The New Social Order

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INTERROGATOR – WALTER KIRN

The acclaimed author of Up in the Air and Thumbsucker-as well as last year’s memoir Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever and countless magazine stories-holds forth on fishnets and dolphins, dining with Greta Garbo and the menu for his ‘last meal.’

Name your poison, and why?
Cheap and disposable fishnet stockings in colors other than black – on my girlfriend Amanda, not me. They have to be disposable because I don’t want to worry about tearing them with my teeth and they have to be colored because I don’t want to worry about seeming like every other creepy, obvious, legs-obsessed, middle-aged white guy. Because that’s what I am, of course, and Amanda is starting to catch on.

What makes you happier than anything?
Reaching that point in a novel I’m writing when I know I’m really going to finish it. I can’t always be sure that such a point will come because I work without outlines, on inspiration, and inspiration is a notoriously weak basis for long works of literary fiction.

Tell us something you were told as a child that wasn’t true.
That I’d be intellectually content and financially secure if I graduated from an Ivy League college.

That I’d be intellectually content and financially secure if I graduated from an Ivy League college.
When I was twelve or so I decided, on an impulse, to drop my trousers and “pleasure myself” for the first time in my father’s off-limits, book-lined study, not realizing that I was standing a scant three feet from a plate-glass picture window facing our front yard, where my best friend’s younger brother was walking along kicking a soccer ball while looking directly at our house. I’ll never forget his expression (nor, I’m afraid, will he ever forget mine).

What’s your “stripper’s name”? Take the name of your first pet as your first name and your first street name as your last.
Franklin Fairfax.

If you could be any other occupation than you are, what would it be, and why?
I’d be a marine biologist working with wild dolphins, which are, I’ve always felt, the creatures that people were meant to be – highly intelligent, boundlessly loyal, instinctively serene — and the creatures which we’ll be punished most severely for letting come to harm, especially at our own absurd, cruel hands.

Describe what your “last meal” would consist of, from appetizer to dessert.
I read somewhere that an inordinate number of death-row prisoners ask for hamburgers, milkshakes, and French fries before they face the Chair.  Apparently they prefer comfort food to haute cuisine when on their way to Hell. I’d probably prove just as unimaginative. Though I think I’d substitute onion rings for an extra $1.25, given that few people pay for their last meals themselves.

If you could purchase anything today, what would it be?
Two first-class plane tickets from my home in rural Montana to New Orleans, which everyone tells me is the opposite of rural Montana. To anesthetize my mind on the flight down (because I’m a panicky, claustrophobic flyer whose history with prescription meds has made him immune to sedatives), I’d bring along an Ipod with a download of Led Zeppelin’s re-mastered soundtrack from the The Song Remains the Same.

Where does your ultimate road trip take you?
A straight shot across Northern Nevada from Salt Lake  City  to San Francisco, via Elko, which is my favorite western town because its libertarian central business district offers Basque family restaurants, casinos, strip clubs, and brothels right across the street from one another.

What well-known person do you most look up to, and why?
Bob Dylan–no contest–for remaining eager, restless, cranky, unclassifiable, and largely heedless of all known dress codes.

If you could spend an evening with one of these famous recluses-Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger, or Greta Garbo-which would it be?
I’d have to choose Greta Garbo (at any age), me being male and it being evening and all. Because I’m a writer myself and I understand just how touchy and tedious we can be when socializing against our wills, I doubt that time alone with Lee or Salinger would prove remotely pleasant or hold any real surprises.

What item or items have you stolen from a hotel room?
I once stole an iron. I didn’t own one and couldn’t picture myself ever actually buying one. Also, I was still drinking in those days.  When I got to the airport, the pilfered small appliance showed up on a metal detector in a particularly suspicious way and I panicked and surrendered it rather than answering pointed questions while the guards took it apart. Crime doesn’t pay, I learned for the hundredth time. It doesn’t even pay for the antacids.

If you knew that the world was ending soon, where would you go, and what cherished item would you take with you?
I’d set out for wherever ground zero was predicted to be, into the very center of the trouble. Why not see the Apocalypse up close and compare it to the countless bad movie versions? I’d take along a pack of cigarettes, (unfiltered Camels), regardless of whether I’d managed to quit smoking by then. That, or I’d head to the men’s room with a car magazine.  (What a macho liar I am. I’d hurry straight to my kids’ bedrooms carrying nothing in my arms, the better to hold them close.)

Portrait by Alexis Dahan

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