Author: Jon Cotner & Andy Fitch

Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch are the authors of Ten Walks/Two Talks (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010). They recently completed another manuscript called Conversations over Stolen Food. Cotner and Fitch have performed their dialogic improvisations across the country and internationally. Fitch's critical study Not Intelligent, But Smart: Rethinking Joe Brainard is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press. Cotner lives in New York City. Fitch is an assistant professor in the University of Wyoming's MFA Program.

Conversations over Stolen Food

“On the Wings of Love”
from Conversations over Stolen Food

We recorded forty-five-minute conversations for thirty straight days throughout New York City. Half these talks took place at a Union Square health-food store which, for legal reasons, we call “W.F.” Other locations included MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera House, Central Park, Prospect Park and a Tribeca parking garage. This piece comes from a W.F. conversation.

6:15 p.m. Friday, January 13
Union Square W.F.

A: You heard the announcement?

J: What did it say?

A: “Security to Prepared Foods. Security to Prepared Foods.”

J: So you think they caught somebody?

A: Well one could never shout “Security to Prepared Foods” for me, since near Prepared Foods I shop as a normal customer. Only by subtle degrees do I become a thief on on my way to cashiers. Though I’ll wonder about your box-trick. That seems more flamboyant, like this woman’s leather pants.

J: Now you’re looking at Ed Ruscha…

A: The books.

J: Yeah I’ve returned to P.S. 1 and revisited the Shore show. Amanda hadn’t been to P.S. 1.

A: Did you see the girl’s sea-green tights?

J: Which…

A: To our left: sea-green tights and purple skirt. Today I’ve passed interesting color combinations. But go ahead; Stephen Shore I like.

J: If Shore saw some sea-green tights he could—oh I see…

A: With violet…

J: Yes.

A: leg-warmers on top. Or did you spot a rhinestone-encrusted infinity symbol on the bridge of this man’s glasses?

J: Does it not say ’07?

A: I’d thought it said Go. But please, I love Stephen Shore. His color. Back then few art-photographers worked…

J: Remember the the photo I’d snapped of you while we shared your room in Williamsburg?

A: You were shaving. I mean I was shaving.

J: And in another shot you drained it as I caught your calf, your black sandal, and stray underwear on the dirty bathroom floor.

A: That place felt sooty with…

J: Two walls cut diagonally across this composition—so everything looked…

A: bare cinder blocks, porous…

J: like…

A: A sponge.

J: Yes we couldn’t tell…you can’t get oriented within this photograph, to sense how objects stand in relation to each other.

A: You know, before we get far I said “Oh that photograph where you’re shaving.” I’ve had some identity confusion lately. Yesterday, setting up an online library account, I had to create a password but put 1127 not 1204 (your birthdate instead of mine). Also security guards seem active today. Did three just sprint upstairs?

J: That guy’s undercover, yeah? Or no that’s an ordinary customer at Jamba Juice. Well mayb maybe guards got ticketed for sitting on Union Square grass and feel…

A: Still not over it, huh? I find it best to treat such fines with equanimity: I’m happy lawns stay protected; I’m happy to break laws prohibiting me from lawns; I’m not entirely upset paying fines.

J: Though I’ll try to plead our innocence…

A: Thanks.

J: and take care of both tickets.

A: If you can I’d definitely go.

J: So I’ve considered how how camera placement can defamiliarize an ordinary room. How, when looking at a girl with long blond hair lean against gold pillowcases, you’ll spot…

A: Did you see that? Red sneakers, pink cords and violet puffy jacket (all on a myopic four-year-old).

J: This girl is wild.

A: Yet her mom wears a peace button…

J: Hmm.

A: with earthy hues, some vintage…

J: But yeah: blond hair against gold pillowcases provides a beautiful scene, though you also can conceive of it as a composition in yellow. I hadn’t understood what the curator meant when he said Shore’s subject remains photography itself. Since the whole series examines color, this suggests a photographer preoccupied…

A: For for now I feel physiological urges to pronounce the word tautology, however bad it might look on the page. Still those common sorts of tautologies seem…when you want to compliment an artist, right? You say the subject of her painting…

J: That curator didn’t know what he was talking about?

A: You’d also mentioned “defamiliarization.”

J: Well what what would you call an aesthetic based on capturing rooms from unusual angles—for example Shore’s bathroom photographs? Don’t these photos bring to attention places we’d typically use and then leave behind?

A: Ok, three things. First, I’m worried we’ll get into art, a theoretical art conversation, which normally I would find not interesting. Second, my favorite W.F. manager just passed with a long-sleeved mauve t-shirt and gray…

J: The one in this yellow top?

A: beneath it. No that’s not her. And third, a guy hoisting an “End” flag for the check-out line…

J: Which today stretches almost to the door.

A: can be glimpsed from these chairs. The moment feels harmonious. Now to your question: just the whole defamiliarization concept you know—that term’s reactive, suggesting images of a toilet deviate from our pre-established approach to photography.

J: How does…

A: Sorry my voice cracked a bit. I saw her. But for example Charles Bernstein (again I hope we move away from this), in his conversation with with David Antin brings up vernacular thinking. I love that idea: vernacular perception.

J: Yeah Shore’s work exemplifies vernacular perceptions. He himself says he wants to stay visually aware as he passes his days, and his work heightens the awareness as I live out mine. I can stare at this girl’s tights and settle myself in that perception for a while.

A: With frilly blue, royal-blue dress above.

J: Wow. But anyway, enough with photography. Is this the manager you meant?

A: No that’s not her. Though today they’re all they’re all cute, all the…

J: They are cute…

A: managers; I mean this in friendly…

J: yet each of them looks on the move. I’ve wondered…

A: Often pushing…

J: if there’s some stake-out going on. Let’s…Amanda’s bus got in late last night, and we’ve talked and spent much time together since. Today at breakfast…

Cayla: Is that Jon Cotter?

A: It it is.

C: Oh wow. Cayla—from Shimer College.

J: Shi, Shimer? Yeah I recognize you. How funny.

C: It’s very funny. I didn’t know you’d lived in New York.

J: Yes I do. Do you live here?

C: Well how about that.

J: You live…

C: Yes.

J: Oh really?

C: I moved one year ago.

J: Whereabouts?

C: Mostly Crown Heights Brooklyn…

J: Hmm.

C: if you’ve gone…

J: I’ve just returned to the city. For now I sleep in Fort Greene.

C: Alright.

J: My my friend Andy…

A: How are you?

J: and Cayla.

A: Hi.

J: He um…

A: Nice reds and oranges. I’d noticed as you walked over.

C: What?

A: Nice reds and orange.

C: Oh thank you.

J: Andy’s friend needed somebody to to watch her apartment and feed a cat, so I’ve stayed there the past few weeks but soon will find my own place.

C: I’ve done the watching-her-cat-thing before.

J: Depending on the cat’s age it can be pleasant.

C: Or very…this cat got lost a while.

A: Sure.

J: It escaped the apartment?

C: Yeah the owner said to let it out, but failed to mention it would disappear.

A: So that was a normal thing the cat did?

C: Huh? Yes—though I hadn’t realized…

A: Hmm.

C: he had gotten out.

A: That could be scary.

J: When did you graduate from Shimer?

C: I did not.

J: Oh you didn’t.

C: I went to Columbia.

J: Sounds…

C: Columbia College.

J: Ok.

A: Did Columbia seem interesting? They’ve got a good MFA program.

C: The Columbia that…

A: Chicago, yeah yeah.

C: I liked Columbia College though it didn’t set me up. But I didn’t want to be set up for a career. What about…

J: Well from—wait I’ll pause this.

A: No. We have to keep going.

J: Yeah we’re recording the conversation.

A: It probably won’t catch you so no need to turn self-conscious.

C: I’ve had worse…I have plenty of things to make me self-conscious before I’d worry about conversation.

A: A solid response.

J: Still we’d rarely find people from Shimer, considering how small the place is. Do you have a pen?

C: I do.

J: You should give me your emails or numbers and I’ll get in touch.

C: That sounds fantastic.

J: For now we’ve um…

C: I’ve been running into everybody I could run into lately. Well actually there might be more people.

J: Go ahead and write your number or email or whatever down there. So what’ve you done in New York?

C: I don’t know.

A: Perfectly reasonab…

J: Do you have to earn money or…

C: Yeah.

J: Yeah.

C: I did temp-work then kind of couldn’t take it any more. I’ve thought about accepting a job with a bank. Two banks keep calling but I don’t call back.

J: Right.

C: I’d consider walking dogs yet came here to…I’m an artist, and want to do that. I have upcoming performances.

J: You acted in a Chekhov play, Three Sisters.

C: At Columbia I wrote and directed plays.

J: Well awesome.

C: This is all the information you’d ever need. I’d love to hear from you.

J: Oh this is your pen.

C: [Muffled]

J: No, believe me…

C: [Muffled]

J: But enough’s enough, right? Cayla hey—nice bumping into you. So um…

A: We sit opposite a woman from my English program, though I never could remember her name.

J: I’m curious: when you make out with somebody a a long time—this happened last night and again this morning—will you lose your grasp on language?

A: The morning does it to me.

J: Today I forgot the word “tank-top.” Amanda put one on, and and immediately I thought to myself She looks good in that; I’d I want to go kiss her, or have her come back to bed. And she came and lay down in her tank-top and put a leg over mine, and I felt the heat from her thigh on my thigh, but still couldn’t remember “tank-top.” I I I simply could think Wow she looks great in that.

A: Did you…

J: Yet maybe that’s no bad place….

A: Personally I dislike it. But were you propped? Lying propped in bed really spaces me out.

J: No I’d never lay propped in a bed.

A: Ok.

J: [Cough] something Amanda and I discussed today—she’s never had a cavity. Have you?

A: A minor one. I didn’t brush my teeth for six years straight.

J: So you’d had…

A: That’s when I got my super-minor cavity.

J: a yellow film over them? How old were you? What years?

A: From kindergarten until fifth grade. I wore turtlenecks only, cords (with an elastic waist) and never brushed my teeth. I’d definitely felt smartest that way. I could have quoted you the average weight of any marine mammal in kilograms or pounds, without converting. [Pause] But today I read Jon, about youth in Queens: about a terrible diabetes epidemic specifically in Flushing. Half of New York’s children are overweight, one-fourth obese. Most schools…

J: What distinguishes between overweight…

A: I don’t know what obese means technically. Yet many schools have no gym class. Does this surprise you? Reporters followed Mary Woo throughout her day, and Mary had an eight-minute recess, one.

J: Otherwise she sat in classrooms?

A: Kids watch TV instead of playing outside. 5900 fast-food commercials each year imprint…ooh here comes…

J: Oh right I know this manager you mean.

A: What a goofy girl; that’s what I’ll think…

J: She…

A: but a manager.

J: manages this store?

A: No, but one manager.

J: Yeah the place probably has five simultaneous managers.

A: Staff discussed their holiday party just now, the W.F….

J: Apparently a real flop.

A: That’s what they said. It got much more wild previous years.

J: People drank their two complimentary drinks and moved on.

A: Yet so um in Chinese medicine specific foods count as cures. For a sore throat I can’t—maybe apricots and mustard combine to cure it. Now ads for Asian immigrants play off this…

J: You’re joking.

A: theme to suggest junk-food’s potent qualities.

J: Adults…

A: I’m not claiming…

J: in charge of advertis…

A: direct intent, though of course students come out…pricks come out with psychology degrees and teach bosses how to manipulate workers, or advertisers how to hypnotize kids. The Times asked one one high-school girl her criteria while shopping. She said I only care that it tastes delicious.

J: This morning Amanda offered me gum, and I hadn’t chewed gum in a long, long time. I ran through my history with chewing gum. When my sister and I played whiffle-ball on the front driveway, using the our garage-door as backstop, I’d pack roughly a third…

A: Big League Chew?

J: of a Big League Chew pouch.

A: Those boys always seemed suckers.

J: Oh sure, I was a sucker living in St. Louis County.

A: Identifying your wad with professional players’?

J: Exactly.

A: Imitative foods embarrassed me.

J: I’d grown especially fond of grape, then orange-flavored…

A: Oh.

J: which I know sound trashy.

A: Grape often looked the trashiest, especially with soda.

J: I never drank grape soda. I’m saying I’d chew grape gum—which tasted delicious at the time.

A: Yet…

J: Anyway: I started panicking on the train, imagining gum I didn’t spit out, but…

A: Swallowed? Gross.

J: I began to wonder if wads, some rather large, sit lodged in my intestines.

A: I’ve told you W.F. has tapped my secret favorite songs. This song, “On the Wings of Love,” is not one, though I do remember…

J: [Muffled] least favorites in fact.

A: a story of my sister, in Jamaica, hearing a Rasta man by himself belt it out. She sat on the beach, and he lay in a row-boat, but she heard him. I don’t think she saw him. She…

J: His lyrics…

A: just heard a voice.

J: traveled over waves?

A: Yes.

J: That that woman climbing the stairs pointed Amanda and me from a Court Square G-train to P.S. 1.

A: And on one of the first days here—our first in fact—when a big-bosomed customer slipped some man a note…

J: Of course.

A: The man sat across from this boy with a red backpack. So a bit of circularity’s begun to…

J: Emerge as…

A: temper, or color, our time at W.F.

J: Which seems appropriate for the fifteenth conversation.

A: Hmm.

J: Your fan no longer oscillates, by the way.

A: Because?

J: It just points straight ahead.

A: Am I right it used to only oscillate?

J: Correct; was that advantageous more…

A: I guess I’m indifferent.

J: Alright.

A: Has the fan helped with sleeping?

J: Amanda and I slept peacefully. Sharon’s cat never interrupted our love-making or sleep that followed, out of a (what what seemed) an inherent respect for eroticism.

A: You’d mentioned this earlier: a humility alm…

J: Yes.

A: a modesty on the cat’s part.

J: It crouched in a rocking chair and faced away the entire time.

A: But do you sense many humans would, if stuck in that position, get bored and frustrated, or ask to be included? A friend once did that…

J: You’re kidding.

A: I won’t use names.

J: Oh the Los Angeles…

A: San Fran.

J: Yeah well I did get stuck on a first-floor…

A: Are you shouting? I feel we’ve really shouted today.

J: Once I lay trapped on the first floor of a Northampton loft. Alex and his girlfriend made audible love in the loft-bed, while I flopped on a pull-out sofa near the kitchen—desperately wanting to sleep. I couldn’t fall asleep fast enough. But then I heard him rip open a condom, and heard him unroll it across himself, and believe it or not I heard um the the, I’d heard an…I heard *him…

A: Insertion?

J: penetrating, yes. The moisture.

A: Did did you grow frantic in your perceptions? Enhancing them unconsciously while ignoring what you could? I’ve pictured “The Tell-Tale Heart” without needing to.

J: Well I’d thought that what went on up there took place at the center of the world, though I felt sadly…

A: Far but…

J: far from them, and wanted to sleep and forget my isolation. But eventually I understood I too had found pleasant accommodations, and that it was funny. I got little sleep. Two dogs curled beside me and kept me awake.