If you’re older than thirty you probably recall a time when neighborhood bookstores ran thick throughout the land. Every town with an educated populace had one or two and every university town of any size had three or four. In cities like New York, there was a bookstore every ten or fifteen blocks, often adding to the unique character of surrounding streets. One of those, in fact, was a Barnes & Noble on 18th Street and Fifth Avenue.
I swat at a mosquito flying near my ear and feel it hit my palm. It flies off toward the window and joins the black throng of mosquitoes there. The window is nearly a third covered with a vibrating mass of hungry little bloodsuckers. Far more mosquitoes than I’ve ever seen in one place, breeding in standing puddles of brown water outside the building. It smells like a burst sewage drain, and every so often there’s a gurgling noise and bubbles surface through the thick grass. Texas is still hot in September and it might reach a hundred today. The heat serves this vile stink to us on a dripping tray of humid air.
Almost everyone has her shirt pulled up over her nose.
This is where we inmates line up to eat.
“Hey Roommate! You gonna eat your wings?” Peaches shouts past the women between us in line, her face surfacing from the folds of her shirt only long enough to get my attention.
Wings. The main course of today’s menu. Through a process called “Bastard Brokering,” large institutions, like this prison, are able to purchase lesser quality food for a cheap price. Apparently, if a factory turns out a load of chicken wings, seasoned and packaged, for say, TGI Fridays, and for whatever reason they’re rejected, they hit the bastard market. A glut of something on the market means cheap prices for the government, means wings are for lunch today.
“No,” I say to Peaches, “I want eggs so I can’t get them for you.”
Everyone knows you can’t have two proteins. But they ask anyway. You know, The Hunger. It trumps reason.
Sara, who’s my life raft, my best friend here, stays close as the line edges toward the door, closer to the window where through the mosquitoes we can see women at tables that have already gotten their trays.
“What’s in the bowl?” I ask Sara. “Can you tell?”
“Looks like cous cous,” Sara says. We do this wishful thinking joke.
“Yeah, probably has roasted garlic and fresh herbs,” I say and we laugh as the slow moving line continues its snake towards the steam tables.
In front of us, a group starts loudly comparing shoe sizes.
“I got the smallest feet,” says Renee, a very young Mexican woman, can’t be much older than eighteen, her long dark hair a mass of curling iron ringlets, her eyebrows tweezed bare and replaced with a thin lines.
“Yeah, that’s why you my lil shawty,” says JoJo, the tall black woman next to her. JoJo has been down for more than ten years and is infamous on compound. She makes a nonchalant effort to press her body close to Renee without drawing officer attention, though the closest C.O., Officer Partyhair, loves JoJo and is known for being right in the middle of inmate drama.
Partyhair is an albino black woman with just a few strands of this light-reddish hair that she combs straight up and shellacs to her head, on the very crown she pins a large fake hair-bun thing. All loopy like one of those stick-on gift bows.
“I got some big feet,” says JoJo, lifting her chin kind of up and sideways while she winks. “An d’you know what that means, Mami.”
Renee blushes, looks down at Jo-Jo’s feet, and nods as if she agrees that Jo-Jo might actually be packing.
“What was it like in the unit when that whole thing went down with Jo-Jo and Sylvia?” Sara whispers, referring to the recent fight between Jo-Jo and her ex longtime girlfriend. Apparently Sylvia found out about Renee and she sneaked into Jo-Jo’s room and shredded the afghan she’d crocheted for Jo-Jo. It was black with a huge playboy logo. This is a big deal. Crocheting a blanket for someone is serious.
Actually, crocheting is kinda serious.
Everyone does it. Probably because it’s an effective consumer of hours. I make bookmarks. Tediously crafted with a tiny hook and thread, each one takes exactly a half hour. I timed it. I need to know exactly how much time each one represents. They are tangible increments of this experience. I was sentenced to seventeen thousand, five hundred and twenty crocheted bookmarks.
“There were pieces of yarn everywhere,” I tell Sara, “It was fucking crazy, she threw it down from the second floor into the common area. Jo-Jo had to clean it all up and I think they put Sylvia in seg.”
Lesbian drama is about as interesting as it gets around here. I mean, as far as cliché prison experience goes. This is a camp. The lowest security style of the Federal Institutions. Not much fighting here, no shanks, no riots. The only way to get your ass kicked is to mess with somebody’s girlfriend.
Nothing gets a women riled up like love.
I see there are are fresh tomatoes on the cold table and make my way over while Sara is contemplating peanut butter. I am thrilled to find fresh food and start to pile them high next to my two white eggs when the unmistakable accent of Lieutenant Quejano shouting behind me halts my tomato piling.
“HEY, INMATE! YOU TUCK IN YOUR SHIRT THERE! SHOW SOME RESPECT!”
I freeze and become conscious of only the fold of my shirt between my waistband and the skin of my waist. Only once I determine beyond doubt that my shirt is intact do I dare to turn, ever so slowly, as if I am not really looking towards the vocal tirade but maybe just checking the soup over here. I don’t want any soup, but I can now see who’s scrambling to tuck her shirt in. One handed. Tray in the other. It’s Facelift.
Facelift came from New Orleans, but hasn’t said why she’s here. I suspect she is in her mid fifties, although she might have another decade in mind. Her hair is unnaturally dark, and her face is pulled so tight towards the tiny scars above her ears that her eyes have permanently narrowed, her cheekbones stick out and her lips are just two thin straight lines that strain to open when she talks. Today they are painted red. I’ve only had a couple of short conversations with her, but she managed to bring up her lack of having a facelift both times.
“My family has really great genes. Good hair, good skin, no wrinkles…” and once, even less subtly, “I’ll bet you think you’re older than me.”
Strange, the things we try so hard to hide become the most glaring, the most obvious things about us.
I attempt to return to my tomatoes, but am again interrupted.
“ARE YOU EYEBALLING MY PACKAGE, INMATE? WHY ARE YOU EYEBALLING MY PACKAGE?” Quejano shouts at another woman, a woman called Princess, who turns pink then a traumatic shade of red.
She’s short, probably five foot three, but she still has several inches on the extremely diminutive Quejano. Looking at his “package” would be both a physical and emotional stretch for any of us.
“ A cockroach…” she starts.
“WHAT?? ARE YOU CALLING ME COCKROACH?”
“No, sir. A cockroach. I saw a cockroach behind you, sir.”
“YOU DIDN’T SEE NOTHING THERE. THERE ARE NO COCKROACHES HERE. YOU GO!” His straight arm raises and his miniature hand shoos her toward the door she was only trying to get out of anyway.
Even after a year here, it’s a struggle for my brain to process this shit, I still try to make it make sense, complete the picture with logic, like those emails you can read even though there aren’t any vowels in the words. But it doesn’t work here. There is way more missing than just vowel sounds.
I realize now that I’m foolishly standing, mouth agape, looking right in Quejano’s direction. I’m no longer even trying to look at the soup having been so completely aghast at the fact that he actually just saideyeballing my package.
Just as he’s a second away from eyeballing me, I whip my body around as if I had been in motion this whole time and turn my head to find Sara, who is sitting and waving like mad for me to join her at the table.
“What the hell was that all about?” she comments more than questions. “That guy is fucking insane.”
“I know, right? It would be weird to run into him on the Outside.”
“He probably lives alone in some tiny basement apartment, never throws away his newspapers and puts together model warplanes when he’s off.”
“Yeah, I bet he looks at clown porn,” I add. “And jerks off in his uniform.”
“Oh yeah, definitely that,” Sara says, “he definitely does that…and we’re beside ourselves laughing as four women slide into the table next to us and hold up their hands, palms out to pray.
“Oh, Lord Jesus, Master Lord Jesus,” one begins.
Sara and I look at each other with artificially straightened up faces that threaten to crack up into total hysterics. The newly saved like to pray loud, like to be seen praying. It’s the other side of the social spectrum here, the opposite of the dating scene. But not so different, there’s still the latching on, the need for completion.
“We thank you oh, Lord Jesus, Master Jesus, for this bounty…” she continues at top volume. The others nod their heads and emit moans of concilliation.
Here’s how Sara and I give thanks: By laughing instead of crying and by pretending that we are eating Al Fresco in SoHo instead of here in this revolting cafeteria.
Sara acts like she is going to flag down Partyhair to bring us a couple of macchiatos. We start howling again at the thought of even saying “macchiato” to Partyhair. She would probably think we were calling her a derogatory name and we would end up in seg.
We diligently wait until Quejano is gone before we try and leave. Just incase. We scrape our plates and stack our trays not far from where Jojo and Renee are sitting, Partyhair perched on the edge of their table whispering conspiratorially like she’d rather be an inmate. “I always thought you could do better than that Sylvia,” we overhear. So does Facelift who looks up from where she sits, alone in a far corner, spooning soup through red lips that barely open.
Me and Sara pull our shirt collars up over our noses before we push open the door to brave the mosquitos and the rest of the day.
Everyone knows that Tuesday is the day the new music comes out, and for my parents, June 4th, 1984 was the last great Tuesday of them all.
They had never been so ecstatic about a music purchase before, at least not since “The Big Chill” soundtrack was released, and that was a dogpile of re-packaged boomer nostalgia – this time, it was new music. After a giddy round-trip in the Dodge Omni to the Target in Cottage Grove, the plastic wrap was sheared from the LP sleeve, the album reverentially placed on the old Akai turntable, and the needle dropped on “Born In The U.S.A.,” the first track from the Bruce Springsteen album of the same name.
The Boss would command my family’s stereo for most of the summer, and his words and sounds dominate our mental inventories of that entire year, but it would be the last time, or at least the last time I could remember, that my parents bought a record the day it came out.
Years later, my dad was piqued by the Moody Blues’ resurgence, but was apparently just content to wait for “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” on the radio. My mom got into Ray Lynch (“Deep Breakfast” was being passed around a subset of literate Midwestern women like a carafe of white Zinfandel), and would still see Barry Manilow in concert, but she wasn’t into his new stuff. Not even Springsteen continued to hold court. For people as fanatical about “Born In The U.S.A.” as my parents were, there was no anticipated Tuesday afternoon scramble up to Target to procure “Tunnel of Love” in 1987; in fact, they never even bought it at all. At a certain point in their thirties, the music they already had was good enough.
While certain music snobs could make the argument that there’s a short distance between being into Barry Manilow and The Moody Blues and no longer being into any kind of music at all, my parents’ surrender is not that simple, unfortunately, and far more problematic. While they didn’t make the full transition into “music for people who hate music” (e.g. Jimmy Buffett) something even more disturbing happened: they simply abandoned the joy of buying a new album. As a couple, they were never again as happy and excited about new music as they were about “Born In The U.S.A.,” and they seemed okay with this.
There was no lone gunman here. Their friends were getting older and seemed to be going to concerts less, they had no consistent source of discovering new music other than mainstream FM radio, and, what’s more, new music was increasingly inscrutable (my parents didn’t care for new wave, disliked country, punk and grunge, hated rap, heavy metal, and techno, and to this day are blissfully unaware of skronk, trip-hop, dubstep, reggaeton, third-wave ska, musique concrete, and grime).
At the time they bought “Born In The U.S.A.,” my parents were both thirty-four; a year younger than I am now. They had a nine-year-old and a five-year-old, and owned a three-bed, one-bath rambler with an unfinished basement. They were in a bowling league. My mom was about to go back to college. They had wild drunken nights with other people in their thirties. They weren’t so different from many of my friends today.
Perhaps there was more music out there that they would’ve loved, but how much work would it have been, for two working parents, to find it? I certainly don’t recall any 34-year olds in my hometown who were buying R.E.M.’s “Reckoning” or Robyn Hitchcock’s “I Often Dream of Trains” in 1984 (two albums my parents later liked, when I got them into them) let alone stuff my parents would’ve hated like Big Black’s “Racer-X” or the Butthole Surfers’ “Psychic … Powerless … Another Man’s Sac.”
Everybody knows a person, or maybe several, who are in the know, and act as a bulwark against the intimidating flow of new music. Now, imagine not knowing any of them, and all you have FM radio stations, your memories from high school or college, and friends who have the same radio stations and pretty much the same memories.
It could be tough to sustain an abiding interest in new music year in and year out, particularly as it sounds less and less like the music you bought when you first started buying music. Maybe once, you stayed up all night reading the zines, playing the singles, and standing in line on Mondays waiting for the midnight in-store release parties, where the idea of winning a promotional flat as a raffle prize would have you smiling for hours. But that only matters if you still have the time to care.
This seems to be the factor among the people my age who have both kids and a waning awareness of new music. Despite a lifelong interest in music—and two brothers who are club DJs—one good friend of mine in California is just too damn busy with his job, his five-year-old, his home refurbishing projects, and other pursuits to keep pace with what’s new.
Though kids and jobs are prime culprits, they’re also a facile target; I know a married couple in West Virginia with two children and full-time jobs who have long been as up on new music as anybody. The main difference, of course, is that they prioritize it and truly enjoy the work. At a certain point (for most people, when they’re out of college) finding great new music does become work, and if you want to find your new favorite band before it costs over $15 to see them, it can really while away the hours.
Why should it be so hard to stay current? In this era of Grooveshark and live streaming college radio and untamed file sharing, it shouldn’t be such a struggle to love new music, neither the evolutions of the bands from our teenage years nor the newest hot 20-year-olds from Baltimore. To love something is to accept its changes, even revel in them, after all, and perhaps to fall out of love with new music means a failure on our part to change or accept change.
I suppose to enforce stasis is to enshrine the cultural past. And in ex-urb Minnesota, I grew up around a lot of this enforced stasis. I met a lot of no-nonsense Midwesterners who, by the time they were in their mid-thirties, decided that new music (among other things) just wasn’t for them. But where do we go from there? Are we doomed to mellow out and get over it? Flash forward fifteen years to a lawn chair, a beer gut, and the same goddamn favorite song?
Conversely, how much of the no-nonsense Midwesterners’ emotional reaction is actually an accurate reflection of the imperatives of the marketplace? Most new music, particularly by new bands, is aimed at teenagers, and Top 40 music has been blatant kid stuff since the dawn of time, which means that of course we’re supposed to grow out of most of it, and grow up with the rest of it, carrying our Madonna to battle against the next generation’s Lady Gaga. It sometimes takes a serious emotional experience or upheaval to dictate otherwise.
To note an extreme example of this, back in 2001, my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV omental cancer. Dealing with a fatal illness, she got back into new music in a huge way, listening to stuff by Gillian Welch, Sarah McLachlan, Lucinda Williams, Beck (she really liked “Mutations” and “Sea Change”), Kimmie Rhodes, and the new output from Bob Dylan. It was a point of connection that my brother, my cousins, and I could now share with her, and it was wildly meaningful and awesome.
I don’t mean to say that if you experience a cancer diagnosis, you’re going to be suddenly motivated to buy the latest from LCD Soundsystem, but there’s a relationship of some kind between times of great personal change and our emotional dilation to music. Music, I suppose, even at its most retrained, is an expression of something that someone just couldn’t keep quiet, and in times of massive personal upheaval and joy, this form of expression has a sincere and subjective impact. To make a mix for a road trip or to have a song as a couple is to say, this means something; this is a conscious emotional tether to a dynamic time.
The question is, what’s the soundtrack for what comes next, when the dust and the young parents settle? Do we even want a soundtrack for days where nothing really happens? Are there fewer bands at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy? Or do they just play Radiohead’s “No Surprises” on repeat?
For every person who tells me that the 1960s were the apogee of popular music, or that everything in the 21st century sounds the same, or that the Telecom Act of 1996 presaged a nosedive in the quality of pop culture, I’ve started to wonder where they’re at in their life, and if maybe they don’t need to get their ass to a New Releases display in one of the last few record stores in the world before they die on their feet. Lester Bangs, in his 1980 essay “Otis Rush Mugged by an Iceberg,” ended a review of the one recent album that impressed him by writing, “It’s better than killing yourself.” Agreed, and finding that record, even if it’s just one, is worth the effort. Even if we’re just dancing in the dark.
Dear Herman Miller:
I am writing to ask if you would please send me one of your Embody chairs. For free.
Before I proceed, I want to assure you that I realize that the Embody chair is a work of high art and should not be granted to just anybody. With a price tag of $1100-$1600 there can be no question in anyone’s mind that Bill Stumpf’s last design was created for a distinct class of the seated elite. That Backfit frame that adjusts so perfectly to the Pixel-Matrix Support pads could only have been hatched by an ergonomic genius. And with seven different possible adjustments, every conceivable curve and contour of the back is cradled by attentive efficiency, leaving only the soul jonesing for more and left to cry out for the fulfillment of productivity. Well worth the money…I don’t have.
With the success of the uber-popular Aeron chair hatched in the 90s, you have by now no doubt had hundreds of thousands of clients at Herman Miller. I read recently that the Aeron chair itself boasts over 50,000 clients. The fact alone that you can refer to one who sits in a Herman Miller chair as a “client” speaks volumes – as if the person is being served by an accountant or possibly a psychologist. I imagine that a client of the Embody chair doesn’t even need a psychologist, as the chair itself is a psychologist. Have studies been done on this? Do clients of the Embody chair need less psychological help? Does the Embody chair pay for itself in a matter of only a few spared sessions of therapy?
I realize that I am asking for a lot. I am not a particularly lucky person or habitual prizewinner, nor am I accustomed to receiving free things, unless you count coffee or socks. Perhaps you do not care to know about such things, but I do feel it is important to be honest with you if we are going to start off on the right foot. The socks were from an over-zealous store clerk who then wanted, in exchange, my phone number. He was clearly a college boy who did not realize that I was at least 10 years his senior and, by the way, married. His mistake was giving me the socks first and then asking for my number. By the time I set him right it was too late to ask for the socks back. He was brave through his inflamed acne-scarred cheeks and even stammered that, if I wanted, we could still go get coffee (his treat) after he got off work “as friends”. The socks were of the water-wicking wool variety. And comfortable.
At any rate, I do not frequently come across free things nor am I a woman of means. I am a writer, as well as a struggling entrepreneur. When I’m not blogging about what it was like to grow up so religious that I wasn’t even allowed to use a Speak N’ Spell because it contained the word “spell” and talked like the devil, I help run a rural ISP in the mountains west of Boulder from a bulky mess of a chair I purchased over 12 years ago from Office Max. Even as I sit here now, the chair wheezes and swivels habitually to the left toward my bookcase whereupon I am subject repeatedly to the temptation of literary escapism. That I can finish this letter at all in the face of such partisanship is a small miracle.
Even so, in 2008 – in the face of distraction from my left leaning chair – I co-founded a web-based social lending company, which ended up being named as one of Colorado’s most innovative companies in the same year. This was fantastic and would have been upgraded to positively thrilling had we actually been funded as a result of the honor. Unfortunately, I and my co-founders needed to eat so the company is currently treading water. I am not saying that possession of a Herman Miller Embody Chair, or possibly an extra in carbon balance fabric with an aluminum base on a graphite frame for one of my co-founders, would help the company get back in the race, but I am not saying the opposite would be true, either.
Of course, I would never ask for something for nothing, Herman Miller, and I realize that with a free Embody chair would come grave responsibility. I assure you, I am an avid user of several social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and would vow to regularly broadcast praises about the Embody chair while simultaneously typing from the comfort of one. Also, I would commit to end every blog post on TheNervousBreakdown.com and elsewhere with the tag, “This post was written from the blissful comfort of a Herman Miller Embody Chair and is certifiably 100% ergonomically correct.” In addition, my memoir about growing up Evangelical is due out from Emergency Press within the next 12 months, in which I will also happily make an endorsement of comfort.
Herman (may I call you Herman?), I realize it is not your policy to send out a free chair(s) to every person who asks for one (or two). In this case, however, I would like to offer that this could be a mutually beneficial exchange with potential for a lasting and, dare I say, passionate relationship. In other words, I will happily play Anaïs Nin to your Henry, er, Herman Miller.
If you will have me, that is.
Warmly (Not to be confused with the warmth that comes from constantly overcorrecting to the right),
– Erika Rae
PS – Should you decide me a worthy recipient, I will gladly cover shipping charges. Please email me at erae [at] thenervousbreakdown [dot] com or find shipping instructions in a subsequent post entitled, “Dear FedEx”.
Linneman Street. Glenview, Illinois. 1976. This was the locale of an eight year old boy’s perfect year. The boy was me. 1976 was my Golden Year.
January 30, 2011
Dear Fred, Dearest Nancy,
If, as the kids say, modern life is war—and I believe it is—then I no longer wish to be employed at The Strand Bookstore. To put it another way, more responsive to Fred’s upbringing then Nancy’s Go Go 70’s background; Maggie’s Farm—I no longer wish to work it. In fact, I wish to so terminate my relationship with Maggie’s Farm that I no longer understand the reference.
The reasons for my self-termination are plenty fold. Firstly, I do not enjoy going to work. On time or at all. But especially on time. My tardiness should never have been an issue, and certainly not one that was brought to my attention. Working at a book store shouldn’t be a popularity contest. This isn’t one of those offices where cupcakes are currency, and awkwardness—true and painful awkwardness—is mined for humor by the British. This is a bookstore. Or at least, that’s what it says on the sign outside. Now, after three-and-a-half years spent shelving the likes of Reckless Sunbeams: Finding a Life Through Love, I have my doubts.
And let me just tell you, when management told me to stop drinking on the job, a part of my childhood was stripped away. My father worked in construction or finance or was a tenured professor and all I’ve ever wanted was a job I could be drunk at. And, for the record, I NEVER drank on the job. I was, in fact, always still drunk from the night before. There’s a big difference between Old Granddad between the stacks and having spent the morning re-enacting the McCarthy-era education reel “Star Nosed Mole Vs. The San Andreas Fault” with an NYU mod whom one picked up at Morrissey Night. You would think that upper management, with their highly developed sense of smell and ingrained inclinations, would know where on the alcohol timetable a person was. My drinking on the job would be like cavemen fighting the dinosaurs— fun but unnecessary.
I don’t want to waste your time with the usual complaints about the quality of the books that I shelved, day after day, in the unchanging weather of the basement. My mother birthed me with a certain expectation of disappointment, but she’d have to lower the bar considerably before I added literary criticism to the pyramid of disenchantment that I’ve managed to build for her. If anything, my work at The Strand has made me more sympathetic to authors. Or at least more suspicious of those who think funning on them is the same as speaking truth to power. The literary world is innocent. Jews without any real ability need to do something and there will always be someone writing short stories with titles that are longer than absolutely necessary. The author of “Marc Almond Wears a Wristwatch (Because He Wants to Know What Time It Is)” is neither Prime Minister Botha nor the Coca Cola Corporation, and I won’t act like he/she is. Having said that, I’ll be glad to go back to reading magazines exclusively on the subway. I don’t like the way that people take a book in hand as some sort of signifying badge of membership in an elite. You don’t see people with bikes exchanging smug looks with other people with bikes. Well, ok, you do. But I don’t like that either.
When I was twenty-five I swore that I would never be the cool guy in his thirties at the bookstore, playing in a semi-popular band, sleeping with 21-year-olds. That would make me a failure. My success is that I am in a truly unpopular band and I sleep almost exclusively with girls in the 23–26 range. I am all too aware, as I had it pointed out to me by Samantha at the registers, that men who are self-deprecating while slyly bragging about fucking younger women are truly despicable. We fit somewhere on the social hierarchy above pedophiles and below male models. With the film actors who talk about how doing blockbusters allows them to do smaller fare, like saying that slitting open the bellies of baby ducks for cash allows them to buy platinum collars and bells for the neighborhood strays. Thank you for that, Samantha. Thank you.
I think it’s important to not be delusional about the sort of man or woman you’ve grown up to be, but you also have to avoid being a bore or—worse—clever. If you have to be that anarchist who hangs himself in the backyard of the bar, first set down a tarp or some sort of throw rug. There’s always a cleaning crew, and, if you have one essential goal in life, it should be to make their lives no more difficult than absolutely necessary. I suspect that my behavior at work is making other people’s lives exactly that, and I am not without a conscience.
There are those who will tell you that the doing of the work is almost as important as the quality of the work. That effort and striving, just trying, defines one’s character. I don’t take issue with these people’s standards. And, while I prefer to stay in bed until well after three in the afternoon, I’m not opposed to hard work, especially theoretical hard work, of an academic nature, performed by other people. I’m just saying that a lot of the author/prisoners that these people advocate for go on to kill again upon their release. But do I digress? I do. I’m sorry Fred. I’m sorry Nancy.
But who will apologize to me, for the digressions that have been foisted upon me and my plans? When is my Off Topic Day Parade, with politicians glad-handing babies and homosexuals protesting on the side lines? I know that I’m not the only one who once had perfectly fantastic reasons for moving to the city. The majority of my co-workers, if the break room chit chat is any indication, moved here for the mediocre Thai food and the plentiful artistic forums to express their first-world hassles as some sort of Gaza level tragedy. For myself, I moved here for the poetry, the hard drugs, and the roving gangs of loose and insecure publicists. If, while describing the dry, defensive, overeducated-Berkshires-by-way-of-Athens, Ohio detritus of my existence, I have seemed flip or even—ha—resigned, it’s because working in a bookstore for so long has numbed me to dramatic possibility. This, I think you’ll agree, must change.
Goodbye dear sweet bosses. You’ve been really okay. Tell the gang that I love them and the union that I think it’s cute the way it fumbles at the lock to the door to dignity. Tell Matt on the third floor that I hate every shirt, ironic and non, that he’s ever worn. And, most importantly, please tell Samantha (who I suspect is really named Becky) at the registers that I burn for her. Tell her that I burn to be the sexual stopgap between her MFA and her assistant editorial-ship at n+1, that I yearn to be the bad actor sweating over her shuddering whiteness, and if she ever changes her mind about that oft offered, never accepted, drink after work that I am, now and forever, “after work”.
Would you do that for me, Fred? Nancy? Thank you. You’re mensches.
I Will See You Around,
Zachary H. Lipez
January 30, 2011
(Dick Cavett onstage at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, CA this past December, at an event sponsored by Writers Bloc. Cavett’s special interview guest was Mel Brooks.)
By Terry Keefe
During the varied runs of his television talk show, Dick Cavett arguably conducted in-depth interviews better than anyone in the media before or since.
From 1968 to 1975 on ABC, and then later from 1977 to 1982 on PBS, “The Dick Cavett Show” hosted a literal who’s who of both America and the world. The guest list included Marlon Brando, Woody Allen, Groucho Marx, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Noel Coward, Salvador Dali, Mel Brooks, Katherine Hepburn, and Ingmar Bergman, to name just a few.
The show was unique in its time, but even more so today, in that the host and guest rarely engaged in stuffy Q&As designed to promote the latest project, nor was the format a non-stop quip fest. Cavett had conversations with his guests, real conversations which sometimes lasted an hour or more. If you want to see what, for example, David Bowie would have been like to speak with during the early 70s, watch his sometimes manic, often rambling, but always 100 percent authentic dialogue with Cavett.