Reverse Butterfly

Excerpt from “The Cheerful Scapegoat” by Wayne Koestenbaum

Reverse Butterfly

Philadelphia has a largeness that I admire, though I’ve never been to Philadelphia to test my hypothesis about its size.

I prefer keeping my distance from vast cities, because their beauty has the power to revive my fear of lockjaw.

If I were to travel today to Philadelphia, I would experience a reversal. Let me explain the ethics of reversal.

I have taken a stand, in the past, on the ethical necessity of remaining rigid and never altering one’s convictions, even if they are proved wrong. Therefore, within my former system of ethics, to travel today to Philadelphia would involve “reversing my hemispheres,” as the Amherst poet might have put it. And my hemispheres, lethargic, don’t want to reverse.

So today I stay put in Baltimore and avoid the difficult trip north. I amuse myself, meanwhile, by visiting the butterfly collection in the under-appreciated International Gallery of Butterflies, on North Charles Street, in the basement of a building you might have passed many times without realizing that it contained a neglected treasure, a butterfly collection unrivaled in the state of Maryland.

The proprietor of the International Gallery of Butterflies—I’m ashamed to call him the curator, when he is, as well, the guard and janitor and ticket-booth operator and principal fundraiser—wears Diane von Furstenburg “wrap” dresses to work. His choice of costume receives no commen- tary in the press. I aim to reverse that silence—to turn neglect into chatter—by publishing this essay in The Amityville Herald, if the editors will pamper me.

Years ago I met Diane von Furstenberg at a party, when she came to Baltimore for the premiere of an unfinished film by Max Ophuls, Watch Me Strut, which takes place in Baltimore as well as in Anchorage. The flight-to-Eden scenes were filmed in Anchorage. The towering-inferno scenes were filmed in Baltimore. I don’t appear in this movie. When I met Diane von Furstenberg, she congratulated me on my butterfly pin, fastened to my lapel. Her cheekbones were so large and so beautiful that I gave her my butterfly pin, or tried to, as a gift of appreciation. She turned away from me at the moment I was considering offering her the pin; in truth, she turned away from me the moment before I considered offering her the pin.

Excerpted from The Cheerful Scapegoat by Wayne Koestenbaum. Copyright © 2021 by Wayne Koestenbaum. Excerpted by permission of Semiotext(e). All rights reserved.