Joe Gould only wrote about himself. Then Joe Gould died, and Joseph Mitchell revealed his secret, and then Joseph Mitchell stopped writing, and then Joseph Mitchell died.
The fates of Joe Gould and Joseph Mitchell were inextricably intertwined. Joe Gould died, interned in a mental hospital, in 1957. Seven years later Joseph Mitchell wrote Joe Gould’s Secret. He wrote nothing for the next thirty years, and died in 1992. There must have been something in Joseph Mitchell that died, or decayed, or withered away with Joe Gould’s undignified demise.
Joe Gould was a Bowery bohemian, through and through. He scrounged up money from begging, from his wealthier acquaintances, from tourists who appreciated seeing a breathing, authentic New York bohemian, to spend on beer and martinis. He was gifted food at diners, then proceeded to eat with a spoon whatever ketchup he could get his hands on, because it was free. He was a short man, under 100 pounds, who wore second-hand suits that were too big and had a wild Orthodox Jew beard. He slept in so-called flophouses, as the parlance of the ’40s went, and wandered off his bleary-eyed hangovers on the Village streets. He had made an enemy of many a downtown intellectual, predominantly for his poems, read around town and at organized readings, The Barricades and My Religion. The latter went: “In winter I am a Buddhist/And in summer I am a nudist.” I imagine little Joe Gould reciting this solemnly, but with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He would wait a beat, then grin his wide-eyed, bearded grin, wait another beat for a response, then lurch on down the block, clutching a composition book under his stubby arm.