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interview

From Duplex Planet

December 23, 2009

From Duplex Planet 174 (a zine that collects interviews with elderly people):

DBG: What kind of animal would you be if you had to be one?

HELEN FOSTER: Me? I have no idea. I never thought of that. I have no idea. What kind I would want to be? Oh, I don’t know… (thinking)… You would think I’d want to be powerful, but I wouldn’t. No, I’d want one that other people would be comfortable with, I think, whatever kind of animal that is. A lot of people don’t like cats, but I think a cat is comfortable. Most people would like a dog, but a dog is too mindless. A cat is a little more selective. I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t know if I answered your question.

DBG: No, that’s good. They’re all just food for thought.

HELEN: So what do you have there now–is that what they call a tape recorder?

DBG: Yep. One microphone is hooked on to you there, and this one is just picking up anything I say.

HELEN: Mmm-hmm. So what did you study in college?

DBG: Painting. I went to art school.

HELEN: You’re kidding! I have an artist in the family, too. Do you play an instrument?

DBG: I played for a long time in bands–I was a bass player.

HELEN: Ohhh!

DBG: I haven’t done that much since the eighties.

HELEN: Well, my son, he’s still in the process of retiring–the 26th of September he’ll retire–and he just took a year’s piano lessons. I said, “I didn’t know you wanted to play the piano!” He says, “I didn’t either, but it’s something I decided I was gonna do and I’m doin’ it.” I think that’s wonderful.

DBG: It’s good to start on something new.

HELEN: I don’t know if he’s got it in him like you do. Why don’t you come around and play the band here?

DBG: I need to play with other people. I’m a bass player.

HELEN: Oh, okay.

DBG: But I haven’t played much in years.

HELEN: Well I’m sure you have a lot of creativity inside that head of yours, so put it to good use. Are you altruistic, would you label yourself as altruistic, David?

DBG: To a point, yes.

HELEN: I think so

DBG: I’m fairly pragmatic.

HELEN: That’s what I thought I was, too. But see–when you look in the mirror, deep down, I bet you are.

DBG: Well, that’s part of me.

HELEN: Don’t worry about anything. It’s a waste. It’s a waste, don’t worry, I learned that. Of course, it’s okay for me to say that, now that I’ve got one foot in the grave! (laughs) But really, worry is wasteful.

DBG: There’re parts of it that are unavoidable and come from concern, like I’d worry about my wife or my daughter.

HELEN: No, we can’t cut that out of our lives, that’s right.

DBG: But worrying about what I am going to do ten years from now.

HELEN: Yeah, needlessly.

DBG: I’m confident I’ll figure it out.

HELEN: Well, gee, I’m so glad to have met you.

DBG: It was great to meet you too.

HELEN: And I wish you well with this work in progress.

DBG: Thank you.

HELEN: That’s what you’ll have to call it, Work in Progress.

DBG: Oh it is. I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years.

HELEN: Good for you. Let me tell you, you know what I do? I collect, in my lifetime, I collect naughty stories. Well I heard a story two days ago. (looks over at tape recorder) Is it off?

DBG: It’s running out of tape.

HELEN: Oh no, turn it off, turn it off! (tape stops)

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Some Answers Questioned

September 26, 2009

This was a freewrite I did a while ago, as-is… i.e. unedited. I re-read it recently and it still interests me. I was just asking questions and coming up with answers on the fly. Not knowing who the characters were beforehand made this a very fun exercise.

q: when were you born?
a: In 1967 I was already a 5 year old girl. My mother picked me up after school, she would wear a light blue scarf around her head, that is how I spotted her immediately. Back then the roads didn’t yet have names and all you could do was count the trees before the next block.
q: did you like doing that?
a: a little. It wasn’t a matter of liking it. Time made me more aware of my surroundings.
q: what do you mean?
a: I should say that I was incredibly precocious. Because of that, I felt like I only had a few more weeks to live. I felt old.
q: do you still feel old?
a: no
q: go on
a: I don’t. I feel out of time. But back then, back then we would go to the green grocers after school. The man who sold us large stalks of celery was called Mr. Lobsterlove.
q: you remember his name?
a: oh yeah. I loved Mr. Lobsterlove. He had this train collection, model trains mind you. Some nights I would go over to his house, he lived just next door, and mother would sometimes tell me to deliver some money for previous purchases.
q: it was a credit system?
a: well yeah. We didn’t always carry around the heavy coins. Anyway, I remember his door was unfinished wood, this was the second floor right above his business. I’d knock and he’d open and inside was a city made of traintracks. The trains would go in and out of the bookcases, through the vents, come back out the other side and into the bathroom. Mr. Lobsterlove always had classical music playing in the background. Usually Bach. Sometimes Mozart. At first he would talk to me, try to ask me questions. Then he would say “you’re pretty smart for a little girl” and soon he would be lost in his music, moving his hands like that of a conductor, his eyes closed.
q: tell me about your mother
a: my mother was severe. She was nice too, but she had a very specific set of beliefs.
q: like what?
a: well… she kept to herself, a very quiet woman, but she wasn’t shy. I don’t know why she kept to herself. Somehow she always knew what was happening, she’d tell me who Mrs. Greenberg was having an affair with. I don’t know how she knew this. Also, she liked to play mindgames with me, but for no particular reason.
q: mind games?
a: like, she’d say “I’m going out to get some milk” and then she wouldn’t. She would act like she never said anything. I never figured that out.
q: what did you do after school?
a: We would have the window open all the time, and underneath our apartment was a cafe. I would sit in my bedroom and listen to all the conversations people had. Sometimes I would write them down, if they were interesting enough, but most times they weren’t very interesting. People falling in love and out of love, that kind of stuff is so boring to me even then.
q: you’re not interested in love?
a: I wouldn’t say I’m not intersted in it. It’s interesting, yes, it is. It’s interesting the way organized religion is interesting, it’s just a thing. You know? Like, it’s interesting in an anthropologic way. It’s interesting in that it helps you understand people. But it’s not very useful.
q: useful?
a: hmm.. maybe that doesn’t make sense. I guess it is useful, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Anyway, once you decide on it, that’s that.
q: what else did you like to do?
a: I went up to the roof sometimes, after dinner. Mother wouldn’t let me, but sometimes when she was on the phone
q: with whom?
a: my father. My father was overseas. I think I’ve seen him twice in my life. Not a very interesting man.
q: you mean you aren’t interested IN him…
a: yeah, that too. No, that’s not entirely true. I WAS interested, but I figured him out in the first half hour.
q: what did you figure out?
a: well, a lot of things. He was a hopeless romantic.
q: why was he overseas?
a: I’m getting to that. My father was a very skinny man. He was tender, I’ll give him that. Not one to raise his voice ever. He was also completely loyal. He’s from the small island of Tuvalo where they make fishing nets. His whole family did I mean. Anyway, I don’t know why he ever left, but after he got married, his mother got really sick. He couldn’t stand not being by her side.
q: what did you do up on the roof?
a: I cataloged.
q: Cataloged?
a: yes. I was making lists. It is easier to make a list comprehensive when you’re up high. You can see more things. You FELT more comprehensive because of what you could see. All the buildings were the same height back then, or similiar heights, and you could see for miles, all the different roofs with vines growing and the stuff people stored up there, boxes, bicycles, bird cages.
q: what did you wish to accomplish with your lists?
a: I don’t understand that question.
q: what was the purpose of those lists.
a: there is no purpose. To make a list is to make a statement. A statement with no purpose, other than that of existence.
q: what were they lists of?
a: everything inside my hometown. A list of all the widows. A list of shops that sold fishing line. A list of dates that were considered auspicious for marriages and childbirths. The locals were very superstitious.
q: were you?
a: never.
q: did you have a favorite number?
a: well, yes. But that’s not a superstition.
q: what was your favorite number?
a: one.

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