Chapter 3 from Revenge of the Decorated Pigs
Outside the museum the air was green and gumball-sized raindrops fell like little liquid turds from the roiling sky. Kevin hurried across Park Avenue, darting between cabs, buses, and limousines. There was an electric flash, a bomb-like crack, and the sky let loose a deluge. Misjudging his step, Kevin planted his foot directly in a water-filled gutter. Rather than seek shelter under the awning of Shapolsky’s Furrier and Pharmacy, he ran across 75th Street to the address Sam had given him, an elegant, marble-fronted apartment building. Kevin shook himself like a wet dog and drew his fingers through his hair before stepping inside. The doorman, an extremely short—one might even say midget-sized—man with a striking magenta-dyed comb-over, led Kevin wordlessly through the foyer, which was decorated with a series of Boucher-esque vignettes. They entered a small, wood-paneled elevator. “Pulse,” said Kevin as the doorman, now serving as elevator operator, pulled shut the metal gate. They rose with a quiet rush to the penthouse floor. When the elevator stopped, the doorman-elevator operator gazed down between his shoes and Kevin wondered why he wasn’t opening the door.
“Do you think the 1954 Columbia recording of Callas’ Tosca is her best? Or the 1960 EMI?” the little man asked with deliberation. Kevin wondered if this was some kind of test. He knew the opera, but such subtle parsing was beyond his ken. The doorman-elevator operator interrupted Kevin’s nervous silence, “Because Sam said he can only listen to the 1954 but I just heard the 1960 on WNYC and it sounded pretty good to me.” He opened the metal gate. “Tell him I said so.”
Kevin stepped into a corridor that smelled reassuringly of soap and old books. He turned to ask the doorman-elevator operator which apartment was Pulse’s but the elevator had already gone, its descent measured by a little bronze arrow above the door. He walked up and down the thickly carpeted hallway looking and listening for tell tale signs of the magazine’s office. Finally, he knocked hesitantly at the door marked P-4. “Yes, I’m coming already. Keep your dick in your pants,” responded a thickly accented voice. The door opened and a large dog bounded out, leaping up on Kevin wantonly. “Thumper! Stop that! Keep your dirty paws off him.” A young man stepped out of the apartment and wrestled the dog, a poodle-like breed with a coat of silky white curls, into submission. “Oh, I’m so sorry. He got his dirty paws all over you.” The man said as he met Kevin’s eyes with a broad smile.
“That’s okay,” said Kevin, brushing off his black trousers. When he glanced back, the man was gently petting the panting animal. Their eyes met again and Kevin felt strangely disarmed by his guileless grin.
A door opened at the other end of the corridor
“Ari, haven’t you taken Thumper out yet? Christ! Do you want him to shit inside again?” The man who spoke was oddly dressed and his graying hair stood out at angles as if he’d been sleeping.
“I’m going, Sam, I’m going. Keep your dick in your pants.” Ari winked at Kevin conspiratorially. He attached the dog to a leash and rang for the elevator.
“So, you must be the fellow I spoke with this morning,” said the older man as he led Kevin down the corridor. “About the Warhol.”
“Yes, my name’s Kevin. Kevin Forester.”
“Good, come in, before that little elevator troll shows up.” Sam led Kevin into a spacious vestibule and closed the door. “Did you notice the size of his hands?” he asked.
“The doorman?” asked Kevin.
“No, no. Dogboy.”
“Dogboy?” Kevin paused, wondering what Sam was talking about. “Oh, that guy. No, why?”
“They are huge,” said Sam, standing up on his tiptoes for effect. Sam appeared to be in his 40s. While not unattractive, his skin was sallow and he had dark circles under his eyes. He wore what looked like a Bavarian hunting outfit, gray wool trimmed with green felt at the collar and cuffs. Kevin followed him into an astonishing room. The walls were covered in silk brocade, alternating stripes of blue and gold overlain with a pattern of over-sized, decaying sunflowers. He scanned the walls: Miro, Dubuffet, Rothko, even a small Picasso set into a frame that seemed, oddly, to have been made entirely of ping-pong balls. There were Bierdermeier tables covered with dozens of outrageously fluted Art Nouveau vases, Louis XVI chairs upholstered in a sumptuous fabric adorned with sinuous marijuana leaves, and an enormous Ionic capital which supported a plexiglass and nylon sculpture that Kevin recognized as an extremely rare late work by the Russian Constructivist Naum Gabo. The robin’s egg blue ceiling was covered with hundreds, if not thousands, of hand-painted red roses.
“I had Dogboy paint those,” said Sam, “I timed him. One minute per rose, no more, no less.”
“Who is this, Marian Anderson?” asked Kevin, indicating a photograph of an elegant black woman. The frame was draped with small white Christmas lights.
“Desdemona Draper, the woman who raised me. My nanny. She passed away this year. It was a terrible loss.” Sam sighed. “Can I get you something? Vodka, gin, marijuana?”
“No, thanks,” said Kevin.
“Well, I hope you don’t mind if I indulge,” returned Sam. He lit a small pipe and inhaled. He held his breath then exhaled a grey-blue cloud. “I never smoked a puff until a couple of weeks ago. That ne’er-do-well Ari turned me on to it. I can’t believe I’ve spent my entire life without getting high. You sure you don’t want any?“ He held out the pipe.
“Okay, a little,” said Kevin, not wanting to appear impolite. He lit the pipe and inhaled shallowly.
“But you came here to see the Warhol didn’t you?” said Sam abruptly. Kevin nodded. Sam opened the dark door of an Elizabethan armoire and took out a small canvas. He handed it to Kevin.
The work, if one could call it that, consisted of a brownish stain dribbled across the surface of an off-white ground.
“There’s so little of it, isn’t there?” observed Kevin.
“Somehow just what one would expect, assuming it’s really his. But that’s what I need to know. I asked Gerard Malanga and he said that it’s probably someone else’s, that Andy never had an orgasm as far as he knew. Maybe Joey Dallesandro?” Kevin wished that he could summon some long-forgotten art history class or hazard a deduction based on connoisseurship and years of close looking. But this one was beyond him.
“Aside from DNA testing, I just don’t think you can be sure. Still, with Warhol authorship, as it were, was always meant to be somewhat in doubt. He left silkscreens lying around the factory for anyone to knock off a print or two. Maybe he did the same with these little canvases.”
“You mean anybody could just jerk off onto them?”
“Well, yes, perhaps.”
“I bought it for a hundred and seventy-five thousand. I don’t think I’ll keep it unless somebody can prove to me that the spluge is Warhol’s. I have no interest otherwise.”
“The bottom line is, you have to love it,” advised Kevin. During their conversation he had noticed an old-fashioned medal pinned to Sam’s jacket. It had an aureole of yellow ribbons and a central blue medallion on which Kevin could discern a finely painted image of an animal covered with strange, multi-colored markings.
“What’s that?” has asked, pointing to the medal.
In a low voice, Sam replied, “The Knights of Taredd.” He studied Kevin for a hint of recognition. Seeing none, he resumed, “A league of like-minded gentleman, dedicated to a free and independent Cornwall. A noble and, I must say, pointless cause.”
“I rode my bike there once,” offered Kevin.
“I’ve left my entire collection to the Municipal Museum of Launceston. So don’t get any ideas.” Sam took another hit. “Speaking of museums, how are things over there in that concrete mausoleum of yours?” he asked.
Kevin wanted to ask about the Boucher drawing but the pot was making him paranoid. “What does he mean by ‘mausoleum,’” Kevin wondered. “I’ve only been there a year and I’m still figuring it out,” he answered discreetly.
“You can do better than that, Darlin’. I want dirt. When are they going to fire that dreary man, what is it…Twill, Twine?”
“Tweed.” Kevin was not about to let on that only that afternoon the director had indicated his position was becoming tenuous. “He’s not that bad. Not as bad as people think.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth Kevin regretted them. “He’ll think I think people think he’s bad,” Kevin thought.
“Really? Do tell.”
“He’s actually got quite a bit of integrity.”
Sam regarded him skeptically. “What about that tits-and-ass wife of his, a beard if I ever saw one?”
“She’s nice. Kind of a free spirit.”
“Free spirit…” Sam repeated absently. He returned the putative Warhol to the cabinet. “Can you sit for a while?”
“Sure,” replied Kevin, though he was feeling increasingly uncomfortable and wished he could flee.
“And you, Darlin’?” asked Sam after they had settled onto a couch covered with a worn and faded tapestry. “You’re a tad young to be the curator of the Merton Museum, no?”
“I started early,” explained Kevin. As he recounted the story of his success in Sacramento, Kevin began to feel more like himself. In fact the pot was finally paying off, giving him a sweet tinge of euphoria.
“So you did the placemat show? Brilliant!” exclaimed Sam.
“Wow,” said Kevin, “I didn’t think anyone saw that show, let alone someone from New York.”
“Darlin’, you under-estimate yourself. I happen to know for a fact that the decorative arts curator from the Met made a special trip out to Sacramento to see it. I couldn’t go myself—I never fly—but I have the brochure.”
Sam lit the pipe, took a hit and passed it to Kevin. “What are you working on now?” he croaked.
Kevin described the Gullah quilt show, which Sam said sounded, “impudent but delightful.”
“And the Biennial, of course,” Kevin added.
“Of course, that’s right. That’s why you want to get in touch with Earthship. You’re not thinking of including them, are you?”
“Why not? I mean…I have to see the work first, but, in principle, sure.”
“Well, they don’t really make art, do they? It’s more of a lifestyle project, I guess you could call it.”
“The final Biennial checklist is due next week. If I’m going to add any more artists I have to do it right away. I know it’s going to be a great show, but I just need one or two more knockouts.”
“You must be some kind of masochist to take on the Biennial. Everyone will hate it no matter what you do.”
“Then I have total freedom, right?”
Sam furrowed his brow. “Yes, I guess you could see it that way. Like Pulse. I start with the assumption that everyone thinks I’m insane then I set out to prove them right. There’s a lot of power in being reviled.”
They were interrupted by the sound of someone entering the apartment. Suddenly Thumper was upon them. He leapt onto the couch where Kevin was sitting and lapped at his face, exuding a distinct fecal odor.
Ari appeared at the French doors. “Oh, don’t let him do that. He ate shit in the park.”
Kevin pushed the dog off of him. “That’s okay,” he said, not wanting to seem overly fussy. In the light of Sam’s apartment he had a much better view of Ari. He looked to be in his mid-20s. Muscular but lithe in a panther-ish way, he exuded a Mediterranean sexuality, like one of Picasso’s early teenage models. He leaned in the doorway with his hand on his hip, a pose that struck Kevin as self-consciously alluring. Thumper began humping Kevin’s leg.
Kevin checked the time on his cell phone. It was already 7:30 and he wanted to catch Farscape at 8. “I better be going,” he said standing and brushing off his slobber covered pants.
“I’ll walk you out,” said Sam.
Kevin nodded politely at Ari as he passed and was startled to feel the young man’s hand firmly grab his ass and squeeze. He hurried out of the apartment without looking back.
“You like him, don’t you?” asked Sam when they’d made it into the corridor and stood waiting for the elevator.
“Sure. He certainly seemed to like me well enough didn’t he? I’ll just have to wash my face when I get home.”
Sam looked puzzled. “Not the dog, the Dogboy!” he clarified.
“Oh, yes,” conceded Kevin, “An attractive specimen indeed.”
Kevin noticed that the door to the apartment he’d first buzzed was open, as were several others along the corridor.
As if reading his mind, Sam explained, “It’s all mine.”
When the elevator door opened the miniature attendant took one look at Sam and launched into Cavaradossi’s aria “O dolci mani mansuete e pure.”
“I’m going to send you a little gift,” said Sam to Kevin as the elevator door closed.
return to SHAMPOO 35