The Gas Titans
Even though it was slightly less than 40 miles from San Francisco, the San Jose Convention Center proved to be a bad choice of venue for the annual conference of the University Art Association. The center was a huge facility that often hosted multiple events to take full advantage of its size, Meaning, that, in chilly late-February, the UAA conference had to share the vast building with a large boat show situated on the ground floor, while the third floor was occupied by another group called the Universal Association of Life Coaches. But, given the fact that the second floor had two grand ballrooms as well as a dozen smaller meeting
areas, it was more than adequate for the UAA conference, all the more so since the building’s spacious mezzanine was also made available for the job interview center and university press book fair sponsored by the conference. These were the two places where most of the conference participants would informally congregate before and after the formal sessions devoted to topics such as Post-Coloniality and the New Technology, or Artistic Competence and the Death of Experiential Learning.
Since the art criticism panel I was on was slated to take place during the late Friday afternoon segment of the conference, I decided to take the train down the peninsula early the same morning. This would allow me to check-in and attend one of the early sessions before having lunch. Afterward, I could mingle a bit and then give my paper. More mingling at one the center’s makeshift cocktail bars would inevitably follow the critics’ symposium, leading up to a late train back to San Rey. Since I lived just two blocks from the Amtrak station in San Rey, and since the SJCC was only three short blocks from the San Jose Dridion train station, my travel plans seemed to be a model of smart planning. But even smart plans can run awry, which is precisely how the day’s events unfolded.
All in all, I would have to say that the conference session went well. At least, I was able to deliver my paper without any major fit of aphasia, and there was some polite applause when I finished my reading, which had the minor merit of directly addressing the topic that was announced by the session’s title. That much being said, all of the other papers were far more erudite than mine, each one delivered by a truly gifted orator. Even Jerzy Salk was spellbinding. Reciting his Top Ten list of reasons why no one reads art criticism in a shrill voice that lapsed into cartoon caricature when he shrieked “loved it!” or “hated it” while animatedly gyrating back and forth. Salk was filling in for an absent Dave Hinckley, and his presentation followed one by Kenworth Bascomb, who spoke in finely polished phrases about the ways that sarcasm poisons the air of responsible public discourse, a position that seemed pointed at my own practice. Earlier, Burton Donaldson made a sensible plea for criticism to challenge the premises of what he called “pseudo-populist karaoke culture.” He argued for a reconnection of art to its “deep psycho-historical imperatives,” which meant that the art would have to do something other than unsuccessfully competing with the mass media’s cynical simulations of popular culture. After Donaldson, Yervant Juba spoke about “Old Africa, New Africa and the Global Architecture of Transnational Critical Opportunity.” Because of his thick Afro-French accent, it was hard to gauge what he was getting at. I suspected he was only making a plea for more African artists to be written about by art critics whose travel plans never seemed to include forays to the southern hemisphere.
The final presenter was Orphelia Kraut, who seemed eager to whip up a controversy about how Mondrian’s theory of dynamic equilibrium could be used as a model for social organization. Of course, she was just bending her most recent research into a form that was vaguely suitable for the conference session. The result seemed formulated from too many statements that sounded like “what I will try to demonstrate” and “my intention here is to open up onto…” They were followed by other statements such as, “what we can see from this demonstration” or “clearly, what follows from all of this,” peppered with strategic insertions of exquisitely pronounced French and German terminology. What exactly was being demonstrated– beyond quick jumps from premises to presumptuous conclusions — was unclear.
Nonetheless, when she finished, a hearty round of applause erupted from the 60 or so people sitting in the sparsely populated ballroom. Even without the sickly stench of recirculated air, the room could pass as a model of architectural sterility, an effect partially countered by a large chandelier hanging from the high ceiling that looked as if it were made of light-refracting plastic.
When the applause died down, the moderator demurred from playing the role of discussant, so that “in the interest of time,” questions from the audience could be taken. The first of these was from a slender man in a loose-fitting sport coat who stood up without raising his hand. “So Orphelia, what is at stake for you in this discussion about the social implications of dynamic equilibrium?” Waiting for an answer to his query, he set his arms akimbo, glancing around the room to see who might be looking at him. His measured pronunciation and arch tone helped me recognize him from previous conferences—he was Herb Shields, a well-known critic who had once collaborated with Kraut on the development of a quarterly publication called November.
Kraut snapped back at him in a stagy imitation of anger. “If you have to ask that question, you haven’t heard, or haven’t understood a word that I have said.” The sharpness of this response seemed to get the audience’s attention by whetting its appetite for confrontation, but I had seen the same scene before, so I knew that, once again, I was in the midst of some contrived theater. I remembered going to concerts given by the brilliant violinist Issac Pearlstein, who happened to be partially paralyzed from the waist down. After every intermission, he would return to the stage with the aid of crutches, only to stumble and fall—producing a collective gasp of concern from the audience. Stagehands would rush out to help, but he would wave them off. And then, after a moment of visible struggle, he would seize his crutches and slowly stand up without any assistance. After the sympathetic applause dissipated, he would then play a stunning rendition of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. This moment of musical resurrection was much less inspiring the second and third time I saw it, and the same could be said for Shield’s tiresome reintroduction of the perennial “what’s at stake” question.
Assuming that he was the only one in the audience who was in a position to challenge the panel of critics, Shields then posed another question to Juba.
“So Yervant, it seems that your presentation used terms like ‘revolution’ and ‘insurgency’ and ‘reformation’ somewhat interchangeably. Now, we all know that there are insurgencies of many kinds. But what I want to ask you, specifically, is about your remark about the May 1968 revolution in Paris, as well as in other places. It seems that your characterization of that event as a nostalgia exercise for bourgeois students was a bit off the mark and even a little outrageous. Even though that revolutionary moment failed, it changed France and forced important members of the government to flee the capital. I would say that your dismissal of that moment and your valorization of other insurgencies in South America, Asia and Africa are not at all consistent.”
At the exact moment when Shields stopped to catch his breath, Juba jumped to his own defense. In the same Afro-French accent in which he read his paper, he loudly shouted, “In 1968, I was six years old in the middle of a civil war. My family was forcibly removed from our home. When my parents were executed by right-wing terrorists, I was sent to boarding school in Antwerp, so you can see, I too, was close to the events of May 1968, much closer than you. And from my perspective, I can tell you that the student protests in Europe were nothing like bloody civil war. In Africa, there was bloody civil war! In Nigeria, the Congo, in the south, and the stakes were life and death, not merely arrest and tear gas—bloody civil war I say! So you can see why I am impatient with those in the art world who hark back to 1968 as some kind of golden age of revolutionary aspiration, just as I am impatient with those so-called Marxist art historians who keep trying to rewrite the history of French painting in the mid-19th century as obvious proxies for their fantasies about 1968. The fact was, and still is that, from a global perspective, the student revolts of 1968 were not important, especially in light of the bloody civil wars that were being fought against colonial and post-colonial regimes in Africa! Bloody civil wars!”
Juba’s rousing defense led several in the audience to break out into spontaneous applause, but it died down rather quickly when a low rumble and a gasp came from another part of the room. A woman stood up wearing a red blazer that, combined with a white blouse and a black necktie, made her look a corporate real estate agent. She wore her jet-black hair tied up in a tight bun and sported heavy-framed glasses and bright red lipstick. The fact that she was wearing argyle knee socks was also notable,
but not nearly so much as was the fact that she wore no skirt or pants or even underwear. Her hirsute pudendum was plainly visible, a worthy sister to the famous subject of Gustave Courbet’s Origin of the World. Indeed, there was no mistake to be made: we were about to witness one of Andrea Franco’s performances of Institutional Critique, and we on the panel were about to be cast as representatives of said institution.
Thus spoke Franco: “It seems clear to me that all of you are the unwitting agents of a vast and far-reaching dissembling, in that none of you have acknowledged your complicity in maintaining a division of labor that stems from exploitive assumptions. By isolating your comments on selected works of art, you mask the lack of analysis of a system that keeps real rewards out of the hands of artists and in the hands of those who would pretend to support them. I want to suggest that we use this occasion to turn the tables on the bad faith inscribed into this situation, by focusing our so-called criticism on the mechanisms that surround art rather than the art that is enslaved by those mechanisms. Certainly, some exercise of critical negation is called for, and I implore all of you to take up this important challenge—even if negation becomes the fetish that esthetic autonomy once was. But I would go even further to suggest that we do not go from a critique of art to a critique of institutions, but that we support institutional critique for all eternity! In so doing, we also need to remember that the relevant history of art began with Andy Warhol and that his revolution is still our revolution! Are you with me?”
There was something that resembled applause coming from the audience, but it stopped rather suddenly when a gruff baritone voice from the back of the room shouted: “Put your pants on!” But Franco was unmoved by this or any other response and commenced to silently move about the room pointing accusatory fingers at real and imaginary persons. These actions produced a rather odd effect, part dance performance, and part plea for help. The moderator seemed too shaken by what had just happened to call for the resumption of order. She sat in her seat, dumbfounded as to what she might do to bring the session to a dignified close — as if such a thing were possible.
Sensing that the proceedings had deteriorated to the point of no return, several members of the audience came up to exchange pleasantries with the panelists. One of them was The Barnacle, but at that moment, I felt entirely safe because she had already attached herself to an uncomfortable-looking Kenworth Bascomb. Nearby, Balso Packard was handing an exhibition announcement to Jerzy Salk, who treated the large postcard as if it were a rare treasure. Meanwhile, Franco, Kraut, Juba and Shields were standing close together to share a laugh of long-standing camaraderie, none of whom appeared to be even slightly concerned that one of them was in a state of partial undress. I noticed that Juba spoke and laughed loudest, as if the volume of his voice would somehow signal a position of dominance. Then, I felt a tug on
my tweed jacket, so I turned to find out from where it came. No one was there, but I found a packet of slides in my side pocket. I looked around but failed to identify who, among three furtive-looking bystanders, might have put it there. Meanwhile, at the side of the room nearest the doors, the conference center’s events crew was lethargically folding and stacking chairs onto a large cart. They were hoping we would leave so that they could finish their work in some semblance of unsupervised peace.
Burton Donaldson walked over to me and said, “your presentation was quite good—in fact, first-rate! It’s too bad that the situation deteriorated to the point where we couldn’t have a proper discussion about the important issues that you raised. I really liked your idea about economies of narcissistic reward—you should do a whole book about it. But it’s good to see you. How are things at your school? Are you still the single voice of reason amongst the idiot savants?”
“I keep waiting for the savant part, but otherwise, yes. I guess you heard that we have a new president. So far, it all seems fine, except that the school’s gallery has been taken over by a curator who thinks that redefining the outer threshold of sheer crap will land her a job at the Whitney.”
Donaldson paused for a moment, looking around to make sure that potential eavesdroppers were at a safe distance. Then he spoke. “Is the curator Anita Boby?”
“Yes — do you know her?”
“I know of her. Let’s get out of here—we can get a drink at one of those bars on the mezzanine. Let find one with a seating area near the book fair.” The timing of Donaldson’s suggestion could not have been better, because I could see that The Barnacle was tacking in our direction. Fortunately, the gesticulating duo of Salk and Packard impeded her progress, and we able to use the chair gathering-crew as a screen to abet our escape to the hallway.
I have always held Donaldson in the highest esteem, and the high philosophical seriousness of his exceedingly literate art criticism was the chief inspiration for my own modest efforts in the field. He was deeply interested in a great many things, and the fact that my work was one of them was a source of some pride on my part, although I often wondered what about it merited his attention and support. After reading a few of the things that I had written, he had gone out of his way to help me get published in some of the better art journals, including one where he was a guest editor. Soon thereafter, I wrote an introduction to a collection of his essays that turned out well. I suspected that he was in some way behind my appearance on the UAA art criticism panel, as I had too few other friends in high places to have garnered the invitation on my own.
We went down to the mezzanine, found seats at a bar, and ordered beers from a uniformed server with a shiny pewter nametag proclaiming her to be Yolanda Perez from Paso Robles. They arrived quickly, along with napkins and a basket of salted pretzels. I was keenly interested in Donaldson’s information about Anita Boby, but I decided that getting right down to business would be bad form, so I asked a more innocent question. “How is your book about postart coming along?”
“It’s finished, and in about half an hour, I need to go upstairs to talk to the editor about some last-minute stuff. But the book isn’t about postart of the kind that Allan Kaprow proclaimed to be the future of art in 1971. It is more about a group of artists that I am calling “renegade realists,” artists who use a high level of traditional technique to take up the challenge of making pre-modern history paintings in a contemporary context. As you know, the art world has gotten far too Hollywood for me, and for far too long. So, I am going out on a limb to suggest that the situation has become so laughably absurd that the most avant-garde thing that any artist can now do is repudiate the all-too conventional practices of creating institutional avant-garde art. I am claiming that the renegade realists that I am writing about are all engaged in exactly that repudiation. I am working on the assumption that the real essence of an avant-garde practice is, by definition, at odds with any institutional mandate, or should be if it warrants any serious consideration. But now, all we have are trivial things made by trivial people for trivial purposes. Even the most cutting-edge art is only cutting-edge in a predictable and contrived way. The sheer routine of it all is numbing — diluted and deluded clichés, if you asked me.”
“And written about by trivial people for even more trivial purposes?”
“Yes, that brings us back to the brayings of Mr. Salk and the silly diatribes of little Miss Exhibitionist. That was why I liked your paper so much—you put the real issue right out on the table, and it went right over everyone’s head. I especially liked the way that you disassembled the art economy in a way that proved that it is not merely a luxury goods market, but an equities market instead. In fact, I would like to borrow that part for something that I am working on. Can you email it to me? I say this because, and you are one of the first people that I have told this to, I am working on another book, a kind of Suetonian collection of short art world biographies—psycho-biographies, actually. I am going to call it The Lives of the Little Art Caesars.” If that doesn’t bring out the torches and pitchforks, I don’t know what will.”
“Wow! That sounds like some real toe-tappin’ fun! Glad that you found my paper worthy of that kind of interest. I am pretty sure that Kenworth Bascomb would disagree—I couldn’t help but think that his little diatribe against sarcasm was directed toward me—but maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part. In any event, I would gladly take honest sarcasm over genteel hypocrisy any day of the week. The fact is, it’s the genteel hypocrites who are ruining art criticism and ruining the art world—of that I am sure. Sarcasm is the only path left if there is any salvation to be had.”
Donaldson nodded in agreement. “That’s the real reason why we are hearing so much about the linkage of contemporary art to this idea of post-criticism. Obviously, it has something to do with Kaprow’s idea of postart, but it has been twisted and contorted by other sordid motives. The ideas of postart and post-criticism were behind Juba’s point about the critical function passing on to the curatorial function. Does he think that unvarnished influence-peddling operates on the same plane of seriousness as…thought?”
I paused to take a sizable gulp of beer, and quickly pondered the horrifying possibility that unvarnished influence-peddling had become the new gold standard for art world seriousness. Slightly sickened, I then steered the conversation in another direction, with more sickness to follow. “So tell me, what do you know about Anita Boby?”
“Well, she had this low-level job at the Pearl Art Gallery at the University of New York, and rather suddenly, in about six months, she was named interim director on a very thin set of qualifications. She was a candidate for the permanent job. Then there was a bit of a scandal when it came out that she had claimed that she was ABD at Columbia, even though the registrar’s office at the school had no record of her even applying to the program. After that, she resigned with some payoff money in a gaseous cloud of non-disclosure agreements, partly because our good friend Ms. Kraut went on record as saying that she had personally admitted her into the program, which had to have been a lie.”
“Was there any follow-up?”
“That’s the most amazing part of it—there was an initial boo hoo hoo in the Manhattan Guardian, and then, suddenly, sheer silence, as in oh look over there, a squirrel! There was even a student petition circulated to keep her, even though she never had any teaching role in the department.”
“So, at this point, the missing part of the puzzle is how does Anita Boby connect to NCSAD’s new administrative team, which is to say, how does she connect to Theda Vohn der Pahter?”
“That I can’t help you with, but there is certainly something going on that is hidden from plain view. What was that part of your paper about undeserved self-esteem being used as an exchangeable commodity that could be regulated in the economy of narcissistic reward? That was brilliant! You should do a book about that. You certainly have a major case study set right down on your doorstep.”
“Well, I should do some kind of book, that’s for sure.”
Donaldson paused for a few seconds to leave some cash for the beers. Then he said, “I need to get up to the meeting. I don’t know how long it will last. I hope that I will see you at the book fair. If you can’t make it, I hope that you will get in touch when you come to New York.” While we shook hands, he said: “I think that woman over there is trying to get your attention.”
I turned to see Kathy waving from across the hall. She was standing next to a rather futuristic-looking booth that was set up by the Moffitt Osborne School of Art and Design, a privately owned educational establishment that was one of NCSAD’s northern California competitors. It was located in a space on the mezzanine, away from the cluster of other booths bearing the logos of various art supply manufacturers or university press book publishers. Made of burnished aluminum and illuminated by bright halogen lights, the Osborne School booth was staffed by three exceedingly well-dressed people who looked as if they were corporate spokesmodels. Information about the school’s programs was conveyed via fancy multi-media presentations made visible on sleek computer monitors, and I surmised that both the booth and the monitors had been repurposed from a previous life shilling for some software company at computer conferences. Because it was positioned apart from the other booths, and because of its fancy lighting design, the booth called unfortunate attention to the lurid red carpet that covered the entire floor of the mezzanine.
I turned to Donaldson to explain why Kathy was waving at me. “She’s my TA. I guess she is here looking for a job after she graduates—I sure hope that she doesn’t go to work for the Osborne School, but a job is a job. I don’t know if I can make the book fair, but I will certainly give a call when I come to New York. Good to see you, hope that everything stays well.”
As Donaldson walked away, I made a sharp about-face and walked over to greet Kathy.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was hoping to meet someone for an interview—but they never showed up. No matter. Who was that you were talking too?”
“That was Burton Donaldson. We were on the critic’s panel that ended about a half an hour ago.”
“The Burton Donaldson, as in famous art critic Burton Donaldson? Crap! I wish that I had seen that—I guess I got distracted and lost track of time.” I noticed that Kathy did not have a UAA conference badge, and I reminded myself that even if she didn’t lose track of the time, she could not have been admitted into the criticism session. Instead, she had another badge that was bright green, proclaiming her to be an “exhibitor” named Bruna Phelps.
I asked, “who is Bruna Phelps?”
“Oh this, I borrowed it from the Osborne booth. Listen, I need to show you something, but we need to be a bit sneaky.”
“What is it?”
“It’s better if you see for yourself. Let’s go over to the back stairwell.” She produced another green exhibitor’s badge from her tote bag. “Take off your white badge and put this on. Act natural when we walk past the hall monitor. Here, you should also wear this hat.”
My curiosity piqued, I took the yellow baseball cap that was an exact duplicate of the one that she was wearing, adjusting it for size as I put it on my head. We walked over to a stack of empty cardboard boxes that had been saved for unsold books. I noticed that my new badge proclaimed me to be another exhibitor named Botho Kilgore. Clearly, Kathy had a plan.
“Pick up two of those empty boxes and hold them as if they had something heavy inside. I will carry another one.” I did as she said, and walked to the door leading out to the stairwell, holding the boxes near my face so that the hall monitor could not get a good look at me. He was preoccupied with a crossword puzzle, so getting past him was easy. When we entered the stairwell, we set our boxes down and walked up to the second-floor doorway. Kathy peeked out and then whispered, “coast clear, follow me.” We were on the opposite side of the same floor from where the criticism panel was held, but since each end was a mirror image of the other, it was easy to catch our bearings in another ballroom of equal size of the same layout, only inverted. There was a long line of people moving into it, all passing through a stanchion-and-velvet-rope security checkpoint guarded by men in green blazers. They, too, had green badges that, at a distance, might have been mistaken for the ones we were wearing.
The green-clad men were hurrying because whatever was taking place in the ballroom was about to begin, so it was easy for us to slip inside. Acting like we had some sort of official function, we walked through the double door and moved to the far side of a ballroom, filled with people abuzz with anticipation. In front, a microphone stood in front of a projection screen, and at the side nearest the doors, there were about ten tables staffed by well-dressed women wearing green badges. I scanned the large crowd and quickly surmised that it was composed of the sort of people — people from all walks of life — who would never attend a University Art Association conference. Many were of the benignsdale ilk, complemented by a few scattered specimens of shodybotzlikin. Then I spied a large placard set on a chrome tripod with the words Citadel Education Welcomes You to Lyceum for Life Coaches emblazoned upon it.
A smartly dressed woman with tightly coifed red hair walked over to the microphone and tapped it to produce a percussive effect. After she determined it was working, she made a bid for the audience’s attention. “Hello, hello; I think that we are ready to start.” The room grew silent. “My name is Laurel Margolis, and I am the director of marketing for the Citadel Education Corporation. I would like to welcome all of you to the first day of this weekend’s training session for life coaches. I am sure that you are all every bit as excited as I am to be here, and I am sure that you won’t be disappointed. In fact, I am so sure that after tonight’s initial training, I am going to invite you to sign up for our advanced package with one of our sales representatives sitting at the tables at the side of the room. If you sign up tonight, we will give you a 25 percent discount from the regular tuition of $1,200! Plus, we will also give you the world-famous box DVD set featuring all six of Helmut Zyklon’s special seminars on cosmic self-improvement! It comes with a study guide and an interactive component that will give concrete demonstrations on the art of conversational leverage, so you can see we are offering exceptional value.”
“Now I know that this might sound like a lot of money, but I need to tell you, here and now, that you cannot possibly know now what a truly fabulous deal this is. But in the next 45 minutes, you will understand, because, just as we have promised, we have a very special in-person appearance from Helmut Zyklon himself! That’s right! Helmut Zyklon, the founder of the original ZST training program and the current executive director of the Citadel Education Corporation! He has come to us from our European headquarters in Zurich to lead tonight’s special session of Lyceum for Life Coaches! Now, everybody, please join me in welcoming Helmut Zyklon!”
At that point, the room broke out into applause from which only Kathy and myself refrained. When I looked over, I saw that her posture had stiffened; it resembled a cat preparing to turn a small bird into a meal. The light dimmed, and a tall thin man with uncombed curly hair walked over to Ms. Margolis and shouted: “Greetings! Greetings! Thank you, Laurel, and thank you all for attending tonight’s class. We call it a class, but it’s much more than that: it is the beginning of your life as a transformed transformer of other people’s transformation! And let me tell you, after 30 years of helping people with all aspects of their self-transformation, be it personal relationships or financial well-being, there is no better work to be done for anybody, by anybody. So I salute your dedication to spreading the golden virus of transformation that is at the heart of the mission of the Citadel Education Corporation! I thank you, and yes, the world thanks you for transforming lives that cry out for a better tomorrow that works for everybody!”
More applause followed, allowing Zyklon to shift gears. “You know, the important lessons that we offer are really quite simple. How we apply them in our own lives can sometimes be complicated, but the lessons themselves are simple. And do you know what the most important lesson is?” After a pause, Zyklon, thundered: “You’re all Assholes! Assholes! Assholes! None of you know your ass from a hole in the ground, and that means you’re all assholes! Assholes, assholes, assholes!”
Suddenly, the room grew quiet. Kathy whispered, “at least he’s right about that. Especially if he includes himself.” I wasn’t sure if she was addressing me or letting her interior monologue sneak out for some audible exercise.
Zyklon was wearing a tailored suit, cut in a style that seemed to be subtly influenced by 1970s disco garb. His oversized shirt collar was open wide, and his body language bespoke the same heritage. When making rhetorical points, he would thrust one of his arms upward at an angle, as if pantomiming an exclamation mark. He worked very hard to convey the impression of having a lot of energy, or at the very least, a large amount of cocaine coursing through his bloodstream.
“So, once you truly understand what an asshole you are, you need to examine why you are an asshole, and the reason always is because you refuse to wake up? That’s right, wake-up! You know what the first step is if you want to live your dreams? You have to wake-up! And when you wake-up, you will understand something very basic, which is, that which is, is, and that which is not is not! And if life is for the living, then understanding what is is and what isn’t isn’t is the key, and right now, what is is the fact that you’re all assholes! Assholes! The question is, why does being an asshole work for you? Why is it easier for you to be an asshole than to not be an asshole, and then you ask who or what is making you an asshole. Its always yourself, of course, but it’s also something that you learned, and the reason that you learned it is because at some point in your life, it worked for you, meaning that it got you something that you couldn’t get yourself, something that you needed. But you know what? You are all grown-ups, and the definition of a grown-up is someone who can get what they need from the world by giving something back to the world that the world needs. Most of us do that, but most of us do not know how to value what we give in relation to what we need, so instead of learning that, we chose to be assholes! Assholes!”
A stout man wearing a hunting vest stood up in the center of the room. He seemed enraged about something and started to shout in a disruptive fashion. “Isn’t it true that your real name is Jake Greenberg and that you were a car salesman in Pittsburgh? And isn’t it true that you abandoned your wife and two children and left them penniless, and then when they went public, you paid them to keep quiet?”
Zyklon paused, as if to size up his new adversary. Then he pulled the microphone off of its stand and calmly walked over to the man. In a solemn tone of voice, he addressed his accuser. “I acknowledge that. I own it. But that was what was, and for that reason, cannot be confused with what is, because what is is what is. Your own racket has you needing to be in the right, but you are only in the right about what was, not what is, which is why whatever you have to say cannot matter.” Then Zyclon walked back to the microphone stand and started to pace, challenging others who might want to confront him. Then, something caught my eye. It was Aimless Amy sitting in the middle of the room next to Alice. She seemed to be crying or at least burying her face into Alice’s shoulder for emotional comfort. They seemed to be sharing a moment of tenderness, but I found it odd to see her dressed in upscale business attire that masked The Entertainment from view. And if my eyes didn’t deceive me, I could have sworn that she was wearing make-up, something she always avoided. Then I spied something even more disturbing at the opposite edge of the room. It was Theda sitting at one of the course registration tables, awaiting an anticipated onslaught of recruits. She was talking to one of the green-coated security men. He was looking in our direction while talking on some kind of hand-held radio. I turned to Kathy and said, “let’s go; we’ve been spotted.”
# # #
About the author:
Mark Van Proyen’s visual work and written commentaries focus on satirizing the tragic consequences of blind faith placed in economies of narcissistic reward. Since 2003, he has been a corresponding editor for Art in America. His recent publications include: Facing Innocence: The Art of Gottfried Helnwein (2011) and Cirian Logic and the Painting of Preconstruction (2010). To learn more about Mark Van Proyen, read Alex Mak’s December 9, 2014 interview, published on Broke-Ass Stuart’s website.
Illustrations: courtesy of the author.