Donnie forks a load of material through the entrance to his chow chute.
The governor issued an order requiring restaurants to close indoor seating service and go to take-out only. It’s pandemic time, kids. Wake the fuck up, and shelter in place!
We’re not quite awake.
Donnie’s in the driver’s seat of his 2017 Nissan Juke. I’m in the opposite-side, rear passenger seat, as near to six feet distant from my host as I can manage. The windows are open.
We’re eating breakfast in a car, in the parking lot of our favorite cafe, our food delivered in large, styrofoam containers.
Donnie is demolishing a pile of hash browns, two over-easy ova plopped on the spuds the yolks pierced and goopy, the stack smothered with pork green chile. Several fresh and warm flour tortillas wrapped in napkins wait on the seat to his right, in case he needs them for mop-up.
As we chew and chat, I realize the man cuts his own hair.
I wrestle the breakfast enchilada special: two cheese, rolled, smothered in red, a couple wobbly cluck bombs on the lid, with sides of some of the best frijoles charros ever made, and a mound of hash browns blanketed with green and dusted with shredded asadero. Should I require one of Donnie’s tortillas, I’m told it is there for the taking.
All is well: I’m conscious, able to converse, somewhat rational given the early hour and the fact I recently endured a simple surgery. Simple, yet…
As we eat, Donnie and I scoot past the topic of the plague. He’s a lifelong member of the Republican Party and a devoted fan of Fox News, so I remind him that asking Donald Trump to steer the nation through the Covid-19 situation is like tossing the keys to the Kia to your nephew, Stevie, the one with “special needs,” and asking him to drive you to New Orleans (if you’re in New Orleans, change the destination to Miami).
Donnie is wily: he does not take the bait.
We move on to review the obits that stacked up like cordwood during the previous week, reminisce about local drunkards and miscreants we’ve known and loved over the years, discuss a wastewater pipeline with four lift stations proposed for the south side of town, and make snide remarks about Donnie’s persistent, vaguely literate political opponents.
Donnie is the mayor of Siberia With a View; his adversaries are few, but they are energetic and troublesome, with more sure to surface if Donnie issues any pandemic-related edicts. The winters here make for distorted perspectives and splintered thoughts, encourage high-volume public tirades delivered in brusque, monosyllabic bursts. Come the arrival of March in the high country, the bats are out of the attic, in full frenzy.
“For crying out loud man, turn it down, enough of your problems,” I say, as an errant glob of red makes its slow way down the front of my fleece. “I’ve got a dandy of my own on the agenda. My difficulties deserve full attention, despite the fact you drove, and paid for breakfast.”
“Something I can help with?,” asks my pal.
“I need some veal.”
It’s a tangled story.
It begins the week before, when my personal physician and trusted advisor, Wanda, texts me, and demands that I visit her clinic.
“Get over here at noon, tomorrow,” she writes. “That growth in the middle of your forehead has to come off. Could be it’s nothing more than a keratoacanthoma; could be something terrible, possibly lethal. We won’t know until I remove it, and ship it to the lab.”
I respond. “I’m fragile, and I’ll be distressed. Can I get a dose of Ketamine when you’re finished?”
She responds. “This is the last time I’ll tell you: you’re not getting Ketamine. Not now, not ever. Noon, tomorrow. Be here, or I’ll come to your house and cut the thing off while you drink vodka and slump on your favorite chair in the living room. It’s a less-than-ideal setting for surgery; there’s liable to be blood on everything in the vicinity.”
I respond. “OK, whatever you say. But, given the current health crisis, with Covid-19 spreading like wildfire and dispatching oldsters like me, should I glove up and sport an industrial-grade respirator? My friend, Joe, wears the masks at his marijuana grow facility, and he gave me one. And how about my Tyvek hazmat suit? Clinics are dicey places after all, requiring max protection — patients coughing, sneezing, releasing potentially deadly aerosols, leaking body fluids, splattering polluted droplets on every surface. A clinic is a death trap these days, Wanda, and little good comes of a visit. It’s like taking your dream Hawaiian trip on the Princess Cruises line, or dining at a strip mall Sizzler with a smeared sneeze guard over the salad bar.”
She responds. “Noon, not a minute late; this could be the last chance to do this for a while. I’ll take an early lunch break, run a couple of miles in order to relax, eat supermarket sushi, and drink a double-strength Americano just before you arrive. I like to be mentally fresh and well nourished prior to an excision, with my nervous system at peak RPM. Don’t worry: I’ll wash up before I cut on you. If you wear the Tyvek suit, you’ll panic the other patients, and I’ll call the police and have you escorted from the property. Noon, tomorrow. Do you understand? No suit. Confirm.”
I confirm, and I do as I’m told.
Though I’m ancient and feeble-minded, I learn something: garlic is a potent blood thinner. As is aspirin, and Allopurinol. I’m saturated with all three when I arrive at the clinic.
The night before the procedure, dinner includes sausage ravioli with green peas, the porky pasta pillows and their pea pals finished in butter and extra virgin olive oil with four cloves worth of minced garlic, lifted with a spritz of fresh lemon juice and a few capers, crowned with a flutter of chopped parsley, and freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano. Paired with a small salad, and a great deal of wine, it seems a fine idea.
Then, prior to my appointment, I chase an Allopurinol and an aspirin with a late morning bracer. I’m no fan of gout, or of nasty coronary events. I’m a big fan of late morning bracers.
I’m put through the standard prelims at the clinic, taken to an exam room and joined by two staff members. One nurse checks my vitals while the other plugs data into a computer. The dominant nurse asks me about my current weight. I lie.
The results are incredible: temp, 97.5 (a tad below the popular 98.6, but an indicator there is no lethal virus at work…at this juncture); oxygen saturation, 91 percent (outstanding, considering what has gone into my lungs over the years, and the fact I spend most of every day in a radon-blitzed basement); blood pressure, 112 over 70.
The nurse removes the cuff from my arm. I ask her to confirm that my vitals are evidence of the positive benefits of regular, broad-spectrum intoxication and, in fact, indicate that I should amp up the volume.
The nurses say nothing, hustle from the room, and I’m left alone to rummage through the cabinets and drawers. Isolation of the patient is a standard tactic introduced to embryodocs during the first month of their residency, and employed thereafter to enhance the impact of a delayed arrival. Doctors like to be important, and nothing boosts their status better than anxiety.
The next person into the space is Abby, Angelique, Annabelle…perhaps her name starts with B. She knocks before entering and introduces herself. I ask A or B my standard doctor’s office question: “Why is it you knock prior to opening the door?”
A or B tells me she does it to avoid startling me.
I ask her what she thinks I’m doing that would cause me to be startled and, I assume, embarrassed. I tell her I’m innocent as a spring lamb, given my prostate was removed a decade ago and I haven’t had a formidable erection since. I remind her that a healthy intact male, however, stunned as he is by the hormone hammer, can be stimulated by something as innocuous as a photo of a narrow gauge train. Given that, I add, she’s probably wise to knock.
She stares at me for a couple of seconds, unblinking, obviously shorting out, then comes to her senses and says: “I’m the new nurse practitioner here at the clinic. I wonder if you’d mind if I join the doctor to observe the procedure.”
“Hell no,” I respond. “I’m no stranger to the display case; I relish the role of crash test dummy. I once underwent a botched prostate biopsy, my gaping rear entry in full view of a gaggle of community college students clad in junior doctor get-ups, visiting the office as part of the school’s Career Day. The event involved poorly manufactured Chinese biopsy needles, and a great deal of discomfort on my part when the process had to be repeated. I attempted to maintain a stiff upper lip during a second trip of the instrument package up the trash tube, but I failed, and my shrieks shocked the kids — they looked like fawns frozen in the headlights of a speeding Kenmore. Clearly I’m willing to do what I can to advance the medical art. Please, join in, enjoy, and learn.”
A or B seems disoriented, she leaves. I am left alone, again.
Ten minutes later, I gaze at framed photos of narrow gauge trains, and repeatedly sing the first eight bars of “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes” by the Edison Lighthouse, a piece of dim pop crap that hits the charts in 1970, “number twenty-seven, with a bullet.” I imagine that when the day comes that I’m plopped on the veranda at Serene Acres, lashed to a plastic chair, suffering from frontotemporal dementia and obsessively recycling an old tune, this will be the one I remember. It will be one of two things I remember, the other being my childhood pet, my Boston terrier, Butch. I’ll pet Butch whenever I’m awake, and introduce him to fellow residents and the employees at the facility. Again and again and again.
Wanda enters the room. She doesn’t knock; she flings the door open. It’s not her first rodeo.
“Let’s do this,” she says. “I’ve got a Cross Fit workout in an hour, and I need to get in a swim before I go to book club. I’m a member of four clubs, and I go to one meeting each week. I’m not too familiar with the books, but the snacks are great, and it gets me out of the house.”
I bleed profusely as Wanda gouges me. As promised, blood splashes all over the place. The room resembles a Chicago packing plant circa 1900, a scene worthy of Upton Sinclair.
I ask if there is plasma available for a transfusion, since it seems I lack the ability to clot, but I get no answer. Wanda is too busy mutilating me to respond.
During the bloodletting, A or B asks me several times if I’m “OK.” I assure her everything is fine and dandy, groan loudly, and emit a muffled sob. After all, it’s a learning experience.
Wanda begins to close the divot, and asks A or B if she’d like to try her hand at a few sutures. Practice makes perfect. A or B furrows her brow. She’s new to the job, but she’s already adept at appearing to be concerned.
“Don’t worry,” says Wanda, “he won’t care. He’ll be wasted by four, and probably won’t remember he had a growth removed, with six stitches in his forehead.”
Wanda’s right, I do forget, shortly after four. It’s a comfort to have friends who know you well.
After I depart the clinic, I arrange a multi-ounce meeting with my best friend Tito’s handmade vodka, and I wolf down a couple edibles my bud tender, Pascale, assures me will soothe my ravaged nerves.
“It’s the best indica on the market, dude,” she says as she stares at a spot a foot above my head. “I use it when I get jittery, and I get jittery all the time. I guarantee this shit works. Check me out: not a tremor. I haven’t had a prob since the state legalized weed and I got this job at the dispensary.”
Pascale never steers me wrong; she’s too wrecked to be devious.
Tito and the indica do the trick, so it’s not until I look at my reflection in the bathroom mirror the next morning that I recall the trauma, spot the damage, and ponder its import.
The nasty wound and the stitches in the middle of my forehead mar my fine, albeit mature looks. I need to do something to hasten the healing. I have plans. I must look my best, ASAP.
I recall that the Empress Elisabeth of Austria had outstanding ideas regarding facial skin care. In addition to the fact she suffered from an eating disorder and did gymnastics at what today would be considered a low-rank competitive level, Elisabeth knew how to keep the skin on her forehead smooth and supple: she wore a leather sleep mask cinched snug over a wad of raw veal, or crushed strawberries.
Back to the Juke, to the parking lot and breakfast with Donnie.
“I need some veal.”
Veal is expensive and, with the exception of shanks for osso buco, or a hefty chop pounded out for schnitzel a la holstein, I have little use for the meat when I cook. As an addition to a mix of minces (usually with pork and beef), or to a braise, veal is valuable for the gelatin it brings to the blend. I can buy gelatin in a jar or little packets, and it is a lot cheaper than baby cow flesh.
But, this is a cosmetic emergency, so I pursue the bovine infant option knowing the veal treatment worked for Elisabeth, and she was empress of the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire!
I discuss my need with Donnie.
Prior to his election as mayor of Siberia With a View, Donnie served for a couple decades as the chief of police. He is thus well-acquainted with firearms and, as an avid hunter, he’s skilled in the dispatch of edible life forms. Donnie taught my daughter, Ivy, how to shoot during the elementary school’s Hunter Safety program (cancelled when liberal fanatics moved to the area, and a mob of them laid siege to the school district admin office). At 40, Ivy can still shoot the lights out. The other day, she picked off a chipmunk at a considerable distance while lounging on her deck, chugging chilled pinot gris and eating homemade jalapeno poppers.
“I can provide veal so quick your head’ll swim,” Donnie assures me between bites. “All we need is the unweaned calf. I can take care of business in ethical fashion; the tyke’ll never know what hit him. I’ll even butcher the little booger. Like I always say: If you’re going to kill and eat an animal, get to know the critter, call it by name if it has one, handle the entire process yourself, consume everything. Bond with the animal, receive it thankfully, treat it with respect. Give praise to the lord for the gift.”
“I’ll take the tenderloin, the shanks, the breast, and half the ribs,” I say, “the rest is yours. If you want to gnaw on the anus, intestines, brain, and teeny testicles, that’s your prerogative.
“I’ll blast the tapered end of the tenderloin through my Porkert-Fleischhacker 10, with the fine Czech steel auger and discs, pack my homemade sleep mask with the grind, then cut the rest of the loin into hefty medallions. When the time is right, I’ll season the medallions, do a quick sear, briefly pan roast them, and serve them up medium rare, with béarnaise, sautéed chanterelles, and Lyonnaise potato. You can come to dinner since you did the heavy lifting.”
“Great,” says Donnie, “I love béarnaise sauce, especially with venison.”
“It’s a spectacular sauce,” I reply, “but no venison for me, sir, not with Chronic Wasting Disease certain to decimate the local deer population any day now. Kill the infected animal, down some meatloaf, the next thing you know your legs give out, and EMTs find you sprawled broken at the foot of the staircase, foaming at the mouth and spouting gibberish. But, if we’re consuming medium rare veal medallions, I’ll make a huge batch of the sauce, and we can eat it with soup spoons. I’ll order some imported champagne vinegar before the big event, purchase a load of French unsalted butter, since I’m running low, and keep my eye peeled for decent shallots when I go to the market, once I get permission to enter the store. I was banished the other day when I wore my Tyvek suit. Rusty, the manager, said he’ll consider probation, since everyone needs food, and the parent corporation demands ever-increasing profit. Rusty is a company man, but he has a soul: he heads up the Kiwanis Club’s Eyeglasses for Orphans project, and I hear tell he’s a terrific line dancer.
“The bonus,” I say, “since you and Melinda are devout in a fervent yet bearable way, is you won’t drink much wine, and you’re too polite to bolt once I lose control and spout obscenities while discussing the Republican Party or the reported uptick in large-venue polka events in the Midwest. I’m running a bit short on good wine since Kermit Lynch no longer ships to customers in Colorado but, with you and Melinda as guests, there’ll be plenty for me. I’ll pull the corks on my last two bottles of Pigeoulet en Provence. We’ll have a swell time.”
“Remember,” says Donnie, talking as he chews, “as a former law enforcement officer, and your mayor, I ask that you don’t consume any of your favorite illegal substances during the evening, at least not where I can see. I’m considering a run for reelection in November and, as we both know, I have some unpleasant constituents. If word gets out…”
I interrupt. “Comprendé, amigo: the fucking bats are in the air, desperate for prey. No need to attract their attention.”
The veal project is a great idea, but for a hitch: wrong time of the year for newborn calves in this neck of the woods — a month or two early. I need to work on my gash, now. Left untended, a hideous scar develops. I have plans, I must look my best.
So, maybe strawberries.
Again, an obstacle: strawberries are out of season, plus it’s rumored that when day-neutral berries are ready in California in April, a dearth of undocumented workers in the fields will lead to a loss of much of the crop. Apparently the pale dipshits who yowl about Mexicans “taking our jobs” have not signed up to work the harvest, unwilling to put in ten hours per day, seven days a week, at $8.50 per hour, with no benefits, eating potted meat and saltines, and crapping in an overloaded Porta Potty tilting precariously at field’s edge, ready to topple. I was occupied in one such depository during a Delbert McClinton performance at a festival in 2005 when it was tipped over by Birkenstock-wearing bluegrass fans enraged by the absence of banjos. Believe me, it’s not a pleasant experience.
The berries now available at the market are shipped in from Bolivia, or some other place south of here; they’re shriveled, with scant scar-soothing juice available. According to Elisabeth’s diary, an ample, juicy mash is key to a successful mask treatment.
I check a bag of frosty organic strawberry halves I discover at the bottom of my freezer. Doing a quick calculation based on my estimate of the size and weight of the average berry in the bag, factoring that into the stated weight of the bag’s contents, I determine the berries will provide the exact amount of juice and fiber needed for two nights under the mask. I studied algebra at an expensive prep school; I am no stranger to certainty.
The juice from thawed berries, however, does not meet the standard of fresh. Elisabeth required fresh berries, grown in the southern part of Huelva province in Spain, picked at their peak by itinerant Bulgarians.
No chance to get my paws on these berries, due to a shortage of eastern European workers in Spain (similar scenario to that in California), and to restrictions on imports resulting from dumb-ass trade policies put in place by the current administration. Moldovan prostitutes, by all means: ship them in by the score, and house them in lavish suites at Mar-a-Lago. Juicy Spanish strawberries harvested by itinerant Bulgarian field hands? No chance.
I need another option.
Nope. Kathy used the dregs in our last bottle of aloe gel to manufacture home-brew hand sanitizer for use by her piano students as the Covid plague ramped up.
People freaked out as news of a pandemic spread, and the ensuing buying panic quickly depleted the supply of commercial hand sanitizer. Toilet paper was next to disappear, along with aloe gel, what with folks pondering the prospect of a disgusting wipe, and eager to mix artisanal antiviral glop.
Once Kathy’s concoction was used up, until shelter in place went into effect and she switched to online lessons, the kids tickled the ivories with contaminated digits, and had to wait until they got home, or to a McDonald’s or convenience store restroom, before they took a dump. Kathy has a rule: no hand sanitizer, no bathroom privileges.
Is this a problem?
Well, yeah, it’s a problem. Childless hipsters, know-it-all asexual progressives, gay couples absent the urge to parent, and the elderly whose child-rearing days are far behind them, don’t keep abreast of news regarding the digestive health of young Americans. They’re unaware that changes in the offerings at public school lunchrooms during the past decade prompted corresponding changes in the kids’ evacuation patterns — kids who will someday be called upon to manage this planet’s future!
A study conducted in 2019 at the Tampa-based International Happy Church Institute of Science Stuff establishes that the average public school K-12 student now drops an alarmingly loose load six times each day — this compared to a compact, if not rock-hard specimen deposited once every week or so by a young Baby Boomer in 1955. Kids today are crapping out nutrients needed to grow compliant corporate drones and minimum-wage service sector employees, pooping vitamins and minerals before they’re put to good use!
You can view a summary of study results online at the Happy Church site (click on “Science Stuff”), as well as read an article that promises an upcoming Rapture for tithing believers, recommending that while they wait to ascend in the company of like-blessed dupes, paranoid parents should send their fledgling geniuses to the Happy Church Academy, where cafeteria fare is “traditional and wholesome, a diet based on the food pyramid established in the bible — red meat resting on a foundation of refined carbohydrates and highly-processed dairy substitutes.”
You can take any fact dispensed by the Institute to the bank. After all, faith-based researchers at this joint confirmed that Moses rode a dinosaur into the desert and, ponder this, that the infant Jesus had a pet compsognathus he named “Yehuda.”
Desperate to find a product to deal with my wound, I mouse to a website favored by conspiracy theorists, flat earth advocates, and healers peddling homeopathic remedies for cancer and “communist mental disorders, such as ownership of a Prius or registration as a Democrat.”
It’s amazing how many expert practitioners recommend breast milk as the preferred treatment for a wide variety of afflictions.
This makes sense to me, but calls to three breast-feeding moms in the neighborhood come up dry.
What about a slurry of sesame oil and flammulina velutipes?
Does “flammulina velutipes” cause you to pause, wonder “What the fuck?,” and rush to Google to clear the fog?
I encounter “flammulina velutipes,” and this is precisely what happens.
Frustrated by my thwarted search for veal, strawberries, and breast milk, I seek relief reading the online menu posted by an obscure Szechuan restaurant in Denver. Should I survive the pandemic, I plan to make a motor trip to the Queen City of the Plains, the Mile High City, the place of my birth, (stopping en route to visit my dear friend, Jim), there to eat at obscure but excellent Szechuan restaurants, and other little-known establishments, in the company of my brother, Kurt. If I desire a pleasing dining experience, aside from one I produce, I must travel.
I scan the menu and speed through a section that includes recipes offered to louts who favor “Chinese food.”
“Chinese food” was created more than a century ago by immigrant Cantonese cooks in order to calm heavily armed white thugs who would surely damage said cooks if left hungry. Only a moron orders and appreciates Egg Foo Yung or Sweet and Sour Chicken.
Once to the section of the menu designed for diners who crave dishes created during 4,000 years of one of the world’s great culinary traditions, just below Homestyle Pork Kidney, and Sea Cucumber With Mushrooms, I find Preserved Fish With Flammulina Velutipes.
I Google like a flaming son of a bitch.
Flammulina Velutipes: Enoki mushrooms (known by the Japanese as Enokitake), renowned for improving digestion, aiding in mental stability, and for medicinal properties — specifically those that boost the immune system.
Immune system. Healing.
One out of three isn’t bad (my digestion is a wreck absent omeprazole, my mental stability questionable since I was a toddler). There was a time when a one-in-three chance, boosted by six or seven gin and tonics, and several bumps of Columbian fun fluff, prompted me to spread serious cash on the felt at Bellagio.
Now? With one in three, I’ll put my money on Flammulina Velutipes, the fungus providing a base for my mask treatment: a paste of mushrooms with healing properties, a smidge of sesame oil added to encourage emulsification, and for its pleasing aroma.
I call Rusty, at the market, and confirm my probationary status. I hear country music in the background. Rusty tells me that, if there’s no Tyvek suit, I’m in. Profit triumphs. I scurry to the store, unprotected.
My return to the market is disheartening: enoki mushrooms have been recalled, the result of an outbreak of listeria among Bay Area tech workers. Death toll: four, so far, with 32 seriously ill. More fatalities expected. An editorial in Digi News assures me this is no big loss: coders are a dime a dozen these days.
So much for the fungus solution.
And, it seems, so much for finding a way to deal with my disfigurement. It seems I must move ahead with my plan, embarrassment be damned!
My plan: I’m building a website for these troubled times, a site designed to occupy, entertain, and irritate self-annointed Culturati. There’s a shitload of them out there, and they have a lot of time on their hands now that they’re sheltering in place. Some of them are pretending to work from home. What does this mean? They’re bored, and cruising the Internet from the time they rise in the morning to when they take to bed late at night.
My new website?
“Big D Taunts The Tribe.”
To irritate the visual arts crowd, the site will present a new “exhibition” every three days, each titled “Mediocre to Magnificent,” each including a group of images with attached, abrasive commentary. Visitors to the site will find the commentary provocative and insulting, many will find it hurtful; extremely sensitive dweebs will flee to virtual safe spaces — online photos of laughing children, furry bunnies, and vibrant sunsets, the colors adjusted in Photoshop.
Visitors will be challenged to respond, with ample space given to a comments section. Mean-spirited responses, and self-congratulatory comments by marginally successful “creatives” and other narcissists will make for hours of fun reading.
Once I figure out how to use WordPress, the site and the inaugural exhibition will be up and running, manifesting as a major tremblor in Artland, shaking doctrinaire critics, anal retentive and sexually insecure adjuncts, authors of incoherent artist statements and bipolar aesthetes — exposing a legion of smug post-modernist dilettantes as ill-educated simps.
The first exhibition includes works by Agnes Martin and Georgia O’Keefe, with accompanying overblown and abrasive commentaries.
The setup: Agnes Martin and Georgia O’Keefe sit at opposite ends of a scale of value that runs from mundane (Martin) to magnificent (O’Keefe): two female painters of the 20th Century, each a long-time resident of the desert Southwest, the first held in undeserved esteem by Art World pinheads, the other downplayed by posers who demean modernism in favor of a vacancy that demands support of poorly conceived critique and theory.
The purpose of the exhibition: establish that the majority of residents of Artville Towers are captives to convention, groupthink zombies, jealous mouth-breathers who employ the post-structuralist tool kit in order to bludgeon and befuddle each other, as well as gullible students struggling to earn useless MFAs.
Use your imagination: examine the exhibition in your mind’s eye, if you have one.
You enter the site, you consult the menu, click on Current Exhibition, then click on Gallery 1. You see:
The word “MUNDANE” (Times Regular, 18 ot. Bold).
You scroll down to images of Agnes Martin’s paintings. You look at them, you quickly feel an urge to move on.
You read the commentary.
“These paintings, encountered by anyone not blinded by ideology or trendy socio-political drivel, are seen for what little they are: grids or a series of horizontal bands, each box in a grid, and each band, a record of nothing more than the impoverished repetition typical of crippling OCD. Many critics and writers describe the paintings as ‘zen’ in character, and this is true, to a degree: zen is also a stultifying bore, by design. In zen, however, boredom leads to satori. With Martin it leads only to greater boredom. The paintings demand enrichment with word salad provided by critics and freelance art mag writers desperate to be admired as they surf the latest trend, fearing the reactions of stunted, politically correct peers should they correctly identify the works as sheltered workshop artifacts. Martin is a feckless dolt, and her paintings — similar to those by Rothko, Twombly, Warhol, the color field painters, minimalists, etc. — are typical of the unimaginative and weak crap eagerly devoured by preening artsy remora for the past 75 years.”
It’s not important which of Martin’s works I select for viewing. They’re all boring.
You click on Gallery 2.
You see MAGNIFICENT (Times Regular, 18 pt. bold).
You scroll down to a selection of O’Keefe’s paintings, the display accompanied by a comment.
“O’Keefe’s importance as a transformative American modernist is often downplayed by craven hipsters who claim her work is suitable for little more than postcards, posters in dorm rooms at liberal arts colleges, and viewing by visitors to the O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe — the majority of whom are late-middle age women on a “girls-only trip” to The City Different, where they also browse cheesy tourist traps in search of clumsy Native American jewelry and fake Pueblo pottery for display on the coffee tables at the condos they purchased with the proceedings from their divorce settlements. Blather! O’Keefe is one of few true geniuses of 20th Century American art and, in her prime (see Steiglitz) she had magnificent hands, clavicles, breasts, and abdomen. And pubic hair worthy of some sort of award.”
I select favorite pieces by O’Keefe for viewing: Two Calla Lilies on Pink; Gray Line With Black, Blue; Yellow; and Red Canna, among others.
What drives the exhibit is the fact that each artist is identified with the desert Southwest, and their work can be reckoned in consideration of the surroundings in which it was created. What did the artiste draw from the environment: Martin from the sage-clogged and scorpion-infested flats near Galisteo, O’Keefe from the hills she wandered near Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch?
And, yes, they are hills, mere nubs, despite what a naif might assume when considering Ram’s Head White Hollyhock.
Anyone who believes O’Keefe resided in the mountains need only make a daylong motor trip to learn otherwise.
I recommend they embark just north of Espanola, on U.S 84, at the site of the long-shuttered Padilla’s Store, the small frame building on the west side of the highway decayed and collapsing in front of a ragged apple orchard once carefully tended by the late Mr. and Mrs. Padilla — a store visited long ago by O’Keefe and her minion du jour as the artist sought beans, apples, pinon, and bags of ground Chimayo red for her larder. A space she wandered each autumn, gliding black-clad and somewhat arrogant past bushel baskets filled with capsicum annum from local gardens, the perfect peppers for her justifiably renowned rellenos. To this day, when residents of El Rito meet for a potluck supper at the fairgrounds hall, they tell the children stories about those rellenos.
Motor on 84 up the Rio Chama valley, crest the hump to where the Brazos Cliffs rise a short distance from the road, just past Tierra Amarilla. Continue on 64 through Chama, reconnect to 84 as you veer north at the border of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the road to Amargo and Dulce. You then arrive at the Chromo Valley, where the Banded Peaks and the Chalk Mountains tote the Divide to the east. At last: true mountains, the San Juan Range in full view, the massif curving west beyond Pagosa and through the Weminuche.
I’m pretty damned worked up about this site. Once I figure out WordPress, and the site lights up, I will follow the first exhibition and the inevitable flood of comments with a teaser — a “things to come” that chums readers back to experience future installments.
The preview will note that more Mun to Mag is on the horizon: Yayoi Kusama-Joan Mitchell; Lisa Yuskavich-Alice Neel; Odd Nerdrum-Aleah Chapin; John Currin-Jennie Saville.
I’ll preview my plan to lob a succession of other provocations that widen the audience, the items listed in the menu as “Flash Grenades.” Every day, I’ll post an “X is better than Y” entry, with commentary similar to those in the Mun to Mag section — harsh declarations sure to raise a dilettante’s fuzz, the presence of the word “better” certain to churn shallow intellectual waters.
Once a grenades explodes, I’ll post responses from dupes who made the mistake of earning terminal degrees in the humanities, assuming back-breaking debt in the hope of obtaining tenure-track employment. They’ll have time to compose their responses, since even barristas get the occasional vape break.
Some of the planned entries:
Nabokov better than Murikami.
Beckett better than Chekov.
Sexton better than Plath.
St. Vincent better than Jerry Garcia.
Morrison better than Austen, (Toni, not Van, though Van is also preferable to Austen).
M.F.K. Fisher better than Elizabeth David.
Willams better than Kushner.
Eunice Golden better than Emin.
Stevens better than Eliot.
Mitchell better than Dylan.
Julie Fowlis better than Seeger (actually anyone is better than Seeger, except, perhaps, Burl Ives).
Beardon better than Basquiat.
Mozart better than Beethoven.
Child better than Stewart.
Jim Harrison better than Yotam Ottolonghi.
Mann better than Sherman.
Sondheim better than Hammerstein, therefore “No One is Alone” far better than “Whistle a Happy Tune.”
Confident as I am of the power of my plan, I’m still dogged by the notion that once the site is activated, at the very moment that I should be simultaneously lauded and lambasted, my scar will draw too much attention. After all, I must include a large, recent headshot on the site’s “About” page. Without the photo, the source lacks legitimacy.
I contact Wanda, seeking her expert advice. I tell her I fear the debut of this groundbreaking cultural experiment will be marked by a flaw worse than the growth that once bloomed ugly on my forehead.
What can be done?
“Please, Karl,” she replies, “stop bothering me. I’m at the trailhead, getting ready for a five-mile tuneup, training for a backcountry ultramarathon. As soon as I finish eating a Norwegian energy bar made of desiccated salmon livers and rough-milled farro, and drinking three cans of Red Bull, I’ll be out on the track. I have my headphones so I can listen to part of a book on tape. Have I told you about the delicious appetizers served at the book club meetings?”
But, what can be done?
“I’ll come to your house next week and remove the stitches. Until then,” she says, “keep the area clean, apply germicidal ointment for its psychological effect, and stay out of the sun until things fully heal. That shouldn’t be hard, considering you spend nearly all your time in the basement.”
Point well taken. But, then, it hits me: there’s another mask option. Perhaps I can appear scarless and smooth after all.
Like Flammulina Velutipes, this ingredient surely has unusual medicinal properties. After all its half-life is said by many Samoan devotees to be 25,000 years or more. Why not employ it as a facial treatment?
There’s no way to procure Spam at the store, what with feverish hoarders filling their garages with shelf-stable supplies. But, there’s a can of the meatlike dazzler located somewhere at the back of my pantry. Pulverize half the brick in the food processor with a bit of mayo added to amplify the soothing fattiness, slather the interior of my primitive sleep mask, and store the mask in the fridge pending its use.
Finally, an answer, an end to the crippling stress. I’ll make a sandwich with the remaining Spam, pour a cocktail or three, and get back to the business of sheltering in place, while I try to figure out WordPress. Later, after I watch several episodes of Tiger King on Netflix, I’ll strap on the mask, and retire for the night.
“I’m a lucky fella
And I’ve just got to tell her
That I love her endlessly
Because Love grows where my Rosemary goes
And nobody knows like me.”