B. THOMAS WATKINS: Thanks for taking my call. I wasn't sure this was your number, but it turns out there aren't too many Sam Butlers listed in the Philippines.
SAMUEL J. BUTCHER: It's "Samuel."
BTW: Pretty biblical there, Sam.
SJB: Is it?
BTW: I guess.
SJB: And it's "Samuel." Also, "Butcher."
BTW: You seem to want to keep your middle initial around, so I'm going to switch to "SJB" for you once our names are out of the way and it's time to acronymize.
SJB: That'll work for me--though aren't acronyms specifically initializations whose letters spell out a pronounceable word?
SJB: My English is a little rusty.
BTW: I don't trust a man whose English isn't, Sam. U-E-L.
SJB: Listen, if it's really going to be that hard for you to remember to call me "Samuel," you can just call me "Sam."
BTW: No. That's cool. I think I got it.
SJB: You're sure? Because it's all right. Really.
BTW: All right. I'll just avoid your name. I don't usually use all my initials, but I think I'll toss them in there so my initials agree with yours, format-wise.
SJB: That's fine. It's really not that important. Is this part of the interview?
BTW: Yes. My initials are text code for "by the way," by the way. Huh. Just now noticed that. Would my initials be an acronym? They initialize a phrase.
SJB: I don't think so.
BTW: Yeah, I wasn't so sure.
SJB: I don't really text.
BTW: You're better off. I don't either, by the way.
SJB: Don't you mean "BTW"?
BTW: No. I say "by the way" a lot in my daily speech. It was a coincidence. People who actually vocalize "BTW" when they mean "by the way" are fucks. It takes two more syllables to say "BTW" than it takes to say "by the way."
SJB: That it does.
BTW: I'm reminded of people who say "WWW" when they're talking about Wild Wild West or the World Wide Web. You just tripled your consonant count, assholes! Did you ever see Wild Wild West? I think they might have tried to market it as W3. How stupid is that?
SJB: That is pretty stupid. I haven't seen it, BTW. The movie, I mean. I've seen the show.
BTW: I thought we just established that "BTW" was a waste of syllables.
SJB: I was using it in place of your name, not in place of "by the way."
BTW: I see.
SJB: Same syllable count. No waste.
BTW: Beau. Toe. Mass. Watt. Kins. Bee. Tee. Duh. Bull. U. I guess you're right.
SJB: I can count to five in my head.
BTW: I didn't say you couldn't.
SJB: I am aware of this.
BTW: I'll probably also type my name "B. Thomas Watkins" at the beginning of the interview.
SJB: And after all your formatting/agreement posturing!
BTW: I know. I know. I'm sorry. "B. Thomas Watkins" just sounds more intellectual. Like "J. Michael Straczynski."
SJB: Of course, we need to stress that J. Michael Straczynski only sounds intellectual.
SJB: I don't even know who J. Michael Straczynski is.
BTW: He's sort of like you, except that instead of drawing Precious Memories, he does other stuff.
SJB: You mean Precious Moments.
BTW: I do? I do. Sorry, Sam.
SJB: No sweat. Was that your way of segueing into talking about my art?
BTW: No. But sure.
SJB: Well, proceed with the interview.
BTW: We're there. Interview time.
BTW: And what?
SJB: The interview. The interview you called me to do.
SJB: Any plans to ask me questions?
BTW: Not really. Sure. Um… tell me about Precious Memories.
SJB: Well, it all started when my pastor, Rev. Royal Blue, gave me some…
BTW: Waitaminute. You had a pastor named "Rev. Royal Blue"?
SJB: Royal D. Blue, in fact.
BTW: That's wild.
SJB: He's pretty well-known. Tim LaHaye wrote the foreword for his book, Manning the Controls. I figured he'd have popped up in your research on me.
SJB: Yes. Royal D. Blue, I mean, and not Tim LaHaye.
BTW: Tim LaHaye?
SJB: You know. The guy who wrote the Left Behind books. Co-wrote, in some cases.
BTW: Oh. You mean Dr. Tim LaHaye.
SJB: Dr. Timothy F. LaHaye.
BTW: Is his doctorate one of those fake ones, like "Doctor of Ministry"?
SJB: Yes. Except it's not fake.
BTW: But he is a "Doctor of Ministry"?
BTW: I'm almost a "Doctor of German Language and Literature." I just have to finish my dissertation.
SJB: That's not much of a step up from "Doctor of Ministry." You realize this, right?
BTW: Of course.
SJB: What's your dissertation on?
BTW: The interrelation of sliding notions of mysticism and utopia in three of Gerhart Hauptmann's novels. But, please, let's talk about absolutely anything else.
SJB: It's interesting to me how Gerhart Hauptmann and Arno Holz--arguably the progenitors of German (literary) naturalism and the movement's central figures--were the first to abandon it. When I say "central figures," of course, I mean they were the central figures among the practical side of things. When you leave practical German naturalism and move on to theoretical German naturalism, of course, your central figures are probably the Hart Brothers and…
BTW: Seriously, Sam. Absolutely anything else.
SJB: Žižek and his observations on toilets?
BTW: You mean that asinine comedy routine of his where he makes the same observations that anybody who's ever taken a dump in a German toilet has already made, then couches it all in some dumb neo-Freudian psychobabble?
SJB: Yes. I'm not sure it's "neo," though. I think it's plain Freudian. With a side of Frankfurt School.
BTW: Ugh. I'd rather talk about my dissertation.
SJB: Or we could talk about my art.
BTW: Please. Talk about the one with the chick with the dewdrop eyes and the halo holding her hands together in prayer. I think maybe there's a rainbow in there.
SJB: I remember that one. Its theme is derived from Aeschylus. The picture, however, deals not with the particular anecdote, but rather with the Spirit of Myth which is generic to all myths, of all times. It involves a pantheism in which man, bird, beast and tree--the known as well as the knowable--merge into a single tragic idea.
BTW: That's nice. You know, a friend of mine went to the Precious Memories Chapel in Carthage, Missouri. She said it made her cry.
BTW: Yeah. She was laughing pretty hard.
SJB: That's still an emotional response. The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.
BTW: I didn't say anything about their color relationship.
SJB: You didn't? I suppose I was filling in the blanks. Most people have something to say about their color relationship.
BTW: I had a Precious Memories coloring book. My grandmother bought it for me. I put little Hitler mustaches on some of the boys. It was cute. My mother tore out the pages with the mustaches and took the book to school for her kids to color. They put Hitler mustaches on the faces, too. They also put some on the lambs. They were third and fourth graders. Special needs kids. Don't get me wrong, though, they were good kids, and they were bright in their own way. They just liked putting Hitler mustaches on your stuff. Maybe your stuff invites it. I dunno. Mom used to have coloring contests. I was her aide. Did I tell you that? Anyway, I was. There was this one kid who pretty much always won. He was good. Very meticulous colorer. Colorist? Colorist. Let’s go with that. The only thing I didn't care for with his coloring was that he would always outline everything. You know what I mean? Like, say he was coloring a sock, and he was doing it in burnt sienna. He would trace your lines with the burnt sienna crayon, and he'd press down really hard. Then he'd color the inside really light. I'm not sure I'm explaining this well.
SJB: No. I get it.
SJB: And it's Moments.
BTW: Ah, yes.
SJB: As I was saying earlier, my aim is to represent objects and events as though for the first time--free from the accretions of habit and divorced from the conventions of 1,000 years of painting.
BTW: Man. Look at the time. That sounds pretty interesting, but my wife needs to get to bed. She's pregnant.
BTW: Thanks. I'm calling you on my laptop, and it's a wired connection. I can't really pick up my laptop and leave the room to keep talking to you. We're in a dorm room. It's a long story.
SJB: That's all right.
BTW: I'm in my thirties, and I'm living in a dorm room. It's pathetic. I'm pathetic.
SJB: Now, now. I'm sure it's not that bad.
BTW: It's bad, Sam. I was supposed to amount to something. I was a precocious kid. Well, all right. Not really. But I had my precocious moments.
SJB: You mean Precious moments.
BTW: Good one, Sam. What time is it in the Philippines, anyway?
SJB: About four in the morning.
BTW: Shit. Didn't realize I called you so late.
BTW: You know, I never know what to do with four in the morning. Three in the morning is clearly late. Five in the morning is clearly early. Four's kind of a twilight zone.
SJB: No. Twilight's not a synonym for dawn. It's a synonym for dusk. And dusk in the Philippines is after five this time of year.
BTW: The things you learn, huh? But, seriously, I gotta go. Wife. Sleep. I can call back some other time.