Cookie Mueller's Posthumous Prose

by Mark William Norby

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday June 21, 2022

Cookie Mueller's Posthumous Prose

"Walking through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black" (Semiotext(e) 2022) by the late Cookie Mueller is the newly-expanded reissue of the original 1993 Semiotext(e) compilation, edited by Hedi el Kholti, Chris Kraus, and co-editor and Netflix producer Amy Scholder. The first two-thirds of the book are divided into three sections, including "Baltimore," "Provincetown," and "New York." The last third includes "Fables," "Columns," and "Coda."

Cookie will be best remembered as a novelist and actress. "Dreamlander," "It Girl," sex symbol, and so much more, she hitchhiked from New York to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury on speed. Wherever she traveled, she wrote.

Cookie Mueller and John Waters in 1979
Cookie Mueller and John Waters in 1979  

Cookie got her start when she met John Waters in Baltimore, Maryland. She wrote an entry titled, "John Waters and the Blessed Profession — 1969," the same year that they met and went on to star in Waters' early films "Multiple Maniacs" (1970); "Pink Flamingos" (1972); and "Female Trouble" (1974). Those films make up Waters' "Trash Trilogy," and instantly propelled him to cult status. Waters and Divine worked together in nine films; Cookie also worked with Waters in "Desperate Living" (1977). But it was in "Female Trouble" that Cookie became the beloved queer icon that she is.

In the film, Concetta (Cookie Mueller), Chicklette (Susan Walsh), and Dawn Davenport (Divine) ditch their high school class, hiding out in the girl's lavatory while smoking cigarettes, bitching about their school, and conspiring over what they're going to do with their Christmas presents that year.

Dawn: "I'd like to set fire to this place..."

Concetta: "Just 'cuz we're pretty, everybody's jealous."

Chicklette: "It's like a prison here, even at Christmas it's like a prison..."

Dawn: "Don't even mention Christmas, Chicklette. My parents are gonna be real sorry if I don't get them cha-cha heels. I asked and I better get."

Chicklette: "I never get enough Christmas presents. Everybody's so damn cheap."

Concetta: "I should be getting a lot. And I'm gonna take it all back and get the money for it. You can do that, you know."



Mueller the Mom
Cookie gave birth to her son, Max Mueller, in 1971. Max and I chatted over text messages during the course of nearly four weeks as he scrambled back and forth from his home in Provincetown to New York City in preparation for the book launch, which was held on June 8 at an event at St. Mark's Church. Cookie's funeral was also held at St. Mark's on November 15, 1989.

Cookie with son Max, in Provincetown 1976  photo: Audrey Stanzler. Max Mueller in Provincetown 2022 photo: Max Mueller
Cookie with son Max, in Provincetown 1976 photo: Audrey Stanzler. Max Mueller in Provincetown 2022 photo: Max Mueller  

"I'm happy to have a book that has most of my mother's writings," Max told me. "And thrilled to have found some unpublished stories on her old word processor that were added to the book."

Max appeared in "Pink Flamingos" when he was a tiny baby, playing the role of Baby Noodles, who is sold to a lesbian couple out of a dingy dirt-floor cellar in the home and office of Raymond (David Lochary) and Connie Marble (Mink Stole).

Of course, I had to ask Max what it was like growing up surrounded by the "Dreamlanders" — Waters' regular cast and crew used in his films.

"It was all pretty normal to me," Max said. "I was little, and more interested in my comics and D&D Dice. I'm definitely trying to show [everyone] how very normal everything seemed to me, and still does. Stuff that other people find dangerous or shocking, I wouldn't even bat an eyelid at."

On a trip to Jamaica, Cookie wrote, "Max was three. His skin was café au lait; he'd been in the sun. He had long hair, almost to his waist, that was matted and sun-streaked gold. I had given up trying to brush or cut his hair, he screamed so much."

"Cookie is a great, great writer," Waters said from Provincetown, "who really isn't lauded enough as she should be for her writing. I still see Max in Provincetown. Now they're talking about making movies about Cookie. You know, Cookie was the only of the Dreamlander crew who had a girlfriend for twenty years. Cookie was the greatest slum goddess." (Read the paired John Waters interview in this week's issue.)

The writing in "Clear Water" is direct, honest, and frequently deeply perceptive. Not afraid of anything, Cookie kept moving, changing, and never stopped being true to herself. All of this lovingly written about in a folksy style that makes the reader feel they're reading the words of a close friend.



Doctor Mueller
During her life, Cookie was a clothing designer, drug dealer, go-go dancer, playwright, theater director, performance artist, barmaid, herbal therapist, leg model, and, like her son Max, a watercolorist. She was also a writer for Details Magazine, where she wrote a regular column called "Art and About."

And she was a writer for the East Village Eye, where she had free reign to write whatever she wanted, and wrote both the questions and the answers for an advice column titled, "Ask Dr. Mueller." Here's one issue's column:

"Dear Doc,
Is it true that you can have syphilis for years and not ever know it? I'm just so worried about everything as far as health care goes these days, what with everything that's going around.
— Jonas Corona"

"Jonas,
Well, how did you contract this French disease? I didn't think anyone was still having sex. Okay, this is just something I heard, but yes, apparently you can have it for years and not ever know it. Usually a blood test is pretty conclusive. But don't worry, there's plenty of penicillin around and the doctors are more than willing to give it out. Take it easy. Relax. Try to think of what Christopher Isherwood said about venereal disease. 'If you don't have it, you aren't trying hard enough.'
Love, Doctor Mueller"

She married the artist Vittorio Scarpati, whom she met in Positano, Italy — a coastal town south of Naples — during a summer trip in the summer of 1983. They married three years later in New York City. Scarpati died two months before Cookie in September 1989, both dying as a result of AIDS-related complications and heroin addiction.

Her life-view was written in her own words near the time of her death, reassuring words of a timelessness where worry, torment, and fret vanish like the physical body floating down a long river and to some great beyond.

"Fortunately I am not the first person to tell you that you will never die," she wrote. "You simply lose your body. You will be the same except you won't have to worry about rent or mortgages or fashionable clothes. You will be released from sexual obsessions. You will not have drug addictions. You will not need alcohol. You will not have to worry about cellulite or cigarettes or cancer or AIDS or venereal disease. You will be free."

The book totals not only the sum of Cookie's best writing, but the contents of a heart always in search of more. It's destined to be a new queer rite of passage, freeing us into a wildness that is outside time.


"Walking through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black" by Cookie Mueller, Semiotexte/MIT Press, $17.95 paperback
mitpress.mit.edu

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