Chris Kraus

Chinese Notebook

October 25 plane ride

I’m going to Wurtsboro, NY, tonight when I get off the plane—the mystifying trace of an impulse felt two or three weeks ago to visit this place in my past, ’82, ’83?—and maybe write something about it. But I doubt it. The time of living with E., working in offices, Ruth and Leslie, ReCherChez. The blue Ford Torino station wagon bought in Queens from “Carlos.” I kept a wrench in the glove box so I could abandon the car when it died, which could happen at any time, take off the plates and walk away from it. P’s visit to my bungalow. A reading maybe that fall at the Ear Inn? The flyer, with a drawing of a table & plates & forks flying over it. The ridiculous Viriginia Woolf Bloomsbury get-up bought from a thrift store—a calf-length herringbone pleated wool skirt, a bottle-green cardigan sweater.

There was a Peeping Tom in the bungalow camp, the manager said he was a Vietnam vet who’d been poisoned by Agent Orange.

I was completely oblivious to the fact that my Sussex was a glorified trailer park for white trash families and drifters on welfare. To leave NYC was to assimilate with the genuinely poor, instead of remaining cosmetically poor as an artist, with a cheap apartment, rich friends and minimal needs.

To have no expectations at all, except “freedom.”


The idea of Wurtsboro was to enjoy the fall, after an awful summer spent working as a temp secretary and living with E. on Second Avenue. Saving money, & then a fall of “writing” to make up for the bad summer. I had no idea what I was writing. A “prose poem?” Horizontal Light? I remember explaining it to Patricia Cobey, the windows in the office downtown at night, I was picking something up then about the early internet, the incessant motion and data flow of capital. It was more feeling than thought—the same feeling of poverty & powerlessness I had getting off work & walking in my shabby office clothes to the Park Avenue Lex. Often, I walked several stops south to expand the time of freedom between the misery of the office and the misery of the apartment. I was white & smart, like the brokers & lawyers I worked for, & yet permanently underclass. I could not save up more than 2 weeks ahead. Any additional expense—doctor, dentist, car repair—would completely fuck me up. For no special reason, I had signed on for this life of suffering. No family, no future, or permanent friends.

I rented the bungalow in Wurtsboro because the exit to Highway 17 was the last before the thruway turned into a toll road. I got off to avoid the toll. The car had cost $300 and I knew it could break any time. The long subway ride out to Queens … I felt it might be dangerous, but E. didn’t go with me, I went alone. E. joked about the seller’s name, which was Carlos, how is sounded like “car loss.”

The rent on my small A-frame house at Wurtsboro Gardens, a scattering of red and white bungalows behind a stone wall, was half what I paid for my apartment, and it was twice as large. Still, I knew if this was a permanent move I’d become one of the permanent poor.

In the bungalow, I read Jane Bowles.

Like M. and his friends—

Throughout your 20s, well into your 30s, your eyes lit with excitement about the video project you’re doing with kids at a slum school—

& then, not—the light goes out of your eyes & you’re a loser, though nothing has changed, you see you’re a primary school teacher without benefits and this grand social project is no more than a temporary shit job & you wonder if Family and Career, the two things you’ve based your whole life to this point in opposition to, are the only things really that last, or can even carry you into the future?

October 26 Sunday

Escaping to the country was an escape from lack—things here were so much cheaper, and there was nothing much to buy—and from rejection, because I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, a grant or a job. With its relatively spacious houses & friendly people, Wurtsboro beckoned as a final escape from NY, the degrading comparisons and competition. But, there is a recognition that the escape will be final. There will be no further escape.

Warm, breezy (“unseasonably warm”) late October leaves—bright sun through the finger-lengths of purple cloud—a warm, upstate fall day. Small round hills, worn down.

Throughout that fall I shot rolls of Super 8 film, whenever I could afford them. Film: A desperate bid for intimacy and expression, i.e.—I have no one to share these sights & feelings with (the view from the road as you come down the steep hill, the rust-colored leaves, my already-forgotten childhood—) but if I film them, maybe you can see them too—


—Film being less compromised, compromising than words or any verbal expression. Emotion.

Ellenville is a large town with a diner. God Bless. No college anywhere near here, just trailers and trucks, etc.

After that fall, when I went back to NY, it was hard to keeping moving the car every day for alternate side of the street parking. Sometimes I was too wasted from whatever happened the night before, sometimes I had to leave early for work. So when the flat tire I didn’t know how to fix, or the dead battery I couldn’t afford to replace, happened, I took of the plates and walked away. Every day I went past to see the car further stripped—it was having an earth burial—until finally it was towed away.

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