Monday, October 17, 2016

The Capsule Reviews of October: Part 2

I'll try to do the other new films I watched this week tomorrow. I'm just too tired, you guys.

Grizzly (d, William Girdler) - What can one say about this film, one of the most infamous and egregious Jaws rip-offs, that it doesn't already sort of say about itself while you're watching it? Directed by William Girdler, who would die just two years later in a helicopter crash at the age of thirty, after completing Manitou, one of the weirdest ostensibly mainstream horror films you'll find, Grizzly wears its thieving nature on its sleeve: it stars Christopher George as a park ranger named Michael Kelly who wants his forest shut off to the public until he can catch the apparently 15-foot-tall grizzly bear that recently killed a couple of, campers. Attempts to thwart these safety measures come from the park supervisor (Joe Dorsey), who knows that camping means big money. A frustrated Kelly gets help from Allison Corwin, the woman he's courting (Joan McCall) and his employees, as well as from his old buddy, an eccentric naturalist named Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) and Don Stober (Andrew Prine), a helicopter pilot.

So Kelly is Chief Brody, except this time around he's kind of a dick. He's patronizing, condescending, and sarcastic, without the one possible upside of actually being any funny at all. He also seems to suck at his job. After a third person is killed by the bear, Kelly, who we've seen find dead bodies and fret about it, fumes to Allison "There's something I'm not doing!" You mean anything? And if Kelly is Brody, then Scott is both Quint and Hooper -- he has the reckless unpredictability of Quint and the scientific know-how of Hooper, and the oddly prolonged-into-anticlimax fate of, I don't know, somebody in Jaws 2 probably. Which leaves the helicopter pilot to be Hooper again, but a helicopter pilot this time around.

Grizzly is full of stupid shit and clumsiness -- at one point the bear swings his paw savagely at a victim (for a while, the paw is all we see of the animal) in a way, and at a height, that suggests the next thing we see will be a fake head spinning through the air. But instead we arm? The bear knocked somebody's arm off? And later, one of Kelly's park ranger employees, a woman, decides to take a break from looking for a giant killer bear and strip down to her underwear and stand under a waterfall, rubbing water all over her arms, as bathing women in movies so often do. But all I could think about was she didn't bring a towel. She just took off her uniform and piled it in the grass. When she's done bathing, she'll have no way to dry off. What was she planning to do, just put her clothes back on over her soaking wet body??? That is nonsense. In the end, it turned out not to matter, though, because while she was bathing she was murdered by a bear.

The Beast in the Cellar (d. James Kelly) - I'm not sure "festival" is the word I'd use, but this British horror film from 1970 sure is an odd one. Kelly, who like Girdler also died young, only made one more film after this, a thriller called What the Peeper Saw (I can guess!), but what reputation he has seems to rest in this story of a series of murders of soldiers stationed in rural England. Because this is a murder mystery (in theory, if not, finally, in practice) the killings have to be coyly filmed, and therefore, so the thinking apparently went, badly shot. It's all just 1970s shaky-cam, which doesn't become more interesting to watch the second, or third time.

What is interesting about The Beast in the Cellar is the focus on, and the performances by, Beryl Reid and Flora Robson, as a pair of spinster sisters whose bleak family history, and poor judgment stemming from social ignorance, has led to all this. I'm not sure why I'm being cagey about this, since the killer is obvious once you learn that the sisters have a family member imprisoned in their cellar. Bu Reid and Robson are pretty terrific (in Nightmare Movies, Kim Newman says that their commitment is wasted; maybe, maybe not, who can say), and they make the frankly dull murder stuff acceptable because the main business with the sisters is so off-kilter. Ultimately it brought to mind, a bit anyway, another 70s British horror film, Gary Sherman's (an American, but still) Raw Meat, aka Deathline from two years later. Sherman is more of a filmmaker than Kelly was, though. As engaging as the off-beat mood of The Beast in the Cellar can be, it nevertheless dumps the entire plot and motivation behind everything in one monologue that lasts a full fifteen minutes. Cutting that with brief flashbacks and other shit like that can't change the fact that this was probably the worst way to give the audience information possible.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Capsule Reviews of October

Maybe I'll just write capsule reviews of everything I see in a week until I die, which I'm almost certain to do at some point.

Demon Seed (d. Donald Cammell) - I've recently become interested in the odd, brief, and temporally scattered films of Donald Cammell, though I haven't seen Wild Side, his fourth and last, which means I've only seen three, and I only like one. And that one is Demon Seed, which the documentary Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance makes clear was taken away from him in post-production, and was being steered in a direction he didn't want by the studio even before then.

But hell, it's a pretty good movie anyway. Based on an early novel by Dean Koontz, this 1977 film is about a scientist named Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver), whose brilliant work in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence have resulted in the HAL-like Proteus (voiced by Robert Vaughn). Proteus exists in many places at once, and one of those places is the scientist's home, where it can do for the homeowner pretty much whatever the homeowner needs it to do -- in addition to having a voice and brain and "eyes" all over the house, Proteus also has been outfitted with numerous robot limbs. Dr. Harris is preparing a long work trip, one that will take him away for a month, leaving alone in the house his wife Susan (Julie Christie), from whom he is separating. The reason behind that separation will become clear as the film progresses. What that progression entails, though, is Proteus essentially imprisoning Susan, threatening her with, if not death, at least torture if she does not do "his" bidding, the upshot of which is that he, Proteus, wants to impregnate Susan, so that their offspring will be both human and ingenious super-computer.

I never felt satisfied that such a thing could ever be possible, but nevertheless it's a pretty harrowing film, the discomfort I felt on behalf of Christie's Susan being at times palpable (thinking particularly of the bit with the heated floor). Christie is great here, her terror and physically arduous attempts to escape ebbing sometimes into frightened, exhausted resignation, and then swelling again into furious defiance. And as goofy as some of those robot-y arms can sometimes be, it all eventually leads to a climax that is genuinely weird and eerie, similar to Saul Bass's Phase IV in its air of vague but hugely ominous portent.

The Toolbox Murders (d. Dennis Donnelly) - This infamous slasher film, from 1978, is what I think some people might describe as "kind of sleazy." About a series of murders of women by a ski-masked killer using a different kind of tool -- claw hammer, screwdriver, nail gun -- each time, for about maybe the first half hour or forty minutes is given over almost exclusively to the slaughter of women, all living in the same apartment, and all or anyway most of them nude just before and in one case during the murder itself. The drawn-out stalking and killing of a nude woman played by future porn star Kelly Nichols pretty much single-handedly provides all the evidence for damning the subgenre a person inclined to do so could possibly want.

It becomes rather stranger somewhere around the middle point, and eventually actually sort of interesting. The plot is moved forward by the amateur investigation of these murders by two teenagers: Joey (Nicholas Beauvy), whose sister Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) has been kidnapped, by, Joey believes, the killer, and his friend Kent (Wesley Eure), the nephew of Vance (Cameron Mitchell), the building's owner. So with that set up out of the way, the film follows these young plucky adventurers into the very center of Hell. Which might be an overstatement, but I did not at all expect their story to go where it does, as ruthlessly as it does, and the last chunk of the film was as completely and, in my view, honestly disturbing as this sort of film is ever likely to get.

The Purge: Election Year (d. James DeMonaco) - I have now seen all three films in James DeMonaco's Purge series of "socially" "conscious" horror films, which, if I'm so dissatisfied with them, you might have count as my own damn fault. And I don't disagree, but watching all of the movies (all of which depict a "Purge Night" which is the one night of the year in the United States when all crime, including mass murder, is legal, so that people can ostensibly get it out of their system or whatever, but is really a tool for the rich to keep down the poor, you guys) I have been able to chart certain patterns. For instance, in the first two, The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy, roughly eight times each, one or more of our heroic characters (all of whom invariably want no part in the violence of Purge Night, but only want to survive, which, given they're our heroes, I will admit makes sense) are about to die, some one-night-a-year serial killer wearing an ironically patriotic mask of some sort, has a gun pointed right in their face, or a knife at their throat, but just before the killer can pull the trigger or insert the blade, another hero, unseen until now, shoots the killer and saves the first hero. Perhaps you've seen this happen one time before in another film. DeMonaco has almost made it a theme. However, in The Purge: Election Year he only does it once, but he does it on a scale that is clearly meant to trick his loyal audience into believing this is the first time he's over done something like this.

"A failure of imagination," some might call this. I would respond by saying "You're being kind; I think the truth is that DeMonaco actually doesn't give a fuck." I think he probably does hold the political beliefs he puts on screen, but I don't think he has much interest in making a really good film (or the talent to do so). He embraces his rigid formula like a lover. Even when he expands the action from the narrow scope of the first film to the more community-wide stuff in the second, and now to the sort of metaphorically national approach in this new one, everything is still exactly the same: one group of good guys, together or separately but either way eventually together, are forced from their safe spot one way or another, and have to bond together, perhaps even overcoming differences along the way, to protect each other. In this case, Presidential candidate Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) has to be protected because she's the only one who can, if elected, put an end to Purge Night. Which, by the way: it's one thing to take your "socially" "conscious" genre device seriously, but it's another thing to use it in such a way that you seem to think Purge Night is a real thing, or at least something someone's trying to push through legislation. At one point in this film, Elizabeth Mitchell quotes Lincoln's "the better angels of our nature" in order to make us all reconsider our acceptance of this Purge Night thing, which now that I think about it is pretty reprehensible.

On top of all this, several of the main characters in The Purge: Election Year are black, including Mykelti Williamson as the owner of a little neighborhood store of the kind that is frequented by others in the community as a kind of home-away-from-home to hang out and talk with friends, etc. This store being located in a black community, the store's devotees tend to be as well, and early in the film an elderly black man says "I only care about waffles and pussy!" This is the white DeMonaco putting his finger squarely on the pulse. The Purge: Election Year is bigoted in other ways as well, in ways that are far more chickenshit than that, because DeMonaco knows his hatred for these other targets won't result in any consequences.

Also all the killers in these movies seem to have the same mask guy.

Clouds of Sils Maria (d. Olivier Assayas) - This is perhaps not the easiest film to tackle in the capsule review format. Not quite the newest film by the endlessly prolific and engaging Assayas, whose 2010 epic Carlos I consider to be one of the great masterpieces of the new century, Clouds of Sils Maria once again shows off the writer-director's breathtaking ingenuity and imagination. It tells the story of Maria Enders, a film and stage actress of great renown who, as the film opens, is on her way, by train, to attend and speak at a ceremony honoring playwright and filmmaker Wilhelm Melchior, the artist whose work she is most intimately associated with. On the way, her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) takes a call, and learns that Wilhelm has suddenly died, and the nature of the planned ceremony has now completely changed.

Which is just the beginning. There's also the specific play of Melchior's Maria is best known for, called Maloja Snake, and the role, and the attempt by a new young brilliant director to re-stage that play, evidently a two-hander featuring a love affair between a younger woman and an older woman, with Maria taking the other part, that of the older woman, which she's never played before. That part would be played by Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), a Lindsay Lohan/Amanda Bynes-esque celebrity, gifted but supposedly impossible to work with or control. There's also Maria's relationship with Valentine, and how, or if, it mirrors Maloja Snake.

Though not a perfect film -- the footage of Ellis's talk-show appearances indicates to me that Assayas has never seen a talk show and is evidently fine with that, but still, and at times Binoche, one of the most effortlessly believable actresses alive today, is broader than I can remember ever seeing her (maybe playing drunk is just one of those things she's never got the hang of) -- Clouds of Sils Maria is still pretty terrific. For me, it was immediately engaging: I think one thing Assayas doesn't get enough credit for is the sheer originality of the stories he creates, and his ability to at once place the audience into the right part of that story to get them hooked. Also, this is consciously a very modern film -- lots of internet and iPhone stuff -- but never self-consciously so. Assayas is simply a a filmmaker who lives in the world today, and can depict it.

And finally, it's where the film eventually goes. Which is very precisely and elegantly mysterious, and exactly correct.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Heard it Before

In 1953, the writer Isak Dinesen (the pen name of Karen Blixen) published a very long story called "The Immortal Story," which five years later would be included in her collection Anecdotes of Destiny, the last collection that would be published in her lifetime. It's quite an unusual story (the first I've read by Dinesen, I have to confess) about a very wealthy European businessman named Mr. Clay who is alone, who is not admired by anyone over whom he holds power, which we're assured is everyone in the Swiss town where he lives, and many more people decides. He appears to be a hateful man who, we're told, once broke off relations with a business partner and then used his wealth and power to hound the man into poverty and eventually suicide. The man's wife and daughter have disbursed, and the man's home is, as "The Immortal Story" begins, is the one in which Mr. Clay resides.

So that's Mr. Clay. Eventually, Mr. Clay contracts gout, and suffers terribly from it. Unable to sleep, he summons one of his clerks, Ellis Lewis (actually Elishima Levinsky) to read to him at night. Novels? Stories? No, ledger books, receipts: his, Mr. Clay's, own accounts. Over and over and over, starting back at the beginning when Elishima reaches the end. But Mr. Clay is haunted by the vague knowledge he has that other kinds of reading matter exists. That is, stories. Which Mr. Clay proclaims to hate, if those stories aren't real. Elishima offers to read to him the words of the Prophet Isaiah, but Mr. Clay hates that too -- if it's a prophecy, which is to say if it hasn't happened and isn't currently happened, it is worthless. Mr. Clay recalls a story he once heard on a boat, spoken by a sailor within his hearing, and this seems to be the only story he's ever heard in his life. It's about a rich old man with no heirs who hired the sailor telling the story to impregnate his, the rich man's, wife. Here Elishima says "I know that story and I can finish it for you. Everyone knows that story. Ever sailor tells it. It's not true." Devastated, unable to make this knowledge work with how the story has worked on his own mind over the years, or with, apparently, his very grasp on existence, Mr. Clay hatches a bizarre plan.

In 1968, six years after Dinesen's death, Orson Welles, a huge admirer of Dinesen's, released what would turn out to be his last feature-length (just barely, at 58 minutes) fiction film: an adaptation of "The Immortal Story." Made originally for French television, and for most of its existence available for screenings and home viewings in beat up, washed-out prints, Welles's The Immortal Story has now been released on Criterion Blu-ray, and I'll tell you what: the first time I saw this film, which was only a few months ago, I watched it on Hulu, via their Criterion channel; this Blu-ray looks like a complete different film. I'm not the guy to go to for these kinds of technical details, but this restoration is deeply gorgeous, haunting, and essential.

Be that as it may, what is there to make of this film, or of Dinesen's story, for that matter? Quite a lot, potentially. Welles transplants the action from Switzerland to Macao, though visually this doesn't amount to too much, or at least it doesn't amount to what you might expect, because we still mostly see American and European actors. I'm reminded of Mike Nichols's decision to film Catch-22 with no extras at all, because there aren't many in The Immortal Story either (only Clay's servants are played by Asian actors). And the film does have a drifty, European ethereality. Welles, who plays Mr. Clay, speaks not quite in a monotone, but he's only off of that by a tone or two. Wearing another one of his putty noses (one that in certain shots is discolored in a way that reminded me of the one he would wear three years later in Chabrol's Ten Days' Wonder, in which Welles plays another towering, depraved rich man) he plays Mr. Clay as a man whose misanthropy doesn't come from rage or bitterness or pure meanness, but simply from the fact that this man has never even considered the alternative. He's perpetually haunted, though by what even he couldn't say. At times, the Asian setting of this adaptation, which is otherwise rarely more than ostensible, is justified because with his brightly red-rimmed eyes and heavily ashen make-up, Welles resembles a ghost from a Chinese folk tale.

As Elishama, Robert Corggio adds a further strangeness to the atmosphere, though due to the character's practical nature his strangeness is a tad more sharp. In Dinesen's story, Elishama's family was the victim of anti-Jewish pogroms, and now that he has found a situation that provides him with enough to money to rent a room in which he can close himself off from the world, he means to keep it. He's as seemingly inhuman as Mr. Clay, not morally, but in that he's so apart from everyone who actually understands what it means to live on this planet. This is all neatly contrasted by the relative earthiness of Jeanne Moreau as Virginie, the woman who Mr. Clay will eventually hire, and Norman Eshley as Paul, the sailor, who he will also hire, because he means to turn the story he heard the sailor tell a reality. This way, its status as fiction will be erased.

As I say, it's a bizarre scheme. Surprisingly, Welles doesn't latch onto some of the humor Dinesen added, such as the unavoidable implications and occasional failures that Mr. Clay and Elishama encounter when the two men take the carriage out at night and ask sailors if they'd like to earn five guineas. But that might have been for the best, given the tone of Welles's The Immortal Story. There's something about the small number of people on-screen, and the space in the frame that frees up, that cuts everything down to the bones, to the basics, as complex and off-kilter as those basics are in this case. It makes The Immortal Story seem as narratively pure as the story of the sailor and the rich man and his wife which here and in Dinesen stands in for all stories. In his very good commentary from a 2009 release of the film, brought over to the Criterion disc, Adrian Martin points out one incident that is the core of the film (and Dinesen), and of the story within the story. As Martin says, the incident is as immortal a story you can get. Furthermore, there's the very ending (also from Dinesen), which makes everything we've just seen feel positively ancient. Not even ancient: prehistoric.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Art of Blindness: Part 5

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

Blue held Idiot’s Idol in his giant blue hand and spit on it.  His saliva hung off the rice-encrusted face of the little statue, and seeped and darkened into the sugar.  More sugar rubbed off onto his hand.  He wanted to crush the life out of this little man, but he was afraid that would ruin his plans for his masterpiece.  The one he needed those eyes for.  But he felt the need to spit on the thing, and he felt he could do it safely, so he did.
He put Idiot’s Idol back on his desk, where it was surrounded by stack after stack of paper, then he brushed his hands off.  The eyes were there waiting for him, and his patience was at an end.  He hadn’t come up with any clear plan for his masterpiece, but he just couldn’t take it anymore.  He wanted to get moving.  So, without even glancing back at the little statue, Blue Baby left his home and began the short walk to the house where the guy was, with the eyes.
The most obvious plan of attack was to take the two pieces, the eyes and the statue, and melt them down together, boil them into whatever they would become.  A paste, he assumed, but who knew?  If he ended up with a paste, then he could maybe paint with it, but that was a terribly dull way to go.  It would be a waste of time and materials.  No painting could live up to the grand, ambitious work that still lay unformed inside him.  And, of course, that was the big problem.  He had the inspiration to work, and the absolute certainty that these two materials – one a horribly failed artwork, the other an aberration of nature – would join to create something of such undeniable and unbelievable glory that, very likely, no one would ever again put their own hands and minds to the act of creation because they would feel so disheartened, so miniscule in their visions.  What was the point of creating when the greatest artistic creation had already been created?  After all?  Artists, Blue Baby felt certain, always needed to surpass what had come before them, to wipe out the memory of all the ancient artistic failures that took up space in books and museums.  So when you broke it all down, these artists were content to be replacements for a bunch of dead people.  Oh, what a glorious ambition!  They couldn’t possibly believe their shit was good for anything.  There simply the next shift, the night shift.
Meanwhile, Blue wanted to not only surpass what had come before – for Christ’s sake, he’d been doing that since birth! – but also to surpass what would come after.  He wanted to ruin the artistic drive for all the white-skinned junkies who had yet to be born.  And he had what it took, he had the pieces, but that brought back the problem.  What the hell was he supposed to do with them?  The pieces themselves, the eyes and the statue, said everything there was to say in their current form, so how, and to what end, should he combine them?  What possible form could this work take that would match the millennia-spanning effects he envisioned?  These were the tough questions he had to ask himself.  If he couldn’t achieve that final goal, the destruction of creation, then there was no reason to even begin.  Though he had already begun, he told himself.  Swiping the sugar statue, and making the deal with Chim, had been his beginning.  But those weren’t part of the creation.  To claim otherwise would be to lower himself to the level of Lightbulb Annie.  It would be the equivalent of one of Meezik’s fuckhead artist buddies charging people to watch him buy paint.  But that sort of thing, that wasn’t the problem.  Blue wasn’t lacking for meaning in this.  The statue spoke of idiocy and clumsiness and cloddishness and weakness and lack of ambition and mediocrity and, above all, failure.  The eyes, the most important part, represented humanity’s blindness to all of the above, their acceptance of it all as somehow good and pleasant.  So what the hell more was there to say?  It seemed like some pasty, boney art school jerk-off with a sickeningly idealistic notion of artistic simplicity, and whatever, scabby, diseased, drug-whipped whore had squeezed out that bizarre gray cavefish that now lay on Chim’s floor had already done his job for him.  But you couldn’t just put the two things in a box and say, “Finished.”  The two had to merge.  And Blue felt that once joined they couldn’t resemble what each had once been separately.  It had to be something wholly new.  And how in the hell did you do that with so little to work with.
Clearly, this was the terrifying problem.  Well, almost terrifying.  It did indeed scare the shit out of Blue Baby that his most monumentally inspired invention, which would forever cement his name, albeit bitterly, in the up-to-now pitiful world history of art, and would, at the very least, help him find a publisher for his memoirs, might be destroyed before he had even begun just because he couldn’t figure out what the damn thing should look like.  But Blue was nothing if not confident, and it seemed to him that once he held the most valuable piece, finally, in his hands, the tumblers in his mind would spin and fall on the right combination, the door would swing smoothly open, and whatever was inside would be his for the taking.  It was comforting to think that way, but it hardly wiped away all doubt.  And doubt, that wasn’t something Blue was used to, so the very fact that he was feeling it only made things worse.  Still, the only way to test his theory was to go get them eyes, and as he got closer to Chim’s pathetic little shitmound of a house, Blue felt his heard and mind go wild.
He stood now before the door, and he raised his fist, knocked three times, lightly, politely.  Stood there.
“Blue?” Chim called.
“It’s me,” Blue called back.
“Come on in.”
Blue opened the door and stepped in.  His eyes slid past Chim’s drunk, shrunken body there in the chair, the reek of liquor rising from his body and the neck of the bottle like nerve gas.  His eyes landed on the floor, the bare, empty floor.  Naked wood that could just about hold a man of average size, taller than Chim, shorter than Blue Baby.  Funny, though, that such a man wasn’t there.
“Ahm…” Blue said.
He brought his eyes back around to Chim.  Chim was staring down into his bottle.  His mouth hung open.
“Where is he?” Blue asked.
Chim lifted his head, but didn’t look at Blue.
“He’s…what?” Chim said.
“Where the fuck is he?”
“He, who, the guy?”
Blue’s right arm swung out in a backhand arc, slapped the bottle from Chim’s limp fingers, sent it tumbling to the floor where it lay there, bleeding.  Then Blue brought his hand back around with a shot that should have taken Chim’s head off.  A crack, like fresh wood splintering under the axe, and Chim went sideways with his chair, spilling to the floor, and he, too, lay there bleeding.  He was still conscious, somehow.  He turned his eyes up to Blue Baby.
“I’m sorry, Chim,” Blue said, panting.  “I’m, you know, where is he?  Is he, do you have another room?  Are, are you keeping, are you keeping him in some other room or something?”
Chim started to work one elbow underneath his thin body, to up prop himself up.
“I’m sorry, Chim,” Blue repeated.  “But I’m, I panicked.  You don’t know what this means to me.  I just panicked.  Where is he?”
“He’s gone,” Chim said through broken teeth.
“He’s -- ?”
“He got up, and he walked right out the fuckin’ door, Blue.  How do you like that?  And I didn’t do a fucking thing to stop him.”
Chim sucked blood from his lips back into his mouth.  Blue Baby was all blurry.  Chim’s glasses were broken on the floor beside him.
“He – “ Blue stammered.
“He’s gone, Blue.  Fucking gone.”
Blue Baby couldn’t kick very well, so he stomped.  Took a step forward, brought his giant foot up and stomped down into Chim’s stomach.  Chim’s ribs gave like a hollow pumpkin, and he screamed.  Sweat shone on Blue’s massive head, his night-blue lips pulled back, and his rolling, tooth-white tongue shot out manically.  And Blue’s arms reached down and grabbed Chim by his elbows, hauling the little yellow man up like an infant, and when Blue squeezed his arms together, Chim’s own arms snapped.  Blood poured and amazing, brilliant, beautiful red from Chim’s mouth and lost itself in the blackness of his clothes.
Blue wrenched Chim forward, their faces together, Blue’s bulb nose pressed against Chim’s twisted beak.  Then closer, till their eyeballs were almost touching.  The sweat and wild murderous heat from Blue’s face warmed Chim.  Chim’s eyes were open and aware.  Blue’s face was filling with something, blood perhaps, and his skin was becoming black, the blackness of an enraged stone god.  The air around Blue boiled and shook . He opened his mouth wide, wide, till the flesh at the sides of his mouth threatened to rip, and he screamed into Chim, screamed everything at him, poured and belched and vomited everything, every scrap of rage and despair and fear and hatred, shot it all out in one wild, nerve-rending shriek, one banshee wail, and his hands, Blue’s hands, which had been straining to join together, now did so with a wet pop, clasping together inside Chim’s belly, as Chim’s blood, hot and wet and still fighting for life, gushed uselessly over Blue’s arms.
Afterwards, Blue, when he’d pulled his hands out of Chim and let the body fall, didn’t feel the least bit better.  His breath was heaving from him as it never had before, and he was suddenly frightened for his own heart.  So he stood there for a while, trying to make all his parts settle down.  His head felt like it wanted to float away.  The way he was sweating, there must be a pool beneath him.
Everything else was still there, everything he’d wanted to accomplish, every goddamn, it, it was all.  He’d.  There.  There was nothing.  But a dead piece of, of, a-and all this fucking blood.  Holy Jesus, where was a canvas when you needed one, right?  That, that fucking Chim.  Gone.  Fucking gone, like he’d said.  What, what could, where’d, where could he’ve gone?  That blind son of a bitch, where the hell’d he gone?  Oh, Jesus.  What now.
Blue brought his blood hands to his face, and he rubbed them up to the top of his head, leaving his face a wonderful, gleaming red.
 *  *  *  *
The Man spent an awful lot of time wondering how long it took for somebody to freeze to death.  It seemed to him that he should be thinking about other things, like how great it was to be out of there, away from him, and how strange it was to be walking again, through snow, and the extra chill of fear that ran through him, the new-found paranoia that made him suspect that little man was nearby, waiting to snatch him away from the blistering winter air, and back into some horrible little warm place.  But his mind, understandably, was transfixed on the idea that his sudden, unexpected released would offer only the briefest sense of freedom, because soon enough that damn freezing air would find him, crystallize around him, packing him in tight, cut off his wind until everything went black.  Then, when the sun came back, the Man would be finished.
Before Chim, he’d had a hotel room somewhere.  He hadn’t the faintest idea what part of the city he was in now.  He had no money, he had been walking around naked, but now he had some old clothes that he’d pulled from a garbage bin.  This had been pure luck.  He’d been hiding in what he now assumed was in alley, and had walked straight into the tall, ice cold metal box.  Guessing what it was, he opened the bin up and just started digging.  The clothes had been in a plastic bag.  There hadn’t been anything in the bag with them.  Just some sweatclothes, and some socks, and sneakers.  While his hands roamed curiously over them, he slowly realized what they were.  He couldn’t believe it.  Just a bag of clothes tossed out, as if someone knew he’d be by, or at least that someone would be by that needed them, and, well, here they were if you watned them.  After he’d dressed, the Man had put one hand against the rough brick surface of the building against which the garbage bin sat, and thanked it.
He knew that his hotel couldn’t be that far away.  Or maybe it was.  He seemed to have forgotten everything he’d learned about the city in his short time there, which wasn’t much.  Now he was just walking.  Seeing where he ended up.  There hadn’t been much in the hotel room:  some clothes, some money.  That was about it.  It seemed to him that there were other things there too, some things of a more personal nature, but whatever they were he couldn’t remember, and he found that he didn’t particularly care to.  He felt completely removed from whatever had gone before in his life.  And though he couldn’t remember what that life had consisted of, he felt sure that he wasn’t leaving much behind.
Or so he told himself.  He was at a stage now where it appeared to be very likely that he would freeze to death, snot and saliva hardened to icicles hanging from his face.  The clothes were soaked through, they no longer did him any good.  They covered him, maintained his dignity, but that was it.  So with death so close, perhaps his mind was trying to make things easier on him, telling him he wasn’t missing much by dying now.  Had what had gone on so far been such a joyride?  At times, he was certain that his mind was doing this to him, showing him mercy, because at one point he actually found himself thinking that, Well, at least I’ll be dying on my own terms, and not in that damn slaughterhouse back there, with that monster.  But what a load that was.  If he was to choose to die, to choose the circumstances of his own death, this sure as hell wouldn’t be what he’d pick.  He’d pick something else, something nice and quick, like decapitation.  Something like that.
So his mind was maybe taking pity on him, wanted him to die in a state of indifference, to die shrugging.  But, of course, that only worked if he wasn’t wise to the game, and so now not only was he going to die, but he was going to die feeling betrayed by his own brain.  It meant well, at least.
He walked along.  He didn’t know which direction he was heading, if he was on the street or the sidewalk, what time of day it was, who the people around him were.  And they were there.  He heard their boots crunching through the snow, and he heard voices faintly babbling past his ear.  Whenever a voice, or voices, sounded clear to him he would strain to catch pieces of what was being said.  Words, sometimes sentences could bring him briefly out of his blindness.  A word, any word – Tuesday, bread, wife, job, lake – or phrases – I’ve been there twice; No, I didn’t think it was too good; I’m bein’ robbed, man; She wouldn’t tell me how much; Well, that’s sweet – would spark images in his brain.  These were images of things he had never seen.  The people in his mind were strangely beautiful, and he knew they were strange.  He knew that what he had invented in his mind bore no resemblance to the world around him, but he didn’t know how he knew that.  Perhaps, he thought, it stood to reason.  He had never seen the world, or people, so there could be no accuracy in his imaginings.  Over the years, this had become less and less important to him.  He liked the people and the places as he saw them.  Snow, the snow against his face, fluttered in great sheets of wildly blazing color, a color that may exist or not, but it fell like sheets from a bed and broke apart before it landed, and drifted gently on the wind.  And light was everywhere for the Man.  What did light look like?  He sure didn’t know, but he knew what it did, and there wasn’t a single thing that he couldn’t see in his mind.  Trees, he’d felt their roughness, felt their smooth leaves.  He invented a color for them.  And for no particular reason, other than because he could, he gave the trees eyes.  These were the eyes of a girl who had once let the Man run his hands along her face.  These eyes had no color, just and amazing softness about them.  They looked like that same girl’s hair had felt.  The Man could remember walking through parks many times in his life, and he imagined these eyes following him with each step, and it was somehow a great comfort to him.  All girls, women and girls, had these same eyes.  They were all walking beauty.  Beauty was something that was utterly indefinable to the Man, but it was something he sensed in every bright voice, soft touch, and light footstep.  He didn’t try to pin it down.  Nothing he could imagine would match that wonderful purity that flowed like air around him whenever he sensed it.
Also, in the Man’s mind, all the men looked the same.  They all looked like him.  However that looked.
And so he walked like that, and he thought these things, and it was a pleasant way to think as he stumbled towards death.  Everything that had ever existed for him in life, every image he had ever created, every scrap of mysterious light and color, tumbled inside him.  It was all daylight inside his mind.  He wiped his nose.
He bumped into a brick wall.  He barely felt it.  He thought his skin must be concrete now, he was so cold.  But he brought his arms up, let his hands run along the surface of the wall.  He’d hit the building right at its corner, and now he walked along, keeping his body against the wall.  Instinctively he felt that he was walking along the side that faced out on the street.  His body sank more heavily against the wall with each step he took.  Soon he guessed he’d reach the end of the building and fall into an alley or something.  Or he’d bump into someone and get punched in the face.  He was at the point where he was expecting anything to happen.  But in his mind this building appeared to be extraordinarily inviting.
And now he began to fall, he’d reached the end, but his hand that shot out landed on smooth wood.  He caught his footing, and stopped falling.  Now he just stood there, confused.
“We’re closing,” said a voice.  Some woman, or a girl, standing very near him.  He now knew that he was in a doorway.
“Um,” he said.
“We’re closed.  You can get drunk tomorrow.”
“No’m, I’m, I’m not thirsty.  I’m – “
“You’re blocking me.  I have to lock this.”
“I’m cold.”
“Well – “
“Is it warm inside?”
“Mister, I said we’re closed.”
“Oh, I know.”
“Jesus, is that blood?”
“…Wh – “
“On your, Jesus!  Oh’, I’m sorry.  I’m just, I’m sorry.”
The Man just stood there.  He thought about shaking his head in confusion, but he seemed to have forgotten how to.
“Are you okay?” she said, and her voice sounded closer, like she was trying to get a good look at him.  “Did you know you’re bleeding?”
“I, I think so.”
“Oh God.  Come on inside.”
He heard a door open, and he felt her hand on his elbow.  She led him inside the building and it seemed incredibly warm.  His legs stopped working, and he fell.
“Oh, God, man!” the girl yelled in a panic.  She fell to her knees beside him.
“I’m okay,” he managed to say.  “I’m all right here.”
She was touching his face, tentaviely.
“God, your clothes, they’re all bloody,” she was saying.
They were? he thought.  Had he really been bleeding that much?  He thought about saying that a guy had tried to eat him, but he didn’t.
“It’s dried,” she said.  “What happened to you?”
“I didn’t know my clothes were so bad.”
“They are.  Did you get shot?”
“I gotta get you to a doctor.”
“No, I need to get warm, is all.”
“Sir, you’re bleeding!”
Now the Man shook his head.
“No I’m not,” he said.  “Not anymore.”
But now the girl pushed his shirt up to look at his chest and stomach, and he heard her gasp.
“Oh shit, what the hell happened to you?  What, Jesus!”
He felt her fingers run lightly over his scabs.
“Oh, Jesus.  What happened?”
“It’s…”  How did you tell someone something like this?  “I got attacked.”
“By what?”
“I don’t know.”
“These wounds are old.  How long’ve you been in these clothes?”
“I found them earlier today.  In a garbage bin.  They’re not mine.”
“But they’re all bloody.”
“Then it’s not my blood.”
“God, I gotta get you to a doctor.”
He heard her begin to stand up, and he reached out and took hold of her ankle.  He didn’t grab her, just reached out.
“Don’t, please,” he said.  “I’m okay lying like this.  Just sit here with me.”
She did kneel down again.  After a while, she said, “Could you eat something?  Or drink something?”
“In a while, yes.”
He lay there, breathing.  He could smell her.  His hand was against her knee.
“What’s your name?” she asked him.
“…I don’t know.  What’s yours?”
 *  *  *  *

In Blue Baby’s room, which had been destroyed, the big man sat in his chair, sugar spread over his hands and face.  Little crystals of it sparkled, caught in the blood on his cheeks, forehead, mouth.  His paintings lay in tatters, or wadded up, on his floor.  Bowls and jars had been smashed or upended.  Everything seemed amazingly bright to him right now, and the room also looked surprisingly empty.  He was feeling very bewildered, and he was hungry.  He sighed, and slowly tore up another page.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Art of Blindness: Part 4

(Part Three)

The Man found that he could sit up, and Chim still hadn’t returned.  The strange spread of sensation he’d felt before, just before Chim had burst in and beat him, had started again not long before Chim left.  When the tingle reached the point at which Chim had stopped it, it gained momentum, a painful one that turned the tingle into a scoring of forks across his body, as if there were now dozens of Chims in the room, more polite and sophisticated than the original, ones who used silverware.  This made the Man scream a little.  And he didn’t hold back, wasn’t able to hold back, and didn’t want to anyway.  Let Chim get an earful, if he was nearby, but the Man didn’t think he was.  He thought Chim would probably be gone a good while.
The pain became wonderful, and at some point, with each contortion of his body, with each stretch of his muscles, with each dull blade and rusty poker that was rammed through his guts, the Man began to laugh.  He screamed laughter.  His body flipped to its side, and he marveled at the queasy rippling in his stomach, the rhythmic rippling of the muscles in his face as he broke out in a sweat.  And he wondered at that, too, at the hot-cool beading he felt along his forehead.  He reached a shaking hand up to his face and wiped the sweat away, and he felt it wet on his fingers.  And he let his fingers travel down his face, feeling it again, remembering what he probably looked like, feeling that amazing, nearly forgotten revulsion as the sandpaper surface of his eyeballs rubbed against his fingertips.
Suddenly he sat up, like a drunk man in bed who suddenly realizes he needs to vomit.  He sat there in the sudden silence, his laughter and screams gone, cut off, and he just sat there and shook.  How sick am I? he wondered.  Pretty sick, it would appear.  Something was leaking from his mouth and he wiped it away.  It was thick, whatever it was.  He smeared it from his hand onto the floor next to him.  Then he scratched his head.  His head, he realized,, was moving, moving like it belonged to a functioning human who wanted to look around a room, see where he was, figure out what was going on.  This made him laugh again, a little.  What a strange thing to do.  Had he ever done that before?  He didn’t think so.
The floor was hard and warm beneath him.  His body had heated it.  He’d never really felt the floor before.  He felt it now with his hands, stroking it, touching it in the loving way he thought he should, after being without the sense for so long, but he couldn’t seem to muster up much affection for it.  However, the floor had been pretty indifferent and uncaring during these recent horrors.  It just lay there like a board while some wheezing madman had tried to eat the Man alive and sell his eyes.  Fuck it.
But he could still feel the floor under him, and his legs could move along it.  He could slide one leg so that one knee was cocked out to the side, and his leg now lay in a triangle.  And that other leg, he could bend that one so that it was also a triangle, but this triangle pointed up to the ceiling.  He could sit there like that for a bit.  It was only a couple of seconds sit there like that for a bit.  It was only a couple of seconds before he found that he could also put his knuckles against the floor, and press down, while pressing down with his legs, as well.  And he found that by doing this he could stand up.  So he stood there, and now he did throw up, bent over and let out nothing but bile, sour and scorching, somehow making him think of what it must be like to drink, and then vomit out, gasoline.  It was thick and disgusting.  It didn’t splash against the floor, but seemed to flop down like syrup.  The sound made him want to throw up again, but he had nothing left.  So his stomach and throat kept pushing and pulling, trying to rip something else out of him, but only air came out, and after a while not even that.  He was able to stand up straight again.  He felt clean, despite the itching pain up and down his chest, stomach, and legs.  That pain felt washed.
And he brought his arms up, hands out, and he groped like a blind man until he felt the wall on his right.  This wall would turn into a door, and he moved along it until he found himself walking on wet wood, soaked through with melted snow, and his hands roamed over the door frame and onto the battered surface of the door itself.  If he ran his hand quickly down the door, his palm would come away full of splinters.  So his hands went down slowly until the touched something round and hard, made of metal, something that turned in his hand with glorious ease.  The door opened.  He stood in the doorway, naked and covered in dried blood and scabs.  Slowly, he walked out of Chim’s home.  It was terribly, terribly cold outside.
 *  *  *  *
“How come Deuryde ain’t here tonight?” Chim asked.
He was drunk and had been for a while, and he had already asked this question many times.  But he hadn’t asked this man, this short fat man whose own eyeglasses, when compared to Chim’s own monstrous pair, looked like a pair of microsope lenses.  And there seemed to be no arms for the man’s frames; the glasses just sat there on his thick nose.
“You ask me something?” the man asked.  He has just come from Bozz’s back rooms, slipped behind the bar, and was now rummaging for something in one of the squat refrigerators they kept back there.  The bartender had already fielded this question, and he stood well away from Chim and the new man.
“Yeah,” Chim said.  “You Bozz?”
“Yeah, I’m Bozz.  You’re Chim.  You gotta ask who I am?”
“No, I know you’re Bozz.  Hi, Bozz.”
“Hi, Chim.  You bring money tonight?”        
“Always got money.”
“You’re puttin’ it away good.”
“You want me t’take it somewheres else?  I, there’s a place, there’s bars I could go to.  That’d not ask me.  If I brought money.  You know, I put, I spend good money here.  You gotta treat me like I’m some fuckin’ guy, some poor, no, some poor fuckin’, that I won’t pay for my – “
“Chim,” Bozz broke in, “I shouldn’a asked.  I know you can pay.”
“You don’t know shit,” Chim shook his head.  “How, how’m, who am I to you?  I’m nothin’ to you.  Just for drinks, er, for money.  I’m…where’s Deuryde tonight?”
“It’s her night off,” said Bozz.
“God, wul, shit.  I’m – “
“Christ almighty, Chim, how long you been here?  You’re wrecked.”
“I’un know.  Where’sa clock?”
But now Bozz ignored him and turned to the bartender.  The bartender shrugged.
“You got any lemons out here?” Bozz asked him.
“Yes,” Bozz said, sighing.  “Lemons.  Are there any?”
“Yeah,” the bartender said.  “Well, I think.  Someone need a lemon?”
“No, well, I got, back in my office.  She suddenly wants lemon in her – “
“Who?” Chim piped up.  He’d been staring through slits at the two men talking.
“What?” Bozz asked.
“Who wants lemon?  Is she back there?  Is Deuryde back there?”
“No, you numbskull,” the bartender barked.  “It’s her fucking night off.  How many times we gotta tell you?”
“Oh, but – “ Chim stopped, looking over the rim of his glass at nothing.  “Is…”
“Where’re the lemons?” Bozz demanded.
“Refrigerator,” said the bartender.
“Thanks, genius.  Where in the refrigerator?  Which refrigerator?  I been in and outta there half a dozen times already.”
“Lemme see your phone,” Chim said, and he held his hand out.
Bozz looked away from the refrigerator.
“For what?”
“I wanna call Deuryde.”
“What?  No.”
“No, I think she really wants me to call her, probably.  God, lemme have the phone.”
“No.  You ain’t callin’ Deuryde.  You don’t even know her number.”
“Well, tell it to me.”
“No,” Bozz said, laughing now.  The bartender was trying to find the lemons.
“She should be down here,” Chim said.  “It oughtta be me’n her down here, an’ she should be – “
“Oh,” said Bozz.  “You’re in love, are you?  You fuck her yet?”
“She should be what?” the bartender asked, smiling.  “Suckin’ your dick?”
Chim glared at the two men.  He had something to say about Deuryde, and somehow these two men had just stolen it from him.  It was gone completely.  A fully formed thought, emotion, in his mind, and he couldn’t make his drunken mouth tell it.  Now these men had somehow just knocked his head empty.  All he could do was stare at them.
Apparently aware that he’d made Chim angry, the bartender reached out for his glass.
“You need a fresh one?” he asked.
“I’m goin’ home,” Chim said, slowly.  His forehead felt numb.  His lips were slack.
“Okay,” Bozz said.  “Let’s see that money.”
Chim leaned far to the left, digging his hand into his back pocket.  He was close to falling off his stool.  He pulled out his money, every last bit he’d been able to find in his house just before leaving the Man alone.  He put the money on the bar.
“That enough?” he asked.
The bartender rifled through it and smiled at Bozz.
“Yeah, that’ll just about do’er,” Bozz said.  “Good man, Chim.”
Chim eased himself off the stool and staggered a few steps towards the front door of the bar, which was all the way over there.  The room, of course, was spinning.  It had never done this before, but Chim had always though that this was the way it should be.  The room, rotating slowly around the center, around where Deuryde stood.  And now it seemed to be doing that, but the door never moved.  It was still there, just like that, a sharp black rectangle, and he kept moving towards it.  Then he stopped, turned around, and said, “Tell Deuryde I called.”
“Yeah, we will,” Bozz said, grinning.
“Okay.  Thank you, Bozz.”
And he made his way back to the door again, and he pushed through into the coldness and stood there shivering, the alcohol and his great black coat doing nothing for him.
 *  *  *  *
In some ways, this is a marvelous world [Blue Baby wrote]That anybody can find something to enthrall them in the midst of all this uselessness and idiocy could almost be called a miracle, if one merely looked at things briefly and with blunt vision.  People everywhere are fascinated, mesmerized.  They find things and activities interesting.  How nice, the spoon-eyed would say.  How pleasant.  Yet with only the barest filing down of the senses we see that everyone is engaging in acts of cannibalism, that the world and its people coil back on themselves like Ourboros, devouring themselves into infinity.  People are made pop-eyed by their own banality.  They water a flower, and day after day after day collapses and dies until finally a few petals creak open and suddenly something useful, something interesting, has been accomplished.  Or so the gardener tells himself.  Of course, in reality, nothing has been accomplished.  Even if properly cared for, that flower will die quickly.  The gardener has merely channeled the strangely energetic oafishness of himself and his life into a physical act of worthlessness.  So the gardener finds the fact that he is Nothing interesting.  He celebrates it, and pretends to be unaware of the dark ritual he is performing.  He is too busy amusing himself with his interests.
            So how is it possible that this world is sometimes such a marvelous place?  One need simply have a day of such exquisiteness as I have just had to understand.  And this perfect day will never be forgotten by me, as it has offered up the materials for my masterpiece.  This world’s two most profound and abundant qualities, blindness and banality, have been handed to me in their purest forms.  Before me, on my desk, sits Man Rising, a squalid, unbelievably cheap lump of sugar.  I erase the name given to this still-born creature, having only barely remembered the title long enough to write it down here and I re-christen it Idiot’s Idol.  The title’s assonance is predictable, and it is perhaps even a worse name than the one I wiped away, but that hardly matters.  I call it Idiot’s Idol merely so I can properly laugh at it before I really get down to business.  For that business I need Blindness, the eyes of Io, and right now I do not have them.  They exist, I have seen them.  They have been promised to me.  But I do not have them in my hands right now.  It is perhaps the anxiety and anguish that this causes me that is fueling my pencil right now.  It would be a simple matter for me to get up, go outside, and walk the short distance to Chim’s house, where they are kept.  Pluck the eyes from the head of the unworthy beast who was stupid enough to spend his life cursing them.  But something tells me to wait until morning.  To plan out my project, to understand exactly what I will do with my strange materials, what I will create.  If anyone other than myself ever reads these pages, I hope I don’t have to tell you, though I expect that I do, that it is never wise to rush art.
 *  *  *  *

            Chim had liquor with him so he could be drunk when Blue Baby showed up.  And the booze helped him wipe his head clear of whatever the hell he’d filled it with last night.  He couldn’t remember anymore, but it had been bad.  Now he was able to drown the specifics, though he could still feel its presence, hanging there in the form of depression.  But because the reason for the depression wasn’t clear he couldn’t really feel that bad.  So he sat in his chair and kept drinking, and waited for Blue.  When Blue got there, Chim would just mumble out some indecipherable excuse until he left in a rage.  And “rage” was absolutely the right word.  Blue would probably trash the place some.  Break a table.  Or, rather, break the table.  Chim would just have to weather it.  Hope that maybe when it was all over Blue will have decided that he wanted nothing more to do with him.  Leave Chim to himself, to live out alone whatever time he had left.  Which couldn’t be much.  Chim’s hunger seemed to be steadily ebbing away into nothing.  Life had never held much joy for him, but he had always clung to it, desperately wrapped his body and mind around the idea of life for its own sake, and he would let his mind go off on its own sometimes, see if it might not dredge up something useful, or, at any rate, interesting from his existence.  But if his mind had uncovered anything in this quest, it was keeping quiet about it.  The flood, the endless channel of, of something, from his mind down through the rest of him that he had expected had never even begun.  And it never would begin, and he’d known that for, Christ, for a long time now.  So it was all catching up to him, making him want to be drunk all the time, making him not care who he pissed off, and making him lose his appetite.  All he did was he sat, and he drank, and he waited.  He thought no more about the Man, other than to note his absence, and the consequences of that absence.  He looked at his window, waiting for a great blue shape to pass by, blocking it, briefly eclipsing daylight.  He wished that son of a bitch would hurry up and get here.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Art of Blindness: Part 3

(Part One. Part Two.)
Once, Blue Baby had actually written about the time he first met Chim.  Strictly speaking, Blue was, chronologically, a long way from that point in his life in his memoirs, but what made this autobiography so good, he thought, was that, within its pages, time really meant nothing.  He jumped around as he pleased, wrote what he felt like writing, and knew that he would never feel the need to rearrange everything at some point so that the narrative would flow more easily.  So he had cut into some anecdote about a professor he had once known (not an instructor of his own, but a friend of his father's).  Blue had been young when the incident took place.  This professor had collected blades:  knives, swords, lawnmower blades, and so on.  He taught history.  One morning, Blue had awoken, looked out the window of his room, and saw the professor standing in front of their house, three blades somehow attached to the ground, pointing up at a slight angle towards the professor, who was wearing a nice suit.  Blue’s mother and father stood a little to the side, arms folded, watching.  The professor then let himself drop forward onto the blades.
            It was a much more involved story than that, but he cut into this in order to talk a little bit about Chim.  Chim would have been deeply flattered, Blue guessed, as long as he never actually read any of it.
            It went:
There is a man who lives very near me.  He is small and yellow and I hate him.  His name is Chim.  As a rule, I do not like meeting people, and I did not exactly like meeting Chim.  But it was sort of a hopeless situation, because I was entering my home early one morning when I didn’t think anyone would see me, with two dead dogs, one under each arm, and though I could open my own door easily enough this man decided to be neighborly and help me with my packages.  He was drunk, I saw at once.  Returning from a binge, I concluded.  Drunk, yes, but the dogs did not cut through his liquor haze, as one would assume they would.  Instead, he took the Dalmatian from me, sank a little under its weight, and said, “These’re some pretty dogs.”  I thought he was long, long gone, but I said, “They’re dead, you know.”  He said, “I know.  I can see that.”
            I really should have taken the dog back after opening the door, but for some reason I didn’t and he followed me into my home.  He asked where he should put the dog.  I put my Rottweiler in a corner, and instructed him to stack the other dog on top.  He did, straightened up, smiling.  “Chim,” he said, reaching out a hand.  “Blue Baby,” I said, not extending my own.  “Quite a joint you got here,” he said.  “I’m and artist,” I told him.  “No shit.  I can see, looking around.  You have some beautiful things.”  Most of my pieces on display utilized animals or garbage, and Chim asked me, quite out of the blue, I thought, if I ever used human skins or human organs in my work.  I said that yes, I did.  He then went on to tell me, in that utterly charming way drunks have of talking well before they are aware of what they’re saying, that he actually ate human flesh.  That he was actually a cannibal, and that was how he sustained his life.  I said, “No kidding?”
            Blue thought of that meeting, and his once-growing fascination with Chim that had long since tapered off, as he went on his errands.  What a strange beast to get to know, to allow into his home and to, for God’s sake, watch him work.  Blue still couldn’t believe that he had allowed Chim to watch him paint his blood-on-skin mural.  But he’d still been very caught up in Chim’s way of life at the time.  He had hoped to learn something from the little insect.  He hadn’t.
            Anyway, today was a good day for Blue.  His business took him downtown, and negotiating his great bulk through subway stations, let alone the subway itself, had always been an ordeal.  Blue liked to carry himself with a quietly superior dignity, and for much of his life he had assumed that the darkness of the city’s subterranean levels lent itself favorably to this projection, made his stature seem sinister and unapproachable to others.  But the subways, perhaps, cloaked him too much.  Not only did no one else seem to notice him there, but he barely noticed himself.  For the life of him, he couldn’t imagine why this should be.
            He could get through it today, though.  His spirits were too high for anything so minuscule to affect him.  Last night, as he wrote and wrote, a man had called, a man Blue Baby knew named Meezik.  At first Blue Baby had felt terribly angry and impatient at the interruption, but as Meezik explained the call Blue’s head began to swim in glorious disbelief.  What Meezik said, what he offered, such a thing was impossible for someone like Blue.  Yet Meezik did offer it.
            Meezik was a man of the Arts.  Not an artist himself, and not even a man whose artistic tastes Blue trusted in the least, but one day some months back Meezik had come by Blue’s home, completely at random, the two having never met before, to hand out fliers and to explain to Blue what it was exactly that was written on them.  Meezik very much wanted Blue – wanted everyone in this area of the city especially because he, for some unexplained reason, felt it was a very Bohemian district – to know about an upcoming show that he was producing.  The show, Meezik explained, and the flier confirmed, was called Guillotine Nation, the performer’s name was Lightbulb Annie, and past that, Meezik said ominously, it would be imprudent to continue.  Blue would have closed the door in his face, but Meezik had stopped talking suddenly, on his own.  It turned out his eye had caught Blue’s mural, the one in blood that he called Hometown.
            “Are you an artist?” Meezik asked.
            “I am,” Blue had said, nodding.
            “Jesus, that is amazing.  What is it that you painted that in?  Is that paint?”
            “It’s blood.”
            “That’s what I thought.  It’s beautiful.”
            Blue had agreed that it was, although he doubted that Meezik really understood the piece.  Still, his enthusiasm seemed genuine.  Blue would not let him inside to show him any other pieces, though he did assure Meezik that his output was prolific.  Meezik had given Blue his card.  Blue wasn’t really sure what he was supposed to do with it, but he thanked him and shut the door.
            Then, last night, the call.  Blue didn’t know how Meezik got his number, but the question soon became unimportant.  Meezik told Blue that he could set up an exhibit, a small one that was part of something larger, that would be held in an abandoned meat-packing plant downtown.  If Blue was interested.
            Blue wasn’t interested at all, and that was partly why he was so elated; so elated that he was subjecting himself to the indifference of the subway in order to get a look at the beginnings of what must be one of the greatest artistic monstrosities in the planet’s endless, unabated history of aesthetic debacle.  It had to be bad.  Meezik came off as a door-to-door salesman for Guillotine Nation, and come to think of it Blue now remembered reading a write-up on Guillotine Nation and Lightbulb Annie after opening night.  The piece had not been so much a review as it had been an account of the subsequent riot.  The stage, and Lightbulb Annie, had been rushed, though she had escaped with nothing more than a chipped bone in her ankle.  Annie had apparently been attempting to urinate on the audience, who had been unappreciative.  The article was a bit vague.  But it told Blue that if Meezik’s spiel to other potential attendees had been anything like the one he pitched to Blue then he should probably consider being less cryptic in his description next time.
            But none of that really had anything to do with why Blue was sure this current exhibit would be such a joke.  No, the reason for that could be put far more simply:  Meezik was trying to get people to go.  For at least the second time in what must have thus far been a ludicrous career as an Art Promoter, he was making the mistake of trying to surround the work with humanity.  And the work was almost certainly shit, which didn’t help matters any.  Every artist worth his salt – and Blue Baby’s instincts told him he was the only one – knew that anybody who might, by accident or on purpose, lay eyes on one of their creations didn’t matter in the least.  Had no connection with it at all.  Were about as important to that piece of art as a praying mantis is to the boot that crushes it.
            So all of this made Blue Baby positively giddy, and as he pried himself out of the subway onto the dark and smoky platform, he still wasn’t entirely clear why that was.  Worthless art, the few times he’d wasted a second or two to glance in its direction, had never affected him positively before.  It was worthless, after all.  He knew it wasn’t just the prospect of laughing in Meezik’s face, although he planned to do just that once he’d gotten his fill.  No there, was something else, not yet unearthed in Blue’s mind, some larger purpose and reason behind his happiness.
            Those eyes Chim has, he decided, even then not sure what those eyes had to do with anything.  But those eyes were part of it.  Something to do with what he had planned for those eyes.  Whatever that was.
            Ah, well.  Things always came to Blue Baby eventually.  If he didn’t have the answer now, he need merely wait until he caught sight of the leaf on the tree that would somehow fall into place in his mind and complete the mosaic.  Or words to that effect.
In any case, it didn’t matter right now because he hadn’t even seen any of the show yet.  Today was not the beginning of the public exhibit, of course.  Meezik had said, I can set up an exhibit here in my new museum.  Interested?  Then Blue Baby’d said, Yes, when does it start?  Meezik told him.  Not too long, he’d said, so get on the ball.  Blue Baby said, Well, could I drop by and look at what you have so far?  Get an idea of the flavor of the show?  Capital idea! had been Meezik’s ringing endorsement of the notion.
Standing now above-ground, cleansed of the thickness of the subway by the revealing daylight, Blue Baby looked down Juke Street, and down Juke Street a few blocks would be a great big white building surrounded by a ten foot-high chain-link fence.  In this part of the city the snow had been swept into piles and choked with blackness, and everything managed to retain its declining industrial feel.  This building would look like the area’s centerpiece.  Meezik had said that there would be a bunch of trashcans in rows, one row on either side of the front door, leading from the front of the building to the front gate.  These trashcans would be filled with something – Meezik didn’t know what, because he’d delegated the job to somebody else – that would burn fiercely, but would also burn long.  Two rows of constant flames.  Meezik’s version of a red carpet, leading into the meat-packing plant.
Or, The Meat-Packing Plant.  It had been a steal, this place, Meezik claimed, and he had converted it into his very own gallery.  Before the place had shut down, it had been called Chinchine’s Meat-Packing Plant, Chinchine being a rather powerful name in the meat-packing industry.  But for one reason or another, this particular plant couldn’t stand the heat, and Meezik managed to snag it.  Other than dropping “Chinchine’s”, Meezik couldn’t think of any good reason to rename the place, and Blue Baby had to admit that he couldn’t, either, and he even admired Meezik’s restraint in not simply replacing “Chinchine’s” with “Meezik’s”, although Meezik was probably just waiting to see if the place caught on.
Now Blue Baby began his slow walk between the rows of flaming trashcans, enjoying the gutter regalness of it all.  The lack of movement or sound, apart from the snap and flicker of the fire, made him feel like he was about to enter the grand fortress of some ancient and feared cult that liberally practiced blood sacrifices and animal orgies in praise of whatever it was they praised.  It was an oddly nice feeling.  And what was Chinchine, anyway?  Meat-packers.  Not just meat-packers, either; surely they ran their own slaughterhouses.  What went on in those places?  Like everyone else, Blue had an idea, but in his current frame of mind it was pleasant to imagine nine-foot tall men, edging into their tenth decade, decked out in great red and white robes – red for blood and meat, white for sinew and bone – standing above the killing floor and shouting and spitting down to their acolytes that the blood-heat must grow and burn, and that the panicked, fearful lows of the round-eyed, foam-mouthed cows must reach the wailing-pitch of the maniacally religious.  Pluck out the eyes, he would tell them, because the eyes of the dead were as full of life and light as those of the living, it was the body only that died, and once you hold those eyes in your hands, squeeze, crush them into glue, and smear that glue onto your axes and saws and knives, and cut the throat of the next dumb-faced cow.  Blue Baby had heard that in the old-time slaughterhouses, during the real, deep-down cutting, the slaughterers would slice out the anus of each dead cow and, for whatever reason, slip them up their muscled biceps.  So, at the end of the day, they’d have built up this sectioned, caterpillar-like armband of these, well, these cow anuses.  Who knew why, but there’s a cult for you!
But, sadly, no.  He wasn’t stepping through the doorway of any beef-oriented cult.  It was just some shitty art museum.  Blue Baby wouldn’t know the machinery of meat-packing if he sat on it, but he could still tell that all of that stuff had been cleared out.  Maybe Chinchine still owned it, but if Meezik had any brains he would have bought it off them.  Meezik’s mistakes just kept piling up.  Those machines, and their history, would have been a nice antidote to the cloying presence of people that had turned the building into a shopping mall.
The place was gigantic, and people were everywhere.  Blue couldn’t understand it.  Giant white walls with black and gray scuffs low along the walls, and gritty black floors.  Without the people this place would look surprisingly like an empty factory.  Or perhaps an old meat-packing plant.  And where had all these people come from?  Today the opening of the show.  That wasn’t for a few days, yet, still, people.  There must have been exhibits set up, but Blue couldn’t find them.  Couldn’t find Meezik, either.  Blue stood just inside the door, looking around helplessly.  What the hell was this?
Then he felt a tug at his sleeve, and he looked into the face of a young woman with white lips and a black nose.  It may have been make-up, maybe not.  But she was holding up a flier, the same kind of flier Meezik had presented him with as an invitation to see Guillotine Nation.  However, this flier was purple, and the other had been pink, and it was advertising not Guillotine Nation but a different art show called Righteous Shit!:  The Artists for Today.  It gave the date the show began, and Blue was right, it wasn’t today.  And, wup, there it was, at the top, Meezik’s Meat-Packing Plant.  Couldn’t go five minutes without fucking it all to hell.
“Be sure to come,” the woman said.  “It’ll be like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
“I plan on putting up and exhibit myself,” Blue told her.  “I’m here to see Meezik, to find out more about that, but I can’t seem to find him.”
“Oh, shit, okay,” the woman said, and she pointed up.  There was a flight of stairs that led up to a second-floor which consisted entirely of a mezzanine that ran around the interior perimeter of the building.  And there, with his back to the railing, Blue picked out Meezik’s distinctive white pigtails.
“There he is,” she said.
“Thank you.  And what are all these people doing here today?”
“A lot of them are artists and their friends and like that.  They’re getting all set up.”
“Oh, I see.  Thank you.”
Well, that was perfect.  Well-wishers.
Blue went up the stairs.  Up here there weren’t very many people, and Meezik spotted Blue right off.  The bone-thin white creature clapped his powdery hands, and his flashlight eyes went from the sleeping slits of a clap-wearied loser to half-dollars as soon as Blue filled his vision.
“Oh my God!” Meezik breathed.  “Sir, I didn’t think you’d come by.”
“I said I would,” said Blue.
“I know, but – “
“Do you not believe me to be a man of my word?”
“No, of course not, but – “
“I can’t see anything down there,” Blue said, peering at the main floor of the plant.  “What are all these people?”
“Well-wishers.  A lot of our artists are young men and women, and this is their first exhibit.  It’s a big deal, so, you know, I thought I’d, for those who wanted to set up early, I said they could have friends or family come help out.  Say good luck, you know.”
“Yes, I know how it is.  Still, I wanted to take a look around, see what kind of show I’d be associating myself with, and I haven’t seen a single painting.  There are a lot of people down there to just be well-wishers.”
As if he doubted Blue, Meezik turned and looked down to the floor below, at all the milling heads.  Blue didn’t bother, but he kept his ears open to catch the complete lack of nuance in the conversation that drifted up.  Everyone seemed to be talking, and not a single word was intelligible.  So many words were pouring fourth, so many people seemed to feel they had so much to say, but all you had to do was listen to realize this wasn’t true.  Otherwise, some of that good-will and enthusiasm would filter through, Blue would be able to tell that some mother was saying to her daughter that her paintings were very lovely, the colors were very nice, very pretty, or someone’s friend or lover telling his artist-associate that their giant clay erection statue was really quite stunning.  But there was none of that.  It was merely the whir of machinery, the hum of a great press.  Blue couldn’t help wondering – in a purely metaphorical way, of course – if machines left ghosts, because he felt deeply that Chinchine’s old robot workers were still hanging around somehow, and still drawing in the meat, sucking it in from the outside, into this room, where these ghosts then, smooth and coldly, pack it.
“Well,” Meezik was saying, his pigtails hanging towards the crowd, “I suppose my only answer is that I guess my show is going to be bigger than you thought.”
Meezik’s grin was extremely satisfied.
“Apparently so,” Blue smiled back.  “It’s very impressive.  But could I squeeze in, do you suppose, and take a look?”
“Absolutely.  Absolutely.  I’m sure everyone would be just very honored.”
Meezik led the way back downstairs, and all the way down he would throw occasional glances back at Blue Baby.  Then, on the floor, he motioned for Blue to join his side, and the two of them cut into the crowd.  People parted for Meezik.  Blue looked into each face he passed.
“Let’s begin here,” Meezik said, and Blue saw suddenly that they were standing in front of a wall.  Set into that wall was a series of masks.  These masks would be at eye-level for most people, but Blue had to look down at them.  The colors were strange, sort of a swirl of colored oils, and Blue could vaguely tell that each face – they were a man’s face – got older, and, apparently, angrier.  The colors in the masks seemed to shift as he looked at them.  Beneath the masks was a small black card with white lettering that said:  THE AGE OF RAGE.  The artists name, listed below the title, was Pop Bykhunt, which sounded made up to Blue Baby.
“Pop’s not here today, which is a shame,” Meezik said.  “But isn’t that something?”
“It’s horrific,” said Blue.
Meezik looked at him, and Blue looked back.  He could tell that Meezik wasn’t sure how to take that critique, and Blue wasn’t about to elucidate.
“Let’s move on,” he said.
Meezik nodded.  The next piece was a sculpture.  It consisted of a bent and horribly bashed-up car fender.  This fender was twisted into a circle, and trapped in the middle of that circle, trapped in the metal, was a crude granite rendering of a nude woman, her head thrown back, legs kicking out desperately.  This piece was called FEMINFINITY, the artist was Ula Munk, a woman who happened to be there now, at Meezik’s side.  She was smiling, trying to seem detached and proud at the same time.  She had sunken cheeks, and she was topless.
“This is Ula Munk,” Meezik said.  “This is her sculpture.”
Blue looked at her.  Her own glance was defiant.
“This is a waste of a good fender,” Blue told her.  Then he moved on, able to find his way from exhibit to exhibit without Meezik, who, in any case, now stood a bit stunned while Ula said things like “Fucking fat bastard” to Blue’s back.
A giant painting, very detailed, of a seaweed-green man, thin from starvation, with bloody genitals, was next.  This one was called MY LOVER.  The painter’s name flit by his eyes like a subliminal message that didn’t quite do it’s job.
There was a lot more after that.  A lot more.  It was indeed a large show.  Blue no longer talked to people, wasn’t aware of any of the hungry young artists watching appraise their masterworks in the time it would take them to strike a match.  Titles became a blur, except for the ones that bore the appropriate name, UNTITLED.  There were fewer of these than Blue Baby would have expected.  He did linger over these, but even then he focused on the title card more than anything else.  One painter had three works on display.  The first painting showed an angel, sort of, the top half bright and blonde and heavenly, while the lower half seemed to have been sunk into a well-used toilet, excrement dripping down into some vaguely defined, but clearly interested, maw.  The second painting was less clear, but there seemed to be a flag involved, and this flag, through what appeared to be a rain of coins, was evidently oppressing something in the lower half of the painting.  Meanwhile, the final painting was pretty well indecipherable.  Very dark colors showed several rows of ragged, skewed columns.  Stepping back a bit, Blue Baby saw that they could be dozens of outstretched, pleading arms.  Whatver they were, the point was that these paintings were titled, respectively, UNTITLED #1, UNTITLED #2, and UNTITLED #3.  Blue couldn’t say much for the paintings, but he loved those titles.
Many paintings, many sculptures, some hints that there would be live artistic performances when the actual show began.  One piece of floor was roped off, and a card on the wall proclaimed that this spot was set aside for Lightbulb Annie (herself!), who would be performing something called Cucumber Train Ride three times a day, every day of the show’s run.  This would involve nudity and live sexual acts, the card warned.
It was a while before Blue found what he was looking for, though he didn’t know he’d been looking for anything at all.  Set off there, in a corner.  The artist, perhaps, was in the bathroom.  In any case, no one seemed to be there ready to claim it, and if not for the black title card it could have been mistaken for a piece of trash that hadn’t been swept up when Chinchine left town.
This piece was a statue, of sorts, and it didn’t appeal to Blue because of what it was, or what it was called.  He liked it because no one appeared to be watching him right now, and it was small enough to steal.  Even so, the tiny statue, called MAN RISING, was an amazingly weak effort.  Hodling the tiny man, it felt to Blue that it was made out of sugar, rice, and glue.  Some little boy probably got a check-plus for this.  Blue could actually hear little grains falling to the floor and the stool on which it had rested.  Blue held it in both hands, then hefted it in one hand.  He let that hand drop to his side, and a little behind him.  Then he began to edge towards the front door.
“This show, and this museum,” he suddenly called out, “are doomed to failure.”
Everyone turned to him.  Meezik caught his eye, and looked as though someone had just murdered his favorite uncle.  He stared in shock and wounding disbelief at the giant blue man, the man he still felt was a fine painter.
“The only way this show can succeed,” Blue went on, opening the door with his free hand, “is if you all lock yourselves in here and burn the place down.”

Then Blue was out the front door, and he raced to the front gate before the fire from the trashcans could melt the statue.