By staff writer NG Hatfield
June 19, 2006
After looking back over the last few articles, it may seem like I’m quite preoccupied with sex. And while this is true, I’m always one to surprise people. So, my friends, I’ve decided to change things up this week.
You see, I’ve been sort of tinkering with a short story piece, and I’d like you all to read it. While it’s not totally humor-based, I think there are funny parts. And although bitches and hoes are always interesting, taking a look into how art is treated in small town America might teach you something.
To warn you, this piece is quite long, so I’m going to break it up. If you enjoy it, I’ll keep posting. If, for some odd reason, you don’t and I receive an overwhelming amount of hatemail/bullshit, I’ll go back to doing what I do best.
So…with all that in mind. Enjoy my story entitled, “Andy Warhol Goes Up in Flames.”
Andy Warhol Goes Up in Flames
Fact: There weren’t any shops, stores or Wal-Marts in Cumberland, Maryland that carried a painting by Andy Warhol between the days of this story.
An Idiot’s Guide to The Scene
“Poetry is, to me, different than it probably is to you. It’s not some Broadway rendition of Cocksucker’s Blues. It’s not some way to seduce women.”
The Scene took cover on the far south side of town, across the Potomac River. Ten miles back a dirt road, it stood in a forest that still stretches away from the odorous retirement villages and abandoned steel/glass/rubber/ macaroni factories of ghost-town Cumberland, Maryland. It hid like a foxhole or dilapidated post office: the roof was patchwork; the windows, if not broken, were big and hazy with squares of different shades of yellow painted on; there was no basement, two stories, and only five rooms. We debated what this place was before Vinny and Saul found it. Some argued a Hunting Club, some a farm house, some a whore house. Others didn’t care enough to guess.
It was our Fight Club, our Camp David, and our Vatican. It hid us well. Before The Blowup, that is. The Squares and Stool Pigeons and Cops swore it didn’t exist when the townspeople asked them where their sons and daughters went. I don’t know what they said, maybe the Creamery or the Country Club Mall. But they didn’t know that Beatniks and Junkies and Groupies and Winos and Cokeheads split hairs and cut white lines and engraved their initials onto walls there. They didn’t know that young men dedicated their vacation to waxing poetical, to revolutionizing the general art of life with women and drugs. They didn’t know their sons well enough in Podunk, Maryland.
That is, before The Blowup.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Where the hell is Andy Warhol?
The Scene had paintings of Picasso and old chapbooks of Kerouac. Kurt Cobain and John Coltrane were played there both, weighing down the room with “A Love Supreme” and “Lithium” from a shabby system that Tom always brought when he was in town.
Soulless Editing majors with smug little goatees and smug little sunglasses and smug little dispositions were there. You could even smell their smug little circlejerk conversations about Shakespeare and Rimbaud and the fuckin’ Dalai Lama. They were there to feel like they were actually swinging with our pace. Just like the wannabe poets, who dicked around, complete with ambition and glasses with thick frames and folded copies of their next Great American Poem. Though, all of that was in short supply.
Ya see, my friends and your friends were there. Blazers and little chapbooks with dirty napkin coasters were there, complete with their offset amber circles and eloquent scribbles of verse in Sharpie. Awkward postmodernist coffee tables that a few of the Members built in Art class at the local community college were there too, squatting beside plushy, old red-velvet couches that they had stolen or bought at flea markets. Grass-filled plastic bags, empty packs of cheap menthol cigarettes and half-full Dixie cups filled with gin and tonic or straight whiskey or shoddy wine scattered around The Scene, were also there. But there was never any Andy Warhol.
There was even an impromptu VIP room. There were stylish proverbs written on its leathery brown—otherwise empty—walls, saying ironic things like, “Buddha was overzealous,” and, “Fight the Ignorance! Join the Cumberland Renaissance!” There were piss stains, tobacco blots, and semen spots like Jackson Pollack paintings. There were old posters of Chinese war propaganda, old license plates nailed to doorways, old post-it notes with telephone numbers on the walls; even Hopper overlooked the stage. But even within all of that, there weren’t any marks of Tomato soup or Marilyn Monroe.
Of course, there was an unspoken tension without Warhol. A few members had whispered about him during initiation rituals, but Saul wouldn’t have anything of it. As founder, he established everything from the times of meetings to the kind of beer we drank. He wrote a charter, and we were all instructed that outside sources of art (those not able to be found in Cumberland) shouldn’t be used. Thus, there was absolutely, positively no Andy Warhol.
Friday, July 7, 2005
Andy Warhol Flopped Out on Stage
I was no keynote speaker. I wore a pair of black slacks and white t-shirt that night. As a rule, I couldn’t even introduce the keynote speaker or say hello to him, or wash his feet with expensive perfumes. I could only sit in the back of the crowd and make rude comments when he mispronounced a word. Also, according to the charter, I could have leaned against an old Buick, looking very sad, with a cigarette in my mouth…almost as if it was the perfect occasion for a photo opportunity.
I decided against that.
But, keynote speaker or not, it was a late Friday night in July and Tom brought his sound system and his dad’s gasoline generator. He played his guitar and sang songs we knew: “Best of My Love” and “Heartache Tonight” by The Eagles, “My Best Friend’s Girl” by The Cars, and a few Tom Petty songs. We sang along until 2 am, when Tom threw in a mix tape of old jazz, guarding it so that a good song was thumping through his two large, wounded speakers.
Even for a hot summer night, when Members bring mysterious women or friends from out of town, I knew everybody at the place. I felt empowered and drunk enough to make my way to the stage area. It sat to the far left of the place; between two doors that used to go to what we assumed were bathrooms. We painted over the usual shit. The Men’s door had Rom’s Cubist painting of a salamander or a crocodile or some fucked up red-yellow-green dinosaur on the left. Chris’ bright blue moon to the right.
The place was packed with twenty Members and their respective visitors, but I couldn’t see their eyes with the hard candlelight backlighting them. Even so, I felt comfortable enough to begin, with Tom’s old microphone smelling nostalgically like vomit.
“Hi everybody. Y’all should know me, but if you’re new to our little place, I’m NG Hatfield…poet laureate and literary snob and English student at WVU. I’d first like to welcome you again here and hope that you’re having a good time.”
Most of the visitors and a few Members politely clapped. A few gave the rock on sign. Sitting closer to the stage, the disconcerted or angry drunks only looked at me.
I addressed these boys to loosen up the place. “Hey, Vinny. How you doing Davis?” They liked the attention and each gave me a nod of humdrum approval.
“Good. Good. Well, because I’m so…learned, there are a few things I want to rant about tonight. About writing, I mean. And I’m sure many of you can empathize, unless you’re an editor. And if that’s the case, I’m sorry for you.”
I unfolded the nine or ten sheets of paper that I had typed my speech on that morning, lit a Marlboro and pointed with a nod at my Dixie cup full of beer that was at my usual spot. My buddy Shawn came up and handed it to me nervously, I took a sip and put it on the rusty barstool that was beside me so I could begin.
“The first thing that I’ve learned as a writer is to always, and I mean always, carry paper. You see, a pen is optional…especially if you’ve constantly got a knife on you.”
I stopped, pursed my lips around my cigarette and made a cutting motion across the tip of my index finger with the invisible knife and drew my name in the air above the microphone. They laughed.
“I’m not sure why, but it works. Editors would rather see your blood on your work and not just in your work…it doesn’t look like your first draft then, I guess. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that they’re jealous that you actually have it going through your veins and not… liquid sulfur and piss. I don’t need to tell you that they’re just looking for one reason to cut off your balls with a rusty butterknife and eat it al dente with some lovely walnut sauce. And a salad. With fat free Italian dressing.”
A few of the boys grabbed themselves, laughing. I was too graphic, they were signing.
“You gotta watch yourselves. Do what they like. Make sure to use semicolons. They’re pretentious as hell, I know, but it gets ‘em off. And if you don’t have a Roget’s Thesaurus, buy three. You never know when you’d need a better word for see or do or eat shit. Oh, and make sure to number your pages.”
The cigarette was nearly out so I lit another off of it. I stepped back to the rusted barstool and grabbed the red cup and brought it up to the mike with me this time. Tom finally noticed something was going on, and “Summertime,” which had been playing to drown out the generator’s noise, stopped.
“Now as for writing itself… that’s another story. How does one describe poetry only but…the product of a poet. And then, what’s a poet? Well a poet is somebody who writes poetry. Love that logic huh? Well that’s what poetry is kids. It’s a lack of reason, like how the president gets elected or how flowers grow or how my ‘virgin’ ex-girlfriend got pregnant and I was the ‘father.’ Turns out that not all the answers to those questions are some Australian guy she met at the supermarket.
“Poetry is, to me, different than it probably is to you. It’s not some Broadway rendition of Cocksucker’s Blues. It’s not some way to seduce women.” I looked up from the paper and said, “That just happens naturally. Right Saul?”
Saul, the known womanizer of The Scene, stood up and pointed his muscular finger at me and shouted across from the big room, “Yes!”
“Poetry is trouble. It’s frustrating as shit. And that’s why I’m up here I guess. To give y’all my troubleshooting techniques.
“Like with line clarity. You know, that’s the worst thing ever, I think. I spend at least ninety percent of my editing time worrying about it. And you know what? It’s important. And if you’re having trouble with it, then do what I do: lock your doors, light some candles, put on some Barry White and rub one out. Then have a smoke. Or two. Then…take your black cat on a walk, pick up some trash you find in the gutter and tell the next person you see you’ve just helped save the world a little. Buy him or her a drink, then walk home backwards.
“I promise you, if there was a problem with the way your reader was seeing your poem, it’d be gone after that.”
I had already thrown my cigarette behind me and the beer was nearly gone from random stops in my reading to sip it. I asked Shawn to get me another from the keg and he saluted me and walked to the trashcan we had it stashed in.
“Shawn Friedman, everybody.”
They clapped and shouted. He smiled as he walked back to me with the beer.
“Beer with a little starvation makes the world seem clearer. Eat a tin of tuna every two days and drink a six-pack every night. You’ll notice the stem on an apple…or the head of a match or the nooks of a stucco ceiling. Now I’m not saying to kill yourselves. I’m just saying that every writer needs something to haunt them. If you’re not haunted enough, you won’t be able to write. And if you’re starving, you notice more about the world, right? Well, if you notice more about the world, the more troubled you become. Easy as that.
“So, to close this little rant, I want to quote Henry Miller: ‘If you can’t make words fuck, don’t masturbate
And also, I want to tell you that I think that art can be anything. It doesn’t have to be so abstract that people can’t understand it, and you don’t have to act like you get it to impress a bunch of highbrows. Poetry, like all art, can be as simple as… say…a picture of Campbell’s tomato soup.
So…that said… where in this piece of shit little town, where on God’s green earth, where the fuck is Andy Warhol?”
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