Abi Cohen
No Fences: A Conversation with T Cooper, p.4

T:    I'm glad that you get it, because some people just say 'You're sick!' I'm not a packrat, I swear! I'm good at whittling down my needs, but as far as that stuff, you just don't know. With my grandmother I'd always find tissues stuck in here and here and here (shows me the interiors of her bag and jacket pockets)… because you never know when the Nazis are coming again! This is the same grandmother that I found some pot in her glove box once and I asked her "What's this?" "Ohhhhh that's just for bridge."

A:     Awesome!

T:    Tissues and pot! She used to live in Palm Springs, Palm Springs which is where all the old people live and they're just burnt to a crisp, like walking scabs. And they just hang out in what are supposed to be beautiful, Roman inspired pools with cherubs spilling water into the water. Only in Palm Springs. It's just like all they can do to create grass in the desert.

A:    It sounds like Caesar's Palace...

T:    Yeah, its exactly like Cesar's Palace which I was just at 2 weeks ago.

A:     Yeah? What's your take on Las Vegas?

T:    Oh, it's so hard to be there! I was just there for three days, I don't think I can ever go back. It was fun, but it's kind of like Dollywood too - you just look at people and you're like 'You're looking at me? Look at you! Look what you're eating! Look what you're wearing! You're holding a thing this big [hold her hands about two feet apart] shaped like the Eiffel Tower and drinking out of it, and you think I'm weird!?"

A.    You were telling me that you tutor to help pay the bills. I'm curious, are you more of a mentor to these kids or…

T:     I was in the beginning I was, but now I've been with the same kids for so long we get down to work a little more. Over the years I've learned, there are some sad fucked up kids. These rich families, the parents just work so hard and never get to see their kids. I was one of the people hired to help their lives; the cook, a butler, a tutor, a nanny… I encountered some fairly abusive parents, and some situations I had to just get out of. One kid was so sweet, and had an English teacher who I guess was gay and the kid's mother would just go off! She'd take me out in the hall and just start yelling. "He's the worst teacher! He's such a faggot!" I'm just like, Look at me. You don't say that kind of stuff! It was incredible.

A:    Maybe she sensed you were gay and that just brought out...

T:     Yeah, that always happens. I'm sure that's what happened there. But these are liberal you know [laughs] Jews. You know, Upper West Side. Where did the idea of Upper West Side liberalism come from? Now all I see is a lot of Gaps, and Starbucks and Banana Republics. This city is so funny. I'm doing an interview with this really sweet kid on my block. He's this Puerto Rican kid who I've kind of watched grow up. I met him and his younger brother when his younger brother stole my bike five years ago. The younger brother's in jail now for doing much worse things, but I've been talking to the older brother a lot, have him over my house. He's got a kid already, its mind blowing. He grew up right next to me, closer to Avenue C, and its so interesting listening to him. Just over the past 18 years, he's gotten busted for selling drugs like heroin in the building across the street. Our block was the drug block of the neighborhood for years! So it's just funny to ask him 'What do you think of all these rich white people walking around?' 'Well you can sell more drugs to them 'cause they're stupid.' He's positive about the changes, he has no problems with them. He likes the new fancy German beer pub down the block. It's really interesting.

True to her word, T isn't a pack-rat, her apartment is sparsely furnished with well chosen items, and carefully tucked away are numerous vintage photos and postcards she's collected from her travels. She shows off her 'most prized possession', a postcard from a "brand new, ultra modern" horizontal slab of a strip mall. "I was so happy when I found it!" T keeps a collection of black and white snapshots artfully arranged under the glass surface of her desk. I had assumed they were family photos, but she tells me she found them at yard sales around the country although there is a photo her father took included in the mix. She tells me that an idyllic family photo was taken in 1907 Vermont, and then draws my attention to a troop of Boy Scouts. "They're so funny!" T points out one of the scouts, standing front and center, who unlike the other tow headed boys is of ambiguous ethnicity. "Doesn't it look like he could be Asian? And maybe he's the only one…" her voice trails off, and appears to be lost in thought, her hand moving slowly across the photo, "I love these things."

[1]       [2]       [3]       4

You can see T Cooper read from her work in New York City on Sunday, May 23, 2004 at 6:00 PM, as part of the Transistor reading series at the Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia Street, 212.989.9319.

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May 2004

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Wrestling with Steve Greenberg
Jay Michaelson

T Cooper
Abi Cohen

The Stable
Ira Stone

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From previous issues:

Julia Glassman

The Reason for Jellyfish
Hal Sirowitz

The Polity
Rachel Dobkin