Friday, January 02, 2009

attentive, heavily mascaraed pleasure droids

I recently acquired, through means both delicious and forbidden under Geneva convention letter, several pieces of anti-fauvist sculpture from Carten’s, an art and antiquities treasure house in St. Vincent, Tx. Each of the works interested me separately, and would fetch a comfortable sum if presented for individual sale in the freelance auction circuit. I find myself unable to separate them, however, as I have discovered they are part of a larger collection. Funded by an eccentric collector/architect of Uncertain European Descent, Wilhelm Arden Knokker (pronounced k-nocker), the pieces were originally considered a "collection because of their collective theme --objects unified by measures of relative lethality."

An entire Aesthetic movement erupted from the study of this collection. Called “The School” by its founder, Samuel Trace, this scene/movement/armed anti-artistic resistance held one precept above all others: Any artistic object may be judged by a single criterion-- If I struck a grown man on the head with this piece, would it kill him? As with any notion of artistic measure, this question contains a series of subtextual inquiries. The School believed that if one answered this web of internal, tacit, prenatal, and hypnogogic under-questions, the artistic merit of the piece was completely discerned.

Opponents of the school, who often did not even know of their opposition since, by definition ‘any not for us are agin us,’ required of their art simpler pleasures and clearer answers. Upon viewing a painting, the day to day man on the street will ask, in tones both common and unpretentious, “Does this painting accurately depict a shirtless Greek gentleman teaching pre-calculus algebra to a classroom in which every desk is filled by attentive, heavily mascaraed pleasure droids eager to interrupt the lecture with the trapdoor clacking of their cryosteel French tips and the cicadic hum of the cold fusive power-plants sleeping fitfully in their synthetic bowels?” Yes or No?

It’s a simple question, and it leads logically to other inquiries. The instructor looks perfectly content without his shirt. Did he forget it on the steps of his expansive manor house or on the banks of some indeterminate rivulet? Why was he in such a hurry to leave such an estate, or such an indeterminate rivulet? Had the fumes from the remodeling become too much for him? Yesses and Nos. In the face of such a hypothetical piece, viewer response scholars will question the evocative aspects of the teacher’s physique and the relative heights, weights, and the intuitive links which may or may not exist between the viewer, instructor, and students. Has he removed his shirt as a reward for perfect attendance? Would such a thing be considered dirty pool in the theoretical educational system implied by the assembling of these automatons in the form of a class? Yea or Nay. Hit me.

The School considered these analyses laughable. It was, to them, inconceivable that aesthetic worth should be determined by the artist’s intent, the reaction of the viewer or even the quality of the materials. Only one question was necessary to the so-called Tracies: If I struck a grown man on the head with this piece, would it kill him?

Sadly, I am unable to determine the worth of the pieces I just bought by simply looking at them. How large a man did they mean? What sort of blow? I mean, a peanut glazed with ram’s blood and titled “Proteinous Isaac” could kill just about anyone if fired from a rifle. There were too many factors for me to consider alone, so I sought the help of a professional.

Marcelle Nerien worked for a reputable auction house in Manhattan. I met her during a trip to Paris, where I watched her stalk and eventually kill a Citroen Luxury Sedan with such power and grace that the assault stands in my memory as "the most beautiful and terrible experience of my early twenties." She built a reputation in New Orleans as a gallery director, but now commanded a crack team of art inspectors working to identify and recover pieces stolen during various Nazi occupations. Ostensibly, the team’s goal was to return the items to their rightful owners, formerly wealthy Jewish families living in the united states and abroad, but enough of the pieces were found to belong to defunct lines and indeterminate surnames now living in Paraguay that supplemental income from illicit sales was available to anyone on her team who cared for that sort of exchange.

Her first appraisal was a highly publicized identification of a series of ceramic figurines—12 jolly fellows (ostensibly Hummel) performing the Stations of the Cross. Closer inspection revealed two important facts. First, the figures were not valuable individually, despite the fact that they also showed the 12 progressive stages of MultiPox, a medieval bacterial/viral combo disease that proved so virulent that it was unable to survive when exposed to itself. Second, the figures were infinitely less important than the box in which they had been packed. Inside each of the six surrounding panels was a plate of the Salvador Dali Sextych “Portraits of Cervantes’ Quixote.” The catalan polymath, Dali', had formed a cube of brass plates about a case of gunpowder and shrapnel (consisting of crushed rhino horn, ink, bread, and cuneiform tablets). After detonating the device from a safe distance (he was in Paris at the time, unaware of his own project. The device was activated by a mercury tilt-trigger designed to respond to Dali’s eventual loss of interest in the piece.) the tattered remains of the cube’s faces became the portraits of La Mancha’s favorite demiknight.

The 12 aching gentlemen were useful, however, in tracking the course of the six plates out of Europe and into the U.S. The bronze-plated bin had been smuggled out of France by an SS officer in 1938 posing as a baker specializing in novelty breads. He was able to pass through customs by declaring his newest creation, “A Rye Loaf in the shape of a brass plate sextych depicting various scenes from the Quixote.” [Further research by my friend and her staff has since linked this uberbakker to a number of stolen pieces:

  • Lollipops in the shapes of various keys allowing access to Vatican storage basements
  • Luger Rolls with anthracite frosting

  • Hot Cross Buns in hotter crossed gold pleur d’enfant warmed on a bed of cinnamon and family bibles

  • Sheaves of pastry dough (heavily buttered) pressed into a particularly amusing series of notebooks describing the assassination plots of future world leaders JFK, Shek, Pot, DeGalle, Wayne, and a team of Disney animators fired in the late 50’s for giving female characters prominent nipples and visible panty lines

  • A recipe book, carried on his person and left undeclared and unnoticed, entitled, ACHTUNG! Methods of War Crime. Vol. 14, Art Theft Through Judicious Use of Bakery Goods.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

I discovered the sunburn in the shower. When the water struck my back, the objections and exhortations of my overly cautious mother came back to me. The words, to this day, are perfectly associated with three visual images of that day—seagulls picking apart an inflatable Disney character stuffed with fish heads (the work of a fraternity), a teenager pissing on a sleeping dog, and a pair of harlequin pants in the hotel swimming pool.

“You are turning bright red. Let me spray you with this lithium based sedative sunscreen gel. It ‘lowers the body temperature while raising fun parameters in the youngster to near lethal values.’ It’s got Blockinol™ and UValene™.”

"Mom, I’m not burning!"

Despite years of outdoor surveillance, my mom always misinterpreted whatever symptoms I happened to exhibit. 1

“My skin is red because my inhibitions are leaving me at a rate incommensurate with my mass and body fat percentage. The anxieties are passing through the skin as the normal means of escape are blocked! It’s metastasizing into a condition not unlike Rosacea but comprised wholly of formerly sublimated desires now grown manifest!”

“How can your coping mechanisms be blocked already? We just had you tuned. What do you think all that classic rock hypnosis therapy was for? Do you think we listened to all that Peter Frampton for our health? Dr. Watts assured us that the sheer power of arena rock riffmasters like Boston, Queen, and in some regards, the underappreciated tonic infections of Edgar Winter, would prevent the social unease that so hindered your earlier efforts concerning transition between interactive spheres. Are you in a peer group that provokes you or provides you with an uncomfortable environment in which to overcome your crippling neuroses?”

“Mom! The guys are right here! It’s just that…It’s just...” This sort of dialogue was not appropriate for the beach, so I stood faltering.

“Spit it out, boy.” My father bellowed, growing impatient and a little pink himself. Every second my mother drew attention to her son’s various distresses, both dermatological and social, was a second she wasn’t mixing him an ovaltine belvedere. (The OB is the drink of choice for all aging men of leisure whose families no longer appreciate the need for hard work, a group with which my father desperately wished to associate himself. What if some aging man of leisure were to stroll past, grumbling about his children and their respective lacks of concern about the future and find my father with an old-fashioned, or worse, a midori sour, or some such communist beverage? My older brother had reminded my father once that a more likely communist beverage would be a vodka and borscht toddy, but the old man hadn’t heard. He was too busy practicing his knowing glances and exasperated sighs in the hall mirror for future use at the clubs where aging men of leisure gathered.)

“It’s just that all my normal coping mechanisms seem a bit contrived out here on the beach.”

I was losing momentum.

One of the boys nearby chimed in, giggling, “Look, I’m coping with the possibility of future trauma by visualizing positive outcomes for the situations that bring me the greatest stress!” He began to tear up from suppressed laughter, and this effort inspired the rest of my friends to join in.

“Hey, check this out!” The smallest of the boys, a blond kid wearing cutoffs and one flipper, put on his most mechanical frown and dropped his voice and his brow, intoning, “Let’s role play. I am an authority figure with whom you’ve taken issue. How do you feeeeel (he stretched it out for over a minute by utilizing circular breathing techniques) about my continued perceived interference?” They all cracked up and fell on the sand, holding their sides, eventually taking turns holding each other’s sides as the effort became too great.

My mother just rolled her eyes and slid her sunglasses back up the slope of that cartilaginous beak of hers. The glasses immediately slipped down a little, as the ascent was well lubricated by mom sweat. I began to count the number of drops that fell into her Tilapia Daiquiri. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. She dismissed me.

“Go on then, burn. Don’t come crying to me about lotions, salves, and military grade neurotoxins which can be used, in dire circumstances, to damage neural tissue sufficiently to suppress all but the most subconscious distresses .”

Despite her instructions to handle my burns myself, should they occur, I requested her assistance after the second flush-induced ice-water/boiling-water combo sent my way by my brother. She carried me to the nearest bed with only minimal complaint (although I think I might have heard the words “disown” and “grounded” in passing). In retrospect, these whispers may have been a verbal smokescreen, a momentary diversion, to draw my attention away from the phrase “…sold into slavery via the academic black market. Those guys at Cornell are always in the market for a crybaby with a predilection for UV absorption. They’re weird that way. Call SeƱor Palo Alto and have him set it up.” I recall the sound of a ham radio being tuned and retuned. Whistlers.

My father comforted me in the only way he knew how (or at least was willing to attempt), he told me a story from his youth, presumably to instill in me the sort of grit and guts he felt I was lacking.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sunburn Footnote 1

I spent several of my young summers at various child depositories masquerading as wilderness retreats. During all my years of summer camp, I only wrote my parents once. I had developed a couple of blisters during a forced march from the mess hall to the state-sponsored rifle range/planetarium. The terrain was pockmarked from the periodic landfall of mortar shells and a tunnel complex being daily expanded by the resident population of moles and gophers (also state-sponsored, genetically altered, and prone to hyperbole—liars every one). This rough and ready landscape was difficult to navigate and many campers slipped, fell or were otherwise laid low. We finished the march muddy, upset, and in my case, blistered.

I mentioned the blisters in passing, focusing instead on the porridge-heavy menu and my partial exclusion from the mile swim. My mother decided that the letter was an encoded plea for intervention on behalf of my ravaged feet. Although I had clearly explained the origin of the blisters, she sent a series of telegrams to the camp, demanding the release of her son (who she failed to name) and declaring in each that the methods of interrogation employed by the counselors were not only barbaric, but needlessly expensive.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sunburn 2

I had to the pay the Medical Examiner $100 to let me have the papers from my brother’s belly. I snapped up the journals right after I called the ambulance. No need to give the emts anything to worry about while they tried to loosen his limbs and get him onto the stretcher. The notes from the stomach made little sense, however, to the examiner. I don’t know why I expected them to, but those guys are trained, so connections should have been made. No trained professional should fail to connect fairly prominent dots and conclude something. For example, if I had found the notes, my conclusion would have been:

Excerpt from autopsy report (audio):

The victim’s life’s work, 30 odd years of epistolary detritus reaching outward in two Archimedean spirals from the breach in the abdominal wall. The entry wound is obscured by what appears to be paper. A slight peeling away of the wound surface reveals a series of wadded papers…wait, folded papers. The first is a tightly wound cylinder with a swelling towards the outer end. It is a plug, in both form and function. Gunshot may then be work of origamist of league quality or better with penchant for .38’s and a Dutch-boy fixation. My best guess is the victim, in his dying hours (of which there were several), attempted to reconstruct the circumstances of his attack using the items within easy reach—notebooks, paper swans, assorted visceral elements and virtually all of his blood.

Reconsidered: It may be unfair to expect this level of deduction from the post-mortem investigators since they did not have access to the notebooks. When I found my brother, I bundled up all the papers and bits of wood, metal and paint that comprised his journals and hid them. When the cops and emergency folk got there, all they saw was a dead guy with two holes in him (one in, one out) and enough blood to satiate any manner of large animal with a desire to consume blood, provided the animal’s size didn’t necessitate an unreasonable amount. The papers from the wound itself are in my room, and I am almost ready to move the furniture back in. The cleaning crew left about an hour ago and forgot to do it. They were thorough in every regard, save one. The room is spotless but bare. Ammonia and bleach (dangerous together) may be used in small quantities to remove dark stains of almost any description, even those left by standing blood. The smell is making me dizzy.

This isn’t the first time I have felt like this. I got badly sunburned once before, and my father told me a story to make me feel better, or at least put my pain in perspective. I couldn’t go back to the beach until I was healed, so I sat by myself in the rented house and varied my schedule by alternating my shifts of moaning, reapplying lotion, watching TV, and staring plaintively at my family as they pranced about on the beach, unconcerned and forgetful of their son who lay, alternately moaning, reapplying lotion and watching TV.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


I was sunburned the day my brother shot himself. The beach where we had been playing football and smear the queer was relatively free of debris: seaweed, jellyfish, and vagrants. I remember every aspect of the day with Waterford clarity. The images remain vivid because it was this morning.

He didn’t do it like in the movies.

The troubled character sweats profusely and weeps. His hands shake as he raises the firearm (generally a revolver) and struggles over potential target area—trying the temple, the jaw, and usually settling on the barrel upturned in the open mouth. Finally, with his friends shouting that he is indeed loved and that this is not, is never, the answer, he gags out some heap of indecipherable gibberish pertaining to his reasons for the dramatic and awe-inspiring exit—his job, girlfriend, or guilt over some perceived wrong.

This is not how my brother did it. Not at all. He sat in the dark and shot himself in the stomach. They told us he bled for hours. He spread his journals around him in concentric spirals and covered the pages in bloody hieroglyphs. The symbols were written neatly, and with great care. Some of the pages had been enumerated specifically for order. Assorted pieces had been given new titles. The title page, with associated table of contents, identified as such by the carefully scripted “Title Page, with Associated Table of Contents” was found later, by an emt, folded precisely inside the gunshot wound. According to the examiners, that page was only one of many. My brother had literally filled himself with papers.

I can feel my skin tightening. Aloe hasn’t really affected the skin since I am so recently burned. If I arch my back too far, I am sure I’ll split. Molting is not a great concern of mine, but perhaps it should be. Maybe I’ll try some of that cooling gel. The commercials assure me that it’s 120% more effective than aloe-vera for the relief of sunburn pain and the dryness that accompanies careless overexposure to the “sun’s harmful rays.” First I have to shower. The water hurts, regardless of the pressure or temperature.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Marshall Dillon tackles sexual dysfunction

My trip to Tiffany's Waikiki went better than I expected. My fiance impressed me with her choice of wedding jewelry--a pair of mirror-bright Barrington brother's 70 caliber game rifles trimmed in ivory and standing attentive in quickset florists foam with a splash of baby's breath.
“They're beautiful.” My lover struggled to remain composed but nearly wept at the weight of them. The attendant smiled politely. “They have hair triggers and a set of 100 cartridges is included. “

As she handed one of the display cases to me, it was my turn to fight tears. The chamber was surround by a metallic starburst of precision machining. What I'd thought was a setting fixture for the rifles was instead a wreath of 700 nitro express rounds. I was beginning to hallucinate the scent of cordite filling the display cases and spilling into the street, telling the world of our love.

“For two young people like you,” he all but winked and nodded, “I'll throw in a pair of tooled gunbelts that belonged to James Arness. I was skeptical and it showed, but I owned leather from virtually every James Arness vehicle, and I had never seen anything like these. I figured I could get the price down if I expressed my doubt firmly, but politely. “I'm skeptical and it shows, but I own leather from virtually every James Arness vehicle, and I have never seen anything like these.”

He seemed to relish the banter and continued, “Remember the episode of Gunsmoke where Miss Kitty has to convince a Pinkerton that she and Festus are father and daughter? Remember just before the inevitable failure of the plan in a hail of Festus's frontier jibberjabber when Marshall Dillon breaks in and catches the three of them in the parlor and threatens to shoot them dead unless they perform forbidden and thoroughly unpalatable sex acts at a sideshow in a nearby town while the marshall sells sniffs of Miss Kitty's petticoats as a cure for impotence? You know how he drew on the angry mob when they knocked out the Pinkerton with a head of cabbage, interrupting the delicate finishing sequence of the “Golden Lotus”? Right when he starts firing indiscriminately into the mob, accidentally winging Miss Kitty's niece, these very holsters are visible for a couple of frames. Then they get soaked in gore and are unrecognizable for the rest of the scene.”

He obviously knew his Gunsmoke, because I did remember that scene. However, I was determined to haggle a little more.

“How are we supposed to keep large-bore rifles in holsters meant for sidearms?” I asked. My fiance seemed mortified, as though I'd asked permission to relieve myself in the man's jacket. He smiled the cloying rictus of all salesmen and closed the deal. “The stocks are removable and may be custom fitted by our in house weaponsmeister.“ He was already helping me into a belt and showing me how to balance the dread firearms into the holsters.

“See?” he noted,” perfect for young lovers.”

From his other side, my lady chuckled, “I couldn't agree more.“

My better half shouldered her oil-wet dowry, already loaded, and leveled it at the salesman's chest . Pressing him slowly into the wall behind the display case, she smiled and swiveled her good eye towards me. She took a long, slow breath. “Do you smell that, baby? It's like the whole island knows we're in love.”

Monday, February 26, 2007

your mouth is full of steel wool

Normally I don't stress out too much about how much time has passed since I accessed some forgotten skill, but I have to play at my friend's wedding in about an hour. The groom, who i met yesterday in a sir arthur conan doyle reading circle (we focus on his forgotten mathematical work, as opposed to his "Holmes and Watson" rubbish. I move almost exclusively in circles with a pathological bent towards the hatred of detective fiction). I put down my pipe to comment on an unclear passage in doyle's "Circles and Stuff: Figure That out, bitch" when I noticed the chap to my left. He noticed me noticing him and asked me to play at his wedding.

"Play what?" I asked.

"Well, the piano, of course." He looked around as though he was missing the joke. Ever the good sport, I decided to play along.

"What song then, on this piano? " He laughed and pointed to the piece of furniture in front of me.

"What You're playing now, sir."

It turns out that rather than rummaging around in an antique humidor for a specific blend of gentleman's tobacco, I had been playing a dead on cover of Iron butterfly's Inna godda da vida for almost an hour. Anyone else would be forced to conclude that, in spite of the fact that it occurred during a brief blackout, I had evidently learned the song somewhere and could play it again if I wished. I knew better though. I live my life with a single rule in mind: Assume nothing. Especially if pscychotropic orchestral pieces are somehow involved. I told him I wasn't sure about the situation.

"I haven't played piano, or any keyed instrument, since I was 12 years old."

He refused to be put off. You mimic the gravelly vocal stylings of Doug Ingle, slurring like your mouth is full of steel wool,

Oh won'tcha come with me,
and take my hand?

once at a reading group and people evidently want to take your hand. They drop their frayed and tattered copies of Sherlock Holmes and the Antibiotic Resisant Strain of Tuberculosis and reach for you, knocking over 60 year old cognacs without noticing. They are not shy about sneaking these blatant works of detective fiction into the meeting. Shame has become a theoretical construct in the in the face of my playing. They stumble toward me like they've been tranquilized, beginning to mirror the lyrics which I don't even realize I'm growling at them. They are slurring, partly in response to the my impersonation of the already lovecraftian vocalist Doug Ingle. However, the bulk of their state has to be blamed on the inexorable weight of my organ on their poor brains. Bar after bar of unforgiving of hammond driven solo keywork have finally taken their toll on the reading group. Their eyes are rolling like loose marbles on a muddy playground. In addition to my unconcious keyboard playing, I have been kicking the floor in time with a phantom bass drum and using the song's lengthy lyric-free expanses to bellow the low-end accompaniment. It's just too damn much for them, I guess. There's no way I'm getting out of this wedding. Not even the reception, but a musical escort to the service itself. They are timing the liturgy to fall in time with the drum solo and have written their own vows.

Oh won'tcha come with me,
and walk this land?

I will.

In-a-gadda-da-vida honey,
don'tcha know that I love you?

I do.

In-a-gadda-da-vida baby,
don'tcha know that I'll always be true?

I do.