Fran Lebowitz – A Transcript

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Fran Lebowitz in conversation with Evan Smith (CEO and Co-founder of the Texas Tribune) at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Wednesday, March 8, 2017. 7 PM.


ES: Let’s pull back from the area around Trump Tower and talk about New York. You’ve been living in New York for how long?

FL: Since 1969.

ES: So we’re going on 50 years in New York. Obviously, the New York of the sixties and seventies is the iconic, mythic, romantic New York. The New York of the Woody Allen movies, the New York of seventies filmmaking…New York today is vastly different.

FL: Vastly different. But Woody Allen seems to be the same.

ES: Are you prepared to say, Fran, that in every single way, New York is worse today than the New York of those days?

FL: I am prepared to say that every single thing – object – is worse than it used to be. But some ideas, some things in life, are much better. Life is much better now for women. I mean, vastly better than when I was a girl. There’s no comparison. And it’s much better for gay people. Much better. It’s not perfect, but there’s no comparison. When I was a child, and I would ask to do something, the answer would be no. Why not? Because you’re a girl. Oh, okay. And that was everybody. Not just my parents. So. New York in the ’70s, the Woody Allen world, the Upper West Side – that was never a world I was in.

ES: It was a real world but it just wasn’t your world.

FL: Right. But you know. Kids – by which I mean, people in their twenties – are always saying to me, ‘Oh, Fran, I wish I lived in New York in the seventies. It was so fun.’ And this strikes me as odd for two reasons. When I was young, I never stopped people to say, ‘Oh I wish I’d lived in New York in the forties.’ I don’t think it’s the best thing for the country that people who are young have nostalgia for an era they didn’t live in. Because we really need our young people to, you know, look forward. Because we did a horrible job. You can see that. But New York was very dangerous then. There was a tremendous amount of crime. It’s not dangerous now, Mr. Trump. It was very dangerous then. I have given up none of my habits from New York in the seventies. By which I mean, when I’m on the subway, I see people put a bag down next to them, and they just leave it there. And I think, are you insane? If I have a pencil, I have a death grip on it. I lock my door with sixteen locks just like it’s 1970. It isn’t better that it was dangerous. But one thing that was great about it was that people hated it. So there were no tourists. Tourists ruin every place in the world. It’s not just New York. It’s every place in the world.

ES: You’re saying this right before South by Southwest, so there may be some sympathy for this position in the audience.

FL: It doesn’t matter where you live, if you live in a place where tourists come, you hate the tourists. And everybody is right about this, by the way. No matter where they live, everybody is right. Because no matter where you live, when tourists come, you have to make the place accommodating to the tourists. And the tourists are not you. And you want your town or city to be accommodating to you. So that, you know, if I were in charge of New York – which is my dream –

ES: Mayor Lebowitz!

FL: Here’s what I would do. In fact, this is my immigration plan. For Mr. Trump. I would stand at the border of New York City and I would say, ‘Everyone can come in, but you have to live here. You can come from anywhere in the world, but you have to stay.’ So if I see you with one suitcase, no. ‘What, are you going to be here for three days? Go back.’

ES: So in your mind’s eye when you remember New York, when you remember Times Square, you know, hookers and homeless people and drugs and –

FL: And three-card monte dealers! And no one ever says, ‘Where are all the three-card monte dealers?’ But now we know where they are. The White House.

ES: You went somewhere else with that than I thought you were going to go. But my point though was that Rudolf Giuliani takes credit as former mayor of New York for having cleaned up the streets. He made Times Square into Disneyland, a theme park, he made it family friendly. And I’m just wondering if that’s a better New York, a better Times Square, from your perspective.

FL: Nothing that Rudolf Giuliani could do would make it better, okay? He should be in prison. Alright? Period. And it wasn’t Giuliani, anyway. It was not Giuliani. Giuliani increased the police force. I remember when he did that and he said, ‘I have fifty-five thousand cops under me.’ And I thought, that is not a municipal police force. That’s an army. So yes, he’s very brutal. He still is very brutal. Times Square was a decision made by, like, four men. Okay? All bad things in the world are four men in a room with a pencil and a piece of paper. Okay? The Middle East! That’s how they made the Middle East. These four guys sat there and they said, ‘No we’ll put this here, we’ll put this there,’ they went back to England and they died and left the Middle East for everyone else to clean up. And [Times Square] was a decision made to figure out how we could get out of bankruptcy. Which by the way, I lived through it but I had no idea what that meant because if you have no money, it doesn’t matter if the city’s bankrupt. It made no difference to me. And they decided to do it by luring tourists here. How do you lure them here to a place they hate? You make it a place they like. Which is, not New York.

ES: Right. Did you like Bloomberg any better than you liked Giuliani?

FL: No. Hated Bloomberg. Let me just say – the last mayor I liked was David Dinkins [1990-1993]. Before David Dinkins the last mayor I liked was Lindsay [John Lindsay, 1966-1973]. Alright?

ES: So you were not a big fan of Ed Koch.

FL: I hated Ed Koch.

ES: In some ways Ed Koch is like the New Yorker people think of when they think of a New Yorker.

FL: I know. That’s because the rest of the country is anti-Semitic. Ed Koch is an anti-Semite’s idea of a Jew. I used to think I could never hate a mayor more than Koch. Then we had Giuliani, and I thought, I could never hate a mayor more than Giuliani. Then we had Bloomberg. I thought I could never hate a mayor more than Bloomberg. I like DeBlasio. None of my friends like him. I do.

ES: Make a thirty-second case for DeBlasio. Because a lot of people think that DeBlasio was actually not doing a good job, as you know.

FL: You know the people who think that? Rich people. You want to know why? Because he doesn’t cater to them. Mike Bloomberg was a concierge to the rich. DeBlasio is not the most charismatic. He’s not the quickest man on the planet, I agree. But his heart is in the right place. I think for all the things he’s done, the reason people like my friends don’t like him, is because they didn’t need universal pre-K. They don’t care about the public schools. And he does. I think his heart’s in the right place. He’s not very liked. I’m not sure if he’ll be re-elected, but I like him.

ES: You’re a fan of his.

FL: I am.

ES: So…you’re still doing all these things that you’ve done for years – you’re writing, you’re making your way around the city, you’ve just bought a new place to live.

FL: I did.

ES: And to your amazement, as we discussed before we came out here, that was news in some parts of the country – ‘Fran Lebowitz Buys New Apartment.’

FL: You know, I don’t have a computer, I don’t have any of these things. So I know about them, but I’m always astonished how invasive they are.

ES: You’re a celebrity! We like to cover the goings and comings of celebrities.

FL: I know. But where you live? I mean, really. I’m not America’s sweetheart, I get a lot of threats. I don’t need anyone knowing where I live.

ES: I can explain how Google works –

FL: No, don’t tell me.

ES: The point is though, you’re still doing your thing. You’re still at this and you haven’t made a decision now or at any point in the future to give up on New York.

FL: No. You know what? I mean, New York is now so psychotically expensive. It’s actually brutally expensive. It’s so expensive that no matter where you go when you leave, including Paris, you think, ‘Woah, what a deal!’ I’m not sure if I would go to New York now if I was 18. But I’m not 18. Truthfully, I don’t know where else I would live. I’m there, that’s where I am.

ES: And you continue to write although you’ve had over the last decade or so maybe the most famous case of writer’s block in recorded history. But you now seem to have broken through that.

FL: That’s very nice of you to think it was only a decade.

ES: I understand but I’m going to be respectful. How long would you say it’s been that you’ve had writer’s block?

FL: Mm….about fifty years.

ES: Fifty years. Well I know that you published many things in those fifty years. So it couldn’t have been literally fifty years. Metropolitan Life came out when?

FL: 1978.

ES: Okay. 1978. By the way, that was my first moment as a young person reading Fran Lebowitz and discovering your work and thinking, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’ You were the catalyst for me.

FL: Thank you. Or, I’m sorry.

ES: So what has been the issue for you in the intervening period? There’s been other things since Metropolitan Life but it’s been awhile since you were publishing on a regular basis, publishing something big. And you seem to be coming out of it now but what was the sticking point for you?

FL: Sloth.

ES: It’s as simple as that?

FL: Sloth. Yes. Writing is very hard. As you know. And honestly, I’m lazy. And at a certain point I found out, you know what? I can make money talking, which is really easy.

ES: And so you do a lot of this actually.

FL: A lot.

ES: You had a book in progress some years ago. Is that the book that you’re now working on again? Or are you working on something new?

FL: Right now, I’m working on moving.

ES: That’s really all you’re focused on.

FL: That’s really all I’m focused on. I have ten thousand books. So ten thousand books have to be moved, they have to be rearranged, alphabetized. So this is what I’m concentrating on.

ES: But that is only a temporary condition.

FL: To you it seems temporary.

A: I’m trying to draw you out on talking about your work. Literally what are you doing on the writing front.

L: You mean, am I working on the novel that….

A: Yeah.

L: Periodically, Amazon seems to advertise. Because people will say to me, ‘Oh, I’m gonna order your book, I saw it on Amazon.’ I say well good luck. Order me one, because maybe they finished it! Amazon is so miraculous they finished my book for me.

A: So the fact is that all these rumors of activity are just that.

L: That’s what rumor means.

A: I see.

L: There’s no truth in it whatsoever.

A: You obviously are reading, though. If you’re not writing, you’re reading. The works of others. Do you have anybody you like at the moment? Anybody you want to recommend to us? Anybody who’s a favorite of yours?

L: You mean like, one of these…like…new young writers?

A: Whose work do you like?

L: …you mean, people who are alive?

A: It doesn’t have to be.

L: I mean, I prefer dead writers because you never run into them at parties.

A: I interviewed Joyce Carol Oates not long ago when she was here in town for the Texas Book Festival and I asked her whose work she recommends and she said Emily Dickinson. And I thought, she hasn’t done anything new in a long time.

L: Joyce Carol Oates writes about 27 books a month.

A: A year, I was going to say year. You say a month.

L: That’s right. I mean, that’s probably the last time she had time to read, was Emily Dickinson.

A: Alive or dead. What’s the last thing you read?

L: I mean, the last thing I read – I did this thing for the Times and it’s called ‘By the Book’…and one of the questions was what’s the last classic novel you had never read but you just recently finally did, and mine was [Charles Dickens’s] Little Dorit. Which I recommend! I had never read it, I was looking for something to read. I have two friends I would take recommendations from. Dickens, he’s coming along.

A: It’s like the President said about Frederick Douglass…I hear he’s hot now…

L: Let me assure you. Dickens, he has not heard of yet.

A: Do you enjoy doing magazine work more than longer form work?

L: No.

A: It’s all basically the same for you?

L: Yes.

A: How has that world changed? I had remarked to you earlier how I thought it was amazing the Vanity Fair has retained itself – it’s not a terribly different magazine than it used to be. Why is that? A lot of magazines these days, over the last couple of years, have changed. But that magazine is very similar.

L: That’s because Conde Nast is still owned by the Newhouses. It’s owned by a family. It’s not a public company. Companies that are public are worried about their stock price all the time. At this point, Vanity Fair still makes money, Vogue still makes money. They don’t make the money probably they used to, but the Newhouses continue to publish it.

A: And that world, the world of those magazines still appeals to you?

L: I like paper.

A: You’ve mentioned a couple different times that you’re not big on technology, and obviously a big revolution that’s happened in our business is how technology has changed everything that people like us do, and how the way the kind of stuff we produce is consumed, but you have stayed largely clear of the technology trap.

L: That is true.

A: How have you managed to do that? Or why have you chosen to do that?

L: It looks much more premeditated than it was.

A: It’s not a deliberate decision.

L: No. Here’s what happened. They invented…the first computer they ever invented that you could have in your house was called a word processor. Do you remember these things?

A: Yes.

L: Alright. So. I had a friend who was a screenwriter and she got one of these things. She said you have to come and look at this, it’s fantastic. So I went and looked at it. And I thought, this is just a very fast kind of typewriter. I don’t know how to type. I don’t need this.

A: You didn’t learn how to type?
L: I don’t know how to type. I write with a ballpoint pen. All of these other things, you type on them. You think you don’t, but you do. I didn’t learn it then and I’m not learning now.

A: And so the idea that social media has become this all-consuming thing for people, you’re just completely uninterested in that.

L : You know, luckily, I’m too old. I’m too old to have to do that. Obviously, if I was young, I would do it. But I’m not young. There has to be some upside to not being young. This is mine.

A: So if you’re not plugged into the technology, to the world around you, how do you stay informed? Do you read the paper?

L: I read the New York Times, only Sunday. I read the Sunday Times. In New York you get half of it Saturday, half of it Sunday. It takes me the whole weekend to read it. I have friends who read three thousand newspapers a day on their phones. And I say, how do you do this? It takes me the whole weekend to read the Times, and I’m not a slow reader. And they say, well Fran, that’s because you read it. Let me tell you something. It is impossible not to know about all the social media stuff. People tell you about it. Someone has a Twitter account in my name.

A: I found that Twitter account that presumed it was you, or pretended to be you.

L: And I found the guy who owns Twitter, I met him and I tell him: look, you have to take this off. And he said, no, here’s what you do. You have to open a Twitter account and call it ‘The Real Fran Lebowitz.’ And I said, I have to open it? Who’s company is this? These people who invented these things are – without question – they’ve figured out how to just make money and there’s no responsibility for anything.

A: Advice for young writers? Tell me what I need to do to get into this profession. You speak on college campuses. Kids come up to you today, what do you tell them?

L: You’d be surprised at the number of kids who ask me for advice, like I care what they do. These kids, their parents liked them so much they imagine that everybody’s that interested in them. Here’s what I mostly tell them. I listen to the radio and every once in a while they say something like ‘By the year 2035 there’ll be no water left.’ And I freeze. And then I realize, ‘oh it’s okay, I’ll be dead.’ So I always tell these kids, “If I were your age, I’d look for water. Because we drank it all. There won’t be any left for you.” 

A: I’m not sure that’s really the advice they’re looking for.

L: But it’s the advice they need.

A: Well, give me one bit of advice, to the degree that I can get you to be serious for one second. Give me one bit of advice – what would you tell them is the most important thing?

L: Read! Read, read. There’s all these writing schools now. When I was young I think there was the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and that was it. It never occurred to me to go there because it never occurred to me to go to college. You can’t LEARN how to write. Okay? This is a scam, these writing schools. You can’t learn how to write. Here’s what you can learn: grammar. I have on my desk a  list of people I know who went to Catholic school, because they are the only people who really know grammar. In Catholic school, if you didn’t get the answer right, the nuns hit you. That is how you learn Grammar. So I have these Catholic school graduates, and they know every possible thing about grammar. That’s my advice.

A: So we need to be hitting more kids to get them up to your standards?

L: There are certain things that can not be made fun. Grammar is ten of those things.




L: Hi. I am now going to answer questions from the audience in an entertaining fashion. You don’t have to ask them in an entertaining fashion. In fact, please do not. All you have to do is raise your hand, I will call on you, if the audience can’t hear the question, I will repeat it. It’s very simple.


How do you feel about the passing of the Waldorf Astoria ahotel?

L: As you may or may not know, the Waldorf was bought by some Chinese company. I only know that because the president of the United States, when he came to New York – because presidents used to come to New York instead of just stay there – they would always stay at the Waldorf. And when the Waldorf changed hands, Obama stopped staying there. Because he thought maybe it wasn’t the safest thing to do, to stay in a place owned by the Chinese. Perhaps this is what happened with Donald Trump. So they’re converting part of it into condos. Here’s the thing about a place like the Waldorf, or any place: people sit and they go, “It changed! That’s horrible!” And you’ll say, when was the last time you were in the Waldorf? People cannot stand places that change. But the interior of the Waldorf, the things most people remember, are landmarked. They won’t change that much, in case you were planning on buying a condo there.


Are you interested in a petition to make smokers an endangered species?

L: You mean, like, some sort of national park? Well, you know, according to people who don’t smoke, we are an endangered species. Nothing is more galling to the antismokers than the fact that I’m alive. No one in New York City gets more fresh air than smokers. We’re like Olympic skiers. To me, I find this to be ludicrous, I really do. Here’s the thing. They couldn’t get people to stop smoking when they found out it was bad for you. Although, what could they have ever thought before that? And so they invented this second-hand smoke thing which I absolutely do not believe in. And why do I not believe in it? I’ve known people who died of every possible thing on this planet including smoking, but I never heard of anyone who died because someone else smoked. I’ve never heard of it. And I will tell you, that when I was a child, every single adult smoked. Everybody’s parents smoked. We lived in choking smoke-filled rooms. When I was a child, I never heard of asthma. It didn’t exist. When I was a child, children were healthy. We ate peanut butter, no one dropped dead. There were no seatbelts. Now, children are bolted into the backseat dressed like astronauts. Here is where we sat in cars when I was a child. In the front seat on the laps of our smoking mothers. So I can only assume that this asthma is caused by insufficient exposure to secondhand smoke. So the only hope I have is when I’m outside smoking, the people I’m outside with are my friends’ children. And they’re always telling me, don’t tell my father I smoke. Please don’t tell my father I smoke. And then sometimes the father finds out and says why do they smoke? And I say, because it’s the only thing you disapprove of. That’s why. When we were kids, our parents just hated us. They disapproved of everything we did. So now, parents like their children so much that smoking is the only thing they disapprove of. My belief is, should I live long enough, when these kids are in power, they’re going to reverse these rules. Not that we ever let them get in power. Because we never leave. We never leave our jobs, they have no place to go. In New York they can’t move up. When I was a kid, an intern worked at a hospital. An intern was a person who was going to be a doctor and first they had to intern. Now we call them interns but they’re slaves. I could never have done this when I was young because I had to earn money. They’re like rich slaves. It’s a horrible system. People at a certain age should move along. Let the other people come up. Not me. But the rest of them.


I was wondering if there was a question that nobody has ever asked you that you wish someone would.

L: No.


L: But I will tell you that no one has ever asked me that. Which is astonishing because I’ve been doing this since 1978. I will tell you this, now that you’ve asked. Of the eight billion questions I’ve been asked, what I remember most is my favorite question I was ever asked. And the favorite question I was ever asked was during the Iran hostage crisis. I was in San Francisco. One of the worst things about the Iran hostage crisis was that it invented 24-hour news. The whole country was riveted, couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking, get them out! What is wrong with you! Every night they would show ‘day 150, hostages still there.’ We got really familiar with the names of all the hostages and we were encountering them every day. During this crisis a young man asked me if I had a favorite hostage. I told this young man that I didn’t have a favorite hostage, but I did have a least-favorite-hostage-wife. Whose name I can’t remember and if I did I wouldn’t say it because one of my least-favorite things is getting sued. And the reason she was my least-favorite hostage was because she was so avidly pursuing the press all the time. So when they finally released the hostages, I thought, this woman is very disappointed. Because this is over for her. That’s my favorite question, but the question you just asked, I’ve never been asked before.


Organization of toast-masters? (unintelligible)

L: Okay. Organization of toast-masters. In New York it’s called an emcee. I was the fashion council emcee – the CFDA – I was the CDFA emcee AND the National Book Award emcee in the same year. No one else has ever done that. I’ve often been the emcee, I’ve often given people awards, I’ve never received one. That is true. Some people say, did you turn down this award? I say no. My name just never seems to come up. So yes I have been in the organization fo the toast-masters, if that was your question, unless a toast-master is something else.


How was it collaborating wtih Martin Scorsese?

L: Martin made a movie about me called Public Speaking, and I did not collaborate with him. Marty Scorsese is the greatest working movie director and I am not. So I didn’t collaborate with him at all. He had final cut. I didn’t have any idea what he was doing, I never asked him. I talked. He filmed. But I never asked him. And when he was – it took – Marty is very slow in editing. He edits and edits and edits. In a documentary it takes forever. The first time I saw that movie I had no idea what was in it, i didn’t know there was all that archival material, I had no idea. I saw that movie seven times and I saw seven completely different movies. I saw the final one, the one you saw, right before it came out. And that’s how Marty works. I did not collaborate with him at all and wouldn’t think of it. See, I believe, unlike the President, in expertise. I might be a better filmmaker than some people, but those people would not be filmmakers. One of the things I can’t understand about our present era is why there is this idea that the worst thing a politician could be is a politician. Do they imagine that it takes zero skill to be a senator or a congressman? Oh, here’s the best thing: this person has no idea what they’re doing. Perfect! I have a horrible leak in my apartment, do you know someone who’s not a plumber? I actually believe in knowledge, I believe in skills, I believe in expertise. Hence, I did not tell Marty how to make the movie.


I asked this same question of Gore Vidal but I didn’t understand his answer so I’m going to see if you can answer it for me. I feel like we’re drowning in all this bullshit, the world is falling apart, etc, etc. What can we do about it?

L: I’m going to try to repeat this. He asked the same question of Gore Vidal, and you did not understand his answer, is that what you said? Yes, well, I’m not as pretentious as Gore so you’ll understand mine. The question is – he feels like we’re drowning, the world is falling apart, what can we do? Clearly Gore didn’t know. And he couldn’t have even imagined Donald Trump. Because before Donald Trump it was literally unbelievable. A species that could imagine sending men to the moon. A species that could imagine all the things mankind has imagined. No one could have imagined this. So if you’re asking me what we can do about it? We don’t know. I don’t know. Anyone who thinks up what we can do about this, I’m delighted to hear. What we could have done about it happened on November 8th. I have to say that I am probably one of the best voters in the United States. I vote in every single election, I vote in midterms, I vote in school board elections. And the reason for this is that my parents instilled in me the idea that if I did not vote I would have to go back to Russia and live in a ghetto and be attacked by cossacks. And I believed them. ‘Course we didn’t know the Russians would come here….but here’s what I’ll tell you. In the first Obama election, I lived in a neighborhood that I call NYU-istan. So when I went to vote for Obama, I stood in line, I was the oldest person by far. Two years later, i went to vote in the midterms, I was the youngest. You cannot just vote when it makes you feel great about yourself. Voting isn’t some sort of legislative selfie. It is a privilege and it is a duty. It is your job as a citizen. Truthfully, I don’t understand – we know Hillary Clinton got three million more votes, we all know that – of course we shouldn’t have the electoral college. It was invented for this. It was invented to overvalue Southern votes. It’s a ridiculous absurdity. The election of Donald Trump makes me feel like the confederacy won the Civil War. That’s what it feels like. People should stop blaming Hillary Clinton for losing this election. This election is the fault of the people who voted for Donald Trump. It is not the fault of Hillary Clinton. It is not the fault of people who voted for her. It is the fault of the Donald Trump voters. And so they may deserve him, but I don’t. Before the election I went around the country talking to people, and kids especially would say ‘I don’t like her.’ And I would think, so what? She’s not going to call you. don’t worry about it. You don’t have to like the president. You’re not going to meet the president. You don’t have to have the same relationship with every single person in the world. The president doesn’t have to be someone that you feel like having dinner with because you’re not going to have dinner with her. Donald Trump didn’t win this election because he did something right. He won because he did something wrong. The election of Donald Trump in my opinion is racism pure and simple. It’s nothing else. I don’t believe that the appeal of Donald Trump is that people really believed he’s going to bring back car manufacturing like it’s 1955. And if you’re that stupid you shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Rudolf Giuliani, when he ran for mayor the first time, it was exactly like this. His television ads, the first time I saw them, I said, ‘Listen to what he’s saying. Vote for me and it will be 1950 again.’ These guys want it to be 1950 again. Because what was 1950 great for? These guys. Who was it not great for? Everyone else. So I don’t know what you asked, but that’s my answer.


What advice do you have for the press in dealing with the Trump administration?

L: Ah, the press. In a certain way, I want them to stop covering it. I mean, I know they can’t. I know they think they can’t. Because they never HAVEN’T covered the president. But…they could. I would like them to just not show up. At these press briefings. Just don’t show up! That would be, to me – he would be so freaked out by that. It is immoral what he does with regard to the press. He doesn’t understand what it is. Among the many things he doesn’t understand, which is everything. I mean, if I was a reporter, it would be very tempting for me to just say, I’m not going. How do you like that? Because actually, you can cover him without covering him. You don’t have to go there. You don’t have to go to the briefings. Today I saw what seemed to be a 75-hour lie-a-thon, from like Sean Spencer, whoever he’s supposed to be. He just stood there and lied about the health care plan. Which someone tried to call TrumpCare. And I thought, there’s never going to be a piece of Republican legislation that has the word ‘care’ in it. I don’t understand how the reporters have the patience to sit there and ask questions where every single answer is a lie. I would be unable to do this. The only thing I can think of that Donald Trump ever said that was true is that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and people would still like him. That is true. Because his supporters don’t know where Fifth Avenue is.


Who or what influenced or inspired you to choose the styling that you have, the look that you have. Hair, glasses….

L: You’re talking about clothes, right? Okay. I can’t see you even with the glasses. You must be so young that you don’t realize – they’re for seeing. This is not some style whim. They’re for seeing and my eyesight is actually so terrible that they don’t work that well but they’re for seeing. That’s the glasses. The hair…is the hair. The styling of my hair seems to be the same, to people who don’t look at me as intently as I look at me. It is basically the same except it used to really be this color. The clothes? I just always wore these clothes. I didn’t always wear exactly these clothes because I couldn’t afford them. I wore clothes that looked like these clothes to people who don’t know anything about clothes. I always wore blue jeans. It was never this premeditated way that people now think about things like that. Life didn’t used to be as premeditated as it is now. People didn’t use to compare themselves to the whole world. One of the things that must be awful about being young now, is that it’s bad enough to be a teenager in any era, but at least when I was a teenager, you only knew about the other teenagers in your high school. It wasn’t every teenager on the planet earth. It must be unbearable. It’s unbearable for me to even think about it.





MISSOURI, SPRING OF 1822: War Veteran John Symmes Claims Earth Hollow, Travels America With Bewitching Wooden Globe, Petitions Congress for Polar Expedition Vessels and Cash

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“The 18th-century Astronomer Royal Edmond Halley believed that unusual compass readings could be explained by the fact that the planet was composed of a hollow shell, two inner concentric shells and an innermost core about the diameters of the planets Venus, Mars and Mercury respectively.

One of the most famous Hollow Earth theorists, and a true predecessor of Thompson, was a veteran of the 1812 Anglo-American war, John Symmes. In his book Banvard’s Folly, Paul Collins recounts the “theory of concentric spheres and polar voids” that preoccupied the soldier.

Symmes published a pamphlet, in which he wrote, “I declare that the Earth is hollow and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentric spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees.” He pledged his life to promoting his notion, boldly declaring, “I am ready to explore the hollow.”

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He toured the US with a handmade wooden globe that opened out to reveal its secret layers. Converts, in ever increasing numbers, began petitioning the government to finance his adventures. On March 7 1822 Senator Richard Thompson presented a case to Congress that Symmes be supplied with “the equipment of two vessels of 250 to 300 tons for the expedition, and the granting of such other aid as Government may deem requisite”.

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During the debate, it was suggested that the Committee for Foreign Relations become involved, as the trip may well bring Symmes and his crew into contact with new races of interior people. But the motion was to fail. Seven further bills were presented to the House. Not one succeeded.

Symmes spent the rest of his life lecturing and lobbying for action. “In May 1829,” writes Collins, “Symmes died, believing right up to the end that the greatest discovery in human history had eluded his grasp.”

(original story here)

Operation Barbarossa, 1941

“Our tank shakes with the impact of enemy shots but we are still alive. We have no more shells and are short of bullets. Pavel is shooting at the enemy with a turret machine gun while I take a breather and chat with you. I know this will be the last time. I would like a long chat, but time is too short. It’s good to die when you know that somewhere there’s a person who will think it was good to have been loved.” 

-Red Army Tank Gunner, letter to his wife found on his corpse – July, 1941

[vis a vis ‘Ghosts of the Ostfront’ by Dan Carlin]

Naknek Diary, Entry #4146


17 July 2014

Everyone’s out at the bar tonight but I’m in the shack lying topless on a cat-pissed-upon sofa, perspiring lightly, composing a letter to entertain and inform my dearest reader some five thousand miles south, the most beautiful of all the women in my life and by far the most kindred of the dozen or so odd spirits. The pissed-upon couch is a gift of sorts, by which we mean a borrowed object we never intend to return, from a friend of Treavor’s who lives across the street from the plant here in Naknek. When I say friend I mean Drug Dealer With A Baby Whose Chances In This Thing Called Life Are Pretty Well Shot. Treavor unscrewed the lofted bed from the post that supports it, shoved the couch in under the half-suspended bed and screwed the post back in with great ceremony and swagger and a look that contained the whole history of man’s triumph over oddly shaped pieces of wood. He did all of this manual labor sans shirt, as is his way. This couch is thus a permanent art installation and a testament to sweat, love, sex, God, rescue and cordless power drills. It will never leave the shack. Sorry, drug lords of Bristol Bay, you’re just going to have to smoke pills standing up or sitting down on some lesser kind of furniture, cat-pissed-upon-or-no, the choice is yours and I trust you will make the right one.

This is the summer for breaking hearts and quitting in dramatic fashion, usually under the influence of at least three different intoxicants. The other day I answered the office phone to this:


“I’m sorry – who is this?”

“Sssssss bloose! Can ya hear me?”

*clear sounds of glasses clinking and bottles being opened in background*

“I can hear you, but I can’t understand you. Who is this?”

“Bruce! It’s Bruce! The forklift, fuckin’…driver!” “

Ah, Bruce! A dawning of delighted and dismayed recognition.

“What’s up, Bruce?”

“I been thinkin, and what y’all are payin’ me and everything, I quit.”


“I’m not comin’ in tonight.”

“Bruce, you can’t call in sick. You have to come in personally and talk with us.”

“I ain’t callin’ in sick, I just ain’t comin’ in. I’m done. I quit.”


“Well, bye!”

*Several seconds of bar noise*


Or take the other day: a cheerful and industrial woman on our crew, with a penchant for doling out voluptuous laughter and slender Japanese cigarettes in equal measure, slipped her letter of resignation into a stack of more covert matters on my boss’s desk and made a break for the King Salmon airport in a Red Line Taxi speeding into the twilit tundra. Was she followed? She was, dear reader. She most definitely was. The senior dock lead stuffed his whole room in a canvas backpack, called his own cab and raced after her. As he was throwing his bag in the back, the bunkhouse foreman, eyes squinting suspiciously against the sun, asked him what in hell he thought he was doing. “I’m doing it for love,” he said. All of which came as a blistering zinger to the dock crew, who had just barely begun to recover from the fantastic loss of the other and much beloved dock lead who finally, after years of partying harder than Steve Rubell at a viking funeral, burned out like a quarter stick of dynamite in a rusted-out hub cap. By which I mean got himself canned. He taught me all the Spanish I know, most of it filthy. He had more machismo and fuego and corazon than any Mexican boy I’ve ever met (and I once met a Mexican boy in Juarez who tried to sell me lobster and a handful of off-brand Xanax in the same city block). He taught me this: Con el punto de la mi verga yo lo hazo. “By the tip of my dick I do it.” Amen.

Which puts us at the end of salmon season with exactly one (1) dock lead who has any idea what is going on or how to get anything done, and that’s Treavor. So he works around the clock and takes naps at weird intervals and sometimes I come home from a shift and he’s there falling asleep with a beer in his hand and my laptop is totally dead. I take the beer from his hand and I take a long drink of it and I set the beer on the shelf littered with sand and Hemingway paperbacks and kiss him awake. In the fall we will be married in South America, or, failing South America, Australia, or, if we are feeling humble, our home town in the valley where we grew up together and for so many years wrote barely disguised love letters to each other while we each hung off the hip or the arm of someone else.

It’s my brother’s birthday today and I haven’t had a chance to call him. By the time I got off work it was eleven at night his time. You can see this constant missing and meaning-to-call on peoples’ faces, in their eyes the horrible homesickness, in their one collective gut the hunger for a normal day with a room swept clean of sand and a clock that is not armed to the teeth with alarms. Little sisters graduating from college. Best friends growing fat with babies. Old friends getting married, and none of us are there to hug them or buy them a drink. We are here, so far away and so long gone we don’t even dream about home any more. We all stopped dreaming in June, right around the time the hot dogs started hitting hard and fast.

“We got stuck between a dog and a hard place,” says Treavor.

A moment of somber reflection, and then he adds:

“We got straight-up sneak-dogged.”

This is how we speak when all there is to eat, seemingly at every meal, is hot dogs. It kills your very will to live, but keep living we must, or else who will redeem our frequent flyer miles?