Geoff Nicholson

  • Pleasure Principle

    On July 24, 1926, Samuel Steward, one day past his seventeenth birthday, got word that Rudolph Valentino had just checked in to the best hotel in Columbus, Ohio. Grabbing his autograph book, he made his way to the hotel and knocked on Valentino’s door. The actor appeared, wearing only a towel, and after signing his autograph asked whether there was anything else the boy wanted. “Yes,” said Steward, “I’d like to have you.”

    The Latin lover obliged. Steward performed oral sex on him and at some point procured a lock of Valentino’s pubic hair—a souvenir that Steward kept in a monstrance at his

  • Rare Bits & Pieces

    If by some chance you happen to be passing through Rensselaerville, a formerly wealthy, now eerily becalmed, mill town in far upstate New York, you might possibly notice a neat, substantial, brick-built house at the center of town. It’s elegantly austere, nineteenth-century, with two doors and six windows symmetrically arranged on the front, and on the side is one of those plaques telling you how far you are from other places in the world: 29 miles from Catskill, 262 from Montreal, and 2,358 from Panama.

    It would be a uniquely alert traveler who’d see that plaque and immediately think, “Ah


    I know all about traffic. So do you. So does everyone. We curse it. We try to avoid it. When we’re pedestrians, we try not to be run down by it. Of course, we also cause it. And as we sit stuck in it, we sometimes develop one or two pet theories about it, generally based on nothing more than conjecture and personal prejudice. To that extent, Tom Vanderbilt is one of us. In the prologue to Traffic, he wonders whether those who merge lanes at the last possible moment are arrogant queue jumpers or simply making the best use of available space. It’s a good question, and Vanderbilt doesn’t come up

  • Asylum Seeker

    On March 23, 1966, the publisher Peter Owen sent a letter to Anna Kavan, not quite rejecting, though by no means accepting, her manuscript The Cold World. He also sent along a reader’s report that described Kavan’s writing, pretty correctly it seems to me, as a cross between Kafka and The Avengers. Kavan immediately wrote back, with some spirit and what on paper, anyway, looks like good humor, saying, “This expresses quite accurately the effect I was aiming at. Considering Kafka’s reputation and the success of The Avengers, I can’t think why you don’t want the book as it is!”

    This anecdote

  • Mild Irish Rose

    Roddy Doyle, in an interview published in The Guardian, was quoted as saying, “I still live in the same neighborhood where I grew up, and I still have to face the milkman and the neighbors if they don’t like what I write.” I read this, and all I could think was, ye gods, Doyle’s milkman reads modern fiction. Do you think Jonathan Franzen’s milkman reads Jonathan Franzen? Does Thomas Pynchon’s read Pynchon? Irvine Welsh’s read Welsh? Come to think of it, which of these authors even live in places where milkmen still deliver? We may have the beginnings of a new parlor game here.

    This is not an