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Danonymous Anonymous: Jared Joseph’s Danny the Ambulance

Andrew Farkas

Danny the Ambulance
Jared Joseph
Outpost 19, September 2023


hen I was an undergrad, I met a guy who introduced himself as Felix (the only Felix I’ve ever known) and he asked me who I was:

“My name’s Andy.”

“Of course it is,” said Felix.


“Because there are five other Andys in this building.”

He was right. And, honestly, I wasn’t surprised. Growing up in the Stow-Munroe Falls public school district, I had already known at least three other Andys. One of them, a friend of mine to this day, was in my fifth grade class where a teacher decided there could be only one Andy, meaning the other Andy would be Andy and I would be Andrew. It took almost the entire school year for me to realize Andrew was my name. And even after a year of someone calling me Andrew, it still didn’t feel right. Like I was tasked with answering for the Andrew who’d stepped out for some reason.

I imagine the unnamed narrator of Jared Joseph’s mind-bending, hilarious, and insightful novel, Danny the Ambulance, to be rather like Felix surrounded by an inordinate number of Andys. I say that because the narrator goes into a bar (called the Jury Room, likely because it’s across the street from a courthouse) in his new hometown of Santa Cruz and over the course of the night learns that absolutely everyone else’s name in the bar is Danny.

Growing up surrounded by so many other Andys, I learned pretty early on that names are arbitrary, meaningless. But that doesn’t mean I acted or act that way. Instead, anytime I met an Andy, and, yes, anytime I meet an Andy, I still go through the ritual of indicating the person in question must be, with a name like that!, Andy!, must be one of the great ones. Strangely, that doesn’t happen at the Jury Room:

“Oh, says Danny. Good game. What’s your name, man?
“My name’s Danny, Danny says. What’s your name, dude?
“My name’s Danny, says Danny. Good to meet you, Danny.
“Nice meeting you, Danny, Danny says.” (23-24)

This lack of acknowledgement bothers our narrator, who then, in a drunken sort of way, begins piecing together what’s going on at the Jury Room. He dismisses the idea that this is a theme night he’s stumbled on, similar to the one he read about in The New York Times where only people with the name Danny were let into a particular club, because, at one point, he has a lady who says her name is Danny write her name down on a napkin: M-O-L-L-Y is what she writes. So, when someone says their name, they say Danny, but writing is different. On the other hand, the narrator notices that celebrity names are spoken normally, unless they resemble Dan or Danny. And when our protagonist says a different name, either other people can’t understand him, or they hear Danny. From there, the narrator grows a bit paranoid, wondering if there’s a wormhole, if there’s something in the Santa Cruzan water, if this is all an elaborate joke, if there’s some sort of communal psychosis, or if, perhaps, the narrator himself is having a stroke. In the trippiest section of Danny the Ambulance, the narrator, in a kind of meltdown, either thinks he’s talking to a dog, or is talking to a dog, and then, briefly, he might even become a dog.

What follows could be a Kafkaesque nightmare, or maybe a Joseph Heller nightmare, but Danny the Ambulance takes place in a pub, and Jared Joseph never loses sight of that. The rhythms of the book, then, are firmly rooted in bar life:

“. . . one of us had to go to the bathroom, and when you’re talking in a thruple in a bar outside and one of you goes in, the whole dynamic crumbles because it’s so context- dependent, an activity changes or a person leaves or a light goes out and suddenly the flimsiness of your relationship becomes totally apparent, it’s like you suddenly have no idea who you’re talking to or why.” (68)

In other words, no matter how important any one conversation, any one topic in Danny the Ambulance may seem, at some point something happens and we move on. Or maybe, instead of conversation or topic, I should say character. And that might be one reason why everyone is named Danny—when we’re at a bar, perhaps a few drinks in, embroiled in a discussion that seems beyond the usual bullshit (now this, this is important) with a person we think of as our brand new best friend, we’d like to believe we’ll always remember this moment and we’ll certainly always remember, uh, old whatstheirname? Right on the tip of my tongue. But thanks to alcohol and thanks to the fact that we really don’t actually know, man, was it Danny, no, that couldn’t be it, I mean is everyone in this joint named Danny?! guess so, well since we don’t actually know Danny, the meaning, the insight is lost. And that scrambling after lost insights, that yearning to fuse all of our thoughts together so we can really get somewhere, even though we perhaps understand the impossibility of that goal, imbues Joseph’s novel.

Now, since Danny the Ambulance dodges the potential existential nightmare, it instead embraces a different form. Our narrator, realizing he can’t talk directly about the Danny Distortion (because he’s the only one who knows it’s happening), therefore engages in oblique conversations about art, language, literature, cinema, philosophy, morality, science, and religion (including the godlike qualities of bartenders), all with the underlying notion that it might be impossible to come to a consensus or to a conclusion when we not only don’t know each other (all people are Danny, so everyone is no one), we don’t even know ourselves (the fact that the narrator has no name). Consequently, with all of these roaming discussions that drive at some intellectual point (even when you might think they’re going nowhere), Danny the Ambulance is firmly within the colloquial form that movies like Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre (1981) and Luis Buñuel’s The Milky Way (1969) inhabit. And if you find yourself, at the Jury Room, say, mentioned alongside Malle and Buñuel, then you’re in good company indeed.

No matter what your name is.


Andrew Farkas