So this week I've got two pieces of art. The first I call "Clown in a Blender." The second is "Clown Totems." It's easy enough to discern I wanted to do something with a red, black, green color scheme. I started with oil paint then just sort of, for lack of a better term, played around until an image hooked my brain. The second I saw something coming through I aimed for it, and what I hit were these two pieces. After painting them I did some digital work to get the lighting right as well as pull out some more color. For instance, you'll see there are two variations of "Clown in a Blender." The only difference between the two is lightning adjustments. I couldn't settle on which I preferred, so I decided to offer up both. Don't let me limit you, pick your own favorite. Well, my best to you and yours, and I hope you enjoy the clowns.
Mary Keller lived on the same street as me. I lived in the middle of the block, and she was down at the corner. She used to have a brother, Tommy. I played with Tommy when we were little. He’d be a wizard and I’d be a knight, and we’d fight all kinds of dragons, goblins, and stuff. Tommy was real fun. But then he drank paint and died.
His parents blamed me. I remember being at the funeral, and Tommy’s mom yelling, “I bet you told him it’s a magic potion, you sick little bastard.” She slapped me hard enough to leave a print on my face, and my parents did nothing. Later on, they told me, “She needed to get it out. It wasn’t your fault, but sometimes you have to let people vent.” Lot of sense that made to a fucking nine year old I can tell you, however, as the years have gone by, I think I see the point. Tommy’s mom didn’t want to blame her son for being too stupid not to drink paint.
I still knew Mary Keller by the time I turned sixteen. She was fourteen then and well on her way to growing up beautiful. I didn’t know Mary very well. Yeah, we walked the same route home from school, chatting a bit, but the only real reason we talked is because, well, Tommy. The thing is, Tommy sort of made us feel closer than I think we actually were. Death has an odd way of bonding people.
So Mary is this developing beauty, who even at fourteen is smart enough to know why the guys in her class turn to the side whenever she looks at them. One day we’re walking home from school. It’s the Fall. I remember the leaves had almost all come down. And Mary says to me, casual as you please, “I’m going to cut my face off.”
She was half way to another topic when I realized I needed to ask, “What did you just say?”
“What? About the face?”
“I’m going to cut it off. Or up. I think just cutting it up would be best.”
“Because that’s what boys see first. They see your face, and then they know if they want to have sex with you.”
“Guys see a lot more than your face. Actually, they‘re probably not looking at your face first,” I said this thinking it was the right thing to mention. While there may have been a more eloquent way to say dudes go from tits to face, if they even go that far up, I didn’t have it then or now. Of course, I forgot who I was talking to.
Mary reminded me by saying, “So should I cut my boobs off too?”
I immediately replied, “No. Absolutely not. Carving up your face will keep guys away.” Then I thought to add, “Why exactly are you thinking about doing this?”
Mary proceeded to tell me she’d been increasingly aware of the boys in her class, particularly the way they leered at her. Sexual subtlety in teenage boys is nonexistent. I told her that was an unfortunate part of life. Part of growing up, for girls, meant learning how to deal with leering men. She didn’t think it should be, and I realized she was right. Then she asked why I didn’t look at her the way the other boys did. Over the years, many women have asked me this question in one form or another. There is no good answer. Sadly, at sixteen I thought blunt honesty was the best policy. So I said, “I don’t find you attractive.” I would not be cured of this habit, or this response, until a woman in a bar stabbed me in the thigh with a broken ashtray.
Now, yes, I said Mary Keller was surely a developing beauty. However, I stand behind the notion that just because a woman is pretty does not make her attractive. Everyone knows there are certain qualities no amount of beauty can supersede. The sexual equation: if a woman or man is a perfect 10 and a raging Nazis, the desire to have sex with them lessens. Granted, it’s a sliding scale from person to person; I’ve known those sexual moral relativists who would say, “Yeah, she’s a racist fascist, but dem boobs and dat ass – damn, I gotta hit that.” However, I’m not one of them. Too bitchy, too nerdy, too cruel, too cloying, at some point it doesn’t matter how beautiful a person is, the desire to fuck them is decreased, sometimes all the way to zero. In the case of Mary Keller, I thought of her like a cousin, enough like family sex between us would feel awkward, hence, my lack of sexual attraction.
Still, back then I had enough sense to add, “That doesn’t mean you aren’t pretty. Just not to me. It’s like that sometimes.”
“I guess so.” She shifted her backpack from one shoulder to the other, “I just don’t like it. I mean, we went to the mall the other day, and this creepy old man, he looked like melting leather, the way he looked at me was the same as some of the boys in my class, and it made me feel… weird.”
“Fair enough, but scarring your face isn’t going to stop people from staring.”
“At least they’d be staring for a different reason.”
And she had a point. However, looking up the street I saw her mother sitting on the front steps, an empty bottle of white wine next to her. I knew anything that happened to Mary after Mrs. Keller saw us talking would fall on my shoulders. So I resolved to try saving Mary’s face.
I said, “Why not get like a veil and a robe? Something really, uh, billowy so you’ve got no shape, and covering your face is as good as scarring.”
She shrugged, “I could give it a try, but it feels like hiding. Like I’m the one who did something wrong.”
I started another suggestion, Mary cut me off, “You’re trying to be helpful, but I didn’t tell you because I’m looking for a way out, or like asking for permission.”
That night she took a utility knife, and slashed her face from one side to the other, carving a Chelsea grin. She used to complain how people always told her: “A pretty girl like you should smile more.” Mary also managed to put an X in her forehead before her parents caught her, stopped her. For two weeks her mom got blitzed on box wine, and would stand under my bedroom window at night shouting, “You destroyed my children.” She never really bothered me because I knew she needed to vent. Naturally Mary got sent to a few doctors afterward. They probably tried to explain to her what she did was wrong without listening to her reasoning. I wouldn’t see her again until next year around the start of school. The look in her eyes – Mary never seemed more beautiful.
A little over a year ago I got the chance to see an Italian horror flick called The Beyond. It came out in 1981, well, it didn't reach the United States until 1983, but regardless, it belongs on any list of must see horror films. Not because of how good it is, but all the ways it tries to be great and fails.
Also known as Seven Doors of Death, this movie is a clear attempt to make something artistic, I dare say surreal, but those attempts ultimately end up producing, what I like to call, a beer & a pizza movie. Horror is best known for these kind of films: the ridiculous over the top flicks that are laughably bad, allowing friends to get together for group viewing and mocking. The slashers in these tales cause smirks not dread. The nightmarish entities come across as clowns. Crack a beer, enjoy some pizza, and have a good time at your own private Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Some of the best times of my life have been spent drinking and giggling at bad horror/scifi movies.
Sure, there's a degree of schadenfreude, but think of it like this: no one sets out to make a comically bad movie. Watch the documentary Best Worst Movie Ever, and you'll see the makers of Troll 2 insisting, to this day, they made a quality film. And those few who try to intentionally make bad movies, such as the insufferable Sharknado series, rarely hit the mark. So those few flicks that are laughably awful are rare gems in their own way; the intention may not have been to make comedy, but the outcome is comedic gold and should always be appreciated as such.
Now this song is inspired primarily by one scene in particular. I leave it here for your perusal.
After seeing the film, on the walk home, some friends I was with remarked how great it would be to have a garage band and just jam away singing, "Attack Dickie Attack!" That became the rough draft of this song, and over the last year I've been coming back to it now and again trying to make it work. In-between other projects I dabbled with settings, or tried different lyrics. It never really seemed right until recently. Sure, the content, to a degree, might seem a bit, shall we say, esoteric? But if there's one rule to art it's to create something using what you love. Well, I love horror movies. So here it is, not to be taken seriously, but have fun rocking out to Attack Dickie Attack!
Hello. This week I decided to get back to some simple art work. Mainly because my wrist is paining, and this was the only thing I could complete. Next week, with any luck, I should have some fresh music, albeit a bit esoteric in content, but I'll make sure to make things plain.
This piece came about just by trying to have fun. I've been working on a lot of different things lately, and enjoying them has become sort of secondary, a matter of accident rather than intention. So last night I sat down intending to do something enjoyable. I started working, and viola, what came out is below.
It went through a few titles before arriving at the one I've chosen, Brother and Sister?; because a title can be confining I wanted something that would offer a chance for various interpretation, yet keep such considerations reasonably narrowed. Come to your own conclusions, but aim in this direction. Art tells a story, but it more often tells the story of you by your reaction. So feel free to leave comments describing your thoughts.
Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy.
About a year ago I called in a favor from a friend. I needed a job, and he worked at a small newspaper in the Chicago suburbs. He insisted he owed me nothing. I flashed the photo of him drunkenly fucking a sad eyed dog, and two seconds later I got assigned to covering the Skokie political scene.
The job didn’t pay well, though working conditions fit me. Most of the time I went to the Skokie town hall, listened to some committee blather on about local business before I headed to a nearby bar where I synopsized the streaming boredom as concisely as possible. I did so with the assistance of a digital recorder, and my partner in print, Adam Horowitz.
Horowitz used to write for the Chicago Tribune, and his name meant something a long time ago. He wrote the kind of articles that ended political careers, and exposed mafia dealings. However, a lifetime slinging ink at the corrupt earned him a lot of enemies. The people he burned, well, once they had nothing to lose they devoted themselves to ruining his life; and the fresh crop of corruption knew to go after him first. He spent decades protecting the world in his own way only to wake up one morning pawning a Pulitzer for beer money.
On the ninth vodka he’d say, “People gotta trust what you say is true. All it takes is the right slander… especially the kind that’s true... no one'll listen again.”
But he was good company on those long boring nights.
“The committee will now take roll. Simon Caprio?”
“Good to see you Denise. Louis Boggs?"
"I’m right next to you Dave.”
“It’s procedure. Let’s have some order, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Present.”
So on and so forth. Most meetings amounted to committees getting together to recite the minutes from previous meetings before addressing new business. No one ever seemed to have new business, at least not of any importance. The bureaucracy carried itself along flowing at a sludge pace, but I didn’t mind. It gave me a chance to take careful notes on the flight patterns of flies without missing anything critical. Horowitz meanwhile would mutter things to break the stunning monotony:
“I bet Dave wants to fuck Denise. You can tell by the way he perks up whenever she sez anything. That woman could fart, and he’d sit up like a dog whiffing bacon. Sad bastard – I mean I’ve screwed fatter broads, but it’s the fact he don’t do a goddamn thing that’s so pathetic.”
While taking notes I mention, “Denise is married.”
To which the counter comes, “To some corpse working in the library. Everybody in there is dead.”
And he didn’t mean it facetiously. The first three weeks Horowitz ignored me. He figured I’d been sent down by our mutual friend the Editor to keep an eye on him. Suspicions abounded that Horowitz may have, on occasion, slipped out of life threateningly dull meetings to compose his own fictive account of Skokie politics. I can attest that there was not then, and I doubt even now, any truth to such rumors. See, the living hell Horowitz inhabited wasn’t the result of the torturous tedium of low level suburban politics, it stemmed from his own bone deep devotion to the job. I was perfectly willing to fuck off to the bar, and make shit up, but he insisted we stay to get the facts. His code of ethics, sense of duty, whatever you want to call it was the real millstone around his neck. Sure, he wanted to be doing something more important, but, three tequilas along:
“This is my job. I gotta do it. Some greasy pig thinks this is gonna make me quit – ha! Fuck you. Quote me. Print it. End of story.”
I admired that about him. Time went by he didn’t hear me complaining, or catch me trailing him drink for drink. So eventually he opened up:
“I’ve been working this bullshit job long enough to start picking up bits.”
Emailing our story in, close the laptop, and, “What kind of bits?” signal the bartender for a fresh round.
Horowitz says, “Nothing that comes out obvious, not at a glance. Like there are meetings that no one seems to know when they’re scheduled.”
“There’s no record of them. Nothing online, or if you ask around the town hall, but I know for a fact there are closed rooms full of certain city officials talking about something.” I open my mouth, he cuts me off, “And before you ask a dumbass question, I’ve waited outside those rooms to ask the people inside what those meetings are about.” He takes his time, sipping a fresh stout, cocks an eyebrow, “Quote: ‘Street repairs and infrastructure maintenance.’ End quote.”
I shrug, “So? Couldn’t that be the truth?”
He nods, “I thought so at first, however…”
And he takes me down the rabbit hole. According to Horowitz he starts tracking every single meeting that even remotely involves “street repairs and infrastructure maintenance.” This allows him to put together a rough list of city officials who would be at such a meeting. He admits:
“I did it, at first, just to keep my brain active like exercise. I didn’t expect to find anything.”
He starts by following officials throughout their average day. The hope is that tracking officials will lead him to more of these secret meetings. It takes months before he compiles a short stack of names, but that’s the beauty of doing a long stretch: nothing but time.
“On two separate occasions I did my utmost to, shall we say, accidentally stumble into one of these meetings. I got my tape recorder going to catch whatever I can. The second I step in the whole room clams up. Silent as the fucking grave. Every eye is staring at me. And this why good reporters cultivate a reputation for being drunks: it’s an instant excuse.
“I look around like, ‘Sorry, sorry. I’m looking for the meeting about raccoons – scraping the dead ones up. Seems they need new shovels or some shit. Is this not that room?’" Horowitz sighs, “Only problem is you can only pull that shit so many times before someone gets nervous. Don’t have to be right to be suspicious. I learned that from my cat. I thought he was stealing my weed, but no.”
More time goes by during which Horowitz cons his way into every file and brain that can give him anything. Eventually we make it to the top of a heap of circumstantial evidence: seemingly unconnected disappearances; the dramatic ascendance of local politicians, who leave for the city to start meteoric careers; a clockwork spike in infant mortality rates; sewer workers confined to psyche wards suffering from catatonic levels of terror; internet blogs reporting zombie activity in Skokie; the way employees get lost in the town hall on certain days, regardless of having worked there for years, as if the halls suddenly followed some M. C. Escher logic for a short period; rumors about processions composed of black hooded figures.
Leaning back in his barstool Horowitz says, “This town is in league with dark forces. I shit you not.”
The first time I hear it I take it with a grain of salt. It sounds like the plot to a great piece of fiction, and I wonder if he’s just playing with me. Let’s run this by the new guy, see how he takes it. If I react the right way, well then, it must be a good story, and Horowitz can keep on typing it to life. Only there’s something in his eyes, a razor sharp glint warning me Horowitz believes this is all true.
So I play it safe, go with the crazy, “If that’s the case, what are we going to do about it?”
Horowitz laughs, “Look, mafia guys shoot at you, you can shoot back. Devil wizards conjuring murderous shadows – fuck that. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know no hocus pocus protection. There’s black magic shit going down, I am staying away from it.”
That’s how it went for about six months. We stuck to our beat, and every so often Horowitz and I would get drunk enough to babble on about the grim story of the century, the nightmare in Skokie. I went along with it for a laugh, our own private horror story, and I liked the way Horowitz lit up talking about it like it made him feel like a real reporter again. However… I remember in college I noticed a guy wearing a cape. First time I ever saw someone wearing a cape in public. After that I started noticing more people wearing capes. It wasn’t that some fashion trend was flaring up, it was just that I had become aware of something, and just started noticing it more and more often. Sometimes that's the consequence of knowing things.
On my way to a meeting on mosquito abatement I see two officials slip into a room I’m sure wasn’t there two days ago, and glancing back the door is definitely gone. One week see a woman begging to talk to someone in charge because the police are ignoring her desire to file a missing person report on her kid. Catch her name without meaning too, and next week, glancing through the paper, see that she’s died in a car accident, drove straight off the overpass. Killing time smoking in the stairwell a conversation drifts up from the basement:
“That was too bloody. I know it has to be done, but less blood.”
“I feel the same way. At least we got the hearts. That’s what matters.”
“Do you smell that? I smell smoke.”
“Who’s in here?”
Duck out before anyone notices me – better safe than sorry. At the bar that night mention it to Horowitz who simply puts a finger to his lips. He juts a thumb towards the end of the bar. A man in a black suit sipping rum is busy trying to look as pleasant as possible. Yet, the way he smiles seems like the skin or muscles aren’t probably connected. Maybe both.
Shaking his head Horowitz whispers, “Poor bastard. Works at the library. No telling what they’ve done to him. That’s where the experiments are. It all starts here where no one's paying attention, and when it works it drifts into the city. Suburbs: where the wicked go to practice in private.”
Walking home I catch sight of a skinless dog prowling an alley. At that moment I pulled out my phone.
A groggy voice answers, “Hello?”
“Hi, Pete, it’s me.”
“You have any idea what time it is?”
“Yeah, but this can’t wait. I quit.”