Smoking With Joe Kapitan

by Nancy Stebbins Read the Story June 23, 2014

Of all the pin-up girls to choose from, why Farrah?

Why Farrah? Although I generally hate the saying, I was simply writing what I know on this one. I was one of the roughly 12 million owners of that famous poster in the late ’70s (yes, I’m dating myself). It was taped to the ceiling over my bed and that big smile full of white teeth served as a nightlight of sorts. That poster came out right when I was entering puberty and it captured everything I was thinking about in terms of female beauty and femininity. It really had more to do with attitude and inner iridescence than it did with any surface thing like blondness or thinness. She looks absolutely comfortable in her body and her sexuality, and that spirit, that feeling, bored right to my core. Legend has it that the advertising firm that arranged the shoot (for Charlie’s Angels promotions) wanted her in a bikini, but Farrah wasn’t comfortable showing that much skin and pulled the red one-piece from her closet, demanding to use it instead. She was basically telling them “I’ll define what’s beautiful to me on my own terms, not yours, and I prefer a little restraint.” It was genius because it allowed her truest, fullest self to shine.
Having dealt with broken-hearted teenagers (and been one many years ago), I wonder if everyone should have a Farrah Fawcett Guardian Angel.

I agree, I think every broken-hearted teenager needs a guardian something. Maybe several. A whole support team. Those teenage years are such a cruel time. My son is just entering this phase and it hurts me to watch him wallow through it sometimes. It’s like an epidemic of low self-esteem causes a secondary epidemic of meanness. I want to prescribe more hugs. More deep talks. More posters, if that will help. Kids are so vulnerable at this age and so willing to latch on to anything that will help them feel better for a while, including a whole host of ultimately negative escapist behaviors. I think this is where the story started to take a different turn for me.

The story takes a dark twist when the 31-year-old single woman dies. Why couldn’t Farrah save her? Are her less charitable motivations revealed here?

Farrah became much more interesting to me at this point—was she a dark angel or some comely and benign form of demon? She definitely let the young woman die and was not shy about letting the narrator know that. She was enjoying her control, and her victim’s powerlessness. It intrigues me that there could exist these types of ambiguous creatures in the world whose main sport is manipulating us humans, playing to our weaknesses for their own benefit, like ants herding aphids.

The last line felt a little ambiguous to me. Who will he burn alongside of?

When I wrote that line, I wasn’t thinking literally, as in the fires of hell. I was thinking more abstractly—that he finally realized he was ensnared and would be subjected to her will for eternity. And you’re right, it gives an ambiguous feeling, because the narrator himself is ambiguous about it—caught in her trap, seeing the trap, yet at some level welcoming the trap because the alternative of loneliness would be the only thing more unbearable. The ultimate love/hate relationship.

So, for the seasons, I’m hoping you can settle an ongoing question. What is the appropriate attire? I mean, can one wear white before Orange Barrels or not?

Appropriate fashion choices during Orange Barrels have nothing to do with color, but everything to do with fabric. Lightweight cottons are a must. Avoid rayon, polyester, or any other man-made fabric. When stuck in a construction traffic jam for hours in a hot car and you’re forced to lick your own sweat from your face just to stay hydrated, fossil-fuel-based fabrics may melt onto the skin or spontaneously combust. Wearing white cotton is a smart choice. If necessary, you can take it off and tie it to your side mirror to signal for help when your radiator overheats.

About the Author:

Joe Kapitan is a full-time architect from Cleveland, Ohio, where the sun doesn't shine from November to April, giving him ample time to write pale and cranky short fiction.

About the Interviewer:

Nancy Stebbins is a former editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.