Friday, March 13, 2009

Four Poems

She Believed In God

She believed in God
she said that
if you told Him your plans
you could hear

The End of the World

The end of the world was on a Friday when
there was nothing good
on TV

The end of the world was
preceded by a loud
whirring sound

The end of the world meant
no more
live Dead

The end of the world was
not a boon
for the greeting card industry

I Used the Letters In Your Name

I used the letters
in your name
to spell
I mixed the
letters that I had
with water and soil
and built a house

Something Andrea Said

I remember something you said
when Mint Minus died,
"The problem is, rats don't live that long."
Earlier today I saw that it's been 14 years
since Jerry Garcia died.
It feels like ten years since JFK.
Bob Dylan said, "Time is a jet plane, it moves so fast."
But it's not just rats, or cats, it's all of us.
We're all fucking butterflies.

Look at the light.



Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More Short Short Fiction....

An excerpt from The Goldberg Variations

Level Playing Field

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit, in '68. I ran into him again at some political rally last September and we’d gone back to his place as it turned unseasonably cold and he lived nearby.

“Wanna play Level Playing Field?” he asked as he brought out some wine and a couple glasses.

“What’s that?” I asked. He went to the closet and brought out a board and a box of stuff.

“It’s a board game based on the American experience.” He said, though I was still unclear about what he meant.

“It’s Monopoly.” I said when he opened the board and set it on the table.

“No. It’s called Level Playing Field.” He said, and I noticed that “Monopoly” had been crossed out by a magic marker and “Level Playing Field” had been written in above it.

“Here’s how you play.” He said. “I’ll be the guy whose grandfather busted a union and made a fortune in the trucking business and whose father inherited that money and became a major fundraiser for the Republican Party and sits on a bunch of corporate boards. You can be you.”

“OK.” I said.

Richard pulled out a huge wad of Monopoly money, what looked to be from a dozen or so games. He counted out one million six hundred thousand dollars for himself and then counted out five hundred dollars for me. From the board pieces he selected a double-sized gold-plated top hat for himself and gave me what looked like a small tin outhouse.

We started to play and, after the first dozen or so trips around the board Richard owned pretty much everything; all the utilities and all but one railroad, which I quickly handed over when I landed on a hotel-studded Park Place a couple rolls later.

“OK,” I said. “You win.”

“Hmmm, yeah… but that’s not the best part.”

“What’s the best part?” I asked.

“The best part is now when I lecture you in a patronizing tone about how I won because you just didn’t want it as much. I won because you just didn’t take advantage of the opportunities you had. I won because I was willing to work harder and I just had more determination.” He started reaching for the piles of money with a look of actual entitlement on his face.

For the past year and a half I was working for the public transit authority as a supervisor and often carried large amounts of money with me. This had allowed me to acquire a license to carry a concealed weapon and I bought a small .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Since I’d gone to the rally directly from work I had the gun in a small holster behind my back.

“Actually Richard,” I said, “that’s not the best part.”

I pulled out the gun, pistol-whipped him unconscious, and stuffed the million plus in small orange and yellow bills into my pockets. I took a pen and crossed out “Level Playing Field” and wrote “Power to the People” above it.

“Now that’s what I call leveling the playing field.” I said, finished my wine, and split. I haven’t seen Richard since then but I don’t think he called the cops, I think he understood my point.

More later.

[with apologies to Joni Mitchell and Scott Ballantine]

Friday, March 6, 2009

Republicans speak with a unified voice....

The theme song of the 2009 GOP

Having selected talk radio loon, Rush Limbaugh to lead their party into the sunset of American politics, I can't help thinking that if they required all members to wear painted-on black mustaches the effect would be better all around.

I'm sure I'd tune in more often to their antics if they did.

Now, everybody sing.

I'd also suggest a Snidely Whiplash mustache, top hat, cape and bullwhip be provided for Indiana Congressman, Mike Pence. Part of his job duties should include visiting families whose homes have been foreclosed, sneering at a cowering mother with small children....

"You must pay the mortgage!"

"We can't pay the mortgage!"

"You must pay the mortgage!"

"We can't pay the mortgage!"

And so on.

Limbaugh's rise to power, by the way, is a Godsend. So long as he (and I almost capitalized the "H") is firing up the republican "base" no moderate republican who might stand a chance at winning a national election will ever survive the republican primaries.

The GOP is now like that guy way out in the Australian bush who has just been bitten by a viper and knows that unless he takes his machete and severs his own arm immediately he has no chance of survival.

Or maybe the GOP is like that guy who was rock climbing in some remote region and his arm got pinned under a boulder and he had to use his pen knife to cut his arm off at the elbow in order to survive.

Anyway... the arm is the republican base; those voters who think the GOP is not conservative enough; those voters who want a flag burning amendment and want a wall built to keep the damn Mexicans out and want an amendment to punish the gay couple who were holding hands in that movie and made them feel all weird and confused.

It is such a perfect reversal of fortunes.

Just a few months ago, and for eight long years, we were resigned to blogging and making jokes on late-night television while the W 'n' Dick Show invaded foreign countries, looted the treasury, named children for the oil companies, appointed retarded people with anger management issues to the bench and just whizzed all over the Constitution in the process. Now, a scant few months later, they have nothing but blogs and talk radio, while we get to transform the ashes of the neo-con revolution into a new vision of democratic socialism.

I can barely contain myself.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Pitch... A Short Story

The Pitch
a very short story

“Tell him the idea.”

“OK. Here goes… It’s like I Spy meets To Catch a Thief meets The Matrix meets Kill Bill… but with ninjas.”

“Tell him how it works.”

“Imagine George Clooney as an international tennis bum; he plays in the international circuit, and he travels the world with his assistant, Chris Rock – or Ving Rhames – but both of them are really US secret agents who get assignments that coincide with George Clooney’s tennis playing.”

“OK, that’s the I Spy part; tell him the rest.”

“Well… when George Clooney was a little kid his father worked for the US government, maybe as a soldier, or maybe as a spy too… anyway, when he was a little kid his dad’s unit was ambushed by a bunch of communist ninjas and they were all killed. Then, this one ninja was sent to kill the family of the main army guy….”

“…George Clooney’s dad.’

“Right, but when he went there....”

“…the ninja guy.”

“Right, when the ninja guy goes there he sees the woman and the little kid, he ends up falling in love with the guy’s widow….”

“…Little Clooney’s mom.”

“Right… let me tell it.”

“OK, sorry.”

“The ninja guy falls in love with Little Clooney’s mom and befriends the family and ends up marrying her and becomes Little Clooney’s step-dad. He has to battle a bunch of other ninjas who are sent to kill him because he disobeyed the order to kill Little Clooney and his mom. So Little Clooney’s step-dad has a big fight scene where Little Clooney sees him kill all the other ninjas….”

“…because he’s, like, the greatest ninja.”


“The White Ninja!”

“Yeah, plus that’s how you can follow him in the fight with all the black ninjas. So later the step-dad teaches all his awesome ninja skills to Little Clooney, which we see in this montage as Little Clooney grows up into Teenage Clooney and then finally into the real George Clooney.”

“But the real George Clooney still doesn’t know that his ninja step-dad killed his real dad.”

“Right. So, anyway, George Clooney’s awesome ninja skills also make him a great tennis player. We’ll have another montage where it cuts from a ninja exercise to a tennis exercise where, like, in one shot he’s practicing moves with a ninja sword and in the next he’s doing the same moves with a tennis racket.”

Eye of the Tiger.”

“What? No…. Shut up.”


“So, after the back story is set, the movie opens with George Clooney winning a tough tennis match with a series of perfect serves. Bam! Bam! Bam! Ace! Ace! Ace! And then, back at the hotel, his partner, who is like, a total expert with all kinds of explosives and electronics, is picking out stuff he needs while George Clooney is putting on his ninja clothes. Then they go to some bad guy’s big estate that’s like a fortress with all kinds of guards and electronic stuff and guard dogs and George Clooney is, like, almost invisible, scaling the wall and using a blow gun and throwing stars to take out the first batch of guards. We see Chris Rock….”

“…or Ving Rhames.”

“Right, or Ving Rhames, throwing what we think is, like, a grenade at two guard dogs, but it’s really a lump of burger that the dogs eats and then fall over, asleep. Then we see George Clooney between two guards, who don’t know he’s there, use two nunchucks to knock them both out…. WHIP! WAP! WAP! THUD! THUD! Anyway, this is all like in the intro, before the credits, and it ends with George Clooney getting the stuff – papers, a computer thing, whatever….”

“The MacGuffin.”

“The what?”

“It’s what Hitchcock… never mind.”

“Anyway… as the credits end, George Clooney is romancing some babe….”

“…because, you know, he’s George Clooney.”

“…and his partner comes in and says something so George Clooney knows their contact has arrived with their new assignment and he ditches the babe and their contact comes in with some high tech thing that looks like a portable DVD player crossed with a toaster that displays info on their new mission. And just then… the window glass suddenly explodes as someone shoots the contact, who falls dead on the carpet.”

“It’s awesome.”

“Yeah, the glass just shatters and a couple more shots are taken at George Clooney and Chris Rock, and George Clooney does this Neo-in-The Matrix-slow-mo-ninja bullet dodge move as Chris Rock gets this rifle with this high tech scope that follows the trajectory of the incoming bullets and shoots and the camera follows his bullet right back to the source… SWACK! Dead bad guy!”

“It’s GREAT!”

“Then George Clooney looks out the window and sees a bunch of cop cars pulling up to the hotel so Chris Rock picks the lock on the door separating their suite from the suite next door where no one is home and they stash all their super spy and ninja gear in there while the police arrive to interrogate the tennis pro and his assistant about the dead guy on their carpet. As this goes on, George Clooney notices one of his ninja throwing stars on the floor and puts his foot over it. Then, silently communicating to Chris Rock….”

“…because, like, they are in that ├╝ber perfect buddy movie sync.”

“…in one smooth movement Chris Rock opens a drawer to get their passports for the police and – as he closes it – George Clooney reaches down, picks up the star….”

“…the shuriken.”

“Right, picks up the throwing star and flicks it into the drawer where THWACK! it sticks to the wood at the back of the drawer a split second before the drawer closes.”

“This will be cool.”

“This will be very cool. OK… next, when they break back into the suite next door to retrieve their stuff the beautiful woman who’s suite room it is suddenly returns and catches them. She recognizes George Clooney because she was there to watch the tennis tournament, and now she thinks he’s a jewel thief like Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief….”

“…only with ninjas.”

“Right, only Cary Grant is a secret spy ninja.”

“Ninja secret agent tennis pro.”

“Right. So the girl in the Grace Kelly part….”

“Catherine Zeta Jones, or Rene Zellweger.”

“Yeah, she’s like, a bored rich divorcee, and she’s attracted to George Clooney….”

“…because he’s, you know, George Clooney.”

“…and they let her believe that they’re international jewel thieves and when they invite her to accompany them on their next job she’s, like, so excited she starts negotiating for a bigger cut!”

“She’s like, ‘I want a third….’”

“And Chris Rock is like, ‘A third? Are you crazy? She’s crazy!’”

“And, with their new cover as jet-setting international tennis playing jewel thieves, the three are on their way to… Japan.”

“Right, Japan. Now it cuts to a wide shot of Tokyo at night, lit up like a Christmas tree.”

“Do they do Christmas in Japan?”

“What…? It doesn’t matter… anyway, the three of them check into their hotel and George Clooney and Chris Rock send Catherine Zeta Jones….”

“Or Rene Zellweger….”

“…out on some errand which gives them time alone to go over the mission info the guy who got shot gave them.”

“Right. Their target is this old Japanese guy who heads up a special Yakuza assassination squad about which next to nothing is known. His head of security is an ex-Special Forces turned mercenary with a taste for beautiful brunettes….”

“…I thought I was telling it?”

“OK, you tell it, sorry.”

“Right, OK, so, so they find the guys estate, it’s like a fortress up in the mountains. When they scope it out with a high-tech telescope and what do you think they see? A courtyard filled with ninjas in training!


“Chris Rock looks at George Clooney who is looking at the courtyard full of ninjas and says, ‘So… what do you know about that.’

“And as a last shot of the courtyard of ninjas fades to black we hear Ba-da-da-da-da-da—dum-dum-da!

“The first nine notes of Kung-Fu Fighting….”

“Which is, like, ironic reference number twenty-seven.”


“It’s an estimate.”

“OK, now we fade back up and we’re at a table in an expensive restaurant. The three of them are there, making small talk and veiled references to their plans; Catherine Zeta Jones still thinks that George Clooney is there to steal jewels or something. When she leaves to go to the powder room, Chris Rock and George Clooney argue about bringing her along, but George Clooney tells Chris Rock he thinks she’ll play an important part in their plan, but before he can elaborate she returns to the table.”

Dun-DUNNNN! The suspense builds!”

“After dinner they stroll back to the hotel and take a short path through a small park where….”

“…more ninjas?”

More ninjas!!! This time, as the attack begins we switch to a Ninja George Clooney perspective… everything is quiet and in a kind of slow motion that’s inter-cut with bits in real time and really loud – back and forth…. Ninja George Clooney senses the attack and – in slo-mo – reaches in front of Catherine Zeta Jones’ face and – in real time – he snatches an arrow or a ninja dart, like, an inch from her face. Now Chris rock reacts in slo-mo surprise as two ninjas come at them. Ninja George Clooney pushes Catherine Zeta Jones behind him and, with kicks and punches, totally kung-fu’s those two ninjas as, Chris Rock, standing directly in front of Catherine Zeta Jones, reaches into his jacket, brings out a .32 caliber semi-automatic with a silencer – all in silent slo-mo – and points right at Catherine Zeta Jones, who reacts – in silent slo-mo – with horror, and then – switching back to real time – the camera racks focus and we see the third ninja standing right behind her, he’s got some kind of weapon, and FSSSSSST! Chris Rock gets off one silenced round that hits the ninja right between the eyes.”

“It’s awesome!”

“Yeah, the last thing we see in this sequence is Catherine Zeta Jones, hands still up around her face, trying to process all the information.”

“She’s seriously freaked out.”

“Yeah, and now we’re back at the hotel and she’s up in George Clooney’s face saying, ‘Ninjas!? There were freakin’ ninjas!!!’

“She’s totally flipping out.”

’You’re not here to steal stuff… are you?’

“She asks.”

“And then we have the scene where George Clooney comes clean and they show her some high tech stuff and they try to convince her to help them out. She hesitates, and Chris Rock says, ‘Would you do it for your country?’

“Catherine Zeta Jones looks at him, waits a beat, and says, coolly, ‘I’m from Wales.’ Another beat, and Chris Rock, slightly confused but with a look of understanding passing over his face, says… ‘Then do it… for the whales.’

So we cut to the bad guy’s fortress and Catherine Zeta Jones….”

“They convinced her.”

“…drives up to the front gate in a drop-dead gorgeous blue Bentley convertible. She’s wearing an evening gown and there’s an open bottle of Champagne in an ice bucket on the passenger’s seat.”

“And… she’s lost.”

And her car and her dress are covered with various high-tech devices that send info back to George Clooney and Chris Rock. The Bentley is sending back high-res pictures of the inside of the compound as well as infrared showing the location of guards inside the house.”

“And inside the house at the moment the Bad Special Forces Guy is starting to put the moves on Catherine Zeta Jones.”

“Now the sun is going down, it’s dusk. And George Clooney, dressed in a gray ninja outfit, enters the grounds and dispatches two guards allowing Chris Rock to enter behind him. Chris Rock wears this high-tech eyepiece that shows him a read out from the Bentley cameras; he’s also carrying a bag with a bunch of high-tech explosives that he starts putting in various places. This builds up to a big scene where explosions rock the barracks, blowing up most of the ninjas. George Clooney has a number of quick, yet impressive, ninja fights as he works his way into the house where the Bad Special Forces Guy holds a gun on Catherine Zeta Jones. At some point, George Clooney take off his ninja mask and, when he does, a flash of recognition passes over the Bad Special Forces Guy’s face. At the end of their fight, the Bad Special Forces Guy shoots Catherine Zeta Jones….”

“She’s just wounded.”

“But, mortally wounded by George Clooney’s sword, the Bad Special Forces Guy laughs, coughs, and tells George Clooney to look for the Hiroshi file… and dies.”

Hmmmm…. I wonder what the Hiroshi file has in it?”

“Chris Rock tells George Clooney the place is going to blow sky high and they have to get out, but George Clooney heads upstairs to the old guy’s office where he finds the old guy has committed seppuku….”

“Hari kari….”

“…offed himself, is dead. In the next sequence we cut between shots of: Chris Rock getting the wounded Catherine Zeta Jones back to the car – George Clooney in the old guy’s office – Chris Rock shooting two of the last guards – George Clooney looking at the Hiroshi file – Chris Rock looking at his watch with great concern – a flashback to the killing of George Clooney’s father superimposed over a close up of George Clooney’s face – Chris Rock loading a magazine into his pistol with color-tipped bullets – a flashback of George Clooney’s ninja step-dad being given the orders to kill Little George Clooney and Little George Clooney’s mom – Chris Rock shooting at the closed front gates as he drives at them – a flashback of Little George Clooney watching his white ninja step-dad fight the black ninjas – the fortress gates exploding – a look of grim understanding on George Clooney’s face – the Bentley barreling through the space where the gates were – and then, the fortress explodes in an enormous series of blasts and fireballs!

“Wow! Did George Clooney make it?”

“As the Bentley goes around a corner we see… George Clooney standing on the side of the road, in his gray ninja outfit, his head bowed in thought.”

“I knew he’d make it.”

“Act Three…. George Clooney and Chris Rock at Catherine Zeta Jones’ hospital bedside. She wakes up, Chris Rock excuses himself, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones have a moment, and she asks if he could ever leave his secret ninja life. He says yes, but he has one last thing he has to do; they kiss….”

“And we cut to….”

“…George Clooney getting out of a sleek sports car and walking up the front walk to the porch of his childhood home. Inside, he and his step-dad have a quiet conversation, during which there’s a passing reference to George Clooney’s mom having passed away some years back.”

“Because my mom would ask the movie screen where she is.”

“Finally, George Clooney places the Hiroshi file on the table in front of his step-dad who looks slowly up at George Clooney.”


“…with lightning speed, George Clooney draws a knife and slashes at his step-dad who, with equal speed, leans back in his chair to dodge the strike, produces a knife of his own and blocks the attack. Both knives are driven SWACK! into the wood of the table top. And neither man’s eyes have left the other’s.”

“Cut to….”

“The courtyard of the home at dusk. George Clooney’s step-dad stands in a white ninja outfit, George Clooney stands ready in a blood red one.”

“It’s O-Ren Ishii versus The Bride in the courtyard at the end of Kill Bill 1. But, with George Clooney.”

“During the fight, George Clooney is cut two or three times, but, because his ninja suit is the same color, it isn’t noticed by his step-dad who – it is obvious to all of us – is still the superior fighter. As their swords cross, they talk about what happened all those years ago. As they fight neither man can gain an advantage, but we see blood on the ground and know it is George Clooney’s. After a pass, George Clooney’s step-dad sees a splash of blood on his white costume. He realizes George Clooney is wounded and increases the ferocity of his attack. He tells George Clooney that he can’t beat him because he has never understood sacrifice….”

“A look flashes across George Clooney’s face, and then.…”

“George Clooney makes what appears to be an awkward and desperate thrust with his right arm….”


“George Clooney’s step-dad chops off George Clooney’s right hand! We see the blade, in the hand, move in slow motion across the screen, spurting blood….”


“…behind it.”


“The slo-mo shifts back into real time with a cut to a tight two shot and we hear a kind of gasp, grunt, and we see a look of total surprise on George Clooney’s step-dad’s face; George Clooney has a short sword in his left hand that is now deeply imbedded into his step-dad’s chest.”

“The white ninja looks at George Clooney.…”

“And dies.”

“Fade to black.…”

“And fade up to the sidelines on a tennis court where George Clooney is standing by an equipment bag. He has a metal hook-like device at the end of his right arm. The shot widens and Chris Rock tells him, ‘Try the white one.’ George Clooney takes the hook thing off his arm and snaps in place this prosthetic hand gripping a tennis racket.”


“He looks at it and it switches quickly between backhand and forehand positions with a little mechanical sound. George Clooney smiles and looks up, and sitting in the first row of the stands is… Catherine Zeta Jones, smiling back at him, and she says, ‘Go get him, darling.’

“And we pull out, up, a helicopter shot, slow enough to see George Clooney go to the line and fire off an ace and then we’re moving away, over blue water and beaches….”

“Roll credits… the end.”

“An action martial arts James Bond 60s TV series revival with a touch of Cary Grant meets Keanu Reeves buddy movie.”

The Defiant Ones, with romance.”

“And ninjas.”

“And ninjas.”

“It’s the perfect buddy movie vehicle for George Clooney and Chris Rock.”

“Or Ving Rhames.”

“Right… or Ving Rhames.”

Monday, March 2, 2009

Now that's a collection....

In the February-March issue of Book Forum Geoff Nicholson has a short article titled, "Rare Bits & Pieces." My friend on the Expecting Rain discussion forum, "The Revelator," knowing that I am more than fond of the author, Richard Brautigan, sent me the link to Nicholson's article because in the amazing book collection he describes is perhaps the most perfect piece of Brautigan ephemera, ever: the author's 1970 Texas fishing license. Above my own small collection of Brautigan first editions is my one piece of Brautigan ephemera, a framed invitation from Grove Press to the reception celebrating the publication of his first novel, A Confederate General From Big Sur.

Nicholson's article is so much fun that, even though you can read it by clicking the link in the first sentence above, I'm going to post the whole thing below with the hope that neither he nor Book Forum object:

Rare Bits & Pieces
Artist richard prince has amassed an idiosyncratic collection of first editions and literary curios.
By Geoff Nicholson

If by some chance you happen to be passing through Rensselaerville, a formerly wealthy, now eerily becalmed, mill town in far upstate New York, you might possibly notice a neat, substantial, brick-built house at the center of town. It’s elegantly austere, nineteenth-century, with two doors and six windows symmetrically arranged on the front, and on the side is one of those plaques telling you how far you are from other places in the world: 29 miles from Catskill, 262 from Montreal, and 2,358 from Panama.

It would be a uniquely alert traveler who’d see that plaque and immediately think, “Ah yes, Panama, the Canal Zone, allegedly the birthplace of artist, appropriator, photographer (indeed rephotographer), and all-round provocateur Richard Prince. This must be the building where he keeps his rare-book collection.” But that’s exactly what it is.

A cursory acquaintance with Prince’s art might not suggest he’s the most bookish of artists. His iconography features Marlboro men, cowboys (clothed and naked), nurses (ditto), “girlfriend” imagery from biker magazines, hoods from muscle cars, sometimes muscle cars themselves. His latest works feature doctored photographs of Rastamen and big-breasted women. It’s not exactly Virginia Woolf territory. And yet, and yet.

There have always been clues about Prince’s literary side. The artist’s books and catalogues he’s produced demonstrate a bibliophilia not shared by all visual artists. Photographs have appeared in some of them showing neat stacks of books, like the one in his 2004 publication Man of a dozen or so volumes, all first editions, paperbacks by Charles Willeford and Rudolph Wurlitzer on top, hardbacks by Don DeLillo and Richard Price at the bottom.

Prince has also produced some quirky literary texts. A 1985 piece, published in ZG magazine, is a conspicuously faked, yet very knowing, interview with J. G. Ballard, the gimmick being that the older, more established Ballard is the one asking all the questions. A few years later, in the terrific essay “Bringing It All Back Home,” Prince describes his feelings about collecting, presenting himself as a New York flaneur, energetically seeking out and buying books, some of them rare and valuable, some not, though his preference is evidently for the former. “I want the best copy,” he writes. “The only copy. The most expensive copy. . . . I want the copy that is rarer than anyone had previously dreamed of. I want the copy that dreams.”

These days, as I discovered when I met up with him in Rensselaerville, Prince is able to get exactly what he wants. When he bought Brigid Berlin’s legendary but little-seen, and indeed unpublished, Cock Book for $175,000, in 2005, the acquisition was reported as both gossip and art-world news.

To visit the Prince Library is a pleasure and a privilege and also something of a rarity. Prince explained that he didn’t bring many people there. “Most people just aren’t that interested in books,” he said uncomplainingly. “It’s like a gentleman’s club with only one member.” About once a week, he drives the few miles from his house to the library and sits alone there, enjoying his collection, examining (to take examples more or less at random) his copy of The Colossus inscribed by Sylvia Plath to Ted Hughes, complete with a little heart drawn next to his name, or a first edition of Jack Smith’s The Beautiful Book (Dead Language Press, 1962), one of two hundred, with nineteen tipped-in photographs; a copy sold at auction for a little over $34,000 last year.

Prince says he doesn’t imagine there are any local bad elements planning a heist, but even so there’s a serious security system, and within the house is a sanctum sanctorum, a room-size, walk-in fireproof safe where the truly irreplaceable treasures live. It comes as no surprise to discover that the interior of the building is laid out like a very fine exhibition space. The place is uncluttered, the collection and the visitor are given room to breathe, yet the moment you enter you’re in no doubt that you’re surrounded by wonders.

Yes, those are Diane Arbus photographs, uneditioned ones she made herself, essentially contact prints. Yes, that crash helmet with the fabulous psychedelic paint job is signed by Mountain Girl, Ken Babbs, and Ken Kesey. There on the wall is a check from the Security National Bank of Northport, New York, made out from Jack Kerouac to Allen Ginsberg for $40, dated 1960. It’s been framed alongside a wire report of Kerouac’s death and a photograph, and of course these fugitive bits of literary ephemera have become a Prince artwork.

Prince is a conceptualist, and he originally conceived that his collection would cover the period from 1949, the year of his birth and also of the publication of Orwell’s 1984, to the actual year 1984. Neat—perhaps a little too neat. Like many collecting schemes, the boundaries got distorted: acquiring a full set of Black Mask magazine extended it into the past, as did buying a first edition of Ulysses (one of one hundred signed copies, Shakespeare & Co., 1922). Nevertheless, ’49 to ’84 is an “interesting time” for those intrigued by counterculture in its broadest sense: not just the Beats but also the hippies; not just Kesey and Leary but Nabokov and Heller and Pynchon; not just Warhol but also Zap Comix. “I paid $15,000 for Zap, volume 1, number 1,” Prince said. “People thought I was insane.” Then he added, “Basically, my collection is about sex, drugs, Beats, hippies, punks.” Imagine a long, thoughtful pause here. “And great reads.”

The less precious items in the collection are “open access,” on shelves, in cabinets, sometimes arranged into miniature shrines; a frieze of multiple editions of Lolita in many languages, an accumulation of Richard Brautigan publications along with his fishing license from the State of Texas, dated August 13, 1970; fee: $2.15. In a rear room, spread out on a shelving unit, are layers of pulp paperbacks, which I suspect could never live up to the spiciness of their titles and covers: Beat Nymph, Girl Artist, Unfortunate Flesh. Among them, incredibly, was a copy of Grapefruit signed by John and Yoko. Prince looked at it ambivalently, “Yeah,” he said, “this should probably go upstairs.”

When Prince opens the safe upstairs housing his collection of true rarities, there’s initially rather little to see. The books and manuscripts are in custom-made black leather clamshell boxes, their titles stamped in gold on the spines. What’s inside sets the mind and pulse reeling: a copy of Roots inscribed to Buckminster Fuller, an uncorrected proof of Michael Herr’s Dispatches once owned by Hunter S. Thompson, a copy of Catch-22 inscribed to Joseph Heller’s daughter.

A book lover must positively swoon. I can now say I’ve handled Nabokov’s own two-volume Olympia Press edition of Lolita, with his handwritten corrections. And I’ve very nearly handled some Pynchon letters from the early ’60s, by which I mean I’ve held the plastic folder containing them, getting close enough to read his address on Third Street, Manhattan Beach, though Prince asked me not to reveal the recipient.

I’ve also touched some Kerouac marvels—Prince owns a great many. His letters to Neal Cassady, Visions of Cody inscribed to Cassady, various versions of On the Road, advance and review copies and one inscribed to his sister. There’s also a copy signed “to my Buddy Steve”—that’s Steve Allen—and this very book is the one that sits atop the piano in the famous television interview. Alas, I didn’t get to see the scroll manuscript of Big Sur: It was out at the bindery.

There is a strange, and it seems to me admirable, alchemy at work here. Art-market wealth is being transmuted into literary wealth. Of course, it’s an unequal transformation. All the power is on the art side. Prince’s painting Millionaire Nurse sold in 2008 for $4.7 million. However, as Prince has become ever more collectible, he has become ever more of a collector.

“Sometimes,” he told me, “it seems like this collection of mine is too good to be in private hands. It should be in somewhere like the Morgan Library.” In fact, he’s already negotiating to donate it to the Morgan if they let him have an exhibition there for a couple of years. He also has plans to make a catalogue-cum–artist’s book.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I think a catalogue of the collection would be enough for me. I’d still be able to look at it.” But, I suggested, he wouldn’t be able to touch and smell it, rearrange it, and do all those other things that collectors do. “That’s true,” he admitted, though I didn’t sense he’d find that any great problem. “Collecting like this is a full-time hobby,” he said. “And I have other things I want to do.”