@

Role/Model

By Gayle Brandeis

Essay

young compositeMichael and I had lunch at The Castle today, a new Middle Eastern restaurant in Riverside. The lentil soup was fantastic, spiked with lemon. The Lebanese salad was tart and fresh, a dice of cucumber and tomato and mint. The place is new, but not really. I can’t remember if you and I ever went there together back when it was still Pitruzello’s, back when you were still alive–I don’t think so, even though I can picture you in one of the booths, your pale skin glowing against the black vinyl; I can picture you there the way you looked before I was born, when people mistook you for Audrey Hepburn, your hair in a short beehive, a cigarette between your fingers. I can’t remember if I ever told you I answered the restaurant’s call for lunchtime tearoom models in 1987, when I was nineteen. Probably not. As much as you wanted your girls to be open with you, more often than not, your measuring gaze made us pause .

Even now, at 46, I’m not sure what compelled me to respond to the ad they placed in the San Bernardino Sun. I hated modeling as a kid–I was too shy, too self-conscious in front of the camera. I cried at almost every audition, every photo shoot. At nineteen, I didn’t see myself as the modeling type, either. I was a hippie chick with hairy armpits and legs, a sophomore at the University of Redlands. I had gained the freshman fifteen and then some eating three cafeteria meals a day, the only vegetarian options being cheesy, starchy casseroles like lasagna and enchiladas. My belly stuck out nearly as far as my small breasts; my face was almost as round as it had been when I was on long term steroids a few years before. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was awkwardness. Flaws.

todgoldbergheadcolorYour last book came out in 2011. It’s 2014. What have you been doing all this time?

Honestly? Writing. And writing and writing and writing. But sometimes, that just means I’m not writing at all, I’m just thinking about writing, thinking about what I haven’t written, thinking about what I’d like to write, thinking about maybe never writing again because, these days, there’s just an awful lot of good stuff on TV and if my choice is to sit quietly in my office writing murder stories or watching an infinite number of episodes of Chopped, well, Chopped wins. It’s a sickness, it really is. I find it profoundly, psychically comforting to watch other people cook food I’ll never eat while I – with absolutely no acuity in the field whatsoever – make snap judgments on the quality, taste, and general success or failure of the meal.

Gangsterland_FINALPrologue

April 1998

When Sal Cupertine was going to kill a guy, he’d walk right up and shoot him in the back of the head. Shoot someone in the face, there’s a good chance they’ll survive. Sal never messed around with a gut shot or trying to get someone in the heart. It was stupid and made a mess. You get told to kill a guy, you killed a guy. You didn’t leave it up to variations in the wind and barometric pressure and all that Green Beret shit he saw on TV. No, Sal knew, you just went up and did it. Be professional about it and no one suffers.

This morning, a list of wounds to commit
to memory: contusion, abrasion, compound fracture.
There’s no irony in the lecturer’s voice, in her floral dress.

She says Let’s cut to the chase and shows a wrist
flayed open to bone. She doesn’t spare the shiny ligament
ribbons under the skin, the marble eyes of a lynched

Dylan laughing hiresWhat’s the question you most dread being asked?

Grad students ask it all the time: When I write about Rainey Royal getting molested, is that based on personal experience? There’s a story about that in my first book, too, Normal People Don’t Live Like This. But my writing teacher in Los Angeles, the novelist Jim Krusoe, once said: Answer the question you want to answer. So: Can I just talk about writing? I like going to the basement, to dark, uncomfortable places, and seeing what kind of unfamiliar language I can construct for what’s going on. And as a writer, I think the less you say on paper the more the reader imagines.

deskjob TNBI chugged hard on the last of my beer and wiggled the empty can in the air for Mustachio behind the bar to see. Another cold sweaty can arrived with its short shot buddy. Then another. And another. A parade of cans and shots across the bar and the place filled up with people.

A woman I recognized came through the door and pushed her way into the crowd. She walked down the bar and sat next to me on the only empty stool.

TNB Landis coverThat day after school, she stops at the hardware store to explain about her door.

“You need a shim,” says the man, and shows her a thin, splintery wedge of wood. “Take it,” he says, pushing back her quarter. She can only get the tip in under her door. That night she goes to bed with the light on and stares at the doorknob. At around 1:00 A.M., the knob turns.

The door does not move.

The knob turns twice more. Then it stops.

indexUp and down Broadway, in and out of journalism, taken by daguerreotypes, transported by opera, gathering gathering gathering experience—but for what? By the early 1850s, Whitman began to feel what he later described as a “great pressure, pressure from within.” With his thirty-fifth birthday fast approaching, he grew pained by the notion that at the same age Shakespeare was “adjudged already to deserve a place among the great masters,” having by then written such plays as Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and Richard III.

justin_martin_photoSo you’ve written the first book ever about Pfaff’s saloon. Why didn’t somebody write this book earlier?

It’s a daunting challenge, research-wise. My subjects were a group of wild, decadent, and very talented artists, properly considered America’s first Bohemians. During the 1850s, they hung out at Pfaff’s saloon in New York City. They lived loose, unconventional lives, which makes them rich subjects. But they lived those lives 150 years ago. It required a ton of research, but it was also truly rewarding to bring this mostly forgotten but vitally important artists circle back to life. I often felt like a time-traveling cat herder.

MoorsAccount_CoverThe Story of La Florida

It was the year 934 of the Hegira, the thirtieth year of my life, the fifth year of my bondage—and I was at the edge of the known world. I was marching behind Señor Dorantes in a lush territory he, and Castilians like him, called La Florida. I cannot be certain what my people call it. When I left Azemmur, news of this land did not often attract the notice of our town criers; they spoke instead of the famine, the recent earthquake, or the rebellions in the south of Barbary. But I imagine that, in keeping with our naming conventions, my people would simply call it the Land of the Indians. The Indians, too, must have had a name for it, although neither Señor Dorantes nor anyone in the expedition knew what it was.

Laila.Lalami.2014authorphoto

How do you pronounce your name?

Laila is pronounced like the Eric Clapton song. And Lalami rhymes with Rarity.

 

I bet you get asked that a lot.

Oh, only about five times a day.

 

So you have a new book coming out?

Yes, it’s called The Moor’s Account and it will be published by Pantheon in September 2014.

clambake

By Christopher Mulrooney

Poem

all the little clams you dig there
dancing on the edge of the pit fall in then
pudding and pie the candlestick from the Met
while you turn up the great big underground switch
am I right over copy that because the whole muse thing
interests you as a rather lowdown carpet-seller’s commentary
on his wares from a legendary source in proverbial hills
you flog the stuff like any
there is all your art

deerI imagined myself coasting calmly into the ten-day silent Buddhist meditation retreat. Instead, on day two, I was teary, overwhelmed and my mind roared. Secluded at a rural retreat center in Massachusetts, I was in heavy withdrawal from Manhattan’s chaos, din and light. Uncomfortable, I craved a fix. So I snuck into the bathroom, locked the door and sat on the floor checking my contraband: a Bic pen and paper.

KENDRA DE COLO horizontal

A lot of poems in your poetry collection Thieves in the Afterlife reference female desire and the body. Have you always written about sexuality?

The first writers I fell in love with were Pablo Neruda, Anais Nin, and Henry Miller. I remember reading Delta of Venus when I was 14 and wanting to write just like her. I was compelled, not necessarily by the content, but by the tough sensuality and unapologetic voice. She was my hero—probably the first model I had for bisexuality and writing outside of standard hetero/gendered love forms.

Starry-eyed and ravenous, we wait for it
to serenade us like a bullet singing to a wound.
Is this what you meant by romance? Me, scouring the remains
of my life over a pool of ketchup, thick as the spunk of creation
while the city blooms smoke, waiting to be swallowed?