Clarence Schmidt

I thought of this as a pilgrimage, in the late sixties, early seventies, to visit Clarence Schmidt and the tumult of his demesne in Woodstock, New York. He was the chief “outsider” artist, famous all over the country, his life and work a living spectacle of barely organized debris. The house and his assemblages festooned four acres on a hill outside of the town. Going there was to visit a chaos that was bearable in contrast with the unbearable chaos, violence, and deceit perpetrated by our government throughout the Vietnam War.

Clarence’s welcome was always huge and physical. The great Kodiak guy of Woodstock engulfed you in big arms, pulled you into his heat and smell. Anything that moved, he hugged. He pulled your face into the thickness of his yellowing beard. You carried the reek home, pleasant as Liederkranz. His story, as I knew it, was that he was a stonemason in Queens, though some say he was also an architect. In his early thirties he inherited four acres of land on Ohayo mountain outside of Woodstock, and soon moved there with his wife. After he worked on several houses around Woodstock as a stonemason, his brain shifted into a different modality. He started laying stone walls in abstract patterns against the hillside on his acreage, and he started to build a house. Soon his wife left him and moved into a trailer on a lot above his place and rained down her garbage down off the cliff onto him. I don’t know what his emotional response was, but physically he received the stuff with grace and enthusiasm, and began to incorporate it into his project. That was how the place he called Journey’s End began.

He started building his first “House of Glass,” seven stories of stone and tar and old windows and doors, around a large beech tree, against the side of Ohayo Mountain. Spreading out from the “mansion” he developed shrines and totems out of tin plates, empty jugs, plastic flowers, product wrappers, broken dolls, discarded prostheses (a nearby prosthetic factory delivered their discards to him). The dolls limbs and heads made certain nooks in the scrap-scape downright spooky. Ranks of broken dolls, some of them dressed, some cracked, burned, pierced, distorted, some with hair of straw attached with tar, looked like a three dimensional, even wackier version of a drawing by that other outsider, Henry Darger, though Clarence’s inventions seemed more sinister than Darger’s playful, erotic fantasy wars. One time when I was there someone delivered two large broken demijohns, useless to everyone but Clarence. Clarence was amazing with his pleasure at the gift of these waste objects. The next time I came the cracks were healed with tar, embellished with limbs of dolls and plastic flowers, placed as if at the entrance to a cave. “What Egypt took centuries to build—” he spread his arms from his tar stained blue coveralls, his eyes spiraling with apotheosis, “—I have made this in less than a lifetime.” He swung his arm as if he were perched on a camel swaying across the plain of Giza.

I tagged along with Greg Blaisdell and Bill Lipke, who went frequently from Ithaca, New York. They were trying to document the accomplishment, and eventually published a book about Clarence. The place resisted photography, and the shots in the book are much less coherent than the experience of being there, though coherence was never as pertinent a value as energy and invention. Kathy Porter, a brilliant painter, and revolutionary spirit, often came with us. She was related by marriage to Stephen Porter to the family of the photographer Elliot and the painter Fairfield Porter. Clarence loved to hug her generous body. One of the great elements of her abstract paintings and drawings, is the power of her impatience. Her work barely contains her expansive energy. Perhaps Clarence’s work reinforced in her that feeling of momentum in stasis. His place threatened to bust loose if you turned your back on it. This intimidated most people. Clarence was their boogy man, and they feared his effect on their property values.

His preference for highly flammable tar as a binding material caused his “mansion” to burn down in 1968 and then again after he rebuilt it. Sometimes when I visited he wasn’t there. I’d smoke a joint and relax. Without his intervention and guidance I felt submerged, swimming through a strangely breathable liquid realm. It was like entering a Blakean world, a visionary other place. All around the discarded world of detritus, of garbage, floated in an immeasurable equilibrium. Sifted through his mind all this was made possible and gorgeous. My own relatively bourgeois attempts at writing were shocked into a lesson in artistic freedom, although I also understood that free as his art seemed, Clarence was not a free man, but tightly wound in tentacles of his own neuroses.

Clarence once offered to let me stay overnight in one of the “rooms” of his mansion. This was a cubbyhole, a tubelike space similar to what I’ve seen advertised as accommodations in cheap Japanese hotels, but his was slathered with tar. He had embedded a TV tube in tar at the foot, and another on the ceiling at the head so lying on your back you might watch it. I doubted they were hooked up but didn’t stay to find out. It felt cowardly to refuse the hospitality, though I don’t think Clarence even noticed me gone.

Clarence’s fans wanted his place preserved, turned into a national treasure, but we were in a minority. Many of his neighbors despised him as they looked to their property values. Despite Woodstock’s reputation as an open liberal place, it had a persistently bourgeois heart. Clarence’s wild looks and recycling survival strategy was too extreme for the town’s population. Vandals often attacked his place. He was tossed into the hoosegow in Kingston once for defending his art from three men who were tearing down the “junk” in his backyard. He whacked at them with the butt of a rifle. “This fateful day is a day of infamy,” he wrote in his Bible while in jail, “shrouded within a dark cloud of bereavement and deeply rooted in the regretful act of vandalism thrust upon my hopeless art. Art is the only clean thing on the face of this earth except venerable holiness. Art may err but nature cannot miss its everlasting beauty, and dust is for a time only.” Bill Lipke said that Clarence didn’t think of what he did as art until several people introduced the idea, then he locked onto it like a barnacle onto an oyster.

He wrote in his Bible from the rest home he was put in after could no longer maintain his life at Journey’s End, and was found sleeping in doorways, “…lost in a deep sea of bewilderment, quandary, hoping upon hope of my successful pulling myself up and out of this travail maelstrom of dire circumstance that has so vilely engulfed me somewhere out of this impenetrable darkness of suspense and untold anxiety that completely surrounds me, holds me captive, and so subject to the emanation of the gods of fortune and judgment sentenced upon me, inconceivably powerful forces, of my mind, carries & graciously transports me along, a flower strewn path of hope, fortified by the blissful sphere of righteousness to guide me in my desperate pursuit of happiness, via my creative art…” These notebooks have pages of this overblown rhetoric of despair, always redeemed by his luminous visions of art.

As Clarence succumbed to diabetes and other health problems his place quickly deteriorated, reduced to rubble by 1974, nothing left there anymore. It would have taken a devoted establishment to preserve his accomplishment. Everyone was too willing to forget about him. No one wanted to do the work. Perhaps it was fitting. Garbage back to garbage. Rubble to rubble. Thirty years after his death someone found his ashes, forgotten in a corner of a Woodstock mortuary, no one to mourn for him, no one to celebrate his passing.

What is left for me is worrying the idea of what he meant for me at that time. Whatever miseries I conjure and embrace for myself, I expect to be redeemed by art. The artist and the pursuit of art seem some of the few elements of sanity available now in our society so grotesque with greed, ignorance, selfishness. Clarence was outside all controlling establishments, including the art establishments. Including the comforts of family. From that I took enormous reassurance and inspiration, struggling against each tentacle of the establishments that squeezed myself. We live on our planet both overwhelmed and undermined by our own garbage. Clarence seemed to provide an antidote to that. He was the septic superman. It wasn’t absolute freedom. He was perhaps more trapped than the rest of us by his own mind, but he dealt deliriously with whatever was thrown at him, with his own visionary panache.

Steve Katz has taught at Cornell, Brooklyn, and Queens Colleges, The University of Notre Dame, and at the University of Colorado in Boulder, but he has also tended bar, worked construction, waited tables and mined for mercury. He is known for such classics as Creamy & Delicious, Wier & Pouce, Florry Of Washington Heights, Swanny’s Ways, Saw, Moving Parts, and Stolen Stories, plus a screenplay and some books of poetry. His most recent book is Time’s Wallet (Counterpath Press, 2011), the first volume of a memoir written in 137 discrete pieces, or “memoirrhoids.” The above memoirrhoid is taken from a later volume.


Eating Dog/ Talking Turkey


The billboards stun me as we enter Communist China. Years before when I crossed into East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie, before the wall went down, the sudden lack of commercial advertising I found relaxing though the absence of color was a little dreary. A few propaganda posters created only the slightest visual static. Wide, colorful ads on the billboards across from the Guangzhou train station, my entry city to The People’s Republic, hit me flush in my preconceptions. Here are big splashes for Sony, Nike, Mitsubishi, Motorola. This is a different twist of Commie, thinks I.

Beyond the panoply of ads a small market, half covered, half exposed, offers a spread of lively hot-pot restaurants. This is 1986, one of new China’s first forays into private entrepreneurship. The perfume rising in the steam from hot-pots simmering at each of the tables is sweet and enticing. The market displays an abundance of dog sold as meat. You can get it freshly slaughtered and skinned. You can buy thighs, shoulders, quarters, half a dog. Dog carcasses hang on meat hooks across the butcher blocks. You can get a live one and have it butchered, or take it home alive in a wicker basket to prepare yourself. The dog they prefer to eat is the black chow. They lie in rows across tables, dark tongues hanging out. After I am in Guangzhou for a few days I realize the pressure of population and scarcity of living space make it impossible to think of dog as pet. The favored pet is the songbird. On weekends people stroll through the parks carrying their birds in cages, and they relax in the balmy weather with conversation and birdsong.

We settle at one of the outdoor hot-pot restaurants. They serve a savory broth bubbling at your table in a chafing dish over the blue flame of a Sterno can. The server brings a platter of veggies and instructs on the sequence of cooking them. She then brings some meats and offers similar instructions. Then she asks a question that Rafael translates for me as, “Would you like some fragrant meat?” “Of course,” I quip in my wise-ass way. “We sure don’t want putrid meat.” She brings a portion of fragrant meat and drops it into our broth. After this specialty simmers a while a perfume, lightly floral, engulfs the broth. Not until I’ve eaten a bit of it does Rafael explain that “fragrant meat” is the euphemism for dog. It tastes quite nice, like nice dog, and the bouquet it adds to the soup is the direct opposite of the smell of wet dog. The experience expands my appreciation for man’s best friend. I can hardly look at a well coifed poodle, for instance, without thinking, “yum yum.”


We hire a pedal cab to take us from the train station to our hotel on West Lake in Hangzhou. The hotel boom around West Lake hasn’t yet begun, and ours is probably the most upscale in Hangzhou at the time. It is called, I think, West Lake Shangri-la. It takes more than an hour for the pedal cab driver to struggle up the hills for two miles over rough pavement, pulling the weight of Rafael, myself, and our luggage. A tough way to earn your renminbi. The hotel is a sturdy, rambling brick and stone building of some twelve stories, built as a luxury hotel by the British, probably in the twenties, and run down since the revolution. Its spaciousness and the worn grandeur of its furnishings offer a taste of faded luxury. Our room doesn’t cost much, and comes with an invitation to their New Year’s dinner. The accommodation is large and comfortable. Some of the lamps, the telephone, and other amenities, don’t work, but the beds and towels are clean, and there is hot water occasionally. They have hired a Swiss hotelier to get the place back into shape, and their goal is obviously five stars.

Large stone tablets incised with calligraphy are set in the ground all around the perimeter of West Lake. We walk among the people through the mysteries of this storied lake. Pagodas, temples, pavilions come in and pass out of view as the mists wander through. When Rafael stops to read an inscription on one of the steles—a passage of Lao-Tzu, a poem of Li-Po or Tu-Fu, a Confucian aphorism—people gather to ask that he read it to them. The people are literate, but have been taught only the simplified characters, and the ones on the tablets are traditional and more elaborate. The people can’t read them, so most of their written heritage is hidden from them. He tires of this after an official cadre member, who has been trailing us, interrupts him to lecture everyone on the greatness of The People’s Republic. We leave her standing tall in her Mao suit as she continues her propaganda lecture to the people who had been interested in the poem Rafael was reading for them off the stone. On the way back to the hotel we stop at a friendly dumpling house and eat a couple of dozen dumplings, to the great amusement of the clientele who have never seen white ghosts suck down dumplings at their restaurant before.


We have only the most casual clothes, but are welcomed anyway into the formal dining room for the New Year’s dinner. It’s in a large ballroom, the dance floor surrounded by tables. On one end a stage and bandstand presents a dance band, playing American swing music from the thirties and forties. You might expect them to roll out Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to entertain the befuddled Western tourists sitting at the tables. The ambiance is derived from some Busby Berkeley film, a dinner club look from a depression era Hollywood frippery. Five waitresses tend each table, in our case five of them against two of us. Rafael overhears them discussing every slight detail of our behavior, every move we make with knife and fork to attack the dinner of turkey, stuffing, broccoli, sweet potato, and finally plum pudding. They watch us closely. They make careful notes.

After dinner they encourage us to go downstairs for a New Year’s bash, to a bar and lounge in the basement, where more contemporary rock music is being piped in. There are only a dozen or so round-eyes, but suddenly the room fills with young Chinese, dressed in suits and ties, the girls in dark blue pinafores. When Sly and the Family Stone comes on, Rafael gets up to dance, and proceeds to get his freak on. I get up too and do my appreciation of rock and roll. The Chinese kids start to dance too, and seem to be enjoying themselves. Rafael couples tentatively at some distance with one of the girls. This begins to feel almost like a party, when suddenly, as mysteriously as they appeared, the Chinese crowd turns like a school of fish on some inaudible, invisible signal, and swoops back out the door. We round-eyes are alone. The music fades. The evening is over. Xmas dinner at the Shangri-La in Hangzhou has been accomplished.

It becomes obvious, finally, that they set this up as a laboratory for the great tourist rush they expect to attract as the doors of Chinese commerce swing open to the world. They anticipate that it’s coming, and will encourage it, and use us to prepare themselves. The turkey, by the way, was dry and tasteless, the gravy gummy, the cranberry sauce too sweet, the sweet potatoes like cement. The broccoli wasn’t bad.

Steve Katz has taught at Cornell, Brooklyn, and Queens Colleges, The University of Notre Dame, and at the University of Colorado in Boulder, but he has also tended bar, worked construction, waited tables and mined for mercury. He is known for such classics as Creamy & Delicious, Wier & Pouce, Florry Of Washington Heights, Swanny’s Ways, Saw, Moving Parts, and Stolen Stories, plus a screenplay and some books of poetry. His most recent book is Time’s Wallet (Counterpath Press, 2011), the first volume of a memoir written in 137 discrete pieces, or “memoirrhoids.” The above memoirrhoid is taken from a later volume.

Curtis White: An Interview

conducted by Jeremy M. Davies and A D Jameson
as part of “Writing’s Dirty Secret”

WDS: Do you use specific materials when writing? And do you have any particular rituals?

CURTIS WHITE: For each work I have a different set of rituals and devices. In my mind at least. Mostly it has meant writing with a fountain pen on long yellow legal tablets. But once it meant writing on a small, portable, cheap typewriter and pretending I was playing the piano.

Which project was that?

My first story, “Mahler’s Last Symphony.”

Do you prefer a specific type of fountain pen?

I have a little harem of them. One is a stout, chrome Cross. It is tumescent in my hands. Two others are hand made by a local guy who harvests his own wood for the bodies. Lovely things. I love the skritch-skratchy feel of the fountain pen. Quite sensuous. And the way the ink flows. When it flows. When it isn’t driving you mad by emptying out in the middle of a sentence. I think my lengthy current project (see below) is just an excuse to write with a fountain pen.

How about computers? Do you use them?

I’m ashamed to say that my last book, The Barbaric Heart, was written entirely (almost) at my laptop. Much to my surprise, the prose was more fluid than usual.

My current work is being done in 10 case-bound, 8 ½ x 11 ruled notebooks. My plan is to fill all 10 (@2,000 pages) and then die. This will be the first time that I have included dying in the composition process.

Can you tell us anything about this new work? Is it fiction or nonfiction?

It’s everything done all at once. Kind of like trying to create the infinitely hot, dense dot that the universe banged out of.

The computer has been a big deal in one dramatic way: you don’t have to retype things if you make revisions. Endless revisions. The revising process is now infinitely richer because you can sit there and dream away, or find things and insert. Revision is now a joy comparable to the original act of creation. Okay, you got me to say something nice about computers. Happy?

Sure, although computers sometimes make revision too easy. Do you ever find that to be the case? Are the specific dangers?

No, I love sitting at the computer playing with the text. It has really freed me to get things exactly as I want them.

Is there a practical origin for your distaste for computers—that is, a way they’ve interfered with your work rather than aiding it?

Not really. It’s interfered with the publishing and promotion of my books, but that’s a familiar problem about the movement of book reviewing to blogging.

What other materials do you feel you need to have at hand in order to write? Do you prefer to have any favorite foods or drinks while writing?

Cappuccino. Mas café. And I sit in my 1880s Eastlake rocker with the pillows propping up my bulging cervical disc. My disc which was destroyed by spending too much time at the computer, craning forward, writing things like this. That feels better.

Each project seems to have its own set of fetishes. Some are constant (coffee), others change. I wrote The Middle Mind in a small arbor in my yard. That seemed to be the place for that book. Haven’t written there since.

Do you think these locations or sets of fetishes have any reflection in the finished book? Is that arbor anywhere in The Middle Mind? (Adam: I first read The Middle Mind while flying to Bangkok for the first time, and it’s now difficult for me to reread that book without thinking about that trip.)

Funny. I watched the first two season of The Wire sick in bed with the flu. Now I can’t think about let alone watch the series without feeling that I’m somehow sick. Your first question is too metaphysical for me. The fetishes are just part of the sensuality of writing.

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule?

I’d like to write every day, but it seems as if I write intensively when I have an idea then I have longish breaks. Up to a year. When I am writing, it seems to flood easily and pleasurably. Like coming. I always write in the morning right after breakfast. First thing. Sometimes I revise in the afternoon or write in the evening if music has inspired me in some way. That is often work that I regret the next day. That’s why it’s good to have the “scratch out” option.

I’m only good for 1–2 hours. After that, I’m stupid. Might as well play tennis or ride my bike. I suppose I could write longer but it wouldn’t be as good and I wouldn’t take the strange erotic pleasure in it that I do. I’m all too Freudian. Sublimation of erotic energies from all those orgies I don’t have anymore. I say “anymore” because I know writers are supposed to be scoundrels and real swinging dicks. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.

Have you found it necessary to adopt, or develop, a certain persona in order to work? You’ve elsewhere said words to the effect that everyone is playing out some movie role in their head, or a mix of roles—is that something you do when writing? Is there someone you’re trying to be, or not to be?

In the fiction the persona making is all in the characters. I was surprised to find late in my development as a fiction writer that I had a real talent for creating very particular voices for characters. In the non-fiction the only persona is Me. The voice of the brilliantly cranky rebel who makes revolution through critique and humor. I have to admit, that’s a persona that is very close to me. I “hold him dear.”

What kind of environment do you prefer to work in?

I used to listen to music but now it’s just distracting. I always read something first, usually philosophy or history or biography, because I find that reading suggests things to me. I can always find a way to integrate what I’m reading into what I’m writing. That often makes me seem academic and pretentious, but it’s really just me being playful. Also it makes it easier to steal from people that I know are smart. Like Freud. He was smart. I’m stealing a lot from him at the moment.

As for adverse circumstances, I can write while my parrots are screaming. Try that.

Can you name some of the previous writers who were important for your earlier works? And do you think that there’s been a particular progression?

Nabokov. Nabokov. And Nabokov. A little James and Wallace Stevens. After the first book, though, I pretty much declared myself an autonomous and self-governing state. I think about books always, but I keep them at all cool distance from the real work of creation.

Do you keep a diary or any other kind of record of your thoughts during the writing process?

I keep a reading journal. Occasionally if things aren’t going well I’ll look there to see what I can steal or do a riff on. I only keep notes on really piquant stuff from the Great Books. Stealing from Tacitus feels better (to me) than stealing from some wet rag writing for an MLA audience. The literary criticism and most of the philosophy of the last 30 years should be burned. The MLA should be dissolved. AWP should be subjected to some sort of gulag. No Hyperboreans there (that’s stealing from Nietzsche).

The only things that I take notes for tend to be things that I never end up writing. Little idea pages in my reading journal. Almost as if it was interesting to have that idea but not interesting to do anything with it.

What do you think has changed over the past thirty years that has resulted in your finding contemporary work so uninteresting? (For instance, is it due to changes like the commercialization of publishing, the rise of small presses, the institutionalization of writing, lack of funding, etc.?)

Mostly it’s just that I got old and experienced and stopped finding anything new to learn especially from new work. I can admire and even be astonished by work without really learning much from it. So I’ve gravitated to reading mostly philosophy and history and listening to lots of music. Just discovered Benjamin Britten. Learning lots there. Too bad I’m not a musician.

Do you see your own work as happening in stages?

Varies. With America’s Magic Mountain, I began with a draft of paragraph by paragraph paraphrases of Mann. When that was done (first 150 or so pages), I went back and rewrote the whole thing without looking at Mann. All longhand drafts on yellow legal tablets. When that was done, I did the same thing again. There are at least three complete longhand versions of that book. Then I entered it on the computer and revised it again. Rewrote the whole thing. Finally, I couldn’t remember what bits were from Mann or not. Now if I look at Mann I’m honestly surprised to see language there that I thought was mine.

Adam: I read America’s Magic Mountain side by side with The Magic Mountain; it seemed to me necessary, as I’d never read Mann’s novel—or anything by Mann—before.

Jeremy: When you talk about language having migrating from the original Mountain to yours, are you talking about a particular translation?

Yes, I use the old Knopf Lowe-Porter. There was a new translation a few years back, but I prefer reading old books that I find in used bookstores. Again, sensuality.

Could you talk a little about the motivation behind such a committed involvement with another writer’s language (even at the remove of translation)? Does the process you describe above bear any relationship to your other work? Are any other projects of yours based on particular works of literature?

Yes, actually, I based two books—Requiem and America’s Magic Mountain—on David Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Infinite Jest. It was so good for me to be here at ISU with David. I was finally in a place where I had someone around me to challenge me to do better work. They weren’t so much influences on my style as opportunities to conversation. As if I were saying, here’s how I’d do that. It was a truth that sadly I was never able to talk to Dave about.

How long does it take you to finish a project?

Usually about two years. I always want them to last the rest of my life because I don’t really want to write more books because then I seem to get trapped into publishing them and that is usually a very dismal experience. I won’t go into the bitter details.

I never want another project, but then I don’t like the emptiness of my mornings, the putzing around with the bird feeders, and I don’t like not having the sensual pleasure of scratching paper with a fountain pen, so it’s rarely long. I’m usually working on something before the last thing has appeared in print.

We wouldn’t mind hearing some of those bitter details. Has publishing gotten worse over the past thirty years, or has it always been unpleasant for you?

All the sad stories about editors and agents and reviewers and rejection are beside the point. Every writer has a small basket of letters from editors and stupid reviews. But I think there is a bottom line.

It is still possible to write in good faith. When I’m sitting in God’s lap, that’s as it should be. Writing in bad faith is thinking about anything other than the work itself, especially thinking about “is this publishable?” How can I write this so that I’ll get lots of 5 stars on Amazon? You might as well say “Think I’ll go make some ideology. Think I’ll do some propaganda work for the status quo.” Bad faith. Unhappily, 95% of writers don’t know this. They just want to have success or even fame so that they can fill the hole in them. I have written in bad faith. You see the opportunity and you run with it as far as you can. In my case, commercial and mass publishing finally said, “What are we doing with this guy? Let’s stop. He’s too weird.” Which was fine with me. I’d always known that; in fact, in many cases I said, looking around at all the religion titles in my editor’s office at Harper’s San Francisco, “I don’t fit here. Why do you want me?” He said, “We’re going to change and you’re going to help us.” Of course, once their owner, Rupert Murdoch and HarperCollins, found out they said, “No you’re not going to change, and no you’re not going to publish any more of this guy’s crazy talk.”

But even under the best circumstances, when one rises from God’s lap, and sets out to publish, it is something completely alien from the writing process, if what you plan to do is publish in established venues (commercial, academic, magazine). There the writer finds herself a stranger in a strange land. She is suddenly confronted by the “ideological apparatus” genotype “literature.” You ask agents/editors/publishers to like what you do and they reply, “But it’s not like what we do.” Never mind that what they do is grotesque, self-serving, and a literature for slaves. Wanting to publish so that you become part of the NY driven national culture is to submit yourself to culture cops, the enforcers of what-can-be-said. It’s different with small presses where you have an intimate relationship with the editor and you share a world view. The problem there is that too is managed by the cops: you are in a ghetto. You try to break out, you maybe sell a whole thousand copies (if they’re not just sitting lost in an Amazon warehouse somewhere) and you call that a success. Once again, you have freedom of speech as long as it doesn’t matter.

For me, writing is beatitude. Publishing is fighting. In the end, like it or not, as Ishmael Reed said, “writin’ is fightin’.”

How much outside involvement do you prefer to have? Do you seek out comments from others?

No, I want that others should not say a word. I don’t want to know what others think. I accept suggestions from editors, and those suggestions are usually right on because I have had great editors. Ron Sukenick, John O’Brien, Gideon Weil at HarperCollins, Roger Hodge at Harper’s. When they say that there is something wrong, I work on it. The end result is always better.

I don’t ever think about readers. They have their own problems. As for my own reading, it is the same thing as writing. No difference.

Adam: I’m somewhat surprised to hear you say this, given how at other times you’ve described the author’s task as being to “design a reading machine”—that is, to take care to build a text that will keep the reader moving through it, page after page. Can you talk about that? Has your thinking here changed?

That’s what I say to my students. The only reader I think about is myself. Like John Hawkes, I just want to write books that I’d like to read. The places where I’m doing something that I think will please a “reading public” are always places where I disappoint myself. Usually when it’s too late to do anything about it.

What do you find to be the discomforts of writing? Has your writing practice had any discernible physical effects on you?

The thing that I find uncomfortable is the pain in my cervical disc from years of bad posture. Otherwise, my writing process is a form of beatitude. I hardly exist without it. God talks to me there, in my Eastlake rocking chair. He loves me there. So I stay there to please him. Apparently, it’s a good deal for both of us. And when I’m done, he says, “Go on now and play. You’ve earned it. Tennis, cycling, whatever. See you tomorrow.” Now if only he could do something about publishing. Like a download directly into the brains of the .01 percent of the population capable of enjoying what he and I produce. But no that’s unrealistic! And probably crazy of me to think that God is helping me with my little intellectual/artistic adventures. Fine. Whatever.

Otherwise, it’s freed me to be a beast of a man.

I don’t know how many real writers there are left. Writers who understand these questions. Who see them as something more than an opportunity for posturing. (“Ooh, this is how I do it.”) Sometimes I think that the real writers are buried now. Like corpses, murder victims that have been stashed around the lot. No one cares that they’re missing, no one seems to want to dig them up. Here’s a fuck poem in the name of those who like to scratch with their fountain pens, sitting in God’s lap, making things with more dignity than this bitch of a world deserves.

Fuck content providers,
Fuck bloggers,
Fuck search engines,
Fuck Wiki,
Fuck the faceless Facebooks,
Fuck social networking,
Fuck editorial boards,
Fuck dipshit reviews like Kirkus,
Fuck marketing,
Fuck book promoters,
Fuck Kindle,
Fuck free downloads,
Unless they come from ghosts,
Fuck wholesalers and
Fuck retailers,
Fuck writing programs and
Fuck their Associations,
Fuck Po-Biz,
Fuck front of store displays,
Fuck those nasty chain stores,
And Fuck the brainless independents,
Fuck open mikes,
Fuck the ugly dull “slam”,
Fuck wanting to be a writer,
Fuck MFAs,
Fuck NEA,
Fuck NRA, and AMA while I’m at it,
But oh boy especially fuck moral poetry, and
Fuck the poetry of social awareness.
“Poetry is damned from one end to the other.
I’ll write what I like when I like
And it will be good if the authentic spirit of change is upon it.”
Something like that,
I’m too lazy to look it up.
(Anyway, its WC Williams, bless him.)

Curtis White is a novelist and social critic. His most recent books are Requiem (Dalkey Archive Press) and The Barbaric Heart (PoliPointPress).

Rosemarie Waldrop: An Interview

conducted by Jeremy M. Davies and A D Jameson
as part of “Writing’s Dirty Secret”

WDS: Do you write by hand, or do you use a typewriter or a computer?

ROSMARIE WALDROP: Used to write in longhand, but now compose directly on the computer

Do you have preferences as to certain materials?


Has your approach to writing changed as new technologies have become available?

The computer may have played a role in my turning from verse to prose poems, but this turn also followed my novel, The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter. I suspect working on prose for the novel was much more of a factor.

Did you write that novel by hand or using a computer? And: If you used a computer, do you think that the computer helped enable this move to fiction/prose?

I must have begun it by hand or on my typewriter in the late 1970s, but at some point put it on the mainframe at Brown, in “Fress,” the language the Brown computer team had devised. I remember this because when The Hanky was finally to be published (1987), I took the saved reel back to the mainframe and got the message: “Fress is no longer supported. If you need help contact Reinhard Kuhn.” This was eerie: Reinhard Kuhn, head of the French Dpt., had died several years before!

What about your second novel, A Form/of Taking/It All, and other works where you utilize text from other sources? Do you transcribe directly onto the computer?


What other materials do you need to have at hand in order to write?

A table with books on it. A window.

Does the way you write remain the same, or do your methods change from project to project?

It isn’t method so much as pace that changes. Some projects come in an intense, continuous manner, others in painfully slow dribbles.

For how long do you prefer to write?

I need long stretches because I need an inordinate amount of staring out the window or engaging in irrelevant little activities before I can settle into working.

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule?

I always thought it would be a good idea to have a set schedule, but I’ve never managed.

Have you attempted it at times?


Do you write at different times of the day? If so, do you think that you write differently at different times? (Does it matter if the view outside the window is sunlit or moonlit?)

I certainly don’t think about any of this.

What kind of environment do you prefer to work in? Do you listen to music when you write?

I prefer having music, but once I really concentrate I don’t really hear it any more. I also work well with silence.

May we ask, what sort of music? A particular composer or player or genre?

Mostly classical, some jazz.

Can you work under adverse circumstances?


Do you record information on your own writing? For example, do you make notes, or keep a diary?


Do you begin by taking notes?


Do you work from an outline or other kind of plan?

Not usually.

How often do you revise?

There is constant revising, but I often start another poem before I have finished revising the first. This is especially so when I work on a sequence.

How do you revise?

You might as well ask, how do I write.

Well, in a sense, we are! Looking past revisions, how long does it take you to finish a project?


How do you know when you’re finished?

The energy has run out.

What do you do when you finish a project?

I set it aside to get distance on it.

How far aside? How long does distance take?

At least a month.

How long passes before you begin another project?

Depends. There are often translation projects that intervene. Or our small press needs all my attention for a while. If the interval between real writing projects gets too long I become very grumpy. Then I’m in “the Book of Torment,” as Edmond Jabès called it.

How many different projects do you work on at once?

I often start out with two projects, but after a while one always takes over and becomes the exclusive one.

What happens to the other one? Do you complete it, or is it more of a spur for the other?

I set it aside to go back to, later.

Do you discuss your work with others? Or is writing a more solitary process for you?

I have a wonderful in-house reader in Keith Waldrop, but I have learned not to show him the work until I think it is at least more or less finished. In the early days I tended to exhaust him by showing him too many drafts.

What do you find to be the discomforts of writing?

The anxiety—and sometimes despair.

If you could change any one thing about your writing process, what would it be?

Set a regular schedule.

How connected is the practice of reading to writing?

Totally. I cannot imagine writing without reading. I am always writing on a palimpsest of other texts, even when not quoting or stealing from them directly.

Your own texts, or others?

I took “reading” as referring to my own reading of other writers.

What about your own work?

I always read the poems out loud to myself while working. It is a way to catch problems, especially rhythmic ones. Reading out loud to an audience works even better.

When writing, do you think about reader’s physical experience with the work?

I do not think about the reader at all, except perhaps at the very end when I might consider if I need to clarify.

Has your writing practice had any discernible physical effects on you?

Not that I know of. The middle age spread would have happened even without sitting at my desk.

Rosmarie Waldrop’s Driven to Abstraction came out from New Directions at the end of 2010. Other recent books of poetry are Curves to the Apple, Blindsight (both New Directions), Splitting Images (Zasterle), and Love, Like Pronouns (Omnidawn). Her Collected Essays, Dissonance (if you are interested), was published by University of Alabama Press in 2005. Two novels, The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter and A Form/of Taking/It All are available in one paperback (Northwestern UP, 2001). She has translated 14 volumes of Edmond Jabès’s work (her memoir, Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabès, is out from Wesleyan UP) as well as books by Emmanuel Hocquard, Jacques Roubaud, and, from the German, Friederike Mayröcker, Elke Erb, Oskar Pastior, Gerhard Rühm, Ulf Stolterfoht. She lives in Providence, RI. where she co-edits Burning Deck books with Keith Waldrop.

The Gong Show

Ken Richmond died in August 2006. The name didn’t ring a bell—a moan-inducing pun as you will soon see—but the image accompanying his obituary certainly did. He was the gongmeister who, with great solemnity and sobriety, announced the beginning of J. Arthur Rank movies. Actually, has anyone given the J. Arthur Rank logo a thought in the last few decades? Richmond’s obituary was a reminder. Nor was he the only gong man. Who knew or even imagined that there was more than one? But he was the last one and with his death, something else besides his life came to an end. In case you don’t recall, although if you’ve seen the logo once, there’s no way that you wouldn’t remember it, there’s a huge gong of what looks like hammered brass in the middle of the frame. A well-developed, well-oiled muscle man, wearing nothing more than a Tarzan-like diaper, lifts a mallet that looks like it weighs a ton with both hands and with a gravity and a sense of purpose, strikes the gong twice. The gong reverberates and the title J. Arthur Rank comes on the screen.

You know you’re in safe hands. It will be a quality film. It’s like the MGM logo—once it appears on the screen, you know you can expect quality entertainment, even if, five minutes into it, it turns out to be just another movie. It’s the case of expectation trumping experience, when the logo promises more than the product can deliver. [Image 1; click or see below]

There’s even more hope for the film if the logo is in color. Moody chiaroscuro emphasizing the pock-marked nature of the gong, the man with the mallet half-hidden in shadow, a pleated burgundy-colored curtain, perhaps velvet, behind the gong, the man, with skin tones similar to the coloring of the gong. Magic! Until, of course, proven otherwise. [Image 2, Image 3]

The exoticism of the logo extended beyond the fact that Rank movies were British movies and I was a mere American. It was, I suspect, exotic for English people as well. Intentional or not, the logo suggests empire, the far reaches of colonialism, the brute strength of natives of a certain color—the model was dipped in a bronze-colored make-up—performing a ritual that had repercussions more serious than a call to dinner. It had a scent of skullduggery in ancient and faraway places, initiation into arcane rituals, evil potentates and captive harem girls, villains wearing turbans and brandishing scimitars, incense and Ali Baba’s cave, Scheherazade and opulent languor, the death of Sardanapolis—Arabian Nights, the Raj, Gordon in Khartoum, Anna and the King of Siam, Lawrence of Arabia. Bug-eyed notions of orientalism and exoticism firing on all cylinders. The Rank man and his gong in his twelve seconds on screen suggest all this and much more. The Empire in its shining hour. A multi-purpose, free floating signifier with no specific meaning but with the unmistakable suggestion that the British Empire upon which the sun promised never to set will inevitably carry on. Conquest, adventure, subjugation, romantic surrender, riches beyond imagining, fealty, and wonderment. Of course, India broke free of the British Empire in 1947 and dozens of colonies and protectorates in the commonwealth peeled off shortly thereafter. But even after the Empire declined, the logo, and everything it brought to mind remained, albeit slightly faded. Slow-moving ceiling fans in tropical hotel lobbies sprinkled with bamboo furniture and down-on-their-luck Europeans nursing gin and tonics. Stiff upper lips, pith helmets and all that.

So, in August 2006, Ken Richmond, the last of the gong-strikers died at the age of 80. Another reminder that yet another era had come to an end, although the Rank Organization had stopped producing movies in 1980. One is a little surprised to see that this otherwise obscure peripheral footnote of a dying industry is even remembered enough to rate an obituary. Certainly, the filmgoer in me, who never gave it a thought, that that mythical logo which seemed to be part of the natural order of things was actually produced, as opposed to found in nature, and that the man who struck the gong was a human being like any other and had a life apart from the logo he inhabited. It was also strange to think that the logo had a story of its own, and to discover a new little rivulet leading nowhere in the world of movie-lore.

It’s not exactly film history. If it’s gossip at all, it’s a below-the-radar level of gossip, and it’s probably of no interest to anyone. It’s not nostalgia, although it might have elements of that in it. And it is certainly not a tea-soaked Madeleine. So what is it? The birth and death of a logo that once had a hold on us? Sure proof that time is passing? Another sign that the artifacts of childhood which had no intrinsic value at the time are vanishing and thereby acquiring inestimable significance? Or just another set of factoids to be stored in your gray matter, vying for space with a million other useless, unilluminating but strangely compelling factoids?

In the mid-30s, J. Arthur Rank, a flour mogul and a devout Methodist, started producing religious films. When he wasn’t pleased with the way they were distributed and exhibited, he formed his own distribution company. For that, he needed a logo. Originally he wanted a wolf, to rival MGM’s lion, but good wolves were hard to find. Obviously lions were, too, since there are several recognizably different lions over the years garlanded by the MGM Ars Gratis Artis ribbon of film. He ultimately decided on a man banging on a gong. In addition to buying out other distribution companies, he acquired chains of movie theaters and also bought studios. He was now in complete control of all the means of film production, distribution and exhibition.

The first gong man was Carl Dane, a 6’5” circus strongman. He had been part of a circus acrobatic act in which he was billed as “Boy Hercules.” One of his famous strong-man stunts was to pull a London double-decker bus with his teeth. Talking about the bronze make-up that they generously lathered over his whole body, basically blackface, Danes said, “The perspiration would make it streak and we’d have to start all over again.” No one seems to be quite sure when his image as the gong-striker was retired but he did indicate that he understood the importance of the image. “That one episode has haunted me my whole life. But I just did it for the money.”

He was replaced by “Bombardier” Billy Wells (1887–1967), a 6’1” heavyweight boxer who had a beer named after him [Image 4]. He also owned a famous pub called Bombardier. He was obviously a big movie fan as well. He had uncredited bit parts in Hitchcock’s The Ring (1927), King Vidor’s The Citadel (1938), George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara (1941), Michael Powell’s A Canterbury Tale (1944). His apotheosis in the movies, aside from being one of the designated gong men, was playing the hangman in Peter Brooks’ The Beggar’s Opera (1953) with Laurence Olivier. He was retired from gong duty in 1948. Obviously, the company felt that its logo needed a new representative every several years, just as the MGM lion had to be replaced every so often, although MGM, as we shall see, was less fickle than J. Arthur Rank. All logos, it seems, or so the heads of the companies they represent seem to think, have to be updated at a certain point even though the public remains fond of the image because the images seem so permanent and unchangeable. The consumer feels secure with a good logo should feel like those steles from outer space in 2001: A Space Odyssey—unchanging, inevitable, eternal. The public doesn’t want their familiar images tampered with. There was a time that the logo was so well known that 94% of the British population could identify it. For a certain generation, that figure probably still applies.

The third gong-guy was Phil Niewman, a movie extra about whom very little is known. He served from 1948 to 1954, when he was replaced by Ken Richmond, the fourth and final gongman. [Image 5]

Richmond, 6’2”, was an Olympic wrestling champ who won a bronze medal in freestyle wrestling in Helsinki in 1952. He participated in the Melbourne Olympics and won a gold medal in the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver and a bronze in Auckland in 1950. Like Billy Wells, he, too was clearly bitten by the movie bug, perhaps because he grew up in a house near Rank’s Pinewood Studios. He worked as an extra in Olivier’s Henry V (1944) and Lean’s Blithe Spirit (1945). Richmond posed for the logo in 1954 for a one-time only payment of £100. He said that his favorite roles say in which movie (the most likely candidate would be Caesar and Cleopatra [1946]) and Jules Dassin’s Night and the City (1951), in which he had a not insubstantial role as Nikolas, a proponent of Greco-Roman wrestling. He was quite convincing and natural in the role. His good looks and ease in front of the camera suggest that he might have had some kind of acting career had he been interested in pursuing it. [Image 6, Image 7, Image 8]

Despite the sport he excelled in, he was a lifelong pacifist and even spent several months in jail at the end of WWII as a conscientious objector. He became a Jehovah’s Witness and spent two years as a missionary in Malta. Ultimately, he gave up wrestling because his religious work left him insufficient time for the sport. In his late sixties, he took up windsurfing in which he excelled and for which he won medals. If they ever make a film of his life, Gregory Peck should play him. [Image 9]

Rank as a production company went out of business in 1980, but their salad days were far behind them even then. The glories of The 39 Steps, Henry V, Hamlet, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus were already part of history rather than the recent past. And the recent past was none too prestigious, either. In the last 25 years or so of its existence it was known as the company that produced the very popular and indestructible Carry On … series. The Rank Organization carries on today mostly as a real estate holding company which owns casinos and hotels. Its most recognizable asset is the global Hard Rock Café franchise.

The least surprising factoid about the gong was that it was made out of papier-mâché. In a world where the only reality is that created by artifice, why would that be a surprise? The gong sounds were recorded by a famous percussionist, James Blades, who had worked with Benjamin Britten and also created the “V for Victory” Morse code used by the BBC during the war. He recorded the gong on a 2-feet in diameter Chinese instrument called a tam tam. The disparate elements that are yoked together to make the 12 second logo is standard operating procedure for the factory of dreams—a sound is recorded in one place and by someone other than the unnecessarily muscular gong striker and is married to a silent image—to create a new synthesis. Sound from here, an image from there, a prop that is only a simulacrum of another prop, a muscle man who only appears to be striking a gong—illusion, illusion, illusion. Any word as to the whereabouts of the five-foot in diameter papier-mâché gong and the accompanying mallet? Are they heavily guarded prizes in some movie-mad collector’s trophy room? Are they languishing in some dusty, cobwebbed corner in a long-forgotten studio storage room? Or has the papier-mâché long ago succumbed to the disintegration such fragile items are subject to? Or, worst of all, were the gong and the mallet long ago consigned to a trash bin in the days when such objects had no intrinsic much less sentimental value?

In September 2006, a £1,000,00 question asked on the British game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? was “Which boxer was famous for striking the gong in the introduction to J. Arthur Rank films?—a ) Bombardier Billy Wells, b) Freddy Mills, c) Terry Spings, or d) Don Cockrell.” Well, now you and I, dear reader, know the correct answer and we could have, had we been the contestant, gotten the correct answer and the money. It could have been trickier if they had named all four gong men and asked which one was second or which one was third. But they didn’t. So, in the best of all possible worlds, this information does or at least, for one brief moment, did have value.

Just in case you have any ambition to be a contestant on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? sometime in the future, some of the MGM lions’ names are Slats, Jackie, and Tanner—not a Leo among them. Jackie was the black and white lion in all the films from 1928 through 1956, Tanner was the color lion, from 1938 through 1956. (For mind-numbing minutiae on the detailed history of the MGM lions, go to the Wikipedia and check out “Leo the Lion.”) Each of the lions had a longer run than all the gong men put together. Obviously, MGM was a less fickle client and had considerable more loyalty to its lions than J. Arthur Rank did to his gong men.

Maybe we should start backwards and work our way forwards. Start with the history of props, anecdotes, details, artifacts, all the stuff that it’s almost a guilty pleasure to read about or know about or think about—in a word, the dreck of movie making. A different kind of history, history through the back door—the apple’s story, told from the point of view of the worm. Or how the material world really defines the world of movies, which is after all a very mechanical process and very much grounded in the world of actual things. Ideas come later. “No ideas but in things,” as William Carlos Williams said. Marianne Moore echoes and embroiders on the sentiment—“real toads in imaginary gardens.” They were talking about poetry but they could just as well have been talking about movies.

Many years ago, I saw a German documentary by Harmut Bitomsky called Reichsautobahn (1986) which examines Nazism from what, at first, seems to be the wrong end of the telescope—the history of the autobahn as an expression of Nazism. Literally, a concrete expression of Nazi ideology, rather than the other way around. It is a different perspective into a history that, even though nowhere near exhausted, has, at this point, more new facts than new insights to offer. It suggested, rather, a new way of revisiting old information with a fresh eye. Who knows, maybe this way of working—from small things to larger ones is a way in which a history can be more precisely categorized, defined, organized, re-organized and re-defined.

Consider this. When Lana Turner, not yet a star, made The Adventures of Marco Polo in 1938, they shaved off her eyebrows for the part. The eyebrows never grew back in. It’s very doubtful that she was in any way compensated for this sacrifice she made for her career—or her art. However, her non-existent eyebrows or, rather, her painted-on eyebrows, became very much a part of her image and the commodity that subsequently became known as Lana Turner, the glamour puss. When Oliver Reed made The Devils (1971) and Ken Russell wanted him to have his hair and eyebrows shaved off, the producers took out £250,000 insurance, just in case his eyebrows didn’t grow back in, which they did. Was the potential loss of Reed’s of more critical and of more cultural interest than Turner’s? Or was he more famous, than she was, when he had it done? Would anyone, even Reed himself, have cared if his eyebrows never grew back in? Or was it a publicity stunt? Ultimately, without sounding too much like Parker Tyler or, rather, Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge as Parker Tyler’s most devoted acolyte, the significance of Lana Turner’s cosmetically applied eyebrows is a much more meaningful event in film-lore than the removal and potential loss of Oliver Reed’s.

Or consider this—the role of the bellybutton in movies. In the 40s, even “love goddesses” like Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable, never showed their navels, no matter how revealing or skimpy their costumes were. Think of Ingrid Bergman’s bare midriff in Notorious, Rita Hayworth’s bare midriff in her “Amado Mio” number in Gilda, Lana Turner’s bare midriff in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Even Carmen Miranda, wearing low-cut skirts in her musical numbers has a flesh-colored patch of cloth designed into each costume to make sure that we don’t see, or even surmise, a navel. And all those girls-in-a-harem movies? Not a navel in sight. A navel suggested that someone, somewhere, once had sex. No, no, no. And that, as a result of it, a child was born. No! It was too sordid a fact to contemplate. Even men did not have navels. Think of John Garfield’s bathing suit in The Postman Always Rings Twice, a 100% navel-free movie. Think of all the boxing movies in which the boxers have their shorts practically hiked up to their armpits. But times change and even prudish morality bends a little. In 1959, Gina Lollobrigida, as the Queen of Sheba, wears a ruby in her exposed navel in a big-budget Hollywood extravaganza, Solomon and Sheba! But she’s European. She even had a navel in 1952, in Rene Clair’s Beauties of the Night, when legions of Hollywood stars and starlets, if they wore two-piece bathing suits, still had to wear navel-denying bathing suits.

There’s a brilliant and hilarious commentary, on the navels-versus-no-navels issue, in David Cronenberg’s The Brood. The murderous monsters Samantha Eggar gives birth to, and this is how we know who they are, are navel-free because they are not created by sexual contact but by her fury. The children are the literal the manifestations of her anger. She is author of them but it’s not by childbirth that she creates them.

Are the eyebrow and belly button factoids any more or less enlightening than the gong statistics? I would say it’s a draw. None adds to or takes away anything from anything but they help to form a link between what happens behind the scenes with what appears up on the screen. Maybe these seemingly insignificant factoids do, after all, contribute something. Maybe they can shine little 10-watt rays of light into hitherto unilluminated and unexplored areas in a kingdom of many myths and may yet set off a little spark somewhere. Or even a conflagration. In a way, it’s a termite’s view of film history or film-lore or the unspoken and/or unknown and unknowable facts behind the fiction. It may not especially mean anything but very few things really do. It’s approaching the dream factory through the back door where all the trash is dumped and allowed to rot. Carefully picking through the trash, with a connoisseur’s eye, might be a way towards re-arranging familiar information in a different context.

Should all of this information be filed under trivia and forgotten as soon as possible? Or are these little byways and tangents spinning out into infinity, part of a larger Borgesian underground labyrinth that exists in a parallel universe beneath that expanding and, at the same time, disappearing landfill called film history?—a labyrinth carved out by termites, mirroring and perhaps even mocking, the world above the surface. I don’t know that these little epiphanies illuminate anything other than themselves. If any conclusions are to be drawn, what they might be, at this point, are anybody’s guess. In any case, the serious digging has not yet even begin in earnest, and the results won’t be in for decades—hopefully before all the minutiae perishes, is lost or forgotten forever.

If the image of the gong being struck remains indelibly printed on our communal imagination, Rank has also contributed, again though through the back door, to the English language as well—as part of Cockney rhyming slang. In Cockney rhyming slang, which hypothetically originated as a thieves’ jargon or, alternately, as a way of preventing outsiders from understanding what is being said, an abbreviated part of a phrase, which rhymes with the word it is replacing assumes the meaning of the missing word—for example, “trouble and strife” means “wife.” So when you ask someone how his “trouble” is doing, you are referring to his “wife.” “Apples and pears” rhymes with “stairs,” so the word “apples” refers to “stairs.” “China plate” means “mate” but you only have to say “china” to mean “mate.” “Bees,” as in “bees and honey,” means “money,” and so on. In any case, in Cockney slang, a J. Arthur means “wank” (rhymes with “Rank”). In English slang, “wank” means “jerk-off.” So what lives on? The memory of a man and a gong and a hilariously good-natured vulgarism. Is that a legacy or what? That, not to mention the movies they produced, is the back door to a certain kind of immortality.

Mark Rappaport is a filmmaker, writer, and visual artist. His films include The Scenic Route (1978), Impostors (1979), and the widely-acclaimed Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992) and From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995). A collection of some of his film writings was published in 2008 in French as Le Spectateur qui en savait trop (The Moviegoer Who Knew Too Much). Several of his pieces have appeared in the online film journal Rouge.

The above article was originally published in Trafic, in French; this is its first appearance in the original English.

Black Bra, White Bra

Since we know that Hitchcock planned everything down to the last detail in all of his movies, what are we to make of Janet Leigh’s undergarments in Psycho? In all the voluminous literature concerning Hitchcock’s films and Psycho, has there ever been an analysis of why Marion Crane wears a white bra and a white half-slip for her afternoon tryst with Sam and then, as she is ready to abscond with the $40,000, is wearing a black bra and black half-slip? [Image 1; click or see below] Well, here goes. We know that Hitchcock wasn’t interested in symbolism and certainly in the simplistic kind that would equate white with good and black with bad. Or even white suggesting Marion’s happiness and appetite for life and black suggesting her headlong rush towards her totally arbitrary death. Not only did Hitchcock not deal in symbols, he was anything but a Manichean. If anything, the opposite is true. His villains, like Bruno Anthony in Strangers on a Train and Alex Sebastian in Notorious, are suave and charming, and sometimes his heroes, like Devlin in Notorious and Scottie Ferguson in Vertigo, are far from admirable and occasionally despicable. We also know that no detail however small was too small to pay attention to. That’s what movies are made of, thousands of details, piled on one another to create a singular effect. And this is certainly true of Hitchcock movies, perhaps more than anyone else’s. No, this was not an error by the continuity person. Hitchcock’s world did not permit such errors. So we must look elsewhere to find the meaning, and, if not the answers, the reasons.

Marion, after her afternoon tryst with Sam, goes to the office where she is given the $40,000 in an envelope and then leaves early, claiming to have a headache. Dissolve to Marion, wearing a black bra and slip, looking at the $40,000 fairly falling out of the envelope lying on her bed [Image 2]. She is busy packing. What happened in the time between the dissolve? Let’s write an alternate scenario. She comes home and takes a shower after a lunch break of strenuous and sweaty sex. Remember, the window to her hotel room was open, so there was no air-conditioning in the hotel and the man who buys the house from Marion’s realtor boss says the weather is “as hot as fresh milk.” Let us say she takes a shower. She almost surely takes a shower. Is she as delighted to be taking a shower as she seems to be when the hot water comes out in her famous/infamous fatal shower scene, a few hours from now? Perhaps she is. Also, some time during this ellipsis she has come to the decision to take the $40,000 and flee. So maybe she is more worried and concerned than relaxed while taking the shower. Even though, in her long car ride, her inner thoughts are revealed to us by the things she imagines people might say about her actions, we are not afforded the same opportunity to follow her thoughts in resolving to steal the money. Her and Sam’s situation, financial and otherwise, had already been clarified by the exposition in the hotel room. But then she surprises us when she turns down her co-worker’s offer to take some tranquilizers with, “You can’t buy off unhappiness with tranquilizers.” We didn’t realize she was that unhappy, even though she did tell the house-buyer who is flirting with her that she is not “inordinately” unhappy. She suffers, in Freud’s terms, not from neurotic unhappiness, but from normal unhappiness. In our alternate scenario, we perhaps also see Sam taking a plane back home, picking up his car and driving his car from the airport to his home—and store—in Fairville, in an uneventful trip. Clearly this long scene will have to be cut from the final film because nothing much happens. He doesn’t stop to sell his car, as Marion does. He doesn’t fall asleep by the side of the road, he isn’t questioned by the highway patrol as Marion is, he doesn’t encounter a sudden rainstorm or check into a motel. OK. Marion gets out of the shower and chooses something to wear. It’s a much darker, somewhat more formal dress than the one she wore to work, a white summer-y dress. That would explain why she wore a white bra and slip earlier. You wouldn’t wear black undergarments underneath your white dress. She decides on a black bra and a black slip. Is she making that choice because it’s more appropriate for the nighttime? Does she want to surprise and excite Sam in her black undergarments which set off her white skin? She certainly doesn’t wear them to arouse Norman, although Hitchcock knows and we know that black undergarments against white skin have a sharper erotic charge to it than white undergarments, if stag movies of the 40s and 50s are any indication. Does she feel now that she’s a “bad” girl and should dress accordingly? We will have to reject unconditionally that she was dressing for her fatal and fateful date with Norman Bates. Whatever Hitchcock’s cognitive processes were, I don’t believe that he thought that way. Ingmar Bergman maybe, but Hitchcock—never. Now let’s pick up the real movie again. She continues packing—she is almost all done—and she puts her white slip on the very top of all the packed clothing in the suitcase and then closes it. Why is the white slip the last thing she packs into the suitcase, almost as an afterthought? More food for thought.

Now, let us join her, alone in her room at the Bates Motel, after she had her talk with Norman and, presumably, has made her decision to go back to Phoenix. She is tired and hungry and ready to go to bed. She didn’t eat much of the sandwich that Norman prepared for her, and anyway he comments that she eats like a bird. Nor did she eat the untouched sandwich that she brought with her to the hotel the other day. “You never did eat your lunch, did you?” Sam remarks in the hotel room. She must be starving. After a long hard day of driving and great anxiety, she gets ready to step into the shower. She strips down to her black bra and half-slip. Norman, in the parlor, as he calls it, adjoining his office, takes a down kitschy painting of a naked woman being molested by two old men—probably yet another version of Susannah and the Elders, a favored subject of 16th- and 17th-century painters but this one much less modest and much more graphic than most [Image 3]—and looks at her through the peephole it covers. She is perfectly framed as she is about to go into the bathroom [Image 4]. We are to assume that he has seen her completely naked. Norman, as impulsively as Marion stealing the money, pulls away from the scene and goes back to the house. We know no more about his decision, or even what it is, than we knew about Marion’s decision to flee with the money, although his will have more fatal consequences. Nor will we find out until the very end of the film. While he is up at the house, she begins doing her simple addition and subtraction, subtracting the money she has spent from the money she stole. She then puts the envelope full of the remaining money in her suitcase, not back into her handbag, where it was before, but on top of her white slip, before wrapping it in the newspaper she bought, looking for written proof of her guilt. Underwear and money, sex and death, money and guilt, sex and anxiety, money and sex, guilt and underwear—they are all inextricably woven together but nothing gets any clearer. How to explain these strange concatenations and juxtapositions? She steps into the shower…and we all know what happens after that.

Let’s go back two years to Vertigo. In Vertigo, Midge is an ad illustrator who is currently doing a promotion for a new brassiere [Image 5]. Scottie, with his cane, points to the brassiere, which serves as the model, as if to say he wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. He doesn’t and can’t actually bring himself to touch the brassiere, as if that would be too vulgar and crass for a man such as he, although he is not above making a smirky, adolescent joke about it [Image 6]. So, we do know that Hitchcock, as far back as the inception of Vertigo, was interested in bras and we also know that Hitchcock’s interests get repeated from film to film until he puts them to rest, only to pursue other interests, which also will reappear in film after film until the image, for him, is exhausted. The bra they talk about in Vertigo is an “anti-gravitational” cantilevered bra that works on engineering principles. Midge explains that it was designed by an aircraft engineer in his spare time. Clearly what is being referred to here is the cantilevered brassiere that Howard Hughes designed for Jane Russell to wear in his movie The Outlaw (originally opened in San Francisco in 1943 but withdrawn from circulation and then widely released in 1946), the primary purpose of which was to show off her breasts to their best advantage. However, it’s not in the film in which Ms. Russell’s breasts are so blatantly emphasized—the film itself is very tame because the production codes were very strict—but rather in the suggestive publicity stills that Howard Hughes had taken to advertise the film, with a smoldering Jane Russell who promises much more than the timid movie ultimately delivered [Image 7].

It is important to remember that the 50s in America was a very bra-conscious society. It was the era of the Bullet Bra, also known as the Torpedo Bra, also known as the Missile Bra, also known as the Cone Bra. The military aspect of its various nicknames was an unmistakable nod to the free-floating anxiety about and pre-occupation with the Cold War, as well as to sex. It was designed to project a woman’s breasts and extend them further than nature actually did, in order to fill a sweater more amply. Hitchcock’s allusions to brassieres in Vertigo is a pointed commentary on an era that fetishized and apotheosized the abundant endowments of Jayne Mansfield and Anita Ekberg and Jane Russell. The bra obsession and phenomenon is also wryly commented on in the Adolph Green-Betty Comden-Jules Styne 1956 hit Broadway musical, Bells Are Ringing, starring Judy Holiday—“I wanna go back/ Where I can be me/ At the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company…” made into a Vincente Minnelli movie in 1960.

There were also, at the time, ubiquitous print ads in national magazines advertising Maidenform bra, with a tag line that was instantly recognizable. “I dreamed I played chess in my Maidenform bra…” “I dreamed I was twins in my Maidenform bra…” “I dreamed I had tea for two in my Maidenform bra…” “I dreamed I went to a masquerade in my Maidenform bra…”, and so on [Image 8]. The line accompanied a fashion photograph illustrating the catch phrase, as well a little story about the “dream.” Considering the subject matter, the ads were done with wit, taste, and elegance. And were, of course, always eye-catching. The “I dreamed…” theme was an endlessly resourceful ongoing ad campaign that was so successful for the company that the series of ads ran throughout the 50s into the late 60s, with many imaginative variations. Maybe Hitchcock, in his sly way, is suggesting his own ad—“I dreamed I was murdered at the Bates Motel in my Maidenform bra…”

Or perhaps an answer can be found in Marnie, four years after Psycho. Hitchcock once more reveals his interest in women on the run and their suitcases—what gets put in suitcases, what gets left behind. At the very beginning of Marnie, even before we’re introduced to the main character, we’re introduced to the things she’s acquired—her Naples-yellow handbag which contains all the loot she most recently stole, her suitcase, the clothes that she just bought for herself as well as, we will soon learn, gifts she bought for her mother as she packs them very neatly into her new suitcase [Image 9]. It goes without saying that Marnie is a compulsively neater packer than Marion Crane. Meanwhile, right next to the new suitcase is her old suitcase, in which she haphazardly throws items that, we find out several shots later, she will discard. She throws, into the old suitcase, a white bra and a pinkish slip. Maybe that’s what happens to old white bras when you’re starting a new life. So, that’s a possible answer, although there is something frighteningly paranoid about Marnie throwing out her old underwear, as if she could be identified by those items, just as Marion’s behavior is similarly irrational when she buys the Saturday morning paper to find out if the robbery she committed on Friday is reported in it. Marnie subsequently dumps all of her money into the new suitcase. She goes to the train station with both suitcases, deposits the old suitcase in a locker, locks it up, and throws the key away.

Women, in American movies, certainly, before Psycho were rarely, if ever, seen in a brassiere and a slip. There is a world of difference between what we see in Psycho and Elizabeth Taylor slinkily lounging around in a full slip in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and BUtterfield 8 (1960). It was the difference between being nude and being naked. In addition to which, Janet Leigh was what my mother might have called a “big” girl. In a sense, it was as shocking for a star of Janet Leigh’s caliber to casually wear a bra and a half-slip as it was for Manet’s Olympia to unblinkingly stare down the spectator when she is clearly naked, and definitely not nude. But everything about the images presented in Psycho was shocking. It was the first time one had seen a normal bathroom on the screen—elaborate movie star or designer bathrooms don’t count—, with a toilet and the sound of a toilet actually being flushed, a shower that took water and blood down the drain. It was also the first visit to a sleazy motel (if we except Touch of Evil [1958]), it was the first peek at America’s obsession with it’s highways, and certainly the first well-mannered, prep-school psycho-killer. Hitchcock, in movies, did for motels and highways what Nabokov did in novels with Lolita, which was printed for the first time in America in 1958, two years before Psycho.

OK, here we are, over 2,000 words later and I’m not much closer to an answer than I was at the beginning. And yet, and yet, why has this been sticking in my craw all this time? Let’s go back to the previously mentioned dissolve between Marion at her office and Marion packing her suitcase. If she were wearing her white bra and half-slip while packing, it might suggest that no time at all elapsed between her leaving the office and making the decision to take the money and run. But she would need some time to think over her plans. The fact that she is wearing the black bra indicates several things—that she had indeed spent some time to thinking her plans through, that she most probably—let us say definitely—took a shower, foreshadowing, unseen though the shower may have been, her fatal shower at the Bates Motel, and most important of all, that she was naked during the course of the film, actually, during the course of the dissolve—in order for her change her brassiere. It is that unseen nakedness, during the dissolve, that is the very nakedness that triggers Norman Bates’ sexual and, hence, murderous impulses. And to indicate that something important happened in that dissolve interval, Hitchcock has Marion change her bra and slip. It’s a visual shorthand for suggesting that time has elapsed and that she took a shower, the predecessor to the famous shower scene. And, most importantly of all, that she was naked. The shower, both the unseen one and the one we see all too graphically bracket her impulsive decisions—first to flee Phoenix with the money and then to return to Phoenix. One wonders, had she been able to continue her journey the next morning, back to Phoenix, would she have put on her white bra and white half-slip again? Or not? For the moment, this is the best I can come up with, although I’m open to other theories. Additional suggestions will be welcomed and given serious consideration. All responses will be answered.

Mark Rappaport is a filmmaker, writer, and visual artist. His films include The Scenic Route (1978), Impostors (1979), and the widely-acclaimed Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992) and From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995). A collection of some of his film writings was published in 2008 in French as Le Spectateur qui en savait trop (The Moviegoer Who Knew Too Much). Several of his pieces have appeared in the online film journal Rouge.

The above article was originally published in Trafic, in French; this is its first appearance in the original English.


“Intellectual rigor demands that we give these damned metaphors every chance, even if they are inimical to personal well-being and comfort.”

Donald Barthleme, “At the End of the Mechanical Age”

“So near is falsehood to truth that a wise man would do well not to trust himself on the narrow edge.”



The lover is makeshift, a free-floating signifier unbound by formal fetters. The lover is one I desire to uncomplicate and unwind, unweave his warbled way of walking, his scattered irises looking left to right, his pupils that seek corners and broken skylines searching for the past and haunting.

Is the funhouse really fun? Barth says, perhaps, for lovers. Ambrose wanders alone, crashing into the flimsy structures. Will he remain reflected in others’ folded, linklocked palms?

I want him where the world won’t, in the embrace of sign, in the meeting of words caressing bodies, an in and out of mind.

William Gass writes in The World Within the Word that “creating and defending a connection between what William James called the buzzing, blooming confusion of normal consciousness—of daily life with its unstimulating bumps, its teaseless, enervating grinds—and the clear and orderly silences of mathematics, a connection which will give us meaning, security, and management, in one lump sum, is what our science—is what our art, law, love, and magic—is principally about” (263).

Gass also claims that “the burden of being is felt most fully by the self-determining self” (6).

I once asked you to explain pragmatism. I saw you and you shifted with your usual shudders and contradictions. You asked me why and told me it was boring. I wanted to examine the unstimulating bumps and enervating grinds of these lonely, tiresome hearts.

We locked hands, linked fingers, kissing palm to palm. This is almost near enough to touch. But there is no flesh beneath the scab and scrabble of syntactic figures, Eliot’s ragged, scuttling claws. You are everything meaning desires in disjointed prose.

Oh language, bring me the lover between these trusses, bonds!

I wrote:
“Ocean, how forgotten you are, sea muck and metal rust, at the bottom where those fish eyes bubble, brought to the top to burst, myopic and mal-aligned, at a loss when brought to light. Who’s to say the underwater life is less—the deep waves and water’s intimate caress down low and languorous, pushed against a breast? There is a heft, love through a world dense with stratification. Our depths, kept floating, air drawing towards clouds in wisps and fissions where the languid lie. Deaths fastened to the stratosphere and limped to the foot of the earth like a shackle. I’d rather be bled through the chest—plumped with water heaving out and pressed.”

I cannot say I love your loss, though I desire to fill those gaps and spaces, even if I’d burst like the lungs of a hooked through fish. I tell you, “when fish are pulled from the depths, their eyes bulge and the sacks of their lungs compress. This is a different kind of drowning.” You look at me as if I am out of mind, boring through depths where semantic structures lie.

William Gass writes: “it is a style so desperate to rise, it would burst its own lungs.”

You wheeze like the wounded.

You bought a birdfeeder. I thought, perhaps, you were tempting seeds to draw this hunger back. I thought I’d come and go because I pleased, feathers shining in a ceremony fit for lovers or thieves. I’d come, collect, and you’d free the fingers lately clasped around your neck. Fidgeting and fancy, I’d unfasten my beak behind your back and wish and whistle. I could love you like that.

I wrote:
“Let me sink into the sea, where there are no feathers, no lust, where the fishes are wishes, where there is no such thing as trust.”

In order for any force to remain static in space, the sums of all (horizontal and vertical) forces, as well as all moments acting about the node, equal zero.

I’m worried that I may somehow lean too close to the edge of my windows. Instead of looking out I may end up in the world where language escapes. I can’t contain it (bird, fish, bridge, scale, wing). There are waves of worry winding through my jostled throat. I can’t seem anymore and the world has nothing, something, everything, to do: everything, something, nothing, you.

I recently saw a rabbit hopping down a busy street while traffic blurted and burped. It’s eyes stymied fearful rivers and its thick legs pumped, aiming to move out of the blinding, violent lights. It did not belong there, misplaced, searching frantically for the absent hedgerows.

I wrote:
“I’m back from my trip to Chicago and was wondering if we could get together and talk about Heather Momyer’s Performing the Illusion of Love: the Autobiographical Literary Critic and the Striptease Artist, suburbs, ragas, waxwings, pragmatism, harlequins, and Walter Benjamin?”
There is no response.

I do not mask my sadness. I can’t clamor my face with light and smile toward the seeds clouding up the air in the suffocating springtime. I fear everyone is leaving. I see the trails of their coats and the wave of their hands and I can’t imagine them back, rabbits disappearing through the darkness of a hat.

“’That’s the effect of living backwards,’ the Queen said kindly: `it always makes one a little giddy at first –‘
`Living backwards!’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. `I never heard of such a thing!’
`– but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.’
`I’m sure mine only works one way,’ Alice remarked. `I can’t remember things before they happen.’
`It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.”

(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

Occasionally a former lover cities into my life despite the unaffected landscapes. This was how it began. The waves spit on the shore with the sounds of leaving through the wind.

See also: the 28 ways to fill space that have identical joints, geodesic dome, girder, mechanics of structures, a form used for telescopes, space frame, comprehensive stress, tensile stress, structural steel, where no compression member touches any other compression member, bridge, rod, a guitar part.

This is how we meet:
-People rush where everyone blurs through buildings. Why someone stands out is beyond understanding. This is a hall of mirrors, a funhouse fun for certain sorts of lovers.
-In a book there is an elephant. The elephant told lion, monkey, and rabbit he could not hide. Instead he splashed in the river and did not worry about seeking. He did not care about being all alone. Soon lion, monkey, and rabbit joined him. They formed and fun filled. They all fell in love.
-I love the interstices of not so simple starts.
-I sewed circular birds into patterns, beaks opening, closing, speaking. I thought it would wear away the wheeze of your most recent ruin. It did not. No matter what I did or do it will not will your want.
-You watched me. I didn’t know one day I would lay in your arms while you looked back into the past where someone else’s eyes were what you wanted.
-A building, a farm, a roof, an airplane, a temple, a steeple, in a room full of people.

The lover and I seldom or occasionally never even oddly.

A truss rod is used to stabilize and adjust the lengthwise forward curvature (relief), of the neck. Usually it is a steel rod that runs inside the neck and has a bolt that can be used to adjust its tension.

Recently I wake early and join others in a room where we circle and speak of that which I am only vaguely familiar. People stretch and bend. Why do I do this? I think it might improve the structure deep within my bones.
It brings me a certain kind of calm. Except when the conversation moves to unicorns, elephants, abduction and adduction, ribald monks and musk.
At moments, I think I am mad, hitching past to future, timidly trussed. What have I gotten into? Is it just my love?

“Every lover is mad, we are told. But can we imagine a madman in love? Never—I am entitled only to an impoverished, incomplete, metaphorical madness: love drives me nearly mad, but I do not communicate with the supernatural, there is nothing of the sacred within me; my madness, a mere irrationality, is dim, even invisible; besides, it is entirely recuperated by the culture: it frightens no one.”

(Roland Barthes, A Lovers Discourse, 120)

god is love is god is want is what is want is love is want is what i love is love i want is what i what is love or want

I imagine us under a roof cornered toward the sky where the worried wheezing goes. Here I bake cookies. Here I wear an apron and sprinkle flakes of food into a bowl of rabbits and fish. Here I talk about crossing through the mirror that subtends all speculation.
I say “coherence in contradiction expresses the force of a desire.”
I say “tensile strength indicates when necking will occur.”
You say, “yes, yes, yes.”
We link words and sentences, our bodies’ flesh and flesh.
I mimic, warble, at home where imagination is wrought, able to make in love-like simulations.

Craigslist says:
-be real with your self about looking for a man put up a real ad
-fun with movies, a lounge, traveling, amusement parks
-I don’t wear flashy clothes
-I imagine you wouldn’t want people knowing you like getting used
-I’ve noticed that posts and responses in my region tend to be best defined as “barely literate” and have seen that there’s actual thought put into the writing for posts in the New York section
-Ever since I can remember I always had a think
-I am rare, you are rare.
-if everything goes well then so on so forth
-I think I’m just awkward and tolerated

“After the shock of this disappointment her heart once more remained empty, and then the same series of identical days recommenced [. . .] ‘I have read everything,’ she said to herself.”

(Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary)

We walk down the tree-lined street and chill figures our backs. It is cloudy and cold although early May when the leaves burst through. I’ve studied the peak of bridges, rooftops, how things hold together despite stress. Even though people lean from the edge and teeter into the world beyond, we are strung together because of want that was. Now, I can only love like the rabbit in a world he did not devise, beautiful beyond belief, bursting from the fetters, lungs. Beyond the truss and trust, where you will always find the certainty of this you know, you, you who are just my kind of love.

See Also:

Barthes, Roland. A Lover’s Discourse. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and
Wang, 1978. Print.

Barthleme, Donald. “At the End of the Mechanical Age”. Heath Anthology of American
. Ed. Paul Lauter. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”.
Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. Schocken Books, New York, 1968. Print.

Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Philadelphia:
Henry Altemus Company, 1897. Print.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. Brainy Quote. Brainy Media, 2001. Web. 18 May 2010.

Derrida, Jacques. “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. Ed. David Lodge. New York: Longman, 1988. Print.

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Ed. De Man, Paul. New York: WW Norton, 1965.

Gass, William. The World Within the Word. New York: Basic Books, 1971. Print.

Irigaray, Luce. “The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine.”
Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Boston:
Blackwell, 1998. Print.

“Men Seeking Women”. New York Craigslist. Craig Newmark. 1995. Web. 18 May

Momyer, Heather. Performing the Illusion of Love: the Autobiographical Literary Critic
and the Striptease Artist
. Diss. U of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2007. Print.

“Truss”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004.
Web. 18 May 2010.

Rebbecca Brown lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Hunter College.