Marveling at Krispy Kreme, then at Rauschenberg

Q: You’ve lived in New York over 17 years, but I understand you’re from a small town in North Carolina. Was that a difficult transition?

A: It’s impossible for people who grow up within the orbit of large cities to fully understand how alien and incredible and impossible and overwhelming a place they appear to those far outside their sway. Where I grew up, at the time a dry county in the buckle of the Bible Belt, we’d drive 40 miles to the closest small city to buy alcohol, which had a 24-hour Krispy Kreme, and I’d marvel at its neon sign, conveyor belt — I felt unsophisticated even there.

“Although culture certainly wasn’t kept from us — I knew who Thomas Wolfe was by the time I was 10, but I didn’t see a work of modern art up close until I was 20 years old — it was [Robert] Rauschenberg’s combine painting, ‘Bed,’ and nearby was one of Jasper Johns’ Flag paintings. I stood there frozen for the longest time — I couldn’t speak, tears in my eyes.”

— From “Evan Smith Rakoff: The TNB Self-Interview” (March 14, 2013)

Rakoff, reared in Asheboro and educated at UNC Greensboro, is a freelance writer and associate web editor at Poets & Writers.

Among his essays: a comparison of Andy Griffith to Robert Burns.