|interview with an
|Jack Spiegelman curses at the wind as it blows
another one of his paintings face down onto the
ground. He is standing behind a table that is
covered with his artwork, squinting into the
wind as curious customers browse his stuff at
the Montrose Farmer’s Market. His eyes are
dark and his brow is furrowed. There’s a
constant look of judgment on his face. He says,
“This fucking wind!”
Spiegelman graduated from the University of
California at Berkeley with a degree in English.
He says, “I’m a writer that paints.” He has
been painting for 15 years on and off, and says
that he has only really gotten busy with it the
past four or five years. Spiegelman grew up in
Buffalo, New York and now lives in Southern
California where he writes, paints, and teaches
ESL classes part-time for three hours a day. He
has been a cab driver in San Francisco, worked
in the advertising business, and been in
Spiegelman eyes a man with a camera around
his neck who is flipping through his smaller
prints that are in a box on the table. The man
finally notices Spiegelman looking at him and
asks, “These by you?” Which he answers with a
short, “Yeah.” Either he’s not trying to sell his
work, or he thinks this guy isn’t worth the effort.
Either way, the cameraman takes off
muttering, “They’re nice” to himself.
Spiegelman has a New York accent and a look
that he gives people that seems to say, “You
really just ask that? What are ya some kinda
dumbshit?” His eyes bore into people when he
isnt looking away or at the ground and he
speaks with a matter-of-fact tone. He laughs at
some of his customers. One woman comes up
to his table and frowns as she says, “These
people look so sad” (referring to the paintings).
Spiegelman says: "They arent sad--they're
Spiegelman said in a fake Esquire interview that
he wrote, “Its better to be completely wrong
than right in a half-assed way.” He’s after
honesty in his writing. He says, “The best
material, hands down, comes from your family
and friends.” This is also the most difficult to
write about, though. He says, “They don’t want
you to write about them but write about them
you must. It’s the writers curse”. Spiegelman
says he lost a good friend because of a story he
published in LA Weekly. He says, “It was a good
story—flattering. She was a painter. I said it
was only when it came to men that her instincts
betrayed her. Whats so bad about that?”
Spiegelman teaches ESL because it allows him
plenty of time to write and paint. When he
talks about the advantages of teaching ESL he
says, “Its stimulating, its creative, its fun. The
students are great. Its the perfect job for a
writer". He also likes the diversity of the class.
“It gives him something to react to and write
about,” says Lisa Skylar, a friend of
Spiegelman. Spiegelman is busy trying to
share himself with the world using writing and
painting as his media. Skylar describes his
writing as “very personal.” “He likes to be
outside of the norm,” she says. “He wants
people to read his work and be surprised
because they’ve never read anything like it.”
She describes Spiegelman as, “very Jack.”
Skylar says, “Jack is a real individual with a
strong sense of self. He’s very set in his ways.”
She says that this is why he is such a
strong writer, because he is stubborn and
transfers his voice so well into his writing.
Spiegelman writes in an abrupt frenzy. He has
no time for apostrophes and long words. Maybe
it’s that they get in the way of what he’s trying
to say to his readers. Unnecessary clutter. In
an essay he did about the “ad biz” he writes,
Into Steves office. Steve also had a nice office. Here the
view was west across midtown with the Empire State bldg
poking up like a giant mechanical pencil.
Spiegelman writes with periods, not commas.
Earlier in the same piece, he writes,
I drove a cab…It wasn’t bad. I drove nites in San
Francisco. I got to know the city and encountered some
wacky people. I was not bored. There was one problem.
It was a job that the day you started was as far as you
Even his artwork displays an abbreviated
signature, “Spieg”, which is usually scrawled in
Spiegelman is gruff at first glance, and
underneath his tough shell there is a coarse
comic side. In one of his pieces, Spiegelman
The most hideous torture, hands down, is being locked in
a room listening to mariachi music. Threaten me with that
one and I would turn in my Grandmother.
Skylar says, “He is like an uncle to our family.
He is great with kids.” Spiegelman once blew
up his old driver’s license picture, in which
Skylar says he looked like an ex-con, and gave
it to one of her children. “He makes them
laugh, and he loves the attention…He even
writes fake reviews for his books and essays,”
Spiegelman is also a cook and a golfer. Skylar
says that Spiegelman shows skill and patience
in the kitchen. “I love working with him when
we cook. Not many people have the amount of
patience that Jack does in the kitchen,” says
As people shuffle past his table, Spiegelman
greets them with short hellos. The ones who
don’t try too hard to make conversation don’t
stay for long, but the persistent ones do stop for
a while. He converses with fellow artists and
workers at the market. One thing remains
constant in the visits, the people all leave with
smiles on their faces.
|I got an email from Tyler Colville—someone I don’t know.
Says he is a student at Occidental College enrolled in a
journalism class taught by Bob Sipchen—someone I do
know. Bob is a friend and for many years a writer/editor over
at the Times (also a winner of the Pulitzer prize) Tyler says
he has an assignment—to interview an interesting person.
But, as he explained to “Professor” Sipchen, he doesnt know
an interesting person. So Bob gives him my name, says this
Thus the email. I invited the kid to visit me at Montrose—the
farmers market event on Sunday where I peddle my
paintings and prints. He shows up and we do the interview. I
liked the kid, seems like a good kid, smart and, very
important, well behaved—manners.
Some days later I get another request—to interview a friend
or friends. Why not? At my age I have nothing (or almost
nothing) to hide. My only concern is the quality of the writing.
I would rather have a good writer write an unflattering piece
than vice versa.
He writes the piece, emails it along and I was impressed and
thought all the many devoted readers of bflowriter.com
would enjoy it as well.