Exploiting the Caustic Inexecrable
Owing to complaints from the prudish assholes in the white area of the last page (apparently they took offense at being used as disposable background and especially at being described as “road drunk“), I was kicked off the bus in Cincinnati. I would have preferred that they stopped the bus first, but as usual I wasn’t consulted; no surprise there. Curiously, Pico was allowed to continue her journey and from what I’m told ended up with a lifetime pass owing to her antics on the rest of the ride. Way to go Pico! See you on page 54….
I was a mess. As writer’s caprice would have it, I bounced 20 feet down the highway, flailing wildly, skidded into the gravel along the road shoulder, then, after bouncing off a reflector, rolled into a blackberry bush, down a 30 foot embankment. The first bounce ripped off the better part of my pants and shirt, shredding the flesh beneath, and from there it got pretty ouchy.* By the time I had climbed out of the ditch I was a bloody mess, my clothes hung on my shaking body in shreds and one of my boots was gone with no forwarding address. I could barely stand.
Creative mercy being what it is, at that exact instant, a young nursing student returning from an all-nighter at Our Lady of Perpetual Agony Hospice and Comatorium took pity on my plight and pulled over in her Pinto. “My God. Are you all right?!” She was beautiful, looked all of 22, long blond hair, firm athletic body, amazing breasts all but popping out of her tight nursey uniform. As I opened my mouth to respond, a police car in pursuit of a local joy rider (it turned out the car pursued wasn’t even stolen) slammed into her car, knocking me back down the embankment, and both of them off the roadside and into the ditch I now knew so well, in a fiery ball.
I awoke in Cincinnati’s famed Linus Pauling Medical Off-Center (back and to the left of the main center, an oft-times clever aside), to again find myself handcuffed to a bed, in a morphine haze and considerable discomfort. It took me a moment to understand not only where I was but what I was. I had serious bandaging and couldn’t make out any fleshy indication of me in the mix. The sounds were loud and jarring, yet my room was thankfully still.
While decidedly a fan of drugs (I must admit to as much drug snobbery as the next fellow or fellowess), I have never particularly cared for narcotics. Cocaine is useful for sexual adventuring, but it isn’t really much of a knockout high as highs go, at least through the lens of time and experience, as it doesn’t do much beyond make you want some more cocaine. It does that great. Opium, heroin, morphine all make you feel astounding and pain-free to a degree but are rather dulling to one’s clarity of perception; numbing, that sweet narcotic effect. Sleep waking. As a creative type, I have always been drawn to entheogens such as cannabis, MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, etc. which enhance physical and mental acuity rather than the more popular drugs that deaden and stultify rational and creative thought. The socially sanctioned ones.
At that particular instant, I was quite contented with narcotics, my body an injurious mass. I looked up into the concerned eyes of a young nurse named Betty, a short, kind of freckly redhead of about 30 years old. I was very high, Betty impressively patient. “Whu fuh buh gabibble?” I sensed she didn’t understand me and felt a great importance that she should. I had significant concerns that needed to be addressed. “Nar ga blarf de flrrrbmm! Schnzz. Crpflnk.” It was a rare occasion that I got high enough to lose my vowel control, but they dosed me good and had reduced me to a babbling imbecile. Inconsonant.
“Just try to relax. I know it must be difficult with this…” She grabbed the handcuff on my left wrist and rattled it for emphasis. Out of the fog arose a dark figure that hovered then moved upon us. A Cincinnati cop, oh joy! He was in uniform, his name Darth Karplinkle, not overweight so much as overwrought; big, but like a regular guy stretched wide by double, almost like a fire or butt plug. He wasn’t particularly agro, a nice respite from the pricks up to now, and gave Betty a tired look. “From upstairs. Just until they determine whether he was involved in the collision.”
Betty looked at him askance. “I’d say he was involved. Several serious contusions, abrasions all over his body, sub-orbital hematomas, possible internal hemorrhaging. I’d say he was very involved.” Officer Karplinkle deliberately inhaled then responded, tired, very tired, “Responsible then. I’ve got two dead and another on life support. Until we determine who this Mr. Wagner is, I’m afraid his discomfort must remain augmented.”
This concerned me. I don’t write articulate cops, especially empathetic ones (though long- suffering is an always popular inclusion). He sighed and shook his wide head, returning to his seat and Highlights Magazine, where he tried to avoid siding with Gallant, while giving Goofus a fair shake. Goofus dependably made that a difficult proposition, as always making Gallant the thinking man’s choice, whose clarity of perspective is the dream we all aspire to. Karplinkle set the magazine on his lap, pondering the existential question, “When is my fucking lunch break?!”
Betty tended to Art, but she liked to Pop too, so she wouldn’t fairly be described as Giraffish. But people weren’t fair and life wasn’t people exclusively, just most prominently in people’s perspective, just as goats tend to prefer goats and shepherds preferred to tend sheep. And now I’ve entered the second person, singular?! I needed a cut back on my doping before I end up third person omniscient and tank the entire chapter. I reached out, “Lesth drugsth, pleaseth…”
Now I was lisping; what were they feeding me?! Betty looked at my IV drip and muttered, “Oops.” Blocking it from my and Karplinkle’s view, she made an adjustment, then set about busying herself with some of my blood soaked dressings. She looked at a particularly nasty bit of bandaging in my crotchal area, grimaced, then began replacing the nasty job with fresh wraps. It was distressing to watch her make that face – that look of revulsion that no one wants to have someone make while looking at their nether regions.
She cocked her head, then gingerly reached toward my dire derriere, her eyes widening in disgust and nausea, as the pain shot through me like a bullet.
Blackness. Nothing. I’ve gone out more than a couple times and that’s what lives there. Silent nothing. No family or dead friends waiting in the light to usher me through, no deep universal clarity, no angels or little twinkle fairies flitting over to escort me to Happylandia. Nothing.
Coming out: first distant sound, unclear, garbled. Then definition, this is a voice, that a bell, that an alarm. Then screaming, highly recognizable and words becoming distinct. “Fire!” ”Run!” “Help!” Jostling, groping, movement. Smoke, I could smell smoke, while sensing a wild flurry of humanity around me. I opened my eyes to see a crazed fellow in white, a large black gentleman, pushing my gurney amongst many people migrating the same direction, fast. I looked at him gratefully and his eyes smiled back in acknowledgement for an instant; he was happy to help me. Then suddenly he was slammed into the wall by a speeding gurney from an adjoining hallway, shaken loose from his grip on my safety, my very life, and knocked out a third story window into the crowded ER parking lot below, screaming.
I felt horrible for my savior, (even though his injuries would be hard pressed to occur in a more convenient place for him treatment-wise), but embraced my new, more horrible feeling for me. At the instant he was dislodged into ER ignominy, he was pushing me at a full run, down a hallway in decline. In a mad dash, we fled the encroaching flames as oxygen tanks exploded in fiery balls in treatment rooms behind us as we passed. Then he was gone.
Looking around desperately confused as the bleeding, burned and other injured made their way fleeing in terror beside me and panicked medical staff, I thought at least my erstwhile benefactor had avoided the fire. In the downhill hallway, my gurney was able to pass many of the more egregiously wounded, while knocking others to the side, which made me popular I’m sure.
I was helpless, handcuffed, doped and dizzy, on my back on a gurney hurling 25 mph down a hall crowded with sick and injured people, the hospital behind us an encroaching inferno. Through the screams and smoke and madness swirling around me I realized that several of the injured had clambered aboard my escape gurney and that we now constituted a caravan, and I didn’t have a livery license. This wasn’t shaping up. Then the far end of the hall, two open double doors and a single open door. By now we were doing a good 28 mph, I had at least 6 people on the gurney with me and nobody steering it. I was so wrapped up and splinted and bandaged that I couldn’t even sit up, so I lay there watching the madness escalate around me.
On the front of the gurney was a medical staffer, facing me, terrified, speeding backwards perilously. On either side I had hop-ons: some guy from maintenance and a candy striper on the left, an X-Ray tech and freaky looking guy in an exam gown, flapping away there, on the right.
In the pushy position, but like the others, up on the side rails and unable to steer, a surgeon, but a very rare breed indeed as it was a lady surgeon. Unfortunately what we needed was a driver, regardless of gender. Strangely, they all looked to me as though I was somehow in control and when the stupid gurney veered to the right single door instead of the left double doors, I suspect they realized the folly they had affixed themselves to. The hop-ons on the sides were the first to go, as the gurney somehow squeezed through the open door with about an inch on either side, brushing them off in a screamy cluster of tangled flailing meat.
Then the abutment, jamming the gurney’s front wheels, blasting the medical staffer into the foyer, crashing into a large potted plant, smashing it all over the floor, while flipping the gurney up on its end. But the lady surgeon held on with tenacity and the gurney didn’t flip, just hovered there perfectly vertical, me standing upright with the lady surgeon over my head for a perfect moment before it slammed back down with a crashing thud. Curiously, the lady surgeon, who was remarkably athletic, scurried onto the top of the gurney with me as it slammed down, using me to cushion her blow, knocking the wind out of me but saving her a painful landing.
She was appreciative for the lift and dislodged the gurney, pushing me to the elevator and my freedom from the best damned healthcare in the world. As the third highest cause of death in the USA is iatrogenesis, death my medical care, I was lucky to be alive. In some ways it could be said that a surgeon saved my life. Certainly the normal ones and God knows you don’t want me talking out my ass. But it was equally true that in my own way I saved a surgeon as well. Which I suspect in no small way led to my transfer to the less flamey Cleveland Admiral Hospital and a higher quality care, free of my customary restraints.
I recouped in their burn-out ward for over a month before RJ’s insurance noticed that he was being treated in Ohio and California concurrently and reduced my coverage to without care. It occurred to me that no one who had taken RJ’s ID from me (I had offered it to no one – well, only a couple people, and those hookers, but that’s it) had questioned that I was in fact he. We look nothing alike; he has blue eyes for fuck sake and my hair would never do that. He’s got me by over a decade as well. But if Hollywood has taught me everything (mostly), it’s taught me that all it takes to pull something over on people is sincere conviction that you should. Acting. If you believe it, they believe it. Even cops – it’s astounding.
During my recoupment I had a delightful little affair with a candy striper named Carol. She was fairly nondescript but strong and a heathen in the sack. And she was that rare woman who appreciated my work in All The Fine Young Cannibals. She had gathered the dregs of my shredded sartoria, including RJ’s wallet, which was still paying literary dividends, and moved me into her place until her husband returned next paragraph. She even allowed me to redress my grievous mess in some of his non-shredded apparel, which served me well as he was a natty dresser and conveniently just my and RJ’s size.
“Who’s this?” He eyed me suspiciously, splendiferously arrayed in one of his nicer suits, as I adjusted his tie in their mirror. He was a fairly average looking business type but I detected a certain unease in his demeanor as we talked there in their bedroom. Carol, naked on the bed, wasn’t surprised to see him, having read the previous paragraph, and responded with confidence and pride. “You don’t recognize Mr. Wagner?”
I stood on Cleveland’s Effect Causeway with my thumb out. Bob, Carol’s husband, was magnanimous enough to let me keep the suit and his shoes. I had left abruptly when he angrily pointed out that I really wasn’t RJ and had been enjoying his wife’s bounty under false pretense. As I sidled to the window I explained I had never told her I was RJ or taken anything she didn’t willingly offer. I thanked him for the adornment and climbed out the window as he rifled around in his gun cabinet. I was decently out of range before he had even loaded the shotgun and Carol tackled him before he could get a clear shot at me. Clean breaks are best.
Decker Building 6th flr
Near corner of East 16th Street, NYC
I considered the note. It had been stuffed into RJ’s wallet but I had never noticed it before. P? Then it came to me: Pico had muttered something about work opportunities in New York, creative work, while I returned the favor to her receptive lower orifi, as we traversed that long dark highway through Tennessee between Boone’s Farm and Nashville. As I tongue-plunged deeper into her, I realized she wasn’t moaning “More hole, more hole…”
Warhol. Freaky little Andy.
My first brush with the righteously twisted voyeur came in Chicago, while I toured with the Ducks as their unsound drink mixer, several pages earlier. They had kicked out the jams at a packed high school gymnauseum for the Lifeon High Señor Prom, an ill-conceived Mexican themed dance that ended in a minor riot when the piñatas were found to contain marzipan, and afterwards a couple of us drifted over to the Spinal Auditorium where the Exploding Plastic Inevitable performed. While Ted didn’t alter his consciousness, or his thinking, some of the other Ducks enjoyed the occasional drug adventure so we were understandably impressed with the audio/visual performance exhibited by Warhol’s version of the Velvet Underground with Nico.
With a head full of acid, even the prosaic can seem astounding and of significant import owing to its wonderful expansion of perception and useful degradation of time. LSD exists in its own moment: a glimpse of eternity unfettered. A quip can engulf a room with uncontrollable, infectious laughter; a sob will make the world weep. Well, the first part anyway. Acid is among the funniest drugs I have ever taken. Amazingly social in the proper company, it is aurally exhilarating exposed to effective stimuli which the concerts of the 60s increasingly became.
The Exploding Plastic Inevitable was effectively The Velvet Underground performing with images projected on them and the wall behind them. While a visually striking show for its day, they were musically uninteresting, their performance dull and amateurish. Brian Eno famously suggested that while their first album sold only 30,000 copies, everyone who bought one became a musician. I would concur with the understanding that everyone who heard it thought, “Hell, I can do that.” Sadly, as recent history has aptly demonstrated, many chose to.
Lou Reed was another talentless hack who figured out how to make noise come out of an electric guitar and microphone simultaneously. His songs, such as they could be called that, were little more than him reciting his address book and all the weirdos and junkies he rolled with, or his brilliant representation of the ugly mean streets as mean and ugly. His singing was off-key and flat, most of it naught but disinterested talking drawn out over droning, repetitious music. He showed the completely untalented and lazy that they too could have a career in music if only they promoted themselves effectively, and many took him up on it. So many….
Warhol and his spawn were promotion disguised very poorly as art. He and his team of craftsmen and women flooded the so-called art world with artvertisment: product represented as avant-garde creative expression. He was basically a plagiarist. His big exhibit in 1964, The American Supermarket, existed entirely of replicas of extant consumer products – they copied the artwork from consumer packaging and sold it as original art. Hysterically, people bought it. Warhol sold his painting of a soup can for $1,500.00 while signing (tagging) store bought soup cans and selling them for $6 a pop. People will buy anything if you’re absolutely convinced you should be selling it. Warhol was convinced.
Where commercial art was clean and flawless, Warhol considered it artier to just leave his smudges and mistakes in, much as with the music and film he promoted, making him a purveyor less of Pop Art than Slop Art. “When you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something,” he used to say and he was right; you turn up shit. That’s what popular art became in the ‘50s and ‘60s: shit. Same with music, though as noted earlier, popular anything is generally that – this book being a rare exception. This doesn’t appear to be coincidence. In the late 1940s, desperately concerned about European art that displayed the audacity of actually saying something, the CIA went into a little patronage of their own. By funneling money to certain “artists” they would be able to influence Western dialogue by eliminating the conversation.
Pollack, DeKoonig, Lichtenstein were 3 of the posers the CIA patronized, unbeknownst to them, to maintain our childlike ignorance of reality by offering art that said absolutely nothing. As it couldn’t be explained rationally, it had to speak for itself, finding itself perpetually at a loss. Safe, if stupid; splashes and lines and blotches and smears and smudges. Work of physical effort, but no thought or intent beyond selling it. Warhol appeared right on their heels, the quirky conservative Catholic queer we were all instructed to be in awe of. He knew what art really was.
“Business is the best art.” Warhol watched Billy with appeal as he silkscreened a fleshy banana on a 24 by 36 inch poster board in the hubbub of activity that was The Factory, his core of operations in the Big Apple. He didn’t notice me at first, caught up by Pico’s remarkably short miniskirt and shapely stems emanating thereof, but then peered around her when he saw Bob’s nice suit and intoned, “Oh! Who do we have here?”
Pico fairly bubbled, “Andy, this is Arturo, a truly fascinating guy.” She gave me a big hug then kissed my lips, smiling. She was slightly blitzed; I didn’t mind. During our introductions on the bus, I went native with my name which worked out fine in this instance. Warhol cocked his head and looked at me, that freakish white powdery face and stupid silver wig making me a little uncomfortable – what was his trip? “Art? Splendid.” He looked me up and down.
I had healed nicely and felt strong, in good shape, other than the severe narcotic addiction I had picked up in the hospitals, and strode with the confidence of someone who had just had a blast. I presented my hand to the tragic clown and he reluctantly accepted it, a rare occurrence I’m told. It had all the vivacity of a package of weenies and I felt as if I had shaken the hand of a corpse. “Mr. Warhol. This is a hell of a thing you’ve got here.” And it was. Walls wrapped in foil and silver paint, it was kind of like being in a cooking bag, though not sweltering, most of the heat generated by the speed-addled art poseurs making lithos or silkscreens or paintings or filming or recording or performing or drinking and watching the whole mad thing spin around us while Warhol offered ambience but no real guidance to his minions. An arty free-for-all.
“What do you do?” He looked at me utterly deadpan, eyes obscured by his signature Ray Bans. I responded, smiling, “Well, I’m an artist. But I’d be happy to participate in whatever it is you’re doing here.” I can often get away with that kind of statement, as most just doubt that what they heard was in fact what they heard. Social convention negates auditory acuity and small talk takes its place. But I have those occasional moments where all my best interests work against me and I was certain my snide rejoinder would be lost in the activity. Of course, at that precise instant, my voice was the only sound on the entire floor. I might as well have sung it. Placebo Domingo.
Warhol hesitated for a beat, processing my slam as Factory noise resumed. He smiled ever so slightly then responded, “Splendid. Maybe a little Art will rub off on us. It would be an interesting change.” Pico smiled and gave me a throat lapper. I was in.