(Copyright © 1999 Al Aronowitz)

(Photo by Brenda Saunders )



Cosmos had to climb a steep hill to get to Henry Miller's cabin.  The country was wild.  He expected a javelina to dart out of the bushes at him.

Miller was chopping firewood with no shirt on.  Short pants and Holy Land sandals.  A small man, but wiry.  No fat on him.  A natural welterweight.

Hemingway's liver coiled around the outside of his trunk like a strangler fig, or a remora.  One tap to that and he'd fall like a sack of grain.

A blivet, in fact:  ten pounds of shit in a five-pound sack.

"You there," Miller shouted, as he saw Cosmos approach.  "This land's posted.  Can't you see I'm writing."

Cosmos stopped, and held up a self-published pamphlet.

"I don't want to bother you," he said.  "I just wanted to leave a copy of The Plight of the Creative Artist in America.  The one I did myself---not the one Roger Jackson published."

"The Plight of the Creative Artist in America---eh?  Let me see that.  I bet not much has changed."

Cosmos gave him the pamphlet, which he flipped through, moving his lips as he read, mumbling to himself, like Karl Childers.

"Come up to the house," he said.  "Do you want a cup of tea?"

"Sure," Cosmos said.

* *

"You look a little down," Miller said, as he heated water on the stove.

"It's my truck," Cosmos said.  "It's dying on me.  And I need it to get to work.

"I owe my mother money, I owe the IRS, I need to get my teeth fixed.

"I feel snowed under."

"Are you writing well?" Miller asked.

Cosmos admitted that he was.  "Like a hay baler," he said.

"Then don't sweat the small stuff.

"The death of a parent, divorce, an injury to a child, or terminal illness.  Those are things to fret about.  The rest takes care of itself.

"And it doesn't do any good to worry about the big ones, either.  What's going to happen will happen anyway."

"I know," Cosmos said.  "It's just my temperament."

"It's the Norwegian in you.  Knut Hamsun was that way.  But have you read A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings"  A delightful book.  It will blow your melancholy away like a gentle tropical breeze."

                                                              * * *

Cosmos talked to Miller for most of the afternoon.  When he got home, he wrote the interview up, in the Q & A format he felt comfortable with.

He didn't carry a tape recorder and he didn't take notes.

He listened.

The conversation might not be verbatim, but it's pretty damned close.

Q is Miller.  A is Cosmos.

                                                              * * *

Q: What's happening downtown?

A: You know what Jean Shepherd said.  New York is a city run entirely by lists.    
    Writer's Hell is New York City.
    You're smart to stay up here, in the hills.
    Let the mountain come to Mahomet.

Q: It worked for me.  Over the course of a writing life.
    If you have to go to them, you're fucked.
    Now, what's this about a job?  Nobody has a job up here.  In heaven.  

A: Down here.  In hell.

Q: It's the same place, my man.

A: I always had a job.  Or was looking for one.
    I couldn't sell my books.  And had a wife and family to support.

Q: A menial job?  Makeshift work?

A: A responsible position.  Professional work.

Q: That's bad.  Doc Williams asked me if he should quit writing, and concentrate
    on medicine.  I told him to quit practicing medicine, and concentrate on writing.

A: Ask a barber what you need, he'll say, "A haircut."  People advise you to do what
    they are doing.  Crad Kilodney told me to sell self-published pamphlets on the streets of
    my native town.

Q: I sold mezzotints, door-to-door.

A: So did I.  Everybody who wanted a book of mine already had one.  I gave them
     away.  Hand's bookstore   and the B. Dalton in the mall didn't reorder, because
     I was in competition with them.

Q: So you did have a book published.

A: Screed.  Vagabond Press.  Forty.  Popular Reality.  Common Sense, Full Plate,
    Blue Darter, Lost Writings, Evil Genius
and Open Book.  Mixed Breed.

Q: Jack Saunders wrote those.

A: I'm Jack Saunders.  I have to use the name I, Cosmos to submit my work to
     fiction contests like the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition, in Key West.

Q: Nice to meet you, Jack.  I'm a fan.
     I thought you were striking some responsive chords.

A: No shit!  You're my hero.

Q: It wasn't all for naught.
    That's all we really have, is the people who come after us, who understood.
    Who can carry the ball from where we fell.
    The rest is chaff.

A: That's one of the things you said that meant the most to me.  That you'd have met
    the people you needed to meet in your life, for your spiritual journey, whether
    you had published more widely or not.
    I'd have met John Bennett and Crowbar, John M. Bennett and Laurel Speer,
    Roger Jackson and Bob
    Grumman.  David Cole and Dion Wright.
    Em McElderry and Jack Rudloe, in Panacea.
    How big can Panacea be?  It's like Joseph Campbell hitchhiking out to
    California, broke, and meeting John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, broke.  Going on a
    collecting trip to the Northwest Coast with Ricketts
    and being exposed to the art and myth up there.  Having studied art and myth
    in Germany, and being
    exactly ready to see what he saw, when he saw it.

Q: The other thing I said was I brought all my troubles down on my own head.  By
    not accepting the world on
    its own terms.  By trying to change things.
    We can't change anything.  We can't even understand.  But we can accept.  With faith.      And charity.And hope.
    Why not hope?  A new day always dawns.  Things are the darkest just before the
    pitch black.

A: When a man's down---kick him.

Q: How are your significant others doing?

A: Brenda likes her job.  She maintains the computers in a prison.
    She keeps chickens and has a garden.  A mulch pile.  I'm helping her buy the traile
    she is living in,    The
    Empty Nest.
    Balder's in a Marine Corps band in New Orleans.  He plays the trumpet in a
    marching band, a concert        
    band, a swing band, and a combo.  He plays mandolin and guitar at bluegrass
    festivals, on his own time.
    He just got orders to go overseas, to Okinawa.  I went there, at that age.  Okinawa
    was my Paris. 
    I remember reading Big Sur and The Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch on Okinawa.
    Your major works
     were still banned in America.
    After Balder gets out, he can go to college on the GI Bill, if he wants to.  Like I did.
Or not.
    Owen is playing fiddle with Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.  He gets paid even when
    they don't play.
    They're booked at all the bigger bluegrass festivals, and he has fans, who come to
    see him.  The  band     
    appears on the Grand Old Opry, now and then.  Owen's on several of Doyle's CDs
    now.  A country
    music singer offered him a job, but he turned it down.  In a bluegrass band, he gets
    to show off his fiddling,
     his singing, his repartee, with Doyle, in a way he wouldn't playing the same lick
     night after night behind some
     light-show and sequin-costume, big-hat show-business act.
     Everybody's doing fine but me.
     I want to sell a book.  Go on tour promoting my book.  Be interviewed.  Give
     lectures and appear
     at writing seminars.  Win a grant, a major prize, or a writer-in-residence position at
     a university.

Q: The father in Christmas Story won a major prize.  It was a lamp in the shape of
     a woman's leg.

A: Laughs.
     I know.
     Alternately, I want to work at my day job for ten more years, pay off the
     trailer, and my debts, retire
     to Wewa, and write my memoirs.
     Quit kicking at the traces.  Quit wishing I had something I don't have, or coveting what      somebody else has.  That I don't know what she had to do to get it.

Q: Wish in one hand and shit in the other.  See which hand fills up faster.

A: There you have it.

Q: You see what you need to work on?

A: Damned straight.
    Ambition and desire.  Competitiveness.

Q: If you got a BB gun you'd probably shoot your eye out.

A: One time at Port St. Joe, an old woman in a walker hobbled up and said,
    "Stop that---you're digging up the Beasleys."
    We were, too.
    Chief hightailed it to the Navy base in Panama City the next day.
    He couldn't backfill fast enough.
    It was goodbye yellow fever epidemic, hello C. B. Moore.
    I've been digging up the Beasleys.
    Time to backfill, and start over.
    Move on.
    Brenda's right.  The Plight of the Creative Artist in America was the same old whining.      But The Shakespeare Squadron has a lighter tone.  Same message, different
    angle of attack.
    Different perspective.  Different approach.  

Q: Arise, take up thy bed, and walk.

A: Two-headed doctor, heal thyself.

                                                              * * *


   Céline's apartment was dark, and smelled of cat piss.  Céline smelled of cat piss.
    Cosmos only had a few questions for him.
    What was there to ask?  Read the books, as Thoreau said.
    It's all there in the books.
    Wait a minute.  Cosmos is the interviewer (Q), Céline the interviewee (A).

Q: Were you surprised that you were a character in Charles Bukowski's Pulp"

A: No, I used to drink at Musso & Frank's, when I hung out in Hollywood.  With
    Bill Faulkner and Pep West. Those boys had serious drinking problems.
    Dashiell Hammett fucking S. J. Perelman's wife.  S. J. Perelman fucking Lillian Hellman.      It was a regular Days of Our Lives out there.
    I shot birds with Clark Gable and John Huston.
    Hemingway wasn't a bad wing shot.
    We died the same day, you know.
    His death got a bigger play in the press than mine did.  The French press.
    I rest my case.  ##  



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