I met Iris for the second time at our friend Jacob's wedding shower. She was wearing a cream silk top with a repeating print of foxes and cropped cream trousers with a respecting print of terriers, and black heels and large costume gold earrings -- she called it her "hunting look."
"What's going on with your band?" she asked, having met me the summer before, after I played a Girl Problems show in New York. "New band. We're called The Lady Bankers," I said. "What's going on with you?" "My first novel's coming out in June," she told me.
A few months later, I met up with her in New York. We ate pignolis and Ruffles sandwiches and talked about music, books, being a grown up, and whether or not we'd figure it all out before the sun expanded into a "red giant" and swallowed the earth and all of life as we know it. "I watch a lot of Science Channel," she shrugged, after conversation took that last turn.
On a casual stroll back from the Hayden Planetarium -- I'd wanted to do something cultural, and she'd run out of astronaut ice cream -- I introduced a game called, "Which Writer Would You Rather?"
Julie Ingram: With which writer would you most want to spend a night in jail?
Elaine Dundy. I'm not a girl's girl and generally prefer the company of men, but in this case I'd definitely want a woman around. Men get cranky very easily; Hemingway, I'm sure, would bitch all night. Women, on the other hand, have a much higher pain threshold from having periods and wearing high heels and don't complain the way men do. I'm certain Ms. Dundy and I would get up to singing and very likely choreograph a dance routine for the guards.
Photo by Dawn Earles
Which writer would you want to cook dinner for you, and what would he/she cook?
I'd want Max Ernst to cook me something surreal and inedible: Styrofoam cake stuffed with toy soldiers. Donald Barthelme, I understand, was an excellent cook. I feel like Kundera would make a great dinner and dinner companion. I'd love to listen to the radio -- classical -- as we ate a modest but good repast. I'd wear dark sunglasses and take them on and off between courses. He would do the same, so that one of us was always slightly hidden from the other. I'd think about his body and accuse him of thinking about mine. I'd tell him, "You're a pig, Milan," and chew my green beans very slowly.
Which writer would you like to read his/her own poetry out loud to you in bed?
I'd like to organize a sleepover with Mallarme, Keats, and Oscar Levant. We'd eat Pinwheels in bed, paint our nails ferocious colors, watch Sleeping with the Enemy on TBS and during commercial breaks, take turns reading our new poems aloud and daring each other to prank call Byron and confess our undying love.
Which writer would you like to introduce to your parents?
F. Scott Fitzgerald is the perfect boy to bring home and S.J. Perelman the perfect man to introduce at Thanksgiving dinner, years later, after Scott and I fall apart.
With which writer would you like to choreograph a dance?
Proust! Everyone forgets that before Proust became Proust proper he was a party-boy and cut-up, known for his playful sense of humor. No one took him seriously, least of all himself. I know he'd make a great dance partner -- funny, lithe and energetic, until his asthma forced him to sit down a while.
With which writer would you like to travel and where would you go?
I'd like to take the Paris Metro with Raymond Queneau and get off at a random stop and wander around.
With which writer would you like to discuss your novel, Iris Has Free Time?
All of the above. They are my ideal readers and writers. Also, I feel like Melville would get what I was up to. I wouldn't mind making out with him either, just some kissing outside the ladies room while the others remained at the table, waiting for our drinks to arrive.
Iris Smyles's new novel, Iris Has Free Time, is out from Soft Skull Press now.