He’s Not Dead Yet? Life with Gene Gregorits
Gene Gregorits is the greatest, truest writer you never heard of, unless you read the news right after he cut off his earlobe and ate it. Twice. How that hurricane of a man ever managed to sit still long enough to complete eight books, including the...
Gene Gregorits is the greatest, truest writer you never heard of, unless you read the news right after he cut off his earlobe and ate it. Twice. How that hurricane of a man ever managed to sit still long enough to complete eight books, including the three-volume “disintegration comedy” Dog Days, is beyond my comprehension. I asked his haters, lovers, and family to describe him. Two themes stood out: an awed intimacy with the writing, and an acknowledgment of the wisdom in keeping a safe distance from the writer.
Gene's mom: Gene is eccentric. Intelligent. Uh... I'm trying to not let my negative thoughts out. He has a very good heart. He's just... volatile. Determined. Well-spoken. Extremely handsome, in spite of his best efforts not to be. Beautiful eyes. Beautiful from the day he was born. But full of anger.
Gene's dad: [Hangs up on me.]
John Kolchak: Gene is a pathologically narcissistic bloke with an ego from outer space who takes an unusual approach to self promotion: self-pity, extortion, and self-mutilation to sell books. Seems affable enough though.
Dennis C. Lee: Man-child, baby-man. Lost and found. He's a crazed shaman in search of a tribe that's no longer there. Never met him but I like him. Reminds me of many a fallen comrade.
Cliff Dellinger: A plane going down in flames while furiously writing and throwing.
Melissa Mescalero: The allegory of being a fiend, themes about possession, being seized. Gene's writing reminds me of the things I think about in my head that I have to process and rework so that they're acceptable enough in social settings when I tell stories. Also, I really like his word choice. Other people describe a "rip off" vibe of Bukowski/GG Allin/whatever, but when I’m reading Gene, I actually hear my own voice in it.
Maggie Wagner: Highly functioning lunatic.
Mr. Yuk: Don't trust him with your daughter. But the fucker can write!
Cynthia Santiglia: His writing meant enough for me to send him all my money, bring him home with me, feed him, clothe him, coddle him, suck him, fuck him, not to mention all manners of putting up with him. He is fond of me but he sees me as a sort of desperate older woman, and he thinks I'm taking care of him because I am in love with him, but I am not. I do care for him deeply, but it's really all about the writing. Dog Days spoke to me in a way nothing else has, ever. It was life changing for me, cliched as that may sound, and cathartic, literally an EVENT in my life, reading that little book. The connection. My hunger for his words, words that could easily be mine, had I the talent. I don't trust him as far as I can throw him. He lies constantly but I know it isn't only to protect the short term gravy train I provide, but also to protect my feelings. He makes me laugh every single day. We have fun together. Yup, that we do. That I don't think he would ever dispute. Everyone, including Gene, thinks he’s using me. I am the only one who knows he’s not.
Anonymous: Lydia [Lunch] emailed me last night, she said it's time for Gregorits to rid his worthless self from this planet. I've known her through many boyfriends and he was the worst. He makes fun of me in print. Gene's an asshole whose only claim to fame was the fact that Lydia likes young boys and he was one. Out of all the talent in the world why you are writing about him is beyond me.
Christine Boguslaski: He's not dead yet?
Gene Gregorits: We’re not doing it now, are we? I’m completely hungover, can I run out and get some beer first? Take me ten minutes.
VICE: One question, then you can go get a beer. Do people feel turned into characters by you?
Yeah, I mean, that IS what I’m doing. The people in my neighborhood, they’re the characters in the third part of my trilogy of Dog Days. I amassed on my videocamera upwards of a thousand hours of the neighbors. Most of them were totally okay with being taped. Most people aren’t, but this is a poor community, we’re very tight; we have to help one another. I never want to leave this beach. I’m going to go run and grab some beer before I fucking die. I’m really fast on this bike. I’ll be back in ten minutes.
What are you wearing?
A pair of filthy blue flowered swim trunks, recently purchased blue Reef flip flops and a purple shirt with little blue bottles of wine printed on it.
How come you are so often shirtless in photos?
It’s the beach. Beachlife. I’m always either in the pool or the ocean. And it’s just nice because I’m developing a paunch from the drinking, I’m around people who have even bigger beer bellies, so I’m not self-conscious about it. I can go around half-naked all the time. I can go to the store without a shirt on around here. Or shoes. I can go in my underwear to buy eggs if I want to.
Southern California is like that, too. Even the fat people want to feel the breeze and the sun on their flesh, and they do. It’s really nice. How is it for writing?
The only thing I’ve written this week is a 15- or 20-page statement for court about my landlady, the infamous thief, pimp, crook, killer Suzanne Ferry. Other than that, I’ve only written on Facebook, ranting and raving, making a fool of myself. I don’t really get to do real writing because I have to worry about getting these books shipped out, I’m 30 orders backed up and—hold on…
Who is it? I’m on the phone. Yeah, you can have a beer. OK, I’m back.
See, that’s the other great thing about this neighborhood. Everybody likes me here. I’ve never had so many friends in my entire life. Every five minutes literally there’s somebody at my door and they want a beer or a cigarette or just to see what I’m up to. I like that. I’ve been secretly lonely all my life, and I’m not lonely anymore. It’s great.
Conversation here is kept very basic. We talk about women, we talk about drugs, we talk about the police. The police are here all the time. They’re at my door almost as much as my neighbors are. There were literally eight or ten cops here last night to kick all the people off my porch. A few people got written up for trespass, and now we’re not allowed to drink in front of my place. Suzanne, my landlady, stole my fucking propane tank from the grill, because that grill was like a buglight. If there was food on the grill, people could smell it cooking and would come congregate, and that’s exactly what they don’t want. Especially now that it’s gotten out of hand with me riding around naked on my ten speed carrying a machete. I’ll ride it into the pool sometimes. Get revved up blocks away and then crash the gate at 25 miles per hour and ride straight into the fucking pool. She’s going to bring all these things up in court: he walks around naked, he falls asleep in the gutter. But I have a much longer list of complaints about her, and I think I’m going to win.
Do you think your neighbors and friends down there are as deep as people who know the regular collection of intellectuals' names and cultural reference points?
Why live in the Lower East Side when people here are much more original, much more amusing and respectful? A lot more fun to be around. I mean, yeah I can’t really have the conversations I want to have all the time. But my next door neighbor, Zeeb, an Iraq war vet, he’s seen Blade Runner. We can talk about Blade Runner. I can’t talk to him about Agnes Varda. But that’s all right. They go through all the stuff that the intellectual people go through. Then again, I don’t know much about philosophy or poetry or history. I’m a lot more like these guys than I was like the people I lived with in New York, or the people Lydia Lunch introduced me to in LA. A lot of those conversations were alienating to me. I’ve never read William Faulkner. I realized that I could write well myself, and the important thing is that you’re doing it, in a context and with a caliber of material that is relevant, that actually gets the interest of people who are smarter than you. You know what I mean?
Who do you want reading you?
The language is a little dense for my mother, the sentences were too long, but it is basic enough for her to get it. Or the bartender last night. She’s a derby girl named Ammo. She made some kind of crack about, “So what about that girl that you raped, Gene?” So obviously she read the book. The language is not antiquated. It’s basic. I play with sentence structure, which you can do with simple words. And I play with chronology. I like atmosphere and I like style more than plot. I have no interest in writing a plot-heavy story. And I don’t think I’m going to write books at all after I’m finished with the Dog Days trilogy. I want to make movies.
Unlike professionally schooled writers, you don’t seem to use writing to construct or alter something. You use it more like a machete to get stuff out of the way to show what already is.
I hope so. That’s really nice, thank you.
When you cut off a piece of your ear, you looked really happy and like it was funny.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life. They wanted to put me away for a long time. I’m the first recorded case in Florida of auto-cannibalism. But when I went before a whole board of doctors, they were in stitches. They felt bad about it; it’s really unprofessional to be laughing. But, I had a sense of humor about it, and the truth is it doesn’t hurt that bad. It bleeds a lot and looks really horrible, but I’ve never had a tingle of regret over cutting off my earlobe.
What’s the use of it anyway? It just hangs there.
Yeah. And I liked it so much, I went back a second time and did it again, and they locked me up a second time. This time, same people, they were all laughing again; they said, “What are we going to do with you?” I said, “Well, I’d like to go home.” They said, “OK.” My landlady was counting on me being gone for nine days again, so when I got back the next day, I caught them in the act and I grabbed what I could off the truck. They took my television, my plates, my knives, my food. I said, “Fuck you, this is not a legal eviction.” Also about the ear, there was a bit of a flap there hanging from the first time. It was unappealing, it was off-putting. So I took another piece off. Which I also ate.
How did it taste?
Tasted like beer. Blood’s great. I wish there was someone like an android who didn’t feel pain and you could just hack ‘em up and, you know, eat them. Wouldn’t you take advantage of that, if you could eat somebody but not really hurt them?
Remember the German who took out a personal ad that said I want to eat somebody and this other German answered his ad saying Yeah I want to be eaten? And they got together and he slowly ate him over three days until he finally died.
Remember the Chinese guy who cut off his own penis and ate it or gave it to someone, a gift from one lover to another?
And then there was the porn guy who cut up his boyfriend and ate some of him and mailed the rest of him out. But I don’t think that was consensual.
And let’s not forget dear old Daniel Rakowitz and Monica Beerle…he fed her to the homeless.
I think I would rather be eaten than to eat someone. It would be a nice way to be remembered after I’m dead. Sure there is murderous cannibalism, but there’s also places where it’s a way to honor loved ones.
It is an important part of many cultures. I try not to judge. I was going to eat my cat Hank when he was killed. I thought it would be the best thing to do. I didn’t want to leave him in the ground. My girlfriend at the time was appalled at the idea, so I didn’t. It still breaks my heart that he’s out there in that field all alone. He could have been warm and safe in my tummy. All I had to do was find a way to make it less gamy. I heard cat meat is supposed to taste awful.
You would have been able to get through it. A funeral isn’t easy, why should eating our dead be easy? What’s the longest you’ve been in a mental institution?
Two and a half months when I was a kid. I was 14 or 15.
I was going to kill my mother. My mother and I used to fight a lot. I felt very trapped. We lived in a one- or a two-bedroom apartment. My brother and I shared a room and my mother was always behind in bills and rent. Her temper was short, and I liked to bait and provoke her. There would be a lot of violence. We’re great friends now and we’ve worked our way through it. At the time, though, I hated school and couldn’t get along with her. All I wanted was to get a job and get my own place, even when I was 15. I always knew for a fact—I didn’t know how I knew, but I knew I was going to get out of there fast, and without finishing school. My mother thought that she could, as usual, remedy that situation by force. With me, that’s the worst thing you can do.
Were you diagnosed with something?
I don’t know if they did at that time. Now I hear “bipolar” all the time. But everybody’s fucking bipolar. Like everybody’s got herpes. It doesn’t mean anything.
Do you think that being called crazy means you don’t fit the expectations of your era?
I don’t know. I’ve always been very single-minded and I got turned on to the idea very early in my life by Celine and Bukowski that it’s okay to not like people. To me, the example was set that the thing to do is to fall in love and find a good place to hide from everybody else. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do up till now. But if I’m going to be an artist, I need an audience, so I need some place in my life for people, and some way to deal with people. When I’m in a room with somebody, they know that I’m really uncomfortable, and that makes them uncomfortable and things get really weird. And it’s like quicksand: the harder you try to fight your way out of it, the quicker you’re going to sink.
Here’s a line from one of your books: “I was pleading on my knees before my infernal teenage-daughter-fixation Sarah Tillman.” Were you really on your knees in real life?
Yes, I was on my knees literally.
Have you done that before? Been on your knees pleading?
Yeah. I don’t know how to leave somebody. No matter how fucking dire the relationship is or what point of hell we’ve reached together, at the point of no return still I won’t accept that somebody’s going to leave. I’ve had girls that I’ve absolutely hated, to where we had to do a lot of drugs to make it interesting, make it seem like there was something going on, when it came time to end it, I will flip out. I will become catatonic. I won’t eat, I won’t sleep, I won’t work. It takes me fucking months and months to get my head back after that. That’s why it’s comfortable right now and it’s comforting that I don’t have to worry about that happening, because I’m not… or I wasn’t… with anyone.
But it was nice for a long time there to be able to enjoy my life without worrying about what somebody else is doing behind my back. I’ve been cheated on a lot. Because apparently I don’t like to have sex very often, that’s what I’ve been told. “You’d rather be on Facebook than fuck me.” I actually had a girlfriend’s father take me out to a bar and set me down and say, “Gene, she’s not happy.” Basically saying, “Please fuck my daughter. When I was your age, I was horny all the time. Don’t you find my daughter attractive?” I said, “Yeah, of course I do!” “Well she says that you’re up all night drinking.” I’m like, “That’s because I’m working such a horrible job and I’m so keyed up on adrenalin when I get home, I just want to blot everything out.” I’ve had several relationships like that. I am a really horny guy, but I don’t know… sex for me is more something to play with, and dip in now and then. Who said that great quote Don’t ever try to beat sex because it’s much greater than you?
Have you ever left anyone?
That’s confusing. No, I guess I left Sarah. John Water’s hairdresser’s daughter. This guy, her father, was always trying to counsel me, get involved, telling me what to do, or to do everything differently. And I did leave her, because I wasn’t going to be dictated to.
What was your age and what was Lydia’s age when you met?
I was probably about 23 and she was about 38, 39. I’m 35 now.
Reading your email exchanges that you include in your book, it seems like a mommy baby relationship. She was giving you all these instructions on what to expect every step of the way at the airport, mailing you vitamins.
I was scared to fly. I’d never been west of Cleveland, and all of a sudden I have to fly to L.A.? I don’t drive for a reason. I don’t vote. I don’t do things that most people do, because it’s depressing. I feel like once I have the world figured out, then my life is over. I want there to be things in my life that I’ll never understand or never have the courage to discover on my own. There’s no way I could have ever figured out even how to buy a plane ticket if she hadn’t taken me by the hand all the way through it.
She was talking to you like you were six years old: “Don’t carry too much change in your pockets,” at the same time you guys were I.M.’ing where you were sucking on the bloody panties she’d mailed you.
Does it seem incongruous to you how maternal it was at the same time it was violently sexual?
Well, she’s a schizophrenic and she acknowledges that, and that she’s a sociopath. Half of it is theatricality and half of it is real. She’s a profoundly damaged human being. So yeah, she wanted me to be really healthy, but for her. So I could handle it. Because what did she do when I got out there? She whipped me with a rubber cord until my back was drenched with blood. And I think it was later that night or the next night I’m tied to a chair, blindfolded, whipped brutally, punched in the face, while she’s having sex with someone else. This was before we’d even decided to be together. I mean, there was one date in New York that involved some heavy petting, but that was it.
Photo by Tom Garretson, www.guttersaint.org
It was like in Hansel and Gretel… she was trying to plump you up, get you healthy, before she ate you.
I think so. But then she’s got the other side of her personality where she wants to be abused. I don’t believe in masochism. I think it’s mental illness, I mean nobody really enjoys pain. That’s not possible.
I disagree. And I think you’re putting what happened off on Lydia, but that was a relationship. You were in that relationship, for years. You can’t just say she was crazy.
I don’t know. If I knew at the time what I know now, I probably would have found a way out of the relationship. In fact, I did throw myself out of a third story window. No wait, that was a different time. I climbed up on a huge moving truck, drunk, onto the roof, and jumped off onto the sidewalk on the Bowery and broke both of my feet. Right when I was supposed to be moving to L.A. permanently. My whole New York life was in boxes. Lydia was trying to find out if I did that on purpose to sabotage it because maybe she wasn’t what I wanted.
Talking with you, I think you sound sensible in how you describe motivations for how you've lived. Maybe you don’t live sensibly.
I didn’t understand at the time what was happening with the whole Lydia thing, what it was really about. And it destroyed ten years of my life. I could have been doing other things and been enjoying myself and avoiding a lot of problems and a lot of damage if I had been sensible earlier. But if Lydia hadn’t come along, something else would have. I was in my early 20s, but I was really more like 12, 13. I had no friends, no connections, no advice coming in from anywhere. I was so retarded on so many levels. I couldn’t cook, I didn’t know how to travel, how to find an apartment, how to turn the electric on. I could clip coupons. That was about the extent of it, as far as managing in the world.
You were like an alien who’d just landed. And you said you felt uncomfortable around people. But I feel an easy connection to you. Do you get that a lot? Like, We’re twinsies?
When it comes from someone like you, it’s a compliment. But when it comes from someone who beats and cheats and lies and is a scumbag, then you hate to hear that shit. And you don’t like to be in the position of having to explain that they’re wrong.
That’s interesting though, that so many people like that relate to you.
I don’t spare the reader any details at all. I’m learning as much about myself in hindsight writing it. At the time, I think I’m being naughty, I think I’m getting away with something. Sometimes writing, I hate to call it transgressive, but I guess it’s almost an act of malice. But then you look back and you realize it’s all true.
You’re not transgressive like Peter Sotos. His stuff comes off as deliberate. Yours comes off like you can’t help it. And sometimes it’s just fun. Your writing is contradictory, and that may be what people respond to. Everybody is a mixed bag of horribleness and gentleness, yet we feel embarrassed by one or the other and feel like we have to pick one and cover up or destroy the other half.
When I was reading your book in the pool today, that’s the thing that jumped out at me. I feel like we’re on the same path of yeah, we’re contradictory, but we don’t have to make sense of it. We have to manage it, but we don’t have to have a tidy fucking bow wrapped around anything. We’re not forces of evil or negative, but hey, we’re damaged, and we’re going to do destructive things sometimes that don’t make any fucking sense.
Do you think you’ll ever quit drinking?
[Sound of swallowing] Mn-mn. Mn-mn! Oh, no, no! I like this stuff way too much. Forget that! Beer is really nice in Florida because it’s really hot all the time. But what I really like is red wine. I named my book company Monastrell. It’s a really dry, earthy wine. You need something powerful to pair it with. I could talk about this for hours and hours. Why would I give that up? I’m at my happiest when I am sitting by myself at a table on a warm night with a bottle of wine and a pile of stupid magazines like Entertainment Weekly and a huge steak. And I can just pick at my food arrogantly for three hours and I’m just there to pay tribute to myself and be a big-headed wanker. You had to quit drinking, didn’t you?
I did have to quit drinking, and you’re making me salivate right now. That’s what was so great about drinking. When I drank socially, I became such a wreck that it was obviously bad for everybody. But going to the store on a warm night and getting some magazines and cans of beer that would sweat and just eating and just being there, that’s good memories. Who do you think you’re more like: The Bronte sisters or GG Allin?
I don’t know about the Bronte sisters. You’d have to tell me about them. Female romance is attractive to me because it’s romance. But it’s female. I’m much more attracted to the Jim Thompson kind of romance where you don’t get the girl. Matter of fact, you don’t get anything. You get your face blasted off. You get shot in the back. You get sent away to prison to work in an oil field for 15 years. That kind of thing. And the girl was in on it the whole time. That’s my idea of romance.
The Bronte sister characters went insane, they killed each other, one guy killed his beloved’s little dog and hung it for her to find. Then she saw a ghost and opened a window and caught her death.
That sounds good. See, romance from a woman’s point of view, there’s a lot of drama and histrionics. I think that with the most doomed and ill-fated male stereotypes—James Ellroy, Mickey Roarke, Celine, Carl Panzran… like Jim Thompson said, “I’m damned and I’m proud of it.” You reach the point where you’re no longer interested in redemption. And you don’t need any drama. You don’t need a bunch of screaming and yelling and death. What it’s really about is giving up. And brooding. And being broken. I think that the best way to be romantic is to be completely smashed to where you’re no longer capable of romance in any traditional sense. I’ve always wanted to be that, honestly. [laughs]
Do you think you are?
Yeah. I finally got my wish! [laughs] That’s why I’m not afraid of people anymore ‘cause I got nothing left. I’m not trying to protect or preserve anything anymore. The illusion has been torn down. It’s a fucking joke and a lie. The only way I can access—hold on. [Gene’s neighbor returns.]
What? OK, you can take another beer, man, but you’re going to have to give me one later. But hurry up, man, I’m on the phone! Please? You know, how can you be that drunk? It’s only two o’clock in the afternoon. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. I’m going to find your mother in Tampa and tell on you. I love you, too. Bye.
OK, I’m back. [laughs] We’re just getting started. We’re going to be howling like monkeys in five, six hours. The police will be here. A girl will probably get smashed in the face and somebody’s windshield will be broken. Somebody’s fishing pole will get stolen and that will cause something. A dog will be kicked. It’s gonna be great! And it’s every fucking night. It never stops. Once in a while… if there’s a huge storm and the whole beach is rained out or there’s a flood, then people will have to quiet down a little bit. Because you can’t really be louder than a category three hurricane.
Lisa Carver is the author of seven books, including Drugs Are Nice and Reaching Out with No Hands: Reconsidering Yoko Ono. She lives in New Hampshire, and in March she's going to Texas for her first (and no doubt last) stand-up comedy routine.
Editor’s Note: An earlier, incorrect version of this interview was previously posted. This, above, is the legit version.