The guiding principle of Six Ridiculous Questions is that life is filled with ridiculousness. And questions. That only by giving in to these truths may we hope to slip the surly bonds of reality and attain the higher consciousness we all crave. (Eh, not really, but it sounded good there for a minute.) It’s just. Who knows? The ridiculousness and question bits, I guess. Why six? Assonance, baby, assonance.
1. Speaking in terms of building blocks, the foundational pieces of American society in the 21st century, which would you say is most vital: Doritos, Pop Tarts, or Kool Aid? Why?
Look, Kool Aid’s a dead metaphor, unfortunately. The last glass of it is probably being drunk by some eager beaver stuck in a staff meeting in Kalamazoo, and as someone who opposes business jargon in all its forms, that person is welcome to it. Fuck Jim Jones, not only for being a mass murderer, but for polluting one of the classic drinks of my childhood. Pop Tarts? Well, they’re good in theory but they’re generally scorching or cold-in-the-center or crumbly, and they’re all kinda gross except for the brown sugar cinnamon ones anyway. That leaves Doritos, which I really do consider Core Curriculum when it comes to American snack foods. (Nacho cheese, obviously; cool ranch if you must. But miss me with all your fried chicken- or fiery habanero- varietals.) Tragically, they really are one of the few things left in the culture that might unite those on both sides of the aisle. (Even if, alas, my fervent wish would be for every last person on the right to choke on a big, hairy bag of ‘em.)
Now, then, Mr. Specktor, this talk of eager beavers and business jargon, or eager jargon and business beavers, or eager business and jargon beavers, is all well and good, but what most prompts discussion for me, here, now, is your take on Doritos. Nacho cheese, really? Not taco flavor? Sure, nacho cheese may be the Cadillac of Doritos but taco flavor is the Rolls Royce. Hard to find, perhaps, but a clear cut above the rest once obtained. And fried chicken flavor? These I have not seen. Was that a Californian thing or what? And how about fiery habanero/fried chicken flavor? That sounds tasty as fuck. Go.
I never did like the taco flavor quite so much when I was a kid, but it’s true that –as with the turd-brown automobiles of my youth, the Porsches and Rollies and Jaguars that all seemed to be that unfortunate color—a conspicuous absence makes the heart grow fonder. As for the rest? The glut of flavor options now offered by every damn product in existence (there are really only two kinds of Oreos: regular and double-stuffed. The others exist just to cloud our minds) is a symptom of supercapitalist exhaustion and a spur to what my friend Bret Ellis calls “decision fatigue.” (Which I guess is a real thing, but when he first mentioned it to me, however many years ago, I had my doubts.) All of us should be able to go to the market and leave without an extra bag full of regret, is all I’m saying.
2. If you could make up your own cartoon animal alter-ego, what species would they be, and what would they be named? Would they have any special abilities or attacks?
Necessarily, my cartoon animal would be a very nervous lizard, and his one and only superpower would be to emit a sound that perfectly mimicks the ding of an Olivetti Lettera. Like, at will. (Though he would also be fluent in many, many other languages, and prone to cursing in Yiddish.) I’d tell you his name, but quite frankly I can’t pronounce it.
3. What leading woman/man do you find most terrifying? Why?
All of them? Look, actors are sociopaths. I’ve known many, dated a few, and while a couple of them are in fact good friends, even these would be the first to cop to their own crypto-psychosis. That said, I was always a little afraid of Harry Dean Stanton. God knows why, because by all accounts he was a really nice guy and projected an above-average amount of kindness, and sadness. This seems a decent time to mention that I drank my first ever beer –at twelve years old—in the company of Harry Reems (you know . . . Deep Throat), and so I might confess to finding him a little terrifying. I could only wonder, retrospectively, what it was like to fit an eleven-inch penis inside a tight Bogner ski suit, circa 1979.
Have you other tales of childhood star-grazing you might share? Other actors? Porn stars? Porn stars turned actors or actors turned porn stars?
Um, I have a porn star story or two that’ll turn up soon in a high-literary context, so I’ll not share it here. And for the most part my actorly encounters tend to take place in the most quotidian situations: dog-walking, swimming with our children, slouching in booths in Mexican restaurants that are blessedly pap-free. I will say that when I was a kid I visited Robert Redford’s house in Utah and he had a little circular room lined with velvety couches and hi-fi equipment that was just about the most Seventies thing I ever encountered. I dream of that space constantly. The only thing it lacked was a jacuzzi.
4. Do you think you could drive someone insane simply by painting their entire house the same color, both inside and out?
Ideally, yes. There are hedge fund managers all over the world whose homes have very complex palettes, and it would be nice to fuck with those people. Borrowing against CIA tactics, I would prefer to paint them a very un-restful color—electric yellow, or hot pink—and then camp outside, hammering them with Metallica played at deafening volume.
5. The more humane choice: Cat collars made of fish or dog muzzles made of meat?
Muzzles, baby. Those cat collars seem like invitations to a predator to me.
I was thinking about indoor cats. Mine, for example, are the house’s apex predator, deigning not to kill and devour me only if I provide daily offerings of food, water, and shit like that. I don’t know how I expected to get the fish colors on them in the first place. They run the fucking show.
Fish colors? And all this time I thought you were talking about collars! That’s a horse of a different col—I mean a whole nother kettle of –mixed metaphors, apparently. Anyway, I’d be thrilled if I could paint fish colors on my puppy, who’s sort of a wheat/straw type shade: a blank pallet, as it were. Then again, she’d probably come out looking like some crusty punk who attends third-string rock festivals in the UK. I should leave well-enough alone.
Ah, Spellflack, the bane of my existence. Or, is my own spelling the bane of my existence? Anyhoo, that was an interesting diversion, so let’s leave it.
I meant collars, still, there, above, not colors. So, indoor cats in fish collars, not colors, though cats do, indeed, come in many a hue. Do you have anything else to add on cat collars, cat colors, or cats in general before our grand finale?
Only that I reject the false binary of “dog person” v. “cat person.” One either likes animals –or is allergic to one or the other—or no. These past few days the internet appears to have been taken with Karl Ove Knausgaard’s assertion that no good writer has ever owned a dog. (Which opens up the question of whether Knausgaard . . . has ever even read anything he didn’t write.) Life is lonely and awful. Embrace your fellow animal, so long as you can do it without sneezing.
6. What is best in life?
Well, hell. I’d love to give this a wacky answer, but I’m just going to say: the arrival of your second ice-cold martini on a late summer afternoon in the company of someone you love. That, or my daughter’s voice: anyway, anyhow, anywhere.
Matthew Specktor is the author of the novels American Dream Machine and That Summertime Sound, as well as a few things (forthcoming) he isn’t able to announce quite yet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The Paris Review, Tin House, The Believer, GQ, Vogue, and numerous other periodicals and anthologies. He is a founding editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books
Kurt Baumeister has written for Salon, Electric Literature, Guernica, The Weeklings, Entropy, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, and others. His debut novel, a satirical thriller entitled Pax Americana, was published by Stalking Horse Press in 2017. He is currently at work on a novel, The Book of Loki, and a hybrid collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry entitled Superman, the Seven Gods of Death, and the Need for Clean, Romantic Poetry. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.kurtbaumeister.com.