Two Slices of “The Full Circle”

Harper’s Bazaar, Number 3000, November 1961, pp. 133-137 (41.2005)

Photo of Hiroko Matsumoto by Richard Avedon.

On the cover: Cardin’s “Butterfly” dress – a giant chrysanthemum of spiraling petals, centered by a blazing cluster of diamonds cascading the shoulder. This exquisitely gentle fall of frosted pink silk chiffon bares an arm, veils the other in a diaphanous, wing like cape. The blossom with in: mannequin, Hiroko.

Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Harper’s Bazaar, Number 3000, November 1961, p. 133 (41.2005)

These are five singular people who appear like metaphors somewhere further out than we do; beckoned, not driven; invented by belief; each the author and hero of a real dream by which our own courage and cunning are tested and tried; so that we may wonder all over again what is veritable and inevitable and possible and what is to become whoever we may be.

There is an old joke in which a man goes into a bar and he sees that the bartender has a banana in his ear so he says Hey, you have a banana in your ear, and the bartender says Speak louder, I can’t hear you because I have a banana in my ear.


Who is it that can tell me who I am? – Shakespeare

Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Harper’s Bazaar, Number 3000, November 1961, p. 136 (41.2005)

WILLIAM MACK is known as the Sage of the Wilderness, the (Abominable) snowman, Santa Claus, El Dorado, Rasputin, Daniel Boone, Garibaldi. Mr. Mack lives on Third Avenue in a room which measures about 7 by 8 feet, with 9 umbrellas, a cowbell, 20 rings, 5 hammers, 38 cigar butts in a bowl, 11 bracelets, 4 watches, 3 earrings, 6 necklaces, 35 empty bottles, a Hopalong Cassidy gun and holster, a wagon, 46 rolled-up pieces of string, 19 brushes for hair, shoe, paint or floor, 5 segments of broken mirror, a pink doll carriage with a sort of underslung hammock devised out of more string, a jar of plastic umbrella tips, 5 canes, some Blue Seal Pomade, 6 saws, 7 pairs of scissors, a jar of Maraschino Cocktail Cherries, a medicine dropper, a squashed coffeepot, 2 pinup pictures of Sophia Loren and 1 each of Brigitte Bardot and Julie Newmar, 9 belts, a pair of brown child’s shoes hanging by the laces, a bogus detective badge, 8 augers, a foxtail, a copy of the Koran and a Holy Bible, a 1959 Horoscope, a ladder, a Guide To Sexual Harmony In Marriage (Mr. Mack has never married), 9 pliers, 10 screw drivers, an English-Arabic Dictionary, a pair of white nurse’s shoes, 7 paint scrapers and some Breath O’ Pine All Purpose Cleanser. (“Three months living here and I’m still straightening up.”). When people ask him why he collects so many things his favorite answer is to say that it’s good for his rheumatism and when people ask him where he was born he likes to say he was born in the kitchen: he could tell because he heard the water running. He is 72 years old, German, an ex-merchant seaman living on his pension.

Once I accompanied him on his daily ritual round which begins at 5:30 A.M., walking down Third Avenue in the freezing dawn picking empty bottles out of garbage cans, loading them into his baby carriage, stopping off at select bars, which are very like private clubs, for parts of breakfast and the early morning special extra free drink; then south and east to the Bottle Collectors. Mr. Mack says he doesn’t do it for the money, and indeed it is precious little money: the day I was there, his 51 bottles yielded a total of 35 cents.

Picking up bottles is what he calls his diversion and he is humorously indulgent when people give him money, which they must seldom dare to do, because he is such an awesome, noble, possessed and legendary figure. I think he is most awfully strong. Often he carries a great sack on his shoulders. He appears to be the bearer of an undecipherable message. Nevertheless he is very fond of polite, aristocratic conversation and he sometimes goes to Union Square for a good etymological argument. He is a Muslim convert and a student of language and philosophy. He has had experiences on the lower astral plane. He says that the average person not only eats too much but breathes too much. And he says that Life isn’t supposed to make sense: “If you take it literal, if you try to figure it out, it is a mass of confusion, a pack of lies signifying nothing…. The mutable cannot perceive the immutable.” And the last time I saw him he said to me: “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken but you are bound to weaken one day.”

Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Harper’s Bazaar, Number 3000, November 1961, p. 136 (41.2005)

Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Harper’s Bazaar, Number 3000, November 1961, p. 137 (41.2005)

JACK DRACULA, the Marked Man, is embellished with 306 tattoos (estimated value: $6,000), and although this is a work-in-progress conspicuously distinguished him, he is living in seclusion and I have solemnly sworn not to reveal his whereabouts. There are 28 stars on his face as well as 4 eagles in varying postures, 6 greenish symbols shaped like doughnuts, a Maori mustache and a pair of trompe-l’oeil goggles. Under his hair is the winged cap of Mercury with a rose cluster across his crown. His first tattoo, about four years ago, was a hinge in the crook of his right arm, and now a bat nestles near his left collarbone, a 2-foot wide eagle flies downward across his chest, a tiger and snake wrestle below his navel, a scorpion grasps a dollar sign on his right forearm, a werewolf stares from his kneecap and on the inside of his underlip is inscribed the name DRACULA. He is also adorned with winged dragons, a peacock, a geisha girl, a cigar-smoking skull in top hat, macabre butterflies, a hypodermic entitled Death Needle, a head of Christ, boats, swords, ghouls, chains, satyrs, cupids, penguins, The Horrible Three (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera); and one afternoon while I sat with him he put a small new rose on his thigh. There is also quite a lot of reading matter like I Love Money, Death Before Marriage, In Memory of Mother, Amor, Dolores, Barcelona Jack, Muerte, Sylvia, Theresa, the names of his three heroes — Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney — and on his fingers the initials of some obscenity which his girl friends were so good at deciphering that he finally converted the ones on his left hand into flowers.

Jack is tattooed simply because he wants to be. He could remove them by a secret process but he doesn’t choose to. The needle penetrates 1/32 of an inch and each little puncture bleeds slightly but heals in a week or two. He must stay in the shade because the designs on his back contain a dye which turns poisonous on prolonged exposure to the sun. He can outstare any stranger and causes a sensation on the subway, looking large, proud, aloof, predominantly blue-green, like a privileged exile. Women think he must be a hero to have borne so much pain but he says it didn’t hurt. He has so much more than enough of women that he treats them with a devastating coolness, which makes for a pleasurably vicious circle. They often promise to marry him if he will erase his tattoos, so whenever he wants to break off with a girl he gets a new tattoo. Jack is a writer and a devotee of horror stories and has introduced me to the literary nether world, while I in return gave him a volume of Kafka whom he used to think was a fictitious character on a Shelley Berman record. In the Penal Colony made him chuckle.

He has read Dracula nine times, is an authority on Necromancy, and thinks some vampires may still exist. When I asked him if he believes in the devil he said, “Let’s put it this way: I wish he’d come up just long enough for me to sell my soul to him in exchange for a few powers, like being able to fly and to blast some people out of existence.” He keeps some knickknacks around to intimidate people, like a set of pseudo eyeballs in formaldehyde. His pet bird is called Murderer be cause of what it did to his other bird. Children stand enraptured before him or often to Jack’s delight they play fine monster games together. He is rich, shrewd and industrious. Friends and enemies respect him equally but there is no one he cannot do without. Jack is fond of skin diving but he can not swim. He told me he is not afraid of anything, I believe him.

Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Harper’s Bazaar, Number 3000, November 1961, p. 137 (41.2005)

A portion, a pair of pieces, of the “The Full Circle” (Arbus’s second significant published photo-essay) on Pi Day. “Photos and text by Diane Arbus,” who was born 97 years ago today, 3.14.1923.

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