Willie Smith, Oedipus Cadet (Black Heron Press, 1990)
«Oedipus Cadet is a satire of the middle-American ideal of security and stability. In the 1950s everything only appears stable. But beneath appearances something sinister lurks. It arises from the depths, flirting with, even wholly engaging pure evil. It is a consuming fire, blazing from the furnaces of the libido to enflame your entire being. It is the violation of what you hold most dear. It is PUBESCENT FANTASY! Or is it? Willie Smith blends fantasy and - what? Other fantasy? Let's call it reality--until first you are not certain which is which, and then you know very well. Oedipus Cadet is very seductive. It is a book to be experienced rather than read with detachment. After reading this book, you will look at life, yours and others, different, perhaps with sympathy, perhaps with horror. Also, it is a fun book.»
"If James Joyce had wanted to write like Dashiell Hammett, and had a sense of humor, he would have written like Willie Smith." - K.O., Reflex Magazine
"Willie Smith has a reason for writing that goes hand in hand with my reason for reading: surviving under a crushing weight by proving daily that it is not a crushing weight. This writing is the only kind of argument that beats universal inertia. Heads roll here." - Jessie Bernstein
«A satirical first novel that nails the American lust for national security in the 1950's onto the myth of Oedipus. Young Cruikshank is only 11 as he begins his story and, although he masturbates night and day, has yet to have his first orgasm or ejaculation. Cruikshank is a kind of half-kid/half-airplane. His immense power of fantasy forever links him to the latest or most colorful aircraft: ""I ...
More was an American fighting under the joint command of Mom and Dad. My particular Hurricane, because it was Pentagon-designed, was every bit as good as any Spitfire the British could put up."" Then he sees his erotic ideal, Maureen, dressed as an SS Colonel, and swoops down, fires a burst, and as she dies riddled with wounds he sees that her wounds weep a sticky white fluid. None of which he understands yet. Stella, his long-suffering mom, thinks he should go to the doctor for his sticky bedsheets. Meanwhile, dad, who missed active service in WW II, works for the Pentagon, has built a bomb shelter in his backyard and fitted it with food and a phone. Where toweringly alcoholic Dad knows baseball backwards and forwards, and forever watches games on television while bombing out on beer, his son is spellbound only by war. The entire novel is a cartoon strip peopled by three one-dimensional main characters and a small handful of other one-dimensional family relatives and schoolmates. But an Oedipal drama is underway, and Cruikshank - who lusts for Mom and sees Mom's head on Maureen's body - must do in hated Dad to marry Mom. This is a quirkily original novel, told simply, that belabors a dead horse yet lusts for bigger fish than its surface satire can catch. The telegraphic, CÉlinesque style has its own energy but little lyrical force in Smith's hands.» - Kirkus Reviews
«Willie Smith is deeply ashamed of being human. His work celebrates this horror. His work can be viewed at corpse.org and he especially recommends, in the archives, ‘Spider Fuck’ and ‘Orestes In The Meat Department.’ Shorter pieces can be found at My Favorite Bullet, Zygote in my Coffee, Jack Magazine, Milk Magazine, Dream People, Thunder Sandwich, Monkey Bicycle, Fifth Street Review, Poetic Inhalation, et al. His novella, Oedipus Cadet is available from Black Heron Press. Novella Submachinegun Consciousness can be read at semantikon.com. He is a regular contributor to Andrei Codrescu's Exquisite Corpse and The American Drivel Review. He is reasonably clean, fairly sober and happily married without children. He enjoys stargazing, birdwatching, deep-breathing and hanging out at the public library with the rest of the bums. His chapbooks EXECUTION STYLE, STORIES FROM THE MICROWAVE, SOLID GAS and GO AHEAD SPIT ON ME are probably not available anywhere.»
Willie Smith: "How We X-ed Billy"
We crawled in through the sewer. Came up out of the toilet. Snuck into the parlor, where Billy sat in front of the tv puzzling over his Bible, the commercial selling a fast car to nobody. Lenny sneezed…
Billy slammed down the Bible. Jumped up. Saw us.
His spine iced.
I held a gin & tonic. Lenny kept him covered with a Hustler. Charlie shoved a chair backwards between the preacher’s legs. Sat with his chin on the chair’s wooden back, smiling big at Billy, who in shock mouthed JESUS!
Jack tore up floorboards. Put together a cross that he proceeded to lean against a glossy of Christ tacked to the knotty pine wall. Jack then leaned up against the wall himself; got out a jug.
Charlie had already wheedled the gin from my hand. Lenny was leafing through the Hustler. Billy saw his chance; grabbed for his Bible to quote us a few, when Jack lifted the wine – forced Billy to gulp. Fear froze the evangelist’s esophagus as tokay fired in his gut. He couldn’t even voice god’s name.
Then Bernstein, from somewhere out of the woodwork, crept in. He wielded a syringe capacious as a collection plate; inside lurked a bodacious taste of god’s good.
He motioned Billy into the bathroom. When they came out, five minutes and the rest of the gin and tokay later, Billy’s face was white; Bernstein zipped his pants.
Bernstein presently, in the presence of us all, knifed Billy in the back. Billy leaped forward into Lenny, who rolled up the Hustler; bunted him over to me, who fielded him with a javelin; forked him over to Charlie, who crooned in his ear, “This Jesus Jive Got To Go,” a song he had just written into the gin bottle.
Billy grinned watermelon. Danced over to Jack, who threw him up on the cross. We used bottlenecks for makeshift nails. Sank a garland of underground poetry into his head. Then Jack jumped up, drew a dirty picture and offed himself all over Billy’s face.
As a last gesture of redeeming cruelty, we left on the tv.
Willie Smith: "Acquired Taste"
I was sitting in my studio at the bottom of a five-hundred pound writer's block, when my critics surprised me. They knocked off the block. They grabbed me by the ankles. Dragged me into the john. Stuffed me headfirst down the toilet.
"Since you write about it," one began.
"Yeah!" another leaped in. "Let's give you a taste!"
A third critic flushed furiously, accusing me of fecal materialism. They snaked my body through the trap.
Feeling my feet submerge into the bowl, I realized these people were only trying to be constructive. They were intelligent, perceptive, sensitive. And they were right. I am scum. So I let go; shot through the plumbing, out under the frontyard and into the sewer.
Down there it was dark; reminiscent of rough drafts, false starts, abortions. But drink abounded, and it wasn't lonely. There were as many rats as humans in the city above. And many more roaches. Murder, rape, arson were unknown, although they happened. Above all, plagiarism didn't exist - who'd want to even read this shit? The critics are right.
So I loosened up, and let fly. Which felt so good, I passed out; then landed on a strange planet, where no scum had ever set foot.
I opened the door to my craft, and stepped outside.
Willie Smith: An excerpt from "Orestes in the Meat Department"
Big cow of a woman leaned over the pork chops. Mousy gramps with rimless peepers eyeing the rabbit, picking over the chicken. Packages squeaking like gristle in a knacking factory. Fingers depressing transparent plastic, prodding meat packed underneath on styrofoam tray. Yellow skin, pink meat, tan pork, scarlet flesh skirted in beige fat. Blue stamps, purple tags. Organ meat - heart, liver, gizzard, brain, intestine; hog maw, boar head, beef ball. Everything but stuffed rectum and pineal gland paste.
But no blood. Liquid leaked around muscle clumps is dye, packing ice and serous fluid.
Phone doesn't ring. Nothing happens. Who needs blood? Have a look at this pound of ground round. Bunch of red-white worms all pinked together - mashed on styrofoam, trapped under plastic. Nothing savage here.
The phone rings. It's Ellen again. She wants me to kill mother. Don't answer it.
Press down on plastic, feel worms squeeze. Dollar ninety-eight. Not bad this day and - hell! - age, damn phone rings a -damn!-gain.
Bovine woman tosses aside package of pork chops like they were hay in a disinterested needle hunt. She sidles her boxcar down to the chicken, the senile mouse having disappeared off into some corner of day-old bread.
I didn't ask for this. Father drove truck, yeah, sure: Akron to Chicago, Chic to Ak. Yeah. Frozen meat he hauled. Eighteen wheeler. Had a honey in Akron. Family in Chicago. Mom found out. Cut him in half pointblank with a sawed-off. Any business of mine? I'd left home by then. Just Ellen back there to clean up the mess. Just Ellen...
Looking down at the chicken, answer the phone. Ellen asks if it's me. I'm looking down at axed, bled, plucked, pre-frozen chicken - hell, I don't know...
She goes on anyway about why don't I come up to Winnetka tonight and plant a meat cleaver in Mom's skull. Let go the package of wings, close my eyes and concentrate on her voice sitting on my innermost face...
Willie Smith: An excerpt from "Spider Fuck"
The horniest picture I ever saw was in National Geographics. It was a spider's asshole magnified fifty times. Resembled a soggy Cheerio on a slate background.
I haven't been the same since. Because I wanna do me one, and no live spider is big enough to accommodate. I've tried jacking off on arachnids. Wolf spiders and tarantulas the best. Daddy longlegs impossible. Scorpions a bitch. But I never come near the satisfaction gleaned that afternoon when I first drenched the National Geo full-color centerfold blown up to reveal a teensy parasite wriggling in some jungle spider's 0-ring.
You can't always get what you want. But, if you fixate, sometimes you get what you pay for. Visualize arachnoid roundeye.
One night I was jizzing a black widow -- ejaculating without orgasm, bored with the universe. I turned some jazz on the radio, while watching the spider struggle under the shroud of ejaculate.
Goodman Benny inhaled clarinet. Jack Webb sat in. Max Roach fogged the chamber. They were in mixolydian - I heard a vodka tonic. Willie "The Lion" Smith masturbated the 88.
I daydreamed anti-aircraft fire. Nazi flak redshifted into what I'd dine upon that night, Turkey Tetrachloride? Veal Hardon Blue? Fish Dicks? Spam Sushi? Only a wizard could decide which tv dinner, when all you got is a radio.
Imagine my lack of preparation, daydreaming as I was, when into the room clacked a spider big as a Buick. Eight pale legs supported a hispid, chartreuse body. She spun around. Hiked her crupper. Displayed a taut caterpillar-green starfish.
Like in a dream, I approached the miracle. The chiton of her legs buckled with anticipation. I ran a finger over the sphincter that was tinier than a dowager's purse. She stood nervous, shy, to all appearances a virgin. She was dry as calculus. I ran to the kitchen for butter.
Wow, I thought, yanking open the fridge, a cherry hallucination! I froze, staring at a bearded carrot, a cube of butter, a plastic liter of Rococo Coke and a stutter of roaches that had wormed in under the door.
The roaches didn't appreciate the light. Several rotated feelers. But none broke ranks. The fridge was too cold, despite crumbling insulation, for them to panic at such a stimulus. The insect at the head of the line lifted a leg at the grate of the middle shelf, whereon lay the carrot abandoned by Bugs Bunny about the time of Hiroshima.
I guess I didn't have any tv dinners afterall. In the back of my head a psychiatrist sniggered; neither was there any mammoth Miss Muffetbuddy out in the parlor.
I couldn't face that. Vision or not, she was real as anything else in America. Slammed the door. Sidled to the sink. Washed my hands. If she was from another planet, perhaps a victim of radiation, I didn't want to contaminate anything. Washed so good I scraped knuckles raw and broke two nails.
[read more - http://www.corpse.org/archives/issue_9/ficciones/smith_willie.htm]
"Why are you cunting?
- Is an email interview not good for you? Sorry, I'm just not good at the talking type interview, haven't done one in 20 years and I didn't like the experience or the result. So I'm not up for a phone-type interview. I think that's what you mean by podcast? Sorry I'm so ignorant about tech stuff. I'm not even sure what a podcast is... but I think it's done over the phone and then stored as an audio thing on a website? I'm really sorry for being so slow, man. But I am an old fuck and really not good at this new stuff. I prefer the old school written kind of an interview, although I'm not really much on interviews at all. I like to think mostly about the writing and the doing of it, which is hard enough for me. Talking I'm just not good at. It makes me nervous and I don't do a good job, so let's forget the talking approach; if the email approach doesn't interest you, that's fine, I'm OK with passing.
That was my first question.
Next question: did you read any contemporary novels in 2010 and, if so, what were they and what did you think of them?
- Gosh, I'm sorry. Let me take a deep glug of grog and wake up and not miss any more cues: In 2010 I worked fulltime five-days-a-week all 52 weeks that year as a financial worker in a Medicaid office in a big city in the Great Northwest I call Igdrasil. A financial worker is the guy who threatens to throw your grandmother out of the nursing home because she failed to send the fin wrkr a current bank statement the fin wrkr requested. It is the fw's job to track grandma's resources, to make sure she doesn't exceed the $2k limit. If she goes a penny over $2k in her bank accounts, cash values of her life insurance policies, stocks, trusts, etc. I promptly pitch her bony butt out on the pavement. I have 500 grandma's on my caseload. Actually a lot of them are grandpa's and some are just freeloading cocksuckers under the age of 65 who happen to be blind, disabled, crippled or otherwise living off the taxpayer. I sit at a computer in a cubicle with a headset staring into 6 different computer systems spread over two monitors. The phone rings constantly. Often it is you calling me up to threaten to kill me because I am threatening to pitch your grandmother's bony butt out onto the pavement. I explain to you that Amerika has consistently voted against socialized medicine. What you are thinking of, where snoops like me do not pry into grannies' financial doings, is socialized medicine. I hear-tell they have such a thing in savage countries like Japan, the European Union, Cuba, etc. But this here is Amerika and we aim to remain free and own all the guns we need and never pay any taxes at all. So what you get is your Uncle Willie: the Welfare boy. That's right, bub: Medicaid is just another name for Welfare. The last safety net in Amerika. And your grandma has fallen into it and there are some big fat holes in this here net. So you gonna get me that bank statement or do I push the series of 265 intricate keystrokes in my 6 computer programs that will deny Granny's benefits by 5PM today? You know it costs $6,698.15 to private pay one month for Gran in that nursing home where she is wallowing in her own piss while being raped nightly by excons masquerading as certified care providers? You sure you don't got a bank statement hanging around the house? By the way, how much is in Gran's purse right now -- that counts for resources too, ya know. And maybe if we kinda grab her ankles, turn her upsidedown and shake her good some pennies might fall out of her hospital gown pockets? They count, too. So when I come home at night I don't feel much like reading. Usually I just sit in the dark and swear quietly to myself. I think in all of 2010 I read about five books. Distinctly recall reading a translation by one Richard Holmes of Theophile Gautier's spooky short stories; Holmes rather blandly titles the anthology MY FANTOMS; the translation on the whole was rather mediocre, but it's hard to keep Gautier down; especially "The Opium Smoker" and "The Adolescent," both sexy chillers for the 1840s and they still can produce a tad of horripilation. The past four months Susan has been reading to me at night Trollope's THE WAY WE LIVE NOW, a surprisingly cogent and humorous social satire of the early 1870s London and environs. That's about as contemporary as I've gotten this year. I'm glad you asked that question.
You got me all wrong. My grandmother happens to leech off the communist State of Maine, which has this thing called MaineCare. My grandfather got a surgery in Massachussets using this MaineCare. It would have cost $650,000 out of pocket. During his life he only contributed a few million to the tax system, though very few of his contributions were on the employee side of the payroll tax. So clearly the bastard doesn't deserve any help! Good thing we're nice and soft up there in Maine, yeah?
Anyhoo, around the time that Trollope was writing, this idiot named Edward Bellamy wrote a book called Looking Backward: 2000-1887. Are you familiar with that? It's not incredibly good fiction, I wouldn't say, but it's interesting to read if only purely for the politics. Another good book I like from that period was definitely Moondyne.
I'm sorry to hear that you are a cog in the welfare machine. I myself will be collecting disability here in the near future. Don't ask me why, because I don't know. But I'm getting out of the army. I've started transcribing things. I'm good at it. Building a company around it. And going to school in the fall, hopefully.
Also, weren't you unemployed the last time I heard from you?
- Unemployed, yes. I was out of work for 14 months from September 2008 to October 26, 2009. For the last ten months of this otherwise unsalaried sabbatical Unemployment Compensation kept me in beans, rent and rags. Not such a bad scene at all. Everyday nothing to do but splat words on the page, lay around the house, look online for a job for maybe half an hour and go for long walks. One of heaven's sub-basements, but heaven nonetheless. Right when I was about to break the age-discrimination barrier and get hired on as a cog in the public library system, my old job took me back as a cog in the welfare system. Despite this meaning another descent into hell, it was a godsend. God often sends us to hell for our own good, you know. Godsend because I truly by then needed the bux. I had just turned my life savings insideout to pay off Susan's credit card debt of $37k and my Compensation had only another week to go. It was great to have those fat $1k checks arriving once again twice a month. Plus health insurance for only $94.00 monthly (plus copays, slowpays, blowpays, deductibles, refucktables, etc.) for both myself and Susan; Enzo the tomcat excluded. And after 15 months of consecutive feasting, I am, frankly, developing a real fondness for the taste of shit. The other day a supervisor in another unit asked me how long I'd been hired for this time. "Through Halloween," I responded, "but if it can be arranged I'd like to keep right on working till I'm 86." The soup reflected, frowned, said, "Sure, I think that can be arranged." Medicaid needs experienced workers these days. The whole system is collapsing like a house of phosphorus cards in sea water. Budget cuts make the legislature change the system at least once a month, in their usual shoot-yrslf-in-the-foot fashion of the latest bright idea on how to save money. I've been in and out of welfare offices since 1977, a perennial temporary hire, so I do have some idea of how things work; it takes a new hire, who has no knowledge of the system, at the very least one full year to be up to full production, that's how complicatedly complex welfare in general, and the Medicaid system in particular, is.
Thanks for filling me in on MaineCare, sounds significantly more merciful than Washington State Medicaid, although we have one of the more merciful setups in the country, less cold than MediCal (California's version of Medicaid) and certainly hotter than Texas Medicaid. Although by "you" I actually meant the third person singular general pronoun "one," which is so delightfully characteristic of British English. You with your French heritage probably speak better French than I do, and so are fully aware of the French version of this pronoun "on," which has such efficient usage in La Belle Langue. But I tend to rely on the vague American English "you" when I sometimes mean "one." Just another example of the ambiguity and lack of clarity in my prose. But I get a kick out of the obscure and the equivocal, so guess I'll just persist in this particular vagary.
No, I've never read Bellamy, though heard of the gent and his work, and I never even heard of MOONDYNE. I googled MOONDYNE briefly and looks like a great book. Thanks for the tip! I knew I'd learn something from this experience. Learning is where it's at. Even if you ("one") forget what you learned by suppertime. The very thrill of learning something interesting I didn't know before is what keeps me from dying of boredom on the spot.
What are your short and long-term goals as a writer? What was the last thing that pissed you off in a literary way? Non-literary? What do you think of Jonathan Franzen?
- Jonathan Franzen? My first reaction was: Who he? Then I googled the name and I see he wrote a book called THE CORRECTIONS, and I remember Susan read this book and told me something about it, I think she liked it OK, nothing special. Susan reads all the best sellers, brings home an armload of books from Costco once or twice a month. She also subscribes to the NEW YORKER and reads to me therefrom an article or two once or twice a year, whether she feels I need it or not. I guess this Franzen gent is on the rich and famous side. Bully for him! I'd like to be that way myself, except then I'd hafta endure the continual annoyance of potshots from punks like me.
My long-term goal as a writer is to die with a hot idea entering fresh into my mind. My short-term goal as a writer is pretty much the same.
Nothing much in literature pisses me off. I get a little bored sometimes. My entire lifetime teaching career amounts to one week. Out of the blue my phone rang one day in 1995. It was Naropa Institute. They wanted to fly me down to Boulder to teach fiction writing for one week as "guest faculty." I played right along with the game. It was a riot! My course consisted of dream writing. Assignment for each night was for each student to write down a real dream the student had actually experienced, could be from last night or from summer vacation age eight or whatever; then to write down a made-up dream. Next day the kids stand up one at a time and read first one, then the other, without disclosing which is the real dream. Then the rest of the class, myself included, vote on which is the real dream and which is the fake. It doesn't matter who wins and we don't keep track, but the voting, of course, is of vital importance. Everything is going fine and Uncle Willie and the kids are getting along great and everybody is doing his and/or her homework. For the last assignment I tell everybody instead just to write down a dream the writer would like to have. I have the kids the following day stand up and read his and/or her own personally desired dream. But one kid, we'll call him Jonathan, stands up without paper, hands empty as a cobweb on Beethoven's birthday. He starts talking. Jonathan has a way with words, good charisma, he's a born talker. He relates this dream he would like to have, pausing for the usual um's & uh's & backing up now & then to say something in a better or at least different way. It's a beautiful dream, good as any of the others, better than most. He sits down. I make him stand back up. "OK, Jonathan," I say in my best General Douglas MacArthur voice, "I'm going to pin a medal on you, because that was a grand dream, truly a wonderful imaginative creation. And then," I make the sign of the gun, bring the muzzle of my index finger to within an inch of his third eye, "I'm going to have you shot; because this is a writing class and writing is not talking and what you have done is talk. You, Jonathan, have not written a single word." But, of course, I spared the kid's life; after all, he was paying me for this; it hardly makes sense to hafta pay for your own executioner. I paroled him on his word of honor that he would go home that night and darken a page with words to capture the chat he had just given us. I guess I got a little bored that day, although not really; I had fun with it. If you ain't having fun, it's your own fault; always.
I get pissed off plenty in a non-literary way. And usually from the same phonomenon: people (this includes electronic people, machine people, people in print, people on the airwaves, etc.) who try to sell me shit. I get so fucking pissed off at phone solicitors let's not even talk about it. I don't watch TV and only listen to about an hour of radio a year, because I become apoplectic whenever a commercial erupts. Susan watches lots of TV, but she knows to turn the volume all the way down when I enter the room, and she moreover knows, if a commercial is on, to turn the entire set off immediately. Susan has no arms, no legs and only one eye, because exactly five times in our 31 year marriage she has left on the TV when a commercial was airing and I happened to saunter into the room. This is all arrant hypocrisy on my part, of course, because humans are the animals that sell. We all sell. I sell, you sell, he sells, she sells, but "it" does not sell. Unfortunately I must confess to being a human; argal I, too, sell. So I try not to take my anger seriously; it's all just hypocrisy. I also try to follow Yeshua of Nazareth (the most famous rabbi who ever lived) in his admonishment to "Love thine enemy." Such a beautiful and obviously sensible idea! But I hardly ever succeed in that endeavor either.
Franzen was last year billed as a Great American Novelist and featured on the cover of Time Magazine (only the fourth writer ever to do so) for his latest novel, Freedom. He was a friend of over-rated man-child David Foster Wallace. Etc.
I know your father was in the service, wasn't he? How does that make you feel right now? Have you gotten into real physical confrontations in the last ten years? Did you ever drink for more than two days straight? What is the most modern piece of technology, besides your computer, that you own and personally use?
- My dad wanted to be in the service. He was 26 when the Day of Infamy occured and tried to enlisted in the Navy, but was rejected because of his nearsightedness. Instead he became a career Federal Government Employee, ending up as a technical writer attached to the US Army Engineer Corps; mostly he worked on scripts for training films; how to build a bridge, how to blow up a bridge, etc. We lived on the base at Fort Belvoir once for about nine months, until the Corps decided civilians could no longer take advantage of such quarters (we shopped at the PX, as well as enjoying low rent, cockroaches and silverfish). My Uncle Mart was wounded at Anzio. My Uncle Gil was mustered out for TB before he was even shipped overseas. I was a peace queer during Viet Nam. Not really out of any deep political conviction; I don't have any such luxuries. I'm just a coward who cringes at the idea of hurting other people, even those I'm carefully instructed to hate; in fact, even people I DO hate, I still am terrified of hurting them; it's a kind of phobia: I just don't want to get my hands dirty. Come to think of it, I don't even really have the guts to hate anybody. I'm pretty much of a loser when it comes to being a man. I do enjoy pain, however. For pain in the late sixties I was a logger; a chokersetter for George Weyerhaeuser; I had a wonderful time and only wound up in the emergency room once when the mainline caught me in the shoulder and threw me thirty feet through the air like the piece of shit I am. I went back to work the next day. Setting chokers is very healthy for a young man; especially if you stay out of the bight of the mainline.
It's been maybe 30 years since my last physical confrontation, and that was because I was just standing around while a junkie was screaming at my fellow Welfare worker because said worker had denied said junkie said junkie's food stamps because said junkie was not cooperating with treatment. My friend stands six-foot-seven and I'm barely five-ten, so the junkie turned his frustration on me and shoved me to the pavement. I was surprised at how easily and professionally I fell. It was all those summers setting chokers: nothing like being a logger to teach you how to fall. The junkie ran off the moment he shoved me. I did nothing, of course, because I am a peace queer. Just got to my feet, dusted myself off and suggested to my buddy that we repair to the tavern for a couple pitchers and try to forget about Welfare. Before that... well... I remember throwing a brick at a friend when I was three... more like heaving a brick at him... and I remember the brick fell short and we both burst into tears and it was a thoroughly disgusting experience. I think that 's the last time I ever engaged in violence. Unless you call fucking the living shit out of three consenting women in one night violence. I have nothing against consensual sex. I think sex is very shiny and clean. It's violence makes me feel all dirty inside. Oh yeah, Susan and I were shot at in our own home back in the wild and woolly 90s; just a .38 or so, no big deal; I still keep the bullet hole in the ceiling of my study; I like to lie on my back sometimes and watch spiders crawl in and out of it. I didn't do anything about that either. Just call a cop, who showed up about an hour later and shrugged the whole thing off as just another unsolvable aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. At the time I was working as a medical records clerk in an African American mental health clinic. I told the gang about it the next day, but nobody was impressed. I just got looks like: "Hey white boy, welcome to the club!" That was a great job by the way. I was the token white boy and the gang really got to love me; they even bought copies of my novella; I tried to give the copies away, but they insisted on paying for them; and social worker in an African-American mental health clinic don't pay shit, bro; love to reminisce about those days... anyway, what was I babbling?
Did I ever drink for more than two days straight? Do you mean without sleeping? If you count days where I got my eight hours and my three squares, I drank for two days straight from about 1972 through 1996. I was a highly skilled beer drinker. In my prime I put away a gallon a day on the average; that means there were certain days when 18 cans of cheap brew were necessary to float my boat. But I never drank as much as a case a day. Alcoholics drink like that. I was not an alcoholic. Goddamnit, I LOVED drinking! I wasn't allergic to bourbon, brandy, vodka or gin, either; and would sometimes for a week or ten resort to a daily regimen of one to two quarts of cheap wine per diem. But I always ate plenty and ate well and always got in at least eight hours of sleep, plus an afternoon siesta. And I was careful to walk at least six miles a day. I very much enjoyed my booze. But one day when I was 46 or so I just decided I was too old for the shit. I've been a teetotaler ever since. It wasn't hard at all giving up. The first month was a little weird; but it was more like a free trip to outer space than a season in hell.
I don't completely own this computer. Susan bought it for herself. But when she got her laptop, she insisted on handing "Dottie" down to me. She was sick and tired of my lack of engagement with the internet, email, youtube, spacebook and various other fucksites. That was about seven years ago. I enjoy Dottie a lot. We have tons of fun together. I always wanted to live in a library, and now I do. The other piece of technology I own is... uh... well I do have a pair of binoculars my parents gave me about 35 years ago. As a kid I was an avid stargazer (still am!) and they wanted to be sure I could grok the Galilean satellites of Jupiter and the Andromeda Galaxy and the double cluster in Perseus and such whenever I needed to. I also own outright a gorgeous Smith-Corona portable -- one of the best manual typewriters on the planet. That's about it. Never owned a cell phone or a car or a TV... wait, I have some old-school cassette taperecorders gathering dust upstairs! That's right, bought those suckers with my hardearned library money back in the early seventies. I useta be a clerk in the Portland Public Library for a little over a year. Terrible job. Even though I love libraries. Working in a public library, for a bibliophile like me, is like being blindfolded while surrounded by a gaggle of gorgeous nekkid babes. I useta have loads of fun with those clunky old cassette recorders. I'd make tapes to friends and poets all over the country; walk around the neighborhood monologuing on the landscape, holding the condenser mike up close to fences when packs of maniacal watchdogs would exhibit fits of snarling and barking, sometimes catch the sound of a fender-bender, or some drunk screaming at his wife, etc. Yeh, I'm probably more into technology than I'm willing to admit. Never owned a watch, though. Damn things weigh down my wrist, ruin my typing.
How do you feel about the people of New York or New York itself? To me it's like totally over-rated and inflates itself like toxic commodity futures / mortgages. What was your first acquaintance with literary literature, ie, like Joyce Carol Oates etc?
- I blush to confess that I harbor a deep and abiding prejudice against NYC. Prejudice is never good. In the blind ignorance of my bigotry I consider NYC the bullshit capital of the universe. Except for a few hours once as a teenager screwing around on the subway, while on my way to somewhere else, I have never even been to NYC. What the hell would I know about the town? I need to get over this.
I think I read James Joyce in a previous life. The Joyce who wrote ULYSSES, that is. I first read ULYSSES carefully when I was 22, just out of college. I perused it at least another six times during the ensuing decade. I look on Joyce as being about half-a-dozen different authors. In my humble opinion: The Joyce who wrote DUBLINERS is a damn good writer, right in there with Stephen Crane, Hemingway and Raymond Carver; the Joyce who wrote EXILES should never have bothered to attempt a play; the Joyce who wrote POMES PENYEACH shows a lot of promise; the Joyce who wrote PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN is on to something really big; the Joyce who wrote FINNEGANS WAKE should see a shrink and stop annoying us with this nonsense; the Joyce who wrote ULYSSES is a god -- a fallible god, a sloppy god, a weird god, but an absolute fucking GOD. My taste in the works of Joyce probably tells you more about my limitations, interests and capabilities than anything else I might reveal in this or any other interview. But what do I know? I mean, really, what worse source on who someone truly is than the person him- and/or herself? Not that I'm not enjoying babbling; this is great fun! Thanks again for providing me with this opportunity. I love writing letters; I'm an epistolary freak; the letter is my soap box, my diary, my father confessor, my audience. Thanks for your patience in reading all this blather.
I was definitely referring to JOYCE CAROL OATES, author of Black Water? Pretty sure she's older than even you are. But anyways. In Oedipus Cadet, the narrator ends up "flying missions" (having sex, or at least masturbation) with his mother after (if I remember correctly) killing his father. Any reality there? Are there any plans to ever bring that novel to the digital age in some way?
- Holy Hannah - I just googled Joyce Carol Oates and I see she has eleven years on me; I had no idea people could even live that long. Whatever, yeah, sorry I got off topic with my answer to the last question; I majored in divagation and hold a masters in irrelevance. I read one of Joyce Carol's novels, but it was abridged. It was a book on tape (my eyes are failing me and about half of my "books" these days are books on tape) and only after I'd listened to it did I decipher the liner notes and realize the damn thing was an abridgement. I forget the title, but it was about a serial killer, told from the viewpoint of the perp. The killer stole off the corpse of one of his victims a pair of gloves lined with rabbit fur. Throughout the book he refers to this anonymous victim as "Bunny Gloves." I've always remembered that. I guess that's my abridged opinion of Joyce Carol: Bunny Gloves. I really should get out more.
There is a lot of reality in OEDIPUS CADET. All of the baseball players named in the book are real; even those with rather unlikely names, such as Enos Slaughter, Moose Skowron, Bullet Bob Turley, Clint "Scrap Iron" Courtney and Rabbit Maranville. However, my favorite line in the book, "Slaughter walks to load the bases," never happened; not in the 1958 World Series, at least.
I don't remember ever fucking my mother. I do recall exposing myself to her once, when I was about fourteen. As a child I was a chronic exhibitionist and masturbatory maniac (nothing much has really changed, I've just channeled my talents into less dangerous outlets). I was certainly one sick little "motherfucker." That's what's wrong with this country: we allow people like me to live on into adulthood. A little cyanide properly administered back there in 1962 or so and none of this embarrassment and inconvenience called my life would ever have occured. You could be interviewing a real writer instead of some twisted old douchebag with a handful of almosts to his credit. Well, I actually am fond of O. C. It does kind of work. Although what the Kirkus Reviews said about it is painfully accurate: "...lusts after bigger fish than it can catch." I think that's how it was worded; anyhow, that's probably true. But still and all, O.C. is the only novel I ever cranked out that is worth even a cursory read; I have maybe six other "novels" in manuscript. Oh yeah, I still have vague hopes for SUBMACHINEGUN CONSCIOUSNESS; but that's barely novella size, and I'm careful never to refer to it as a novel.
As a small child I feared my father would kill me. He was a functioning closet alcoholic who raged all night through the house naked screaming obscenities, slamming doors, kicking the dog and punching holes in the wall. I would lie awake in my bed perfectly still, eyes screwed shut, hardly breathing; I knew if I made the slightest noise he would storm in and pound me to a lifeless pulp. I learned a lot of things in those days, not the least useful of which is how to masturbate soundlessly. Then at about age 13 I stopped fearing for my life and instead grew afraid I was going to kill Dad. I left home at age 18 and never went back. As I boarded my Northwest Orient Airlines 727 from Dulles Airport in the Virginia countryside for Seatac Airport between Tacoma and Seattle, where I had never before in my life set foot, I breathed a deep sigh of relief: I had NOT killed the poor old drunken sonofabitch. Still, it took me another ten years to stop hating my progenitor. Bad scene hating your father, or either of your parents, for that matter; because in doing so you are also hating yourself, since Mom and Dad are both essential components of every human psyche. Today, seventeen years after his death, I realize I owe my dad TONS. He taught me how to do arithmetic in my head, he taught me my first words of French, he taught me how to throw a rock, he first read to me Edgar Allen Poe and he read aloud to me (over the course of about three months, when I was bedbound with rheumatic fever at the age of eight) A. E. Van Vogt's classic SLAN. But the greatest treasure Dad handed down to me was how to read poetry aloud. And I don't mean how he read to me at my bedside in the early evening. I mean how he screamed, howled and swore throughout the night, once he had a fifth of vodka under his belt. Ah, the passion he worked into those obscenities! SHIT! GODDAMNIT! SON... OF... A... BITCH!!!! That's how poetry should be read. I took those nightly lessons to heart. And I do LOVE to read my own stuff aloud. Thanks, Dad, you old dirty dying sonofabitch, you! I guess my father being a son of a bitch, that makes me a grandson of a bitch.
Actually, though, I think I am the grandson of a whore. My mother (she died last year at age 94) never knew who her mother was. Nobody now ever will. So 25% of my genetic makeup is utterly unknown. For reasons I don't have time to go into here, I strongly suspect Mom is the offspring of my maternal grandfather's union with a prostitute. So there you have it: OEDIPUS CADET, by Willie Smith, Grandson of a Whore.
I think Girls with Insurance might be happy to serialize one of these manuscripts you speak of. Feel free to send it along. Anyway, any closing words?
- Thanks again for providing me this opportunity to slap plastic. I had a bellyful of fun. I guess everybody's favorite topic is him- and/or herself, and I'm no exception. My only regret is that I misspelled POMES PENYEACH. Any chance that could be corrected? I so dislike in my own work typos and slips of orthography. The irony is that Joyce intentionally misspells both words in the title of his poetry collection, and I didn't have the balls, or the memory, to misspell them both. I will definitely consider your offer re GIRLS WITH INSURANCE. Unfortunately the only novel that today exists digitally, ZOMBIE INNA BASEMENT, is already up at THIEVES JARGON, where it received a deservedly cold reception. Nonetheless, it would be fun to have at least one of the others in digital form, even if I do chicken out at the last minute and decide it doesn't deserve to be seen on the web; like I say, these other "novels" are not capable of even one at-bat in the OEDIPUS CADET league; I really got lucky with O. C. Also, it's lots of typing for each novel, and time, energy and eye-strength are limited, at least till the State eliminates my job; so we're not talking near future, here; and I fully understand that by the time I manage to get one into digital form, the offer may no longer stand; like I say, I would not at all be the loser, as at least I would have one of these developmentally disabled novels in electronic form. Thanks again for your patience and all of your admirable energy and application.
Your humble and obedient servant, Willie." - Interview with P. H. Madore
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