The last time I interviewed you you were in the midst of a nasty breakup. You were nervous, constantly looking over your shoulder, scouting for an exit. I thought, this guy is either a crackhead or he is being hunted. I’d heard about your proclivities and I was ready for a little weirdness, but nothing prepared me for the reality. We were only together for half an hour and it seemed like days. The entire time I felt like we were on the precipice of some great violence. I mean, it was innocent enough in the beginning. You were wearing a white dress made of an unusual fabric, plastic or latex, but with the flow and flexibility of cotton. I remember thinking, I would like a dress like that but I’d be embarrassed to wear it. Your face was all scratched from an accident. Or at least that’s what you said. You’d said you’d been on a bus and there was a crash somewhere in downstate Illinois. You insisted on the term “downstate.” You mentioned a Deer tractor and a forklift and a staple gun. You also mentioned “corn people.” And I thought, Hey, I’m the interviewer. It’s not my job to fact check this motherfucker. So I let it slide. I mean, I’d just gotten out of rehab myself and I didn’t want any trouble. It may sound stupid but I was happy to have this job.
I don’t care about your problems. You think you’re not responsible because you’re an addict, because many people you’ve passed traveling your uneven highway have decided against loving you. To me you’re just like any other narcissist working for some international literary conglomerate thinking that every interview you’re assigned is secretly about you. You should just cash your paycheck and go home to your wife (who doesn’t even like you) and your 2.4 kids and pray that nobody ever does decide to pay attention to your petty bullshit because you would burn like a dry leaf under a magnifying glass.
So you have a new essay collection.
The thing was, nobody seemed to care that you had lied but everybody was very upset that I printed your untruths. The Paris Review called me “The Prince of Dubious Assumptions” and the LA Review of Books referred to me as a “marginalized and debased former poet.” What the hell is a former poet?
I’m not taking the bait. I’m not turning this into an interview about you and your “interesting problems.” First off, the last time anybody read anything in The Paris Review was never. Second, you sit in the room with a killer and you talk to that person like he’s your equal, like his sins have been forgiven by a god you don’t even believe in. Then you say this isn’t about guns. And you vote your faith. And you get the republic you deserve. If anything I’d say this crime has been waiting for you your entire life.
Because I sat and did nothing…
Because you ate at the table with murderers and sat passively while crimes were committed in your name. Because you don’t actually believe in free speech. Because you made offensive jokes when you were a child and also when you were no longer a child attending a state university. Because you lied to people when you claimed to love them and you lied to yourself when you claimed to be capable of love. And here we are. Do you remember the date when you interviewed me last time?
February 5, 2010.
And today is November 6, 2017. Yet nothing has changed in your life. Even those tears are no different from the tears you shed before; equal parts salt, water, and self-pity. But I’ve changed. Because the last time you interviewed me for TNB, it was just a tiny website with a small but dedicated following and I didn’t care about you. Now TNB is the literary equivalent of Google, a diverse starburst erupting with genius and powered by 1,000 lights of great literature past and future. And yet instead of not caring about you I actively dislike you and that’s how I know I’m not who I once was and I am capable of change.
So this is a self-interview.
I thought it would maybe be interesting if we touched on the 14th essay. The one you didn’t include in Sometimes I Think About It.
I didn’t include it for a reason.
It was called Moon and it was about subdividing your manhattan apartment with office particle board into 7 twin-size compartments, each with an air-mattress, which you then rented to budget travelers on AirBnB. The last line really stuck with me. You wrote, “Anybody who says money can’t buy happiness has never been in love with a whore.”
I stand by that statement.
Last question. Are you guilty of all the crimes you’ve been accused of?
I read an essay the other day encouraging Johns to be healthy and work on themselves emotionally . And I thought, how does one do that? Is there a gym for emotional health that isn’t secretly a cult? The answer, unfortunately, is no. They’re all cults. When a mob forms you have to decide to join the mob or watch your house burn. Ultimately, there is no trajectory in life and it’s also not a circle. Nothing except a river flows inevitably toward a destination. The rest is hopscotch, randomly forward and back. Life is a game of chance and the miracle of it all is that we’ve survived this long and arrived wherever we are. Essentially, we’re all just lucky. This would be a good time to sniff the roses before whatever tragedy next befalls us.
You give new meaning to the term Self-Hating Jew.
Lose my number.
STEPHEN ELLIOTT is the author of The Adderall Diaries and Happy Baby, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. He is the founding editor of The Rumpus and the director of the movies About Cherry and After Adderall.