OEDIPUS Rx (a short story from NOT REALLY DIFFICULT TEXTS)

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Goss slithered out of the hotel bed, careful not to wake her. This was not easy because she was the lightest sleeper ever. He hadn’t been able to shift a millimeter without getting an interrogative grunt from her and his escape from the bed had taken what seemed like hours of excruciating control. When he finally slipped into the bathroom he realized it must be suppertime back home. Sat on the toilet, seat down, lights off, with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands but he was smiling. Not quite laughing. Actually maybe he felt slightly sick.

She was suddenly upright in bed. ‘Jimmy?’ she called. Not his name. And she pronounced it weird anyway. Yeemy?

Go in there, he ordered himself, and get your clothes. And don’t you say a fucking word.

‘Jimmy?’

Goss stared straight at the corner where his pants must be, ignoring the motionless silhouette which registered on his peripheral vision like a human shape in a sinister dreamscape as he groped and found briefs and slipped them on, then socks, his pants and going down on all fours patted the floor for his cap and found it. His scarf. His pullover was flung across the half of the bed they hadn’t used and he remembered kicking his shoes off right inside the door, bouncing them off the wall, so they must be here and here.

‘Jimmy,’ she sang, softly, sounding very sad.

He shod himself with one hop on each foot and got both hands on the doorknob squinting against the light he let like a rush of air into the room so musty with what they had done. He backed out careful not to look as the light closed on her old face and Goss blew out a long breath turning to the red AUSGANG sign and high-fiving his own ghost before it hit him that his jacket containing not only a copy of Levy’s keys but also all of Goss’s money and his passport and the sacred lock of hair was still hanging in the hotel room closet.

He rapped on the door and waited and rapped again. His nerve-endings sang with shame.

‘Mom?’

-2 Days Before That-

Goss on a couch beside Levy in a café on Königinnen Strasse called The Supreme Bean where they both liked the music and one of the waitresses was really pretty. Dogs romping around the café and hot coffee served in water glasses but Goss was comforted by normalizing details such as lonely males over Powerbooks like Nosferatus by the light of their desktops. As Tears go by, the ballad second only to the majestic Angie in the Richards/Jagger songbook was the song playing when it happened.

Goss had never written a song or fucked a girl worth writing a song about but he could remember a time in his life when both activities had seemed like eventual givens. He had almost fucked Tina Yee and had almost written a song about almost doing it, twenty years ago. It was Levy who had pointed out that every woman Goss ever fucked (not counting his first, a cousin) had been the ex-best friend of the girlfriend previous.

It is the evening of the day

Goss was mouthing the lyrics while Levy talked. He anticipated with emotions he could barely control the last stanza, containing as it did one of the great couplets in English verse: doing things I used to do, they think are new. Levy, meanwhile, who knew so much about everything that he knew exactly how much of everything that he didn’t know, as he often quipped, was yammering away. White streamers in the cafe window were part of a greater horizon-wide movement of cold ash padding; a miraculous makeover of the dirty old city.

Something told Goss to look up. An oldish woman, furred and painted, very tall or on preposterous heels, pushing through the corpsey curtain of the snowfall. Her epic grimace and coin-colored bob. Levy with his back to her but Goss’s heart flinched as the beautiful old thing moved across the picture window of the Supreme Bean like a queen puppet traversing a stage and the knowledge, the recognition, was so basic in Goss that it was semi-conscious. His body knew before his mind could react. Levy hunched forward in his chair, prepared to deliver the Levy-affirming punchline to whatever anecdote when Goss suddenly tugged at and freed his army surplus jacket from under Levy’s ass and he held up a finger and said Excuse, please, one sec, and bolted. It wasn’t forty seconds before Goss thought about running back for his scarf and gloves too but didn’t want to risk losing her on the shopper-choked street. She was roughly a block ahead. She was walking so fast with a spine so straight and open coat flying that Goss wasn’t sure briefly if she didn’t look a bit crazy and busy in the bad manner of the insanely alone. She was, or had been, he had been told, a performer and if Goss was 36 she would be about 55 with her bob hard-luminous in the creamy gloom of the high street.

-20 Years Before That-

In back of the house at 25th & Colfax the dog-breathed summer Tie a Yellow Ribbon was a hit young Goss was on his knees digging a hole behind the oak with a bent spatula on a Saturday morning. A lawnmower morning so loud with the sci fi sound of a planet hive, the neighborhood doused in green perfume, while Dad added his own nasal motor sleeping a stiff one off. When was the last time anyone mowed this lawn, thought Goss. He actually spat with contempt. It never occurred to him to mow the lawn. Cursing and in tears he worried a rooty wound in the earth at the mouth of the tree. This was a household of three males sharing the surname Goss and yet Goss, the youngest, was the one they all called Goss. Behind the oak to bury a picture of Tina Yee.

You may lose that fading sense-print of The First Kiss but you will never forget the very first I Don’t Love You Anymore. Despite the traditional disclaimer, it is you, you’re the one, the failure, the disappointment, the faded value, the seed on the deepest level unworthy of egg. Goss could always tell when an outbreak of I Don’t Love You Anymore was coming. They never look better than they do on the day they dump you.

Tina Yee in cap and gown smiling by the hole. About a foot into the nugatory cakemix of middleclass earth his bent spatula scraped a cigar box. He coughed and accidentally dropped a gross track of phlegm-web on the rim of the hole when he levered the box up and out and knocked a jacket of dirt off. An old Panetellas box for a photograph of a disturbingly attractive woman. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Also in the box a long lock of ice-blond hair. Goss was suddenly not crying and blinked at the photograph with no recognition, no switches tripped but the lock of hair was eerily-if-inaccurately familiar, like flying had been the first time he’d ever been on an airplane.

The evening of that day while Goss was out with his big brother and his big brother’s so-called friends mourning Yee, dousing the burning witch of his heart with tepid beer at a place called Moose’s, the photograph he’d found in the cigar box that morning disappeared from his bedroom from the top right drawer behind the magic mushrooms, never to be seen again. Over breakfast the next morning Goss glowered with the irritating wisdom of not mentioning it. But he had the lock of hair in his pocket and he fought the urge to place it on the table.

Joe senior had been a band-leader, a sax player, he’d even toured Europe. His sister Aunt Pennie told the brothers all about it but there hadn’t been a horn in the house since shortly after the year Goss was born. The saxophone, with its fetal curves, was a dead sibling you never mentioned and had become Goss’s stillborn twin like the twin haunting the dim but intense imagination of Elvis. Elvis was how Goss and Levy had met a month before Elvis’s self-satirizing death on a toilet. Levy was short but ramrod-erect among a slouching jumble of sideburned lotus-eaters near the front of the ticket line, turning suddenly to confront Goss about his t-shirt.

‘You’re wearing an Elvis t-shirt to a Beatles film festival?’ Levy laughed. ‘Man, if we weren’t all hippies, we’d have to kick your lanky ass!’

What you do with your hands when you’re not doing anything with them says a lot about you, thought Goss: this loudmouth has his arms folded over his chest like a drill instructor. Goss’s thumbs were hooked in the front pockets of his dungarees. He hankered after girls who struck limp-wristed postures like Cher (or Robert Plant, to be honest), a pose so feminine that it seemed to have vanished entirely from the increasingly macho planet by the time Goss was thirty, a loss that inspired vague pangs. All these years later, Levy was still Goss’s friend and friendship-deformingly rich. He had a company called The Bombardier Beetle and split his time between Minneapolis, Vancouver and Berlin.

-Last Night-

Back in the spare room, listening to Levy’s German girlfriend do something dramatic with Levy on the other side of the large flat, Goss found it impossible to sleep. But when they were finally finished the noise of his own breathing kept him awake so he slipped into his briefs and out of his unfamiliar bed and down the hall into the flicker-blue living room where he found the post-coital girlfriend watching the final minutes of It’s a Wonderful Life in German but with the sound off. Goss was prepared for what he found because Levy had carefully prepared him: Liesl likes to go naked around the flat. It had something to do with good health, or self-expression, or equal rights. She reflected the light of the widescreen television, naked as an Equatorial baby and unremarkably attractive. Nice big hands, though. Her breasts a goatee’d lunatic’s unblinking stare. A giant bust of Lenin transfixed by It’s a Wonderful Life.

‘Hallo, man,’ she said. ‘…this flick is so corny.’

Goss squeezed her shoulder. ‘Corny? Are you kidding? It’s like something out of the Brothers Grimm.’

She lowered her voice and said ‘Levy is completely asleep. He’s sleeping like a baby. It’s always like that.’

She smiled at the TV. ‘I put him to sleep. Like a baby.’

She stared sidelong at Goss and Goss cleared his throat but said nothing. He scratched his head. Jimmy Stewart was clutching Donna Reed with all of his might, sending a pang through Goss that made him want to jump out of his skin and smash all the lights in the universe. Liesl hugged her knees and said, a tad loudly, ‘You know what I hate?’

‘What?’ asked Goss, who assumed he was about to be treated to a diatribe against American kitsch as embodied by Jimmy Stewart.

It was so cool to be not interested.

-Earlier Today-

‘I’ve heard disturbing reports,’ said Levy the next morning pacing the new carpet in his furnitureless storefront, ‘…that some of you, in violation of my policy, are smoking while distributing promotional materials to the public.’ Levy’s muscular arms were folded over his ever-expanding chest because getting rich had inspired him to start working out. It wouldn’t be long before he became too top-heavy to swim. ‘Smoking on the job is not just verboten. It’s fucking dis-gusting.’

Levy glared at Nikola B, the fleshily-attractive brunette with blonde streaks he had hired on the spot without any references. Nikola gathered her purse and coat from a big pile in the corner and left without saying a word, slamming the front door so hard they were all afraid the building might collapse.

Goss asked himself, hours later, making his way to the building he believed was harboring his long-lost mother, why he couldn’t be like Levy. Why couldn’t he? It was a Vital Force thing.

Goss had followed the woman this far yesterday and turned back. He’d seen his mother enter that building. But did he really believe this? Or was it a sort of meta-belief… a belief that this belief was possible to believe? What seemed shakiest about this latest in a long line of improvised quests was the lack of gravity in his emotional response to the situation. Where was the bloody roil of emotions he was supposed to be feeling? He only knew for a fact that his mother had been from Berlin. Had followed Joe Goss to The States and bore him there two children and very soon after left. She could be in Berlin. A mile, two blocks, a neighborhood away. Yes, she could very well be the woman he saw walk by the café window last night. He would know his own mother, wouldn’t he? Mammals have that going for them, at least. Don’t they?

Last night’s spectacular snow was already melting under the fierce efforts of a little white custodial sun. The shoppers Goss squeezed by were unreadable, avoiding eye contact. Goss was wondering about this eye contact thing when he slowed and then stopped. He stuck his hands in his pocket and cleared his throat.

‘Hey, Nicole,’ he said.

She was crying. Not really crying; her face was relatively blank although her cheeks were bright red and decorated with silver tear-streaks. Her eyes might as well have been glands.

‘Nikola,’ she corrected him.

He looked away up the street towards the shop. He wanted to say: I’ve been searching for all of my life for the mother who abandoned me as an infant and I’ve finally tracked her down to an apartment building right up the street. Will you come there with me now as I see her again for the first time in thirty-five years and share that moment with me? Instead he said:

‘I’m sorry about what happened.’

She snorted.

Goss gathered the collar of his jacket around his neck. ‘Because. I don’t know. I thought you were a good worker.’

She laughed.

‘What?’

‘I thought Levy is so seductive to the women only because he is an American,’ she said, digging in her purse for a taschentuch, a kleenex, ‘But I see now that it is because he is a Jew.’

She blew her nose. ‘Talking to a female is hard for you, I think.’ She shocked Goss by tossing the balled tissue on the sidewalk.

‘You will probably be remembering this conversation for the rest of your life.’ She gestured at a balding red-haired scowler pushing impatiently between them on his way up the street. ‘Whereas to him, sex with me would mean less than nothing.’ She produced a package of Marlboros and lit one and stared at Goss through a cloud she kept adding to. Like eggs in the air.

‘So?’ she said, finally.

It was a very long bus ride away and early in the route the bus took them right by the building that Goss believed it was possible to believe harbored his mother. As the bus rounded the building’s corner he suppressed the urge, again, to proclaim, ‘I have good reason to believe that my mother, who I haven’t seen since I was an infant, is dwelling in that building,’ but he didn’t. Nicole’s hair was in a loose knot and she untied the knot and shook out and re-tied it twice during the awkwardly wordless journey. When they got off the bus at its Endstation it was in a neighborhood of fenced brown snow-patched yards and their dead-vine-covered houses of stone. It felt as though they’d bussed to another city. They walked through a rustic maze of narrow lanes under the high commentary of suburban birdsong until Nikola lifted the latch on a splintery wooden gate and Goss followed her in. I could be a killer, he thought. She pulled off her shoes at the door so he did also and they moved across the gloomy living room. In the kitchen they found Nikola’s mother busy at the sink with her back to them. She either hadn’t heard them enter the house or chose not to react. Nikola opened the refrigerator and removed a large black ceramic bowl of green grapes and pantomimed that Goss should take the bowl and follow her out of the kitchen. The bowl was heavy and warm; the mother had just then put it in the refrigerator. Nikola’s room was up a staircase so brief it was ridiculous, down a hallway, last right before a circular hall window overlooking a stone-ringed pond through the branches of a tree in a posture of agony. Goss managed a peek into two rooms along the way to Nikola’s bedroom and was surprised to see that each room he peeked into contained a person. The first was a teenage boy the second a man and each wearing a churchgoing suit and tie.

In Nikola’s little room, Goss put the bowl of grapes down on a dresser and closed her door and removed his jacket and tried to drape it from her door knob, which wasn’t a knob but a handle. His jacket shrugged off into a puddle on the floor and Nikola removed her own coat and purse and piled them on top of it. She positioned an old wooden folding chair beside her bed and reclined on the bed, smoothing her dress, her feet touching. Then, as though to a blown whistle only she could hear, she sat straight up and pulled the dress off over her head. She unsnapped her bra. The breasts of a beached sea creature when she was on her back. Goss was touched at how helpless they looked on land. They were too smooth, too firm and her vagina was simple as a fold in a table cloth. She reached and patted the seat of the folding chair and Goss sat.

‘No,’ she said, ‘bring the grapes here first and feed them to me.’

Goss had the look of a man attempting to make something happen with his thoughts alone. Bend a spoon or something.

‘Get the grapes,’ she repeated.

Goss was frozen.

Nikola flipped on to her stomach and hugged her pillow and counted to ten before saying,

‘Leave.’

‘Get out,’ she reiterated.

Goss was half way down the hall when he remembered his jacket and had to go back. When he left the house, the sky was a far dilute blue. He was surprised at how calm he felt. Everything was so familiar.

It was possible that Joe Goss, sideburned and swaggery, had been in this very neighborhood, had walked these lanes and maybe Goss’s mother, a teenager not so much younger than Nikola when she’d met Goss’s father, was from this part of town, had grown up in this area and had used the bus that Goss rode out there. He was used to the kind of small-town coincidences that people from Chicago or Tokyo considered mindfucks of cosmic import. He was thinking that very thing when he looked up and saw Levy walking towards him.

‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ asked Levy, who stopped in his tracks.

After Goss said to Levy that he’d taken the wrong bus to the end of the line and was now good and lost, Levy led Goss back to his car. ‘I have a little business to take care of, won’t be long, drive you back home when I’m done.’

-Earlier This Evening-

Goss ended up climbing out of Levy’s car again before night fell. It had been a profitable time alone, he thought. He put his cap on and zipped up his jacket and knotted his scarf and picked a random direction to walk in.

Loping along above the low sear hedge of one chalk-white cottage after another, Goss turned right, abruptly, when he spotted what looked like a major thoroughfare at the end of a darkening lane, a major thoroughfare behind which the sun was crashing to torch the brittle lung of the forest as it ground to a halt in the earth. Where the lane emptied into the thoroughfare, Goss found a bus stop bench in a shelter across the wet black shadow of the road. Seated on the bench was an older but nice-enough looking woman who smiled as he settled on the bench beside her. She waited until he was completely still and said, with an older woman’s precision, ‘You are an American.’

‘Yep,’ said Goss. ‘How could you tell?’

‘You weren’t afraid to look at me.’

Goss laughed. ‘Who would be afraid to look at you?’ He reached for her hand and looked her right in the eye and said, defiantly, ‘Jimmy.’

She hesitated so long before announcing her name in return that he knew it was a lie and he knew what the lie meant and it encouraged him.

‘Margarethe.’

She was tall and slender and profited from what looked like a fairly expensive dye job. Her hair up in a thick bun blurred gold in the fading last lights of the day.

‘Where are you going, Jimmy?’ she asked him. ‘Would you like a ride?’

He pulled his cap off. ‘You have a car?’ She was the right age. It was possible that she’d lived in America.

‘Yes, I have a car.’

He closed one eye. ‘Why are you waiting for the bus if you have a car?’

SALTER’S LUCK

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Salter woke up to Lola shouting there was oil fucking paint on her Jil fucking Sander. He couldn’t at first tell if he was having a heart attack or caught in an earthquake or both but Lola was so up in his face she appeared to have one long ice-blue eye in the middle of her forehead, a monstrous organ of inhuman beauty, a lens through which he could not see the future but through which the future could plainly see him, despising the information it gathered.

On the street ten minutes later he caught his reflection in a shop window showing his t-shirt inside out. Never dress in terror. No wonder those foxy Jap girls had giggled. In that case he headed for the park and wouldn’t bother looking for a new girlfriend until he had a chance to get home and change. He sat alone under a two-hundred-year old tree for two hours, enjoying the indirect pleasures of the So Cal sunshine. The tepid milk breeze and the leaf-cut kaleidoscope spangling the yellow grass at his feet under the quadrophrenic wig of the tree. Fucking squirrels, too. Funny about squirrels: no one seemed to appreciate what a nightmare life would easily be if squirrels decided to go militant. Make mosquitoes look like a blessing. If rats had half the talent and energy of squirrels…

Later, when Lola was at her post at Chez Guevara, gilt and alabaster under her designated beam from the track lighting, he slunk home and started work on a new slab rather than bothering to change and bike over to Pacific Beach in hopes of finding that one true lasting Love capable of paying rent. The name of this new slab was Oil Fucking Paint on Her Jil Fucking Sander and he got bored with it after x-hours of pointless messy work, slopping the cadmium red around the canvas with a palette knife like it was lead-based organic van Gogh spaghetti sauce. Why not just eat it all and kill himself?

It was too late to make it to the beach, too early to sleep and too soon to call Lola at work to see if she was still in hate with him. Yet he grabbed the phone and punched the number with a relatively paintless thumb.

“Chez Guevara, can you please hold?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Brief pause of recognition and then the “hold” click. He’d half-hoped to get Jem, who could always be counted on to flirt with him a bit before handing it over to Lola, thus proving his worth to Lola. Jem: what kind of parents named a girl that? He could never have a girlfriend named Jemima. Names were important to him. A bad name was worse than bad breath. He’d backed out of something once with a model named Santana.

He caught himself nodding to the black black jazz they treated him to while he waited for Lola to release him from the tasteful limbo of On Hold. A CD burned from an authentic and scratchy old 78. He couldn’t help visualizing a synchronized chorus line of Al Jolsons in shoe polish, dwindling towards infinity, strumming banjos and grinning like skulls while being buggered by an equal infinity of Satchmos. Black black jazz for a white white restaurant. Friendly racism. Does any Ethnic Group valued chiefly for the quality of its suffering stand a chance?

When Lola got back on the line, Salter was relieved to find that she was half-whispering conspiratorially in the phone to him so he knew he probably wasn’t in danger of Fargo in bed that night. Fargo; Siberia: name your frigid wasteland. He so badly needed the existence-confirming sensation of something fuckish tonight.

“Get this,” she hissed, “rich fucker just dropped $42,000.00 on a dinner for five.” She pronounced “fucker” fokkar. Otherwise her speech was thoroughly Americanized, which is to say ornamented with luridly nasal banalities. “I don’t know why but the servers thought he’s going to stiff them so each one goes and spits in the butternut squash soup.” Punch line: “Eight thousand dollar tip.”

She got home at one, eight-feet-tall in her heels and the cool fuselage of her dress and hair of burnished blades. He was watching television like a good boy when she clomped into the bedroom waving hello but not speaking as though speaking’s a kind of touch and she wasn’t in the mood but he got a bobbing erection the instant he saw her in all her pomp and name tag.

L. Beedo

Lola unsheathed her nude glory. Breasts and hair lifted and falling as the dress went up and she clomped into the bathroom in heels and zilch else to brush and floss and mop the angel-face off then proceeded to snore and smell of soap on her side of the bed within thirty minutes of walking through the door. A record. He wouldn’t even have minded the usual missionary position and get it over with. No touching the tits, don’t mess up my hair and keep that finger away from my rectum. Poor Salter sat knees-up beside her, treated to a view of a meter of tawny back and he clutched the remote. O wretched man who craveth a fuck.

Tears.

Robbie The Robot warped and blurred, swimming in them. Salter was ostensibly watching “Forbidden Planet” (Walter Pigeon, Patrick O’Neal, Anne Francis) with the sound off and he strained to make sense of the flick through the seawater filter of his grief. The Griffin-like monster, visible only as raw energy, howled and clawed the protective field around the ship. It would have blown Salter’s mind to learn that Griffins are a symbol of monogamy. A heroic crew member with his pastels-emitting blaster was seized and ripped apart. Anne Francis with her buttery coif and the spanking sarcasm of her dotted pout startled a recognition in him for she was his genuine Sexual Ideal and he correctly pegged the futility of his sex life to her unavailability.

Snuffed the tube and the reading lamp on his side of the futon and stood up. Suddenly saw himself running across the bedroom from an impossibly distant corner, axe over his head, bringing the blade down with a scream of regret to cut his frustrating girlfriend in two but the very cartoon of it horrified him and made him sorry and love her all that much more, exacerbating his desire, which frustrated him further, which re-ignited his anger, which again made him see himself running across the bedroom from an impossibly distant corner with an axe hefted over his head, bringing the blade down with a scream of regret to cut himself in two instead.

He crept miserably into the living room with an unrequited hard-on of devilish force and he knelt milking it across the gleaming black pumps with arched backs like onyx cats stacked in a diptych of sadism and sexual snobbery under the coat hooks by the door. He lay three lengths of solder-colored semen in her $300 heels, steadying himself with a hand on the sleeve of an old coat which stood like a priest with its back to Salter’s indiscretion. Not the first time he’d fucked those shoes either. He crouched there, postmodern shoe-rapist, still burning with richly-satisfying orgasms and he pondered this awful exchange:

Lola: Honey, I hate to break it to you, but as a painter you have no talent whatsoever. Not that’s visible in the paintings, I mean. A retard with a paint-soaked ass and no arms could do better.

Salter (with a shrug): So?

That had been six months ago. She’d dropped that A-bomb six months ago so what next? Everything escalates. Hunger, porno, Vietnam. She’d be punching and kicking him soon. Stabbing him on the toilet. Scissoring his face off and wearing it like a bib at breakfast.

In fifteen minutes he was dressed and out on Fifth Avenue in the dark. He walked by the Tea Leaf and Rockit Records and the boarded-up and tramp-infested deco-era Bijou. The Starbucks on the corner and the Rite Aid parking lot across the street. Left towards Sixth Avenue up Robinson. Then a right to the park. What really hit him as he sailed along was the unbelievable number of people in the sultry night who seemed to be happy. There they were, the dozens, the hundreds, holding hands and swinging arms in that triumphalist goose-step of love. Salter had to wonder how abnormal he was. Had it been him all of these years? Him and not them; her; It? His problem and not The World’s?

Standing at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Upas, he near-swooned as his mind came that close to accepting the notion that the Misery he once considered typical of Sentient Life was in fact just his own and his own fucking fault, not even necessary, just the result of faulty thinking and bad choices that could be blamed on nobody else. A pink convertible was honking at the traffic light.

Me? Salter pantomimed and the car honked yes.

The pink convertible was some kind of vintage wonder. Salter didn’t know from vintage cars but with white tires and a lot of chrome and the salvaged motor from a B-52 it looked and sounded like a horny birthday cake in the form of a yacht piloted by a white-haired gent in a Commodore’s cap (Salter didn’t know from Commodore’s Caps but that’s how he would have described it to the police). Beside the gent was a white-gloved woman in matching white shoulder-length hair, presumably the gent’s better half or lady-friend or however the old quaintly put it.

“I said,” said the duffer when Salter had scurried out into the street to lean over the convertible to hear him, “Would you like a ride young man?”

The duffer gunned the motor for emphasis. Or to pressure him. Salter was 30, and the old gent was 66, so, arithmetically speaking, the offer of a ride in the gent’s car was no different than if their respective ages had been 5 and 41. Defying his mother, Salter jumped in the back seat of the car, banging his elbow, as the light changed. He jumped on the naïve belief that a man with a woman is never as dangerous as a man alone. The old guy twisted to face Salter as he drove, saying,

“This is the only city in the world that it makes sense to own a convertible in. Others are too damned dangerous or rainy. Are you from the area?”

Talking like a man in a gale. White-haired ringer for Don Ameche. Salter was, in fact, tempted to ask the old guy if he was related (or even Ameche himself) but instead merely limited himself to responding directly to Don’s query.

They drove as far as Robinson and did a swaggering u-turn so wide they nearly took the door handle off a parked car on the other side of the four lane road and headed back the way Salter had been walking when they picked him up. With his eyes on the road again Don smiled in the rearview.

“We’re practically neighbors then. We do this every Friday night…” he inserted a pause to indicate his companion, whose teeth were the simplest smile… “We see something new every time.” He added, “For example, I’ll bet you didn’t know that there’s a banana tree in the yard of that bungalow on the corner of Robinson and Third Avenue.”

“No,” said Salter, surprised, “I didn’t.”

“Delicious. Stolen fruit tastes better in an open convertible at night, you know. And you probably weren’t aware of the fact that there’s a full-sized statue of the comedian Jonathan Winters in the backyard of a place up there on Point Loma. On a six foot plinth. A prop from the movie ‘The Loved One.’ We saw that when it first came out, at the old Bijou.” He thought a moment. “Evelyn Waugh.”

“Really?” Salter had never heard of the movie or the comedian or Evelyn Waugh. He wasn’t sure about the word ‘plinth.’

“Awful lot of movie people down here,” concluded Salter’s genial host. They were idling at a red light at the corner of Laurel and Sixth. To the left was Balboa Park and its orderly arrangement of skyscraping palms attended by a vassalage of shorter pines in low darkness. The old woman was touching up her lipstick and the drawstringed mouth was grinning at Salter in the rearview and he was thinking what have we here? A crucial detail was all wrong, of course: the combined age of the two was more than half the age of America. Otherwise things seemed to be shaping up into one of Salter’s hoariest fantasies.

Rich couple picks up a young stud… drive to a deserted stretch of the beach. Towel on the sand. Millionaire with his arm around the young stud’s shoulder: love my wife but I’m impotent… please… don’t know how to ask this, but could you… would you… ?

“Vincent Price had a house over there, back a-ways, in Mission hills, overlooking the Airport. Lindbergh Field. I always had a problem calling it ‘Lindbergh Field,’ you know. I guess I’m showing my age, but I can never hear the name ‘Lindbergh’ without remembering one of those awful ‘Lindbergh Baby’ jokes.”

He assumed a perfect deadpan and turned with his right arm along the top of the seat and looked at Salter and cleared his throat and said, “Say, what do you call a… a, uh… oh, wait a minute. That’s not how it goes. Dammit. I’m useless. I just thought of one the other day…”

A classic specimen of one of those old-time couples, thought Salter. The man doing all the talking; the woman just smiling… beaming, really… mostly at the man himself, oblivious to outsiders. Salter tried to remember. There was another example. It rang a bell…

The Reagans.

Salter tried his hand at small talk.

“So, you two are married, then?”

Don was still idling at the intersection of Sixth and Laurel, despite the long-ago fact of the light going green. Was he still trying to remember a Lindbergh Baby joke? The traffic light became a clock. The old guy was staring at something to the left, away from his wife, in the park maybe, so intently just then that Salter guessed that he hadn’t even heard the question but as Salter cleared his throat and undertook to repeat himself verbatim, the old guy replied, overlapping him, “For a very long time.”

For a very long time.

Which sounded so nice. It sounded so nice that it made Salter regret every single fact of his life as it was and made him hunger for a change and it made him long for a second chance and the first thing he resolved to throw out before relocating into the shiny new home of the Duplex of his re-organized Soul was ‘Art,’ that dusty thing, that furry brown shit-caked 19th century attic heirloom called ‘Art.’ Fuck it! Toss it! Filthy old bristly bearded hoary repulsive thing! Musty fusty dirtbag thing! What had ART done but ruin his chances at Life?

Where was Salter’s convertible? Where was Salter’s love-dumb, worshipful wife? Where was all his stuff, his security, his peace-of-fucking-mind? Somewhere back there, at some juncture so remote that he couldn’t even remember what sickly-sweet pop song was a hit on the radio the day that he did it, he had veered Left when so many others had trudged ahead. So many others kept on going down that long straight road. The long straight road of happiness. So easily achieved! You just remain on that long straight road. How hard could it be?

The light went green again and the car moved forward as effortlessly as a breath or a liquid downhill advertising wealth and a jet bellied loud overhead on its way to Lindbergh Field and Salter hollered, “It must be great to grow old with someone you love!” and he was nearly choked with emotion as he hollered it, touched as he was by the serene beauty of human completion radiated by the white-haired couple, the living opposites of Salter’s world and Salter’s monotonously unspectacular luck but Salter vowed to change all that inspired by this couple.

“It must be great…”

“Rubbish,” laughed the old coot. “We can barely stand the sight of each other.”

Salter laughed right back at him. Weren’t old guys always funny in the same way? Never quite slap-your-knee funny but just as reliably never unfunny, either. Wry. Are young people ever ‘wry’?

“I suppose you think I’m joking,” he said and then grunted, like a man on the phone on the toilet, doing something complicated with the gear shift and clutch or whatever as the car took on the hill that rose up before them, “But I’m not, I promise. ‘Hate’ is too strong a word, of course. But…”

“But, no. Love? No. I can see how you’d get that impression. Nice old couple, cruising around in a convertible on a Friday night, right? Not a care in the world! All smiles…” He winked in the mirror.

“But that’s just nerve damage. See? Look: that’s a permanent grin on her face, like a Jack-O-Lantern. Pure luck it didn’t freeze into a scowl. I’ll give The Good Lord credit for that much.”

“She’s ten years older than I am, but you’d never know it. Got a collection of face lifts older than our grown children. I even started naming them! The last one I called Griselda. That’s the nerve damage right there, if you ask me. You can only lift a human face so many times. Something’s gotta give.”

He released a sigh so long that Salter could smell his breath. Bananas.

“I could have had two convertibles for the money I’ve spent on making a seventy-five year old woman look seventy!”

They were headed for the Highway. Salter could see it clearly with his Tales From The Crypt imagination: a Luger in the glove compartment. A Luger stuffed in beside a bloody road-map folded around a sandy, black-edged ear. Or: thirty two wallets. Or: Mexican scalps on a belt. A cock in a jar? Don Ameche was shaking his head. He exploded with a guffaw that sounded like an Apache War Whoop which made Salter jump.

“You must think I’m awful! But don’t worry, I forgot to mention, the poor thing can’t hear a word. Deaf as an old boot!”

He leaned on the horn and raised his voice over it and shouted, “AREN’T YOU, NAT? AREN’T YOU? Can’t read lips, either. Couldn’t be bothered! I keep this happy look on my face,” he nodded, grinning, “And Old Yeller just thinks I’m saying nice things about her. Haven’t done the Hokey-Pokey in a Coon’s age. Mostly I abhor the smell of talcum powder. Turns me off.”

After a long pause he added, with extra significance, “I’m dying for a little company,” and he waited a calculated interval before slipping a shy glance into the rearview. But Salter was already gone. Had he ever really been there?

 

 

THE BIRTHMARK (a short story from DIFFICULT TEXTS)

 

birthmark-dsc_1993

The little bald citizen from an Otto Dix painting asks Veer ah yoo go-ink and Frederick shrugs so slowly the gesture becomes strange to him before he completes it. The last thing he came to Berlin to do is sit beside a panting homosexualist as the lights go down in a movie house. He doesn’t know what he came to Berlin for but he knows it wasn’t that. He knows so little so well. He can feel Herr Ludwig watching from the kitchen as he saunters up the street with his hands in his pockets under fizzy warm twilight with a hetero set to his shoulders.

It is an omen that The Sheltering Sky premieres the very day he lands in Berlin though Debra Winger playing Kit Moresby (playing Jane Bowles) elicits a sneer as he waits in line to buy a ticket thinking of apter actresses. Dressed in a light gray three-piece summer suit and Italian shoes that Bowles himself would approve of he eases into his dirty velour seat and nods off dreaming Herr Ludwig is Paul Bowles in disguise. A ruse to test Frederick’s sincerity.

“But how could I have known?” pleads Frederick.

“To be is to know,” chides Mr. Bowles, stripping out of his bathrobe. He has beautiful breasts.

Shoved by an usher and reluctant to go home Frederick wanders a bus route through Turkish neighborhoods. He hears fruit vendors wailing and sees burka’d matrons like piles of coats that have walked off from their respective parties. He thrills to bold glances from sloe-eyed houris the color of smoked meat revealed in the slutty garb of the West. The Germans he sees remind him of UN inspectors. On Marburger Strasse he finds a nightclub called Limbo. The doorman nods at Frederick’s suit.

Frederick is staring at a black-haired girl at a table under the window of the DJ’s booth.

Winter comes to Berlin as a sick sweet dream of bunker life i.e. drinking and smoking and fucking in darkness. Back in his room on Hauptstrasse, where Herr Ludwig gives voice lessons at his baby grand to the great-grandniece of Gustave Mahler,  Frederick  masturbates under a borrowed duvet pretending to torture the caterwauling Mahler. His orgasm fails to silence her.

Frederick takes the black-haired girl to a Hitchcock festival in a cinema so small the ceiling is someone’s bedroom floor. Watching The Birds in German.

Out the Ausgang and on the street into the night they walk for a block of ruminative silence until Sariah, who emigrated from Iran with her dissident mother as the Khomeini came to power in ’79, says I believe that is the most religious film I have ever seen.

“Religious?” guffaws Frederick. “Au contraire. The most misogynist rant in film history! Fellini’s City of Women is nothing compared to The Birds, as far as that goes, my dear. ‘Bird’ is working class British slang for ‘girl,’ as you know. Don’t forget Hitchcock was British.”

“I mean, what, you have this hen-pecked bachelor, no pun intended, played by Rod Taylor. Rod. Right? And all the other important characters of the film -his girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend, his little sister, and his mother- they’re all women.”

He ticks the points off on his fingers. “The girlfriend’s a frigid tease, the ex is a slut … that’s why her hair is dark… and his mother is a clinging, emasculating shrew and his little sister is a brat, also dark-haired, implying that she’s going to grow up to be a slut too. Meanwhile, the mother and the girlfriend are almost mirror images of each other. Their hairdos are identical, which means a lot in Hitchcock, who was the most hairdo-obsessed director in film history. Our hero, Mitch …rhymes with bitch, if you please… wants to, ahem nest… with a girl who looks like a young version of his own mother, invoking the Oedipus complex. Which ends up putting out the eyes not of Mitch himself but of his ex-girlfriend, in a perfect example of substitution, since the resemblance between Rod Taylor and Suzanne Pleshette, who plays the ex, is uncanny. The birds, like Freudian harpies, pluck out her eyes.”

“The female romantic lead, his girl friend, Tippi Hedron, she goes from being a perfectly-coiffed snob and a tease in the beginning of the film to a disheveled, catatonic loony by the end.”

“Remember that the first blood drawn in the film, in fact, is from Tippi, who’s trying to strike a silly, an absurdly elegant, pose in the prow of a beat up old motor boat. She’s wearing a jade-green Dior dress or what have you. As a matter of fact, as I now recall, she’s even got the nerve to be freshening up her makeup with a compact as she’s sitting there in this filthy boat, proving how vain, how shameless, how typical, or Tippi-cal she really is. Her nose is in the air, her bosom is high and hard, her spun-gold hair is immaculately coiffed.”

“Between the tease, the shrew, the slut and the brat, this guy, Rod Taylor …Rod, for Chrissakes…  he doesn’t have a chance! The illogical savagery, the unpredictable pattern of violence, of the birds, is just a metaphor for the daily reality of life for a guy among these women. All women.”

He looks to see that eleven of tears. He feels long and red and sort of amorally malarial later climbing over her with the tiled stone headache of the heated stove at their feet. Her Bible hair and her cunt the black lamb with its fiercely trusting grip. She resists very subtly at first or wants to control how it plays out but he pushes through that. He jigs her legs around his waist to cross the room and slam the door with her back while Fraulein Mahler wails against Herr Ludwig’s piano. Sariah’s homework is spread on the parquet and Frederick slips on world history coming.

She is always all over again so sweetly tentative, so eager and afraid because her virginity heals between fuckings. Frederick thinks she fucks like dogs swim and records this thought in a notebook. They always seem so surprised they can do it.

She has her eighteenth birthday. Frederick extends his visa. Herr Ludwig discusses opera in German with Sariah at the table while Frederick washes the dishes in his silk pyjamas. She looks so worldly with that cigarette in her mouth.

Summer is the relief that everyone promised. The city gushes foreign greens and the Tiergarten is heavy with stone-white tits and root-red cocks and Sariah studies the earth at her feet as she follows Frederick traversing a field. Her mother isn’t even aware of Frederick’s existence for that first half year. Sariah calls Frederick from pay phones or leaves notes about when and where to meet. The day before she tells him she’s pregnant Frederick dreams it following a long trail of tiny prints in warm snow to a tree which stinks of pillows.

So it is at Chez Jacques Sariah tells him and Frederick finishes his spaghetti in the tender light of the dingy Moorish pale gold walls of Chez Jacques and he looks at Sariah and sees a mistake the size of a grapeseed and asks for the bill.

THE YINS and the YANGS of a very STRANGE YEAR

 

the-birthmark

On the one hand, 2016 was the year that killed off a dense cluster of our favorite Avatars of Popaganda. There died Bowie, who not only created a couple of masterpieces (Station to Station, Scary Monsters) and some very strong minor masterpieces (Lodger, Low, Heroes, Ziggy Stardust) and lots of painstakingly-choreographed and terribly silly super-shit that people seem to have forgotten… but who also, notably, helped the Reaganite 1980s bring back the Nazi Fantasy Aesthetic to wipe away a brief, sweet interval of brown-eyed American Romantic and Neorealist heroes (B. Lee, A. Pacino, R. Roundtree, E. Gould, P. Grier et al). Bowie was a bit schizoid, wasn’t he? He meant well.

There died Prince, whose career did so much to popularize the middlebrow, middle class, middle-aged and mid-Western preoccupations of guilty sex and dirty (dreams of)  money that keep so many Americans oblivious, shrinking the cosmopolitan coasts to slivers and grossly expanding the Ideological Flyover; Murrkka is almost 100% Flyover now, in the corniest and tackiest and funkiest way. All those Human Resources Officers and Clerks at the DMV in split-crotch panties…  thanks, Prince! But any notion that Prince was sort of hip had to fly out the window when he started pounding doors as a Jehovah’s Witness; again: schizoid… is that how we like them?

And there died Leonard, whose case was way too complicated to go into here without derailing this essay… (but I’ll bet you didn’t know that LC was a Reagan-loving conservative who had joined the IDF)…

On the other hand: 2016 saw the end of a 15-year winning streak for whoever it was that benefited most from 9/11 and the “Liberal” Cover provided by the BHO regime, which was surely meant to pass the neoliberal torch to an HRC regime that miraculously never happened. Neither did Syria… not the way They (What consortium? Which families? How many of the Croesuses seen and secret?) obviously wanted. So now we know how much time a stunt like 9/11 can buy these people: 15 years. 15 years that we started believing, right before it changed, would last forever. Not invincible, after all! Remember that before they manage to slam the barn door shut again.

2016 IN SUPERLATIVES

MOST SHOCKING DEATH OF A NOVEAU RICHE DRUG ADDICT FROM THE ’80s

Prince

CLASSIEST ASSISTED SUICIDE IN ADVERTIZING CAMPAIGN TO BOOST  CHART POSITION

Bowie

MOST SATISFYING BUCKET-OF-WATER TOSSED ON WICKED WITCH

Clinton pipped

MOST CARTOONISH RISE OF A MINOR FASCIST TO POWER

Trump

OUCHIEST BOOMERANG

“Deplorables”

SLOPPIEST  PROPAGANDA AIMED AT THE MOST CREDULOUS AUDIENCE BY THE MOST CYNICAL BULLSHITTERS USING THE MOST POWERFUL MEDIA

“Syria”

CLEVEREST DEFLECTION OF A MAJOR STORY BY SPINNING IT WITH A GOOFY NAME

 “Pizzagate”

CRINGIEST EMERGENT ALT-NEWS-BLACKWASHING MEME

“Flat Earth”

MOST POIGNANT CELEBRITY EXIT THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MADONNA

George Michael

MOST PERSUASIVE  EVIDENCE SUPPORTING PARALLEL UNIVERSE THEORY (FOR THE SECOND YEAR RUNNING)

Cosby

MOST DECEPTIVE END OF AN ERA (aka THE DEATH OF THE SELF-APPOINTED GOVERNOR-FOR-LIFE OF THE USA’S TOP SECRET 51st STATE)

Castro

MOST REGRETTABLE UNMASKING

Sia

FUNNIEST SOUR GRAPES

MGTOW

WITTIEST PLEONASM

“Fake News”

MOST COST-EFFICIENT COINTELPRO, BASED ON FLIMSIEST FAUX AUTHORITY,  WHICH CAUGHT ON FOR ABSOLUTELY NO GOOD REASON

Snopes

MOST EMBARRASSING RECYCLE OF A TIRED OLD JINGOIST TROPE

Liberal McCarthyism

MOST REFRESHING PARADIGM SHIFT

“Russian” is the new Black

BEST NEW WAY TO SUBVERT SOCIAL MEDIA’S ORIGINALLY ASTONISHING  POTENTIAL TO  CONNECT AND UNIFY THE MASSES BY DIVERTING ITS USERS  INTO  ADDICTIVELY FRIVOLOUS EDDIES OF PUBERTAL NARCISSISM

Snapchat

MOST POWERFUL UNSUNG DRIVERS OF THE NEW ECONOMY

12-16 year old white girls

MOST OBVIOUS PLANE CRASH

Russian defence ministry flight from Moscow to Syria

CHEEZIEST SWEDISH ATTEMPT AT GETTING A COMMAND PERFORMANCE

Nobel Prize for Lit

BEST METAPHOR FOR THE WHEELS FLYING OFF THE NEO-LIBERAL BULLSHIT-JUGGERNAUT OF DEATH

MOST URGENT TOPIC OF STUDY THE YEAR’S DEVELOPMENTS (not to mention those of the century preceeding it) NECESSARILY  LEAD US TO

Propaganda

CAREER MOVE (a short story from CITY of AMATEURS and GERMANTOWN)

dsc_1935-career-move

Wednesday evening at 19:00, Simon’s event at the North Coast Gallery, in association with Absolut Vodka and Virgin Records, is scheduled to open with a wine-and-cheese reception, followed by a learned discussion between Kahn-Meyers and five panellists, followed by the event itself. Simon is in competition for the lucrative and prestigious Stein Prize.

The North Coast gallery is a handsome space on Sophienstrasse in Berlin’s gallery ghetto, where there’s an opening every night of the week in the last warm period before the soggy beast of winter’s stomping return. Openings which feature munching crowds on the sidewalks in commingled clouds of German champagne, garlic breath and American cigarettes. The heated scramble for cred and/or authority in a comically under-funded milieu results in a bitter, bitchy lethargy that is part of the charm.

Simon feels that civilization is in conflict with itself and that it all goes back to the playground. We tell children, be good; do no wrong, but a child who turns in a wrong-doer is a quisling or a snitch. We tell a child, do not resort to violence, but a child who goes to a teacher for protection is a whiner or a crybaby and the kid who kicks the ass of a bully gets our eternal respect. Simon did not enjoy his time in primary school.

Simon’s submission for the Stein Prize this year is a tent. Simon has won the prize twice already, but not more recently than the year of the second Space Shuttle disaster, when he hung a gallery full of illegal Chinese skeletons dipped in dark chocolate and called it SUGAR COATING DEATH; the smell itself had been a statement. The current piece is a tent, deluxe model, weather-proof and kelly green, reeking of newness, big enough for two Yuppie camper couples with a wordly arrangement going, pitched in the middle of the gallery’s judging-you-white concrete 85 square meter floor. A cool spider of complex tracklighting stands on the tent, lightbeam-legs akimbo. Within the tent, in odalisque-parodying repose, is reputed to be Simon’s stunningly beautiful irony-naked 29-year-old Eurasian girlfriend Thy Trann, herself an artist (a “Wetter Künstler”), who will likely be ovulating (as the catalogue attests that her gynecologist has attested) during the climax of the event.

As the catalogue puts it on page ten, after recapping Kahn-Meyers’s illustrious CV and indulging in the requisite dense page of art-speak mumbo-jumbo, plus sponsor ads: any one of the six anonymous judges of this year’s Stein Prize is invited to sign a release form (at an undisclosed location) waiving paternal rights and responsibilities and be chauffeured via special limo to the gallery… to enter the tent (hooded) and impregnate Thy. If the insemination is successful, Trann and Kahn-Meyers have pledged to raise the resulting child in a kind of ongoing Performance Art that will, “hopefully,” as Kahn-Meyers put it, “long outlive me.”

The title of the piece is THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE and there is a giggly buzz in the usually demonstratively unimpressed crowd of both highbrow and boulevard press and cognoscenti and curious onlookers and free food parasites who meander around the outside of the mute tent with their plastic champagne flutes, their chatter kept at a curiously polite low level, as though in a room where a child is sleeping. The thought that the tent contains not only a beautiful naked girl but the artist’s girlfriend herself electrifies the evening with a kind of verisimilitude that hasn’t been generated since Warhol’s pioneering efforts at making decorum irrelevant in the midst of the decorum-hungry 20th century.

Not that Simon Kahn-Meyers reveres Warhol. He tends to deride the “Slavic hucksterisms”. Kahn-Meyers wants, first and foremost, to draw a line in the critical sand between Warhol’s conceptual moonings and serious work such as his own. Kahn-Meyers considers the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy of received art history intolerably irksome and will assail this sloppy thinking with this his latest masterstroke, reminiscent of the work that immediately preceded it, the gently titled PLACEBO.

PLACEBO featured a fully operational vintage voting booth from the American state of Illinois containing a naked Thai (not Thy) on a chopped-legged stool in the booth offering oral pleasure to anyone who could produce a passport stating Artist in the blank reserved for “occupation.” In the catalogue Kahn-Meyers refers to THE ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE as a “self-evident escalation” of PLACEBO’s intent: to blur the lines between public duty and personal compulsion. The only thing Simon fears now is German taste: they always confuse metaphysical with intellectual, these Germans, and Simon can never, he fears, get quite metaphysical enough for these Kraut fucking mystics and their prize money. Simon is thinking of his first major piece: a life-sized ironing board made of pure white wax called Irony Board; sold it for a pile. Heartbreakingly beautiful. Seems like a century ago.

At the far end of the gallery is set up a long table upon which are placed three microphones facing six empty seats. Facing the six empty seats, on the other side of the table, at a respectful distance, is a square of thirty six black metal folding chairs. Slowly, the thirty six chairs are filled. Those who stand do so with German Kultur rigor: chins up, hands clasped behind their backs. The difference between the overly-cerebral and the occult is what, exactly?

He takes his seat at the center of the table with a recondite smirk (as if contemplating the news of the humiliating defeat of an old rival) and the five other panellists straggle in from various conversations around the spacious gallery like staff at a private school, summoned by the principal to a disciplinary hearing. The panellists (in the order they take their seats): Yeon-Ju Bongiovi (video soap artist), Riley Klein (Kahn-Meyers’s gallerist), Simone Pohle (film maker/writer/art critic/clothes-designer/model), Siegfried Stummfeldt (photographer) and Sylver Goldin (self-proclaimed “self”-artist, patron of the arts, and prosperous local gender-ambiguous restaurateur, driven to the event in its trademark lavender Jaguar). The music being piped in over the gallery’s sound system (jazzy Bach) dwindles to a hiss as Simon taps his microphone.

“Before I begin,” says Simon, “although, how one can begin before beginning is not entirely clear…” he shrugs to acknowledge the titters this receives, “I’d like to say something to, uh… I want to address something to the artist Thy Trann,  I’m sure you know and respect her work… who… uh… as you are aware is collaborating with me on this particular… piece.” He lifts his chin over the microphone and raises his voice. “Thy?”

All thirty six seated members of the audience and the dozen or so standing twist like licorice to hear Trann call out from the tent behind them, in her throaty trans-Pacific accent, “Yes, Dear?” which also receives titters. The un-amplified quality of her localized voice, in contrast to Kahn-Meyers’s Moses-like omni-directional amplification, serves to call vivid attention to her presence in the tent, while at the same time serving to subliminally support the visual imagination of her as stark naked therein. Not to mention providing, for the comfort of sensitive or militant lesbian members of the audience, confirmation, inferable from the casual music of Simon and Thy’s exchange, that Thy isn’t being coerced… wasn’t bullied, threatened, drugged or tricked… into performing this history-making “action”.

“Thy, I just want to make sure you’re comfortable in there. Are you comfortable in there?”

There is the sound of Thy punching a plush pillow or two. “Yep!”

“And you’re warm enough?”

“Yep!”

“Good. I just need… I just need for you to bear with our chatter for a little while… and, uh… yes. And then… you can… get ready to…” Kahn-Meyers’s gaze sweeps the audience carefully, almost accusingly, in order to complete the sentence in everyone’s head for them.

“A-okay!” Trann calls out, and the panel discussion can commence, granted the easy segue of generous applause for Thy Trann, this evening’s sacrifice.

So far so smooth, thinks Kahn-Meyers.

“Before I begin,” begins Riley Klein, Simon’s jowly American gallerist, pausing a beat for the laughs he anticipates being able to milk further from Simon’s inaugural witticism and getting one… from Simon himself… he continues, “I want to thank all of you for coming, as well as salute Simon and Thy,” more applause, “because we are all, each one of us, a part of this equation.” He clears his throat, plucks his glasses from a pocket in his dark tweed blazer, and hunches forward with the glasses on the end of his nose to read aloud a “provocative statement” from a sheet of paper on the table in front of him, his hands in his lap. He looks like a dutiful school boy and reads with the dutiful schoolboy’s abashed singsong.

After the statement (a long quote from Robert Mapplethorpe) is read and absorbed, the first panellist to speak, Simone Pohle, touches her microphone as if to give it pleasure and looks sidelong down the long white table with narrowed eyes and poses the question, pushing her white-blonde hair out of the way and displaying perhaps the faintest hint of piquant hostility, “Mr. Kahn-Meyers, what is it that you are trying to achieve here tonight?”

Kahn-Meyer’s blinks innocently at the audience and replies, stroking his neat white beard, “What am I trying to achieve here tonight? I’m trying to win an art prize!” And the audience loves it.

 

The Paracelsus of Hair Straightening

Across town, Sadie Olubodun is putting the finishing touches on herself to the sound of Les Negresses Verts, a horn-driven French ensemble that gallops out of the stereo with a loping gypsy beat; the music is a stupid dog dashing ecstatically between the man-sized speakers. There is an aura of romantic anarcho-collective about the band that Sadie loves, having herself been raised and schooled by Catholic nuns from Belgium. The music is very loud. There are intermittent floor, wall and ceiling  bashings from the neighbors. 

In the free-standing “bathroom” mirror (there are no walls around the toilet) Sadie is puckering her lips to paint them: a swollen strawberry into a deliquescing heart. She’s running a special comb through her very long hair; the very long hair she is very proud of. Staying stick thin is easy: pharmaceuticals take care of that. Flawless black vacu-formed skin and giraffe height and a spot-lit Steinway smile she was born with. But her hair is the Grand Project of Sadie Olubodun’s life.

Having just turned twenty seven, Sadie O has been busy with hair maintenance since the day she “graduated” (escaped over a chain link fence) from Saint Serifina’s Polytechnical Boarding School for Wayward Girls. She literally ran away, five barefoot miles down a dusty road at dawn to a bus stop, to make it to a model casting at a French hotel she’d read about a week before, by accident, after unwrapping Friday’s fish. Sister Berthe-Claudette is probably still shouting Sadie’s name during roll call every morning. Sadie Olubodun, that tall skinny shy girl with the modest afro. No longer!

Every three or four weeks for the past twelve years Sadie has gone to have her hair straightened first by the best black private hair stylist in West London, a dwarfish Gay Canadian named Horton Bard, nicknamed Hard-on Board, and then, after she’d escaped London, by the best black private hair stylist in Hamburg, a portly straight Senegalese named Monsieur who often worries about the fact that most of his clients are wealthy black Muslim ladies who procure his services at the risk of being stoned.  Sadie makes the trip to Hamburg monthly. Monsieur happens to be Horton Bard’s hand-picked acolyte; his initiate in the alchemical mysteries of hair straightening. Monsieur is the Comte De St. Germaine to Horton’s Paracelsus.

“Kinky hair,” says Horton “is merely asleep. We wake it up!”

Sadie has cultivated her hair to the point that it rivers down the macadam of her back, ending near the Lamborghini scallop and sudden twin convexities of black lacquered showroom ass. She calculates that her hair (rippling with windblown arabesques like Muslim devotional script)  has cost her, to date… she figures something like £30,000. Her hair is a statement and an investment and a way of life.

What she hates is when sisters of every nationality go the cheap route and prance around in public with armadillo shells and coconut husks for hair. She’s ashamed for them. You’re not satisfied with your natural hair texture and so you fry it, pickle it in pigeon grease, stack it atop your lye-scorched skull like something scraped out of a drain? Sadie wonders what she abhors more, the lye-job conks or the… the thirty dollar polyester wigs from Woolworths. Honey (hah-nee), she wants to say, just shave it off… you might as well… have a little pride. Have a little dignity (deeg-NAH-tee).

If Sadie, a girl from a village (born in a semi-detached house with only two televisions) can afford to do it right, how are you going to persuade her that an American can’t? Sadie’s hair is a contrarian manifesto of equivalence that says: if a European (Your-OH-pee-ahn) can get her hair curled, I can get mine straightened! If she can wear blue contacts, I can too, or wear them red if I choose. For every hundred Your-OH-pee-ahns who pay for twenty minutes in a tanning salon, one Michael Jackson is allowed to bleach his skin! Or lop off his nose! Or whatever. Fuck off.  She kisses the locket on the gold chain around her neck, a thumb-sized engraving of Olaudah Equiano.

“Hey ho, let’s go!” she shouts and punches Siegfried’s ceiling-high, twenty year old rubber tree plant in the midsection on her way out of the flat, slamming the eight foot steel-reinforced door behind her. She can still hear Les Negresses Verts from a block away as she flips her hair in the wind and raises her arm for a taxi. The taxi over-shoots Sadie then screeches to a halt, that time-tested cinematic cliché.

Whoever Loves a Black Girl

Simon glances at his cheap watch as a heated argument between a panellist and a member of the audience stretches like an interminable surrealist ping pong game in which each side keeps serving a brand new unreturned ball. He’s never heard the name Tristan Tzara evoked so many times in his life. Tristan Tzara and the word paradigm. He can remember when it was synergy. Hell, he can remember when it was parameter; he can even remember back to the ‘50s when the artspeak word of choice was atavistic.

Put one Englishman in a room full of Germans and the Germans will outdo themselves avoiding the speaking of German, because no one wants to seem provincial. Consequently, Simon has never lost an argument in Germany, though his rhetorical fire has been doused on more than once occasion in America (even, once, by a Mexican fucking clerk in a fucking Rite Aid ) with the dreaded un-trump-able… whatever. Only Americans could have invented “whatever”, the neutron bomb of heated debates. America, the looking-glass land where the children of slaves subsist on welfare and where being crippled is seen as some kind of advantage and where guns don’t kill people (bullets do); America the anti-abortion, pro-death penalty land of puritanical pornographers and pro-Israel anti-Semites where you can lose weight and save money by eating and buying more…

Simon rubs his eyes and has a vision of a mound of corned beef hash of infant pinkness beside a weighty brick of hash brown potatoes dressed in two fried eggs like a bikini top, an unheard of dish in Berlin and something he could have right now, or even at three in the morning (the hour he roughly calculates this ordeal will be over) if he were in Manhattan. But if he wants to keep his prices up in New York he has to keep his mystique alive in Europe and that’s why he’s doing this. Business has been bad since 9/11, a simple fact. He can’t help selfishly framing that fishy act of terror as him being put out of work by a rival gang of faux naïf Event Artists with deep-pocket patrons.

He’s on the verge of calling the discussion to a halt (fifteen minutes to show time) when the discussion calls itself to a halt. Everyone in the back of the gallery to listen to the nothing-at-stake rhetorical jousting of the panellists is suddenly peering back to the front of the gallery where a taxi was just heard to screech to a halt and screech off again and there are curious murmurs and shiftings of attention and all artspeak has ceased, for the nonce. Art is so easily ignored when Real Life gets up off its ass and deigns to reclaim our attention. Simon stands up and gestures to Riley to put phase two into motion; he leans forward into his microphone and says, solemnly, redundantly, “Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our panel discussion…if you will please move to the front of the gallery…” because they’ve already started moving that way.

Good God, whispers Simon.

Standing just within the gallery’s front door, having effected a grand entrance, is a six foot plus, on teetering Lucite heels, skinny-as-a-Giacometti alien. Universe-black, possibly female. Nude, at first glance, in a see-through vinyl raincoat. On closer inspection (Simon strides fearlessly her way) she’s dressed in a black bikini under the coat, which warps and pools the light from the ceiling across its dazzling surface. It’s like she’s walking around in a force field or a vertical swimming pool, this towering black alien with the ponytail tickling her flog-worthy ass.

Imagine owning one of those, thinks Simon, with survivable guilt. Those 18th century Yanks weren’t fools.

Ancient graffito from poor Pompeii: Whoever loves a Black girl is set ablaze by black charcoal; when I see a Black girl, I willingly eat blackberries.

She’s not stark naked, but the effect is the same and Simon nearly panics: the integrity of the event is being threatened: camera flashes have already started their scale model electrical storm around the gallery. She’s de-focusing his event.

He takes her by the arm and says, very softly, very deeply, “I’ll need you to clear the entrance, here, darling… would you care for some wine? Some cheese? Riley…” Riley is panting close behind, “Get this lovely girl some… sustenance. Smashing outfit,” he adds, squeezing her waist as he passes her to the blushing care of his gallerist, who takes her by the elbow as though he is wearing asbestos gloves.

“I would like to please draw everyone’s attention…” shouts Simon, then, at a lesser volume, “to the two gentlemen standing in front of the tent.” He has to work to get his timing back after the miraculous aberration of the alien (where is she? Near the back with Riley and that pony-tailed photographer clod; they seem to know each other). Normally, Simon lives for miraculous aberrations. But not now. He points and proclaims: “Elite members of a private security force.” From out of nowhere, two very large gentlemen, dressed in identical secret-service type suits, have materialized, anthropomorphic representations of the capital letter A in front of the tent.

“They are not. Not. Here to protect… Thy.” Simon strokes his beard as though weighing carefully the next remark. “They are here to protect… you. To protect… Art.”

Glancing again at his watch he asks, “What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is that art is a serious matter. I am not, as they say, fucking around. If one of the judges of the Stein Prize has the courage to take me up on my challenge, the question is… will I then have the courage to follow through?”

“Let’s be honest. The odds are not great that one of these so-called judges will climb into that specially assigned limo… have I mentioned already? That the limo… a vintage 1933 Hispano Suiza J-12…”

Simon pauses; several older art buffs stagewhisper Picasso… Picasso. Simon’s eyes narrow.

“I mean: I know that the likelihood is not great that I’m going to have to follow through on all this. But without at least the risk that we will all be involved in a life-changing event here tonight, can we call this… Art?”

“These large fellows,” Simon smiles, “are here to protect you … and Art Itself… by insuring that Simon Kahn-Meyers, the so called international art star, ” he says with very nearly misjudged vehemence, “Doesn’t get cold feet. That I don’t renege on a promise. If one of those judges has the courage and vision to take me up on the ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE challenge, there’s… nothing I can do to stop this thing from running its course… because these gentlemen have been pre-paid rather handsomely and instructed to physically restrain me from interfering with this event, if need be. They are under contract, in fact… should they fail to restrain me from ruining this event at a crucial moment, they are each legally liable for a considerable sum.”

“Thy Trann is now in a state of inner contemplation… she is deep in herself… she is creating this piece even as I speak… deep within herself in this tent. I was the conceptualist but her fertile body is the concept. We have agreed that she say nothing at this point… nor attempt to communicate with anyone until this event is formally over, whatever happens..”

As unlikely as anything really is to actually happen, Simon’s words and masterful delivery have mesmerized the audience. Lulled them into an eerie sense of traumatic relaxation, or anticipatory recovery. As though the event as described has already happened and his words have started a healing process; have started them on the road to recovery after all they’ve all been through. Though nothing has actually happened. But everyone could see it, somehow, as Simon spoke it. Could picture the old man flailing in a shamingly effortless headlock, screaming “No! Stop! Make it stop!” and straining against the merciless professional restraint that he himself has hired. So moved is the audience that they aren’t even sure of the etiquette of applauding, until a trickle starts (from a far corner less affected by the charismatic field of Simon’s presence, possibly) and then an ovation.

During which Simon does his best not to be caught peering furtively after the stunning, must-have Watusi from Mars who very nearly stole the show. She’s still in the dead bit of the gallery where Riley is keeping her. Riley and that ponytailed galoot. Simon sees, with satisfaction, however, that the alien is applauding him heartily, with all the rest. How to separate her from that Nikon-toting idiot (dressed in a Tuxedo jacket and camouflage battle fatigues) long enough to get a phone number or set a lunch date?

Hispano Suiza

The Vernissage has reached that point in the evening when all of the cheese is gone, the champagne is running very low, and the chatter is thinner but very loud. The contemplative low rumble of pseuds wallowing in the aural loam of their own pronouncements has become the boisterous deaf barking of drunks. The evening, which hasn’t even truly begun, smirks Simon, has been a mild success.

About twenty minutes ago, one of the somber giants standing with arms folded in front of The Tent was given a bottle of Evian to hand to Thy within it, for which gesture she was heard, by those nearest The Tent, to thank the guard, who had reached in without looking. About seventy percent of the original attendees are still present; the ones who have gone on (to home, or restaurants, or bordellos) are of no importance. The ones who have remained (Sylver Goldin, Simone Pohle, et al) are networking and therefore connected and therefore useful.

Simon’s already thinking of his next piece. Either the Muslim thing he’d been conceptualizing of late or a technology gambit involving taking dead kittens and puppies and stuffing them with animatronics to get them gamboling around a gallery in all their cloudy-eyed rotting flesh. Which one he starts on next will depend on whether he wins the Stein Prize because those animatronix are expensive.

Simon makes his way to the back of the gallery and touches his gallerist’s arm and whispers “Riley, give that freakish black girl my cell phone number and instruct her to call me in exactly forty five minutes” and returns to a spot where he can hover in close proximity to The Tent. He is thinking, because he suddenly remembers the dread and pleasure of reciting it in his bed in the morning as a child, of:

Solomon Grundy,
Born on Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday,
And that was the end of Solomon Grundy
.

There are about thirty people outside, smoking or cellphoning or smoking and cellphoning or cellphoning smokers, when the Hispano Suiza, huge and sinisterly well-kept in its antique ebony and white leather sleekness, in mass and value so like a cast-iron yacht, pulls into a long space marked by parking cones in front of the gallery, rumbling and hissing like a docking dirigible and scattering a dozen onlookers. The liveried driver climbs smartly out, circles crisply round the side, and opens a heavy door, chin held high, as one… two… three… six, finally, hooded men of various heights, weights, apparent ages and classes; two in tuxedos and others in business suits and one gangling fellow in a track suit; emerge from the limo, striding through the gallery door and stooping into the tent to gasps and then merriment from the crowd.

“Oh my God!” claps Simon. “All six of them! This is great!” He hurries to the front of the tent (where he is blocked, politely but firmly, by the two large gentlemen) and calls into it, hands cupped around his mouth, “Way to go, boys! Thanks for having a sense of humor about this!” He turns to a bystander and adds, “You see, deep down, maybe I was a bit afraid the judges were offended by my little stunt…” laughing “…but, you see, they’ve shown us all how classy…” he turns and gestures at Riley with a sweeping arm, raising his voice jovially. “Riley, get some Moet up here toute suite…”

But wait: evidence of struggle. Grunts and groans and what sounds like a compressed scream in an avid hand clamped over a mouth. Scheisse, comes a brutal male voice from within the tent, Sie hat Mich gebissen!

“Thy!” shouts Simon. He lunges for the tent but, as he had to expect, one of his Armani-suited security guards grabs him and holds him fast to a spot about four feet from the flapped opening. “Let go of me, you fucking ape… are you brain-dead? Those aren’t the Stein Prize judges in there!”

He squirms and punches out wildly but is headlocked with humiliating ease. The chiselled brute holding him doesn’t even look much bothered. He looks pleased. He obviously likes his job. What he’d really like to do in fact is kick the rich old Jew around the gallery floor for a few minutes but that would be a too-liberal interpretation of the range of his duties.

“Let go of me! They’re raping my girlfriend!”

Some of the bystanders are still amused, applauding, but an increasing number achieve a sense of giddy disquiet or even concern, frowning, approaching the tent from all sides, exchanging thrilled glances with a communal sense of having the historical luck of being present where some REALITY is taking place. I was there, many can already imagine saying, when that famous artist was raped in that gallery…

“Thy!” screams Simon.

What did he say to you?  hisses Siegfried to Sadie, after Riley Klein walks off, showing concern, towards the front of the gallery. Siegfried, ignoring the ruckus, grabs Sadie’s hand and pulls her to the dark corner of the gallery where the few remaining boxes of champagne are stacked. He sits her down on a box, hands on her shoulders, staring into her upturned face.

-What did he say?

-He gave me that art bloke’s number and said I should call him in forty five minutes.

-Kahn-Meyers? Simon Kahn-Meyers wants you to call him? And are you going to do it?

-Should I?

-Of course you should. Do you know who he is? Who he knows?

-Who?

-Everyone.

-You’re worse than the nuns. You’re just a pimp…

-You know how much I love you.

-Then why are you always giving me away?

-Because, otherwise, my love for you would destroy me.

-Oh Ziggy…

-You wouldn’t know what to do with me if I loved you the way you think you’d prefer me to. I could write you love poems and give you flowers every day, but you wouldn’t be happy… you’d be bored within a week…

-But how can you stand the idea of other men with their hands on me? With their lips on my lips? Their things… in my…

-It’s just like having a bad tooth. Have you ever had a bad tooth?

-No…

-No, you wouldn’t, not with your east African teeth… your east African teeth are perfect. But we Europeans, we have much experience with having a bad tooth. And when you have a bad tooth, I’ll tell you something strange… it gives you much pain, the bad tooth, but, somehow, biting down on it, and making it hurt even more… it feels good. So I give myself the pain of knowing that another man fucks you in order to kill the pain…

-Nonsense! You simply buckle under your perceived pressure of the responsibility of loving me! You want to spread the responsibility as thinly as possible… and if you can get something out of it, by pimping me to men you want something from… all the better. Or perhaps, deep down, you’re homosexual and giving your girlfriend to other men is a way, indirectly, to fuck, or be fucked by them and the sad truth is it’s probably a little bit of both explanations and I’m a fool to put my heart at your mercy.

-Maybe you’re right. But what are you going to do about it? We’re stuck with things as they are, just like everybody else. Can you pretend that it would be better with other men? Can any woman?

Siegfried stares hard into Sadie’s eyes, blinking slowly, and Sadie looks away, then back into his eyes, then away again. And there’s nothing more to say or think on the topic. She stands, brushing his hands off, turns slowly and walks towards the front of the gallery, where all the shouting is, hugging herself in her transparent vinyl raincoat.

 

Aboveness

The first time Sadie Olubodun saw Siegfried Von Stummfeldt, he was sitting at the snaking long wrought-iron bar of some trendy nihilist cave-like club in a run-down neighborhood deep in East Berlin, reading Baudelaire and looking so above it all. The music was deafening and the disco lights were seizure-inducing and this guy is sitting there with a green glass of Absinthe reading Les Fleurs du Mal with a smirk of genial boredom. Of course she had to talk to him.

He was wearing leather pants, sandals, and a tuxedo jacket over a hooded sweatshirt. Sadie was wearing a terribly expensive tiny kidskin backpack over a second hand wedding dress over thigh-high black vinyl boots and her hair piled in a tilted tower atop her perfect little black head. She stood behind him and spied on what he was reading, so close that she was literally breathing down his neck, but he played it cool and did not react and she spotted a fortuitous couple of lines near the bottom of the page, something that would go very well with the Absinthe, and she raised her voice, quoting it to him over the idiot throb of the music: Et dans ces bains de sang qui des Romains nous viennent, Et dont sur leurs vieux jours les puissants se souviennent…

He closed the book without looking up and finished the passage for her, declaiming: …  Il n’a su réchauffer ce cadavre hébété, Où coule au lieu de sang l’eau verte du Léthé!  He gestured to the bartender to bring another glass, filled it about two thirds full from his bottle, and placed his own monogrammed spoon (the slot in it was like a snake, writhing in harmony with the wrought iron bar itself) over the glass, then a sugar cube in the slotted spoon and so forth. His preparation of her drink of wormwood was practised and precise and embellished with magician-like flourishes of his long-fingered hands. The satiny hands of a man who’s never done a day of manual labor in his life.

One thing Sadie truly abhorred was the hard-earned “character” of a workman’s paws. The pathetic scars and bulging knuckles and ugly calluses. She could never bear to be handled by mitts like that. Mr. Fleurs du Mal’s face was merely so-so and his body was not the sexiest she’d seen, but she was instantly smitten with those aristocratic hands.

He handed her the glass and shouted, “Do you know the Café Slavia? It over-looks the Moldau. There is a painting in it of a good-dressed Bohemian fellow enjoying his delicious Absinthe and seeing this most lovely vision…”  he touched the air above them with the glass,  “… a naked, absinthe-green girl floating. But now I see…”  he handed her the glass,  “…that this floating dream girl, she was really very black and has come to life in front of me.”

Linking arms they sipped the Absinthe.

Things happened very quickly. They left the bar, ears ringing, and hailed a taxi and promised the driver a huge tip to defy the speed limit rushing to Siegfried’s loft where Siegfried practically kicked the huge door down and Sadie hiked up her wedding dress and commanded Siegfried to bugger her without much preamble right there in front of the kitchen sink. In her kidskin backpack there was a water-soluble clove-scented chapstick from The Body Shoppe that she favored and bending over and bracing her hands on her knees she’d directed Siegfried to fetch the chapstick out and smear it on liberally as a numbing lubricant. This chapstick she never used on her own lips of course but she’d been known to share it on location once or twice with various models and booking agents she didn’t much care for. When he’d slipped in with much gasping and groaning she asked him, firmly “Will you do as I say?” and in a very humble tone he said yes.

She said, “Good. Now, hold very still. I will do all the moving. You see?”

And he held very still with his hands bracing his back and his mouth hanging half-open with bomb-defusing suspense as she moved on him in the high-ceilinged gloom of his lit-only-by-a-tiny-fluorescent-light-under-the-buff-aluminum-kitchen-cabinets loft with an almost imperceptible corkscrewing of her serpentine hips. There curled a livid seam somewhere deep in her rectal lining just itching for the jab of a pointed dick. That irritable little seam was her ersatz clitoris. By slowly rolling and shifting and clinching and un-clinching she inched the tip of his organ towards that very spot, holding her breath, eyes closed, straining, knees weak, creeping up on a howl of satisfaction…

Without so much as discussing the matter with him, Sadie moved into Siegfried’s loft the very next week, bringing over a dozen suitcases in a taxi around dinner time, unannounced. He hadn’t eaten dinner yet and they went for a walk in the twilight along the Spree where the sun was warm butter on the cool green water as it set. Siegfried, with a massive old Leica hanging from his neck and dressed in the dashing vest and dented ball cap and worn khakis of a modern war correspondent, took the opportunity to lay out his Manifesto, seeing as they were now living together, and also to tell Sadie about his best friend Hansi Kraus…

…the I.P. photographer whom Somalians had beaten to death in the city of Mogadishu in 1993. Poor sweet little Hansi who loved black American culture like you wouldn’t believe and was executed by an African mob for his white skin. Siegfried described the weekend-long soul parties Hansi would throw in his cool pad on Wiener Strasse… described Hansi’s proudest possession: the old time American juke box stocked with mint-condition 45s… What Does it Take (to win Your Love) by Junior Walker and the All Stars and Give it Up (or Turn it Loose) by James Brown and Love On A 2-Way Street by The Moments, etc., but even better: three different versions of Mbube, that unrivaled Meisterwerk of African pop, by the late great Solomon Linda… the first version (1940 or so) of moan-inspiring rareness and scratchy as a recording of Edison’s voice and it had to be transferred from the original massive clay 78rpm disc to the “modern” 45 on vintage equipment in Stuttgart to even play in Hansi’s jukebox…  that’s how much passionate love and tender respect Hansi Kraus could show towards African culture.

Second version, recorded live in concert in 1957 by a white group called The Weavers and also not the easiest artifact to come by was re-titled “Wimoweh” after a homophonic approximation of the refrain, and Hansi had that one, too. The third version of the song in Hansi’s jukebox was the one almost everyone knows: The Lion Sleeps Tonight, a Christmas hit for The Tokens in 1961, and this was the version that the drunks at Hansi’s soul parties would end up singing along with at three in the morning, cracking the glass in all the windows of the apartment block by singing the high parts en masse, though it was the original version, the version performed by its creator, the profoundly cheated Solomon Linda (who received less than one percent of what he deserved in royalties) that Hansi would insist on.

It just so happens that Siegfried was watching CNN the night they reported Hansi’s lynching and Siegfried was eating spaghetti with ketchup for sauce when he saw the footage… glimpsed a near-naked barefoot limp white corpse being kicked and dragged and spat upon, and it may have been Hansi or it may have been one of the others in his doomed entourage but the sheer magnitude of the injustice was surely greater than whatever happened to Solomon Linda. Siegfried spent the next two weeks shouting accusations at whatever confused little African students were unlucky enough to cross paths with him, no matter from where on that continent they’d come to Berlin.

Siegfried said to Sadie I must be completely honest with you…  since then I have had two feelings…  A) that I need to do whatever I can do to insure that such a misunderstanding never again occurs in this world and B) a certain ambivalence towards blacks.

Siegfried talked and Sadie listened. He talked not only about poor Hansi but also about Baudelaire and Lou Reed and Thomas Bernhard and all about the Artist’s responsibility to his own Aboveness… above Work, above Morality… which is why in ninety nine out of one hundred cases women can’t really be Artists because they are too firmly grounded in the quotidian… the domestic banalities of clothing and food and children… too grounded to know Aboveness… even if they let themselves float a bit they get an earthy reminder once a month that no amount of detachment will enable them to ignore… and yet any woman truly capable of Aboveness is such a freak that her presence would be repulsive and sexually intolerable and the Muslims would be right to stone her. This last bit was a joke. Wasn’t it.

He said, as they passed closely by plain or unattractive couples strolling in cautious or giddy hand-holding silence, these people aren’t even living. He said do you know what the great mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss said when he was told, while he was in the middle of performing a great calculation, that his wife was dying? Siegfried beamed at her and shook his fist with admiration:

He said: please tell her to wait a moment until I’m finished!

Intermittently, during that rambling inaugural lecture on the topic of his  Weltanschauung… his worldview… Siegfried would halt… at a corner or facing a weird old Gothic Church or the streaky hand-lettered storefront of a Turkish Social Club (through which you’d see the men at various little round tables in their cheap boxy suits, smoking and playing cards) and snap pictures. Siegfried said: Sometimes I go out without film in the camera and snap pictures anyway, to remind myself that it’s the taking, not the having, that counts… after which he leered at her significantly. Sadie had just started thinking: yes, I could be happy doing this for a year or two when she noticed that Siegfried’s speech was starting to jumble and slur.

And his stride was getting. It was becoming slightly limpy then staggery and…  was he being funny? But his breath. It smelled…  it began to reek… of chemicals. Acetone. Had he popped some evil powerful pill unbeknownst to her during the course of their conversation? One minute they were walking side by side like any slightly awkward man and woman on a date, crossing Berlin in the twilight, and the next thing Sadie knew this tall strange Siegfried was stumbling and ranting like a shit-faced belligerent drunk trying to walk across a trampoline.

He crumpled to his knees and then collapsed on the curb like a string-shorn marionette. This is not happening, she thought. Oh, okay: it’s a dream, yes? No. Her new boyfriend was thrashing about and screaming and foaming at the mouth and what was she supposed to do about it?! She barely spoke German!

He was having some kind of seizure right in front of the gates of a playground and kids from all over the little park ran to the gate to watch him flop and sputter on the sidewalk under the garishly cruel street light half-shaded by a tree and all Sadie wanted to do was back away… back away a few paces and turn and run because it wasn’t fair because he hadn’t even told her he was an epileptic! Or possessed by the devil or whatever the fuck his problem was. His lips were shiny black with blood and his eyes were vivid whites rolled up in his head and he was growling and banging his skull on the pavement as though refuting the untenable principle the pavement was intent on adhering to.

A cherubic redhead with a mouthful of corrective braces that made her look too young…  in overalls with a two-year-old slung over her hip…  calmly unlatched the playground gate and handed numb Sadie her squirming child. She knelt beside Siegfried and batted his flailing hands away and stuffed a Snickers bar in his mouth and even pressed his jaws together to start him chewing it. She glanced over a shoulder at Sadie and said, with a reassuringly competent British accent, “I’m assuming your friend never bothered to mention that he’s a diabetic.”

Sadie stared.

“I always carry a bit of candy in my pocket or a can of Coke or something in my purse just in case.”

Sadie blinked.

“A pretty good indicator is when they start behaving in an inebriated fashion.” Looking puzzled and shifting back on her haunches and standing up she added, “But then it got to the point with my Marco that I could always tell something was amiss when…  he’d suddenly become this playful, affectionate…  puppy, almost. Not like him at all, seeing as he’s a 14 stone Squaddie. Funny, isn’t it? When he was being lovely to me it always meant something was wrong.” She stared at Sadie and said, “You poor dear.”

She handed down to Siegfried a Kleenex to dab his mouth with and fetched her child back from Sadie and looked on with tired benevolence as Siegfried sat upright on the sidewalk, moaning and looking very much like he’d fallen out of a tree. The lens on his Leica was good and cracked. There was the slow blue flashing light of an ambulance pulling up on the pavement. The redhead squeezed Sadie’s arm and walked back through the playground gate towards where another daughter was calling from the floodlit swings.

How many embarrassing and/or terrifying diabetic fits has Siegfried jigged through since that first one, her initiation, wonders Sadie. Twenty? Twenty five? The prize winner had to be the time his big fat mouth got him in trouble with a Prole in front of a Curry Wurst stand and he puddled into a seizure as Sadie pleaded and the Prole had him by the lapels of his jacket, preparing the head-butt. And yet he’s the one afraid of commitment! And if his racist Austrian mother has finally in some small way accepted the black African Sadie Olubodun in her precious son’s bed it’s only because Siegfried Stummfeldt needs a fucking nursemaid and nobody else, certainly no German bitch, is stupid enough to do this thankless job.

“Aboveness!” spat Sadie, pushing her way through the hubbub of the gallery and looking for Simon Kahn-Meyers, who was at that moment indisposed; working; wrapped up in the grand drama of his own design. She knew better than to interrupt just yet. She spotted his gallerist, Riley, instead, and shoved towards him and Siegfried watched her move, a Queenly silhouette, a head above the others…  he watched from the safety of the darkness at the back of the gallery.

World Fame

Sadie is having her toenails painted with voluptuous care like a travesty of the famous scene in Kubrick’s Lolita where Humbert is abasing himself to his nymph. Heavily allegorical: rich wise old Jew in a bathrobe and lovely young Negress, nude.

Glistening.

Sadie reclines in a special throne of leather and chrome, a customized gynecologist’s chair re-designed for the purpose, her foot secure in a raised stirrup while Simon Kahn-Meyers, squinting into a jeweler’s loupe and squatting on a stool specially designed for the purpose, lacquers her nails from an expensive bottle of cardinal crimson. The scene is reminiscent also of Tintoretto…  a cross between  Suzanna at her Bath (c. 1560) and a detail from Christ Washing the Feet of his Disciples (c. 1547)… compositional elements from the former and psychological aspects of the latter, with Simon playing the part not only of Suzanna’s diligent foot-attentive servant but the voyeuristic elders looking on, as well… and Christ.

Sadie’s toes wiggle indolently. She’s thinking about tomorrow’s hair appointment in Hamburg. She’s not thinking about Siegfried at all. She gazes upon the speckled pate of the old man who is her transitional lover. A patronizing smile softens her calculating expression. She’s thinking that the next one will either be about true love or mind-boggling amounts of money. The next one will either be her soulmate or someone who owns a private jet. Simon is neither, but at least all he wants is to play with her feet. The money shot he spares her. Does it out of earshot (eyeshot) in the bathroom or somewhere. Maybe he can’t even get an erection any more. That’s fine with her. If everyone else in this world could only want what no one would mind giving them, this would be paradise, wouldn’t it?

Sadie wiggles her toes and closes her eyes and drifts off into semi-sleep. It’s so relaxing. She needs this. Simon needs this too. It relaxes him.

He didn’t win the Stein Prize. He didn’t win the Stein Prize. That beautiful Korean nut who calls herself NO won it, of course. She won with a simple-as-a-shit-in-a-bucket piece called YESTERDAY’S INSULTS ARE TOMORROW’S COMPLIMENTS. In which she sat casually dressed in a darkened room in a gallery watching a loop of old black and white Laurel and Hardy movies… crying.

Weeping, softly, non-stop for precisely eight hours and eight minutes. What the numerology of the piece was supposed to symbolize Simon has no idea but he knows that not only didn’t he win the Stein Prize with his infinitely wittier and more provocative installation (come on: a gang rape of the artist girlfriend of an artist competing for an art prize by the judges of the art prize? what’s not to like?) but he’s out a lot of money. That was an expensive fucking installation. From the rental of the Hispano Suiza to the security guards to the actress playing his girlfriend and the actors playing the half dozen rapist-judges and six cases of champagne and god knows how much expensive French cheese and crackers. The sponsors covered the advertizing, flew in a couple of the panelists and presented everyone of importance with a bottle of Vodka, otherwise it was Simon’s dime. Jesus. Meanwhile, how much did NO spend on her prize-winning schtick? The cost of a junkshop television. She probably didn’t even buy the TV. She probably borrowed it. It makes him sick.

Simon needs to relax. Simon needs to think. His real girlfriend, the “weather artist” Thy Trann, has been strangely evasive of late. Could be that she smells a plane crash. Could be that she senses that Simon’s stock is plunging. Simon’s problem is that he’s a British conceptualist, and his reputation is therefore ineffably bound to the public profile of Damien Hirst, who is being perceived as slightly passé of late. What Simon needs is for Damien to make another big splash and soon. Or Simon himself will need to do it.

But he’s afraid.

He first got the idea years ago, when those towelheads laid that career-making fatwa on lucky Rushdie. The death and destruction which Rushdie trailed in his wake (people forget: there were casualties of that particular fatwa, even if Rushdie escape unscathed…  for now) put Simon off the idea for a few years, but then 9/11 happened and he was seriously tempted to go for it. But, again…

He was afraid.

And yet, what does Simon Kahn-Meyers fear more? Death or irrelevance? Which does anyone fear more?

Sadie has a dream right there in the chair in which every man loses his head over her. Their heads literally fall off. Their eyes go wide with panic and they point at their necks, gesturing frantically, as the necks turn black. And then their heads fall off.

Doonk.

Three hours later. Sadie announces loudly that she’s going to a dinner party. No answer. She’s already showered and perfumed and dressed in a gold lamé pantsuit and green velveteen slippers and ready to step out the door… she searches for and finds Simon sitting at a slanted work table in a back room in the flat and announces again quietly that she’s leaving for a dinner party.

“A dinner party? How delightful. I am feeling peckish.”

“Darling, it might be slightly rude to bring you.”

“Why would it be rude?”

“Darling… they aren’t expecting you. You aren’t invited.”

“Perhaps my arrival will be a glorious surprise. I am, after all, a known artist, Sadie.”

“Simon, I promise you, they have never even heard of your name.”

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

“But how?”

“Trust me.”

“But how?”

“I’m going to be late. If you insist on tagging along you had better get yourself dressed in five minutes.” Five MEE-nots.

“I am dressed.”

Sadie gives him a look.

“Okay, okay. Give us a minute. I’ll put on a fucking suit, for Christ’s sake.”

While Simon roots around in the armoire in the next room for his one serious suit, Sadie saunters across the studio and peers with blasé curiosity at the large sheet of drawing paper on the work table that Simon had been hunched over. Beside the paper are a drawing pencil and the wretched black rubber frying pan crumbs of a vigorous erasure or two. There is also a T-square and a plastic lettering stencil.

On the creamy sheet of paper, in roughly-sketched lettering, are two simple words in large block print; one an expletive verb and the other the name of a major religion. Two smaller words, in cursive, look more like notes or directions than sketches of the art itself. The two small blue-ballpoint words are the word green and the word gold…  Sadie is struck by the coincidence: these are the colors she’s wearing. Kismet? The little word green seems to be a note about the color of the background. Gold is scrawled within the body of one of the letters of the two large words which are obviously meant to be the subject of the painting itself.

There are numbers across the bottom of the page: 22′ x 18′.  Sadie nods. That’s feet not inches.

 

THE GRADUATE (a short story from DIFFICULT TEXTS)

 

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Miriam with the curly blonde hair that when you looked closer was full of white and gray. Her point being that everyone knew she had two college-age offspring from a previous marriage. Who would she be fooling with a dye job? Robert didn’t want to seem timid or dull in Miriam Wallace’s eyes.

Robert had first met Miriam during the Christmas season after his twenty-second birthday, the Christmas he flew back to Philly from Minneapolis to tell his parents he wouldn’t be going to graduate school. Turbulence on the flight had strengthened his resolve. Turbulence and his rotten stomach. His bachelors degree would have to be enough. He’d told his father that he needed time to consider his options and his mother, from the next room, the kitchen, had shouted, ‘Your options to fail?’

They drove, not slowly, the twelve blocks from Wayne Avenue to the Wallace house in Mount Airy on streets so icy and some so steep that Robert had a hopeful premonition that they would all die silent and angry in a grisly wreck. His mother angry at his father for his father’s laissez-faire attitude to discipline as Robert was growing up; his father angry at his mother for attaching so much weight to the opinions and judgments of outsiders; Robert angry at both of them for his existence and, more pressingly, the churning guts courtesy of the evening’s outcome. Robert’s mother’s technique of what his father called ‘analytical sarcasm’ was devastating and had left Robert longing for the corrective violence of a bowel-puncturing crash. The fatal relief of it. They drove by five illuminated black Santas in a row without comment.

Robert’s vision of an impact had been so vivid that it felt like a dream of the afterlife when they all found themselves on the Wallace’s dark front porch fifteen minutes later, kicking clots of snow off their heels as if they meant to demolish the building. Miriam Wallace answered the door in a ball gown with that bemused look of hers. She didn’t know Dot or Alan terribly well and Robert seemed new to her, though it’s possible that she’d petted him once at a bar-b-cue when he was child.

‘Vampirella,’ said Robert’s mother under her breath as they followed Miriam into the living room. Miriam Wallace was tall, leathery, svelte. She had boyishly short curly blonde hair and definition in her biceps and an ass in the shiny dark material of her low-cut backless gown like a wet plum.

Forty minutes prior to their arrival at the Christmas party, right before Robert’s confession that he was ditching the notion of grad school altogether, Robert’s father had confessed, with Chablis breath, that he and Robert’s mother had been ‘fairly dedicated swingers’ in the ‘70s. And that Victor Wallace had been among the discreet circle of friends who had taken their Updike too seriously. Nineteen seventy four. His father said further that Victor, an architect, had fellated him and that the man sported a goatee in those days that looked like an Irish au pair’s fussy pussy. The women seemed to have been more interested in seeing Alan’s cock in Victor’s mouth than in each other and weeks later Robert’s mother was still making his father wash his penis with Phisohex before relations. Robert’s father said Victor had coughed the semen out into his cupped hands with his back to everyone, and then he handed Robert a glass of Chablis and said, winking, ‘This isn’t freaking you out, son, is it?’ Beaming.

‘No dad. It’s just that I have something I need to tell you.’

The swinging had lasted no longer than the whole country’s appetite for Scrabble and fondue. When Victor’s first wife Marnie, who was such a ‘cutie’ that Robert’s father had endured Victor’s ‘finicky’ blow job just to ‘get at her,’ died of breast cancer, the two families of former swingers used the funeral as a watershed; an excuse to wipe the slate clean. The surviving adults behaved as though the swinging had never happened. As though Victor had never tasted Alan’s semen or that Marnie and Dot had never awkwardly petted and kissed or had intercourse on numerous occasions with each other’s husband while the others watched and sometimes photographed it. They only socialized still at all because pointedly not to socialize would have been a tacit reminder of the unspoken. There stood Robert’s family on the Wallace porch on Christmas Eve, alive and brooding.

Miriam Wallace had paid no particular attention to Robert at her Christmas party for the first hour or so after he’d arrived. As Robert put it, in her arms in a rented bed a year later, it seemed as though it was an idea that ‘kinda sorta creeped up’ on her. Miriam said no, it wasn’t that. She’d had a lot on her mind that night. Her husband Victor, also responding to whatever nostalgia trigger a combination of mulled wine, Christmas, and the anticipatory angst of seeing old friends after a gap of years can create, had bragged to her about the swinging, too. With the notable twist that in his version of the confession, Victor hadn’t been the one coughing the semen out. Though Miriam stopped short of adding this detail when the topic came up. Let the boy keep his illusions. There is no kinder sentiment.

They were three assignations into the intermittent affair and spring had arrived in the form of green lawns appearing through block-long scabs of slush. More dangerous driving conditions; a self-conscious, rhythmless slow dance behind the drawn curtains of the motel window. Afterward, Miriam, up on one elbow in bed, tracing random arabesques on Robert’s hairless chest with the finger of a much younger woman, told him, ‘You can’t imagine how jealous I was. It was bad enough that pictures of Marnie were still up all over the house, fifteen years after she’d died. Some of her clothes were still in the guest room closet, for god’s sake.’ She said, ‘Then I have to find out that Victor fucked Dot and Alan and this experience he shared with his dead wife the titless saint? Give me a break.’

As Miriam described it, Victor, clutching a wineglass with one hand and tugging the waist of his wife’s gown with the other, had pulled her into his study while friends and a token neighbor or two were singing along teary-eyed to a scratchy Joni Mitchell album in the living room. The scratches and skips on the record are the sound of our wrinkles, Miriam remembered thinking. That’s when Victor made the confession, producing a manila envelope of faded Polaroids from the back of a locked desk drawer for proof.

‘He was so proud of himself I wanted to slap him.’

The sun was setting in the curtains. Miriam and Robert had known each other for over a year. It struck Robert as his eyes darted from Miriam’s heaped clothing on the chair nearest the bed… to her fur-trimmed coat on the door… to that Panzer-like purse on top of the television and the lipsticked water glass beside it… that she had made the room her own. That is, although Robert had chosen the motel himself and made the reservation and would soon pay for the room with tip money it felt like they were trysting in Miriam’s boudoir. He felt bound by the rules of decorum imposed by being her guest. He couldn’t just get up and switch on a light, for example, or take a piss without asking. The mere thought of voiding his bowels in the motel toilet… her motel toilet… was beyond the pale. He wondered if this was something she was good at, taking over a space, and was it just her or tall, attractive, adulterous wives in general. And yet, he reflected: ironically, she is the guest of her husband’s dead first wife in her own home.

Miriam squeezed the hollows in Robert’s cheeks together in a way uncannily like his mother had done when he was a boy and she was a happier, more playful person and said, ‘You better not be thinking this is anything like a scene from The Graduate, buster.’

‘What?’

‘The Graduate. You better not…’

‘The graduate? Which graduate? Who?’

‘The film. Dustin Hoffman! You…’

‘Who?’

‘Simon and Garfunkle!’

‘Simon and what?’

‘Jesus fucking Christ.’

Miriam said nothing for a long time during which Robert could actually hear his Swatch watch ticking on the counter beside the sink in the bathroom. He thought: there are people who could pass gas in front of an attractive woman and laugh it off with a joke and people who’d rather hold it in for hours of discomfort and I am of the latter group. Although I admire the former. Life must be so much easier for them. He stole a glance at Miriam whose hands were covering her face. He came to understand that she was crying. He tried to imagine what the rest of his life would feel like if he let one fly beside Miriam under these circumstances. Hot and hissing and green like absinthe… the poltergeist of a rotten egg. His actual insides, exposed to the open room and her judgment.

‘Miriam.’

‘No.’

‘Miriam. No what?’

He pulled her hands away from her face and he flinched: she wasn’t crying, she was laughing with mirthless glee like a deaf child torturing a cat. She rolled off the bed and fetched her purse and got her cigarettes and lit a Kretek and sat with her back to him. She puffed like it was a thinking tool or a method of divination. She turned to squint and said ‘Okay, the problem is this.’ More puffing.

‘An older married woman having relations with the young son of her husband’s friends, there’s plenty to hide. But in our case, ja? My husband encourages this. He asks for details afterward. We’re just doing it in this motel room to give us the illusion that we’re indulging in an illicit thrill.’ Puff.

‘We could be doing this at home and Victor would be reading the New York Times downstairs in the fricking breakfast nook. Or washing the dishes. And he’d call up the back stairs and ask if anyone wants an herbal tea. He’d serve us on a breakfast tray complete with linen napkins. How erotic is that?’

‘What we do isn’t erotic?’

‘You think it is.’

‘I always assumed that anything anyone did with my erect penis was erotic.’

She turned her back to him again and blew out an empty blue thought-balloon of smoke. Robert passed wind and waited.

 

 

 

THE AWFUL PERVASIVENESS of LIE CULTURE

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Any Propagandist with a highly-visible (possibly-well-paid) gig probably can’t wait until all Facts are finally made illegal.  Facts will be outlawed, soon enough,  for threatening national security, sales figures and the overall happiness of the Consumer.

As a person accustomed to expressing Strong Opinions… and as a very cautious commenter who won’t press an argument without being in possession of enough factual information, or direct experience, to support the argument… I honestly can’t remember the last time I was involved in a heated debate in which my opponent cited facts in order to “counter” my argument(s). This is as true Online as it is for Meatspace. Ad Hominems, appeals to authority and appeals to various sensitivities have all replaced Facts as the gold standard for determining Truth, Justice and who does or doesn’t get mob-shamed for his/her age/class/gender/color/ physical appearance. Superior Hand-waving skills are now enough to get you a spot on the Harvard Debate Team. In too many “developing nations”, engineering, manufacturing and architectural standards seem to be just as horribly unreliable and people often die as a result. Here in “The West”, what is dying is clearly Reality. Agenda-driven Narratives are taking over.

I’m not talking about Lies on a human scale; the necessary Lies of negotiation that kids tell parents, or that parents tell employers, or that lovers tell each other to reconcile individual needs with shared goals. I don’t mean the little white lies of actors shaving years off their actual ages or friends reassuring friends about hideous haircuts or irritating spouses.  I’m talking about Agenda-Driven Bullshit on a Larger Scale. I’m talking about Propaganda, which is Agenda-Driven Bullshit crafted to swing Reality in order to justify a War or push ten million worthless units at a premium price or shape society in sinister ways. And the local Lies we tell ourselves and then each other, to prop up these big Lies, Lies that aren’t even on our behalf, as though we love the Lies so much we’re happy to spread them for free. The Lies that make us Lie against our own Lives. The Lies we betray ourselves to disseminate.

For whose benefit?

I just read this at the Guardian (after reading a dozen hysterical tweets/ bloglets/ comment threads on the same topic), by Melissa Silverstein, about Maria Schneider’s experience on the set of the film Last Tango in Paris:

“‘It’s important to note that Schneider, who died in 2011, told the Daily Mail in an interview way back in 2007 that she “felt humiliated and, to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci’. This wasn’t a little bit rape. This was rape where she was penetrated by a stick of butter. They actually took a prop and forced it inside her. In addition, the scene wasn’t in the script. The 19-year-old was blindsided by a bunch of older men who, according to Bertolucci, “wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress’.”

This is from the Daily Mail interview that Silverstein’s essay links to:

“Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears.

“I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take.”

Many believed that the sex scenes between Brando and Schneider were for real, but she insists: “Not at all. There was no attraction between us. For me, he was more like a father figure and I a daughter.

Well then. An actress felt humiliated by a rape scene she played in a film (the rape scene was in the script, the opportunistic “stick of butter-as-lubricant” was not; she consented to the former, not the latter… the former and the latter both being imaginary) and regrets having been in the film: fair enough. But not quite social justice rage-inducing enough to justify hysterical headlines, so Melissa Silverstein has very helpfully re-written the facts to change Maria Schneider from an actress who regretted being in a film that may have tarnished her image… to being the victim of an on-screen rape/penetration with a movie-prop wielded by Marlon Brando. Oh, and don’t forget: Brando was old… ugh… he was a part of a rape crew consisting of a “bunch of old men”. Much better. What’s really noteworthy: Silverstein actually links to the source that refutes her claim, either counting on the fact that you won’t bother reading through a few paragraphs to discover the Facts… or having skipped the very procedure herself. Perhaps she had a deadline to make.

To reiterate:

“In November 2016, a slightly altered version of the 2013 College Tour interview [with Bertolucci]  was uploaded to YouTube,[25] which gained attention when Yahoo! Movies writer Tom Butler wrote an article about the clip. Butler reported that Bertolucci admitted to filming a non-consensual rape scene and that the interview took place at the Cinémathèque Française.[26] Several celebrities condemned Bertolucci and the film, based on Butler’s article[27] and a number of newspapers picked up on the story, reporting that Bertolucci had confessed to Schneider being raped on set. Tim Molloy of The Wrap criticized the media’s misinterpretation of the video, observing that Bertolucci did not admit to a rape occurring on the film and that Schneider herself stated that no intercourse occurred during production, including a statement that “what Marlon was doing wasn’t real.” Molloy also pointed out that neither Bertolucci nor Schneider ever stated that Brando physically penetrated Schneider with the butter.

Peter Bradshaw (also at the Guardian) rather disingenuously wrote:

Well, we now know that there was no consent in real life. Whatever balancing moments existed in the story, Bertolucci certainly never discussed anything with Schneider without telling Brando. It was all the other way around. The power lay with the famous director and famous actor.

So,  the fact that “Bertolucci certainly never discussed anything with Schneider without telling Brando”  had nothing to do with Brando being precisely what Bradshaw describes him as: a world-famous movie star… and Schneider being a complete unknown, then? So, we’re saying that in a scene involving Julia Roberts (or name your current world-famous female lead: I haven’t sat through some shitty popular movie since c. 2005, when my now-Wife was pregnant and the Real World became infinitely more interesting to me than the derivative fantasies on modern screens) … in a scene between a Famous Actress and a promising young unknown male… the director would defer, of course, to the unknown male’s superior genital configuration? Yes? No?

Weirdly, despite his apparent patriarchal advantage on the set…

“Brando said to Bertolucci at the time, ‘I was completely and utterly violated by you. I will never make another film like that’. Brando refused to speak to Bertolucci for 15 years after the production was completed. Much like Schneider, Brando later said he ‘felt raped and manipulated’ by the film,” (Wiki)

None of the hysterically outraged commenters want to discuss Brando’s feelings of “rape” about the film, one supposes, because the righteous outrage would then shrivel to a tepid point about Bernardo Bertolucci’s method, rather than one about the inherent evil and/or savagery of (straight) Men. Which is lots less sexy, won’t sell newspapers, or bait clicks and won’t serve the apparent social engineering goal of further alienating Women and (straight) Men from one another. Perhaps it’s a form of Population Control?

Now here’s something: how many Pro-Billary sophomores currently losing their minds over Maria Schneider’s apparent humiliation regarding her experience filming the imaginary  rape of her imaginary character have nothing (nothing) to say about Bill Clinton’s real rapes and Hillary’s tendency to attack/ undermine her rapey husband’s accusers? Perhaps the Culture (with its constituent granules) is not just mendacious but insane, as well? And I’m no Conservative, folks: I’m an anti-War, anti-Corporate, anti-Gun, anti-Television, anti-Car, anti-Alcohol , anti-Race-obsession, anti-Professional Sports, Pro-Enlightenment crypto-Mod.

My Wife is a semi-famous classical musician and does a few newspaper interviews every year. In a recent interview, she told the interviewer that she’d participated in various performance competitions as a young girl. From this fact, the interviewer invented the fanciful tale that my Wife had purchased her first (very expensive) instrument with the earnings from these competitions. Anyone knowing my Wife knows this isn’t true, so it was quite embarrassing for us, since it appeared that my Wife, and not the effortlessly-untruthful journalist, had made the story up. We had to call quite a few friends who read the interview. We called the newspaper the day the article came out. “What do you want us to do about it?” asked the Newspaper.

To them this Lie was merely Business as Usual.

Q: So what’s it like, living inside the Awfully Pervasive Lie Culture … ?

A. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to describe.