Tag Archives: Rachel Ketchum

Archive post: We The Jury and the story of how I became a courtroom artist.

Rachel Ketchum courtroom drawing mid 1990s jury and monitorI always enjoyed drawing the jury.

It was permitted in most trials, and it gave me something to do when there was no-one of significance testifying. Someone on Instagram commented on how they enjoyed the “earnest” and detailed representation of 90s fashion in my courtroom drawings.

To which I replied, look, I was exactly the same freak then as I am now. That wasn’t “earnest”, it was editorial! It was my critique of their Minnesota style choices (and a commentary on their inevitable whiteness). I myself considered having to put on semi-respectable clothes for working in the courtroom a form of costume, in order to “pass”.

Most courtroom artists don’t draw the jury in any detail or try to get their likenesses or clothing, because they don’t have time.

Rachel Ketchum courtroom drawing mid 1990s juryBut I could do it, because from the beginning, I was twice as fast as everybody else.
Rachel Ketchum courtroom drawing mid 1990s jury and prosecutorHow did I get started as a courtroom artist? Well, somebody died.

I was in my second year at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, having moved to Minnesota to continue treatment for my drug and alcohol addiction and decided to stay for a while. My Illustration teacher suggested that since I could draw so fast and was good at likenesses, maybe I should contact one of the local tv stations about doing courtroom illustration work.

He knew I wanted to draw comics, but he thought it would be a good way to get paid for drawing til I broke in. He was right.

I took an afternoon and went to the courthouse, made a couple sample drawings, and contacted the stations. I met with the news producers at a couple of them, and they liked my work. I was called in to work on my first trial pretty soon afterwards. And one of the stations, WCCO, the CBS affiliate, claimed me as their own right away.

Rachel Ketchum courtroom drawing mid 1990s court audienceIt turned out there was a gap in the local courtroom artist pool.

There were four local stations in the Twin Cities in the mid-90s, WCCO (CBS), KSTP (ABC), KARE (NBC) and an independent whose call sign I can’t remember. There were also four local courtroom artists, or had been for some years. Each artist worked mostly for a particular station. Right before I contacted the stations, one of them died. Of old age!

Courtroom artists are hired by the press, not the courthouse; there’s a common misconception that courtroom artists are like court reporters, who are the stenotype operators who transcribe speech for the court’s records.Courtroom drawing Rachel Ketchum early 90s for WCCO TV court reporter and witness

Why was there so much courtroom illustration work in the Twin Cities, at a time when Court TV was exploding in popularity?

Because Minnesota happens to be one of the most restrictive states in the US regarding cameras in the courtroom. Almost every state was allowing local proceedings to be broadcast starting in 1991, but not Minnesota. In the 90s, cameras were almost never permitted in trials at the state level and absolutely never in the Minnesota Federal courthouses. So if the TV stations wanted images to go with their reporting like TV stations in other states had, they needed courtroom artists!

That’s right, I had my first professional art career because of the state I randomly landed in when I wanted to go to the best halfway house.

Courtroom drawing Rachel Ketchum early 90s for WCCO TV defense attorneyPretty crazy, right? But I was really fortunate, because I was damn good at the work, everyone loved my courtroom drawings, and I wound up doing work for the CBS National News and selling drawings to CNN and the local papers when I was barely out of art school. I was settled in an art career that paid handsomely before I even graduated.

There were only three problems: I wanted to draw comics, I wanted to leave Minnesota, and I am a sexual assault survivor.

Working in the courtroom wasn’t sustainable for me in the long run, even if I hadn’t been giving every spare minute to breaking into comics.

I couldn’t handle covering the endless violence against women and children; I was burning out by the time I got my first comics job in 1994. I tried to do both for a few months, because I felt terrible leaving the station with no-one to call. I had worked for them for three years, and I was really fond of the reporters and producers and my fellow courtroom artists.

And I was afraid that if I quit, the artist who would replace me would be a man and that would be one more man in the audience the rape survivors would have to look out at as they testified.

But I got offered a full-time job as the regular penciller on a monthly Star Trek book.

Being the regular penciller on an ongoing monthly book is about as good as it gets for comic artists, and I was thrilled beyond words. It had been my dream since I was seventeen, what I’d been working towards for years. So I had to tell WCCO I was done. I went to the station and collected the drawings that were still there, in a storage room, and brought them home. It’s drawings from that batch that I’m photographing and documenting now.Courtroom drawing early 1990s Rachel Ketchum for WCCO T V witness

You can see the previous post of courtroom drawings here.

I didn’t have a camera, and of course there were no camera phones. So until this moment, the only documentation of these drawings that existed was the footage the WCCO-TV cameraperson shot for the night’s news. And the station kept all that footage on BETAMAX tape. So, I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

 

From the Vaults: Courtroom drawings and the Case of The Frozen Head.

St Paul Russian gangster trial courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes approx 1992So you all know I used to be a courtroom artist.

It’s the only job I’ve ever had where people would immediately say, “Oh, that sounds so interesting!” and I would say, “Yes, yes it is.” It was also deeply traumatic, and wildly challenging, and sometimes deadly boring (embezzlement or early days of DNA testimony).

One of the more disgusting but less traumatic cases I worked on involved a pair of Russian gangsters who had moved to suburban St. Paul.

They were best friends, and their wives were best friends, vacationed together and so on.

An attorney courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes approx 1992But all good things must come to an end, and some business rivalry caused one of them to shoot the other, chop off his head and hands, and dump the body in a lake.

At this time, around 1992 or 3, I was driving a 1991 Toyota Corolla. It was a dealer demo return but still the closest thing I’ve ever owned to a new car, and only my second car.

So I was extremely proud of it and kept it clean, visiting the carwash downtown after a day working in court.

Back to the trial: the cops found the slushy head in a partially frozen lake, and eventually arrested the Russian gangster guy.

St Paul Russian gangster trial courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes ca 1992 detailHe was not the coldest human I ever saw in court, but definitely a really vicious sociopath. I have a drawing of a forensic pathologist using a pointer to indicate gunshot wound and axe marks on a slide of the decayed head, the headsicle if you will, but I can’t find it yet.

The prosecution utilized the shockingly cavalier way many murderers talk about their acts.

This guy was really just like, so he got the lease on the laundromat, so I chopped off his head. They always talk about it like, “Well I just did what anybody would you know.”

The thing is, the thing is, the guy put the body in his trunk to dump it. And then his nice suburban car was all bloody, so he took it to a carwash to be cleaned up.

He told the guys at the carwash that he had killed a deer. Not so unusual, in Minnesota.Witness courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes approx 1992

You know what, my dear ones?

It was my fucking carwash he went to. The guys testified and everything.

Narrator: And she never went back to that carwash. 

Only the top drawing is from the Frozen Head trial; I have no idea where the other two are from. I made hundreds of courtroom drawings from 1991 to 1993, and I have only a fraction of them. I was constantly selling them to people involved in the trials, prosecutors and defense attorneys and DNA experts and ballistics people and so on.

I didn’t have a camera, and of course there were no camera phones. So until this moment, the only documentation of these drawings that existed was the footage the WCCO-TV cameraperson shot for the night’s news. And the station kept all that footage on BETAMAX tape. So,

I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

 

Archiving some very early portrait paintings.

Portrait of John Talbot Wallis by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum fall 1989One of the very first portraits I ever painted.

In late summer or early Fall 1989 I did this painting of my beloved, cherished friend John Talbot Wallis. He was staying with me at my little basement apartment in St. Paul, trying to kick heroin. It didn’t work out for him, and he went back to NY and relapsed immediately. I desperately hope he is still alive. Last I heard, in the mid-90s, he was very deep in addiction and had apparently lost most of his teeth. The odds aren’t good, but we junkies are tough as cockroaches. I’ve said a prayer for him every night for almost thirty years.

This was one of the earliest portraits I ever painted, though I had drawn quite a few by this point. To get ready for going back to art school full time, I was taking a painting class in downtown St. Paul, an extension class from the Minneapolis College of Design, with a wonderful woman professor.

I started out painting in acrylic, though there is tremendous bias against acrylics in the figurative and especially portrait painting community.

I really appreciated my teacher’s willingness to let me use acrylics. I was afraid I would have problems with my sobriety if I used oil paints, which involve solvents. I had never been an inhalant abuser, but I was less than a year sober and I wasn’t taking any chances!

I liked acrylics and it turned they are perfectly suited for my run-and-gun, punk rock style of painting, so I’ve never looked back. Detail portrait of John Talbot Wallis by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum Fall 1989My palette was a lot more Fauvist early on, partly because I didn’t know how to mix colors or how to see color temperature in shadows.

I had never intended to be a painter – I was gonna be a comic penciller, and have colorists to take care of that!  So I had paid little attention to my color theory class at Parsons and stubbornly avoided working in color as much as possible. It was really an accident that led me to becoming a painter, that the only class in the extension program that Fall was a painting class, and that I loved my teacher.  I also just really love Fauvism, and I still think my early paintings are terrific examples.

This portrait of John, an homage to The Green Stripe aka Portrait of Madame Matisse, is probably one of the top ten likenesses I’ve ever achieved.

This IS John, who I met at Stuyvesant a day or two after my fourteenth birthday and was close friends and sometimes friends with benefits with til I was 23. He was literally the jolliest drunk I have ever met, a vibrant, loving, wildly creative guy without a mean bone in his body. He was a drummer, an artist, a rapper, and a lover who adored pleasing women.

He turned me on to NWA and The Tubes, and we walked thousands of miles together over Manhattan Island in the 80s. We logged thousands of hours hanging out, writing graffiti, drinking beer, roaming the city or watching MTV. We used to do acid and heroin and watch Jaws 3 in 3D with the colors on the television reversed, laughing hysterically. He had a heart the size of Central Park. Merciful Goddess, I hope he is still alive.

detail Portrait of Brad Geiken by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum Fall 1990Another redhead, fellow MCAD painter Brad Geiken.

I painted this in the fall of 1990, I think, when Brad and I were together. Brad was a terrific, terrific painter and a really nice boyfriend. He looks mean here but that is the fault of me as the painter, not the man. Or he was mad because I was a shitty girlfriend and he deserved better. He had the most beautiful red hair.

I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

Until today, no record of these paintings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

A New York subway station under a dollhouse in Berlin.

Peter Parker Rogues Gallery in customized action figure subway Suzanne Forbes Dec 2017Earlier this year I discovered that action figure photography is a thing.

Like, a huge thing. There are all these groups on Instagram of guys – it’s only guys, as far as I can tell – taking serious photos of their 6″ (dollhouse) scale action figures. As the toy photography culture has grown, props for it have also become a thing. And a company called Extreme-Sets (which tells you a lot about the dudebro culture of the toy photo groups) has emerged, creating pop-up cardboard sets for your action figure photo shoots.

When they came out with a subway station that had a NYC subway map and a subway car that looked like a classic NY car, I knew I had to have them.

Look at this, you can practically hear Electro saying “Ayy, whaddaya whaddaya?”

But shipping was ruinously expensive. Lucky for me, some friend-muse-patrons were coming to Berlin for Thanksgiving!

Once I opened my new sets, I set about kitbashing them. Kitbashing is a term from the model car world, I believe, that I learned after it found its way into dollhouse culture.

My dollhouse, for example, is a radical kitbash of a standard dollhouse kit.

I trimmed down some elements of the Extreme-Sets station and changed their proportions so it would feel truer to an 80s’-era station.

I customized my station by cutting the panels apart and melding them back together in new forms. That way I could feature the subway map and have the parts of the panels I liked best clearly displayed.

I added a poster for the original Terminator movie. It’s 1984 in my subway station.

I mounted the panels on the deconstructed interior of the IKEA door modules on the bottom center cubbies of my dollhouse, using carpet tape. I spackled the grooves where the panels met and colored the spackle to match.

Customized memorial subway station panels Suzanne Forbes dec 2017Then I tagged the station and the train car with the tags of my 80s graffiti writer boyfriends and people I knew back in the day, and my own tag, with my crew, Acid Writers. I posted what I was working on Instagram, with the hashtag “AcidWriters”. It showed up as an official hashtag, so I browsed through the images, and saw people I recognized.

That’s when I found out another one of my boyfriends from the 80s was dead.

We had a high-risk lifestyle. I don’t know why I had expected he’d be alive. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about what he was doing in many years. There’s so much grief and loss from those days; I don’t borrow trouble. Matt was drinking hard by the time he was twelve.

Making art, and my dollhouse in particular, is a way of processing grief and turning it into tribute.

My dollhouse is a safe house for my memories and stories, a home for all the things that matter. How much I loved Peter Parker and the New Mutants when I was seventeen. The refuge that fantasy books provided, starting with the Narnia books when I was eight. The impossible, inconsolable grief of the death of my best friend and love of my young life at nineteen. The New York we roamed and loved, and the way Berlin recalls it.

Berlin is a recursive, palimpsest city, drilled down deep into the underworld, like New York.It seems completely right to build a tunnel to the past under my dollhouse here, a secret shrine with coded messages.

Stories are the immortality of love, and telling my stories are my tribute to the dead.

 

Drawing Donut Heart for Pride Month!

donut heart at gay and lesbian festival july 15 berlin by Suzanne ForbesI went to draw Donut Heart performing again!

suz in pink dress july 2017 by Dan SchickThis time at the Lesbian and Trans* stage at the Berlin Lesbian and Gay Festival. The festival is one part of the Berlin Pride Month activities, which culminate the following weekend in Christopher Street Day.

There were a lot of stages, so I wasn’t sure how to find the Lesbian and Trans stage – until suddenly I walked into a crowd where I felt completely at home. Everyone had tattoos and brightly colored hair and they welcomed me with warm smiles.

I dressed up fancy! Photo by Dan Schick from when we went to see Spider-Man Homecoming earlier that afternoon – a charming must-see!

This is by far the most complicated color drawing I’ve done since college and my days as a courtroom artist.

I wanted to capture the details and vividness of the scene as much as possible. (DJ Chroma wasn’t actually performing at the same time as Donut Heart of course, I just added her cause she is so great looking!)

donut heart berlin july 15 detail by Suzanne Forbes

Detail before adding pastels on top of marker, pencil, colored pencil and ink.

I keep pushing the limits with the mixed media experiments on Canson kraft paper and it keeps going mostly ok.

Portrait of Tess and Colin Jan 2017 by Suzanne Forbes photo by Colin Fahrion

Portrait of Tess and Colin Jan 2017 by Suzanne Forbes photo by Colin Fahrion

I’m very confident with color when I’m using opaque paints, as in this portrait commission of loved ones from January.

But with additive transparent media like watercolor and markers I feel wobbly. There’s a pass at watercolor painting Ian so bad only my Patreon Patrons got to see the whole thing.

You can see the first drawing I did at the Lesben-Schwule Fest here; it has some colors added.

I grabbed a few Sharpies from my deskside drawer and spotted in a bit of pink and green.

I used color in my courtroom drawings of course, and those were on beige and buff illustration board.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum for WCCO-TV, 1992

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum for WCCO-TV, 1992

 I think the midtone beige of the kraft paper helps to mediate my limited color skills.

Suzanne Forbes drawing Donut Heart July 15 2017 by Dara

Suzanne Forbes drawing Donut Heart July 15 2017 by Dara

Alfred Ladylike was wearing her silver dress from Loving the Alien, and the additive/subtractive nature of pastels worked pretty well for it. Not as much success capturing Rah Hell‘s gold sequin fedora!

I’m using two shades of grey and two shades of umber in regular pastels, white conte crayon, a black oil pastel and alcohol based DeSerres markers in shades of warm and cold grey, and a red-brown Caran d’Ache colored pencil.

Me and Dara, former Donut Heart bassist, by Dara!

All this goes over the PITT brush pens and .05 HB mechanical pencils I normally use, on Canson kraft paper. It has some tooth and a texture, like a cotton paper.

Most significantly maybe I am using the clear-ish “blender” shade of the DeSerres markers OVER the pastels. I run it over the black oil pastel and the solvent in it dissolves some of the pastel base, creating a wash.

I also use a blender marker or 10% grey over the chalk pastels, to help blend and incorporate. For this Donut Heart drawing I bought a pack of colored markers at the Euro-Store for one euro, and added those in.

It was scary experimenting like this, and it took me ten days to finish the drawing once I started adding color. I was nervous about making an ugly, muddy mess or a primary-colored cartoon. I’m pleased with the result though, and now I have colored markers….’cause-

I needed all the colors for the full rainbow of the Pride flag! donut heart drawing by Suzanne Forbes July 15 2017

Bat Monster Woman!!

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017It’s a gray day in Berlin but this gold and bronze Bat Monster Woman I just finished is glowing.

She is inspired by my beloved Archie McPhee Monster Women rubber toys, a gift from my oldest friend Victoria.

I used what may be my last scrap of silver velvet, some old-gold colored wired organza ribbon that I bought with a coupon at Jo-Ann for my first wedding, and gold tulle.

Plus my favorite Black Pearl metallic thread from Rico Design, which is the only good metallic embroidery thread available in the world.

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017And two citrine Swarovski crystals for her eyes, some brass rhinestuds, a scrap of teeeny gold dollmaking braid trim, and plain dark green cotton thread, doubled, carefully stitched around the border of the design.

Using a fine dark thread to go around the edges of important shapes really helps me control and refine the line, I highly recommend it.

It’s especially great where a regular back-stitched embroidered line butts up against a satin stitch area. The tiny needle you can use for a single strand of floss or regular thread means you can stitch into the satin stitch without disturbing or spreading it, yet stabilize it at the same time.

I also added brass stud stars, both to reference Wonder Woman iconography and because I love studs.

When I was a child, about seven to nine, I had a babysitter I adored. Her name was Melissa, and although she was a hardcore drug addict and a total flake, she was so mellow and gentle with me. Some friends of her and her sister Nadine had a clothing store on 8th Avenue between 20th and 21st, a funky hippie store where everybody hung out. I don’t know if they ever sold anything but drugs.

Sitting on the floor in there under racks of fringed and embroidered and patched rocker clothes impacted my aesthetic so much.

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017There was a barrel of studs for your jeans or jean jackets, all different shapes and designs, stars and moons and pyramids and other shapes I can’t quite summon. Like, a barrel- they must have bought them by the kilo at some surplus place. I would run my hands through them, gently so the points wouldn’t poke me.

I felt completely safe there. Years later the clothing store friends became famous Deadhead t-shirt silkscreener artists, and I went to a party at their loft on 14th st. I came home drunk at dawn and gleefully told my mom about their huge ball python Clyde who had cuddled me. They were such nice people, and such incredible artists.

Melissa died in a motorcycle accident in Hawaii in the 80s, and I still think of her with love and remember her gentle grace, which bent like a willow in the crappy world of 70s New York.

Everything you do or see or feel goes in the hopper for creative work. 

Everything I remember, here in this safe-at-last place, surfaces and turns and shines under the light. I don’t know where the synthesis will take me. Or what the meeting point will be between painting and drawing, the skills I trained a decade for and made a career in, and the making things I’ve always loved.

Self portrait drawing of the artist in Berlin, nearly fifty.

I drew this picture of my reflection on the U-Bahn when I was going to gallery openings last weekend.

Suzanne Forbes self portrait October 14 2016

A number of my Patrons have asked for a self-portrait; here you are, my darlings!

Another watercolor portrait!

We’ve had a few undesirably hot days here in Berlin, and today was the hottest.

I bought a portable A/C from a Brit who was leaving town last year, because we don’t do well with heat. I set up the A/C in the library and painted the hubbin while he did whatever he does on Reddit.Dan McArdle by Suzanne Forbes Aug 28 2016 Berlin

This watercolor thing is getting to be FUN. Probably if I’m gonna keep doing it I should buy a better watercolor block than this one from the stationary store around the corner, and maybe some real watercolors. Maybe even a new Windsor & Newton Series 7 Sable, nobly though the one I bought when I was at Parsons thirty years ago has served.

Maybe I should actually take a class and learn HOW one does watercolors.

Dan McArdle by Suzanne Forbes Aug 28 2016 Berlin - close upI had one class where we had one watercolor assignment, in school. Unfortunately I didn’t think painting in colors was worth my time, then; it was just an useless tangent for a person who was going to be a comic book penciller and have a colorist to take care of such things.

So I did a sloppy job of the assignment, and showed up late and drunk to class, with my very drunk boyfriend Richie tagging along.

My teacher was furious. I felt at the time that he was furious about the banal quality of the green grass I’d painted. It seemed like he was just really disgusted that I’d painted such bad grass. But I know better now. I still think the grass really bothered him, but I bet it bothered him more that I had wasted a priceless opportunity to work and learn.

I forgive you for yelling at me, Parsons teacher whose name I’ve forgotten. I forgive you for being a medium I didn’t know how to use, watercolors. I forgive you for being drunk and sloppy when you were 20 years old, Suz.

Sometimes both life and art are long.

Dear blonde girl in the white pants: imaginary amends letters from the men who sexually assaulted and harassed me as a child.

This morning, I suddenly realized I deserved amends from the men and boys who sexually assaulted me.

photo John Garetti 1977

Age 10, photo by John Garetti, 1977

I decided that if I wanted them to make amends to me, I was going to have to take care of it myself.

So I wrote some letters from some of the strangers who violated me during my childhood.

The people I knew and who knew me, well, that’s up to them, and they haven’t made much progress to date.

Dear blonde girl in the white pants near the Waverly Theater in 1980:

Age 13, photo by J Nebraska Gifford

Age 13, photo by J Nebraska Gifford

I’m sorry I called that phone booth you were walking by. When you picked it up I said “I want to rip those tight white pants off you and fuck you” and you hung up and looked frantically around you. You were young, maybe fourteen or fifteen. Young enough to fall for the “prank” of someone calling a phone booth from another one across the street. Actually, maybe you were only thirteen. Tight pants were in fashion, and I made a lot of those phone calls. I’m so sorry for how unsafe and violated I made you feel in that moment, and in so many moments afterwards.

Dear ten-year-old girl in the Elgin Theater in 1977:

When I silently slid into the seat next to you, you were so engrossed in the movie you didn’t notice a thing. What were you doing alone in the theater watching “The 400 Blows” anyway? You were so pretty, with your blonde hair. I carefully edged my hand towards your lap and grabbed your crotch. You jumped up and screamed at me, but there was no-one in the theater to hear. You ran out into the lobby, shouting. “Fucking pervert son-of-a-bitch!” you called me. I watched you run off up 8th Avenue. I wish I had stayed in that program they put me in back in ’72, for people like me.

Dear blonde hippie chick in the see-through skirt in front of the deli at Abington Square in 1982:

Age 15, on Abington Square

Age 15, on Abington Square, 1982

When me and my friends passed you and your little girlfriend at 2 a.m.- she was even younger than you I think, maybe only fourteen- the streetlight shone right through your skirt. I ran the two steps back and grabbed your crotch, hard. Then I ran back after my friends. You came after me, screaming and shouting. You called me a fucking bastard motherfucking son-of-a-bitch. Your friend looked so afraid.

Then you ran into the deli and I heard you telling them to call the police. Lucky for Past Me, they ignored you. Present Me wishes they had at least acknowledged you. I thought of you over and over that night, as we rambled around the Village. What was I thinking? I had a sister your age. I don’t know why I thought what you were wearing gave me the right to assault you. I often wonder, when I see a girl in a see-through skirt like that in some Coachella video, if someone will hurt her, too. I wonder if you remember that night in the Village.

Dear little girl in the kitchen at Thea’s New Year’s Eve party near Westbeth in the ’70s:

We were alone in the kitchen when the Auld Lang Syne music started to play in the living room. You were looking in the cookie jar. I said hello to you, and you responded not very politely. I could hear shouting from the next room- Thea and Bill, your father, had been dealing a little in those days, and everyone was drinking hard as well. “Give me a New Year’s kiss”, I said, and bent down and grabbed your face. I forced my tongue in your mouth and you pulled away. I was fifty-two, and I just walked into the living room and got another glass of wine. Three years later, during an acid trip in New Mexico, your dead-eyed little face swam up in my memories and I realized what I’d done. I am so, so sorry. You were just a little girl.

Dear Rachel (I think your last name was Ketchum?):

When Cliff and Emerick said they knew this girl who lived in Chelsea who had her father’s apartment all to herself on the weekends, I was so down. Since they started at Stuy in September I didn’t see them as much, and I missed them. I was fifteen that Fall, and I wanted to get laid so bad. I knew a guy in Corona who had Quaaludes, and I went and bought five. Emerick said he had weed and Cliff said he had some speed. When we got to your place on Friday night I couldn’t believe you were only thirteen. You looked so much older, in your purple jumpsuit.

You had bought champagne for the party. They just sold it to you, no questions asked. I got wasted really fast, with the hash we were smoking, the booze and everything. I remember we were out in the neighborhood, and we were doing some tagging. You had spraypaint and markers. We were in the Cuban-Chinese restaurant, and you said you had a headache, you wanted to go home to get some aspirin. “Here, take this”, Cliff said, and he dropped a Quaalude in your water glass.

I got stopped by the police in Washington Square, trying to buy some acid, and you talked the cop out of busting us. You told him that I was your cousin from Queens and this was my first time in the city, and you were just trying to give me a classic New York experience. I couldn’t believe the cop fell for it. He kept looking down your front.

We bought tickets for the midnight show of Rocky Horror at the 8th st. Playhouse- you had been, and Cliff, but not me and Emerick. We had an hour to kill so we went to smoke a bowl in a vestibule across the street. Cliff took his dick out, and then Emerick did too, and so I did too. We all started grabbing your hands and trying to make you jerk us off. You were so wasted, you could barely fight us. You said it was time to go if we wanted to get good seats.

Later that night we were at your place. You had made some kind of food, like chicken salad, and we started to make brownies with some of your father’s weed, but then we were too wasted. Cliff put on The Who- Who’s Next, Baba O’Riley. He did the thing with the record player where the song plays over and over. You said you were tired and went into your bedroom. We all got on the bed with you and started groping you. I could hear the music from the next room-

“Don’t cry Don’t raise your eye
It’s only teenage wasteland-”

and you were telling us to stop touching you. Like that was gonna happen. Obviously Cliff and Emerick expected you were going to have sex with us, but you seemed really surprised. You grabbed your white Princess phone and called someone, told him you were in trouble, you were being attacked. I could hear him through the handset. “What do you want me to do about it?” he said; he sounded about our age.

Cliff tore your jumpsuit trying to get it off you. You were fighting now, as the song started again, and you were weirdly strong. I remembered Cliff saying you were some kind of exercise nut. None of us went to gym or anything, and we were really high. You kicked and struggled and bit us. Cliff was so high he started to pass out. Emerick was still trying to get your clothes off, but he was a pretty small guy. Somehow Cliff slid onto the floor and you bundled Emerick after him and shoved them both out the door and told me to get out. You locked the door and we all passed out.

In the morning the song was still playing. The apartment was so trashed. You made us breakfast, I don’t know why, and then you made us leave. We were all still really high. I hung around the lobby of your building, and when you came downstairs a little later I shot at you with my bb gun as you rushed towards the door. You looked really freaked out. You didn’t notice me, but I followed you as you walked back to the Village. I saw you go into the 99 Cents store on 8th st., and come out with a little package. I saw you open the package of razor blades in a vestibule in Soho and cut your wrist. You stayed there for hours, bleeding, even though it turned really cold. i had to go home because my mom was expecting me for Sunday dinner.

I lost touch with those guys after that, and I don’t know what happened to you. Every time I heard Baba O’RIley, I remembered that night. At first it gave me the creeps, but then it became sort of a romantic thing, like this cool wild night from my teens. After a few decades I forgot about it. Then one night I decided to watch this new TV show. It was called CSI New York. The theme song came on, with blurry New York flashing lights. It was Baba O’Riley. I was sitting in my living room in Flushing, and suddenly it hit me. We tried to gang-rape you. You were thirteen years old, and the only reason we didn’t actually rape you was we were too wasted. You tried to kill yourself the next day. Jesus. I don’t know what I can possibly say, at this moment. I’m just so fucking sorry. I wish I’d never gone into the city with those guys that night. I hope you’re ok. I hope you can listen to Baba O’Riley without being sad. I hope you recovered from what we did to you. I hope you can watch CSI, if you like CSI.

The first boy I ever dated is being played by the movie star who’s playing Lex Luthor.

giphyI read Salon. And I love, love Andrew O’Hehir.

Especially now that he’s writing more editorial a lot of the time, I make it a point to read the movie stuff he does do.

La la la, oh I see they’re making a David Foster Wallace movie…

…huh, it’s based on the interviews David Lipsky did…Jesse Eisenberg is playing David Lipsky?!?!note-pass-bald-407x480

But I haven’t even processed him playing Lex Luthor yet!

Or that Lex Luthor has hair!

*meme humor by The Mary Sue Senior Editor Glen Tickle

Wait, David Lipsky comes off as a total tool in the movie? HA HA HA HA omigod that’s hilarious.

In the Fall of 1980 I was thirteen, about to start high school at Stuyvesant. Of the ten kids in my small private school who’d taken the Stuyvesant test, most my close friends, two of us had gotten in. Me and my friend Oliver. Earlier that summer, at a birthday party at the Village apartment Olly shared with his charismatic mother Bonnie, I’d pulled a bottle of champagne out of the bathtub and tumbled on Bonnie’s bed with one of Olly’s friends.

That summer I had stripped the baby fat that protected me from my father on a three month crash diet of iceberg lettuce and sugar-free yogurt, forty pounds in three months. I felt my rage could protect me now, so I’d let my hair, which I’d cut because my father loved it long, grow again. I was blonde and blue-eyed, 33-23-36, and wearing purple painter’s pants from Reminiscence. When that boy kissed me the power came up in my veins like the speed I got onto later that year. I knew all I wanted was boys, to have them and take them, hurt them and enslave them.

The week before school started my best friend’s father said I should meet the son of a friend of his, who was a sophomore at Stuy. I asked Victoria, who has been my friend for forty years now but only five back then, if he was cute. She said yeah, actually he was fairly cute.

So I talked to David Lipsky on the phone, which was next to my brother’s bunk bed. The white paper under the rotary dial of our phone was covered with ballpoint ink, from my doodling while I talked. It was still hot; summer dies like a snake by mid-September in New York, or did then, but it hadn’t broken yet.

I agreed to meet this boy the first day of school, on the steps.

Maybe Victoria’s father, Mel, thought we’d be friends. I don’t think so. Mel had an invasive voyeuristic fascination with the sexual development of children, much like my own father. When you look at pictures of me and Vicky at eleven and twelve (I was always younger than everyone else) it’s shocking; my moon face and her gaunt one. Anorexia was so new that she wasn’t diagnosed until nearly too late.

I met David on the steps in front of Stuyvesant before the first bell, so I wasn’t alone my first day. Not that I was worried; it was thousands of kids to less than 100 at Elizabeth Irwin and Little Red Schoolhouse, where I’d spent the last five years, but I was fearless and ferocious at thirteen. And Olly was a brother to me, a blond Han Solo; knowing he was somewhere in the building made me feel safe.

David was pretty cute. Not amazing, but I liked his dark curly hair, and he was tall enough, wearing those thin cord jeans that boys wore then. We talked a bit, and then I went off to class. I remember almost nothing about the school part of Stuyvesant, even now. I didn’t want to go there; I wanted to go to Music and Art, and I certainly could have gotten in. My father insisted on the math and science school, because it was the most famous. Narcissistic cathection plus lots of weed, ugh.

Later that week David called our apartment in Chelsea and asked me on a date. I did not like my father asking about it, but we did share a laugh about the hilariously outdated concept of “going on a date”. I suspected it might be my first and last date; I didn’t think dating was compatible with the vision I had of stooping like a falcon. But I was thrilled. My adventures as a seductress were beginning. I wore my painters’ pants and a white men’s shirt for my first date.

In the kitchen before leaving I dusted cinnamon behind my ears because I’d read in Glamour magazine that it turned men on.

nancy_allen_Dressed_to_killIt left a faint rusty rime on my collar. My father was leering, gleeful, as he watched me leave.

I met David uptown, probably at the Uptown Loews; I know it was a theater with multiple screens.

We argued about what movie to see. He wanted to see a DePalma thriller with Nancy Allen, Dressed to Kill.

I wanted to see anything but horror; I had had a very bad experience with Hitchcock Night at riding camp a couple years earlier. I capitulated, with the caveat that we would leave if I got uncomfortable. At some point I did, and then I pulled the first of an infinite number of dick moves I’ve pulled on guys.

I informed him that we were going next door to watch Lady and the Tramp.

Maybe it was during the spaghetti scene that his arm crept around me; I snickered into my cinnamon-scented collar, because I had never, ever expected to have this experience. Afterwards we walked across the park, I think, to his Upper East Side neighborhood. He wanted to hang around Woody Allen’s building and see if Woody came out. I didn’t; I hated Woody Allen every bit as much then as I do now.

He lived around the corner, probably with a divorced mother who Mel had the hots for, and we wound up in his bedroom, on his single bed. Which was the point of the whole endeavor, for me. I told him about the cinnamon; I felt it would make me seem both innocent and charmingly vulnerable. Bonnie’s bedroom had been dark and air-conditioned; David’s room was brightly lit.

He said, “What do you want to do now? I could do my Woody Allen imitations. Or we could make out.”

I looked him in the eye and took my shirt off. I remember our legs tangling, the first time I realized how long boys’ legs are, the feel of it; I knew it was what I wanted. I was both startled and disappointed by the explosion. I felt exactly like Kristy McNichol in Little Darlings, (which Victoria and I had seen that summer) when Matt Dillon passes out. I had had plans for that penis. There was awkward cleanup, and now my shirt smelled like cinnamon and come.

I went back downtown; I saw him the following week at school, but it was obvious neither of us could sustain interest. Two weeks later I found the boys with the drugs.

In the 90s Victoria told me David was working as a journalist, and I laughed; that seemed just right, like Olly actually becoming an actor, like he’d always said he would. I was going to be an artist; Olly was going to be an actor; neither of us should have had to go to Stuyvesant just because it was the most famous free school in New York.

In the oughts in Berkeley, living with my second husband,  I read Infinite Jest, cherished it, and put it on the bookshelf. It reminded me of The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem, which I’d read when I was fifteen. I read the short stories too, but they didn’t do too much for me. I read (probably on Salon!) that David had interviewed David Foster Wallace, had spent four days on a road trip with him. I wondered if he had offered to do his Woody Allen imitation.

When I moved in with my third husband in the teens we both brought forty boxes of books. The three duplicates were Infinite Jest, Mason & Dixon, and The Phantom Tollbooth.

I haven’t seen David Lipsky in thirty-odd years, and that’s fine with me. Would he remember me? Of course. I was dazzling at thirteen.

Is my life a disappointment, compared to the other kids who stood on those Stuyvesant steps in 1980? I don’t think anyone could possibly say, because my life is really only getting underway, and there’s actually nothing but second acts in American lives.