FLEEING THE RESTORATION IN A NEW ORLEANS BAR AT 3AM - AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDREI CODRESCU
"Wakefield is a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the coolest fucking stories ever written. It's about a guy who's a drone in London in the end of the 19th century. He puts his pack on and takes his umbrella under his arm and he goes to work, and he disappears. He goes away for twenty years. Nobody knows what happened to him. One day, he knocks on the door, and his wife opens the door, and he's back. What happened to Wakefield? Wakefield rented a room in the neighborhood for twenty years, and watched his wife, and he saw her grow old. He changed his appearance a little bit, so nobody recognized him. I have my own Wakefield."
Utahna Faith interviews Andrei Codrescu
COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
3AM: Did you have one main influence when you came to the US?
AC: Yes, it was Allen Ginsberg. I first met Allen Ginsberg in 1967. When I went to his house on the lower east side. I was about 19, and I'd been here about five months. So, I went to his house and I rang the doorbell in this really shitty apartment building. I knew his address from a guy in Rome. And it said on the doorbell, Ginsberg, Orlavsky. And I rang the thing and it didn't work. So I asked a bunch of Puerto Rican guys who were hanging out on the steps there, I said do you know where Allen Ginsburg lives, and they were all like, Allen...who? So they had a little conference, and they said that's on the fifth floor, that's the fucking guy with the beard. So I go up, and I knock on the door for a while, and the door opens, and it's Peter Orlavsky, naked, and he's really skinny and dripping wet. And he said, come talk to me, I'm taking a bath. So he goes back to the bathtub where he's spending a lot of time at the time. I sit on the toilet seat, highly uncomfortable. He doesn't talk, and I don't say anything. And I finally thought, well, maybe it's time to leave. So I go out, and it's Allen coming in. Allen is like, affable, you know, wonderful, and he said, Oh, where are you from? And he spoke in bad French because my English wasn't very good at the time. And we had this great two and a half hours just pulling books off the shelves and he told me what to read. Then these two guys come in; they're Peter's brothers. They were both autistic. I don't know if they're still living. They sit down at the kitchen table and they don't say a word. And I was just going on and on. Peter is still in the bathtub, and these guys are fixated on the button on my shirt, and they're looking at it. And Allen...so, Allen made me feel totally at home in the new world. He said where are you from, and I said, well, I'm from Eastern Europe, I'm from Romania, and I've come here to present my credentials. He said Europe comes to see our literature. So, Allen was wonderful. Then, about 4am, this guy comes in, his name was Albert Fife, he's a painter. And, Allen says, well, I've got to go to India tomorrow. And he said, Albert will give you a place to crash. So, I went off with Albert, who gave me a place to crash. And that was my first...and then we became good friends. Allen and I were friends forever, man.
3AM: And then did you end up going to see him on the West Coast later?
AC: I'd see him wherever, you know. The only...it was a big homo scene, they were old style homosexuals, but...you know, I mean they were sort of gender benders even at the time. But the only true kind of serious queer I met at the time, when I was still 19 years old, was William Burroughs. And Burroughs, I met Burroughs and I said, I've got these poems, and Burroughs said why don't we meet for lunch in Chelsea at El Quijote on top of the Chelsea Hotel. So I go and I meet William and he comes and sits down, and he's cold and distant. And I'm very nervous...
3AM: And you're little Andrei, only 19 years old...
AC: Yeah, with my little poems in my hand. And he's not speaking, and I'm trying to make conversation and he doesn't say anything. So, the waiter comes by and hands us the menus, you know, and so as soon as the menus come I feel this ice cold hand on my thigh and I say, well, William, that's not really my scene, you know. And he says, Oh, well. And things picked up, and he became wonderfully affable.
3AM: So once that was cleared up--
AC: Yeah, all cleared up. (Laughs.)
3AM: And did he like your writing? What did he say?
AC: Well, he invited me to a party. Two days later we went to a party which was at the top of the Chelsea Hotel, we went to the penthouse. So we're on the top apartment, uh, terrace, and everybody's dancing, and the women all take their tops off. And it's this lovely summer night in New York and we're dancing in this beautiful, you know, topless world. And at a certain point, you know, like they all disappeared.
3AM: All the women?
AC: All the women had gone. And I asked my friend, I said, what happened? And he said, well, you know, Bob Dylan is here, and all the girls went over to his room.
Interview is interrupted briefly by a drunken fan, then continues.
3AM: Okay, I'm gonna ask you some more stuff. You ready?
AC: Okay. Let's get serious.
3AM: Well...we don't have to go that far, but...okay. So, when you came to the US you were nineteen?
AC: Eighteen and a half.
3AM: For the readers at 3am, can you tell them about how you got to the US? How you decided to, and how you left Romania?
AC: Well I came over here because I could, you know. There was this hole in the iron curtain.
3AM: Was it difficult to get away? What did you have to do? And once you left Romania, you weren't allowed to go back, right? Until the '80s?
AC: Well, I never wanted to go back. I just went through a hole in the iron curtain, because, you know, whenever I see a hole I'll swim right through it.
3AM: How does that work? What was a hole in the iron curtain?
AC: A hole in the '60s was uh...the state of Israel. And...West Germany. The state of Israel was buying freedom for Jews at $2000 a head. And Germany was buying freedom for ethnic Germans in Romania for $2000 a head. And so my mother and I, for $4000 were able to leave.
3AM: And you both came to the US?
AC: Yeah. We were sleeping together at the time.
3AM: Sexually, or just in the same bed?
AC: No...we had a sexual thing but we never actually...acknowledged it.
3AM: So...it wasn't intercourse, it was just sort of an emotional thing, or...
AC: Well, if you live in a communist country when you're young, you know, you always sleep with your mother. Communism was the story of incest.
3AM: And why is that?
AC: Because everything was so horrible outside of your house that...you're really intimate. So you're packed up in your bed, with your books...
3AM: Close quarters...
AC: And not that many books.
3AM: Was it hard to get books?
AC: Oh, it was very hard to get books. They were mostly forbidden. And so you read forbidden books and you slept with your forbidden mother. And we masturbated together. She turned over and...
3AM: And you had to sleep in the same bed, and everybody has to masturbate, right?
AC: Yes. And the only way you could tell was by the heat. The temperature rises.
3AM: Was there a dad?
AC: No Dad.
3AM: No Dad?
AC: I killed him. (Silence, then laughs.) The Communists killed him.
3AM: (Laughs.) Everybody wants to kill their Dad and sleep with their mother, right? You and Jim Morrison, but you really did it.
AC: I did, I did.
3AM: Jim just yelled about it on stage, but you really did it.
AC: He was a secret police guy and I used a service revolver and I just blew him away.
3AM: How old were you, two?
AC: I was...thirteen.
3AM: Did you really do that? You did not really do that.
AC: Yeah I did.
3AM: Was he mean to your mama?
AC: No, my mother's boyfriend was a higher ranking secret police guy so they covered this up.
3AM: And she was still married to your dad...
AC: Oh, yeah.
3AM: While she had this boyfriend?
AC: Well, no, he was living away.
3AM: The dad was living away?
AC: Yeah. But, you know, they covered it up.
3AM: Was the dad's last name Codrescu?
3AM: Was that your mama's maiden last name?
3AM: Where did you get Codrescu?
AC: I made it up.
3AM: Oh? What does it mean? Does it mean something in Romanian?
AC: Yeah, it means son of a bitch from the woods. (Laughs.)
3AM: (Laughs.) Now how do you say that really naughty phrase you were teaching people one night here, that phrase in Romanian?
AC: Um...lingum pista.
3AM: Lingum pista. What does that mean?
AC: Lick my pussy.
3AM: (Laughs.) But you don't have one.
AC: Oh, I sure do.
AC: Well, if you hold the cock down, you can...
3AM: Hide it?
AC: And the little impression is the pussy. You can work around the cock, and make a pussy.
AC: I can make a pussy. Any Transylvanian can make a pussy.
3AM: It's a talent you all have. Oh! I remember your story in...what was it, Chick For A Day? What was that book called?
AC: Um...Pussy For A Day. No, wait, Jane For A Day.
3AM: Jane? And what was the other one called, where women wrote the stories? Cock For A Day?
AC: Yeah. No, Dick For A Day. The men wrote the stories about having a pussy for a day, and the women wrote the stories about having a cock for a day.
3AM: Oh, ha, Dick and Jane. I noticed that the women's were much more political, and the men's were more sexual. Overall. Did you notice that?
AC: I don't know. No.
3AM: I got to hear you read that one, at a reading on Royal Street in a gallery.
AC: I very much freaked out the little straight audience.
3AM: It was great. Everybody was getting up reading their academic, intellectual poetry, and you go up and read about orgies and a sex change.
AC: Somebody said they complained because there was a 15 year old girl in the audience. But she was digging it, I saw.
3AM: And you can't expect to go to a poetry and prose reading in the French Quarter without expecting to hear whatever you're going to hear. I mean, come on. So, are those anthologies available on Amazon and all that?
AC: Oh, fuck that.
AC: Can we continue this at my apartment?
3AM: (Laughs.) No. So, I wanted to ask you also about the future of the Corpse. I know we have the last issue--
AC: Corpses have no future; they're dead.
3AM: How about the Exquisite Corpse?
AC: Well, it was founded in 1983. We had the paper version until 1995; we published about forty-five issues on paper.
3AM: And people fucking loved it. And they wanted in there.
AC: They loved it. It was called The New Yorker of the avant guard. And then we started publishing it online and suddenly we had a whole new audience. We had one million hits a month. We were offered advertising by everybody in the world--
3AM: It was great that you didn't do advertising.
AC: That was the policy from the beginning.
3AM: That would have fucked it up. You were so cool for not doing that--
AC: That was the policy from the beginning, no advertising--
3AM: Wait, wait, cheers! Cheers to no advertising, cheers to Andrei.
3AM: Okay. So, now--
AC: So, it was online and all of the sudden we had kids from Japan and from Sweden writing in and saying, "Well, I just stumbled onto your website, it's really cool, we like the stuff." So we suddenly had a huge audience of people who are not usually readers of literary magazines.
3AM: That's great, because you're getting the literature out to people who wouldn't usually know about it.
AC: Well...it's great and it's...it's baffling. You know, I'm not convinced that it's the same kind of faithful audience that reads each issue, that writes letters, and they fall in love with writers from the magazine. It's a different kind of audience.
3AM: What do you think the difference was? What do you think the appeal was to the new people as opposed to the loyal older people?
AC: Well, the new people, they just read what they read, and they dug it because they read it, you know? The old people were still involved in the old idea of literature, which is to...you are a special, elite cadre of readers, and you know certain things that other readers don't. It was a very elitist thing, and now--
3AM: Did the new people pick up on the specialness, though, and get something from it?
AC: Some of them. I think a lot of them are surface. They just go from place to place, and then they find the Corpse and then they find some other fucking website, and they get off on the other thing, you know. I mean, but, we studied the time that people spent on the Corpse. The average was about twelve minutes. Which as far as I'm concerned is just enough to jack off.
3AM: You need hours on the Corpse.
AC: Well, you do need hours.
3AM: I spend hours on it. Then I go back and spend hours on it again and again.
AC: You do, because you know how to tease it and keep it--
AC: --keep it hot.
3AM: Twelve minutes, I mean for god's sake--
AC: Well, most people come in three minutes.
3AM: Who are these people?
AC: Oh, everybody comes in three minutes if they really want to come; if they don't it might take hours.
3AM: Hmm...I don't know...
AC: So, we're erotic in the way that...you know, the print thing is erotic because you can delay your orgasm--
3AM: Linger over it...
AC: Play with it, tease it. But, online, you know, you get off and then move on to the next item that gets you hard.
3AM: So, the Corpse has been coming out about every six months, but now it's been longer since the last one. Is there going to be another?
AC: Now we're publishing an anthology and a CD from the web Corpses. And we're changing the home page so that we'll have the Potempkin Corpse, like the Potempkin villages? They're all facade; there's no interior.
AC: And the new logo is: What you see is all there is.
3AM: So...no more...
AC: Well, about five months from now we'll go back to making it deep.
3AM: So you'll have one issue that's shallow, and then--
AC: No, no. Six shallow issues. And then there will be...a new CD.
3AM: When will the next issue come out? What number are we on right now? Eleven?
AC: Well, we're on eleven cyber, and there's going to be one through seven Potempkin, then there's gonna...
3AM: Is Laura (Rosenthal) going to work on it anymore? She used to be the Body Bag editor, right?
AC: Well, she doesn't like the cyber thing. She likes to read, you know. She's a deep reader.
3AM: Who's your editor now? Now that your last editor left--he went to teach, right? At a university?
AC: Mark Spitzer, who wrote the novel Chum, went away to be a professor.
3AM: So do you have a new assistant editor now?
AC: I have two assistants, and they're really great. One is a Bulgarian guy named Plamen Arnaudov. And then there's a new guy, Robert Bloom, who's really smart, brilliant.
3AM: And they're going to coedit?
AC: They're going to do what my editors usually do, which is to read submissions, weed through the crap and then I decide what happens and then they copy edit.
3AM: So they pull some things out and what they think is worthwhile they send to you, right?
AC: Well, I read the whole submission list and any name I recognize I keep because I don't trust them.
3AM: Or if you just like the name. The first time I submitted to the Corpse, way before I moved here, you wrote to me. We didn't know each other back then. But you wrote back and said "the gorgeously named Utahna Faith". So either they pulled mine out and sent it to you, or you just saw my name and liked it.
AC: Oh, well, definitely, you know, it's either you're famous or you have a beautiful name.
3AM: So can you tell the 3am readers the title of your new novel?
AC: Yeah, my new novel is called Fleeing the Restoration. It's set in New Orleans. And also it's called Wakefield.
3AM: Why Wakefield?
AC: "Wakefield" is a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the coolest fucking stories ever written. It's about a guy who's a drone in London in the end of the 19th century. He puts his pack on and takes his umbrella under his arm and he goes to work, and he disappears. He goes away for twenty years. Nobody knows what happened to him. One day, he knocks on the door, and his wife opens the door, and he's back. What happened to Wakefield? Wakefield rented a room in the neighborhood for twenty years, and watched his wife, and he saw her grow old. He changed his appearance a little bit, so nobody recognized him.
3AM: How did he survive?
AC: The author never says. But I have my own Wakefield.
3AM: So where does he live in New Orleans, in the Quarter?
AC: Yeah, he lives around the corner from Molly's.
3AM: Like you!
AC: Yeah, well. So one day some maniac next door starts a restoration and starts banging on the wall. He starts to restore his cottage to its 18th century condition. And Wakefield runs away, he flees the restoration.
3AM: Where does he flee to?
AC: A lot of places.
3AM: Is he you?
3AM: Partly you?
AC: Well, yeah.
3AM: How old is he?
AC: Fifty something.
3AM: Is he sexy?
AC: Very much so.
3AM: Is he a writer?
AC: No. No. His occupation is inspirational speaker.
3AM: Oh, okay. Like: "In a van! By the river!" He's a motivational speaker.
AC: But he's not a juggler or anything. He brings people down. It's the end of the nineties, and so a lot of CEOs of companies have decided that the economy is overheated and people are too crazy about everything. So they're hiring this speaker to just bring people down enough. He makes this deal with the devil, and the devil says, I'll give you a year to find your true life. And he says, how do I know when it starts? And the devil says, you'll hear the starter pistol.
3AM: Do you think it's possible to really make a deal with the devil? If there was a devil? Because how can you make a deal if you can't trust someone, and how can you trust the devil? I mean, come on, he's the fucking devil!
AC: Well. This particular devil is very operatic, you know? He's like a really...um...he's a classical devil. He's been worked over in opera, he's been overworked by Faust, he's like that operetta figure. He's got doubts, you know. He's not a very certain devil. He doesn't even believe in the soul.
3AM: Okay. So he's not trying to steal souls; he doesn't even believe in them himself.
AC: Wakefield offers him his soul, because he thinks that if the devil says yes, that proves that there is a soul. But the devil hedges it.
3AM: Chills! About how long will this novel be? Longer than The Blood Countess?
AC: It's going to be about...fourteen and a half inches long and about...six inches thick.
3AM: That's devilish. When will it be published?
AC: Let's see...it's going to be published in the fall of 2003.
3AM: Can you tell me a little about your story that's just out in French Quarter Fiction?
AC: It's part of the novel. An excerpt. It's about how the guy is trying to have a quiet time in his apartment, and the neighbor starts hacking on the bricks trying to reconstruct the eighteenth century. And so the man complains to all the authorities possible, like the Vieux Carre commission and all these people in charge of historical restoration. Then he realizes that's not what it's about--it's about paying people off to create an illusion.
3AM: New Orleans. So, are you going to do any readings for French Quarter Fiction?
AC: Yeah, I'm gonna give one reading. In New Orleans, probably.
3AM: What about Los Angeles? Let's all go out to Los Angeles and do a reading for French Quarter Fiction.
AC: You know, my triumph in Los Angeles came when I performed with Miss America 1998.
3AM: What did you do with her?
AC: Well, I really consoled the poor thing, you know. It was cold in L.A., and I put my arm around her, and she said, you know, I'm homeless. She spends every night in a hotel, travelling, talking to groups about being Miss America. She was a sweetheart. The best thing was, at that Virgin Records place in L.A., I had top billing. It said, "Andrei Codrescu and Miss America." And then Rhoda, what's her name, Valerie Harper, and then John Voight were there.
3AM: What an odd combination.
AC: Yeah. It was a hunger benefit. Everybody who walked in the door drew a ticket, so ten percent of the people got to visit the big table and eat a six course meal, and then the next group of them got to eat some pizza, and the rest, the majority which is like most of the world, got to eat some dirty water with a little bit of rice. So I ended up sitting with a bunch of movie stars including Miss America eating...very little. And then a little girl, a child, from the big table came over and said, "Have my salad." And Miss America said "This is what it's all about." And I said, this is not what it's all about. Let's eat the little girl.
AC: made them all sing the "Internationale".
3AM: This is good we're still recording--this is a longer tape than I knew I had.
AC: How long is it?
3AM: I don't know, but it's still going. Let's see, so what...what...okay, finally, what would you like for the 3am readers to hear that you haven't said yet?
AC: I'm not answering any more questions.
3AM: Okay. Not anything you--not anything we haven't talked about yet that you want the 3am readers to hear?
AC: I don't even know what 3am is except for the hour, you know. What is the fucking thing?
3AM: You know, it's the online lit journal I edit for!
AC: (Laughs.) Ouch! That's my ankle!
3AM: Okay. Can you give us some wonderful goodbye? Say goodbye in Romanian.
AC: Uh...tout em pista murte.
3AM: What does that mean?
AC: It means I have to go back into my mother's cunt and get born again, because it's 4:30am.
3AM: Well, thank you, Andrei.
(Interview ends for a moment, then resurrects.)
3AM: Okay, one more question. Why do you type with two fingers?
AC: I type with one finger.
3AM: I thought you typed with two.
AC: No, see this finger? People of the tape recorder?
3AM: The first finger of the right hand.
AC: This fucking finger--this is the finger that says, "J'accuse!" It's also the finger that's going to knock down the wall, it's so fucking strong.
3AM: So you never wanted to learn to type--I mean it's no problem, right, you just--
AC: It's also the finger I use on the girls.
3AM: Only that one?
AC: Well, this one for the...clitoris. The rest for the rest.
3AM: So you never wanted to learn to type? You didn't think it might go faster if you--
AC: This fucking finger goes so fast. I was on an airplane once, one time typing and this guy turns around and he goes that's the fucking fastest one-finger-typing I've ever seen.
3AM: So all your novels, all your articles, all your shit you type with one finger.
AC: Everything. Everything. Twenty-five-million words with one finger. This one.
3AM: Okay. Thank you, Andrei Codrescu.
AC: Thank you.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Andrei Codrescu is a novelist, poet, essayist and National Public Radio commentator. He writes regularly for NPR and for the Gambit Weekly in New Orleans. He is the editor of Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Letters and Life, and is a professor of English at Louisiana State University. Andrei's most recently released novel is Casanova in Bohemia.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Utahna Faith writes fiction and poetry. Her work appears in various literary journals and in the anthology French Quarter Fiction. She is the flash fiction editor for 3am Magazine, and is the editor of the forthcoming literary publication Wild Strawberries: a journal of flash fiction and prose poetry. Utahna lives in New Orleans with Story, her miniature dachshund.