February 1997

February and still no snow.

When I expressed my horror of the beastly stuff to an unknown woman, she said, "It's cleansing." She had to be joking. But this winter the streets of Manhattan, which usually at this time of year are awash with gray mud, are dry. One of the mysteries of New York is that there is no drainage. When it rains for a day and a night there are small lakes and rivers at the edge of the sidewalk. You find yourself running along the curb like a cat looking for a place to jump off without getting water in your shoes. Looked at from afar, especially from the sea, New York appears to be a splendid citadel of steel and glass. When you live here, it's a wreck — a noisy, smelly, crowded, wonderful wreck.

I live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan which people are trying to call The East Village — over my dead body. It is what solitaire players call "the discard pile." The residents are hopeless cases. It is mercifully free of that arty flavor of Greenwich Village. But though the denizens of the Lower East Side are so poor that in the summer they sleep on the sidewalks, there are expensive restaurants shoulder-to-shoulder all the way from where I live to 14th Street where the Lower East Side ends. However poor you are you never cook.

People ask me if I cook, but "cook" is a strong word. I can fry an egg, I can boil a potato, I can open a tin of soup (at least I could until my left hand became useless), but I wouldn't say that I cook. I would merely hate to live in such a way that I had to go out because I got so hungry.

This month I enjoyed a wonderful free supper. At the invitation of Mr. Sting I saw Gentlemen Don't Eat Poets, a film in which he was featured. The opening was a very grand affair with the ushers dressed as butlers in black tail coats and striped trousers, photographers and journalists by the hundreds and the crowned heads of the entertainment business where there in the smiling and nodding racket. The film, by contrast, was subdued and very English with Mr. Sting engaged as a butler in a large country home owned by Mr. Bates. Someone has been murdered and his body served to the pigs and the pigs served to the guests. Mr. Bates has a stroke — and not of luck! In one of his fantasies a camel appears.

At a great banquet to which, after the film, we were all invited, I asked Mr. Sting about this exotic animal. He replied, "It was very expensive." Mr. Sting remains quite unchanged by all the glory and all the fame by which he is perpetually surrounded. It is wonderfully refreshing to be with him even if for a moment.

All that happiness took place before I was involved in a scandal.

A journalist telephoned me from England and told me about a certain Dr. Watson (not the little friend of Mr. Holmes) but a Scotsman who had discovered DNA. If there turned out to be a gay gene, I was asked, and if taking the fantasy still further, it were possible to detect this gene in a foetus while it was still in the womb, would the mother be justified or perhaps he said should she be allowed to abort it?

Without hesitation, I said "Yes."

How any would expected I would say anything else, I cannot imagine. I hold that life is not the best of things that could happen to anyone. I said that I never understood why anyone could emerge from a train derailment or an airplane crash with one arm and no luggage and say "I'm lucky to be alive." I have always said that death is our only friend.

Had I known that my agent and my publisher would have been upset with this statement I suppose I would have modified it, but I would not have said the opposite. I have, since this news emerged, had a long discussion with my agent. She points out that life in America is much easier now and I couldn't help being amused, in spite of the gravity of this situation, when she told me that there was a gay character on Miss Roseanne Barr's show. What a pitiful compensation. To me the every word uttered in this discussion confirms my opinion, the term acceptance doesn't occur in the conversation of real people. When you ask anyone why he is doing anything, he replies, "Everybody does." My niece when asked why she was getting married, replied, "Everybody does." This world belongs to normal people, they don't have to establish their rights to it, they live in it. My agent also said that my opinion encouraged persecution, this was certainly not my intention. Nothing does that. I did not say that all homosexuals should be killed, I said they should not have occurred, which is quite different. But my view on abortion generally seems contrary to popular belief. I have never understood how anti-abortionists can be seen lying like porpoises on the pavement outside clinics when, on the same news program, it is possible to see that a garbage collector has found a baby four hours old in a carrier bag in a dumpster.

There are too many of us in the world. We have passed the population size that Mr. Huxley considered impossible for the earth to support and we are still increasing. It is obvious that teenagers will become pregnant whatever the warning. If we are not to die of overcrowding and starvation, we must abort.

Nature, which I do not worship as most people do, is ruthless. It intends to survive and does so in the most brutal way, producing thousands of everything on the heartless grounds that something will survive. And we must try to defy nature instead of conniving with it in this merciless process.

Of course, I didn't make this statement to an English journalist to annoy my agent or my publisher, I simply did not think of them. I am not in the business of selling books, only of writing them. Undoubtedly, we shall hear more on this subject.

Copyright © 1999–2007 by Quentin Crisp and Phillip Ward,
from Dusty Answers (forthcoming), Mr. Crisp's final book.
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