Sunday, 31 July 2011

Reviews Of Books I Have Read

Where the Butcher Lays Down His Cleaver To Weep By The Stream of Doubtful Deli Meats
Short Stories by Flinchey Guntsmeyer

Few writers have the luxury of being able to devote themselves full-time to their art, but Flinchey Guntsmeyer is one of that rare breed after his father, Rusty, left Flinchey his meat processing empire. Guntsmeyer's is known far and wide for both their delicious selection of deli meats and their fine cuts of beef, lamb, pork and poultry. As their catchy song goes, Guntsmeyer's, Guntsmeyer's, we're you're supplier, fulfilling all your meat desires, whatever you require, just enquire, we'll take you higher with our meat, meat, meat.
The author busy at work on his next book. Known for his keen eye for bringing out the smallest details to understand his characters' interior lives has led to Mr. Guntsmeyer being described as the Chekhov of Barrel Falls, New Rotchire.
The same dedication the company shows to their customers is equally evident in the exquisite short stories of Flinchey Guntsmeyer. Few would believe that the work ethic of a vast meat processing empire could trickle down into the creative field, but Flinchey puts that question to rest, or to bed or a least stretched out in a sleeping bag in a one-man tent with this first collection of stories, fast on the heels of his last novel, The Butcher, The Baker, The Chopped-Up Candlestick Maker, a thriller that moves at uber-speed on the autobahn of heart-stopping plot twists, international intrigue and double-dealings that would make Tom Clancy cry like a baby in a nursery and wet his Tilley's as he watches his career sink like a torpedoed submarine in the Baltic Sea while Dan Brown peers helplessly through the periscope, wishing he were in one of Leonardo da Vinci's seemingly implausible but really quite functional submersible inventions rather than a rusting hunk of tin whose rivets pop like pus-filled blackheads once the water pressure hits them, and they both meet their salty death at the hands of Guntsmeyer's rollicking yarn, but enough about that because we're here to discuss Flinchey Guntsmeyer's more literary endeavours with stories so poignant you'll forget all about that penis-enlarger that you wasted your money on one sultry night in June when the fireflies illuminated the front lawn like tiny tiki torches at a luau where the roast suckling pig was plentiful and the chicken po-po balls glowed like one of the sixty-three moons of Jupiter, which brings us full circle back to the butcher and the stream of doubtful deli meats where he lays down his cleaver to weep, the lead story in this fine collection.  
The great Rusty Guntsmeyer handling meat with the same delicacy that his son would one day handle words. They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, or in this case, the pastrami from the brisket of beef, or the ham from the hock or the chicken feet from the soup tureen.
In this piece, the narrator, Lundsman Henchgill, is the butcher serving the quaint village of Stripsonbing, a wind-torn hamlet on the wild shores of the north Pacific. Flinchey describes the place as thus; "The wind tore at the roofs of the fishing shanties, flinging crumbling shingles hither and thither, and strumming the zither strings of the townspeople's hearts and their faces were lashed with so much salt water that it weathered their features, but in a good way like a smoker with emphysema who has one of those deep, throaty, mucous-warbling laughs that bids everyone to join in in their merriment and phlegm-drenched joviality. If that's not evocative and even a little provocative then I'll eat my undershorts. Actually, I'm all out of undershorts so I'll eat my neighbour's instead. Or if he's out of undershorts, which I suspect, then I'll eat my landlady's, Mrs. Grabowski's undershorts, which are really big. I've seen them hanging on the line outside and if anyone is promising to eat undershorts upon losing a bet, then these are the undershorts that'll give you a run for your money. Or your teeth. Or your digestive tract. Anyway, someone will be forced to pay up and someone will be eating undershorts until the cows come home.
Symptoms of toxic levels from eating giant undershorts. This man will never see the cows come home tonight or, perhaps, any other night.
So, in this craggy and barren place that still retains it quaintness even as almost daily people are dashed against the rocks by huge waves, their bodies smashed to smithereens, Lundsman Henchgill laments his lot in life, being without a wife or child or even a pet that can tolerate the meat smells that come off of him like the north wind. You would think at least a pet would enjoy the meat smells and follow Lundsman about, but because of his affinity for carrying his beloved cleaver around with him like one would carry a wallet or pocket-watch or locket with a loved one's strand of hair or toenail clipping or other such keepsake, stray dogs, cats and even the odd anteater (they were brought in by the town barber to solve the town's ant problem but then they began to breed and overrun the nearby marshes), run from his approach. The butcher's loneliness is overwhelming and one day Lundsman Henchgill closes up his shop and wanders off, past the high hills that lie behind the town square and into the inland forests beyond. No townspeople had ever strayed that far, so in love with their windswept coastline were they and the dangerous ebbs and swells and eddies that soothed their souls like jellyfish stinging them senseless, "but in that senselessness a state of euphoria that only the nubile tentacles and undulating air sacs of poisonous jellyfish can bring," as Guntsmeyer so aptly writes.     
It is here, in the deep glades the forest hides, "embraced by foliage that dapples the light like a thousand scimitars beating on the bald pate of a drunken Turk," as Guntsmeyer describes it, that Lundsman Henchgill discovers a burbling stream, so tranquil it immediately causes him to lie down and go to sleep, clutching his cleaver to his breast. Then he has a dream, so vivid it's almost like a 3-D movie but without the glasses, chocolate covered peanuts and sticky seats and when he awakes he sees that the stream is flowing with delicious deli meats. He bends down at the water's edge and plucks a piece of eye of round pastrami floating by, takes a deep breath, tastes, makes a face and then lays down his cleaver and weeps. Then, a mysterious woman dressed in gauzy white appears from behind a tree stump, picks up the cleaver and chops the butcher to bits. Finally, Lundsman Henchgill is set free. The deli meats may be doubtful but I have no doubts about this story. It is simply a work of genius. The next story in the collection, The Reluctant Turnstile, is told from a turnstile's point of view, the narrator being a turnstile and fully-operating sanitizing station in a meat processing plant and again Mr. Guntsmeyer calls upon his considerable knowledge in this area to really flesh out the details of the story and add veracity to the turnstile's voice.
The opening is riveting. Just sink your brain teeth into this sentence. "I have felt the best bellies of my generation pushing against me; stolid, flaccid, pallid, solid, jellied and squalid, and from each I have gleaned a lifetime's worth of envy, greed, heroism (yes, even in meat processing there are those who put themselves second in the pursuit of the greater good of humanity), humiliation and even incessant and off-key humming and I may not be able to turn back time but I can turn back anyone I deem unworthy to pass through the metal portal of my turnstile gate, holding them back with my mighty metal arm as if to say, hey, if you want to tread like a god walk softly and stop carrying so much pocket change because the jingling is driving me crazy and don't forget to wash your hands or I will smote you or at least halt you until security is called and they force you to turn in your hairnet and white smock." I had to take a deep breath after that sentence and pull up my socks, both metaphorically and literally because they have lost much of their elasticity in the wash. Even Hemingway, in his best days, before he became the foreman in that Havana pinata factory, couldn't turn out such a sentence as this.
For those of you who intend to read this book and need help pulling up your socks, may I recommend my colleague, Dr. Carswill's, sock-pulling device, available at reputable hosiery emporiums across North America and parts of Madagascar.
Another story, Porgoville, Anytown, USA, is an ode to the author's love of fishing with luncheon meat as bait. It's a beautiful coming-of-age story in which the young Orion Lamprey, a fugitive from Boy Scout camp, strikes out on his own with only a fishing pole, a can of SPAM and his trusty finger-puppet, Dung-Dung. Fishing by the banks of the beautiful Clackawaluna River, Orion catches himself a huge catfish who promises him great riches if the boy promises not to gut and eat him. Orion ignores the catfish's pleas, slits open its belly and finds a golden key. Unfortunately, Orion Lamprey has killed the talking catfish and so the fish can never tell him where the key fits and the rest of the story involves Orion's search for the box or chest or door or lock or car or gym locker that the key fits. Is he successful in his journey? And what does it all mean? Maybe it means it's time to meet your meat team.
From those that nurture to those that butcher to those that procure for resale, these are the men and women who sustain you so you can continue enjoying great works of literature and Flinchey Guntsmeyer will never let you forget it. They say the pen is mightier than the sword or in this case, the meat cleaver, but don't let Rusty Guntsmeyer hear you say that because he'd chop you to pieces in seconds and have you laid out in a display case soon after with little visual touches like say, a sprig of parsley or leaves of wintergreen to make the meat (you!) more alluring because the artistry that Flinchey demonstrates so wonderfully had to begin somewhere and it is evident that he follows in his father's blood-soaked footsteps, one with words, the other with meat but in the end isn't it all the same thing.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Reviews Of Books I've Never Read

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann, just after he finished Death In Venice. It was difficult for Mann to make the transition from the waters of Venice to the alps of Switzerland and he was known to carry a life buoy around his neck for inspiration and also in case in fell into a glacial lake.
Whew! Thomas Mann. Whew! The Magic Mountain. What more can I say? Well, a lot really but let me begin this review with a quick note on this edition I own. Another freebie from the community centre bookshelf, it's a large print, easy-to-read copy, which means, although not as many pages as a regular edition book would dictate, the larger size gives the book a greater silverfish killing surface. Like I always say, if you can't bring the silverfish to the mountain, you can bring the mountain to the silverfish. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's get on to the review. As we know, Mann was a staunch romantic, but he hid it well under his severe mustache and prominent forehead. His old friend and debating partner once asked him, in a frivolous moment during an Oktoberfest in Gruenmuenster (home of the famed Gruenster cheese and brain pie), "are you a leg, breast or bottom man, Herr Mann?" whereupon Mann slapped him soundly across the face with a knockwurst. All the proof one needs to know that Mann didn't take affairs of the heart lightly. Any man willing to sacrifice a knockwurst in the name of love and the decency and respect that that love demands, well, that's a man who will probably kick the bucket in Venice one day, stretched out in a beach chair, boater hat pulled over his eyes and with his last dying breath pining for the buttocks of the cabana boy. Which is what that book is about, in encapsulated form, but I'll get to that another time. Now, get ready to strap on your mountain climbing shoes, prepare your pitons and rope and steady your nerves to ascend the literary heights of this magisterial novel. It'll pump the Venetian bilge-water right out of the Bildungsroman (a German literary term describing the growth of a character's body hair, the word having its roots in Saxon history when the Romans used large parts of Germany as dung heaps although the correlation between dung and body hair has been obscured over time) of your brain. The protagonist of the novel, Hans Hamengruel, is leading an idyllic life in the alps bordering Switzerland and Germany when one day, during a family trip to Italy, he witnesses both his parents falling off the Matterhorn, plummeting to their deaths spectacularly, his mother yodeling his name.
Mann's mother, Frau Froidlehooven Mann, a year before falling off the Matterhorn. She was a stern mother and dyed-in-the-wool yodeler and though she tried to teach young Thomas this art form, he was tone deaf and his few attempts sounded like a dying mountain goat trapped in a klapzugenstrassen (Swiss for "the place where the mountain goats go to get trapped in and die"). "Oh, Mama," he often told her, "I cannot be a great novelist and a yodeler at the same time. A little glockenspiel, maybe, but yodeling is simply out of the question." And by gosh if he wasn't right although sadly he never mastered the glockenspiel either. But he could put words together faster than a little Swiss girl assembling watches in a Zurich factory. It was also a known fact that before she shaved her mustache, the resemblance between her and Thomas was uncanny.
This experience so shakes him to the very foundations of his rather stiff, lichen-encrusted lederhosen, that he changes his name to Castor Pomenade, so as to erase his history and in effect, his memory of the tragic incident. But he is not to escape the mountain life that easily. Back in Germany, his cousin, Norton Haflinger, is confined to a sanatorium high up in the Swiss Alps for tuberculosis and Castor makes the journey to visit the poor fellow whose fits of coughing were bad enough to have caused two avalanches and endangered the lives of the villagers of Struebenglotzenhoff. Arriving at the sanatorium via an ancient, creaking wooden gondola "swaying in the alpine breeze like the scrotum of an aging bull elephant foraging for banyan leaves" as Mann so evocatively describes it, Castor is pursued by a mysterious man in a black cloak and broad-brimmed fedora who carries a dwarf upon his back and a satchel filled with jars of rotting sauerkraut and a mildewed map showing the locations of all the Tyrolean hat-makers north of Burgdorf.
The entrance to the Zungplotzmeinverschten sanatorium upon which Mann based his novel. The welcoming monkey with a necktie motif is one that will replay itself throughout the book and continued to haunt Mann until his dying day.
Who is this mysterious man and why is he following Castor Pomenade? Wouldn't you like to know? Wouldn't I like to know? Wouldn't Thomas Mann like to know? You think he would know, having written the book but I got the distinct impression he hadn't a clue about this man and his dwarf. But unfortunately, while nourishing myself with a hot dog while reading, I dropped a sizable blob of ketchup on this page and the answer was hidden from me for days. Eventually the ketchup dried and began to flake but by then it was too late and I was already ten pages ahead of where the answer to the mysterious man may have lain. Luckily he turns up again (whew, I didn't really think he would and for a page or two was sure he'd fallen down a crevasse), but I'll get to him in a bit because now it's time to talk about Dr. Mitzi Zorbo and also get the old literary snowball rolling down the Magic Mountain on all that symbolism that Mann brandished like a sabre, albeit a blunt one from years of use decapitating chickens and slicing up aquarium tubing for his sideline business in mail order tropical fish supplies. 
Castor is greeted by Dr. Mitzi Zorbo, who is administering care to his cousin, Norbert.
The staff at the actual Zungplotzmeinverschten sanatorium upon which Mann based his book. Notice the three large horns that were used for tuberculosis patients to prove they were cured and could leave the premises. If your lungs were not strong enough to blow the horns that could be heard all the way to Stritzenblauploof, then you were good for another year long stay in the sanatorium.
The good doctor welcomes Castor and gives him a room so that he might stay and comfort his cousin. This is where the symbolism kicks in like a stubborn mule with a broken strap on his feedbag.
"Did you enjoy the view from our gondola?" the doctor asks. "We had it built last winter and our guests talk about in incessantly when they're not coughing their brains out."
"Yes, Herr Zorbo. It was very interesting," Castor replies cautiously, the shadow of the mysterious, black-cloaked, fedora-wearing, dwarf-carrying, rotten sauerkraut-bearing man clouding his mind momentarily. And then he says, all too tellingly, "I found the gondola a little shaky. I feared for my life at times over crevices that looked as if they could gobble up all of humanity and still have room left over for strudel cake."
Aha, Mann. Finally you pull the fatted rabbit out of your hat, the big guns from out of your backpack, the lariat from the saddle of your Shetland pony. For, you see, the gondola is the very unconsciousness of Castor himself, swinging and swaying over the void of his being, his undiscovered self lying in wait like the very weltschmerz (the German word born from a Bavarian obsession with Fred and Ethel Mertz and meaning to 'feign confusion as if you've lost your dry-cleaning ticket') of his indecision to commit himself to his cousin's recovery, and thus, in effect to come to terms with his family and more specifically, his parents and their unfortunate death on the Matterhorn, which was the catalyst for his name change, his identity crisis and his tendency to break out in a cold sweat when confronted by anyone playing a flugelhorn with cream puff pastry speckling their lips.   
Fred and Ethel Mertz in a moment of weltschmerz.
The warbling of a wood thrush startles Castor from this reverie and well, the next thing you know he has tuberculosis also, through some kind of transference process usually only associated with feral children raised by groundhogs, a trend that was common in Germany back then, and is given a bed next to his cousin. But the mountain hasn't finished working its magic yet. That very night Castor dreams of a troupe of dwarfs who perform Die Fledermaus (translation; die flying mouse), except they all turn to bats and using their sonar, help steer ships towards the right targets during the Crimean War, bombarding the Ottomans and freeing the Bulgars and their miraculous and highly versatile wheat from Russian and Turkish tyranny. Upon waking, Castor goes downstairs for breakfast and finds himself sitting at a table next to the famed Flying Gervertztrameenies, a theatrical dwarf troupe (based on the real-life Gervertztrameenies) at the sanatorium to perform that evening.
The actual Flying Gervertztrameenies, who toured all the Swiss and German sanatoriums performing everything from Wagner to Goethe. They eventually relocated to the Catskills where they worked with all the big names like Pinky Lee and Itsy Buttons and were equally as adept at cleaning out the buffet as they were at hitting operatic heights and performing acrobatic tricks.
What does this all mean? Is Mann throwing out a bit of foreshadowing  and sending his plot spinning into realms of intrigue not in sync with his usual, highly metaphorical writing? Well, yes and no, maybe. He still hammers metaphors home like pitons into a rock face but he can drive a plot like an old Bentley barreling through a Tunisian marketplace. For as soon as Castor sees the table full of breakfasting dwarfs, the black-cloaked, fedora wearing, rotten sauerkraut-bearing man shows up, in the company of Dr. Mitzi Zorbo no less, and the two of them appear to be old friends. The dwarf upon the man's back turns out to be a monkey in a loud necktie and as he leaps off the man's back to join the table of dwarfs, Castor faints. When he comes to, he is wearing the exact same necktie as the monkey and then things get really crazy. Is the monkey Castor's doppleganger? Why does the black-cloaked man hunt out Castor's cousin, Norbert Haflinger, and threaten him with death should he return to Bulgaria? And who is the beautiful and enigmatic Frau Lippenschvitz, that Castor spies from the window of his sanatorium room? Castor soon becomes obsessed with her and even more so when he peeks into one of the rooms and takes in this scene (pictured below in an artist's rendition that was the cover of the novel's first edition) of an extreme and unorthodox therapy that Frau Lippenschvitz is undergoing with Dr. Greta Schmutzlinger, the ottoman described by Mann as a "cube of curative to bear the brunt of the soul's punishment," bringing the cycle of something or another full circle from the dwarfs turned to bats and their sonar and the Ottoman Empire to the ottoman as metaphor for disease of not just the body, but of the soul also and its banishment only possible through the most perverse and exacting scientific protocols whilst confronting those fears with gags, paddles and brassieres.
Anyway, as Castor mopes about trying to gain the attention of Frau Lippenschvitz, his cousin turns out to be a Bulgarian spy, on the run for selling secret documents to an envoy from Iceland where, in those uninhabitable barrens and hidden fjords, diabolical experiments have been taking place to cover the Western Hemisphere in ice. The sauerkraut turns out to be radioactive and the Tyrolean hats are a decoy, to be worn by marauding bands of Icelanders carrying wheels of cheese and heavy brass instruments so as to blend in to the European lifestyle.
What happens next I won't say but if you enjoy the activity engaged in by Frau Lippenschvitz and Dr. Greta Schmutzlinger, even if tuberculosis is not your cup of tea, well then steady yourself for a most shocking finale that would make a Bacchanalian blush and turn a knockwurst to mush and ice to slush (hint; think radioactive sauerkraut) but Mann isn't finished yet. Bulgarian spies race against time, Norbert Halflinger turns out to be not only a spy but the king of a tribe of hairy, one-eyed gypsies (this is where Mann really puts the pedal to the metal with the whole Bildungsroman body hair thing), Castor realizes too late that his cousin is not his cousin, his parents not his parents and well, just let me say, don't take your eye off the monkey with the necktie, not even for one minute. In conclusion is Mann's Magic Mountain really a place you want to go? I mean Disneyland has a Magic Mountain or maybe it's a Space Mountain or maybe it's a Magic Kingdom but either way I'm sure it's far more pleasurable with less dying people and dwarfs that are much nicer and that don't eat all your food and steal your wallet, but then you wouldn't have learned anything or experienced the weltzschmerz of Fred and Ethel Mertz or gained a healthy respect for radioactive sauerkraut. If that isn't magic mountain enough for you then fine, go ahead and cavort with imposter dwarfs and eat some knock-off knockwursts that no tubercular Bavarian would touch with a ten-foot splopslauhauten (Bavarian for ten-foot pole). Be my guest but as for me, I'd rather be a guest at the Zungplotzmeinverschten Sanatorium any day.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Books I Have Not Written

Lives Of The Detectives

I have written many a review on books I've never read but never have I spoken about books I did not write. Today, at long last I'm going to remedy that situation by introducing the first in a series of volumes I have not written, entitled Lives Of The Detectives by Tony Petrocelli.  I may not have written the book (just one of the millions of books I haven't written not to mention the other millions of books I've never read but feel compelled to talk about and review), but it has been my privilege to have been the translator for this series of volumes, modeled after Vasari's Lives of the Artists, that Anthony "Vulgaris" Petrocelli has spent his life working on after his TV show went off the air in 1976.
Mr. Petrocelli gesturing at TV producers after finding out his show was canceled. "You can't do this to me, you goddamn bastards. I'm a lawyer for Christ's sake. I'm going to sue the hookers' lipstick marks right off of your wizened penises," he was heard yelling as he was escorted from the studio by security.
 Mr. Petrocelli originally wrote his books in Swine Latin, a dialect of Pig Latin, known for its crude colloquialisms and rude wordplay, and I have attempted to retain as much of the original vileness as possible although English can not always do justice to the full breadth and depth of Petrocelli's despicable document.
As you can see here in the above photograph, Mr. Petrocelli is no longer the handsome, young lawyer with the golden tongue and bushy mane, but now a decrepit man who looks a little like Boris Yeltsin in his later days when he courted emphysema as his mistress and sciatica as his slave. In this photo he is posing with his good friend, Hutch, of Starksy and Hutch fame, and it was only a day after this that Mr. Petrocelli was honoured at the Television Detective Academy of Forensics and Make-Believe for his work on TV and his books paying homage to the great men and women who once apprehended criminals for a living. I was honored to be asked to attend this wonderful ceremony where the tears were jerked straight from the attendees' eyes, as if they were trout caught on a 10 pound line, so moving and graceful was Mr. Petrocelli's speech and even when he coughed up a bit of blood, it cast no shadow on his eloquent words. Blood spatters on his cue cards, yes, but nary a shadow to be seen. Ironside, drunk on punch, unfortunately rolled his wheelchair into the electric chair center-piece made from cupcakes, toppling the whole thing to the floor but even this couldn't put a damper on the evening and the image of Cannon on his hands and knees, vacuuming up cupcake debris like a truffle pig was a sight to be seen and worth the price of having the center-piece destroyed in the first place. Anyway, on to the book I did not write. It is my hope to publish this magnificent work in a two volume set, lavishly illustrated with maybe five or six drawings by famed artist, Larbo Stetson DeVitalis. I actually began the publishing process but my local community center caught on to me and has forbade me from going near their office xerox machine although I still manage to run off a page or two when they're not looking. Which isn't too often and I usually have to create a diversion, like having my old friend, Flapjacks McVitee, lug his sack of live, stray cats through the community center foyer. All I know is that publishing waits for no man and no man should wait for publishing and it would behoove me or behoof me or give me hoof and mouth disease to see this great masterpiece join all the other unknown masterpieces that we don't know of because they're unknown and so can only speak of hypothetically, and even then, barely, so that we're just making stuff up, which does no justice to literature or the people who create it and pass it on to the readers to fire their imaginations and make them forget they have dentist appointments. So, now that I've translated this work I aim to publish it in a beautiful xerox edition, complete with the above mentioned three or four illustrations (did I say five or six earlier-well, maybe that many but Larbo Stetson DeVitalis is a very busy man, currently setting up his one-man show at Ed's Dry Cleaning and One Hour Martinizing, so I'll see what I can do), but as in all publishing ventures it all comes down to a question of money. Your money. I need your money. Great gobs of the stuff, preferably. I don't know how you will get it to me. But if you believe in all things literary, you will not think twice. So, soon I will ask for your money. All your money, as much as you can send. I will ask you to go to your pickle jars full of change, to raid your secreted away Folgers Coffee Can stuffed with five and ten dollar bills you've been putting away for that trip to the casino on the outskirts of Orillia, Ontario, for your Canadian Tire Money shoved into your sock drawer, your two-for-one coupons at any of the many fast food chains that dot our great nation, pennies from your children's piggy banks (they may not even be pigs, they might be in the shape of sheep or frogs or Star Wars figures with slots in their backs), I will ask you to check all your friends' couches for any loose change fallen between the cushions or the cushions of chairs in stylish coffee shops or at the doctor's office or where ever you get your tires rotated or your brakes checked or oil changed, but I will ask for it, so be ready. In the meantime, I leave you with this excerpt from Petrocelli's magnificent work, a work that covers the further antics and adventures of everyone from Kojack to Columbo, Baretta to McGarrett. Enjoy, and remember, money, because there's no such thing as a free lunch although you can usually find a free newspaper somewhere in the restaurant but if you'd like something else to read, well then, forget about it.
Although he was born the son of a poor tiller of the earth, young Mannix proved to have such lofty and lucid conceptions that his father retired to live in a chimney and weep constantly while fashioning small animals out of clay and eggplant skins. But there was no terra-cotta paradise for Mannix, forced into manhood prematurely in order to tend the flocks and guard the holy corpse of Lugo the Lisping Liturgist from a group of wandering Jews who sought to steal the body and garner favours in an Armenian sausage-casing factory. Summoned to Bologna to join the Holy Order of Miserable Men of Short Coats and Puffed Sleeves, he exchanged ugly words one day with Prince Salvatore Johnson, stabbing him in the breast with a putty knife, and was forced to flee Bologna for the suburbs of Pisa. Still his hair remained soft, his eyes long, but a slight speech impediment caused him to blurt the word girdle every time he saw an oxcart. Nevertheless, he spared no labour in his duties and if there was battle to be done the vehement fury of Mannix was sure to be felt. Whether shooting or decapitating some miserable soul, he never suffered guilt or doubt. Doubt was for popes or the King of Portugal or those Dominican barrel-rolling monks who sweated like Florentine pig livers and couldn’t draw a straight line if you broke their ribs with a baptized clockmaker with the plague and guilt, well you could just strap it to a horse’s ass, put a village idiot in the saddle and let it walk away into the dusk as far as he was concerned. But then all the rib-breaking and beggar face-painting and al fresco dining grew tedious and Mannix relocated to the sunny climes of Southern California to bust criminals right down to their underpants.
 The yellow bumper car blindsided him against the rubber rail and Mannix spun in his seat, pulled out his Walther PPK and pointed it at the kid’s head.
“Back off punk or I’ll smoke ya like a pack of Chesterfields at a lesbo bar during Happy Hour.”
“Jesus, Mannix,” the ride operator called from his stool near the control panel. “He’s a kid. And you’re supposed to bump each other. That’s why they’re called fuckin’ bumper cars. Now put the gun away.”
“Y’know, you horse’s ass. I’ve heard just about enough from you. You know what I used to drive. Y’know the leather bucket seats this bullet-ridden ass of mine has ridden in. ’67 Oldsmobile Toronado, ’68 Dodge Dart GTS 383, ’70 Plymouth Barracuda 340, fuckin’ ’74 Dodge Challenger 360 Coupe and a Chevrolet Camaro LT. Try that on for fuckin’ size you bumper car wanker.”
“That’s it, Mannix. Get th’hell off’a my ride before I call the cops. I’m being a nice guy. I let you ride the bumper cars for free ‘cause I feel sorry for you since they took your license away. But you’re pushing your luck.”
“Y’know, there’s an old Armenian proverb about guys like you. Goes “If the dog licks his testicles in front of the fireplace on a moonless night then tomorrow your suspenders will snap and leave you pantless before the wedding party's roast suckling pig.”
Armenian proverb, illus. 1
 “What th’fuck’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s supposed to mean that I got your number buddy boy and if I so much as see you on the street, and by that I mean even a street a few blocks away that I can see from the window of my apartment using my opera binoculars, I’ll truss you up like a roast pig, stick an apple in your mouth and use you for a hood ornament on my Chevy LT.”
“Go on, get outta here you bum.”
   Mannix stomped off the ride, kicking a few bumper car bumpers on his way and headed to the bus stop. With his license gone for good due to his age and the cataract in his left eye, Joe Mannix was humbled to taking public transit.
“Seventeen Paseo Verde,” he said to the bus driver when he got on.
“I don’t go there. Don’t even know where th’hell it is,” the driver muttered. “Anyway, I ain’t a taxi.”
“Ah well. Just drop me at the Good King Wenceslas Wigwam of Wieners and Mangos. I got me a yen for hotdogs, tropical fruit juice and frankincense.”
“Don’t know where that is either but if you wanna ride my bus it’s $2.50 and if you’re gonna keep talkin’ crazy go sit at the back with all the other nutcases. I gotta drive and can’t be paying attention to no crazy talk.”
“You wanna know crazy talk. How ’bout you’re driving your Camaro and a man pops out of the back seat while you’re doin’ 120 on the Santa Monica Freeway and you feel the cold steel muzzle of a 9mm Browning pressing against your skull and the guy says “you put my brother in jail and now I’m gonna paint the windshield with your brains,” and you’re thinking, shit, I just had this windshield replaced after the last guy blew it out with a sawed-off shotgun, so you’re feeling pretty angry and tired of taking shit from punks packin’ crappy guns, guns you wouldn’t be caught dead taking to your grave in case you need some heat for the lowlifes you might meet in the afterlife but you can’t let it show ‘cause the guy’s got a trigger finger as itchy as your mom’s friend who had all that psoriasis and ready to go off like a teenager on the brink of getting his first taste of pussy so you say to the guy, quiet and calm, “hey, your brother’s a no good piece of scum that’s not even good enough to grace the side of an aquarium filled with bottom feeders and I’ve seen algae with more brains than your shit-for-brains brother and if I had to do it again I wouldn’t put him away, I’d shoot him point blank right through the monocle like I did to the Mr. Peanut Killer that time in the San Fernando Valley,” and now you can see the guy’s eye is starting to twitch and the gun’s shakin’ in his sweating palm so you turn the wheel sharp to the right, flying off the road straight into a drainage ditch and the guy flies over your head and straight through the windshield and you punch him in the nuts as he flies over just for good measure as the blood spider-webs across his face from the impact of the windshield and you say, maybe the last words he might ever hear as he smashes through the glass, ‘did I pass my driving test Mr. Luisitania?’ How’s that for crazy talk you sonofabitch?”
“Okay, I changed my mind,” the bus driver hit the lever and opened the doors. “You’re even too crazy for the back of the bus. And unless you’re gonna give me a hundred bucks this is your stop.”
“But we haven’t gone anywhere yet.”
“Magic bus, bud. It gets to where you’re going before you’ve even left. Now get off.”
“There’s an old Armenian proverb that goes, a man whose wife is too fat will find death playing pinochle in the garden shed.”
Armenian proverb, illus. 2
 “What th’fuck’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means if I ever get on a bus and I see you driving I’ll pistol-whip you so bad your eyes will be where your ears are, your ears will be where your nose is, your nose will be…it’ll be…well, somewhere. You get the picture. You’ll look like Mr. Potato Head after a tequila bender at a biker bar. You’ll be breathing through your penis-hole and peeing through your eyeballs.”
   The driver squinted, picked up a soggy tuna sandwich from his lunchbox and pegged Mannix right in the forehead. Then he lurched the bus forward slightly, braked fast and Mannix lost his balance and tumbled down a step onto the sidewalk.
“Why you son-of-a…”Mannix, sprawled on the sidewalk was reaching for his Walther PPK but the bus was already driving off and Mannix came up with a box of breath mints in his hand anyway. He lay there for a bit, catching his breath, his lungs wheezing and sputtering like a Soviet-era air conditioning unit, bits of gravel and dirt spattered across his Creamsicle-coloured Banlon shirt when he heard someone speaking to him. At least he thought they were. He looked up, shielding his eyes from the late afternoon sun, feeling bits of tuna flecking his hand in the process and his peepers came to rest on a pair of fatted gams the likes of which he hadn’t seen since he was a kid flipping through his family’s photo album that featured many shots of his father’s prize-winning sow back in Armenia.
“Whoa, lady, you just took my breath away. It’s like my past just caught up with me,” Mannix struggled to his feet.
“Are you…are you okay?” the woman asked. “Here, let me help you.”
“Joe Mannix doesn’t need any help lady. I’ve been shot so many times you could use me as a spaghetti noodle strainer. This little tumble is a walk in the park for me. A walk in a park full of ducks and balloon animals clutched by hopeful little children who have yet to be crushed by divorced parents, uncles who make them fish sealed ball-bearings out of Nabob coffee cans filled with motor oil and breakfast cereal prizes that are flimsier than the wheat flakes they’re nestled within. That’s the kind of park I’m talking about.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” the lady said, one finger extended from a set of chubby knuckles that resembled a cudgel for hammering tent pegs into the ground with. “I know you. You were that guy on TV years back. What’s yer name again?”
“Mannix. Joe Mannix.”
“No, no. I mean your real name. Not your TV name. Mike…Mike…Onyards. Carbine. Vawnyertz. No…no, I know now…Connors. Mike Connors. I remember you on the cover of TV Guide.”
“Mike Connors was an imposter lady. Buried in a paupers grave out by the shellac factory. He tried to muscle in on my turf, the investigative career I’d built with blood, sweat and carpet burns, but I cleaned his clock and now all the trains run on time only he won’t be catching any of ‘em if you catch my drift.”
“Didn’t that guy, Musclepolini do that too,” the lady said. “I mean, make all the trains run on time. In Italy I think.”
“Mussel who?”
“ Y’know. Musclepolini. Rhymes with Mississippi but with a coupl’a less esses and pees.”
“I don’t know. I’m from Armenia. Anyways, I don’t eat shellfish.”
“Listen Mr. Connors.”
“Mannix. I told you my name’s Joe Mannix.”
“Right. Mannix. Listen, you look a little banged up there. Can I buy you a cup of coffee? There’s a nice coffee shop right around the corner here.”
“Well, okay I guess. Normally I don’t let the broads pick up the cheque if you know what I mean. I mean, I’m one’a those guys, the broad gets treated like a princess and all that until she proves herself otherwise, like she’s got a foul mouth or something and then I can be your worst nightmare and go from a prince in shining armour to Satan in a Safari suit so you think I’m just a casual swinger when really I can go from zero-to-sixty on the old sucker-punch meter in three seconds flat though I never hit a broad…just let her know that there’s a place in my brain where the sun don’t shine and nobody better make me go there.”
“Well, I think I’m safe in that department. The last time I swore was fifteen years ago when my father backed over my pet tortoise that was sunning itself on our gravel driveway. It blended in, you see, gray on gray, looked like a big rock but still I swore and my father grabbed me and washed my mouth out with soap or actually, not real soap because we were poor in those days and didn’t have real soap but instead old sponges from the laundry down the street that the woman there gave to my mother out of pity, sponges that had been soaked in sudsy pails so there was still a little soap to be squeezed out of them and he washed my mouth out with one of those sponges even though it was he who ran over my tortoise and gave me plenty of reason to be upset and yet there was no remorse on his face or in his words as he said over and over again, “your stupid turtle squirted blood all over my whitewalls, your stupid turtle squirted blood all over my whitewalls,” and I screamed Nibbly was a tortoise, not a turtle and then my father tried to strangle me and also run my head over with his truck but my mother put a stop to that and so here I am.”
“You are a fascinating woman,” Mannix eyed her dirigible form up and down, marveling at the vast expanse of floral print rayon that spread across her hills and dales, valleys and vales. “By the way…do you have some extra change. I need to make a few phone calls.”
“Of course. And I’ll even spring for a piece of cake or biscotti if you like.”
   They stepped into the Black Hole of Colombia, a new franchise that was popping up around the city. Inside was all spot lighting, angular counter-tops and huge, plush chairs you could’ve parked an entire Mormon family or a buffet-fed jockey and his horse in. Colourful, abstract sofa art covered the exposed brick walls and over the stereo speakers was playing the latest CD by Felton Bismarck.
“I love this song,” the lady said. “Where The Walrus Meets The Waterline. It’s got beautiful lyrics.”
“Sure, listen, got a coupl’a quarters?”
   Mannix went to the pay phone near the washrooms while the lady fetched their coffees and pastries. He dialed the number from memory and when someone picked up he said, “Now listen, no more of your shit. I want to talk to Peggy and make it snappy.”
“You again you dumb shit,” the man’s voice on the other end said. “I already told you, there’s no Peggy here. Stop calling.”
“Now you listen to me you sonofabitch. I don’t know what you’ve done with Peggy or why you’ve kidnapped her but so help me god I’m going to hunt you down like a three-legged dog dry-heaving in a sun-blasted Mexican border town and shove a dead iguana down your throat.”
“And you listen to me you cocksuckin’ excuse for a carcass. Call me again and I’ll hunt you down, scoop out your eyeballs with a junkie’s old rusty spoon and piss in your empty sockets till I melt that urinal puck you call a brain.” With that the guy hung up.
The next call went to Lew Wickersham, his old boss from Intertect.
“Hello, hello, who’s this?” the voice came on the line.
“Lew, it’s me, Mannix. They got Peggy, Lew. The bastards have Peggy. I need your help. You haft’a get to those computers of yours…work your magic. I need information Lew and quick.”
“Jesus, is that you Mike? Mike Connors. What th’hell you talking about. You caught me right in the middle of a ping pong game.”
“It’s not Mike, Lew. It’s Joe. Joe Mannix. I need your help. Peggy Fair’s in trouble.”
“Jesus Mike. Peggy’s…I mean Gail’s dead. Christ, she’s been dead for what…ten years at least. Don’t you remember the funeral?”
“Stop talking like that, Lew. What’sa matter? Did they get to you too? Are you in on this scheme?”
“My name’s not Lew. I’m Joe. Joseph Campanella. I played Lew on the show.”
“I’m Joe.”
“You’re Mike.”
“You’re Lew.”
“I’m Joe.”
“I’m Joe.”
“Okay. Have it your way. Listen, I gotta get back to my nude ping pong game. This girl charges by the hour and I haven’t won a match yet.”
“Ah, go ahead you sonofabitch. You’re in cahoots with the people who kidnapped Peggy anyway. If you speak to them, which no doubt you’ll do after this phone call, tell them I’m coming for them and after that I’m gonna be gunning for you Lew.”
“Get some help Mike.”
“Same to you fuck-face.”
   Mannix fumed his way back to the table where the lady had set out a couple of coffees, some vanilla almond biscotti and a cinnamon bun.
“Doesn’t look like it went well, Joe.”
“Vilma, now that’s a pretty name.”
“Nice of you to say so, Joe.”
“Well, Vilma, it seems a man can’t trust the people he once trusted the most. The people he would’ve trusted his life with, the people he once trusted to watch his back and I’ve got a very hairy back so it takes a lot for someone to watch it, let alone shave it twice a week, but once there were people I could trust to do that but apparently no more.”
“I’d watch your hairy back for you Joe,” Vilma said around the crunchy biscotti in her mouth. “Maybe even shave it too.”
“That’s nice of you to say, Vilma. I don’t know what it is, Vilma. This world’s changing so much. An old gumshoe like me can’t keep up. In the old days you could call a spade a spade and shoot a man between the eyes or he could shoot you or you could shoot each other and even kill a passerby or two in the process and no one was much the wiser or complained or sent you subpoenas in the form of singing telegrams from people in kangaroo suits.”
“I hear you, Joe.”
iW“I know you do, Vilma, I know you do. But now look around you. It drives me fuckin’ crazy. Excuse the language, Vilma, but it’s all very upsetting. Like the paintings hanging on the walls here. Y’know, I don’t know much about this modern art. I mean, bunch’a splotches and shit. You want art, give me one ‘a those dogs playing poker paintings, y’know with the fucking dogs sitting around smoking goddamn fuckin’ cigars and holding the cards in their little fuckin’ paws and know what the best part is, where you can see the hand of the little dog and all these bulldogs and German Shepherds and Dobermans and shit are calling its bluff but this little fuckin’ schnauzer or whatever, you can see its fuckin’ cards and it’s holding four aces and I just wanna laugh thinkin’ how that little fuckin’ dog is gonna beat all these big fuckin’ dogs and you got a real story there, a real painting full of emotion and drama and humour too, don’t forget the fuckin’ humour cause in  my line of business a guy needs a little something to fuckin’ laugh at. But most of all it’s all about the underdog, Vilma. About the little runt that everyone’s counting down and out but in the end he makes those bozos lick the ground his paws walk on.”
“When criminals in this world appear, and break the laws that they should fear, and frighten all who see or hear…” Vilma sang.
“What are you saying, Vilma? What are you trying to say? Are you going all nut pants on me?”
“No, Joe. That’s the theme to the old Underdog cartoon.”
“Y’know, Vilma…I thought there was hope for you, I thought you were the one ray of sunshine in this dead end town, I thought you were the one person I might finally say, ‘y’know Joe, maybe this big bad world ain’t so damned bad after all’ but now you go and do this Vilma, sing this vile, despicable song that denigrates both dogs and PI’s. I don’t know what to say, Vilma, I really don’t. If you were a guy I’d punch you right in the kisser but you’re a broad and, well, if disappointment were two bits a foot I’d have two complete suits made from it with enough left over to maybe make a vest and wear’em in front of you, that’s how bad I feel, Vilma.”
“Oh Joe, please don’t be like that. Give me another chance. I swear Joe, I’ll make it up to you,” Vilma pleaded, cappuccino foam beading her upper lip. “It was just all that…that talk of dogs got me thinking about my poor Nibbly and then I just got all twisted up inside…I wasn’t thinking right but I’m okay now Joe…I’m okay now.”
   Mannix raised his fist, a fist that could break through a hundred Armenian stacked flatbreads as if they were butter or the mucous membranes of mollusks washed up on the hot sand of a lesser Black Sea vacation spot, and he shook it, shook that fist as if it were the death rattle of a pit viper suddenly startled from its place of refuge beneath the boards of an old porch of a house somewhere off the highway in central Arkansas, but Vilma knew, knew without a doubt, knew without a hint of fear that he would never strike, at least not her, that the man who was Joe Mannix was shaking his fist not at her but at life and what lay beyond life, at the great mysteries of the universe and all its contradictions too, like why did he love ketchup but hate tomatoes so much and she felt her love brimming over like the tears of a clown who has been stepped on by a circus elephant and Vilma, her own hand shaking, reached out and clasped her pudgy hand over Mannix’s raised fist.
“It’s okay Joe,” she whispered. “It’s okay. I know,” and Joe Mannix, always the tough guy, brushed a biscotti crumb from her forehead, and said, “You’re okay for a dame even if my father would’ve had you sheared for a few kopecks but hey, you can’t go home again and even if you could your sock drawer would be cleaned out and you’d have nothing left to masturbate into.”
“Guess what Joe?” Vilma said. “My father was a sock salesman. I got boxes full in the cubby hole beneath my stairs.”
“Y’know Vilma,” Mannix replied, his eyes softening like pudding at an old folks home. “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Are any of those socks argyle by chance?”
“Don’t you know it, Joe. Don’t you know it.”

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Pigment and Pestles

Eye Of The Beholder
A person of the sciences (or lab rat, rabbit or monkey for that matter), cannot be defined only by the empirical world but must, at times, submerse themselves in the enjoyable realm of visual culture to rest the gaze, ease the mind's workings and have more varied topics of conversation at the doughnut shop, in the lab maze while nibbling cheese or enjoying a well-deserved carrot or banana in their well-clawed cages. I have long understood this and over time, have become a connoisseur of all things regarding the atelier, the works produced within, and their eventual display on the walls or floor of the art gallery. Be it sculpture, painting, printmaking, photography, Spirograph or Lite-Brite, I have trained my eye and mind to discern the smallest of details and the grandest of ideas applied to the canvas or carved from rock, bringing image, symbolism, texture and even odour at times, together to play upon the great themes of art. Yes, I did say odour and it is my belief that like a fine wine, artistic works must be sniffed to properly interpret and savor their meaning. This has caused me considerable trouble at local galleries and oft times led to me being escorted from the premises by security guards, but not before I could tell them a thing or two about the works adorning their walls and let me just say, many of them were amazed by my astute observations and deep revelations. I learned it all from my old friend and confidante, Professor Augustus Plimphorst, a man who taught me so much, at least before his arrest.
Famed art sniffing scientist, Augustus Plimphorst, author of the book, The Mona Lisa Whiff and Other Tales of Sniffing The Great Masters' Works, working through one of his olfactory exercises before heading off to the Louvre for a masterpiece sniffing session.
So, it came as no surprise when my neighbour from down the street, Litvack Yaplonsky, maker of such fine wines as Chateau Poulet dans le Danse Macabre and Le Oeuf Puer, that he ages in Pepsi bottles lending them a slight carbonation that both tickles the palate and singes the nose hairs, brought me over some of his recent paint-by-number pieces for viewing. Actually he was trying to sell me one of these things as his funds were running low after a visit to his favourite massage parlour to treat his irritable bowel syndrome. From just a perfunctory perusal, I must say Litvack is doing things with paint-by-numbers that few artists have dared attempt before. By straying outside the lines, breaking the colour coding and flattening the picture plane, much like Cezanne on a good day when he hadn't been drinking and cursing the rotting fruit in his pantry, Litvack is expanding the limitations of this strict medium and I'm sure will turn the art world on its head. Or beret. Or bald spot. Or toupee. Anyway, he started with the nudes because as Litvack said to me, "Hey, who doesn't like a picture of a naked broad hanging on their wall unless you're one a them funny guys. Are you?" he asked, pointedly I might add, uncapping a Pepsi bottle of wine that he'd thoughfully brought along. Ah, art and wine, wine and art, definitely an afternoon delight. I imagine he began with the nudes because of their selling point. The painting below he titled, Lulu's Mosquito Bite, and right off the bat I admired the almost cubist background contrasted with the more demure Renoir figure and may I say I haven't seen such beautifully executed drapery in a washcloth since Salvador Dali's Washcloth With Ocelots and Walnuts Cracked Between A Weeping Liturgist's Buttocks
It is the leafless, stunted tree, just to the left of the figure, that turns this piece from mere painting to masterpiece. Its grotesque form, in contradiction to the beautiful wood nymph beside it, reminds the viewer that all that is good in nature is balanced with its opposing force. Good and evil, beauty and beastliness, tomatoes and ketchup.
The next piece Litvack showed me, also part of his nudes series, was entitled Brigitte Bare-Assed In My Dreams. Again, Litvack plays with the tree theme, except this time it has all its leaves but still appears menacing, the leaves almost spiky and hovering behind the figure in a way that insinuates they might brush against her and scratch her supple flesh or worse, wrap her in their thorniness. In this case, the elegant drapery serves as only flimsy protection against the forces of nature and the two bull rushes to the right become phallic symbols, as if Mother Nature has undergone a sex change and now threatens the startled Brigitte like a mountain goat during rutting season. The only hope for Brigitte is the small lily pad near her knee that promises safe journey from any lurking evil and the divisive background colours, light versus dark, to say that balance shall always be struck and perhaps if the leaves aren't nice to her the bull rushes will be gentle enough. Never has so much been said in so few brushstrokes as in this painting. We celebrated the showing of this piece with a couple of sips of his newest wine, Un Chien Diablo avec Saucisson.
Unveiling his next painting, I could immediately see how Litvack's nudes had turned to a brighter motif. This one he called, Edna's Big Stretch, and the light-hearted approach to the subject matter and the sheer joy on Edna's face as she dips her foot in the water, emphasized by the almost pop-art handling of the exaggerated hues, shades and simplified shapes of the background shrubbery brings to mind James Rosenquist in his early days or his brother-in-law, Herbie Lundqvist, the Herring King of Brooklyn, New York and an artist in his own right who did marvelous things with dried noodles and spray paint. It is interesting to see the echoing of the two red flowers in the foreground with the red flower in Edna's hair, as if Edna has been fully integrated into the natural world and even her breasts in all their fullness appear to be blooming with little buds of nipples that most caterpillars would give an arm and a leg for (or a leg and a leg really), but the greyish area upon which she sits no doubt hides the horrible moss people and so again the drama of good and evil is played out against a pastoral backdrop. Anyway,  if I wasn't already a painting sniffer, I would've sniffed this one when no one was looking. Between the flowers and breasts and cool water I just wanted to smell and smell and smell this painting forever.   
A few more drinks and then Litvack pulled this fantastic piece out of his magician's hat (garbage bag actually), and if I didn't lose my breath I could certainly feel it catch, or maybe that was just a bit of phlegm strung across my airway. Nevertheless, this nude, titled Dolores Catching A Breeze Somewhere North Of Sudbury, seemed to be the culmination of Litvack's efforts, fusing the sense of foreboding with the pastoral serenity, rambunctious breasts and attentive nipples standing in defiant contrast to the almost American Gothic background as if to impress upon the viewer the sense of a new age coming, full of youth and vivacity and fake eyelashes if need be to reach those dreams, pitchforks and overalls left behind for parents to weep over as their sons and daughters head off to the big city to sell croquet sets and attend bassoon camp. What nails this painting to the wall, so to speak, is the addition of the artist's easel, its stark lines juxtaposed against the curvaceous figure posing yet ignoring its presence. Shades of Velasquez perhaps, the painter peeping in on the subject and imposing a hint of themselves within the painting, in effect a painter painting themselves painting their subject in a painting hanging in a place full of paintings viewed by people who wish they were painting, muddling realities and foreshadowing a postmodern movement centuries before its birth. On a postmodern note, many believe postmodernism is a term used to describe art after the modern age, but really the term comes from tying modernism to a post, tethered as you would a dog to a leash tied to a pole in the backyard with enough slack to allow him to run around but not enough to eat the laundry off the clothesline, so that the dog can only run in circles, happy but agitated at the same time but eventually he pees in the same spots so many times that the grass begins to die, and then, well, the neighbours stop coming over for barbeques and your kids develop strange rashes. The term was coined by a painter so far ahead of his time no one has heard of him yet and even I can't remember his name. I mention this only because with his Poodle Period, Litvack begins to encroach on this territory.
This piece, called Fou-Fou and Boris, comments on the male gaze in art by portraying both poodle genders with red bows in their well-coiffed pompadours. The bare-bones black and white of the dogs set against an unfinished background, as if to call attention to the act of painting itself, is both postmodern in its practice and in its theoretical base. The large eyes of the dogs almost plead to you to help unlock them from the prison of the canvas but it is really Litvack trying to unchain himself from the age old disciplines of his art. He carries this idea even further with this next painting, Maurice Chevalier and The Pom-Poms of Servitude.
Once again, the stark black and white delineates the figure but  this time the background is entirely erased and the only colouring are the few splashes of turquoise in the poodle's bow and what appears to be a neck brace. Car accident, perhaps? This further emphasizes the painting as a painting and not as some seductive trick of light and perspective, serving to disseminate the postmodern critique and inseminate the poodle equally. Disseminating and inseminating, the two cornerstones of the postmodern practice.
Not one to call it a day (or night because the two blend together so seamlessly after six or seven glasses of Litvack's wine), Litvack then pulled this out of his garbage bag. Simply titled, Arnolfblong Rassmussmunson, this is obviously Litvack's attempt at pure, postmodern portraiture, the poodle standing heroic before the abstract background, both playing off of and settling the tension between two schools of painting and then making it his own by portraying the dog's tongue and mouth as a garish and dangerous orifice of art biting power. I wanted to smell this one but was afraid to get to close, that's how convincing was Litvack's execution of pigment turned to theory and doctrine. Or should I say, dog-trine. By this point, both Litvack and I were both a little wobbly and slurring, but I still had time for one more masterpiece before sliding to the floor. Actually it was a poodle diptych and together the two paintings floored me or at least I was lying on the floor by this point.

 "And what do you call these two magnificent pieces?" I asked Litvack, my voice a little muffled from my head resting under a chair.
"Ah, who th'fuck cares? How'bout Lance and Gertie Get It On In Dr. Rangoosh's Dental Office. How 'bout that, you ugly piece'a shit? Where are you? Where'd you go? Christ, I think this wine made me blind again. Fuck, what happened to your head? You got no head."
"It's okay, Litvack," I soothed him. "The rest of me is under this chair."
"Well shit, don't do that to me again. I'll kill you if you do. I'll cut your goddamn head off and feed it to my poodles."
Speaking of poodles, in these last two paintings, or what I could see of them from under the chair, Litvack incorporated broad, masculine brushstrokes as if to extinguish the more gentle, feminine forms even though he chose a red chair and drapery to showcase the dogs and evoke a cut-rate brothel on the outskirts of Baffin Bay. The chiaroscuro (an art term and also a Brazilian meat) is in full effect, as if to negate the influence of the postmodern thingamajig, high contrast giving way to more subtle blending saying to the viewer, "Look at me. I am poodle. In shadow and in light, I shall always be. Poodle, poodle, that's me."
We finished off a third Pepsi bottle of Litvack's wine that he had hidden in his garbage bag and we chatted some more about art and life as we lay on the floor, but then Litvack became enraged when I wouldn't buy one of his paintings. We both stood up, with some difficulty, Litvack drooling, and then he came at me and broke one of the paintings over my head. I went down quickly, sitting up against the chair as Litvack broke another and then another painting over my head. Ah, the artistic temperament. That's about when I blacked out and when I came to I was on the front lawn in my boxer shorts, a police car nearby and Litvack was handcuffed and vomiting prodigiously into a can of house paint. And suddenly it all came clear to me. Litvack was taking his discipline one step further, into the realm of performance art, destroying his work and thus his own self, erasing his history until nothing remained but the tattered remains of nudes and poodles and vomit in a paint can.
"Be careful with him," I called to the officer as he steered Litvack into the back of the police car. "He's a great artist."
"Judging by what he left in that paint can, Picasso he ain't. Jackson Pollack maybe," the cop said and then he took Litvack away.
Everybody's a critic these days.