Around that time it became fashionable to adopt the persona of a historical figure. It started when three young trendsetters from the East End traveled to Paris and dug up the corpse of deceased author, Andre Gide. Grinding the bones into a fine powder, they dissolved his remains in a mixture of chamomile tea and swallowed him whole. When they returned from their overseas trip, the trio was well received. They made special appearances at parties, lecturing at length about the importance of balancing strict artistic discipline with unlimited sensual indulgence. The newspapers adored them, giving them their own two-page spread in the Community Lifestyles section of the Sunday edition. “Here is something never seen before,” they told us, but anyone with half a brain knew better.
I first made their acquaintance at a mixer in the South Hills, a quiet little event sponsored by the mistress of a prominent union boss. My girlfriend Marta was charmed by their European ways, and several were the times she looked at me with disdain and hissed under her breath, “Why can’t you be more like them?”
“It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not,” said the three Gides.
Marta swooned. She left me the following week for a young painter who had consumed a milkshake containing the femur of Pablo Picasso. He came into the frame shop where she worked, looking for a sixteen by twenty-four mahogany Deco to compliment his new piece, Old Keytarist, and swept her off her feet.
“But what about me?” I wailed. “I’m an artist . . .”
“You’re a nobody! Whose corpse did you ever eat?”
I was devastated, and wrote a poem about it, A Heart Defiled, but none of the local periodicals would touch it. “Too original, kid. Who are you supposed to sound like anyway?”
I sound like me, dammit! I sound like me! Isn’t that enough? No, they
wanted Arthur Rimbaud. And I was only Arthur Trezeguet, local nobody. I
spent my afternoons at the park, with the birds and squirrels.
“For technical perfection, one need look no further than Dutch Baroque master Penny Axelsmith. Her new series of portraits, completed last month after ingesting Rembrandt van Rijn’s lower jawbone, is sponsored by Johnson’s Subaru of Wexford, and will be on display throughout January at the Mattress Factory on the North Side.”
It was on a trip to the store that I first noticed I was being followed. A slight rustle in the shrubbery to my right, a protruding camera lens…it was the local news. When they realized they’d been spotted, they came pouring out from their hiding places like a herd of rats. I was surrounded on the sidewalk…left…right…every direction a camera or microphone.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Show us your art!” they pleaded.
“What are you talking about?”
“We want to feature you!”
They shifted their weight as they spoke, scratching at their wrists and forearms until they were red.
“I don’t know what to say.” A grin spread across my face. “I haven’t written anything in a long time. Well, there is this poem…”
“I don’t have it with me.”
“Read something else!”
“There is nothing else.”
“Here,” said a reporter. He handed me a ballpoint pen and a tablet. “Write something new.”
“I can’t just come up with something so…”
“Just do it!”
I looked at their faces, eager and expectant. I looked around at all the cameras and then down at the tablet.
And I began to write:
“The . . .”
“Perfect!” said the reporter, snatching the tablet from my hand. “The . . .” he quoted. “How minimalist! You must have eaten Raymond Carver!”
I tried to protest, but the clamor had grown too much to compete with:
“Read it out loud!”
“Doesn’t it just roll off the tongue?”
“Jerry, get a tight shot!”
“Call Max, tell him we got something big!”
“You’re gonna be famous, kid!
“You ever met Mick Jagger?”
“You’ll love her!”
“Tits out to here!”
“Look at him!”
“Look at that smile!”
“This kid’s the next Hemingway!”
“He was that hippie.”
“Who cares? This kid is now!”
“Hey kid, which studio’s going to make the movie?”
“I hear Tri-Star’s looking!”
“Yeah kid, who do you want playing the lead character?”
“Yeah kid, who?
I suggested Mark Linn-Baker, whose turn as the irascible Cousin Larry was the perfect counterpoint to Bronson Pinchot’s smug irreverence. The choice was not a popular one, but the press was forgiving since I was young and photogenic. They chalked it up to my “refreshingly offbeat sensibilities”.
The man who played ‘Wolverine’ in the X-Men films was cast as the lead in the Broadway production. His gender-bending capabilities were supposed to bring a whole new dimension to the role. As my text was only one word, I wasn’t sure it was possible to invoke gender at all, but they assured me he was up to it. I went to see him opening night at the Ambassador and was impressed by the performance. His delivery of the word ‘the’ went up slightly at the end, posing it as more of a question than the answer I had intended it to be.
The following week I appeared on the cover of Art? Magazine: a small, underground publication put out by Storm the Gulag Press, part of the ‘independent’ wing of AOL-Time Warner’s literary division. My new novel, The Sun Also Sets, was getting rave reviews, despite the fact it had yet to be published. When the announcement came that I had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, I received congratulatory calls and emails from all over the world, including the President of the United States, and a dinner invitation from former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout, Louis Lipps.
When Marta heard of my success, she became jealous. She appeared on my doorstep one afternoon to plead for forgiveness, but my agent Bertrand had already acquired for me a mistress, a lithe Canadian hand model named Mystique, and so reconciliation was impossible. I loosed my attack dogs and Marta was able to vacate the premises with only minor injuries.
Lounging around my twelve-acre pool, living off the fruits of my labor, I began to wonder whether I hadn’t lost something in the process. Had my innocence been sacrificed? Had my raw potential been polished and diluted by the Hollywood media machine? Luckily the Quaaludes kicked in before I could answer. As I felt the gentle caress of illicit narcotics lulling me to sleep, the bottle of Old Jasper’s plum wine I had been guzzling slipped from my fingers and sank to its watery grave. Would I, one day, experience a similar fall? On a nearby table, my Pink Pearl endorsement contract flapped in the wind. I chose to interpret the sound as a metaphor for hope and surrendered myself to darkness.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/the.html]
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