He had taken some old bills, like the ones for his phone, utilities, a few from credit cards, and splattered them with his own blood. They were nicely matted in brushed aluminum frames. I’m sure he was trying to make a statement somewhere among all those statements, but I didn’t get it.
I did get that this art opening was only serving wine. And that wine gave me a headache. Had enough of those already. Speaking of…
My date went from bloody bill to bloody bill, giving them her full aesthetic attention. Judging them individually by some measuring stick in her mind, she’d nod at one then move on to the next. Pause. Stare. Scrutinize. Appear to discern something. Smile. Nod. Move on.
Something about the whole act smelled like rotting baloney. She was too earnest. Too intent. My Fraudulent Pantomime Meter was going off, reading “Total Fake-out.” She just wanted to be seen appreciating the work. To look like she gave a flying fuck.
I suspected this because that’s what I was doing.
“Very nice, see how he managed to get a clot over his cable late fee,” I pointed out. “Pollock directed his splatter, but not this concisely.”
She nodded absently and looked over at the artist. He was on the other side of the room, drinking a small bottle of sparkling water and talking to three women. In his early thirties. Mediterranean good looks. One of those dark guys who can pull off wearing his hair in greasy dangling locks. Like Shemp.
Very few guys can pull off that kind of hair. I always admired the ones that could. Guys like Gibby Haynes. And Leo Gorcey. And Danny Trejo. And Iggy.
The blessed and lucky.
I always loved Shemp’s hair–the way he would curl it behind his ears after getting his nose clawed with a hammer. Just one more thing to deal with. Besides having furniture broken over his head, always having to flip back his greasy hair. While spitting out splinters.
That says so much. In other words, it’s all in a day’s work when you’re a gnarly fucker. It’s important to keep your hair out of your eyes while your head is being pile-driven into a cast iron stove. So you can see better.
That’s so badass it hurts.
It really hurt. The fact that this guy had his own show at a prestigious Santa Fe art gallery. That his work was selling. That women loved him. That he wasn’t drunk. That he would soon be sleeping with my date. And that he got to have Shemp hair.
It was too much.
I excused myself and went out to my ’73 Olds Omega where five beers were heating up in the August afternoon sun. I got in the car and lied down on the front seat. I gassed open a can and shotgunned it down my throat. Dropped the empty on the floor boards. Reached under the seat and repeated.
That’ll do. Save three for later. I sat up and looked around. The parking lot was full, but there were no people around. I wanted to stay there and hide. I couldn’t bring myself to walk back in.
I lied back down and reached under the seat. Pop. Pish. Gluggity-gluggity-glug. Thirshhhhhhh-tee!
That one did it. I recovered my intrepididity and rose up from the car seat. Resurrection.
Back inside, I saw her talking to him. No surprise. Sometimes I just know how things are going to go. Especially when it’s bad.
I circled the perimeter for a while, looking at his work. What a bunch of shit. Anybody could do this. Sure he does some origami with some of the bills. Whatever. You can learn that from a book in the library. But who has the nerve to present this mess to a gallery director? Not me. The gall. The balls.
Great. We’ve established he has bigger balls. More bile to swallow. To go with the red dot by the $1,200 piece.
Finally, she waved me over.
Here we go.
She introduced us. I took his hand, then bent down and kissed his onyx ring. I don’t know why I did that. It was just one of those spontaneous things you do while buzzed, then wonder about later. I meant it as a gag, but here’s where it turned terrible–he received it. He actually took it with a slight nod, all papal and shit. Acting like it was appropriate. What a motherfucker!
She noted the exchange. Oh shit. I clicked my heels and bowed, extending the gag. Hoping to save it. But the damage was done. He had diminutized me.
It was clear now that I had to beat this guy’s ass that night. To negate that awkward little scenario. Seriously. Dudes have gotten on the list for less. I ran through the whole flow chart in my head a few times. It always came back to beating. After all, this was a major clowning. He played me like a wash bucket bass. In front of her.
He’s already better than me in everything. That was hard enough to stomach. Now this. And I’m not even including the Shemp hair. That’s just running the shank through all four gears.
Hmm…superior to me in every way. Not enjoying that fact. I should fix it. Let’s see, he’s better than, in all things…ah… except perhaps in a mutual exchange of pain. I might be able to endure more of that. I might be better there. I may best him in the ability to suffer.
Well, we would just have to find out. We would have to exchange pain. And before the crowd thins out.
Unfortunately, I lived by a strict warrior code, one that prohibited me from throwing the first punch, unless I could totally get away with it. But this ran a little deeper. Sucker-punching the artist at his gala opening is not going to win you any style points.
But successfully defending yourself from an over-sensitive, temperamental, thin-skinned effete, one who was over-reacting to some constructive criticism while being called out for false-flagging Shemp, was something else entirely. Now that was a chapter I wouldn’t mind having in my bio. I could see it.
I must make it so.
“Love what you’ve done here. Instead of wasting money on a shredder from Costco, you used your mail to clean up after your menstruating dog. And are now getting paid for it. Fucking brill. Mastermind caper you got cooking here. I hope this scam is multi-level marketed, because I want to sign up for the seminars, Shemp.”
Except I didn’t say that. I just looked at him. And thought about things. Wondered if goading him into a fight was the right thing to do. What if he warranted the hair? What if he had the holy power? He looked fit. The last thing I wanted was to be hitting on some guy’s head with a brick while he straightens his hair. Plus, you could never get a good grab on that shit to whiplash the neck, something we in the trade called Bull-whipping.
“Don’t make trouble.”
That’s what I heard in my head. Very clear. Very loud. It seemed to come from somewhere else. Believe me, it didn’t come from me.
Then again, like in case I didn’t get that something else was talking to me, “Don’t make trouble.”
I got it. Clearly. I was a little spooked, to be honest. One time I heard something like that while washing dishes at The Natural Cafe, right before I was going to say something bad to the prep cook about a girl that worked there. Something said, “Shut up.” Distinctly. Enough to make me shut up. Not fifteen seconds later, that girl came in and hugged the prep cook.
“I’ll see you at home.”
“Okay, love you.”
Oh shit! I had no idea. Yeah. That was close. Good thing I…alright already, disembodied voice from beyond. I won’t make trouble. But don’t blame me if things get really boring.
“I like your work,” I forced out.
“Thanks, I like yours. I read your column in The Reporter. It’s some funny shit.”
I couldn’t believe it. I had a crappy little column in the weekly paper. I didn’t think anybody read it, much less liked it. And here was both, in the same dude, and a dude with awesome Shemp hair.
Lightning 180 flip in my attitudey. Feelings of brotherhoodship and good-fellowing welled up in me.
I couldn’t believe that I had been planning to beat up my only fan. That would not have been a savvy career move. Besides, he’s such a cool dude, liking my writing and shit. Making all this magnificently insane art, while looking all greasy. And shit.
He turned out to be a decent yog. Funny too. We joked and bantered back and forth for quite a while. He had a dry sense of humor. I figured out that whole regally-receiving-the-ring-kiss was just him playing along. He was just playing it straight. With a more subtle touch than my inebriated mind could appreciate at the time.
What I did appreciate was that although all these artsy fartsy types were trying to draw away his attention, he would return to our conversation. He didn’t blow me off to talk to some of the hot, semi-hot, or hot-enough-after-eight-beers women that were trying to glom on to him. Which included the creature that rode up with me. That really showed class.
When I invited him out to the Omega for a hot beer, he declined, telling me he was a recovering alcoholic. Oh wow. Poor dude. Now I really wanted him to succeed in art. Since he basically had nothing left to live for.
We wound up staying there until things wound down. A bunch of people had decided to go to La Casa Sena for dinner and he invited both of us to join. No fucking way I could afford that. I begged off with a lie about having to write.
“I want to go,” she says.
“Go,” I say.
So she went. She took the upgrade. It’s not like I couldn’t see it coming. I have a gift.
I can’t say it didn’t feel bad. But I wasn’t pissed. In light of recent events, I was wary of being pissed–being pissed about stuff I probably didn’t understand. I could give it a rest. At least until tomorrow.
Anyway, I don’t know if they ever hooked up. I don’t know what happened to either of them. To be honest, I can’t even remember the dude’s name. He was just the guy with Shemp hair.
And he had what I wanted.
Note: None of the people in this story actually exist, including the author and Shemp. However, any and all accusations of slander and libel will still be reviewed carefully by my attorney. As I’m sure, by yours, as well.