BY JONATHAN VALANIA Oscar Wilde famously postulated that all of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Writer Joe Queenan wasn’t born in the gutter — actually it was somewhere near the false bottom of the Irish Catholic working class of Philadelphia circa 1950 — but you could see it from there. His father was a study in boozy failure and casual brutality whose self-inflicted setbacks would drag the family Queenan — Joe, three suffering sisters and an emotionally-remote, enabling mother — down to the ranks of the lower class for a four-year exile in Philadelphia public housing where they endured all the attendant deprivations, miseries and daily indignities to be found there. It was reading, along with a few fully-functional relatives and the pageantry of Catholic ritual, that showed Joe it didn’t have to be like this. And thus began Queenan’s long ladder climb up from the bottom, all of which he renders with stark clarity and wicked humor in Closing Time, his just-published memoir. It is no exaggeration to call it a heartbreaking work of staggering genius — you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and in between you might even learn something. Today Queenan is a highly-regarded humorist, critic and author with eight books under his belt, including the Baby Boomer-eviscerating Balsamic Dreams and Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon, his snark-fueled odyssey through the deepest depths of the American low brow.
Joe Queenan will be appearing at the Free Library Festival on Sunday at 1 PM.
PHAWKER: First off, the book is fantastic. You should be very, very proud, it’s so elegantly written and devastatingly funny and moving. Since this will be running with the library festival, let’s talk a little bit about the writing and your process as a writer. Do you keep a regular schedule? When you’re working, is there “a day in the life of Joe Queenan?
JOE QUEENAN: No. It’s, particularly as I get older, if it’s a nice day, I’ll spend the whole day reading. I read a lot of newspapers. Not that many magazines anymore, but I read two or three newspapers every day. I listen to a lot of music, and I usually watch a movie every day, so if it’s a really really nice day, I’ll just blow it off, so I think I tend to do most of my work in the winter. And I do almost all of my writing in the morning.
PHAWKER: In the morning? How early do you get up?
JOE QUEENAN: I get up around 6-6:30. I get to my office around 8:30, and by 1pm, I’m done with whatever I need to do. I don’t think much creative work gets done after 1 o’clock.
PHAWKER: So you say you keep an office separate from where you live. You live in Tarrytown, New York, correct?
JOE QUEENAN: Right. I’ve had an office there for about fifteen years, which is just a little office in a commercial building.
PHAWKER: So is that important to kind of get away from the house and go somewhere separate?
JOE QUEENAN: My kids hated it when I worked at home. When I got my office, my daughter was 10 and my son was 7, and I used to do alot of writing for Movieline, so they would be calling at 9 o’clock at night because they were on the west coast, and my kids just always wanted to know ‘Are you home or are you working?’ After I got my office, I basically never worked at home again, and they just wanted to know ‘he’s home now and he’ll play Stratego or darts with us, but he’s not working all the time.’
PHAWKER: So when daddy’s home, he’s available.
JOE QUEENAN: Yeah, they liked that. Just the fact that he’s home now. Everybody needs a place that they can go to so at the end of the day they can say ‘I’m outta here.’ Even self-employed people, it’s important to have a place like that. It’s important to have a place where you can stick all the paperwork. You don’t want to have all that at home or else you’re just working all the time. So my books are at home, and the CD’s I love are at home, while most of the CD’s people gave me are at the office. So in my office I mostly listen to music that I don’t actually like that much. That also helps me to get out of the office earlier.
PHAWKER: I have some more writing questions, but you mentioned music, so let’s sidetrack there for a second. Do you have an iPod, CD’s, vinyl?
JOE QUEENAN: Well I have the iPod my daughter loaded up for me, and I listen to it for two reasons. One, it blocks out cell phone calls, otherwise I would just rip people’s lungs out. Two, when I listen to her iPod, I feel her presence, even though I fast forward through half the songs. There’s certain bands that my daughter likes that I just don’t care for, but there’s other bands that I do like. The Dropkick Murphys are fine, the Killers, Jack White, The Racounters, they’re all fine. I’m not crazy about Jimmy Eat World. Not crazy about some of those other bands. But instead of loading the iPod up with songs she knew I would like, she put songs that she liked. And that was great.
PHAWKER: And how old is your daughter now?
JOE QUEENAN: She’s 25.
PHAWKER: One last music question: Popular music is better, worse, or pretty much the same as it ever was, compared to when you were a teenager?
JOE QUEENAN: I don’t actually want to make a verdict because, well, here’s the difference. When I was a kid, I wasn’t listening to music that resembled my parents’ music. My kids do. When I listen to The Killers, I can hear Led Zeppelin riffs in them. Pop music hasn’t broken with its past in the way rock and roll did. Rock and roll was nothing like swing, just like swing was nothing like dixieland. Most music that my kids listen to I can listen to. Maybe that’s a good thing for me, but not such a good thing for them. I think pop music could use a completely new idea.
PHAWKER: One last thing about rock and roll. Would you say, true or false, that perhaps in your day, that rock and roll could legitimately be called revolution? These days, could it be seen as more of a rite of passage or a ritual?
JOE QUEENAN: I think, when I was young, it quickly passed from being revolutionary to being a product. I think by the end of the 1960’s, it was just a product. Led Zeppelin’s a perfect example of a band that was almost a simple fitting. Like, ‘let’s get a blonde singer in Jeff beck’s band, and let’s get another Yardbird guitarist.’ And of course Led Zeppelin is a great band. They were interested in having a lot of fun, I don’t thing they were interested in changing the world. So I suppose rock and roll freed people. I asked my mother when she knew that the world didn’t belong to her anymore, and she said ‘Elvis.’ She said after Elvis came out that her music was done. I have yet to arrive at that point. If I turn on the radio, they’re playing The Doors a lot, or they’re playing something that sounds like something Bowie would’ve done. Beck is one of the perfect examples. Beck I love, because he sounds like everybody I love. Beck has just assimilated every experience, and Jack White’s like that. Jack White has picked up from a lot of people, particularly Led Zeppelin. I enjoy listening to that music, but the fact that your father likes your music may not be such a great thing.
PHAWKER: As I’ve said of Jack White, many people have sounded like Plant, and many people have sounded like Paige, but nobody has been able to sound like both Plant and Paige, and now one person has.
JOE QUEENAN: That’s exactly what Jack White has. Those are Jimmy Paige riffs and Robert Plant vocals. I can’t make up my mind about Jack White, but he’s an interesting guy. He’s in a new band now. He’s in another band that he’s starting up, and he’s playing drums now. He’s a guy who does a lot of interesting things, and in that sense, he’s a lot like Bowie. That’s a good thing since it keeps people guessing. I’m glad that he’s not with that drummer anymore, she seemed to be holding him back, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that.
PHAWKER: OK, getting back to writing questions, how much revising do you do? Are you a ‘first draft, best draft’ kind of guy or do you labor over it?
JOE QUEENAN: For articles, I write it and I work on it for a while, but articles are written very very quickly. I always say I can write an article in an hour and revise it in an hour, so that’s four pages. So to write a 300 page book, you should be able to do it in 75 days, but this book took four years. So obviously a book, in particular this book, is very different than writing articles. Articles you can just do automatically once you know how to do them. Books are a completely different thing.
PHAWKER: So was the challenge in the writing or in a lot of the time spent coming back here and reconnecting with your past? Or all the above?
JOE QUEENAN: It was my writing in a different way than I’ve written before. It was writing where I was not just consciously writing punchline, punchline, punchline, so it was a completely different kind of writing. It wasn’t until I was doing it for about a year that I actually believed I could do it. Until I had written this book, I had only written two pieces that were really serious in my entire life. I did a piece in Newsweek about my father, and a piece in the New York Times about a funeral I had been to. Everything else I had written was funny, and in fact, I think that this book is very funny but also very dark. There’s places where it’s dark and funny at the same time.
PHAWKER: Agreed. How did you discover your voice as a prose stylist, and when did you decide that this is Joe Queenan’s voice and not some subliminal homage to your favorite writers?
JOE QUEENAN: I didn’t start writing until I was 26, which is unlike all those kids that work for literary magazines, and they all write these kinds of sad stories and they all suck. Those guys, I think, never go anywhere. I knew that I never wanted to do that as a kid, I didn’t have anything to say, I didn’t have a voice, and I hadn’t had any neat experiences. So when I started writing, I had been to France, I had been around, done a few things. I worked in a food market in Paris. I read voraciously, and I kept notebooks, and I always tell all the other writers that the way you learn how to write is you write down the sentences that you love, and subconsciously, you’re imitating them. I love the way Graham Greene wrote, but he wasn’t known for being funny. He had a very beautiful style of writing, obviously Oscar Wilde- or Mark Twain-inspired. When I was 25, I wrote a novel and it was terrible. Then I wrote another novel and it was terrible. Then I wrote more and more novels, and they were pretty funny. A couple of them were supposed to be published, and when I was 26, I wrote about 60 short stories. About 40 or 50 of them ended up getting published in various literary magazines. It was at that time I found my voice. My wife was out working, so I stayed home and wrote like 90 hours a week, and that’s how I learned how to write. That book The Outliers talks about the 10,000 hours. Well, duh. Yeah, it takes 10,000 hours. Everybody knows that it takes about five years of hard work before you get it where you really want to get it. I always say after the first year or so of intense writing, you learn to leave things out.
PHAWKER: When you were 25 or 26, what years are we talking about here? Twenty years ago, 25 years ago?
JOE QUEENAN: ’75, ’76.
PHAWKER: Comparatively speaking, was it easier to make a living then as a writer than now?
JOE QUEENAN: No, I think all the editors hated my work. I remember when I was writing fiction I was getting letters from editors almost begging me not to send anymore stuff. Part of it was I was sending my stuff to literary magazines, and most people who work at literary magazines, they’re very serious fiction writers, and they didn’t have any interest in my kind of fiction. A major factor was the editors at commercial magazines were all in their 50’s, and they just didn’t get it. Then when I got into my 30’s, all the editors who were in their 50’s got thrown out and the younger guys moved in and I didn’t have any trouble getting my stories published. By that time, I had branched out from fiction and moved into journalism, and once I started writing magazine articles, it was easier, but there was a long time when I couldn’t get my work published. People literally didn’t think it was funny.
PHAWKER: So how do you explain the change? Did the times change?
JOE QUEENAN: Part of it was the times. The other part is a lot of the editors are cowardly and won’t publish anything until you’re known, and a lot of editors are idiots. I just thought that most people who rejected my work were idiots. I always thought: I’m coming into the house, if you won’t let me in the front door I will come in through the window, but I am coming in the house — so why are you people needlessly prolonging this? I think part of it was that they were idiots.
PHAWKER: Turning to the book now, to put it charitably, your parents were ill-advised and underachieving by contemporary standards. Given the way it turned out — you’re upwardly mobile, happily married with children, living in upstate New York, author, respected author and social critic — would you change anything about your childhood if you got a do-over?
JOE QUEENAN: Yes. I would like to have a childhood. My three sisters and I, that’s what we have against our father is that he took away our childhood. With my kids, I guess from watching them grow up, that was sort of a second childhood. You hang out with them, you play sports with them. I remember playing football in Melbourne, Australia with my son, and we were the only people in the pool hall who weren’t Chinese. Those experiences are just exhilarating, the best experiences you can have. Another time we went to see a Jet Li movie in Chinese with French subtitles in Paris. And it’s the same thing, he’s having a good childhood, and I’m enjoying this vicariously at some level. So that’s what I would change. The other thing is that I’m successful now, but it was by no means certain that I would be successful when I was a kid. So in retrospect, I can look back, but at the time, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know if I was going to make it even when I was 35!
PHAWKER: Backing up to the parenting thing, were you paranoid that you would turn out to be a terrible parent like your parents? How did you remedy this?
JOE QUEENAN: I think I made a little checklist of everything my dad did, and I did the opposite. Raising kids isn’t that hard. Sometimes you just get dealt a bad hand, and then it won’t make much difference who they had for parents. Some kids won’t be ready for prime time, and sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. I think with most children, you have to make them believe that they’re the most important things in your life, and you can’t lie to them or rule by terror. My dad’s role model for parenting, I think, was Joe Stalin.
PHAWKER: There may not be an answer to this, but what did it take for you to overcome your childhood? Therapy, drugs, Jesus?
JOE QUEENAN: Books and good luck. I read voraciously, and when you read books, you learn how to use words, and when you learn how to use words, you can change your reality. And it helps if you can develop your skills with words, its great dealing with bullies. Actually in high school, if you can put people down, a lot of people will stay away from you. There’s a lot of people who really fear being bullied with words, and eventually, I got pretty good at that. Books were important, but I also had a lot of luck. I met a guy who wanted me to work at his clothing store. Then I met another guy who, I worked in his pharmacy, and I had teachers who helped me. I had one teacher who was very helpful in getting me the scholarship to go to France which completely changed my life. I was lucky I had people who helped me. My sisters didn’t have as much help. They had a harder time because there wasn’t anyone who owned clothing stores to give them jobs, and there weren’t any pharmacies, and there weren’t any women who played four stringed guitars in bars in North Philly who could be their role models, so they had to find their role models elsewhere. I think they did that mostly through our aunts, since we had aunts that they liked, and I think I had an easier time than my sisters. I think a lot of it was luck. When you grow up and you’re successful, people want you to say you got it because of all the hard work. All the hard work in the world isn’t going to make any difference unless you get some lucky breaks. You need to have the help along the way or else you won’t get anywhere.
PHAWKER: Like most Catholics, you seem to have an ambivalent relationship with the church and God, I’m curious, how would you characterize your status on the believer/non-believer scale?
JOE QUEENAN: Well, I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral today. I like churches. I mean, Catholics are really good at building churches, if you go to France and you see those cathedrals, you have to give it to them, they know what they’re doing. Churches are great, because if all of them are gone, you’d just have more stupid high rises. Just more stupid Washington Mutual banks. I still think of churches as great places. A lot of times in the city it’ll be a cold and rainy day, and I’ll go into a church and just be peaceful. Also, when we were growing up, our life in the project of East Falls was pretty drab, so they were basically barracks. So you’d go to church, and there would be these stained glass windows, and everybody’s wearing these weird costumes, speaking in Latin, and there’s great music. There’s a high entertainment value to the Catholic church. It’s underrated. I had a falling out with the church, but I love the pageantry of religion, and I love its ancient past, and I like the feeling that I belong to a certain group. I liked being a Catholic, especially when I went to a Protestant church. Everything was in Latin. It was mysterious and exotic, and I think a lot of that stuff, the ritual, is the appeal to religion. But I’m Catholic because I was raised as a Catholic. I’m not a particularly religious person. My sister still goes regularly, as did my mother and when she could no longer get around, she would watch the mass on television, so my family was very devout. I lost that a long time ago.
PHAWKER: Seems like Catholicism is opera for poor people.
JOE QUEENAN: Very well put, exactly.
PHAWKER: And I understand what you’re saying, how this is very comforting to, say, your mother or sister, but is that really any more useful than taking aspirin or something? It’s alleviating symptoms but is it actually solving anything?
JOE QUEENAN: If you are removing some of the pain, you’re solving some of it. It came to the choice whether I would put my faith in the hands of bureaucrats or in the hands of the Catholic church, and I think I’m better off with the church.
PHAWKER: What are your thoughts on the current Pope?
JOE QUEENAN: He wouldn’t have been my first choice. He’s a hard-ass, and he just doesn’t have that inspirational quality that the one had before him. But he’s a smart guy, very smart guy, but he has a knack for saying things that really piss people off. He was very slow on the draw with denying the Holocaust. That’s the thing about the Catholic church; it wasn’t founded by old men, but young. Now, they could use some more young people. What’s very interesting in the study of history is when you read about Augustus Caesar and Marc Antony, that was generational. Antony was in his 30’s, and Caesar and his men, they were in their 40’s. That’s what all that was about, and that’s true across all counts of history. Guys like Elliott Ness and Al Capone, they were in their 20’s when all that stuff went down in Chicago. Young men have an energy that older men don’t have. Middle-aged men is one thing, but these guys running the church, they’re really old, and that’s one of the problems!
PHAWKER: What is the biggest misconception that the non-poor have about poverty?
JOE QUEENAN: They think it’s just that you don’t have money. Being a little short on cash that week, that’s not being poor. This sort of recreational therapeutic poverty that rich kids go through when they go to Williamsburg, and they spend a year and a half living in some dirty apartment and they don’t have that much cash. Then they go to work for Morgan-Stanely. That is not what poverty is. Poverty is that feeling that no matter what you have, you should have bought the cheaper brand. It’s constantly thinking in terms of ‘I shouldn’t have gotten the Oreos, I should have gone with the Hydrox.’ You’ll always have crummy clothes, crummy appliances. You’ll buy things on time, and end up paying three times as much as they’re worth. You buy products that always break. It stays in your head, and it’s just very hard to dislodge.
PHAWKER: Do you feel marked by your poverty-stricken childhood in the way that your parents were marked coming up in the depression?
JOE QUEENAN: No, I don’t, because I’ve become successful, and there’s a point where you just have to let all that stuff go. In fact, my grandparents were immigrants, they didn’t have any money, my father was an alcoholic. I’ve been fairly successful, my daughter went to Harvard, so that’s the other extreme. You would like to do it in three generations, it took us four, but just the same, I have a beautiful house with a view of the Hudson and my daughter went to Harvard. So I have no complaints about how any of this turned out. The growing up story is always there, but it manifests itself in guilt. The thing that comes up over and over again when I write something is ‘why is he so mean?’ Well, you grow up in an East Falls housing project and we’ll see if you have a sugarplum disposition. Grow up on the south-side of Chicago or something, see if you’re just all sorts of sweetness and light. There is not any of that Sedona, Arizona, West Coast kind of Fleetwood Mac, wear-a-shawl — there’s just none of that stuff in my personality.
PHAWKER: Not a lot of Kumbaya inside, is that what you’re saying?
JOE QUEENAN: I hate all that stuff, folk music. I think the reason I hate folk music is because I grew up in Philadelphia, in the city, so I like the music that kind of reflects all the rhythms of the city. I like rock and roll, I like jazz, blues. I like some hip hop. One kind of music I cannot abide by are some country artists. It’s just the worst kind of music. My friend dragged me to a Kenny Chesny concert at Madison Square Garden. There is no worse experience. That is the worst most awful, synthetic, most dishonest music in the world.
PHAWKER: Speaking of country music, somebody recently wrote an expose about how country music programmers decide what’s going to get on the radio, and they do these focus groups where you can rate between a 1-10. What they do is basically throw out any songs that get a lot of 1’s and 2’s, and 9’s and 10’s, and go for the 5’s, because the biggest concern is not whether someone really loves or hates something, it’s just whether it’s inoffensive enough that they wouldn’t change the station.
JOE QUEENAN: You know, most people have a tin ear. Most people just can’t hear the difference between good music and bad music. For a lot of people, music isn’t important. You know, I would rather listen to a jackhammer than listen to Kenny Chesney. I would rather go deaf than listen to him. It’s completely false and dishonest, and it also sounds like outtakes from Bob Seeger records. If Madonna’s always ten years behind the times, then country’s like 30 years behind the times.
PHAWKER: Speaking of race, casual racism permeated the era when you grew up, it was sort of the constant background noise of the time, and the inference from the book is that people are almost blameless for it. That the root of it goes beyond individual prejudice, that it is the product of socioeconomic forces that dwarf individual responsibility, etc. Much of the same way we look at blatant sexism of bygone days, we seem to be saying blame the times, not the people.
JOE QUEENAN: Well there’s a part in the book where I say just the opposite. There’s the part where I work at the gas station where I say just the opposite, that nothing excuses their behavior. I mean I was 13 when those kids got murdered in Mississippi and I remember that’s when the country changed. Those kids were missing for a while, and the country had plenty of time to think about what had happened, and I think that was the single most important thing that happened in the Civil Rights movement. When I was growing up, what do you think white working class people were like? They elected Rizzo mayor, and Rizzo completely polarized the city. The level of hatred Frank Rizzo brought to the city was terrible. He was talking about bringing in Sherman tanks to deal with rioters.
PHAWKER: Stripping the Black Panthers naked and putting them up against the wall and inviting the media to photograph it.
JOE QUEENAN: What was he thinking? I mean this is unbelievable, and all of that stuff just made things worse. I think Frank Rizzo achieved the exact opposite of what he was trying to achieve, by creating a climate of fear more and more white people left. Where I was growing up, there came a point where white people just left. We had just moved in, and we figured this is a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and there was a crucial moment when everyone just cleared out.
PHAWKER: You’re known as one of the fiercest critics of your own generation, the Baby Boomers. Are Boomers really any less like-able/admirable than the generation that came after them, or, for that matter, before?
JOE QUEENAN: No. The Baby Boomers are annoying but, unlike their parents, didn’t think lynching was a good idea. Baby Boomers helped move society forward in a lot of ways, but they’re just annoying. Part of the reason they’re annoying is that they’re completely hypocritical. They want to save the planet, but they all drive SUV’s. Now that SUV’s are out of fashion, they all want to drive Priuses. But they only want to drive Priuses because they want their neighbors to know that they’re better than them. They’re always good at showing off.
PHAWKER: So is that a Baby boomer trait, or a human trait?
JOE QUEENAN: I think Baby Boomers are very very much into showing off. Not status so much, but showing that they’re good, showing that they care very much. They all have the Kerry/Lieberman bumper stickers. They like that, ‘Let me keep my decal on the car from the election of ’04 to show that I’m very liberal and I care about that.’ And I do think one of the things that happened is that Gen X is getting older, and Gen X is finding out that it’s very hard when you realize that you’re no longer cool. Gen X isn’t as big as the Baby Boomers, so they’re caught between the generation that came after them and a larger group. I remember my parents were never cool, at least in my eyes, and then I saw pictures of them when they were young, and they looked like gangsters. Look at those clothes, the hair, the shoes; they were sleek. Then the Baby boomers came along, and the Baby Boomers thought: We’re going to be 28 forever, we’re always going to be at Woodstock, doing a lot of drugs and we’re all going to look like [Jim] Morrison forever.’
The Baby Boomers, of course, are disliked by Gen X. Then suddenly, Gen X is 40. I went to a Jeff Tweedy concert a couple weeks ago, there was a benefit for Pete Seeger for the Clearwater Foundation. It was just Tweedy and Seeger, and everyone at the concert was either 90 or 37, and everyone was singing along and asking for great Wilco songs. I talked to the kids who were working that night, they were like 19 or 20. They heard of Pete Seeger, but they had no idea who Jeff Tweedy was. They had no idea, they had never heard of Wilco. I think that’s what happens, you wake up one day, and none of those kids has ever heard of Jim Morrison. They don’t care. And every generation suffers that, and every generation has to deal with it. I’m curious to see what happens with Gen X. I don’t think Gen X will support has-been musical acts. I don’t think Gen X will be comfortable with has-beens the way Boomers are.
PHAWKER: I’m actually Gen X, so I’ll speak on the behalf of my generation here. I agree with everything you’re saying, except I think, and this may be a result of information technology — computers, iPods, etc. — but I don’t feel that there’s a break between the generations in terms of not knowing what’s come before. I think that previous generations, there might have been this amnesia about the past because it was much harder to access it. Now it’s always in front of you, everything’s there, you can watch all the movies that have ever been made, listen to all the music that’s ever been made, and access it very easily. I think that impacts the way that people establish their own identity. I feel a very strong sense of responsibility for knowing what’s come before and how they connects to now. Just because you didn’t live in that time doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for knowing what happened then and how it led to where we are now.
JOE QUEENAN: That might be true, I don’t know. I also feel that when I wrote my book about Baby Boomers, that wasn’t my idea. So I wrote the book, its funny, its got good stuff in it, but several times I’ve been invited to be on panels about generational stuff, Gen X, Gen Y, and Baby Boomers, and I don’t do it now, basically because I don’t identify with Baby Boomers. To me generational systems aren’t important.
PHAWKER: Agreed. Back in the early 90s there was this sort of antipathy between Gen X’ers and Boomers, and to me, it felt very media-stoked, that it wasn’t really grassroots. Sure there was some resentment about having this huge demographic group above our heads, and sort of taking up all the jobs, eating up all the Social Security, but I love the 60’s, all the music of the 60’s, the social movements, all that sort of stuff. I didn’t think hippies were jerks or corny, or any of that stuff. I saw it all as part of a bohemian continuum, so I guess it’s just a long way of saying I agree with you. I think these generational schisms really aren’t as important as some would have you believe.
PHAWKER: Alright, we’re winding down here. I’ve got a zillion other things I’d like to ask you, but I won’t take up too much more of your time. We’ve touched at this a little bit, but let’s take one more swing at it, it’s pretty central to the book. What’s the biggest change between Philadelphia around the time you grew up and Philadelphia now?
JOE QUEENAN: I have the same feeling about this that I have about France. The last time I was in France, my daughter said people are really nice. But the old French people are horrible. Young French people are great. They like Americans, and they’re fun to be around, and they don’t have that resentment of Americans because of World War II and all that stuff. I feel the same about Philadelphia. This city doesn’t have the same self-doubt. People in New York are envious about the sports thing. They just say “how can you hold onto that up here?” I just say to them, if you go to the night the Phillies won the World Series, no one in New York will ever know that. You can’t imagine what its like when a whole city goes nuts. That happens in Boston and Cleveland, but that kind of spontaenous collective expression of passion and exhilaration just won’t happen in New York. When I was growing up, people really did think of the city as a kind of second-class city. It was a city that was in decay. Then, a lot of young people moved into the city. There was money, and there were a lot of neighborhoods that were revived. When I was growing up, where were you gonna eat in Philadelphia? Where were you gonna hear jazz in Philadelphia? It was just a completely different world. It was because of Rizzo, in part, and also the whole political scene. It wasn’t a fun place to live. I think, particularly over the past ten years, every time I go down there I’m always amazed at how much I like the city. I didn’t have that feeling growing up.
PHAWKER: OK, I think we’ll leave it there. One last thing I wanted to ask you is that this seems like the makings of a great screenplay, are there any thoughts of trying to make this or sell it as a film, or write it yourself, even?
JOE QUEENAN: No. I’m done with this. If somebody came along and said they wanted to make it into a movie, I’d say that’s fine as long as you don’t have Orlando Bloom play my part. I’ll take Johnny Depp, Seth Rogen, anyone but Orlando Bloom.