Lee Klein, longtime advocate of orthodontics reform and editor of the online fiction parody zine EYEshot, is a busy man. The Hoosick, NY native testified in November before the House Subcommittee on Oil and Coinage regarding the adoption of a five-dollar gold-bullion coin to replace the aging Oreo cookie on the shelves of America’s marketplace. In any given week Klein may publish upwards of 300 manifestos on subjects ranging from what kittens have done to the soil to why water sometimes tastes funny then other times has no flavor at all. Klein is a family man above all else, however, and the holidays are to be enjoyed with his nine children (by three wives and two brief acquaintances). Stimulants Magazine was recently able to take advantage of Mr. Klein’s downtime to snag a brief interview. Our questions focused on the irreconcilable ubermensch Drachen Fliegen. Below are excerpts from our December 19, 2001 interview with Klein. The article appears in its entirety in the December issue of Stimulants as part our “December to Remember” celebration.
SM: Let's talk about Kenn "Drachen" Fliegen . . .
LK: Could you ask for anything more in a contributor? He's everything an editor could want. If you ask Fliegen to produce something for St. Patrick's Day, it's in your inbox before the first cardboard Kathy Ireland goes up in the beer section at the supermarket. I'd even go so far as to say that, should one ask Fliegen to "do it" with no less than a half-dozen beautiful women, consecutively in a single night, Fliegen would put forth an effort worthy of comparison to the middle chapters of autobiographies penned by our most oversexed heroes of sport, despite his lack of charm and aura of lechery.
SM: Intellectually, how does Fliegen stack up to the other writers you've worked with?
LK: Like a cardhouse, let me tell you! Kenn Fliegen’s penchant for big words is the sockdollager. Kenn just wholesale supplants the commonplace in his work. If you have the word "big" in a piece, and say it's used ten to twelve times, Kenn will strike every instance of that insubstantial three-letter word, replacing it with, say, "corruptible" or perhaps "superfluous." Whereas another author might talk about the "big game" (former sports copy hack Bryson Newhart, for instance), Kenn Fliegen will refer to "the superfluous game of football." It's all about affecting the reader.
SM: Some critics have derided Fliegen’s work as delightful and entertaining. How do you, as a publisher, respond to these claims?
LK: Anyone who has read Kenn’s best stuff, like “Walking salt lick” and “my martini," and then goes on to insinuate that Kenn’s work is in any way the least bit entertaining. . . This is not a mass appeal. Kenn once said a beautiful thing to me. We were sitting in a booth in the Playlate Club, way in the back, just me, Kenny, and Troy Donahue, when Kenny looks at me and says, “You know, Lee, my audience isn’t even aware of itself.” That was a pulchritudinous thing. We were drinking Carbonated Pixels and I think Troy was buying because he’d just won some money at the track.
SM: It is inevitable for a reader to wonder as he absorbs what the author presents, “What is this author like? Who is he in his everyday life? What can I learn about him from his choice of words and images? What will I say if he comes into my place of work?” You have spent time with Kenn Fliegen AND read his works. What’s the most amazing thing you have seen Kenn Fliegen do?
LK: We were at a seaside resort doing push-ups between wet t-shirt contests at a local juice bar. Fliegen ordered an oyster po-boy, despite the fact it was Vibrio vulnificus season and ignoring the waitress's suggestion that we try the basket of crackers with a fountain drink. Our order arrived anachronously posthaste. I suspected microwavability. Fliegen dug into his po-boy, ripping at the chewy sub roll, dripping tartar sauce all over the table and chairs like a poor-mannered neonate. Sometime during this feast, an oyster tumbled from the sandwich onto the floor. I watched in awe as Fliegen retrieved the greasy gastropod and attempted for what must have been half an hour to return the oyster to its exact, previous location in the sandwich. It was like trying to match a moonrock on the lunar surface to a crater on the moon, the way Fliegen prodded the sides of the bread with that oyster. Finally the fucking thing opened its mouth, spewing brine into my Pepsi, shouting at Fliegen, "Fer chrissakes, I'm not the goddamn meaning of life!" Weeks after, he was unable to revise a poem, even loveletters. He got heavy into stalking. He may have lost a kidney.
SM: Fliegen has spent more than a little time, even as an adult, in reform schools. Any fear that you will lose your zwei-Schleife-Maschine to the clutches of the juvenile justice system?
LK: Kenn Fliegen is the only person I know who could talk his way out of the Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf.
SM: With both arms tied behind his back?
LK: You got it. No, Fliegen will always be there. He’s like one’s conscience, only it hasn’t been taking its meds.
SM: In 1997, you raised more than a few eyebrows by agreeing to publish Fliegen’s controversial coloring book I Think I Just Ran Over a Squirrel. Have you faced continued repercussions based on that decision? Do you regret publishing anything of Fliegen’s, and how far beyond the limits of conventionalism can Fliegen potentially go before he loses us all?
LK: Well, you know, in 1997, when I was contacted by Kenn Fliegen’s publicist, Joe Vitale, and asked if I’d be interested in publishing the coloring book, my initial response was, “Hey, this is not some kindergarten for young writers. EYEshot is a serious attempt to raise class consciousness in the American hinterland.” But when he explained to me that houses such as St. Martin’s and Loller-Golbrique Brothers were bringing out coloring books by the likes of Jim Cantore and Dainius Zubrus, I realized that the field of adult coloring books wouldn’t be cutting edge for long. I pride myself on being cutting edge. You know, I was one of the first online publishers to stop wearing socks altogether.
SM: Would you describe Kenn Fliegen’s work as more deep or wide?
LK: Wide. Kenn is very definitely wide.
SM: Scott Cribbs of the American Muse has called Fliegen “The Common Man’s Joe Blow.” Where does this sense of Drachen Fliegen as a kindred spirit for so many of today’s readers come from?
LK: For me, it’s that Fliegen leaves you with a feeling that the world owes him something. He agreed when I, along with several members of the staff, confronted him about his attitude during a retreat to Mount Neru. When I asked him what it is that we all owe him, he responded by saying simply, “A second look.”
Kenn Fliegen’s name used by permission
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