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Posts Tagged ‘eccentrics’

Pet Brick

August 7, 2015 | by

“Ethics,” a prose poem by Adam LeFevre from our Winter 1975 issue. LeFevre, now sixty-four, is also a playwright and an established character actor.

Where I went to college in the purple valley of northwest Massachusetts, there was a fellow in my class who used to drag a brick around by a string. He called it his “pet brick.” Every night he would drag his brick into the campus snack bar when the snack bar was most crowded, and order two vanilla milkshakes—one for himself, one for his brick. The first time I saw him I laughed at the absurdity of the proposition. A pet brick! A brick drinking a milkshake! The subsequent occasions of my seeing his fellow and his brick made me respond differently. Often I was angry, thinking he dragged the brick for just the clamor that will always attend the outrageous. Sometimes, when I could convince myself that he and his brick were actually a charade protesting technology gone wild or man’s inhumanity to man, OI could feel the pleasant twinge of belonging to a fraternity of hoodwinkers. But when I saw him in the early morning, dragging his brick through the empty quads, my heart would fill with the silent despair that rose from the strange interplay between them. Just as it was impossible to know exactly how he felt about the brick, in those days I never knew how I should feel about anything. Only one thing was clear. He did not love the brick. Nor did the brick love him. This fact became my reference point in all matters of faith.

Poetry Costumes

March 12, 2015 | by

stevie smith

Photo: Jorge Lewinski

In the 1960s, Stevie Smith had a resurgence in popularity. The counterculture had a penchant for taking up older eccentrics—Dr. Bronner, for instance—and when the youth came calling, Smith was ready. After years of relative obscurity, the poet could finally take her place in the limelight. And did she ever.

Smith is a poet worthy of consideration, as Diane Mehta makes clear in these pages. But I’m talking less now about her tricky work than her performance. As the Poetry Archive summarizes it: “In the 1960s Smith built a popular reputation as a performer of her own work, playing up her eccentricity and ceremonially half-singing some of her poems in a quavering voice. She also made a number of broadcasts and recordings, her skillful and extensive use of personae lending itself particularly well to reading aloud.” Wrote the Financial Times of a 1969 performance at Festival Hall: “The small faun-shifted figure who darted on to the platform to open the second half was Stevie Smith, and she is a star.” Performance poetry—led by the New York School and later taken up by writers like Michael Horovitz and Beckett—had become popular in the UK, and this was clearly Smith’s medium. Writes Laura Severin in her essay “Becoming and Unbecoming: Stevie Smith as Performer,” Read More »

The King and I

February 3, 2015 | by

Auctioning off the Elvis memorabilia at Graceland Too.


Photo: Eileen Townsend

The Absolute Auction of Graceland Too was over in one fell swoop. This past Saturday morning, about a hundred warmly dressed bidders, journalists, and rubberneckers had assembled on East Gholson Avenue in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The auctioneer informed us that the sale was over not even a minute after it began. Everything available—some six hundred items of variously worthwhile Elvis memorabilia—had sold to an unnamed online buyer for the sum of $54,500.

The crowd was visibly distressed at the news. There were groans, shouts of false advertising. The auctioneer, Greg Kinard, an immaculately dressed man of considerable stature, apologized and explained: this was the way it had to be. This was how Paul MacLeod would have wanted it. Kinard thanked everyone for coming out, assured us that there had been no false advertising, and reminded us to pick up one of the pink or blue T-shirts for sale: GRACELAND TOO FOREVER!

Stripped of its lurid speculative detail and Southern Gothic charm, the story of Graceland Too and its ill-fated proprietor, Paul MacLeod, is a sad and simple one. MacLeod was seventy-one when he died suddenly this past July, a victim of undiagnosed and untreated paranoid obsession. He’d spent the last years of his life poor and without family, in a rotting house without running water. His neighbors, for the most part, disliked him, and though he had multiple visitors nearly every night, he died alone and friendless. Read More »


Notes on Becoming a Crank

January 7, 2015 | by


Gerard Dou, Woman Reading a Bible, ca. 1630.

There are many benefits to being a grown-up. Using stoves unsupervised, buying things online, enjoying herring. As children suspect, you can set your own bedtime; as adults know, this can be as early as you like. 

One of the worst things—besides the loss of innocence, I mean—is becoming a crank. When you’re a kid and you’re opinionated, it’s cute. Less so when you’re a teenager—you morph into an ass—but people forgive that, too. As a young adult, maybe you’ve become a jerk, but whatever, you still have idealism and fire in your belly. Then one day you wake up and you’re just a crank. Read More »

Fifty Shrinks

October 10, 2014 | by


Sebastian Zimmermann, Jamieson Webster, PhD.

It’s an experiment in what your life might be like if you speak freely to another person—speak and allow that person to show you the ways in which you stop yourself thinking and speaking freely. I don’t mean by that that it doesn’t change symptoms. I know by my own experience that it does. But I think the most interesting thing about it is its unpredictability. If you buy a fridge, there are certain things you will be guaranteed. If you buy a psychoanalysis, you won’t be. It’s a real risk, and that also is the point of it. Patients come because they are suffering from something. They want that suffering to be alleviated. Ideally, in the process of doing the analysis, they might find their suffering is alleviated or modified, but also they might discover there are more important things than to alleviate one’s suffering.

—Adam Phillips, The Art of Nonfiction No. 7

Sebastian Zimmermann’s new monograph, Fifty Shrinks, does exactly what it says on the tin: it features photographs of fifty therapists and analysts in their offices, which are, according to an essay in the book by the architect Elizabeth Danze, “floating vessels, places of sanctuary … [when] a patient reflects on the trajectory of his or her therapy, an indelible part of that recollection involves the space in which it took place.”

The concept should be twee or ponderous, and at its most obvious it can be—the tropes of analysis are all here, the long couches, solemn shelves of leatherbound books, thick curtains and dark woodgrain, prominently hung diplomas, all the shorthand for erudition—but most of Zimmermann’s portraits are surprisingly lively. The offices (and the people in them) are far from clinical. In fact, Fifty Shrinks is more or less an object lesson in eccentricity: there are offices furnished only with folding chairs or decorated with terrifyingly vibrant floral wallpaper, a therapist whose desk is consumed by Rolodexes, and a therapist holding ominous court at his chess set.

You can see more of the photographs here.


Sebastian Zimmermann, Albert Ellis, PhD.


Twilight People: Subways Are for Sleeping

November 29, 2012 | by

Every now and then I come across someone on the subway who defies easy categorization. I remember, for instance, a man who boarded the 3 train in Brooklyn a few years ago wearing military fatigues and a bandolier packed with little glass bottles of liquids. “Who is man enough to buy my fragrances?” he shouted. (When one rider replied that he wasn’t sure, the man responded, “Are you man enough to kill a hooker in Moscow with a crowbar?”) More recently, there was a man on the uptown 6 wearing a pair of oversized New Year’s glasses—the ones where the 0’s serve as eyeholes—who played atonal jazz on his saxophone and asked for no monetary compensation in return. I could keep going, but no doubt anyone who has lived in a city for any length of time has their own mental list of these self-styled subterranean eccentrics, grouped together not so much by any particular characteristic other than the fact that they seem only to exist underground.

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