MAILER: That walk was delightful–don’t get around much anymore. Ha!

ME: So, in its own way this interview has been a relief?

MAILER: In some ways, yes. It’s good to get out once in a while. But in other ways not at all. I’m terribly angry about this country’s direction.

ME: Not the first time is it?

MAILER: You’re talking about John Kennedy, aren’t you?

ME: Impossible not to. At first you loved the guy. I remember what you wrote about the 1960 Democratic convention: “Yes, this candidate for all his record; his good, sound, conventional liberal record has a patina of that other life, the second American life, the long electric night with the fires of neon leading down the highway to the murmur of jazz.” In fact, you called him “an existential hero.”

MAILER: Well, in looking back I was wrong about many things. That was one of them. His secret war on Cuba, the Vietnam war. His snarky little brother, Bobby. So I did what was called for. Joined organizations and protests about their policies and leadership. Now I look around and see virtually the same thing. A Black President. A man who seemed as a flame to moths and had the potential of becoming a transformational figure for real change. But nothing is different. America continues its horrific downward slide.

ME: I don’t disagree, but which slide are YOU talking about?

MAILER: Where should I start? Well, any war that requires the suspension of reason as a necessity for support is a bad war. Right now, we’re in several. And I include the one on our liberty in the name of security. Talk about the suspension of reason! Also, one only has to look at the stranglehold the corporate world and their media has on the American people. My god, they bought themselves a Supreme Court that allows the ruling class to own any candidate they choose. And finally, we have an ideological schism that is tearing the nation apart.

ME:  On the last page of Miami and the Siege of Chicago, you predicted the cultural divide. “We will be fighting for forty years…”  And we have been.

MAILER: A fight we have apparently lost. As well as losing any semblance of a middle class. It’s quickly becoming a society of those that have and those who don’t.

ME: In Oswald’s Tale you wrote, “If a figure as large as Kennedy is cheated abruptly of his life, we feel better, inexplicably better, if his killer is also not without size. Then, to some degree, we can also mourn the loss of possibility in the man who did the deed. Tragedy is vastly preferable to absurdity.” So you believe we are living in the absurd?

Mailer shook his head and rubbed his eyes. He was growing tired.

MAILER: It’s much worse. That quotation was about individuals and their lives. Now we’re talking about an entire empire disintegrating and I have no faith that we won’t take the rest of the world with us. Throughout my entire career people always talked about “Mailer’s ego.” But, if the world perishes, it will occur because of America’s ego. Rather than absurdity, we’re mired in tragedy.

ME: I’m surprised that you’re as pessimistic as this. You spent much of your life “boxing” for causes in which you believed. Was it your death that changed your attitude?

MAILER, reaching for the bottle and pouring the remains into his glass: Abbot. Jack Abbot. The letters that flew between us while he was in jail convinced me he was rehabilitated. After his parole I had it in my power to help him by getting IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST published. I think something changed in me after he fatally stabbed that waiter six weeks after parole. I never realized how deeply I was affected until after my own death. Now I understand my role in that will stick with me for eternity.

ME: Well, your political outlook was much more upbeat in 1969 when you ran for Mayor of New York City.

MAILER: Whose wasn’t? Of course I was hopeful. It was also 15 years before Abbot.

ME: Hopefulness or an ego trip?

MAILER: That’s certainly how they portrayed it at the time. But tell me New York City wouldn’t be better off as its own state? In 1969 citizens of New York City paid approximately $22 billion in income taxes to the federal government and New Yorkers only received about $6 billion from federal coffers. If the city kept that $22 billion in their own hands every neighborhood would get a lot more bang for its buck.

ME: Perhaps, but your slogan, “THROW THE RASCALS IN,” made the campaign kind of a joke, don’t you think? Isn’t that why it was called an ego trip?

MAILER: I liked the slogan they wouldn’t print: “NO MORE BULLSHIT!” And where is it written that campaigns have to be dull and serious? Certainly not at that moment in time. Even though the press focused on my succession plan, I took positions on a wide range of issues. I opposed compulsory fluoridation of the water supply. I advocated for the release of Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton. I saw the city, its independence secured, splintering into townships and neighborhoods, each with their own school systems, police departments, housing programs, and governing philosophies.

And no one seems to recall that I was endorsed by libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, who said, “smashing the urban government apparatus and fragmenting it into a myriad of constituent fragments’ offered the only answer to the ills plaguing American cities.” And finally no less a political journalist and historian, Theodore White, called it, “one of the most serious campaigns run in the United States in the last five years… [H]is campaign was considered and thoughtful, the beginning of an attempt to apply ideas to a political situation.”  Not entirely an ego trip was it?

ME: You do remember that you came in fourth out of five candidates?

MAILER, yawning: I was ahead of my time. Always have been. You didn’t pound on my grave-site because I was a “know-nothing.”

ME: I pounded on your grave because I think you are one of the most important and creative writers this country has ever produced.

MAILER, rising somewhat wobbly to his feet: Well, we certainly agree about that. But right now I’m a bit tired. Not as alive as I once was. And, as for my giant ego, would you mind helping me home?


“I don’t think life is absurd. I think we are all here for a huge purpose. I think we shrink from the immensity of the purpose we are here for.” Norman Mailer





The Naked and the Dead. New York: Rinehart, 1948.

Barbary Shore. New York: Rinehart, 1951.

The Deer Park. New York: Putnam’s, 1955.

An American Dream. New York: Dial, 1965.

Why Are We in Vietnam? New York: Putnam’s, 1967.

The Executioner’s Song Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1979.

Of Women and Their Elegance. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1980.

Ancient Evenings. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983.

Tough Guys Don’t Dance. New York: Random House, 1984.

Harlot’s Ghost. New York: Random House, 1991.

The Gospel According to the Son. New York: Random House, 1997.

The Castle in the Forest. New York: Random House, 2007.


The Deer Park: A Play. New York: Dial, 1967.

Short Stories

The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer. New York: Dell, 1967.

General non-fiction

The Armies of the Night. New York: New American Library, 1968.

Miami and the Siege of Chicago: An Informal History of the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968. New York: New American Library, 1968.

Of a Fire on the Moon. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.

The Prisoner of Sex. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.[36]

St. George and The Godfather. New York: Signet Classics, 1972.

The Faith of Graffiti. New York: Praeger, 1974.

The Fight. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1975.

Of a Small and Modest Malignancy, Wicked and Bristling with Dots. Northridge, CA: Lord John Press, 1980.

Why Are We At War?. New York: Random House, 2003 ISBN 978-0-8129-7111-8

The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing. New York: Random House, 2003.

The Big Empty: Dialogues on Politics, Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker and Bad Conscience in America. New York: Nation Books, 2006

On God: An Uncommon Conversation. New York: Random House, 2007

Essay collections

Advertisements for Myself. New York: Putnam’s, 1959.

The Presidential Papers.New York: Putnam, 1963.

Cannibals and Christians. New York: Dial, 1966.

Pieces and Pontifications. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982.


Marilyn: A Biography.[a] New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1973.

Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man: An Interpretive Biography. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.

Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery. New York: Random House, 1996

Famous essays and articles

“The White Negro”. San Francisco: City Lights, 1957.

Decorations and Awards

1969: Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for The Armies of the Night

1980: Pulitzer Prize for The Executioner’s Song

2002: Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class[37]

2005: National Book Award for Lifetime Achievement

2006: Knight of the Legion of Honour (France)

Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)



Titina Chalmatz

Last week’s Interview with the Dead concluded with Norman being frustrated by our lack of literary conversation. Actually, he was frustrated that we hadn’t yet discussed his literary accomplishments. So in this installment I turn my attention to his prodigious and often controversial work. I do admit a bottle of bourbon helped keep our interaction from being too contentious.

ME: You won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction and the National Book Award for Armies of the Night. Miami and the Siege of Chicago: An Informal History of the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968 was brilliant, and Of a Fire On The Moon might be the definitive work about the beginning days of NASA.Yet you once said, “If a person is not talented enough to be a novelist, not smart enough to be a lawyer, and his hands are too shaky to perform operations, he becomes a journalist.” Why did you do so much of what you didn’t value?

MAILER: You disappoint me, Klein. If you had done your homework, in The Armies of the Night, I describe my conversation with Robert…

MY macho flared and I interrupted him.

ME:…Lowell. I think I remember the words exactly, “You know, Norman,” said Lowell in his fondest voice, “Elizabeth and I really think you’re the finest journalist in America.”

MAILER: Good jab, but you forgot the counterpunch…my response to him. “Well, Cal, there are days when I think of myself as being the best writer in America.”

ME: When was a hierarchy of writing established?

MAILER: Since people used stones on cave walls. Actually, long before. Storytelling.

ME: Aren’t you creating a false distinction? Storytelling was as much about history as make-believe and the same could be said about cave paintings.

MAILER: The difficulty I have is not with journalism per se—despite what I said. The problem has been—was, now that I’m dead—the attempt to define the books you mentioned as simply journalism when so much more creativity went into them. Every one of my books killed me a little more, yet too many people made them sound as if readers were going to read a digest of newspaper accounts. As you well know, that’s not what they found.

ME: Yes those works were written in a highly subjectivized style and used techniques that were thought to be the sole domain of fiction at that time, but you were, in fact, reporting.

MAILER: I think it’s impossible to tease out reporting from what you termed “highly subjectivized.”

Mr. Mailer grinned mischievously.

MAILER: Did you just make up that word?

ME: Nah, I ran across it preparing for our interview.

MAILER: I always found it more fun to write about something I didn’t completely know but would discover on route. A friend once told me that “The only time I know anything is when it comes to me at the point of my pen.” I hope our interview manages to replicate that.

A stuffy answer, I thought, and smiled at his ever present ego.

ME: So do I, but I’m still stuck on the journalism issue. I’ll never understand why The Executioner’s Song (Mailer’s book about the life and death of murderer Gary Gilmore) won the Pulitzer for fiction.

MAILER, pouring both of us another drink despite the morning hour: Perhaps we’re both too concerned about categories. It’s true I much prefer, preferred, to be thought of as a novelist, but that might have been shortsighted on my part. In thinking back to my response to Cal Lowell, I used the term “writer.”

Mr. Mailer broke into laughter.

MAILER: I probably should have touted myself more as the best living writer than argue about being a novelist rather than a journalist. Truth was, I sifted through thousands of documents before writing Gilmore’s story.

ME: I’ll be honest with you, I thought the first two-thirds were genius. Each paragraph seemed to be in the voice of the person you were writing about…”

MAILER: You have a good ear, Klein.

ME: But, the last third when your attention turned to the press and, frankly, yourself, just wasn’t as compelling.

MAILER: Reporters’ voices shouldn’t grab you the way main characters do; it’s the nature of their craft. But I’ll take “two-thirds genius.” It goes well with bourbon.

ME: One last question about Song. You’ve been quoted as saying, “The mark of mediocrity is to look for precedent.” Doesn’t The Executioner’s Song follow in the steps of In Cold Blood?.

MAILER, shaking his head: I’m dead and still being asked that question. Yes, there are similarities, but remember an entire movement called New Journalism was rearing its head. Capote, Tom Wolfe, later Hunter Thompson. And me, of course, right up there in the vanguard. Hell, we created The Village Voice to encourage a meld of fiction and non-fiction. So while I understand the question, I believe the notion that Capote set a “precedent” is a stretch.

Mailer raised his bushy eyebrows.

MAILER: And you certainly wouldn’t call The Executioner’s Song mediocre, would you?

ME: Another phenomena jumped at me while preparing for our talk…

MAILER: Pretty confident that I’d talk to you, eh?

ME: I figgered if I pounded on your gravesite shouting GORE VIDAL long and loud enough you wouldn’t be able to help yourself.

Mailer chuckled in a surprisingly wholehearted way.

MAILER: Funny, but that’s not why I’m here. I’ve read your books and you too are trying to redefine a category. Hard boiled detective fiction where instead of just plot, plot, plot and, shoot, shoot, shoot, the focus is on the inner life of your main character and interpersonal relationships.

Me: Well, thank you. That’s a hell of a compliment coming from you.

MAILER: I said “trying.” I didn’t say succeeding.

ME: You took “two-thirds genius,” I’ll take “trying.”

MAILER: Just stay at it. Perhaps you’ll actually succeed where I didn’t in Tough Guys Don’t Dance.

Mailer refreshed our glasses.

ME: Here you are encouraging another author, but during your lifetime it seemed as though you were always at war with other writers. I’m not just talking about Vidal. But even your friends like James Baldwin who liked you and wrote “you strode through the soft Paris nights like a gladiator.” In Advertisements For Myself you wrote, “he was “incapable of saying ‘F— you’ to the reader.”

MAILER, shrugging: Is it an insult if it’s true—at least at the time? Anyway, he eventually got his punch in with, and I quote, “The Negro jazz musicians among whom we sometimes found ourselves, who really liked Norman, did not for an instant consider him as being even remotely ‘hip’. Now that was an insult.

ME: And I quote,“Is it an insult if it’s true”—at least to them at the time?” But it wasn’t just Baldwin. According to you, Styron had “compromised himself;” Bellow wrote “in a style I find self-willed … I cannot take him seriously;” Kerouac lacked “discipline, intelligence, honesty.” “There were no talented women writers at all.” You can’t really believe that about women, can you?

MAILER: Again, one needs to look at the context of the times. I was savaged by virtually every notable woman, writer or not, after I published Prisoner Of Sex.

ME: Excuse me, Norman, I quoted you from 1959 and you didn’t publish Prisoner until 1971. What context are you talking about? Please! You called your cock “The Retaliator” in Prisoner.

MAILER: I was pretty angry when I wrote Prisoner.

ME: You think? Whatever year we’re talking about, you have an across-the-board reputation of being “psychologically, creatively, empathetically tone-deaf when it came to women, his female characters a creamy mélange of angel-whores whose lipstick was ripe for smearing…” Perhaps that’s why your novels don’t receive the acclaim your other writing does. In fact, your last wife (Norris Church Mailer) wrote that she begged you to eliminate the meanderings that made Harlot’s Ghosts, The Gospel According To The Son, and The Castle In The Forest critical failures.

MAILER: She might have been right, but no writer can afford to pay much attention to criticism. Then who the hell are you?  And those fucking literary critics, I hate, excuse me, hated them most of all. They still don’t understand the importance of Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery.

ME: Let’s take a break and stretch our legs. When we return, I’d like to begin with Oswald’s Tale. It’s a perfect segue into your political activism and writings.

Norman Boxing



“They are men’s men. Rocky Marciano was one of them. Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry and George Chuvalo and Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio, to name a few, have faces which would give a Marine sergeant pause in a bar fight. They look like they could take you out with the knob of bone they have left for a nose.” — Norman Mailer



As most of you know, I’ve been relentlessly pursuing Norman Mailer for an INTERVIEW WITH THE DEAD. Since he had originally proposed to meet in Provincetown, I’ve been scouring every inch of the town with the diminishing hope of finding him. So, as darkness began to shroud the city, I started back to Carpe Diem Guesthouse, to pack and finally head home to Boston. About a block away, I heard footsteps approach from behind. I turned and there he was, fists clenched, barrel chest and curly haired head leading the charge. I wondered if I was going to be face punched, but Mr. Mailer just invaded my space standing nose to nose.

MAILER: And where do you propose to conduct this little chat?

I nodded toward the guest house, practically grazing his forehead with my own and led the way inside.

ME: We can use one of their dining rooms.

Mailer: You would pick a hotel that has rooms named after authors but none of me.

ME: Must have been an oversight.

Mailer: Poppycock! Provincetown’s most famous author an oversight? I don’t think so! People have short memories.

ME: (laughing) Not at all. You’re all over the Internet, your books and essays still in print. Nobody has forgotten you.

MAILER: Then why did you interview that little homo before me? King I understood. But that pasty-faced girly man, Capote?

Both of us took our seats and Mailer’s fists curled even tighter as he leaned across the wooden table between us.

ME: It was you who said, “Harsh words live in the dungeon of the heart,” and that description seems pretty harsh.

MAILER: If you think that was harsh, you must be a fag too.

ME: Have you ever considered that all your misogyny, violence, and homophobia is really about your own love of masculinity? That deep down underneath you’re attracted to men—strong men, real boxers, something you weren’t or could never become?

MAILER: Do you really expect me to answer your half-ass pop psychology?

ME: I wasn’t trying to analyze you Mr. Mailer. Just looking at facts.

MAILER: And what facts might those be, Mister Klein?

ME: Where would you like me to begin, Norman? The Naked And The Dead? All about the boys who actually fought in the war as opposed to cooking like you did.

MAILER: You are a cheeky bastard, aren’t you? I like that.

ME: You’re making my point.

MAILER: I’ll use the language the publisher made me use in the book: fug you. I was in the Philippines with the 112th Cavalry.

ME: I know, but by all accounts, you were just in a couple of minor skirmishes before you were assigned to be a cook.

MAILER: Really now? Apparently I fought enough battles for the book to become a New York Times bestseller for 62 weeks. Oh, and in case you forgot, or didn’t know, named one of the “one hundred best novels in English language” by the Modern Library. Not bad for a cook, eh?

Me: A novel about which Gore Vidal wrote, “My first reaction to The Naked and the Dead was: it’s a fake. A clever, talented, admirably executed fake. I have not changed my opinion of the book since… I do recall a fine description of men carrying a dying man down a mountain… Yet every time I got going in the narrative I would find myself stopped cold by a set of made-up, predictable characters taken not from life, but from the same novels all of us had read, and informed by a naïveté which was at its worst when Mailer went into his Time-Machine and wrote those passages which resemble nothing so much as smudged carbons of a Dos Passos work.”

MAILER: (shaking his head) I wondered how long it would take before his name came up. Though you surprise me by not beginning with the Cavett fiasco. There is no greater impotence in all the world than knowing you are right and that the wave of the world is wrong, yet the wave crashes upon you.

ME: If you believe that why do you call it a fiasco?

MAILER: I lost the fight, although I still maintain it was just a TKO. I simply couldn’t fight my hardest with Janet Flanner present. And, I have admitted to being drunk during the show. Handicapped if you will.

I began to speak but Mailer interrupted.

MAILER: Speaking of drink, do you have anything decent here?

ME: I thought you stopped drinking and smoking pot?

MAILER: Actually I stopped because it hurt my writing and health. Don’t write anymore, health doesn’t matter, and there is little pleasure lying around all day, every day. So, just get us some whiskey, all right?

I was lucky. Bourbon in one of Carpe Diem‘s kitchen cabinets. I brought it back with a couple of glasses. Helping himself to a healthy pour, he waved the liquor towards me.

MAILER: Drink up Klein, it’s not every day you get a chance to drink with a literary lion.

ME: Mr. Mailer, you really were one of the 20th century’s literary giants, but don’t you think all the macho, boxing, misogynistic, bullying posturing actually reduced your stature rather than enhanced it? I mean, head-butting Gore Vidal in the green room of The Dick Cavett Show, telling him on air that he ruined Kerouac by sleeping with him?

Nothing ever seemed to be enough for you. Six years later, you threw a drink at Vidal—and punched him—at a Lally Weymouth soirée. And even then Vidal’s response made you look small. Still on the floor, he said, “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.”

At first I thought he was going to explode but he just took a deep swallow and refilled his glass.

MAILER: Time and quiet does give one a chance to reflect and I’ve had plenty of both. Still, every moment of  existence one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit. I never enjoyed the thought of dying even a little.

I want you and your readers to know that I’m not interested in absolute moral judgments. Just think of what it means to be a good man or a bad one. The good guy may be 65 percent good and 35 percent bad—that’s a very good guy. The average decent fellow might be 54 percent good, 46 percent bad—and the average mean spirit is the reverse. So say I’m 60 percent bad and 40 percent good. Should I suffer eternal punishment for that?

Also, I must say, while he might have made me look small with his clever retort, he deserved to be on the floor. Would you sit silently by when someone says, “Mailer, Henry Miller and Charles Manson as brother chauvinists who should be collectively referred to as M3.” Now, while I had many wives, to be compared to Charles Manson was frankly too much to tolerate.

ME: You don’t seem to be suffering eternal punishment. In fact, there’s a strong argument that it was the people around you who were punished. Hell, you nearly murdered the second of your six wives, Adele Morales.

MAILER: I never meant to kill her. It was 4 A.M. at a party to announce my candidacy to run for Mayor of New York and I walk into a room only to hear her say, “Come on, you little faggot, where’s your cojones?” It’s public record that I spent time in Bellevue for that act, which, while I won’t discuss, I do regret.

ME: Not at the time. Numerous people say you stood over her while she was hemorrhaging on the floor and said, “Let the bitch die.”

Mailer: Adele has written a book about our life together. She can have the final words on the subject. But here we are talking gossip and public behavior when you yourself say and I’ll quote, “Mr. Mailer, you really were one of the 20th century’s literary giants.” Yet all of our book talk amounts to Vidal’s insult of The Naked And The Dead. Have you really spent this much time pursuing me to talk about my public persona, or are we going to talk about my work?

ME: We’re there now, Mr. Mailer.

Mailer was right. We sat in Carpe Diem’s breakfast room the entire night and more—much to the chagrin of the other guests who came down for coffee and omelets and were seated in another area. But this is enough for today’s post.dtab NORMAN MAILER More to come.

“What lasts is the strength of your ideas and the force of your expression of them.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor

A Cell-Free Life by Kent Ballard

Well, Mr. Mailer is still playing hard to get. You’d think a person in a grave couldn’t really hide, though they sure can remain silent. But I’ll lure him out with threats of interviewing Vidal first. So while I keep banging on his ego, Kent Ballard has kindly agreed to join my pinch-hitters. …Zach


Some of my friends call me a Luddite. Some claim I’m a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal. Some just think I’m…well…peculiar.

I do not own a cell phone. I never owned one and if I have my way, never will. Many people are genuinely staggered by this. And the younger they are, the more astounding they find it. The majority of the world’s population, even in the poorest countries, now own cell phones. They have access to the Internet, instant worldwide news, the weather on any part of the globe, can communicate with the guy across the street or in Timbuktu, can film asteroids crashing into the earth, check their stocks, send and receive nude photos of each other, and generally have a nifty little piece of genuine Star Trek equipment they lug around with them everywhere.

I’ve had people tell me they would rather leave their homes without clothing than without their cell phone.

And in this one, lone, and remarkable instance, I am right and everyone else is wrong, so far as I’m concerned.

The modern American cellular phone is generally agreed to be Ameritech’s 1G DynaTAch, which took a decade to reach the market and cost one hundred million dollars to develop. It became available in 1983. It was heavy, awkward, took ten hours to charge, and had a talk time of about thirty minutes. They sold them faster than they could produce them. Waiting lists numbered into the thousands.

The cell phone is only about thirty years old, if you skip over bulky car phones, that ridiculous-looking brick with a three foot antenna and a weight approaching two and a half pounds. And you know what? We had a pretty dandy civilization before they came along. Yes, you may find it hard to believe, but before we had cell phones we had lasers, had been to the Moon, were flying operational missions with the Space Shuttle, had discovered the DNA double-helix, and even had electric lights.

One writer about my age (60) said that “we are the last generation on earth who will know what it’s like to be totally alone.” But I don’t see that as a necessarily bad thing. Sometimes I want to be alone and not looking at some YouTube film of a two-headed goat my neighbor sent me or texted nineteen boring cat jokes from Aunt Matilda. True, cell phone films taken by citizens of police abuse have proven valuable court evidence, but sworn testimony by eyewitnesses is still taken as gospel in the courts too. How do you think they handled these matters in, say, 1978?

Another thing I do not want is the NSA, FBI, or some podunk county sheriff “pinging” me to know my location at all times, day or night. I don’t want them to time me between cell towers and gauge the speed I am driving. I usually have a good idea of my location, and it’s none of their damned business. I don’t have enough room in my car to haul around forty government agencies, nor do I want them riding with me.

They say there’s no such thing as privacy now, and that’s often true. If they’re going to put me on a list of potential skateboard hijackers, they’ve already done it thanks to the shredding of the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights and the PRISM program that reads all my email. And yours. But if I want to jump in my car and drive to Winslow, Arizona and wait for a girl in a flat-bed Ford to look at me, there’s no way in hell they’ll know where I am or what I’m doing and I like it like that.

But when wide-eyed people ask me, “What if you need to make an emergency call?” I tell them the truth. I can’t, and pay phones have all but disappeared. But if I’m on the road anywhere, I can reach for my CB radio, call out to just about any trucker, and they’ll place the call for me. I’ve done that before. It works very well, bless the truckers. CB radios, I predict, will make something of a comeback after the news releases about PRISM. The technology is so old they’ve simply overlooked it. And if you know how to do it, you can power them up to reach out hundreds of miles if you wish.

During the Boston Marathon Bombing, in one second the millions of viewers on the scene could have called anyone on the planet. The next, and their 4G iPhones were utterly useless. Sheer dead weight. Whether the cell towers were overloaded or if they simply shut them down isn’t the issue. People who had sure and certain communications with the world lost them, and for many that equaled panic.

But the race’s official communications were all handled by Ham radio operators. They never failed, not one. They set their frequencies to call in police, ambulances, emergency services while at the same time helping runners locate loved ones and maintaining an information flow with the outside world. Cell phones just slowly drained their batteries, silent. Think about that for a moment, and you will realize authorities in any area can simply shut down the cell towers whenever they think they have a reason, leaving you literally speechless, unable to contact a soul. You may wish to develop your own backup plan if the government tinkers much more with our communications in the near future.

Like all technology, cell phones have their good sides and bad sides. For me, the bad outweighs the good. They make very large crowds of people easier to silence, and that ain’t a good thing.

Yes, I’m among the last generation to know what it’s like to be truly alone—when I want to be. I can walk back through my woods, sit down by the little creek, and the only sound I will hear is the babbling of the water and song birds. After a bad day, that is peace few people can find. And I will have no beeping, ringing, squalling, or moon-dancing racket interrupt my solitude and gathering calmness. No nameless “officer” will be able to locate me. No hordes of ad agencies will know my habits and send me eighteen pounds of junk mail for outdoor goods. That’s known as targeted advertising.

And I don’t care to be a target.


I originally planned for this week to be an interview with Norman Mailer in Provincetown, but at the last minute, he called to reschedule. When I asked why, he simply grumbled angrily. The only word I actually understood was Capote and it was said with clear hostility.

Then I understood why he was fucking with me. I had interviewed Truman before him. Damn lucky I haven’t yet done Gore Vidal or Norman would have refused my call. Okay, I get it, though I really won’t be pleased if he bails on me again. Hell, I have a DEAD PEOPLE INTERVIEW series to write.

So I was at loss for this week’s post until I began thinking about how many progressive petitions, donation requests, and single issue emails had flooded my inbox—this week, last week, doubtless next week and forever.. I’ve posted about this before in 2011,(, but after re-reading the column, I’ve come to a less humorous conclusion.

Fact is, I am bombarded by many decent organizations that care deeply about their particular cause. And,rightly so. But now I’ve got some serious questions—and complaints—about this “single issue” notion of change.

I hang with enough progressives in both my real and virtual life to realize there’s a great deal of antipathy about talking to people who disagree with our progressive programs and ideas. Personally, I think this is foolish. Of course, I’d love to change some hearts and minds, although I’m not optimistic about it. I do, however, think I can better understand how conservatives think about the society and world in which we live. And make no mistake, there’s a huge difference between honest conservatives and the right-wing jihadists who populate Congress and the Supreme Court. True conservatives aren’t about hating government per se. Though they do dislike much of the way our government functions.

Sound familiar, progressives? We dislike much of the way government functions.

Another group that progressives often shun is the 30 to 40 percent of the population that doesn’t bother to vote. This significant percentage includes many blue collar workers, working poor, and poor people—people who are alienated, apathetic, and flat out wary of a government whose programs seemed designed to aid everyone but them. (More about this later.)

And finally, if the emails I receive (DemandProgress.Org, Organic Consumers Organization,, ProgressivesUnited, Environmental Working Group, UsAction/TrueMajority, ActBlue, Democracy for America, etc, etc., etc.) are accurate, progressives aren’t even talking to each other! The problem isn’t the organizations’ causes—most are fighting for real and positive change—but rather their apparent willingness to go it alone. Maybe it’s because they fear that the amount of contributors and resources are too small to share. Or, perhaps the attitude is akin to the myth of individualism I wrote about in last week’s column on detective fiction (

Most of my progressive friends laugh out loud when I bring up Jesse Jackson. They call him a self-aggrandizing publicity hound willing to go anywhere to garner television appearances or newspaper coverage. I don’t think Jackson is funny at all. Never did. Does he have an ego? Yes. Who doesn’t? His willingness to work with any progressive action, be it unrelenting opposition to racist behavior, unswerving commitment to striking workers, or belief in economic justice, gay rights, and a healthy environment is unquestionable—whatever one thinks of the person.

What makes Jesse Jackson even more important to me was his efforts to build the Rainbow Coalition. While that attempt fizzled, I believe it was the road-map for creating a true progressive political party.

I know. At best the most lasting effect that third parties made in American politics was to have their ideas and issues co-opted by a majority party in diluted form. Yes, there was Robert M. La Follette, Eugene Victor “Gene” Debs, and Norman Thomas all third party candidates, but never a lasting legacy of a national progressive party.

That was then, this is now. Never in my lifetime have I seen dysfunction equal to our present political system. Never have seen the money spent on buying an election as I do now. And never imagined I’d be living in a country that has one right-of-center party and one that’s even further in that direction. Truth is, our political choices have boiled down to ugly or uglier.

Jackson’s road-map is an incredible opportunity to actually create a progressive party with national staying power. But—and there’s always a but—we have to begin by talking to each other to find the common causes that will bind us into an honest coalition. Whether it’s Save the Wolves or Occupy Wall Street, we must find ways to form alliances and commitments where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

If we can do that, we might begin engaging those with whom we share some values (e.g., civil libertarian conservatives), and the alienated, apathetic folks who have simply given up on government. The prospect of reaching out with policies and programs that can truly mean something to those who have lost faith in politics is in our hands. These people are our constituency and, unless we make a concerted effort to create a party that speaks to them—we might as well kiss our political asses goodbye. Because if we’ve learned anything over the past fifty years it’s that Republicans and Democrats are only going to work for the rich and powerful.

“As individual fingers we can easily be broken, but all together we make a mighty fist.”  Sitting Bull