Come in, come in. Sit down. Thank you for coming.
Thank you for having me. What can I do for you?
Well, I've been thinking for a while now that what this planet really needs is a theme park for writers. And you're going to make that happen for me.
I'm ... not sure I understand. You mean, like a Hall of Fame that showcases history's best writers? Or do you mean a building where people can do serious work as writers themselves? Because I think both of those things already exist. So which one did you mean?
Neither. What we need is a place -- a whole, sprawling place -- where people can go, and live, and write.
Like a writers' colony. Don't those exist already too?
Yes. But they're too exclusive, and too expensive, and they don't have restaurants.
The ones in big cities do.
Sure, but they're still expensive and highly competitive and they still limit a person's choices for how, and where, and when to work. We need a place where writers can go and just ....
Let it fly?
Exactly. We need a place where writers can go and just let it fly. They have to feel like their time is completely autonomous. When they get up, they get up. When they want to write, they write. When they want to do something else, they can do that too. When they want to go to bed, they go to bed. And then the next day they can get up and do it all over again.
So this can't be a single building, or even a complex of buildings, but an entire locale that makes a person feel like his or her writing is the primary use of time. A sort of gigantic, open-air library. Doesn't a close friend of yours have a cabin way up in the woods -- someplace like Appalachian Tennessee, wasn't it?
North Carolina. But that won't work as a staple destination for a couple of pretty good reasons.
Well, to begin with there's really no easy access to anything more cosmopolitan. That's kind of the whole point up there: you can write all day long, or go for long walks up and down the twisting gravel road, and anything else will take the best part of an hour. And since the restaurants in the area all stop serving at eight o'clock, that means a lot of self-catered dinners, or early nights.
Okay, I get it. So this place has to be a city. And it has to feel like a cosmopolitan destination and not just any old city. It has to feel smart. Like ... this.
But a minute ago you said a "couple of reasons." Is there another?
Yes. I'm banned from going back to that friend's place in North Carolina because I'm a klutz and I keep breaking everything up there.
Ah. So you need a place that's in bad-enough shape, and/or offered anonymously, so that you can't fuck it up.
But it also needs to be okay with itself.
Ah, pre-broken but comfortable. Sort of like this.
Okay, so what about a city somewhere else in the Appalachians? Something like Morgantown, West Virginia? Talk about "pre-broken but comfortable with itself," am I right?
Not cosmopolitan enough. There have to be museums, and well-appointed libraries, and readings to go to, and those things have to feel like central aspects of being there.
Not big enough. Good scene as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far.
Well some of the most famous writers in the world come from the big Southern cities, like New Orleans.
No, the place in question has to have shitty weather.
Um... and why exactly does the place in question have to have shitty weather?
To ensure productivity. Some people can write when it's sunny and seventy-nine degrees (or a hundred), but not everyone can. Some of us need a crappy day to go with our latte and our window-side seat, in order to do our best work.
Okay, so something more like ... this?
Well it sounds to me like you're talking about the Upper East Side. The museum scene is ubiquitous, the restaurants are literally world-class, and there isn't a single thing -- not even a light fixture -- that isn't dirty and broken already, so your klutziness would disappear into the background noise.
No, New York isn't exotic enough.
Wait: you didn't say anything about that.
Okay, so I'm saying it now. This place, wherever it is, needs to feel alien enough that it resonates as a true experience. It can't be New York and it can't be Boston, which often gets suggested too. You know, the more I think about it, the place we're looking for really has to be in a foreign country.
Why? There are plenty of places outside the United States that feel less cosmopolitan, exotic, and alienating than New York or Boston. I mean. Duisburg Germany is less cosmopolitan, exotic and alienating than Dayton Ohio. Are you sure you're being honest with yourself about all of this?
No, of course not. But meting out different-colored money is something a person earns and deserves in his life once in a while. Besides which, if we're talking about a cosmopolitan experience, and at least part of the motivation is for the sake of its strangeness, there's no reason to think New York or Boston won't eventually feel a little ... too ... familiar. Remember, I grew up not far from both of them.
Okay, I'm getting it. So the place has to *feel* like it's a major departure from the familiar. Something like ... this?
Okay, then how about London? The reading room at the British Museum is about as close to a Sun Records Studio for writers as a person is likely to find. You could even stay at that lovely little bed and breakfast just down the street on Gower that you liked so much.
What is it now?
The thing is, some writers have really, *really* bad ADHD.
Most of them, if it comes to that. But what's your point?
Well, if we're going to designate an entire city as a writers' destination, wouldn't it make sense for the other people there to speak a different language, other than English?
Wait--what? I didn't follow that.
Well, if the residents of the city speak English, they'll form a natural ceiling on one's ability to concentrate on his own language arts. They'll be sitting at the next table of the restaurant, speaking the same language as the characters in his book.
And there's no way to just ... gosh, tune them out?
Not for some of us.
You mean to tell me that in all your forty-six years of life, you've been quietly suffering from the intrusion-of-privacy that comes from not being able to tune-out the conversations at the next tables of restaurants?
Sometimes not so quietly. But yes. That's exactly what I'm saying.
Okay, this is getting weird, but I think it's also coming into focus. We're looking for a city, not a cabin in the woods, and the city we come up with has to offer a dingy, already-broken milieu, in a foreign country, where there's no way for the day-to-day humdrum to intrude because it's in the wrong language. Something like ... this?
Yes, that's getting into the swing of the kind of city we're looking for. But it also has to have a good public transit system.
Um ... why?
So I can ride it.
And what would be the point of that?
Well, to begin with it would reinforce the sense of being in a cosmopolitan space. It would create an atmosphere of routine, but a routine that was also totally autonomous. I mean, there I'd be, with my little sack lunch ....
I can see it now: you being all writerly, while everyone else was just drudging back and forth to work. Won't you be just cute enough to kiss with your I-don't-have-to-go-to-work, all up in everybody's face on the public transit system. Oh, and you'll go everywhere right at rush hour, of course.
So we need a city with something like ... this.
Okay, what about Panama City? Doesn't your same friend with the place in North Carolina also have property in Panama? You also have a business partner there, if I recall.
Yes. But neither of those two are in Panama City, and the weather isn't nearly bad enough down there.
Oh, right; I forgot about that part. So, okay, what about Paris? I mean, Paris has got to be the perfect place for checking-off all of these criteria.
Paris is really tough to get to. And expensive. And crowded. And most of the people who go there are intending to do much more active things in much the same way as with New York.
It sounds to me like what we're looking for is a big city with a shitty reputation as far as tourist draws are concerned, but not very expensive and not very difficult, and with a really good underside that visitors wouldn't necessarily know about. Particularly when it comes to fine, affordable meals like ... this.
With writerly weather.
But where English isn't the primary language, yes.
And with a handful of unusually outstanding venues in which to write. Like this.
Wow. This is going to be really tough.
That's why I called you in here.
Well ... Asuncion is cheap. And they have a bus system. And restaurants. And bad weather.
Where is Asuncion?
It's the capital of Paraguay.
Oh, yes. I remember hearing about it once or twice. And writers go there, do they?
Nobody goes there, asshole; I thought that was the whole point.
You're afraid of Asuncion, aren't you.
... Yes. I am.
Oh my God in heaven; are you kidding me? So let me just see if I've got this straight: You want a writerly city, with bad weather, that's cheap and foreign and easy to get to, and alien enough to be a fresh substrate on which to create -- but not *so* alien that anything bad could possibly happen to you in a hundred years of walking around the sidewalks after dark with your hands in your pockets like the giant, cashew-headed goober you are. Like ... this.
Yes, exactly. Just like that.
You want five-star restaurants where you can order in English and pay a laughable pittance when they bring the check, but you don't want to hear English at the next table. You want a safe, efficient mass-transit system, and you want the money to be funny looking. And if anything bad *does* happen, you want to be able to scurry home on a direct flight with your tail tucked between your stubby little muppet legs. Did I miss anything?
No. That's about it.
Well that's a relief. For a minute there I thought you were going to make this tough.
So do you have any place in mind?
I ... might.
("The Key Grip")