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.

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