February 7, 2012 | by Giancarlo DiTrapano
John Haskell, Dec. 13, 2011. Sparks Steak House, East Forty-sixth Street.
John and I met for dinner at Sparks Steak House on East Forty-sixth Street. He was writing a piece on city restaurants where mobsters have been gunned down. Sparks has fine steaks but an even finer history of murder under its front awning. (Mob boss Paul Castellano and his guard were shot out front by mobsters wearing white trench coats and black Russian ushanka hats.) I live on West Forty-sixth, so I walked through Times Square and crossed a few more avenues to the restaurant. I passed through the thirty-year-old murder scene out front, came inside, and a rambunctious party filled the reception area. John was already there, in the middle of the party. He waved me his way and we were shown to our table.
John Haskell: I was walking down the street, singing some Christmas carol, like a Nat King Cole thing ...
Gian: Out loud?
JH: Yeah, kind of singing, people walking around. The weather’s nice, it’s Christmas time, and I was feeling happy. Happiness is appreciation. I think appreciation has something to do with the fact that you’re going to die. It’s like, “This is life, and it’s going to be over, but this is the moment now.”
Talking around the idea of happiness is holy stuff. Its definition and how to attain it is what Aristotle would ask of Plato in a dusty Athenian salon thousands of years ago. But today, happiness is rarely a topic of discussion outside of a therapist’s office or a sorority dorm room. To be happy, we have learned, we must also be naive. Read More »
September 23, 2010 | by Giancarlo DiTrapano
From his first collection of stories, Venus Drive, to his most recent novel, The Ask, Sam Lipsyte has consistently penned the best comedic literature of the past decade. In the fall issue, he has returned to the short form and chiseled us out what might be his best story to date. It’s your classic tale about a good man with a bad plan. A lot like life, it’s a tale of things almost working out. Last year I interviewed Lipsyte about The Ask. This month he let me do it again, this time about “The Worm in Philly.”
The hero of your new story wants to write a book about Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Why Hagler?
As the narrator says, why not Hagler? Truth is I’ve always been a Hagler fan. There were things I left out of the story, like his subsequent career as an action-movie star in Italy, or the rumor that he wouldn't shake hands with white fighters because he refused to touch “white flesh.” I used to follow a fighter named Mustafa Hamsho, who lost to Hagler a few times. I like both of those names a lot. Hagler and Hamsho. Hagler’s baldness was maybe an homage to Jack Johnson, but it was ominous in a fiercely contemporary way. He was kind of a throwback, but there was also the possibility he was from the future.
I love the “white flesh” thing. I do that too. I want to talk about drugs though. Without answering the first part of this question, why do I love reading about drugs and why do you love writing about drugs? Why are drugs so hard to resist, whether they’re on the page or in the pocket?
I’m glad you do that, Gian. That's good.
I’m not sure why you love reading about drugs. Maybe at a certain point the reading high is better than actually doing them? That could be preposterous though. I guess I’ve written about drugs a good deal because for a time, in my younger days, certain hard substances were the major elements in my life. My movements and decisions revolved around them. I like to pretend it was all some meaningless blur, but it was a very intense and focused time. I had a daily purpose (to get more drugs) that heightened the experience of being alive (a heightening then nullified by the drugs). I felt very alert during the mission phase of the day. Make no mistake, it was a horrible time, but I’ve always been fascinated by that robotic intensity. Also, it’s a way to give your character something to do, and we all know you have to keep those fuckers in motion, or readers might find out they are just constructions in a fiction! I try to make sure the drug-users in my stories aren’t acting high. Most of them tend to do drugs to get straight anyway. They are in that awful place. So their interactions might seem slightly off, but mostly these could easily be people not doing dangerous drugs. It’s just that occasionally they die from their addictions or else make really bad decisions that lead to more misery. That’s where the comedy kicks in. Drugs are hard to resist for some people because they work really well. And then don't. But you find that out later. Read More »
June 2, 2010 | by Giancarlo DiTrapano
Between the sheets with Ignatius Reilly.
My father gave me A Confederacy of Dunces when I was twenty-one. Like most people who have read this book, I fell hard for the protagonist, a waddling, unkempt mammoth toddler with “blue and yellow eyes” and crumbs in his mustache. Unlike most people who have read this book, however, my love for Ignatius involved wanting to be naked with him in my bed.
Until then, I'd always thought of myself as straight. I walked straight and I talked straight. I dated girls, I slept with girls, when I jacked off, I jacked off to girls. I had a girlfriend for ten years, and I loved her. I enjoyed each and every time we fucked. Boys never interested me. Not “cute boys,” anyway, not “handsome men.” The only members of my sex I ever noticed were the stockier set. The jovial ones. That was the word I could live with—jovial: both happy and like some god you might see in a fountain. Every time I passed one on the street I'd think something like, “If that guy was my friend I would probably hug him so much that people would start to wonder if we were gay.”
Reading Confederacy, well, it changed me. I was living in Rome at the time. I was often alone so I was often reading. I was being fascinated by a lot of books. My fascination with this book, however, and with the man in the buy cialis buy cialis online middle of it. I read it erect. I reread it, erecter. Who in the fuck was this Ignatius? Who was this?
I lusted after this chubby mess of a man until I felt sick in the stomach over it.
One scene, near the beginning of the book, had an especially dizzying effect on me. (I've read it hundreds and hundreds of times.) It's where we find Ignatius practicing a little "self-love" in his bed; an innocent, even saintly, wank to a happier time in his life. He had accessories nearby: a rubber glove, a piece of fabric from a silk umbrella, and a jar of Noxzema:
Ignatius manipulated and concentrated. At last a vision appeared, the familiar figure of the large devoted collie that had been his pet in high school...Ignatius's eyes dilated, crossed, and closed, and he lay back among his four pillows, hoping that he had some Kleenex in his room.
This is the page where I went fag. The solitude and isolation, the very sadness of it all, didn't turn me off—on the contrary, it was the hook. Sex scenes had always been filled with gorgeous people. Ignatius wasn't gorgeous. But he was sexual. I think it must have been the first time, in literature or film or life, when it occurred to me these were two different things. It was loud and clear. I had been fooling myself. I wanted something else from the Ignatiuses of the world. Something much more than hugs.
Giancarlo DiTrapano is the editor of New York Tyrant, a tri-quarterly literary magazine.