‘Reticent, Riot, Wrought:’ The Wit and Wisdom of ‘Notes from Noreen’

The Westside’s own ‘paramedia ecologist’ Gerry Fialka interviews The Best ‘Westchester Crank’ around in this correspondence for the ages

Interview by Gerry Fialka | Edited by Christina Campodonico

I was in stitches, laughing my head off reading a witty letter to the editor of The Argonaut written by the “Westchester Crank” known as Noreen “Do Not Resuscitate” Petrichor, who occasionally submits humorous letters under the guise of an old lady (or maybe she is a little old lady!) to our local rag. She’s commented on everything from the plethora of Bird Scooters on the Westside (Issue: July 24, 2018) to the dearth of affordable housing west of the 405 (Issue: Oct. 17, 2018). You may have seen these “Notes From Noreen” in the letters section of The Argonaut with the tagline, “She may be fictional, but nobody’s perfect.”

Then I found another letter by Noreen “Blood Type: Cod Liver Oil” Petrichor (again aka “Westchester Crank”) in the June 10, 2020 issue. In it, she lamented the tough times on local journalism and relayed her astute observations on the recent George Floyd protests in Santa Monica with wit and wisdom.

Since I immediately wanted to interview Noreen, I asked the editor, who kindly gave me her email address. I sent the request. Noreen granted my request on the condition that we conduct the interview via email. I sent her over 130 questions. I have interviewed people for 60 years. Noreen’s interview rates as one of the very best.

No one has ever answered all of my questions. She did! Usually I do these interviews in person, and cover the first 60 questions. I was in tears of laughing fits reading her answers. The following includes highlights from an insightful, hysterical and enlightening correspondence. To this day, Noreen’s true identity remains a mystery.

1. What’s the best thing for a human being?

To remember to breathe. And to try your best in the face of all-out calamity.

5. What is your earliest memory?

I remember being in some waiting room with garish fluorescent lighting. The floors were linoleum and everything gleamed with antiseptic cleanliness. I like to think it was some kind of pre-life purgatory I was loitering in.

6. Is memory a curse or a blessing?

I’m leaning toward a blessing. Though memory can be an accursed thing. It’ll always wake you up to the good stuff. The cherished nostalgia that enwraps and transports you to bonnie yesteryear.

7. Who were your earliest role-models within your immediate family, and how did they specifically influence/affect you, briefly?

My brother. That’s probably the first time I’ve ever conceded the significant impact he had on my upbringing. He was a right-proper son-of-a-b*tch. Taught me the meaning of duress and grace under fire.

Again, son-of-a-b*tch.

8. Who were/are your role models outside your immediate family and how specifically did/do they affect you, briefly? Earliest, and/or later in life.

Garfield. I was a lonely child and the only true-blue companions I had were those goddamn books. Taught me the importance of lasagna and the absurdity of Mondays.

10. Do evil people exist or does evil use people as a vehicle?

Evil is temporary. Evil is usually a byproduct of fear. But evil using people as a vehicle like an Uber or something is an interesting notion.

11. How do you advise someone to deal with an enemy? Consider – Alan Watts: “If you acknowledge your enemy, you empower them.” Coppola stole from the Mob and Samurais: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Frenemies. JFK: “Forgive your enemy but don’t forget their name.” Fellini: “I need an enemy.” Chinese proverb: “He who cannot agree with their enemy is controlled by them.” Levi-Strauss: “Cannibals boil friends, and roast enemies.” Also, please comment on the first quote.

Be the first to extend that hand of reconciliation and understanding. Little use for an enemy in your life. Convert your enemies to friends. You can still hate them as friends.

13. Lewis Hines published photos of child labor in newspapers, printed matter. Upton Sinclair wrote the book “The Jungle.” They both have been credited as the tipping-point to change laws. Can you tell me of any music, theater, art, or film that actually was the tipping point to change laws?

I think “Super Size Me” was pretty pivotal in getting people to rethink McDonald’s. It certainly dented their bottom line to no end. Which is great because they’re McTerrible.

Same with “Blackfish.” I think that documentary really horrified people and got people to stop patronizing Sea World. I certainly did. And I had such fond childhood memories of the flamingos.

15. What first attracted you to pursue writing?

It was something I had a knack for. Spending a majority of my youth writhing in the aisles of libraries and my library card permanently welded to my gnarled hand, I was hopelessly bookish. And my background and career just kind of veered in that direction, like a moth to a flame.

16. If clothing is an extension of skin, and knife & fork are extensions of teeth, what human sensorium does the moving image camera extend? (Or the pen, paint brush, musical instrument, etc.).

The arch of the feet. Because good art should incite something within to get you out and about and pursue something creative yourself, lighting a little fire under your soles to seek out meaning through creation.

22. “Film as an art form has been swindled by capitalism.” Any comments?

There’s probably some validity to that statement. But commercialization and the de-soulization of art can also take on a beautiful medley. I imagine one can easily orchestrate some kind of EDM tune out of cash register ka-chings. Something throngs can dance to. Or at the very least writhe to hopelessly.

23. Jean-Luc Godard told Michael Moore his film “Fahrenheit 9/11” was going to help George W. Bush get elected. With the slew of political documentaries over recent years, do they activate or make us more passive?

Jean-Luc Godard is still around? Jesus Christ.

24. Marcel Duchamp said there is no art without an audience. What role does the audience play in your creative process (during the making)?

Wouldn’t your own morbid curiosity stand in as an audience? That’s kind of the way I approach it. Lots of the stuff I write has the primary purpose of amusing myself. And whenever I attempt to write for a specific audience in mind, I find the product stilted and wooden and quite often not worth the effort. It’s probably why a majority of my writing shan’t ever find the light of day.

25. What was the motive of the cave artists?

Their scrawling probably stemmed from the great existential compulsion: To impress chicks. And if my understanding of prehistoric times is correct, chicks in sabertooth tiger leopard print bikinis holding medium-rare mastodon steaks.

26. What is more important – conviction or compromise?

You’re doing yourself a disservice confining yourself to dual absolutes. There’s always a third option. Hell, there’s always usually forty options. “Sit and eat mustard.” There. There’s a perfectly good alternative avenue. It’s not always the best or most salient, sure. But it confounds conventional offerings and opens up a wealth of paths. You can replace “mustard” with any number of suitable condiments.

27. Is ambition based more on fear or joy?

Fear is probably going to be the most effective flammable kindling to fuel any endeavour. Can’t say it’s the most sustainable nor healthy accelerant to stoke your creative drive. But it works. I’m not sure a starving man is able to wrestle away a discarded chicken bone from another starving man during a famine because joy imbued him with bloodthirsty survival instincts.

Cheesecake is more a joy thing. I can see someone bludgeoning someone over the last crumb of cheesecake joyfully. But that’s just me.

29. T.S. Eliot said that poetry is outing your inner dialogue. What language is your inner dialogue in? What form is your inner consciousness in?

A high-pitched regional dialect of Klingon. And the consciousness employs the same tongue. Just with a Long Island accent.

36. What elements of your art have changed and what have remained the same since you started creating art?

As I age, I have to ward off complacency more. And coasting. Get good at writing a certain way and it’s all too alluring to just keep ringing that bell. The trick is to find a knack to keep seeking out new challenges. Otherwise, stagnancy sets in. And that’s doom… Learned doom.

42. Is human progress cyclical or cumulative?

All these either/or questions. I’m always going to opt for some third option. Just to be contrary. It’s just become knee-jerk at this point. I’m going with human progress is rhombus-shaped.

48. If a publisher was to release your autobiography, off the top of your head, what would the title be? They want to scent the glue in the binding. What smell would it be?

“Paradise Misplaced: Where’s the Spare?”

I’d want it to smell like shellfish.

50. Please tell me something good you never had and you never want.

Common sense.

51. If you were in a vat of vomit up to your neck and somebody threw a bag of sh*t at your face, what would you do?

I’d ask them how much I owe for the fancy exfoliation. My skin’s never looked more aglow.

55. The internet connected the world with one another. Communication has never been swifter or more readily available to the masses. What does it retrieve that was previously obsolesced?

Being a shut-in. It’s quite in vogue now.

62. Summarize your life in three words, all starting with the same letter.

Reticent, Riot, Wrought.

65. What is the worst thing for a human being?

A hip replacement.

78. What is going to be after the internet?

Handprints on cave walls.

81. Are the laws of nature cruel?

The laws of nature are stoic and have no use for our feelings. But don’t take it personally.

122. If God exists, what do you want God to tell you after you die ?

Directions to the bathroom. I imagine it’ll have been a long trip.

136. If the journey is more important than the destination, why do we have to seek (or name) a destination?

Always. The destination is incidental. It’s the journey that’s worth a damn at all. Sometimes we’re so preoccupied with the destination that we miss out on the journey altogether. And that’s pretty pitiable, all said. There’s some nice views along the way. Smell a few roses. Kick over a few rocks. Why not?

Gerry Fialka is the author of the new book ‘Strange Questions: Experimental Film as Conversation.’ The book’s salon release party happens virtually from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24. RSVP or learn more at laughtears.com/strange-questions.html. Upcoming events hosted by Fialka include: The PXL THIS 30 Toy Camera Film Festival (tinyurl.com/pxlthis) on YouTube from 7 to 10 p.m. Nov. 15, the 18th annual Venice Film Fest on Jan. 23, 2021, and the 11th annual Poetry of Venice Photography on Jan. 30, 2021. Visit laughtears.com to learn more and stay updated.