THE NEW YORK DIARIES
Interview with Quentin Crisp:
"Popcorn for the Soul"
by Guy Kettelhack
Guy Kettelhack: Youve said that everyone should write one book and it should be about himself. Is Resident Alien: The New York Diaries simply your latest installment of that book?
Quentin Crisp: Yes. Everything I write is about myself.
GK: Your diaries cover the early 1990s. What do you know about New York and America now that you didnt know when you first came here in 1978?
QC: Three things. First, you have to pronounce the "r." Otherwise, if you are British, no American will understand that you have said the word "third." Second, you have to tell a taxicab how to get there. Third, you can depend upon every New York policeman to stop you in the street and ask you, "Hows the show going?"
GK: I found Diaries a delightful travelogue, even useful as a guide to people who want to travel to New York and the USA. Do you?
QC: Not really, I suppose. My diary is parochial, if you can think of the Lower East Side as a parish.
GK: But you dont tell us about the Lower East Side. In the course of the diaries, you travel to nearly every major city in the United States, as well as Amsterdam and London as well as get turned into Elizabeth I in Orlando.
QC: I go where my fare is paid and do what Im told.
GK: You seem to have a rather devastating effect on the weather in various places youve gone. Any comments?
QC: Yes, well, I seem to have done so in Dayton, Ohio. Whenever television deigns to show us aerial pictures of Ohio, the whole state is always flooded. We have seen people floating in boats and cars with their headlights just above the water level glaring at us like the eyes of alligators. When I went to Dayton I was happy to find it bone-dry, quiet, spacious, and full of the friendliest people. I have now learned that, the very moment I left Ohio, almost the entire state was flooded again. Apres moi le deluge.
GK: You also go to an awful lot of parties.
QC: Yes, its how I eat.
GK: How have you been able to survive on a diet of champagne and peanuts?
QC: I have always somehow managed to go on in spite of everything. I have no idea why. I seem to have this strange will to live.
GK: Youre always getting stopped in the street by someone who wants to talk to you. Are you ever annoyed, or bored?
QC: People are my only pastime. I do not walk about the streets lost in thought about some problem of politics or philosophy, so no one interrupts my train of thought by speaking to me. When we say of anyone that he is boring, it is ourselves we are criticizing. No one is boring who will tell the truth about himself.
GK: But you do mention having been harassed . . .
QC: Yes, well, I do receive calls from a lot of weird people. But as I am the weirdest of them all, I can hardly complain. No one understands why my number is listed in the Manhattan directory. I am amazed that anyone would ever have an unlisted number. It would mean that no one would ever be able to call me; I would have to call him. Think of the expense! But, yes, there was a young lady who phoned me and asked that I write on a piece of paper the words, "I love Tony" and to sign them, proposing to collect the signed paper from my house later in the day. I refused. Then someone, posing as the girls boyfriend, called to say that if I didnt grant her request, I would meet with a terrible fate. It all went away eventually. In general, anyone who isnt hitting you over the head in New York is your friend.
GK: Are columns easier to write than books?
QC: Yes, certainly. You can make an observation in a column without having to follow each thought to its grim end. You can leave things open, a bit. But now, of course, I dont write anything. Someone has invited me to continue my column on the Internet, which means I go to a gentlemans office, stand there before the screen of his demon machine, and recite what happened to me that week while he types it all in. Its all a great mystery to me.
GK: You revel in our introduction to this book the title you would rather have used on your autobiography than The Naked Civil Servant. What was it again?
QC: I Reign In Hell.
GK: Thank you for your delightful book. I call it popcorn for the soul.
QC: Youre very kind.
Read Mr. Kettelhack's other 1997 interview with Mr. Crisp here. Also see his article at NightCharm.
Interview copyright © 1997 / 2007 by Guy Kettelhack. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Photograph copyright © by Klaus Schönwiese. All rights reserved.