Archives for the month of: August, 2014

I’M IN SOMEBODY’S HOUSE’S BATHROOM, looking at all the items, when the items start to change. It’s not that I was doing much before, but the change feels too soon.

 

I’m staring at a shag towel, watching it become fur; I’m touching a rubber hot water bottle feeling it become skin. The glass shower door becomes flattened egg shell, the mirror becomes silver leather, the leather toilet seat remains leather but is no longer a toilet seat; the toilet is now a stump with a fringe of ashes.

 

I rush out of the bathroom, unsure how far up my pants are or what they’re made of now, shouting to the people I’m with. I’m on tiptoe, afraid of the floor, afraid of my feet, unsure how deep the changes plan to go.

 

“Everything’s changing,” I shout, twice to hear if my voice is changing too.

 

“It’s only reverting,” the others say, calmer than I’d expected. “All synthetics back to what they were.”

 

One looks at the window as the glass becomes ivory and the other looks at him as he becomes another guy.

 

“What were they before?” I ask, not sure I’m of one mind with them.

 

They — neither of whom I recognize by this point; I wish I’d gotten their phone numbers — pull a newly appeared coffeetable book from a pile of coffee grounds on their laps and, brushing one page off on another, open it to the middle.

 

“Here,” they say, soothingly. “We talkin’bout the Dodge City AIDS Legacy.”

 

Not sure where to sit now that the couch has become a frond, I receive the following history on my knees, eager to exit the present however possible:

 

BY THE LATE 70’s, the Dodge City art scene was in bad shape. Everyone was doing something, but no one was doing it. The real stuff, too much of the time, had to be imported. Losing potency in transit, even the best of it was stale on arrival.

 

No one saw a solution except to take turns watching Jeff Koons blow up through a tremendous telescope.

 

It wasn’t until Keith Haring got huge then died in 1980, or vice versa, that the word AIDS began to make the rounds. It took 8 more years, until the death of Basquiat, for that word to sink all the way in.

 

People had been talking, but 1988 was the year to act.

 

First one and then every Dodge City artist went to the Dr. and said it like it was: “Without AIDS, there’s no way forward.”

 

They impressed the direness of their straits upon him — there had never been a Dodge City artist on the scale of Haring and Basquiat, not to mention Robert Mapplethorpe, and time wasn’t exactly running backward. Without a rash of legitimate AIDS diagnoses, the scene might well die and never wake up, not even to groan in its sleep as multimedia and web collage.

 

So the Dr., who saw himself as a man of culture as well as medicine, gave in. “Whatever I can do to help,” he pledged to all 800 Dodge City Artists in a row.

 

By now it was 1989. He left Dodge City for a weekend and came back with enough AIDS for everyone.

 

“Needles? Sex? What?” The Dodge City Artists asked each other how they’d gotten it as they waited their turn for the Dr. to diagnose them. “My work’s about to get urgent,” they all agreed. “Time’s about to get fast and precious.”

 

AIDS-diagnoses in hand, they returned to their studios and frenziedly arrayed glyphs and ankhs and fetish squiggles until they couldn’t stand.

 

In under a year, all 800 were dead.

 

This they hadn’t expected. Had they been able to see themselves now, they wouldn’t have understood why they looked the way they did.

 

The root of the misunderstanding, according to the coffee-table book I’m still looking at, in a house I no longer recognize, on knees I can no longer feel, was that they believed the Dr.’s diagnoses had been forgeries, allowing them merely to claim, to themselves and each other, to have AIDS … whereas the Dr., as much a man of medicine as of culture, had simply given them all AIDS, on the simple enough understanding that this was what they wanted.

 

AIDS is AIDS and ART is ART but when AIDS is ART then ART is AIDS, read the capstone on the mass grave.

 

Walking home from the funeral, the new population of Dodge City was: 1 Dr., 1 Art Critic, 1 Private Citizen.

 

*****

The Dr. and the Private Citizen are at the Art Critic’s house, waiting for him to break down the legacies of the 800 Dodge City Artists, telling them whom to buy and how much to pay and which pieces to grab up first, as well as how to speak lucidly about what they’ve bought.

 

They lounge on the Art Critic’s couch while he reviews his notes in the bathroom, trying to get straight in his head at least some of what he’s about to say.

 

The Dr. fingers a final dose of AIDS in his jacket pocket, having procured an extra just in case. Now he’s wondering whether to use it and, if so, on whom. Maybe I’ll divvy it up, he thinks, imagining the three of them having a fun, weird time.

 

Just as the Art Critic is promising himself “You’re You!” in the bathroom mirror and preparing to storm into the living room and rattle off his canonical 800 Dodge City Artists speech, the towels begin to revert to fur, the hot water bottle to skin, the toilet to a stump, the air to coffee grounds … the mirror to silver leather.

 

I try to stand from my knees and find my shins melted to gravy and salt.

 

Still fingering his AIDS, the Dr. looks me over like he wants to get me to take some. It’s only synthetic, I hear him whisper, like he’s trying to just think it.

 

It must already be starting to revert then, I whisper-think in response.

 

It’s not hard to guess what happens next, but it is hard to guess right.

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THE SEX ACTORS of the Internet are taking a 4-week break for treatment, so everyone’s in the hardware store staring at a packet of Fruit of the Loom undies hanging from a peg.

 

 

This is how we miss a savage killing on the street outside, which we read about in tomorrow’s paper. It involved a local Male Supremacist group whipping a teenager to death for having had a mother, having been, as they put it, “born of woman and thus dead to us.”

 

 

We shake our heads.

 

 

There’s other mayhem, too. A new operation has moved in: a studio that claims the ability to generate concepts and outlines for 40 B-Movies a day, dwarfing the 20-B-Movies-a-day studio that’s been cranking out concepts and outlines, as well as actual B-Movies, for longer than I’ve been here.

 

 

The old studio is responsible for Dodge City classics like Toe Bath, in which a pedicure salon that offers clients the opportunity to stick their feet into tanks where fish nibble away dead skin turns bloody when the fish develop a taste for human pus after drinking one client’s open sore. Then there’s A/C Man, in which a poorly installed A/C unit falls from a window onto a man’s head, but instead of killing him it turns him into an A/C headed monster, breathing freon and seeking revenge upon the dwellers of the window from which it fell, except, being unable to see, he kills everyone in the city before succumbing to global warming in a Texaco restroom. There’s also Wart Benjamin, which, depending on whom you ask, is either about “a wart that thinks he’s a man,” or “a wart that splits in two.”

 

 

The thing is — we’re outside in the square now — the old 20-B-Movies-a-day studio actually produces all 20 every day, whereas the new 40-B-Movies-a-day studio promises to generate 40 concepts and outlines a day but to produce nothing.

 

 

This leads to a schism, which Professor Dalton eventually shows up to mediate.

 

 

We wonder aloud what we actually want from our B-Movies at this point in history, whether their actually being made is still paramount or if something else now is.

 

 

“Perhaps,” someone speculates, “glutting on concepts without the time investment of watching their consequences will pump our brains free of the sludge that’s been slowing them down since 2011. Instead of always feeling like we’re behind in our effort to watch 20-B-Movies-a-day, perhaps now we’ll get ahead, having scanned 40 concepts and outlines almost before waking up.”

 

 

To which someone else retorts, “Yeah, but why even call it a Movie if it’s not a Movie?”

 

 

In the midst of this, a heretic comes to town and puts forth that what’s really important now is not B-Movies at all, but what he calls B-Moves, which is essentially B-Movie behavior divorced altogether from the strictures of cinema, brought all the way into real life, where “the rest of us are anyway.”

 

 

He holds up a laminated sheet showing an introductory set of 200 B-Moves which, he promises, “anyone can master after an afternoon of practice.”

 

 

“Why sit in front of a screen when you could, you know, put your hands right in it?” he wonders rhetorically, and even Dalton has to admit it’s a good question.

 

 

*****

LATER ON, after the schism has reached a gridlock, I’m sitting down to lunch with the heretic, who offered to treat me after I expressed interest in learning a few B-Moves myself.

 

 

“Going town to town espousing the end of cinema is actually just my day job,” he confesses, after our food arrives. “My real passion is the incomparably disruptive Korean cinema of Kim Ki-Duk, whose name I used to hesitate to even invoke. But after years of effort, I’ve transposed myself into his American avatar.”

 

 

He’s beaming, almost crying.

 

 

He takes out his phone to show me a rough cut of what he considers his first film as the American Kim Ki-Duk.

 

 

I lean in.

 

 

The film features a male and female, both of whom do indeed look like Americanized versions of Korean actors.

 

 

It’s a husband and wife facing hard times, living in a very small apartment, the type that I believe is or was sometimes called a council flat.

 

 

Their options are severely reduced by poverty, dipping to zero. They maintain their dignity in the face of a corrupt system that manifests little concern for their wellbeing, but it’s clear that something’s got to give.

 

 

With a heavy heart, after having slept on it for a night and showered first warm and then cold in the morning, the wife decides to turn to prostitution. The husband stays in bed until the wife has left for the day, unable to bear the sight of her in her new professional attire.

 

 

The heretic looks up to make sure I’m riveted.

 

 

I look like I am.

 

 

IN THE NEXT SCENE, the wife returns dejected, beaten down not by the relentlessness of the sex market but by the opposite: no customers all day. Not even any rate inquiries. “I just hung out by myself,” she admits.

 

 

The husband covers his face at this news, at first relieved and then humiliated in a new way.

 

 

The days go on in this pattern.

 

 

Then, on a tear one night, the husband chances upon a new, even more desperate solution: he’ll buy her himself.

 

 

“This is what it’s come to,” he says sternly, taking out his wallet and asking what she charges.

 

 

She tells him, he pays, and they do anything he wants for 40 mins, which involves several trips to the microwave and the letting loose of the contents of a packet labeled Hot Antss.

That night ends.
A WEEK GOES BY like this, the husband buying his wife every night, sometimes twice a night, looking away from the bruises complicating her surface.
Then, since this influx of cash is most welcome but not yet sufficient, the wife proposes the inevitable second step: she’ll buy her husband as well.
Let him see how it feels.
After some thought, he acquiesces, telling her his rate and beginning to strip.
Taking up the broom and metal pan from beside the fireplace, she barks, “get in there,” pointing at a small wooden chest in one corner of the living room, where the firewood is kept and scorpions have been known to roost.
After pleading and receiving a severe blow to the ribs, the husband crawls inside, jabbed at all the while by his wife, who’s paid good money for the privilege. The scorpions seem to multiply through contact with his gonads.
Back and forth and back and forth this all goes, the husband buying the wife and the wife buying the husband until they’re both very rich and thoroughly, thoroughly degraded and terrified of one another.
The credits roll.
“And so the really moving and transgressive thing about this film,” the heretic begins, taking the liberty of discussing his own work as if it were someone else’s, “is how the central mystery is never solved: that of where the money comes from. And isn’t that just like life? We get by somehow, most of us, but we don’t know how. We worry almost to death about not surviving, and yet somehow, semi-magically, we survive.
“Now, there are several interpretations that the director invites us to consider: is there a second couple, identical but for its wealth, inserting itself between the primary couple, and paying for the services rendered? Or are the husband and wife simply able to manifest more money, when thus obliged, than they believed themselves capable of manifesting? Or, and this is my personal favorite interpretation, is the director inviting us to consider a more metaphysical possibility, a deeper conflation of the degrading effects of prostitution and economic striving, such that by simple virtue of crossing this line with one another, the husband and wife conjure money out of the ether, calling it forth from the very shame they’ve descended into, as if the core sexuality of prostitutes naturally yields cash rather than children?”
He goes on in this vein as I creep little by little toward the edge of the booth, trying to time my exit for the moment just before he cues up the next Movie on his phone, which I can tell isn’t far off.