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Paul Maliszewski 

Riled Up: An Interview with Kathy Maliszewski, about Her Letters to the Editor  

Q: Mom, when did you start writing letters to your local newspaper? 

A: When I first moved back to Louisiana in '97. 

Q: Are there different kinds of letters to the editor in the Shreveport Times? 

A: There's Tell the Times and there's Letters to the Editor. 

Q: What's the difference? 

A: Well, Tell the Times pieces are anonymous and are usually shorter. Letters to the Editor, of course, have more meaning. 

Q: Which do you write to? 

A: Tell the Times. 

Q: Why don't you write to the one where you sign your name? 

A: I prefer to stay anonymous because some of my thoughts are not exactly my own. 

Q: What do you mean? You make up opinions? 

A: Sometimes. Just to antagonize, or try to get people to, you know, come back and answer, to just try to get people riled up. 

Q: When did you make up an opinion that wasn't your own? 

A: When people were writing about their garbage cans. I mean that really did not bother me. It was just that all those letters were getting a little pathetic, and so I just wrote in suggesting that all those people should get a hobby. 

Q: For effect? 

A: For effect, right. 

Q: About how many of these letters have you written? 

A: Maybe forty, including the one I mentioned the last time we were talking, the latest one I wrote that wasn't printed. 

Q: What was that about? 

A: Before Christmas someone wrote that they know where they can go shopping where there's plenty of parking and there's no crowds and they said South Park Mall. Well, South Park Mall is a dump. I did not say that, but in so many words I said, well, no wonder there's plenty of parking and no crowds, because there are no stores there. I knew at the time I wrote my letter that it would not be printed. 

Q: Has it been printed? 

A: It has not. 

Q: And it won't ever? 

A: No. 

Q: Why is that? 

A: Because, you know, it puts down the stores that are there, and they're part of the advertising for the paper, and they're not going to step on anybody's feet. I also mentioned in my letter that's why roads like I-20, to and from Dallas, are being well used. 

Q. There were a couple of times where you commented about southern hospitality, suggesting that it's either a myth or just completely hypocritical, and none of that ever got published. What did you make of that?

A. I figured it wouldn't. [Laughs]

Q. Why not?

A. Because people here have closed minds.

Q. So you don't think people there are really that hospitable?

A. Eh, not really. I think a lot of people around here are phony. There are more friendly people up north. 

Q: What do you do with all your letters once they're published? 

A: I keep them in a file. 

Q: I thought you told me you have a time capsule. 

A: Well, we do have a time capsule. You mean in the barn? 

Q: Yeah. Doesn't that have letters in it? 

A: That has a couple letters because Mitzie Munger thought it would be funny to put them in. 

Q: And so where's the time capsule kept? 

A: It's built into the wall in the corner of the barn, in the front corner, on the right-hand side. In fact, there's a marking right there. 

Q: How did you store the letters? 

A: They're in plastic, plus in a glass jar. 

Q: How did you choose what went into the time capsule? 

A: Let's see, at that time, it had to be '99, so that couldn't have been the garbage letters. 

Q: Garbage was in '98? 

A: '98, yeah. Can you glance through and see what's '99? 

Q: Um, '99 was... There were some garbage letters in '99, too. 

A: Oh, maybe they are in there. 

Q: There are also a couple recycling ones. 

A: Maybe the recycling ones are in there. But it was not my idea, it was Mitzie's idea. 

Q: There's one you wrote in about a front-page photo of a man undergoing heart catheterization. 

A: Oh, that was obnoxious. 

Q: You didn't like the photo? 

A. Well, I didn't like the fact, first of all, did they ask his permission? I doubt it. I mean, if it were me, I would have put them through a court procedure, because I doubt they had permission for that. 

Q: You think they just ran into the hospital room and snapped his photo? 

A: [Laughs] Well, you know, the paper is a sensational type. 

Q: So, Mrs. Munger knows that you write these letters? 

A. Yeah, she always gets a kick out of them. 

Q: Does she know which ones were yours? 

A: Usually, she'll ask if something looks familiar. Also, Mrs. Bridgeman asks. 

Q: Do they guess right? 

A: Usually. 

Q: How? 

A: Because they know what kind of subjects I'm into. 

Q: Like garbage? 

A: Like garbage or especially recycling, they know that I write those. 

Q: I was reading through all the letters and the responses your letters stirred up. There's a lot of letters about garbage. Garbage disposal, trash cans, recycling. Have there been any new letters about garbage?

A: Every so often, garbage will come back. 

Q: Garbage is a persistent topic of discussion? 

A: Yes. 

Q: Why? 

A: Because I think some people have nothing better to do. 

Q: Is the garbage pickup satisfactory to you? 

A: Well, we're not in the city, so we have to pay a private company, but as far as I know in the city it's fine. The only thing is there's no recycling. 

Q: What was going on when you first got into the garbage debate? 

A: The city had just changed over and gotten those bigger containers, and you weren't allowed to use your own garbage cans anymore. 

Q: Did they give you the containers? 

A: Yes, the city gives them to you. 

Q: And people didn't like the new containers? 

A: They hated them. They said they were big and ugly and hard to roll. And also there was the fact that they only were going to pick up once a week, instead of twice a week. 

Q: And that was a change. 

A: That was a change. Which I can agree with the people complaining there, because in the summer, you know, it gets pretty nasty, but in a large container, there is no problem. 

Q: Here's one letter that you wrote that I like especially. It's titled, "Garbage Placement Is a Personal Matter." Do you title your own letters, or does the newspaper? 

A: The newspaper titles them. That letter was one where I was being really antagonistic, totally antagonistic. 

Q: So this letter does not truly represent your opinion. 

A: No, normally I wouldn't get into that. You know, I like to mind my own business. I was pretending to stir things up. 

Q: Here's the letter: "This is regarding the person who commented on where trash should be placed if one missed the Thursday pickup. I would just like to say it is my garbage, and I feel I can place it wherever I please on my own property." 

A: And there was a comeback that's in there with what I sent you. Normally I wouldn't even express an opinion, especially about garbage. 

Q: That one got a response directed right back to you. 

A: Yes, and I enjoyed it. 

Q: A lot of the letters are directed to individuals. Even though you're all writing anonymously, you direct it right back to one person.  Does it seem too personal, or do you like it that way? 

A: I enjoy that. I mean I actually look for that. That's the reason why I write, to get a response. Because I enjoyed seeing if I'd get one.  

Q: Here's the response to the first letter: "Many of us have something we can be thankful for. We don't live near the self-centered neighbor who said they will put their garbage where they please. Think of what our beautiful city would look like if everyone felt that way." 

A: [Laughs] 

Q: So how did you feel, when you woke up that morning, turned to the page and read that? 

A: That was a pure joy. 

Q: Why a pure joy? 

A: Because I got somebody riled up over stupid garbage. 

Q: Because they seem pretty mad. 

A: I know it. 

Q: So you were glad. 

A: Yes, I got a huge chuckle on that one. 

Q: You wrote back: "This is in regard to the dilemma over the placement of trash on one's own property. I would just like to say this is not an issue of being self-centered. The issue here is what this great country was built on--freedom of choice."  

A: [Laughs] That one didn't get any rebuttal, did it? 

Q: The newspaper called that letter "Trash is about Freedom of Choice." 

A: [Laughs] That was truly written also for, I guess, just to point out what my belief was. 

Q: What is your belief? 

A: That you're free to do whatever you darn please with your garbage. 

Q: You really widened the debate though. The debate was about the narrow issue of garbage and where you can place it, but you made it almost into a Constitutional issue. 

A: [Laughs.] 

Q: Like it's an issue of American freedom. 

A: Well, in your own yard, yeah, I believe that. 

Q: Anything good in today's paper? 

A: Today's paper the letters were all just thanking people for being good citizens or something, which is kind of boring. 

Q: What do you mean? 

A. It was like they thanked a person for finding their wallet and giving it back to them. Thanks for being honest. It was all, you know, positive stuff. 

Q: Was the newspaper asking for positive letters? 

A: Right, and today was supposedly the last day, so tomorrow should be back to normal. 

Q: Which is what? 

A. Which is blasting anything and everything. [Laughs] 

Q: How long did they have only positive letters? 

A: It was a week.  

Q: Was that week unbearable?

A: [Laughs] 

Q: Do you like it better when it's mean? 

A. I like it when it's, well, not mean, yeah, but it's more interesting. There was one recently about how somebody stole somebody's Santa Claus decorations. 

Q: I don't remember that one. 

A: This person wrote in to say that someone stole their lights, and also if you see a decoration that's a Santa Claus with his behind lit up and Rudolph with a fire extinguisher, then it's mine. 

Q: I can't say I've ever seen decorations like that. 

A: I haven't either. Now that could have been made up. 

Q: I also liked the letters about Shreveport's statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.  How did that story start? 

A: Neighbors who lived near where the city placed the statue said they didn't like it. 

Q: Where was the statue? 

A: It was in a predominantly black neighborhood, and they felt the statue did not really look like Martin Luther King. 

Q: Did you ever see it? 

A: Not in reality, just in a picture. 

Q: Did you think it looked like him? 

A: No, it was definitely more or less like a caricature, like a cartoon even. It was not a good rendition of him. 

Q: The sculpture was really that bad? 

A: I would not even consider getting it, you know, if I were part of the committee.... I thought it was pretty obnoxious. 

Q: What did they do with the sculpture? 

A. The city decided they would auction it off, but no one wanted it. And then it was put on eBay. 

Q: The city was selling a statue on eBay? 

A: Yes. 

Q: Did they get any bids? 

A. They listed it twice on eBay. At first they wanted like $25,000. I think they spent $40,000 or $50,000 on it—some really ridiculous number. Then they came down a bit, to $20,000, but still didn't get any bids. Finally, an art gallery in Chattanooga, Tennessee and a local real estate broker came forward, saying they wanted to put the statue in front of their offices. But their bids were too low. It went instead to Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church, for $15,000.

Q: Have they replaced the statue yet? 

A: Supposedly, they're going to look for another one, last time I heard. 

Q: From the same sculptor? 

A: Nope, different artist.

Paul Maliszewski’s writing has recently appeared in The Baffler, McSweeney’s, and Harper’s.


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