The Lee Klein Interview

February 28, 2003

Today is the day to listen to sleep in your clohes.

You have until Monday to tell me a horrifying story of opening your big yap and insulting somebody. Just click on this link to see what I mean.

Hey? Did you know that this week marked the one-year anniversary of Nobody told me! Don't worry, though, there will be some sort of attempt at a celebration in the weeks to come.

Today's interviewee, the proprietor of Eyeshot, is many things to many people. He is a cool East-Coaster with pretty eyes. The first time he was preggers, he was living in Alaska. He's a tall fuzzy-sweatered Oberlin intellectual. He was impregnated the second time, in the steaming mud bath, by someone, a Swede we now suspect, who had apparently ejaculated in the mud shortly before he bathed (in the buff). He's a writer and editor. He later gave birth to a most "special" child: an upside-down semi-colon, who he never got around to naming. He's a sweetie. His fourth child came when an upside-down exclamation point had asserted itself in his knickers! He's a meanie. He's also very, very imaginative and sometimes silly. This introduction makes no sense, does it? Just read the damn interview.

The Lee Klein Interview

Where did the name "Eyeshot" come from?
In a recently televised interview, when Michael Jackson was asked about the inspiration for "Billie Jean," he pointed skyward and respectfully whispered "Above." My inspiration was no less divine: driving home from work, midsummer1999, the name appeared all of a sudden, sprayed Jackson Pollack-like across my windshield in revelatory bird splatter: Eyeshot. The name made sense at the time: everything online is within the sight of everyone with access to a computer; plus it has that semi-disturbing "shot in the eye" connotation; plus, it was shortish, once considered a plus for website names...Two years ago, a friend who was very drunk (and tended to talk a lot of trash when sober) told me that the sound you make when you say "eyeshot" means "what you want to do with your life" in Indonesian.

What are your general qualifications for accepting pieces for Eyeshot? What are some of the favorite pieces you've published?
Not sure whether the word "qualifications" in the question refers to me or the pieces...I have no more qualifications than anyone else: Webdelsol has not yet awarded me an official web-editor certification plaque. But I think I sort of know what sucks gargantuan pellets of literary goat poop and what’s worth the minimal trouble of formatting and posting, and by extension, reading by Eyeshot’s meager visitorhood. That last line nicely transitions to a few words about the qualifications of the pieces I accept: I actually just tried writing a list of things I’d suppose I’m looking for, but for each example, I realized I’m also looking for its opposite. Like if I say I wanna see convoluted or impossible or satirically absurd plots written in rich, creamy language spiked with generous chunks of humor, I’d also like to see simple, sober, earnest stories about someone’s mother sewing together the paws of her child’s stuffed animal or whatever. So it seems like the general qualifications depend on the specific merits of the submitted piece...I guess it’s all about what gives me pleasure as a first reader. If a piece is explicitly "a humor thing," and I laugh once or twice, I tend to post it. If I don’t laugh, and it’s supposed to be funny, I reject it. If something is more serious and I like it on a sentence-to-sentence and overall thematic level, I post it. If not, I don’t. If something is incomprehensible and I still can read it all the way through in one sitting without yawning or gagging or redirecting my eyes to anything else in the room, I post it. It’s a semi-simple, semi-intuitive, semi-scientific formula, as you can see...What are some of my favorites? Other than this you mean? I think I’ll skip the second part of the question to avoid dropping names.

The art you feature on Eyeshot runs the gamut from beautiful to confusing to disturbing. How do you choose what goes up? Is it your artwork?
Wow, Claire! Thanks for calling those photographs "art"! I took about 99% of them. I carry a digital camera and go on huge walks through NYC, taking shots of whatever: close-ups of torn posters covered in graffiti and scum, reflections in shop windows wherein I appear sort of like the dippy fella in those Where’s Waldo books, and (whenever possible) terrorist attacks and the resultant vigils and outpouring of related agrammatical merchandise I suppose I stick to surfaces because I’m sort of too cautiously considerate (respectful and shy) to interrupt and ask people (particularly much older, odder-looking folks) if I could photograph their faces for my pissant website. I wind up deleting most of the pics I take, then I crop and distort the dozen or so I can work with. I just barely try to match a piece’s content with the pics, but never in a literal way: if the story’s about a fish, I won’t accompany it with a picture of carp for sale in Chinatown. Eels, maybe. But not carp.

You're not only an editor; you're a writer. Are there any brass rings, publications-wise, that you're hoping to see your name in?
Brass rings? I don’t submit too often to brass rings. I’d be happy to have anything appear wherever, whenever. But responses are more like brass knuckles; they tend to say "not here, not never." Thusly, I’ve posted stuff on Eyeshot under about 40 pseudonyms. I’m pretty tight with the editor.

You have an interesting practice of publishing the rejection letters you write to contributors. Has this made you unpopular or do people deal with it?
It’s true: I sometimes take the time to write elaborate, occasionally evil, always over-the-top rejection letters. This is a reaction to submitting elsewhere and waiting between three months and a lifetime to receive a freaking form rejection slip. As an editor I try to provide the kind of service I’d like to receive as an oft-rejected writer: I send as immediate a response as I can (usually an hour to no more than three days after I receive a submission), letting the submitter know more or less exactly why the piece was rejected, all of it presented in such a way that at least one person (i.e., the rejection letter writer) giggles to himself at least once. When I post the rejections on the site, I try to withhold all reference to a particular writer or story...Does this make me unpopular? Only one or two people ever complained, and when they did, a minute later I deleted the offending excerpt, while thinking s/he who complained is sort of humorless and lame and deserves much worse. People actually e-mail positive comments about the rejections: they’re one of the things on the site that seem to bring the sadistic side of Eyeshot’s visitorship the most pleasure. But if the rejections have made me unpopular with the thin-skinned teary twits of America’s hinterland, that’s fine: if someone’s offended by what I do, I’d prefer they submit somewhere nicer like Pindeldyboz. It’s all free, after all. It’s all volunteer work. I follow whims, and if someone’s ego gets trampled by a silly impulse, I take a second to apologize, then forget about them forever after.

Round two: Some people claim you're a name dropper. Is this true, or are they just hating the player?
Rushdie would never say I’m a name dropper. DeLillo’ll vouch for me...Actually, we both know you’re referring to a particular person’s allegations. The story, from my perspective, and with all respect to the particular person, goes like this: one evening, at a bar, this particular person was out of his/her mind on Kokie’s finest confections. And s/he asked me what I’d been doing that day. Rather excitedly (and soberly) I told this particular person that -- by way of a potentially playah-hateable chain of events -- I’d been simply standing on the sidewalk with these two guys who reminded me of Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Tweedledee, in particular, I’d admired for many years; Tweedledum wrote some controversial Oprah book that came out just before 9-11. (Both Mr. Dee and Mr. Dum had copies of their books torn to shreds by Mr. Pollack at a recent event you attended.) So if this particular person had asked what I did the night before, however, I would have responded, "Um, watched Zoolander?" Instead, she asked what I’d done that particular day. And I responded with totally uncool/earnest excitement (sin, sin, sin). What’s funny is that, after I finished answering the question about what I’d been doing that day, the particular person went on for like fifteen minutes, gushing about Jake Gyllenhaal. As Goethe once said: "It’s fine to talk about movie stars you’ve never met, but once you say something like, ‘Yeah, I was kicking it after the New Yorker thing with freaking Nikolai Gogol and Bruno Schulz,’ you’re immediately guilty of name-dropping." As Plato once said: "That’s total bullshit, yo!" And when it comes to other allegations potentially implied by your question, I don’t think it’s wrong to talk about a good friend when someone (who I know like 300 times less than the owner of the dropped name) points out the friend’s appearance in a magazine then asks, "What s/he’s up to?" I tend to hold dearly to the same belief Teddy Roosevelt clasped firmly to his heart: namely, that all those guilty of such name-dropper baiting should be splayed and flayed across hot racks solely reserved to sear the hypocritical... If you really want to hear name-dropping, contact The Other Lee Klein. He’s the world’s foremost intoner of proper nouns. Otherwise, I would like to send much love out to the particular person alluded to above.

Back to coddling. You're a good-looking editor and it's reported to have been affirmed online. Honestly, on a scale of 1-10, 1 being not and 10 being hot, how hot or not are you?
Someone once submitted this photo of me (from 1998) to She was sure it’d get a 9. She told me she understood the site’s tastes. But, alas, she was wrong: it received a 9.9. The corresponding female 9.9’s were all nearly naked strippers, by the way, straddling poles strippers tend to straddle when they strip. Around that time the 9.9 photo went up, we also submitted a more recent shot. It turned out that between 1998 and late 2000, I’d plummeted 1.1 points...These days, following a similar annual arc of descent, I’d say I’m in the low 7’s, although pride restrains me from attempting to determine my current attractivity.

Alternately, are you deck or fin?
Speaking as a resident of the Polish neighborhood right next to NYC’s Hipster Ground Zero, I realize that using these words ("deck" and "fin") immediately marks one as a wannabe hipster, and since I neither am a hipster nor do I aspire to hipsterdom -- and yet I read and discussed the whole Hipster Handbook thing at a hipster bar when it was on freewilliamsburg back in 2000 as opposed to an article on last month, etc -- I guess all I can honestly say in response to your seemingly rather simple question as to my deck-ness or fin-ness is this: "I’m opposed to the question on the following grounds: I’m not gonna play into some punk’s gambit to capitalize on the codification of an identity based on a superficial composite of something that’s really sort of a cultural phenomenon." That’s totally not a hipster comment, right? But then "I am not a hipster" is the number one tenet of hipsterdom, especially if you drive a 1991 Volvo and listen to Prince as much as anything from Constellation or Drag City Records. But, Claire, as far as I know, the only made-up words I use are "agreeance" and "mulesinme," which means "I think there are mules in me," which means "I am not feeling very fertile."

You're an only child. Are there any ways in which you're a typical only child? Who do you think only children get along best with? Other only children? Youngest children? Oldest children?
Only children get along best with pretend friends.

What's the first album you ever bought, and what's the last album you've bought?
The first album I bought was Pink Floyd’s "The Wall" when it came out. I’d get in trouble for singing "We don’t need no education" etc in first grade. But maybe my first purchase was actually the soundtrack to the movie "Grease." Or Queen’s "Jazz," the one with the poster of the naked bicycle race. The last album I bought was Bonnie Prince Billy’s "Master and Everyone."

You recently returned to New York City after a stint in Iowa City. Will you miss anything about the Midwest?
I’ll miss having nothing to do in Iowa City...On the G train through Brooklyn yesterday, I saw three 10-year-old Latino kids yell out "Hitler!" to a Hasidic Jew getting off the train. A second later, a middle-aged white guy stood in front of them and asked "Which one of you is man enough to tell me who just yelled Hitler?" The kids didn’t say anything, then one of them took the blame. The guy grabbed the kid by the throat, knocked his head against the subway’s window, and said: "You don’t yell freaking Hitler to a Jew!" Then he sat back down, continued reading the New York Times. He wore glasses and high-tops. A woman in her mid-twenties stood up and yelled: "You don’t touch another person like that!" The guy responded: "You probably said it first." The woman responded: "You just don’t touch someone like that." The guy responded: "Words ain’t gonna teach those freaking kids anything". . . Things can be pretty overtly interesting when you’re doing nothing at all. In the Midwest, everything’s much more subtle: "What’s that smell? Manure? The Quaker Oats plant blowing down from Cedar Rapids? Maybe another crystal meth lab exploded?"

You're currently working on a novel. What's it about? How are you finding the novel-writing process? Do you have a particular process?
There’s no real sense saying what the book’s about. Right now, it’s about one thing. Let’s say, in honor of the upcoming baseball season, it’s about a homosexual home-plate umpire in love with a pretty Dominican catcher. By the time I’m done with it, I’m sure it’ll be all about what goes through the mind of a blind aerial skier as she glides toward the ramp in the hope of winning a seeing-eye miniature horse...It’s really my third attempt at writing a novel. The first is here. The second I abandoned after 200 pages, then whittled to this and that. Process-wise, I prefer writing by hand. It’s as mobile a system as a laptop, somewhat cheaper, and it keeps you from editing and editing and editing as you try to write the story. Once something’s scrawled out, I type everything up. Then rewrite it. Then print it. Then scratch 30% of it. Then delete everything else. Then insert a picture of an ostrich. Then trace it with words. Then rewrite the traced ostrich in such a way that people move around and speak in such a way that doesn’t sound all that stupid.

So tell us what it's like to be from New Jersey.
As you may know, New Jersey is located between two of the country’s largest cities. And so it’s sort of like being an only child: mom and dad are NYC and Philly. But only children don’t have official birds, and New Jersey’s bird is the yellow flicker. Or maybe the gold finch. There’s a joke about the state bird being the mosquito: it’s about as funny as the "You from Jersey? What exit?" joke. Beautiful beaches, plenty of forests, amazing highways: what more could you want from one of the most densely populated states in the U.S. (the strip between Philadelphia and NYC, up Route One, diagonally through the middle of the state, is supposedly the most densely populated extended stretch of land in the world). Just recently, driving back from Iowa on I-80, I could tell when we were back in NJ -- not because I smelled the stench of some terrible-smelling smelly thing or because the car was blown off the road by the flapping of radioactive woolly-mammoth moths or because I saw a huge roadside sign welcoming us to New Jersey -- but because, simply, there are three lanes instead of two, the lanes are a little wider, and it’s a law for the lanes to be marked by those little reflector things -- not just the strip separating two-way traffic, mind you, but each lane of a three-lane highway. Amazing highways in New Jersey! The state’s often shat upon for its industrial wastelands, but those areas have their "unreal city" sort of beauty, and they’re really only a small percentage of the Garden State’s total acreage. But, Claire, did you know that New Jersey has a solid literary history, too? That’s right: Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Phillip Roth, Edmund Wilson, W.S. Merwin, Stephen Crane, Paul Auster, Mark Leyner, Sam Lipsyte, Jonathan Ames, Peter Benchley (author of "Jaws") plus a few hundred more who lived and wrote there for a while (Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kenzaburo Oe, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Ford, Thorton Wilder, James Merrill), not to mention it’s the land of Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Blues Traveler, Bruce Willis, Whitney Houston, The Feelies, and The Fugees. And Einstein and Edison and the guy who figured out Fermat’s Theorem and the freak they based "A Beautiful Mind" on. But your question was about what it’s like to be from this land, right? My experience was almost exactly like a cross between "The Sopranos" and "Happiness."

You have a website and spend a pretty good deal of time online, yet you sort of seem to have a love-hate relationship with e-communication. When do you think the Internet is useful for disseminating information and communication, and when do you think it sucks?
At best, it’s like an improvised, interactive novel, wherein characters emanate from the transmission and trail of their words. At best, people keep people company, fend off loneliness. At worst, it all reeks of the loneliness people are fending off. And I think certain people tend to direct too much of their life into it and become emanations, reduced to words interacting with other words. I could write more on this, but won’t.

Who was the last author who inspired you, or who you imitated or ripped off from?
Are you implying I’m a ripper-offer? Huh? Very well then. W.G. Sebald’s "The Emigrants" is not something one can easily imitate...

You are one of the few lucky ones who have guest-starred in an Irritable Colon video. Were the directors zealots or were they coddling, providing a wonderful snack table and a director's chair with your name on it?
Indeed, I was privileged to a behind-the-scenes glance at the Irritable Colonists’ creative process. I’ve always thought those two guys were Phoenix’s long overdo (and significantly more masculine) answer to Milwaukee’s Laverne & Shirley. Now I think they’re well on their way to proclaiming themselves Iowa City’s Affleck & Damon for the Midwest’s disaffected laymen. One colonist even provided pepperoni pizza in exchange for helping him unload a moving van of his junk. Otherwise, among other things unmentionable, the video of which you speak shows me breaking an egg into a bowl of potato chips. (Editor's Note: If you cannot use the above link in Quicktime, try the Realplayer version.)

What made you decide to begin the Eyeshot Literary Escort Service? Did it inspire any love matches?
Have you ever read Woody Allen’s story "The Whores of Mensa"? Well, the Escort Service was sort of inspired by that, but instead of just talking about "The Wasteland" or whatever, interactions with escorts would also involve inflatable voyeurs, blood ceremonies, mako sharks, and, of course, wild humping. As far as love matches, didn’t you use the service to secure our premiere offering?

Here is a question that you posed to your Escorts, and now I'd like to hear your response: "Have you ever entertained sexual fantasies about a literary character? If so, please describe your date."
It’s hard for me to answer this one: I tend to prefer realities with literary authors to fantasies with mere characters.

How does it feel to be the 45th person interviewed for
It’s clear you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel...