Originally scheduled for Thursday, July 21.
The Book wants me to piss on it. Seriously. To see if I’m pregnant.
When I was in high school, one of the local (and by “local” I mean “Dallas”) radio stations — 97.1 “The Eagle” — had a pair of late-evening DJs: Kramer and Twitch.
I didn’t listen to the Eagle much — it was a “hard rock” station at the time, and that wasn’t/isn’t really my thing — but I listened to Kramer and Twitch’s show at least once, because I remember a prank call they made on the air.
I don’t remember all the details — I remember almost none of the details, actually, about the call or about where I was driving from or towards at the time — so I can’t give the joke a proper setup. The punchline, though, is that they got some random dude to piss all over his dining room table.
Seriously. I think they pretended to be from the CDC, or some such place, and convinced the guy that he might have contracted some disease or other; they needed him to piss on a flat surface, like a table, I think so that they could ask him questions about color and consistency? Like I said, the details are fuzzy. The punchline, though, that’s gold.
I don’t know why that bit of radio tomfoolery has stuck with me so long — crazy dudes call a guy on the air and talk him into pissing all over his own table — but it has, and it was the first thing that came into my mind when I saw this task. So I knew, you see, that when someone or something asks you to piss in a nonstandard place — a place you’re not comfortable pissing — you’re probably being trolled.
I pissed on the Book anyway, obviously. Why the hell not?
By itself, this doesn’t make any sense: a “contemporary artist” is just an artist working now, and how could I do anything else?
Fortunately, the Book provides a few “ideas” for its readers, which give one an idea of the sort of thing it means.
A two-meter test tube filled with semen, containing billions and billions of spermatozoa. A canvas filled with nothing but the artist’s signature, over and over. “A feminist video installation featuring nuns discussing their sexual fantasies about Jesus” — although that’s been done, after a fashion. Similarly, a performance piece involving a monk who has taken a vow of chastity lying in bed with two female nymphomaniacs — which has been done, ad nauseum.
The best one, though, is a supercomputer that connects two phone numbers at random, and records the conversation: this “the best” because these things already exist, and we’ve been down this road before. It’s a fun road, so I did it again.
There was — of course! — a better conversation before this one, but it was lost. Alas! And I lied in this one, which I try to avoid doing. It has its moments, though, despite not being nearly as good as the one before, in which I turned the conversation to hedgehogs after ten minutes of nonsense.
Fucking hedgehogs — they make everything funnier.
In the spring of 1963, Mr Brian Smith went to work at Hyam’s Sunshine Farms Fruit Processing, Packing, and Distribution Plant in Topeka, Kansas.
Mr Smith was a man without a past. That sounds more mysterious than it actually is: he had a past, an ordinary and uneventful one, uneventful enough that it had withered, died, and blown away, leaving nothing behind. He lived alone, he had no friends, he had no family. He was a regular at a local grocery, a local diner, a local bar, but in each of these places he was more a piece of furniture than a person: he spoke as little as possible, was as forgettable as possible, was taken for granted.
Hyam’s Sunshine Farms Fruit Processing, Packing, and Distribution Plant — or just Hyam’s, as the locals called it, the full name being too cumbersome for everyday conversation — bought in bulk bananas, oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and other such fruits as do not grow in Kansas, repackaged them, and then sold them to grocers across Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. In late 1961, Mr Hyam began negotiating with a chain of grocery stores in Oklahoma, but that deal was still “in progress” when Mr Smith went to work for Mr Hyam.
Mr Smith’s primary responsibility was placing the Hyam’s label on the fruit, after it was uncrated, before it was re-crated. Sometimes Mr Smith had to place the Hyam’s label over some other label: the label of the farm that grew the fruit, or the label of the distributor that sold it to Hyam’s, or sometimes, with fruit imported from South America, a label affixed as the fruit went through customs, coming into the United States.
Mr Smith worked quietly and diligently for Mr Hyam for ten years, clocking in and out at the same time every day, drinking one cup of black coffee on his morning break, eating a sandwich and a pickle for lunch, smoking two Lucky Strike cigarettes on his afternoon break. He did his job well, but not exceptionally: he was, as his supervisors remarked to one another, thoroughly and merely adequate.
In the summer of 1968, when Mr Smith was well assured that his work was not closely monitored — the regularity and adequacy of his labeling having been unvarying for five years — Mr Smith began affixing altered labels to the fruit moving through Hyam’s Sunshine Farms Fruit Processing, Packing, and Distribution Plant. The alterations were minor, at first, and accountable for as printing errors: “Toepeka” or “Ham’s” or a PLU with the central numbers transposed. Mr Smith went no further than this for another two years, watchful for any sign that his alterations had been noticed.
They were not.
Mr Smith’s altered labels became progressively transgressive, incorporating profanity, communist slogans, anti-war sentiments — and still, nobody took enough notice to contact the public relations department at Hyam’s.
There is no indication of why Mr Smith embarked on this venture, or whether he took the job at the fruit-packing plant only to put this odd plan into action. The early, misprinted stickers were procured by altering the plant’s standing order with the local printer, Donnelley and Sons. Mr Smith seems to have special-ordered the later stickers from a printer’s shop in Tulsa, under a false name, and paid cash: this is only guesswork, though probably as close to the truth as anyone is likely to come.
In the last weeks of 1972, Mr Smith took his altered labels a step further, a step too far: all the labels featured was a crude drawing of uncircumcised male genitalia, white on red. These, at last, attracted the attention of the management at Hyam’s, and Mr Smith was soon identified as the culprit. He was summarily fired on a Tuesday afternoon, March the sixth, 1973.
He was seen later that evening, driving westward out of town, and never heard from again.
I made this more fun by not saying anything.
Most of the people I tried this with just refused to play: they’d studiously avoid my gaze once they figured out that I was some sort of silent, stare-y nutjob. That was no fun, though I did get thrown out of a grocery store after staring down a checker.
I needed a challenge, a worthy opponent, and I was at a loss. I thought about going to bar, but attempting to stare down a drunken stranger on a Saturday night sounded like a plan that would not end well for me.
Then, I remembered: Day 100. The eight-dollar bill. The barista who never laughs.
I went back. I was fortunate: there was no line, and my nemesis was working the front register. She’s not actually my nemesis, you understand: I just said that for effect. I’m sure she’s nice, aside from the not-laughing. Besides, my nemesis is my doppelgänger, “William Wilson“-style, except I drink instead of gambling.
Anyway. I walked up to the counter. She said hello, asked what she could get me, waited. I stared. She stared. I stared. She —— well, you get the picture.
We attracted a small crowd — the other baristas, mostly, who started handing us shots of espresso, and we downed them while still staring at one another, and then there were more shots, and soon I felt like we were Marion and that bald Nepalese dude in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I wasn’t sure which of the two I was.
I once had something upwards of a dozen shots of espresso over the course of an eight-hour shift, more than half of them during the last hour. I felt okay afterward, maybe a little shaky, and I wanted to nap and couldn’t, but it wasn’t really that bad. We got to nine shots, my nemesis and I, and I felt great, and she started looking queasy. We got to ten, then eleven, and then——
Well, she vomited. In a projectile manner. On me, obviously, because I was across the counter from her.
Vomit is never pleasant, but some sorts are more not-pleasant than others. You’ve all had to deal with vomit, so I won’t elaborate. Too-much-espresso vomit is, I think, the worst vomit there is, because it still smells like espresso, and espresso is a good smell, and vomit is not a good smell — so there’s some conflict going on, olfactorily speaking. Plus there’s vomit.
I managed to hold my ground, mostly out of shock, but it must have looked good: I mean, this woman just vomited on me, and I’m still staring her down. I don’t look down at my vomit-covered shirt and pants, I don’t recoil in disgust, I just keep staring. She starts crying, runs to the back room. Not the first time I’ve made someone cry in a Starbucks.
Everyone else just stared at me. I think someone offered me a towel, but I’m not sure. I made eye contact with each and every one of them — prolonged eye contact, of course — and then walked out.
I drove about a half-mile down the road, stopped the car, got out, stripped my clothes off, and set them on fire.
It was the only way to be sure.
“Go through today with out your sense of taste.”
Ah, yes. This came sooner than I expected.
Obviously I didn’t go through today without tasting things in the physical sense: that would have required permanent mutilation, or coating my tongue with lidocaine, or not eating, and none of those are things that I would have done. I had, rather, to be ‘tasteless’ in the more informal sense.
There are different kinds of tastelessness, though. There’s an ignorant sort of tastelessness, where one thinks that a velvet Elvis and the Mona Lisa are about on par as works of art, and how many hits did that Lisa lady have, anyway? She was Judy Garland’s daughter, that’s all. Elvis was the fucking King.
There’s a more aggressive tastelessness, though, which knows the rules – knows which fork to use, and when, and for what – and which breaks them just for the sake of breaking them. Even here, though, there are different styles or degrees of tastelessness. One could use the wrong fork to eat one’s salad, and leave it at that; or one could draw attention to the fact that one was using the wrong fork by keeping up a running dialogue about how stupid forks are. Hamlet was tasteless in this way, and it’s often fun to watch.
One could, to take things further, use the wrong fork for one’s salad, and talk about sexually transmitted diseases and dismemberment and various bodily fluids and rotting animals while doing so. This is advanced tastelessness, I guess, but also the sort of dinner conversation that seems normal when you’ve been raised by a biologist (not that I want to blame my parents for my tastelessness).
The height of tastelessness, though, is just to shit in one’s salad. At the table. In front of everyone. Which is what I did at dinner tonight. Then I called the waiter over, and said, “Excuse me, but there’s a turd in my salad.”
…this didn’t go over well, as the ‘waiter’ was my wife, and she’d watched me – dumbfounded – while I took the shit in the first place.
Right. That’ll do something. I don’t think the Klan even has a national headquarters…
It seems absurd to me that the Klan still exists. Not because I think we’re living in some post-racial utopia – racism and bigotry of all sorts are alive and well – just look at Westboro Baptist, those people hate everyone, even the Swedes, and how can you hate the Swedes? —— no, the continued existence of the Klan seems ridiculous because they’re just so nineteenth-century.
Maybe being a club of aggressive racist drunks with a secret handshake and stupid ‘slang’ was enough back in the 1860s, or even the early 20th century, but now it just looks pathetic. I linked to one of the Westboro Baptist church’s websites above: despite the fact that all of the Phelpses and their lackeys are terrible, hateful people, they’ve got a decent set of websites. The content is incredibly offensive, but it’s well presented: there’s a bit of a Flash intro, but it’s fairly low-key; the layout is clean, not too cluttered, easy to navigate; there’s embedded video, even. These people are on Twitter, too, for fuck’s sake. That’s how you do bigotry in the 21st century.
But the way you combat this sort of 21st-century bigotry is not by engaging it, and certainly not online: never – NEVER – feed the trolls. You just have to out-troll them, like this.
Even that does nothing, though, except pointing out what everyone already knows: that these people are ridiculous. It’s not going to change any of their minds. Stupidity and bigotry and hate aren’t going anywhere, nor are idiots and bigots and hate-mongers. Ignoring them all is the path of least resistance – and the one I prefer, honestly – and arguing with them can be fun, but is ultimately unproductive. Ridicule is probably best, but it only makes them stronger, and the belief that persecution is the mark of rightness (and righteousness) in any and every case run centuries deep.
…fuck it, dudes, let’s go bowling. But if we run in to any WBC protesters, I’m going to wave my floppy dick at them.
“…to achieve a high profile in your community.”
I’m not sure how much good this is going to do, but this is the letter I sent to my local paper:
I am standing barefoot on a wide expanse of grass. I can feel the grass growing; I can feel worms churning the soil; I can feel the groundwater flowing, trickling through rocks; I can feel the roiling and tumult of the molten bowels of the earth.
I am rooted like an oak, like a willow, like a stalk of wheat.
Pour me another cup of coffee, and don’t spill any on the table this time, you clumsy oaf. Where did you get those ugly pants? You smell like vomit. Who vomited on you?
I am standing in a field. I am naked, I am covered in honey, I am covered in ants. Vultures circle overhead, and I shout obscenities at them. I have soiled myself; I am standing in a pile of my own feces.
I am standing in the supermarket. I take a jar of pickles from the shelf; I open the jar; I pour the contents on the floor. I am standing in a pile of pickles. A young child starts to cry. You ask me for a hamburger, but I don’t exist. There is a picture of a hamburger where I was standing, soggy with pickle juice.
You people are all sheep, fools, rubes, bastards, fornicators, worthless clods of meat and sex and violence, sweaty and smoking and filthy. I am your god. Sacrifice your excrement at the altar of asphalt: piss and shit in the street like animals.
I am standing in a field, surrounded by a ripe crop of wheat. The thresher is approaching; the farmer yells; I pay him no heed. I am mutilated by the machine, bloody and dismembered.
I am on a train. You are with me, all of you. I am the conductor, you are the passengers. My blood is full of cocaine; your blood is tar, mud, cheap lager. You are cockroaches, multitudinous and indistinguishable. I am the exterminator: I will crush you, blot out your lives, return you to the mud from whence you came, and make you whole again.
I am standing barefoot in a wide expanse of grass. I feel the earth move under my feet.
I am the mystical baker. I bake the bread that gives birth to the universe.
I’ll let you know if I hear back from them.