April 5, 2016

"I know a married man and father of two who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur."

"With the assistance of his wife, he cut rectangular holes measuring six by fourteen inches in the ceilings of more than a dozen rooms. Then he covered the openings with louvred aluminum screens that looked like ventilation grilles but were actually observation vents that allowed him, while he knelt in the attic, to see his guests in the rooms below. He watched them for decades, while keeping an exhaustive written record of what he saw and heard. Never once, during all those years, was he caught."

So begins "The Voyeur's Motel," by Gay Talese. At one point:
I saw what Foos was doing, and I did the same: I got down on my knees and crawled toward the lighted louvres. Then I stretched my neck in order to see as much as I could through the vent, nearly butting heads with Foos as I did so. Finally, I saw a naked couple spread out on the bed below, engaged in oral sex. Foos and I watched for several moments, and then Foos lifted his head and gave me a thumbs-up sign. He whispered that it was the skiing couple from Chicago.

Despite an insistent voice in my head telling me to look away, I continued to observe, bending my head farther down for a closer view. As I did so, I failed to notice that my necktie had slipped down through the slats of the louvred screen and was dangling into the motel room within a few yards of the woman’s head. I realized my carelessness only when Foos grabbed me by the neck and, with his free hand, pulled my tie up through the slats. The couple below saw none of this: the woman’s back was to us, and the man had his eyes closed.
And: "Foos made it clear to me from the beginning that he regarded his voyeurism as serious research, undertaken, in some vague way, for the betterment of society." And: "During the spring of 2013, thirty-three years after I had met him, Foos called me to say that he was ready to go public with his story.... How could he assume that going public with his sinister story would achieve anything positive? It could just as easily provide evidence leading to his arrest, lawsuits, and widespread public outrage. Why did he crave the notoriety?"

RELATED: "Gay Talese has a lady problem -- he can't think of any female writers that inspired him."
Talese... explained that the problem with female journalists was they were limited by their desire to stay above the fray, according to an audience member who spoke to the Washington Post. Amy Littlefield, 29, said that Talese explained "how educated women don’t want to hang out with antisocial people."

His answer seemed to shock the audience, with one person shouting out the name of Joan Didion....
A hashtag happened: #womengaytaleseshouldread.

28 comments:

rhhardin said...

Why did he crave the notoriety?

Not long ago thrillers and murder mysteries were mostly about criminals with distinct motives. Now they feature the serial killer. Unlike the murderer who killed, fulfilled his purpose, and hoped to remain innocuous, the inexorable serial killer with his open-ended string of crimes hopes to become famous as a source of anxiety.

- Wm. Kerrigan

Henry said...

Talese seems akin to Truman Capote who wrote Harper Lee out of In Cold Blood.

That's one way to hold an idiot opinion. Avoid the evidence.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I don't want to hang out with antisocial people, either.

Fernandinande said...

"Gay Talese has a lady problem -- he can't think of any female writers that inspired him."

Well, of course it's a man's fault that female writers are not inspirational.

Sebastian said...

Tales doesn't have a lady problem. Ladies have a lady problem. And of course his actual statement gets distorted: he couldn't name any female journalist who influenced him, not any writer. And what kind of question is it anyway--should Steph Curry acknowledge all the female basketball players who inspired him? It is to laugh.

Big Mike said...

"Foos made it clear to me from the beginning that he regarded his voyeurism as serious research, undertaken, in some vague way, for the betterment of society."

And now you know why scientists don't wear ties.

Expat(ish) said...

Oddly, I would have trouble naming female writers as well, because I think of the book not the writer. IOW, I'd have to work backwards.

Uhhh, Lord Peter Wimsey, Dorothy Sayers, yeah!

And I'd never get to Didion (blech) or Erinreich (double-blech) even though I've read a ton of their work.

-XC

Bay Area Guy said...

Why write and publish a neutral piece about a creepy, perverted liar like this Motel owner? Thanks, New Yorker!

buwaya said...

"Dorothy Sayers"

No fan of mysteries, but her "Inferno" translation is excellent - not sure of the accuracy of the Italian poetic translation, but its a great read and very educational.
Most influential English writer in my case - Enid Blyton.

buwaya said...

"Why write and publish a neutral piece about a creepy, perverted liar like this Motel owner?"
Because it draws eyeballs.
Scandal and controversy are the commodity products of journalism. And literature.

SOJO said...

That's always the vague feeling I get in hotels anyway, but I imagine security cams and underpaid, bored employees staffing them or reviewing the files. There's probably a proper phobic name for it.

Bill Peschel said...

Michael Schaub has a lady problem, too. They're no ladies and they hate being called one.

Source: Vintage Apartment 3-G (May 8, 1970), which I happened to read today.

Since the strip will vanish tomorrow, I'll quote the relevant lines here:

Professor Garland: Good evening, Ladies!

Margo: Good evening Professor Garland! But you know better than to call us ladies! We are women!

Professor Papagokalis: I never met a woman who objected to being called a lady!

Margo: We resent man's eternal effort to domesticate us, professor!


Paco Wové said...

"what kind of question is it anyway"

Where modern journalism goes, the War On Wimmenz! is sure to follow.

M Jordan said...

Wait a minute ... was this fiction or nonfiction?

Marc Puckett said...

When I was child I never understood the point of Mary Worth, Rex Morgan, Apartment 3G-- the latter was the worst, because at least I knew there were old ladies and doctors in the little town I grew up in; 'career women' was not such a familiar concept, and Dr Papagoris or whatever his name is was just creepy. And while am not at all interested in voyeurs, Gay Talese, or Joan Didion, it was amusing for a few minutes to catch up online with Mary, Rex, Margo et al after fifty years. Thanks, Bill Peschel!

M Jordan said...

Mary Worth! Now there's a trip back on the Time Machine.

I never read her either. Nor Prince Valiant. Nor Alley Oop.

I did read Blondie and Beetle Bailey, though. And Nancy which, I determined early on was #NeverFunny.

mikeski said...

Lady writer on the TV
Talk about the Virgin Mary
Reminded me of you
Expectations left to come up to yeah

Lady writer on the TV
Yeah, she had another quality
The way you used to look
And I know you never read a book

Just the way that her hair fell down around her face
Then I recall my fall from grace
Another time, another place

Lady writer on the TV
She had all the brains and the beauty
The picture does not fit
You talked to me when you felt like it

Just the way that her hair fell down around her face
Then I recall my fall from grace
Another time, another place

Yes and your rich old man
You know he'd call her a dead ringer
You got the same command
Plus you mother was a jazz singer

Just the way that her hair fell down around her face
Then I recall my fall from grace
Another time, another place

Lady writer on the TV
She knew all about a history
You couldn't hardly write your name
I think I want you just the same as the

Lady writer on the TV
Talking about the Virgin Mary
Yeah you know I'm talking about you and me
And the lady writer on the TV
Lady writer on the TV
Talking about the Virgin Mary
Yeah you know I'm talking about you and me
And the lady writer on the TV

"Lady Writer"
Dire Straits
Written by Mark Knopfler

HoodlumDoodlum said...

The geniuses at Vox.com say he should have named Evelyn Waugh...

jr565 said...

Didn't Chuck Berry get in trouble for doing this exact thing?

The Cracker Emcee said...

Most female novelists suck. I can think of one, maybe two, exceptions. Fiction by chicks reads like Chick Fiction. Unsurprising perhaps, but second-class, nonetheless.

buwaya said...

"Most female novelists suck. I can think of one, maybe two, exceptions. Fiction by chicks reads like Chick Fiction. Unsurprising perhaps, but second-class, nonetheless."

This isn't fair, quite. Some chick fiction is very good indeed.
Margaret Mitchell wrote one of my favorite books, check out "Cold Comfort Farm", Stella Gibbons, let no-one say women can't do humor, and Ursula Le Guin is a great writer in spite of her politics. Etc.

jr565 said...

Camille Paglia made the point that there aren't many good female lead rock guitarists becuase women don't have the requisite testosterone. Sure there are a handful, but it seems to be a many thing.
Is it ok, because she's a woman?

Ann Althouse said...

Not fiction.

Jonathan Graehl said...

i liked c.j. cherryh + le guin in my 20s. scifi tho. austen + bronte are worthwhile. funny that anyone can get mad that a particular writer was only inspired by male writers. hilarious, really. great p.r. for this guy, really. the voyeur story was at least interesting.

John said...

I've probably averaged 2 books a week for the past 55 years or so. Probably about 30/70 fiction/non-fiction. Until this post, I'd never really thought about the gender of the authors.

Now, thinking about it, I have really liked rather few women authors. I can probably think of a dozen or so, no more, that I have read. This is not because I have anything against them, just that the books I want to read are invariably written by men.

The only 2 exceptions I can think of offhand are Sue Grafton. I read a lot of her alphabet mystery books for a year or 2 but then got kind of burnt out. I also like Barbara Tuchman.

John Henry

Sydney Smith said...

This description of the voyeur:

"To escape this tedium, he said, he began to undertake what he called “voyeuristic excursions” around Aurora after dark. Often on foot, although sometimes in a car, he would cruise through neighborhoods and spy on people who were casual about lowering their window shades. He made no secret of his voyeurism to Donna. “Even before our marriage I told her that this gave me a feeling of power,” he said. She seemed to understand. “Donna and most nurses are very open-minded,” he said."

Reminded me of this description of the man who murdered Kitty Genovese:

"Mr. Moseley seemed an unlikely serial killer. Soft-spoken, intelligent, with no criminal record, he was 29, a married father of two who owned his home in South Ozone Park, Queens, and operated business machines in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Later, in confessions and testimony, he said he had driven around late at night seeking victims, and had killed three women, raped eight and committed 30 or 40 burglaries." His wife was also a nurse.

The Cracker Emcee said...

Buwaya,

Fair point about Cold Comfort Farm and the work of some other British women. Gibbons, Barker, Mantel and, strangely, Sarah Waters, all do the gender-neutral voice well, even when they're writing about women. American female novelists suck!

Freeman Hunt said...

That was a very bizarre story.