Last September, Beau Friedlander, aspiring publisher, got a box in the mail bearing the return address of Theodore John Kaczynski. He had been waiting for this one. It was his ticket to something new, a potential jolt for his fledgling publishing house–a 548-page manuscript from the Unabomber.
Now, Mr. Friedlander is the Unabomber’s publisher. On Feb. 11, he announced the late spring release of Truth Versus Lies , a memoir in which Ted Kaczynski tells his life story without ever referring to his crimes. Mr. Friedlander landed this document after writing to Mr. Kaczynski in prison and agreeing not to change a word.
On a Saturday night, Mr. Friedlander was kicking around his one-room TriBeCa office, collating manuscripts and smoking American Spirit cigarettes.
“I’m not just the ‘Unabomber publisher,’” he said. “I am also the publisher of books of great cultural significance.”
To prove it, he pulled out an old edition of another book he intends to publish this year: Sens-Plastique , by Malcolm de Chazal. He pointed to a blurb from André Breton on the back comparing the work to that of one Comte de Lautreamont. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with Lautreamont,” Mr. Friedlander said.
The office was cluttered with friends’ art, laser-printed adages (“Why I Know Few Brave Men: …”). Recent issues of Granta and The Hudson Review lay fanned out on top of a locked file cabinet. Inside the cabinet were the 36 letters he’s gotten from Mr. Kazcynski. He kept taking out the letters, looking at them, then deciding not to share their contents. One of them was signed, “Best Regards, Ted.” The return address on the envelope had a prisoner ID number on it.
“In this case,” said Mr. Friedlander, “right now, the author isn’t being treated like an author, or that’s the assumption under which I have to operate.”
Mr. Friedlander is 29. He’s a muscular guy. He’s going a little gray around the temples. On the wall behind his desk was a framed photograph of Muhammad Ali posing with a 10-year-old Beau Friedlander in an airport lounge. Under the photo, on a piece of paper, Mr. Ali had scribbled his various heavyweight credentials, as well as the usual stuff about being the greatest of all time. “Look at that,” Mr. Friedlander said. “He gave me his résumé!”
Now Mr. Friedlander gave his: childhood in Redding, Conn. Formative years at Bennington College, then graduate school at Oxford and Columbia University. In 1992, he abandoned a doctoral thesis at Oxford University–on William Wordsworth and “the way in which the sublime can be seen being comparable to contemporary political power structures”– and went to Columbia, only to abandon the same thesis a second time. After a short stint as an editorial assistant at Alfred A. Knopf, he started his own business, Context Media.
So this is the literary life. Now he’s devoting 90 hours a week to it.
“If you don’t work hard now, you turn 35 and you’re a bum ,” he said. “We’re at an age where you have to put in a helluva lot of hours, because this is where you are setting down the foundations of your career, and it’s a hell of a lot of work laying down that foundation. We live in a culture where people in their 30′s are still considered kids. To me, that’s symptomatic of a pretty weird country. I know a lot of people in their 30′s who aren’t doing very much of anything and just seem to be waiting. Waiting isn’t going to get you anywhere.”
So instead of waiting, he’s got this thing, this evolving mix of obscure highbrow Eurotexts and incendiary tracts that the mainstream publishers can’t touch. Context Media is three years old. It started out as a foreign-language packaging company–direct-mail wildlife encyclopedias, cookbooks, language courses. Now, with the money that earned him, he’s putting together a list of the stuff he likes: “books that better contextualize our society,” as he put it. The two Unabomber books due out in late spring–Mr. Kaczynski’s memoir, and a tract by Prof. Michael Mello of Vermont Law School, about how the Unabomber was coerced into pleading guilty–are the first out of the gate. He’s planning a run of 15,000 copies of Truth Versus Lies . Whatever profits there are will go into an escrow account, with the money probably going to the Unabomber’s victims, he said. Asked if he himself would make money off the book, he said only, “I expect it to earn out.”
He said he’s also interested in publishing Lo’s Diaries , a novel narrated by a grown-up Lolita. Farrar, Straus & Giroux dropped it after the Vladimir Nabokov estate raised a ruckus. In other words, another attention-getter.
Mr. Friedlander compared himself to Barney Rosset, the Grove Press legend who defied the courts to publish D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch . “Barney Rosset got a lot of press by taking on controversial books. But in hindsight we’re glad he did,” he said. “The way the media and the courts attacked Lawrence and Burroughs back then is similar to the way the media goes after Ted Kaczynski today.”
Through the lone window in the office, which opened onto a narrow alley, you could see the darkness coming down. Mr. Friedlander was getting ready to head home to Brooklyn. The phone rang. It was a guy pitching a book about the Haymarket Riots.
After he hung up, Mr. Friedlander said, “He wanted to make sure I knew that it was the first time an anarchist ever drew blood.” He sighed. “Now I’m going to be getting all these manuscripts.” The thought seemed to depress him.
The Boutique People
The young boutique designers of Manhattan are making clothes just perfect for … themselves!
“There are a lot of designers who supposedly don’t really think of themselves at all,” said Kathy Kemp, who sells her own line in her East Village shop, Anna. “They think about pocket lint. If I’m going to design a collection, I think about what I’m going to be doing in that collection. I think about myself walking down a certain street in a certain color.”
Ms. Kemp’s clothes are cut for her body. But then customers started coming.
“I realized that people’s bodies are really different,” she said. So she joined forces with her neighbor, Claire Blaydon, who used to design the Planet Claire line.
“Me and Kathy are both about 125 pounds,” said Ms. Blaydon, “but I have a little more butt. So either you’re like Kathy, or you’re like me.”
A little farther west, on Elizabeth Street, former models Jane Mayle and Chris Jarvis–who conveniently fell in love–make long, lean clothing for their long, lean bods.
“The store is an extension of my closet!” said Ms. Mayle, who is 5 feet 11 inches tall. Her store, Phare, is spare, with the atmosphere of a flea market. “When Chris and I first started, we wanted to do a capsule thing: clothes we’d always longed for, but couldn’t find.” Now, the shop is filled with sleek dresses and plain front pants. “The trousers are really, really long,” she said. “Most people have to take them in for alterations.” Same with the men’s clothes. Mr. Jarvis is 6 feet 3 inches tall. “Men’s things tend to be so boxy,” Ms. Mayle said, “and Chris hates that.”
And over at Zero, on Mott Street, Maria Cornejo, who is 5 feet 3 inches tall, designs things “that I would like to wear. I’ve always wanted sportswear that would fit me, but in nicer fabrics.” She’s a mother, but a hip, Björk-y one, so she makes nutty Polar Fleece pullovers and skateboard pants for ladies. “I know how I like things to feel,” she said, “and hopefully, if it feels good on me …”
As for the girls at Anna, they can’t wait for summer. They will finally be able to have a good time at the beach. “We’re really excited,” said Ms. Blaydon. “We’re doing bathing suits. They make your boobs look so good!”
George B. Santucci is a schizophrenic who, after 30 years of suffering, is finally leading a productive existence. He now lives in a welfare hotel in lower midtown and eats directly from a hot plate. He has a job, at $35 a week, teaching other schizophrenics how to use a hot plate. He said his new self-sufficiency is sometimes difficult, but it beats the days when his hair was on fire all the time. For Mr. Santucci, the onset of schizophrenia came during his years at Fordham Law School (1979-1993, O.K., so he was taking his time). During a break from studying the rules of evidence, he found himself glancing at a newspaper when, suddenly, the words on the page seemed to be aimed directly at him . In fact, he was the center of just about everything in the news. Almost every article was directed at you. This article is really about you, not him. Not that bastard Santucci. You. Blink. Come on, blink. There, you did it. Smash something–go ahead. Napoleon never got anywhere until he learned to smash things. Who can stop you? No one can. (It feels fine , doesn’t it?) Now you must put down this newspaper and get to work.