Kevin Killian

Kathy Acker, prowling around the tile floor in the rehearsal space at John Woodall's studio, investing the lines she had been given with enormous flair and savagery, like a white tiger. Her little body pumped up like an inflatable cushion, like Dali's couch made up of Mae West's lips. When I hear the expression, larger than life, I always think of Kathy, who could actually seem big through sheer presence. Well, presence is never actually sheer, it's opaque, a complex mechanism with a hundred different factors and parts. Mostly she was in control, and it wasn't always pretty. We were rehearsing Carla Harryman's theater piece Memory Play, in which we were all charged with playing animals of one sort or another, and Kathy had it all down from Day One. Rehearsals lasted so long—ten months or so—that eventually Kathy dropped out, but her spirit continued to animate the production. I learned a lot about stage presence from aping her.

She came over to our apartment and sat on our gray futon and talked about how people in the Bay Area thought she was made out of money, how they were always pestering her to give readings for free, even though her fee was ten thousand dollars an appearance. "Gigs," she called them. Did anyone ever pay her ten thousand dollars, or was that just a catchy round number? I felt like paying her money just to continue talking. We went to the Thai restaurant around the corner on Howard, and she told me about Dario Argento's films, about which she was writing for her novel, "My Mother: Demonology." She was curious about Robin Blaser, and his relationship with Spicer. She could be convincing, bending her body from the waist right into your face, turning those enormous eyes on you, making you feel—not listened to, exactly—but talked at in a most extraordinarily personal way, as though by being her audience of one you were fulfilling an important destiny you hadn't even, until this moment, known was yours. Always, though, her eyes drifted away over your shoulder for her next fuck, or on the lookout for someone she had offended. Someone she was embarrassed by. I think she had a thin skin and was easily hurt. She would be astounded if you didn't remember every single page of every one of her books, which, love her or hate her, are all pretty much the same. (That's not true, but you can't remember everything.) And sometimes what seemed a perfectly grand friendship from the outside went up in flames overnight. He or she (and her mother of course) "suicided," a neologism never far from her thoughts.

From my office I had free tickets to see some Steven Soderbergh film so we went out, me, Dodie, Kathy and her boyfriend the monk, she was always anxious to see the latest films, preferably in a sneak preview like this one, and or if they were free. She would walk out on any event if she wasn't on the guest list. The film was a zoo, we got there late and easily a hundred more people had been let in than they had seats for. It was "Kafka." A year or so later we were supposed to see "Evil Dead III Army of Darkness" and Dodie flipped on the answering machine to hear Kathy's breathy voice, "You guys, I can't go tonight, sorry, I met this guy and he's fucking me and I'm getting majorly distracted . . ." her voice trailing off as though she had dropped the phone into a bath of warm water. Minutes later the voice reappeared, again to whisper, "Sorry, how about Monday?" Then click, beep. I should have saved that tape that's for sure, sent it to Duke.

She had never been invited to Naropa—and then one day the call came, and she was thrilled about the possibility of more promotion and more sex. (For Naropa had had a wild reputation for what we might now call sexual harassment.) "They've scheduled me for 26 interviews!" she crowed. A few weeks later I asked her how it had gone. "You know those interviews?" Kathy growled. "What they mean by interview is that you meet with the students! And I had to meet with 26 of them! After eight or so I called them off. And I never got laid—not once. All the action was down the hall, in Steven Taylor's room. He and Lee Ann's door was like the revolving door at Macy's Herald Square." She was disgruntled, unexpectedly puritanical. "Don't those two have anything else on their minds but sex, sex, sex?"

"How was the scenery?"

She gave me a look. "Like you really want to know."

"It's supposed to be beautiful, the Rockies."

That look doubled in skepticism. "I didn't notice. Who would? Not with all those 'interviews.'"

Glen Helfand wrote something she didn't like—perhaps a favorable review of that novel Gary Indiana wrote that contains a hilarious parody of Kathy. At a club a few days later she walked up to him and dashed the contents of her drink in his face. This had never happened to him before. This gesture, familiar from the movies or from daytime soap opera, brought itself to life, expanding outward like the petals of some miraculous flower. People said she had burned all her bridges in New York, then in London, and now in San Francisco the same patterns of behavior were becoming evident.

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