Tuesday 2 January 2024


Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel (London: Vintage Books, 2012), p. 667 ['Joe Gould's Secret'; 1964]:

At this moment, the waitress put a plate of fried eggs on toast and another mug of coffee in front of Gould. As soon as she turned her back, he took up a bottle of ketchup that was about half full, and emptied it on the plate, encircling the eggs with ketchup. Then he darted around to the next booth and brought back another bottle of ketchup, which was perhaps a third full, and emptied this on the plate also, completely covering eggs and toast. ‘I don’t particularly like the confounded stuff,’ he said, ‘but I make it a practice to eat all I can get. It’s the only grub I know of that’s free of charge.’ He began eating, using a fork at first but quickly switching to a spoon. ‘Sometimes I go in a place and order a cup of tea,’ he said confidingly, ‘and I drink it and pay for it, and then I ask for a cup of hot water. The counterman thinks I’m going to make a second cup of tea with the same tea bag, which he doesn’t mind: that’s all right. Instead of which, I pour some ketchup in, and I have a very good cup of tomato bouillon free of charge. Try it sometime.’ Gould finished his breakfast, and the waitress came to take away his plate. Catching sight of the empty ketchup bottles, she said, ‘You ought to have more self-respect than do a thing like that.’ ‘When I’m hungry, I don’t have any self-respect,’ Gould said. ‘Anyhow, I didn’t do it.’ He motioned with his head in my direction. ‘He did it,’ he said. ‘He turned both bottles up and drank them. You should’ve heard him. Glug, glug, glug! It was really quite embarrassing. Besides – and this is something you people can’t seem to get through your heads – I’m not just an ordinary person. I’m Joe Gould – I’m Joe Gould, the poet; I’m Joe Gould, the historian; I’m Joe Gould, the wild Chippewa Indian dancer; and I’m Joe Gould, the greatest authority in the world on the language of the sea gull. I do you an honor by merely coming in here, and what do you do in return but bother me about such things as ketchup.’