Because I am a cultural critic, I am already damned by the public and doomed to a lonely life and a dry, decaying wife. Where is the lustrous hair of the girl I married? When my bride brings my breakfast tray now, it looks like a bale of hay is descending the stairs, then I blink and shake my head and it’s my wife. In a similar fashion yet in totally its own way, my own body remodels itself downward, my skin does something fractal and outrageous, the line between illness and normalcy flickers and fades, I am aware that I am a mutant, my own body, my own body retells the story of life becoming death everyday. You can’t forget. My moles droop glumly. But then the coffee! A parrot nips a chunk of dough from the front of my brain and I am bright-iced awake. My penis suddenly has a little jolt of self-respect. Today could be the day I take my suit in for cleaning, the day I scrub the sink. Oh or the day I solve all the great questions about civilization and romance and why everything is such. And such and such.
Today WAS the day. A young woman caught my eye in the street. I don’t descend much anymore but when I do I have old-man thoughts, such as, The girls are going out without pants now? What’s next? Will they carry flags with photos of their splayed vulvas on them? This girl had on black shorts and a black t-shirt and tall black shoes, a nasty jewess who didn’t give a fuck, who had the lewdness of an old whore but the thigh-backs of a teen, and her calves licked themselves with every step of her muscle-loving heels. Wedges, I think they are called. Weapons of love. I loved her from the back.
Oh for god’s sake, the girl turned out to be my great-niece. She turned around and saw me first and shook me out of my troglodyte revelry and kissed me on the face with her fat red lips. Since when does this academic girl wear lipstick like that, in the daytime? We are a multigenerational bookwormish family. She was quiet growing up, obsessed with Marie Curie and with her violin. I guess something happened when she went to college? My eyes were rolling like errant quarters in my skull and she took me by the arm and was going on and on about how we have to get a coffee and she’s been reading so much about this idea of serendipity for this class (you have to read about serendipity?) and also thinking about me and then there I am and she has this crazy idea and I fit into it so perfectly and let’s just do it.
I agree to go for coffee of course, I feel so weird about sexualizing her that I would have done anything in that moment to clear my guilt and confusion. So it’s coffee, and her face is like the sun and she hardly needs coffee because she is so full of life and enthusiasm but she orders a double espresso and takes it black! Her name is Edith but it’s okay if I call her Edie still. My fondest memory of little Edie is from the giant fig tree in Balboa Park in San Diego, about ten million years ago, and she believed that there must be people living inside the tree because the trunk was so big and….nevermind. Coffee. Here now. She taps the black tabletop with her red shellacked fingernail as she lays out her idea and of course I agree.
She explains that she’s switched “disciplines”, and she is now getting a degree in some new kind of art practice, but her emphasis is on an “embodied critique of contemporary arts economies” and she tells me a hundred more things and then finally lands on what she wants me to do, which is to dress up very accurately like Vincent Van Gogh and to attend the Armory Art Fair with her posing as my handler, at my arm, and I am supposed to look bewildered as I stroll the fair, and I am not supposed to speak to anyone, not even her. And the idea is that “our performance” will be open-ended in such a way that “our audience” will be able to project upon us any conclusion or meaning they want.
The thing is, says Edie, I’m not sure what the question is that I am actually trying to ask here. But I guess it’s still better than being an engineer and like, making weapons. Something to do with art and commerce, and remembering the past as we obsess about the present. Getting in touch with our own critique which is always there, in the back of our minds, but we don’t dial in to it. You know?
No. But Yes. Yes to Edie. I will have contact lenses to make my eyes different colors, and a bandage around my ear, and a ratty camel-colored jacket, and I think we should have me in modern, very dark sunglasses and Edie enthusiastically agrees. You’re totally getting it!, she chirps. She will wear a slinky black dress and slick her curls, wax her eyebrows, and wear these same shoes, it’s like the art world uniform, she will try to look older, she will work on her biceps. There is almost nothing worse than being fat in this scene, she insists. Broke is fine, addicted, suicidal, despairing, smoking endlessly, arrested, run over, concussed, syphilitic, filthy, dripping blood all good. But a bubble of fat over your pants, no, never, not, can’t, don’t. Just leave right now.
My wife, Sarah, helps me with the transformation, wraps my head with the bandage, pulls my hair over my forehead in greasy clots. She is having fun, more fun than I’ve seen her have in a long while, she giggles gayly at my tension while putting the contacts in my eyes. She found the perfect jacket at a thrift store and used sandpaper to make holes in it and applied some paint marks. Overall I make a very convincing Vinnie Van Gogh.
Edie came to get me in a car and I was waiting on my stoop when she pulled up and when I got into the car there was a cloud of mysterious, eastern perfume and there was Edie, slender and dramatic in her severe clothing but with the animated, overpainted face of a young girl playing gleefully with her mother’s makeup, she latched her arm into mine and I felt her body tense with enthusiasm for this weird thing we were about to do which I did not understand at all but I too felt happy about. I got into character, slow and hunched and holding too much drama and pathos in my forehead, I prepared to be bewildered, to be overwhelmed.
Don’t go crazy little Edie please just don’t go crazy.
Dia Felix is a writer and filmmaker whose areas of intrigue and expertise include romantic pratfalls, spiritual totality, and celebrity obsession. Her first novel, Nochita, is forthcoming from City Lights/Sister Spit.