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People who have known you all your life are often surprised when they read your fiction. People who have held you in their arms, buttoned your pajamas, put band-aids on your booboos, whose children you grew up with. People who are family, and who like to remind you about that once or twice a year over a Rubio’s fish taco at the mall.

This summer I sojourned to the Mt. Hood Wilderness Area in Northern Oregon. Over a span of four days I hiked nearly 40 miles and in the process endured soaking rains, too-little food and water, poisonous plants, venomous spiders, blood-sucking flies, and the possibility of an attack from bears, cougars, or perhaps even Bigfoot. At the end of the ordeal my feet were blistered and sore, my legs and back aching. In such a state was I that the meager prospects of a gas station sandwich and a Motel 6 seemed downright epicurean.

For many, this type of willful deprivation from modern comforts amounts to little more than masochism. As far as I’m concerned, such suffering is sheer joy when compared to the pain visited upon man by his fellow man. Concomitant with deprivation from society’s riches is deliverance from its ugliness.

 

Please explain what just happened.

Just got back from San Diego Comicon. It’s like Woodstock for nerds. Which is why I love it! I did a panel for my new film about artist Drew Struzan titled Drew: The Man Behind the Poster. I was lucky enough to share the stage with my favorite artist Drew Struzan, actor Thomas Jane, producer Charles Ricciardi, cinematographer Greg Boas, editor Jeff Yorkes, Steve Saffel (Titan Books), composer Ryan Shore, and Zach Martin from Skywalker Sound. We had a great time doing it, and it really helped bring attention to the film.

 

What is your earliest memory?  

Okay, this is super nerdy, but my earliest memory is seeing the original Star Wars in the theatre when I was a little kid. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Darth Vader totally scared me. And Han Solo became my hero. I know it’s geeky, but true.

The Dark Knight Rises starts next week, and I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, Hey, I’m kind of missing Michael Keaton, and, where has that guy been anyway?  He’s been hanging out at Amelia’s Espresso and Panini with Daniel Kellison.  That’s where.  And you can the read their whole exchange at Grantland in which the typically media-shy Keaton (Batman, Beetlejuice, Mr. Mom) discusses his new project-in-the-works with Larry David, the one time he watched Quentin Tarantino get sloshed on Jägermeister “like some kind of frat boy,” Night Shift, politics, and working on the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Really:

Two weeks from Friday, The Dark Knight Rises, the third installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, will open in the United States. If this film does anywhere near the box office its predecessor, The Dark Knight, did, the three films will gross 2 billion dollars. Batman is big business.

In the credits of that movie, it will say “Batman created by Bob Kane.” Indeed, Kane appeared in the Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson Batman film a generation ago.  His heirs will see some major coin this summer.

It’s nice to see a writer make so much dough for a character, right? The problem is, Bob Kane was not the only creator of Batman. It could be argued, in fact, that he wasn’t the more important of the two creators, as so much of the Batman backstory–the Bruce Wayne identity, the Batcave, most of the inventions, and the villains like The Joker and Catwoman–were the work of his silent partner, a man named Bill Finger, the Tesla to Kane’s Edison.

Please explain what just happened.

Millions of years ago two warring factions wanted to mine the precious material and resources of earth. This being hard labor, they picked the dominant ape-like species and jump started the DNA code to expedite evolution, creating a labor force. By placing the “moon” in Earth’s orbit they could observe the progress of this species and subtly influence them for one purpose or another. A giant flood wiped out all the technology and “man” was forced to start again. Then at some point I was born.

What is your earliest memory?

I remember getting my head stuck under my crib and crying out for help. My mother came into the room and explained I could simply turn my head sideways, which I did. I wasn’t a terribly bright child.

 

When did you start writing?

I was five, maybe six when I wrote and illustrated “My Autobiography.” I’ll read it to you: “I was born. I was a very very fat babby [sic].” I’d love to have that kind of brevity these days.


Who were you in a past life?

I’d like to say I was a vampire and that I’ve been around for eternity, but it’s simply not true. If I had to guess, I’d say I was either a French troubadour in the twelfth century or one of the painters of the Lascaux caves. I believe that we recycle proclivities from life to life. Which might explain why so much of my writing is infused with ideas from songs and/or images. Then again, maybe I was a snail, which might explain why I love being at home and traveling. Or perhaps I was an elephant, which might explain my preoccupation with memory and family.


What were you doing when the music died?

If you think it died when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, then I was a young child, likely asleep at home (in Manhattan). But if you think it died when John Lennon was killed, then I was hanging out with an English musician named Roy Pries in a bar called the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California. Suddenly a TV crew came in and started asking everyone how they felt about John Lennon dying. None of us had heard the news (oh boy).


If you hadn’t become a writer, what vocation might you have pursued?

I would have become a mathematician. Not only is mathematics the true universal language, it is a discipline infused with thinking derived from many different cultures. And if I had become a mathematician, I’m pretty sure I would have devoted myself to the study of imaginary numbers.


Has there ever been a period of time when you were not your usual self and you did things that were unusual for you or that other people might have thought were excessive, foolish, or risky?

I’ve done a lot of excessive, foolish, and risky things that may seem unusual for other people. But I’m pretty sure it was always my usual self doing them and that they were usual for me at the time.


What is your favorite curse word?

Bordel, a French swear word. It means, literally, “brothel,” but if you say “c’est un bordel,” it means “what a mess.” I really love traditional curses, such as “May your left ear wither and fall into your right pocket” and “May the curse of Mary Malone and her nine blind illegitimate children chase you so far over the hills of Damnation that the Lord himself can’t find you with a telescope.”


Spiderman or Batman?

That’s really hard. Spiderman has that catch-you-in-my-web allure. Plus he’s more of a loner than Batman, who is part of a Dynamic Duo and is assisted by Alfred. Batman offers a kind of sexual ambiguity that I find alluring, and of course, he drives the Batmobile and stashes all his toys and gadgets and bat suits in the supremely cool Batcave. Both, I guess (though if you were asking me to choose between Toby Maguire and Michael Keaton, I’d go for Keaton).


What is your favorite animal and why?

Everything but humans. For the obvious reasons.


For the sake of this interview, can’t you just pick one.

On Sundays, my favorite animal is the otter because an otter knows how to frolic. On Mondays, I like elephants most, because they remember that life is not all about going back to work. On Tuesdays, especially those Tuesdays when I am apt to hit the snooze button ten times, I favor bears because they can be grizzly, black, polar, brown, or teddy. On Wednesdays, I love dolphins and whales because they are clever. Thursdays my favorite animals are all the birds—raptors, finches, corvids, etc.—because by Thursday, I wish I had wings. Fridays find me favoring the felines, especially my own cat. On Saturday, my favorite animal is canine, and in particular, my dog.


At times I have very much wanted to leave home. (check one):

True    X

False

I actually did run away from home, twice. When I was thirteen, I hid in my boyfriend, Richard’s, closet and read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The second time, I was sixteen and I went to my best friend’s house because I wanted to hang out with her and also because I had a crush on her brother Richie; her mother drove the school bus.  These days I’m a pretty staunch homebody and would more likely feel compelled to leave my office. Though there are always moments when I’d like to be twenty again and have the kind of freedom where I could just take off and go wherever I pleased.


What is your favorite word?

Ludic.


What is the word you hate most?

Like, especially when it’s used as an interjection.


You allude to birds often in your writing. But you never write about your phobias about bugs. Why is that?

Growing up in New York City before the invention of the Roach Motel and before we knew about boric acid, I was exposed to cockroaches on a daily basis. They freaked me out—something about the way they twitched their antennae seemed sneaky and underhanded. I’d call for my father to kill them. My mother tried to alleviate my fears by naming them and talking to them as if they were guests, but that only freaked me out more. That’s all I can really say about it.


What plant or animal would you like to be reincarnated as?

A patch of moss, if a plant. A raven if an animal.


You take pleasure in putting things in order (check one):

Yes     X

No

Some years ago I assisted a good friend in throwing a party by doing all the cooking for over seventy people. One of the guests asked me how I managed this and I explained that it simply required a great deal of organization and planning ahead. Out of the blue, she asked me, “Did you play with files as a kid?” Her question stunned me because I had played with files; my dad, if he had to work on a Saturday, often took me to his office. I would play an imaginary game of spy in the file room.


What historical figure is your hero?

Miriam, sister of Moses. She knew what was happening around her—had her ear to the ground, so to speak—and took action. Plus, when the Jews were leaving Egypt, she played a tambourine and danced her way across the parted Red Sea and out of slavery. She was able to locate water in the desert. And she was a prophet. These are all good qualities to have when you’re in a hot place, no oasis in sight, accompanied by both your extended family and your tribe, for forty years, with no plumbing, no maps, and a brother who keeps receiving all the divine messages.


Do you have a tattoo?

No.


If you did have a tattoo, what and where would it be?

A small raven feather, on my shoulder.


Who were your favorite writers when you were growing up?

As a child, I was a devout fan of E. B. White—Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, Walter Farley’s books about the black stallion, Bob Dylan’s musical poems. I was nine when I first read a novel, and it was For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway remains one of my favorite writers today. As a teenager, I devoured dramatic literature—in particular, Eugene O’Neill, Henrik Ibsen, Elmer Rice, August Strindberg, Samuel Beckett. In my twenties, Virginia Woolf claimed favorite status, a place she still occupies, alongside James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, John Berger, Susan Sontag, and a cast of many more.


If prostitution is wrong, then why are there so many examples of it in Genesis?

This could be a very long answer, but I’ll encapsulate two thousand years of history by saying that it wasn’t until the Church institutionalized religion that prostitution became wrong. Back in the days of Genesis, prostitutes were priestesses of the sacred temples, initiating the uninitiated in the ways of love.


What is your opposite gender name?

Alexander. (To my friend Alexander, I say: I am not making this up; the computer generated this answer.)


Where did your god come from?

From someone’s imagination. And, because I was raised as a Jew, a mezuzah on the doorframe, I tend to think a little like Lenny Bruce, who said that God lives in that little box on a slant in the doorway.


Evil spirits possess me at times (check one):

True    X

False

Only when I watch Fox News, listen to Sarah Palin, contemplate the eight years of Republican undoing, see pictures of oil-drenched wildlife, and/or on the eve of a blue moon.


Whose face would you choose to illustrate a new bank note?

Mick Jagger, with the inscription “You can’t always get you want” on one side and “Can’t get no satisfaction” on the other. That way, whenever people would spend it, they’d have a message about the evils of consumerism that would be roughly equivalent to the Surgeon General’s warning on a pack of cigarettes.


What century would you have preferred to have lived in?

Pre-contact, on the island of Manahatta.


After you die, what would you like God (if you think God exists) to say to you?

Let’s dance.


Do you feel guilty if you cry in public?

No, I just feel self-conscious.


Who is your favorite fictional character?

Charlotte the spider.


What is your favorite drug?

Feeling awakened.


My soul sometimes leaves my body (check one):

True   X

False

Only when it’s invited to ride the Soul Train. It always comes back. And no one ever offers me riches beyond compare for it.


What is the quality you most admire in dogs?

The way they wag their tails as if to say “What’s the next good thing?”


Has there ever been a time when you were not your usual self and thoughts raced through your head or you couldn’t slow your mind down?

Only when I have too much caffeine.


Who is your favorite character in a work of nonfiction?

Fred the dog in E. B. White’s essays.


Night or day?

Neither. I’ll take twilight, dusk, dawn, those liminal times of day when the mind is sharp and the light diffuse and creatures are awakening or preparing to settle down.


***

Thanks to David Foster Wallace for the title. Answers to more writerly questions can be found on interviews links or posted at my Web site: www.kimdanakupperman.com. Questions for this self-interview were compiled from a variety of sources, including e-mails from friends, The Mood Disorder Questionnaire, the Proust Questionnaire, the Bernard Pivot Questionnaire, a MySpace Either/Or Survey, an Online Name Generator, the Heirophant’s Proselytizer Questionnaire, the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and an online emotions test.

I was sitting outside at my favorite coffee shop; one of the last times I would do so before I moved away from the sleepy streets of Beaumont for good. The man sat across the patio from me at a cluttered table in a puddle of sunlight and his own eccentricity. I have long since come to terms with the fact that I am a divining rod for insanity. I can spot it in a crowd, and in some instances I am even magnetic. It doesn’t wait for me to find it, but instead fights its way to the front. I’ve seen a lot of crazy people.

This guys though, this guy was a rare gem. A trucker’s cap covered his balding head, which on its own would not have been unusual. He was also wearing a fanny pack and a tube top, however, and had eight mountaineering clips attached to his belt with nothing on them.

And he was carrying a record player.

It wasn’t my first encounter with this man either. He was the non-athletic type, and I somehow imagined that he lived as a stowaway in his mother’s basement, occasionally trying on her clothes when she went to work and exploring the inner workings of his turntable. The first time we met, he cornered me on that very same patio and proceeded to discuss with me the different types of solder. It was more of a monologue on his part than an actual conversation.

“We used to use lead based solder back when I was on the inside. Lead. Lead is good. Now everything’s lead-free and useless. It’s better they say, but it’s not the same thing. It all depends on what you want to join. Sometimes I just put things together to see if they’ll stick. Did you know you can’t solder something to a mouse? Won’t work. Not even with 18 gauge rosin flux. It just runs. The mouse I mean, not the solder. Ask me anything about solder, and I can tell you.”

I’ve learned since then to simply keep my earphones jammed deep in my ears whether I’m listening to music or not. It buys me the freedom to observe without participating. That day I watched, intrigued, as the man alternated between tasks, sometimes rolling cigarettes, sometimes strategically arranging the napkins on his table, and sometimes taking a moment to run his tongue along a lighter shaped like a deer’s head.

The latter was deeply disturbing.

Years ago I used to make a habit of randomly picking up homeless people and taking them for fast food. I’ve always been fascinated with other people’s stories. I’m a collector, and the vagrant population has more than most. You won’t get an earful of inner-office drivel from them. You’re not in danger of having to listen to them prattle on about their misbehaving children or how the neighbor’s dog won’t stop tearing up the flower beds. Their stories are never that mundane.

It was never unselfish. I in no way ever felt like I was doing some great service to these men. At best – even if they were in fact starving to death – I was only buying them one more day, and it was unlikely that they were going to figure things out in those twenty-four hours. Still, a Sonic burger in exchange for the chronicles of another human being always seemed like an acceptable trade to me.

More than anything, I grew curious as to whether or not these people were truly unstable and wild or if some of it was just an act. One I remember particularly clearly was named Big Chief. Over tater tots he regaled me with tales of having removed himself from the grid on purpose. Crow’s feet and thick lines cut their way through his face as he talked, making him look like a living Fredrick Remington sculpture and his Native American roots came through audibly as well, his voice possessing the broken, yet soothing, cadence of his people.

“They are watching,” he said. He glanced repeatedly in the sideview mirror as he talked. “If they knew where I was I would be dead, and you too most likely. If I can be on a different car every night, they cannot catch me.”

“You hop trains?” I asked.

“It is better that way. In 2002 the world will end, and only the ones of us with places to hide in the jungles will be safe. I have gold buried across the country, so when the economy falls, I will be ready.”

“Gold?” I was a bit incredulous.

“And jewels.” He pointed to his pocket, where I saw the metal spiral of a small pad of paper sticking out. “It is all in here. When I worked for the Secret Service I saved every check they gave me. I was there when they shot Reagan. Every dollar I made went to buying precious stones and metals and only I know where it is all hidden.”

The world didn’t end in 2002, however, and I never saw Big Chief again. I imagine him sometimes though, hiding in the forest on the outskirts of some sleepy town as night falls, burying nuggets of gold and marking their locations in his tattered notebook.

When I was eighteen I worked at a grocery store. A homeless man named Redbeard frequently hovered outside one of the entrances, begging quarters from soccer moms as they wheeled carts full of food to their SUV’s. It was a brilliant ploy, accosting these people with assertions of hunger when they couldn’t possibly argue that they had nothing to give. I never understood why these customers were so quick to go to their purses rather than hand the man a bag of chips or some lunchmeat from their carts.

We called him Redbeard not just because of his matted red beard, but also because of the invisible parrot that sat on his shoulder and gave him advice. There was a pizza place next door to the store and one day I invited Redbeard to join me on my break. Over lunch the imaginary bird miraculously disappeared and a much saner man emerged.

I grabbed another slice of pizza. “You don’t really believe there’s a parrot on your shoulder, do you?” I asked.

“Of course not,” he replied with a gleam in his eye. “But I do kinda look like a pirate, don’t I?” It was true. He did.

“Honestly?” he continued. “They won’t give you anything if they think you can help yourself.”

There was some obvious logic to his argument considering that he was sucking down slices of pepperoni on my dime. That encounter though has forced me to take a longer look at the crazy people I come across, which is what I found myself doing on that coffee shop patio with the man I knew only as The Record Player.

Like the vagrants in my past before him, he somehow ended up with a name like a Batman villain. They should have had their own line of action figures. Legitimately crazy or not, I could envision a metropolis filled with them; a world where Redbeard and Big Chief knocked off banks while The Record Player scrawled cryptic riddles on construction paper and left them behind to confuse the cops, as they all idled away into the night in the back of a boxcar. If they were ever captured, their insanity pleas would be airtight.

My own past is not exactly devoid of crazy moments, and I can’t help but wonder if I, too, have been labeled the same way by much saner people somewhere in the past. Crazy is such a relative term anyway. What right did I really have to sit there and judge this man? Maybe he continued to cross my path for a reason.

Perhaps it was even Life’s way of keeping me humble. “Don’t get cocky, Slade. Regardless of what you think about yourself, you’re still two tables away from a guy licking a lighter.”



My mother never trusted my brother and I in the bathtub alone for too long.

She knew our three-year-old, TV-watching brains were hotwired for action and violence.

If left alone for too long, she knew one of us could easily become the victim of drowning, suffocation by shower curtain, you name it.

Soon, mom would be coming through the bathroom door.

To make sure her boys hadn’t killed each other.

Before that moment, though, my brother and I had already safely gotten out of the tub, and were standing wet and naked, discussing that old cartoon, Underdog.

Specifically, Sweet Polly Purebred.

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“What’s that thing between her legs?” I said.

My brother shrugged.

This had become an on-going topic of conversation.

My brother and I were completely mesmerized by that strange upside down triangle-of-sorts we’d  spotted between Polly’s legs.

The triangle just below her belly button and slightly above the place where her thighs met.

Photoc


The triangle was nothing like anything we’d ever seen on TV superheroes like Superman.

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Or Batman and Robin.

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Those were guys with real crotch bulges.

Like they were packing rocks in their underwear.

But not Polly—and that understated triangle between her legs.

Photof


To better improve our understanding of that triangle, my brother I figured we should try to recreate it.

“I’ll go first,” I said.

I bent slightly forward, tried tucking my tiny, soap-slippery penis between my thighs.

It sprang back out.

My brother laughed.

I laughed.

After a few more attempts, I finally achieved my goal.

“There’s that triangle,” said my brother. “Like Polly.”

“Now you try,” I said.

He imitated the pose.

“Look,” I said. “We’re Polly.”

In unison, we sang: “We’re Polly. We’re Polly.”

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That’s when our mother came through the bathroom door.

“What are you doing?” she screamed.

Since I didn’t fully understand that I’d just transformed myself into one of her new twin daughters, I was stunned by her reaction.

I snapped to attention. My brother snapped to attention.

Our tiny penises sprang out from between our legs.

“Don’t ever let me see you do that again,” said mom.

“But what did we do wrong?” I said.

Mom began crying.

My brother and I began crying.

Through my tears, I again asked that question: “What did we do wrong?”

All mom could say was: “Just don’t ever, ever do that again.”

Without another word, she dried us off, got us dressed and put us to bed.

Alone in our dark room, I whispered to my brother: “We did something bad.”

He agreed.

And so that night we made a pact.

We never watched Underdog again.

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We never, ever wanted to be Polly Purebred again.