Likely Stories: My Father’s Guitar and Other Imaginary Things by Joseph Skibell

Jan 10, 2019

Funny story of a man growing up amid his interesting and peculiar family


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

A slim volume of essays by Joseph Skibell relates the various events in his odd extended family.  My Father’s Guitar and Other Imaginary Things are entertaining at the least.  Many of his stories are reminders of some of the peculiar members of my family. 

Skibell recounts stories that vary from the mundane to the serious, but all prove interesting in the end.  One example is “International Type of Guy.”  Joseph writes, “I don’t remember when it occurred to me to ask the telemarketers for money.  Like everyone else in those days, we were inundated by their calls.  Unsolicited offers for products and services, requests for donations, come-ons for weekend getaways made our phone ring at all hours of the day” (11).  Who has not had this problem lately?  Joseph continues, “Around the same time, I’d purchased a couple of books on the North American Esperanto Associations’ website, which arrived accompanied by an enticing brochure announcing the Eighty-Eighth annual ‘Universala Kongresso de Esperanto” (11-12).  I had a flash of inspiration that I could solicit the dozens telemarketers who called our house every day for the funds I needed” (13).  You can well imagine how that plan worked out.

Another humorous story titled “The Hank Williams Songbook” begins, “I worked for a few weeks at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Lubbock when I was fifteen years old.  This was the place where, if you ate a seventy-two-ounce steak with all the trimmings you got your meal for free. // ‘And you know who can actually do it?  This is gonn’ta surprise you, but cheerleaders.  Yeah,’ he said, ‘high school cheerleaders.  Itty-bitty little girls that jump around all day’” (52).  On a road trip passing through Lubbock, my son and I decided to try it out.  After looking at the platter, we decided regular steaks would do nicely.

Joseph seems to have a knack for noticing bits of paper on the ground, which he stops to examine.  Skibell writes, “It was the end of 1989, and I was walking through the parking lot at LAX.  I don’t recall where I was going, but I was traveling alone, and I noticed a slip of paper on the ground.  Someone had written the name Paul McCartney on it, above a local phone number. // I couldn’t believe it!  I’d found Paul McCartney’s phone number!” (88).  He had some time before his flight, so he “thought I’d call the number just to hear who answered, just to—perhaps—hear Paul McCartney’s voice on the line, that all-too-familiar Liverpudlian voice, saying hello. // Or maybe Ringo, sitting by the phone would answer it. // I dropped my quarter into the slot.  My hand trembled as I punched the number.  The phone rang a couple of times.  I held my breath” (87-88).  No spoiler alerts.  You don’t really want me to spoil the fun, do you?

Joseph Skibell collection of entertaining essays, My Father’s Guitar and Other Imaginary Things, is a fun read.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!