Local writer has humorous style

Each column allows readers to dive into the funny, heartfelt world of Matt Geiger.
Local writer has humorous style

What I want to know is: How has there been this delightful writer living in my area code for more than a decade and I’ve just heard about him?

It’s true that his first book was released just last week, and that he writes columns for small newspapers that I don’t often see. But still. The world needs to know about Matt Geiger.

Consider this lead from an essay titled “Philosophy.”

“Calling home from college to tell your parents you are switching your major to philosophy and theology is a rather sobering experience for everyone involved.

“For them, it is much like a call from jail, only worse because instead of a one-time bail payment, you are essentially informing them you will require financial subsidies for the rest of your life. For you, it is perhaps even more difficult, because there is a slight chance this is the final straw and they will decline to pay for your food for the next fifty years. In my case, I had already made the call from jail a few years earlier, which surely did not help my chances.”

Welcome to the often funny, occasionally heartfelt world of Matt Geiger, 37, an editor and columnist for Black Earth-based News Publishing Co., publisher of five weekly papers. 

The best of the columns Geiger has written since moving to Wisconsin¬—Mount Horeb—in 2005 have now been collected in a book, “The Geiger Counter: Raised by Wolves and Other Stories.” 

Geiger was feeling the morning-after effects of the launch party for his book—at the Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona—when we spoke last week, but he shook off the cobwebs and told me how a Maine native who was raised in Massachusetts and studied philosophy in Florida wound up writing funny stories in Wisconsin.

He told me a few other things, too, like how he still remembers the first $20 check he got for a piece of writing, and how, after some false starts, he found his writer’s voice, the warm and humorous instrument that makes “The Geiger Counter” such a pleasure to spend time with.

Geiger grew up near the coastal Massachusetts city of Ipswich, on a big farm with stone walls that dated to the 1600s.

It was in Ipswich that a young Geiger—the story is in the new book—decided to phone Florida and try to buy a pet monkey. He doesn’t reveal which magazine it was where he found an advertisement in the back pages that offered monkeys for purchase by telephone.

He does, however, say the vendor was unimpressed with the child’s voice on the line from Massachusetts.

“He gave me many reasons why he was hesitant to mail me a monkey,” Geiger writes. “He couldn’t ship monkeys across state lines. He made it a habit never to sell violent, semi-wild animals to small children. Plus, that being Florida, he had been working diligently to cut down on the amount of business he did with the unhinged.”

While the monkey did not make the trip from Florida to Massachusetts, Geiger eventually made the journey in the opposite direction, landing at Flagler College, in St. Augustine.

While he was studying philosophy, Geiger got a reporting job with the St. Augustine newspaper. It didn’t change his life, but he liked it. After a few post-graduation detours—including a stint working at the Philadelphia zoo—Geiger moved to Wisconsin, where his family had roots, and began writing again, eventually ending up at News Publishing.

Part of the deal of being an editor—he was at the Middleton Times-Tribune—was writing a column. Geiger wrote a few about city government and traffic patterns that impressed nobody. Then he began dropping in some personal anecdotes and readers responded. He was on to something.

The columns in the new book are unabashedly personal. Matt and his wife Greta’s daughter, Hadley, serves as the subject, or at the least the launch pad, for several columns.

Ernest Hemingway fans will note that first name—Hadley, the name of the author’s first wife—and be unsurprised that Geiger is a Hemingway admirer. One of the columns in the book describes his participation in the rowdy “Hemingway Days” held annually in Key West. 

The arrival of Geiger’s Hadley inspires one of the book’s best pieces, titled “Like a Hurricane.” He notes the upheaval that comes with a child, and that someone might reasonably ask, “Why put yourself through that?”

Geiger writes: “The answer is there is a difference between pleasure and happiness.” A feeding at 3 a.m. is not pleasurable, but it can make you happy.

A published book can make you happy, too. The night after the launch party, Geiger got an email message from someone who had gone home, and, unable to sleep, read and loved “The Geiger Counter.”

What’s better than fan mail at dawn? “I’m having the time of my life,” Geiger said.

Doug Moe is a Madison writer. See his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.