I grew up in a boozing family -- we both did. But in Turkey I was getting sauced out of fear, loneliness, boredom, frustration. Not all the time but it wasn't a healthy situation. 

PSC: I don't have kids yet but I can't imagine taking care of a toddler while drunk or hungover.

ND: Oh, I never cared for her while drunk. I'd just hit it after she was asleep. And I wasn't like getting blacked out or something. So we manage to do that for a year and a half. And it wasn't all that bad. We had a sumptuous apartment in a heartbreaking, beautiful part of a legendary town: in Galata, at the end of Istiklal [Avenue], just up the street from the tower. But Kelly's in Iraq and then the revolutions start spreading: Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and she starts to cover them, especially Syria. And it earns her a transfer to Beirut, where we all move in Nov 2011. In theory, it was gonna be great: this gorgeous town, on the Mediterranean, surrounded by mountains, lots of colleagues, and we'd actually live together. And Kelly would cover the Syrian's march to freedom! But then an uprising encounters a brutal crackdown, which slowly devolves into the rivers of blood that is now a civil war. Kelly went into Damascus on an official visa, but then she started going in overland, embedding with the rebels.

PSC: I imagine that was super dangerous....

ND: Her colleagues started getting killed. Either dying of asthma attacks on a horse crossing a rocky range back into Turkey or getting blown up by regime bombs.

PSC: What was her "closest-to-death" moment?

ND: Hmm, she probably hasn't told me about that moment -- and in fact might not be able to still. She ended up doing an hour-long documentary about how much she enjoyed the work, and the way she arrived at the decision to quit doing it. It's intense.  In it, a woman whose father was shot in the neck and died challenges Kelly. She says you're not [reporting on the war] to make the world a better place...You're doing it because it's fun. Admit it. And Kelly kind of does. The woman says, Write a letter to your family, a letter they can read if you die, and in that letter tell them why you chose the work over them. And so Kelly writes this letter, and she reads it out loud on tape, and it airs on NPR. I've never heard or read the letter, and I hope I never have to. It's in a book in our bedroom and we'll burn it some day. Just haven't gotten to it yet. We're too busy enjoying the fuck out of living in L.A.

This excerpted conversation between Nathan Deuel and P. Scott Cunningham took place on gchat on Thursday, May 29, 2014 and has been edited for spelling.