Touching Our Private Parts

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« BACK   After about five minutes, Frank emerges from the bathroom, dressed in his trademark tie-dyed shirt, mismatched sneakers, and thick, square glasses. His tongue seems to have a mind of its own, wiggling restlessly.

The mere act of having a "conversation" with Frank Moore is something out of this world. He uses a wand strapped to his head and points it painstakingly at letters and some basic words painted on a wooden board in front of him. Fortunately for the "wacky neighbor," who is finding it hard to follow her interviewer, Linda is there to facilitate things. After more than 27 years of near-constant companionship, she often can anticipate what her partner is going to say and finish his sentences.

Linda reads aloud what Moore spells out on his board. If she guesses wrong when trying to finish his word or sentence, he shakes his head to let her know. "If ... u ... think ... about it," Linda says ever so slowly while following Moore's joking question to his guest, "who ... is ... the ... 'w,' 'a' -- wacky neighbor?"

Moore met Linda, a former substitute teacher from Philadelphia who had dabbled in but become disenchanted with the personal growth movement, in 1975 while she was working at a Berkeley travel agency. When he rolled in looking to buy a plane ticket to New Mexico, she leaned over him to read his board -- obviously not wearing a bra, to Frank's delight. Inspired, he quickly suggested that she'd be perfect in a play he was working on. It eventually became clear that there really was no play, but Moore promised he'd create one if necessary.

Although initially taken aback by his appearance, Linda quickly found herself charmed. When Moore rolled into Don Travel, she had been waiting for a big change in her life. "I really knew on the spot that this was the breakthrough I had been anticipating," she says. "I could feel it within minutes of meeting Frank. And somewhere in me I knew that if I didn't take this opportunity, then I was full of shit in terms of wanting more in my life."

They've been together ever since, with Linda serving as his caretaker, translator, lover, and artistic collaborator.

The wacky neighbor interview runs longer than two hours, and covers topics from macrobiotic foods, to the obscure case of a 16th-century cross-dresser Stuart is researching, to Frank's upcoming performance series at UC Berkeley (he is a shameless self-promoter). It is an exercise in patience for all those involved -- from interviewer to guest to listener.

Conducting my own face-to-face three-and-a-half-hour interview with Moore was like nothing I had ever experienced. My usual preparation techniques -- scribbled notes suggesting key questions to ask -- were almost futile, and Moore repeatedly teased me about how he didn't need notes before conducting interviews. To "listen" to him, meanwhile, required me to stop taking notes and read his methodical letter-by-letter responses. If I got too wrapped up in my note-taking, Frank would kick me to let me know he wanted me to look at him while he was talking. I was in his world now and he wanted my direct fucking attention.

Some people find these challenges too extreme. Take the time when a listener tried to endure Moore's archived audio interview of UC Berkeley Professor Peter Dale Scott, a well-known antiwar figure in academia. The listener, unaware of Moore's disability, asked in an e-mail, "What's with the really annoying, halting reading of questions to Peter Dale Scott? I wanted to listen to the interview but couldn't stand it for more than a few minutes."

"True, I'm no Larry King, but who wants Larry King?" Moore replied via e-mail. "I have cerebral palsy. I talk via a pointer and a communication board. I'm the voice of the suppressed that you may have not heard on the radio before. Try harder. Expand your listening beyond THEIR programming and training."

The listener responded with understandable embarrassment and contrition: "I had no idea. I thought the questions were coming across a slow electronic connection."

Count yet another person for whom Frank Moore had "expanded the frame," as he likes to put it. According to the rules of polite society, people who don't talk can't host a talk show. But Moore does; it's just one of the ways he fucks with the frame.

If Moore was offended by his listener's comment, he certainly didn't show it. "I didn't get where I am by having thin skin," he says. If he did, he'd probably be dead and long forgotten.







6 | originally published: January 29, 2003

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