And Broke His Crown

Changing out of his painting clothes after a somewhat disappointing day in his studio, he noticed the worn spot on the heel of his sock. It reminded him of the bald spot on the back of his head.

He went over to the kitchen sink to look at himself in the mirror. The sink had a mirror above it because it was the only one in the apartment, situated right next to the bathtub, which was, as is often was the case in old tenements like this one, also in the kitchen.

His looks had begun to follow the same trajectory as Marlon Brando's, he decided. He had been quite attractive into his forties and even in his fifties he was not without a certain appeal. But his various vices and bad behaviors, not to mention the inevitable onset of age, were hurdles that even his natural resilience and good bone structure couldn't get past any more.

He moved to the window to once again take in the truly commanding view he had of the river and the city beyond. His building, and indeed his whole neighborhood, were perched high up on a cliff that rose up to a height of about 200 feet from the river’s banks, making for a completely uninterrupted vista. On this particular night, the still darkness of the water, and the wide band of dull light that spread over it from a full moon as round as a diner plate, gave it the appearance of an enormous piece of black leather. As many times as he had seen it before, it had never looked quite like this. Add that magnificent, sparkling skyline as a backdrop, and it was cryingly beautiful. Life was full of gifts like that, gifts of visual beauty that most people not only wouldn't notice, but wouldn't get even if they were pointed out to them. The way that, on a rainy day, the reflections of the cars' taillights made amazing glowing red ribbons on the white walls of the tunnel into the city, which along with the green and red signal lights on the tunnel's ceiling (lane open/lane closed) and the raindrops that clung to the bus windshield despite the best efforts of the wind and windshield wipers, turning from diamonds to rubies to emeralds without trying, looked like Christmas on Fifth Avenue. The black lace pattern of a dying tree against a full autumn moon. The colors in shadows that most people thought were gray. This led him into thinking about a question he already knew the answer to, namely, how often is it really that most people think about what a miracle art is? To spread some greasy toothpaste onto a piece of cloth or a chunk of hardened dirt onto a piece of paper and open a window, make a light bulb switch on. To render a likeness of a someone you feel to compelled to look at, whose mind you could only know as much as you know the mind of a fascinating stranger on the train, far away enough that there are only visual clues to go on for answers, since you know you will never get to speak to them. To stir up peoples' emotions using colors, lines and shapes; dead, mathematical things that are more alive than life.

Christ, if only it were the nineteen-fifties instead of the new silver cyberspace years of the early twenty-first century he wouldn't feel like such a parody, such an anachronism, such a Johnny-come-lately Charles Bukowski rehash, still trying to be a bohemian in a time when bohemianism had been abducted by the alien beings known as multinational corporations. The pain and intensity of life he felt were certainly real, but whereas in the fifties he could have been regarded at least with a sense of shock and maybe a suspicion that he was an artist or a poet, in this later time he was looked at more with annoyance and a suspicion that he was just a loser.

The sink was so full of dirty dishes he had to use the bathtub to fill his spaghetti pot.

But he couldn't have gone in any other direction, even if sometimes he felt like the title character in Kafka's "Hunger Artist", destined to wither away forgotten in a comer of his cage at the circus sideshow. As an adult he followed the pattern of his childhood, using his lump of Christmas coal to make a drawing. His motives had always been utterly pure—Self Expression!At Any Cost!Never Sell Out! Everybody thought Philip Guston was out of his mind for doing that crazy cartoon art he did back in the sixties, but who had the last laugh? He wound up being revered as a pioneer, years ahead of his time. Then again, how long did you have to wait to have the last laugh before that's what it would literally turn out to be?

Thank God for his good rent karma. It afforded him the ability to survive on his meager and unsteady income. The somewhat seedy semi-slum he had lived in for over thirty years was gentrifying fast, and he paid next to nothing to live there. There was even a blossoming art scene that he was of course too old to be a part of, which the press was beginning to notice. The realtors had coined a name for the area as a marketing tool. It was now known as the Giant Backwater to the Left of Town, or GiBLeT.

The phone rang. As he turned around, he tripped over his cat Guzzle, a depressed and sour-tempered animal who resembled a fur coat that had been stored for years in a shoebox.

It was Jill, his girlfriend. They had been together seven years, ten if you included all time when they were part of a larger group of friends, all artists. He sometimes thought that the only reason she stayed with him was so she would have a lifetime guarantee of something to complain about. But even if merely out of habit, they were a couple, and their frequent arguments were explained away as "temperament."



"Judging from your tone, Jill, I take it things are not well."

"They're marvelous if you tell me you went on that interview yesterday for the job I told you about and proceeded to get hired. If not, they are the polar opposite of marvelous. Well?"

"I missed the appointment."

"You what?"

"I missed the appointment."

"Say it again so I believe you. How the hell did you manage that?"

"There was a lot of tunnel traffic. An accident or something."

"How much time did you give yourself? You had a four-thirty interview. What time did you leave?"

"Three twenty-one. On the dot."

"Don't lie to me! I was across the street watching. You left at 4:09. It was fucking FOUR OH NINE!" What the fuck is wrong with you? Not only do you fuck up a chance to get a job that would pay you a whole fucking lot more than you're fucking worth, but then you have the fucking gall to fucking lie to me!I KNEW you wouldn't make it."

"Look, Jill, my clock said three twenty-one. Maybe you're in your own time zone, I dunno. It doesn't matter--I didn't really want the job anyway."

"'Didn't want it anyway?' Fuck you! You know, this is the last straw! What, was it too much like work? When was the last time we went out to eat on your dime, huh? Listen, you want to wind up roasting wienies down by the railroad track with a mangy dog at your side go right ahead. But don't expect me to tag along. Don't you dare call me back unless you're gainfully employed. Understand?"

She hung up on him.

He sighed. This wasn't Jill's first last straw. If he'd had a collection of all her last straws, he could've built a house for the First Little Pig. He knew that they would be together again in a week or so, especially since before she hung up on him she had let it be known that he could still call her. Contingent, of course, on his finding a steady job. Nevertheless, that particular conversation was something he didn't really need right now.

He went downstairs, all six creaky, poorly lit flights, and checked the mail. He felt a small wave of disappointment when he saw one of his self-addressed stamped envelopes that meant his slides had been sent back from one of the dozens of galleries he submitted his work to. Small, because it's true pessimists are never disappointed. Or maybe it was some form of optimism, a built-in self-help book reminding him that there are no defeats, only setbacks. While these two possible scenarios battled it out like the devil on the left shoulder and the angel on the right one in some cartoon, he looked at the return address on the envelope. Oh. This was that gallery that had had his package for nine months and that he had inquired after at least three times ("if you have an interest in my work, please keep them for as long as you feel necessary; if not, I would appreciate their return at your soonest convenience"). The one he thought he'd fit in with so well. Either his letter or the slides themselves must have made it to the top of somebody's pile, because here they were, dumped into the envelope as if into a body bag. No "thank you for your submission however" letter, and on top of that everything had been taken out of the binder and not put back. He headed upstairs to cook his spaghetti, thinking Kafkaesque thoughts.

A motorcycle revved and sped off, with a rapid-fire rattattat that was halfway between a laugh and a smoker's hack.

The fact that one in six thousand art school graduates makes any money at all at art was no consolation at these moments. Neither was the realization that Success Doesn't Necessarily Bring Happiness, or the knowledge (excuse?) that fame had nothing to do with talent, especially in the year 2007. He was still playing stickball in an empty lot while others were playing the Majors. And like in baseball, there was now an international roster to recruit from. Like that hot new artist a friend of his had read about in Artforum. That one from Buenos Aires who had had his buttocks surgically removed and displayed on a pedestal. Under glass. His work had made him a wealthy man. A man without buttocks, granted, but a wealthy man nonetheless.

Pondering his argument with, or rather rant from, Jill, and the return of his slides, he poured a glass of whiskey to go with his pasta. It wasn't too different from the vodka sauce that was so popular these days, he figured. And, it was eight o'clock already. Hardly too early.

The phone rang again. This time he filtered it through the answering machine. It was Guillermo the Magnificent, as he called himself, although everyone else referred to him as Guillermo the Drunken. Guillermo always talked louder after a few 'nightcaps' or one 'for the road'. Judging by the general volume of his conversations, Guillermo was a borderline catatonic who was on the road more than Willie Nelson. Right now he was talking at a volume level you'd use for someone who was down the block a ways.

"Yerm. Just the man I need to speak to. I was about to raise a glass to failure. Come over and commiserate with me. And keep your voice down."

"Failure? Listen, springtime, get your head out of the oven. What, did you have another fight with that deranged girlfriend of yours?"

"You could tell?"

"Do cats eat cat food? Except for that ragged beast of yours. What do you feed him, sweepings? But I digress. I have something up my sleeve that will make your troubles seem as a wisp of smoke, destined to be blown away by a fragrant breeze. My dear friend, how does a week in a cabin in the woods sound? In Maine, far, far away. No wives slash girlfriends slash female appendages of any kind, but a good deal of alcohol. You, me, Tanko, Raffie, all the usual sewing circle. And not to mention, all for the price of free, thanks to some legerdemain from our man Barney. We'll have ourselves a little stag party. He-man Woman Hater's Club, Alfalfa Switzer, President. Appealing, no?"

"Aw, gee, Yerm, I dunno. Jill tells me I gotta get a job."

"Man, would you please tell me why you continue to commingle with that shriek freak? Is it worth all the aggravation for the occasional sexual favor? Listen, you want my advice? Throw a little scare into her. Disappear for a week and don't tell her where you're going. As in, accompany your friends, who do not place such loathsome demands on you, to an idyllic week in the picturesque countryside of Maine. It's not like you're going to get laid this week anyhow, sounds like."

"Thanks for the generous offer, and for the dire prediction regarding my sex life. But I can't. The offer to pay a visit tonight still stands, if you'd like."

"I'm afraid I shall be occupied this evening telling all your friends what a wet blanket you are. Perhaps I may be able to squeeze you in sometime before Friday, when I depart with all of said friends, none of whom are wet blankets, to the illustrious state of Maine, for a week of frivolity. If not, have a pleasant time alone in the big city. I have an epithet to hurl at you, but I fear it might offend poor Guzzle. A bientôt. And happy job-hunting!"

He shambled into the WC, which was not the bathroom because it did not contain a bathtub, and no sooner had he unzipped his fly and begun to urinate when the phone rang again. He heard Jill's voice on the answering machine. Thank God he didn't have a cell phone.

"Are you there? Pick up! I know you're there! Listen, I'm not finished with you. Pick up, goddammit!"

She gave him a full fifteen seconds in which to respond before speaking again. "I gave you enough time to get to the phone from any corner of the apartment you might be hiding in. And you didn't pick up. That means you either went out with Guillermo to get polluted or you’re ignoring me. Neither of these is acceptable." A pause.


Another pause.


A third pause.

"All right, if you aren't going to pick up, FUCK YOU! And if you're out with Guillermo, also FUCK YOU!Did you hear me? I said FUCK YOU! FUCKYOUFUCKOUFUCKYOUFUCKYOU!!!!"

She hung up, loudly.

He stared at the phone. He picked up the receiver, and dialed.

"Hello, Yerm?"


Jill was on the phone with her girlfriend Gloria, reenacting the battle, complete with period uniforms and antique cannon.

"So then I said 'fuck you' and hung up. You know he's gonna forget it's our anniversary. Ten years I wasted on that slug."

Of course it wasn't their anniversary, since they weren't married. But the night they first met was probably as close to one as they were ever going to get, and Jill clung to it.

"I don't know why you've hung around him so long. He's just a pelican."


"You know, around your neck. Not a pelican, what is it?"

"An albatross?

"Whatever. I don't know why you stick with that old goat. He's got twenty years on you. You're still an attractive girl. It isn't like you couldn't find somebody else a whole lot better."

"Yeah, and you know, if he'd of gotten that job I told him about, maybe we coulda celebrated our anniversary someplace that has candles instead of fluorescents. But I guess it was beneath Mr. da Vinci."

"Loser. It’s not like anybody ever buys any of his stuff ever anyways."

"Well that's only because nobody wants real painting anymore. He has to start marketing himself better is all...maybe if he started calling it Neo-Neo-Geo Abstract Expressionism..."

"You're still planning his career for him? Aren't you supposed to be leaving? Nobody else in the world agrees with you, by the way."

“I told you--that’s because…never mind.But leaving that slob—that—yes, we agree on that. It’s over. I’ve had it already. I’ve given him—how many chances? I can’t deal with this anymore. I’m tired of his garbage. If he doesn’t remember our anniversary, that’s the last straw.”

“I thought this was the last straw.”


“I thought this was the last straw.”

“It is!”

“No, not remembering your anniversary is, like, an extra straw. You know, like, a bonus. You're on the last straw now. There are no more straws after this. This is it.”

“No Gloria. It's the same straw.”

“Is not!”

"Is too. And besides, what if he actually doesn’t forget? Then what? I’d lose out on one of the few decent meals he ever offered to take me out for.”

“Fat chance. If he does remember to take you out it'll someplace where they have fries in tiny paper bags. You'll see.”

“Yeah, we’ll see. But I promise you, if he forgets---last straw. Trust me. Listen—I gotta go. I was supposed to be downtown fifteen minutes ago to get my hair cut. Are we still gonna have dinner on Thursday?”

“Uh–huh, if you’re not too busy steaming your ball gown for Friday. Look, why doncha tell him it’s your anniversary and he better not forget?”

“Because I’m not speaking to him. Besides, he didn’t pick up the phone, and I wasn’t about to leave a message on the machine. Awright, see ya.”

“So long. See ya Thursday. I put next week’s grocery money on it he forgets.”

Jill hung up the phone.

Of course, on Thursday, while Jill and Gloria were having dinner, the car was being packed for the trip to Maine. And of course, early Friday morning, earlier than any of them would have normally awakened were it not for the trip, they left.


When Jill got home from dinner, she was annoyed that there were no messages on her machine. She knew there wouldn't be; if he'd wanted to reach her he would have called her cell. And he hadn't. But she wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt; or, as was more likely, she was really just hoping where she knew there was no hope.

By the time she'd finished her cereal with bananas and blueberries on Friday morning, she was lecturing and berating him, even though she was completely alone. She channeled her fury into her studio, where she accomplished some truly satisfying work. But when two o'clock came, and she knew he might be venturing out, she couldn't help but drive over to his apartment.

She came up with a story about needing a particular dress for tonight because she might be going out--pretty lame, she knew, but you had to hit him over the head. If she were too subtle, it would never dawn on him what she was getting at. She would give him a really easy chance to bite, and if he didn't, that would be it. Over. Kaput. Last Straw.

She got to the apartment and rang the bell, each time a little, then a lot, louder and longer. Where was he? Maybe he'd gone out for what he would call breakfast and others would call a late lunch. Could he be out drinking already? Not impossible. She'd just wait--who knew where he was? She wasn't about to try and hunt him down even if she could...

After about forty-five minutes, she saw Sammy, the neighborhood kid he'd befriended about two years ago after catching him spay-painting graffiti on his building. Sammy's talent in art earned him respect, when he might have otherwise been pummeled daily. He was six-foot-something and no more than one hundred thirty pounds in winter clothes, with feet so big that when he tried to do the one chin-up he could do, he looked like a forklift, and dorky glasses that slid down a nose that was almost as long. Sweet-natured and eager to please, irony and double-entendre were entirely lost on him.

"Sammy! Sammy! Hi, Sammy, over here!" Jill called out.

Sammy recognized the voice, and looked around to see where it was coming from. When he spotted Jill, he ambled over to the car. "Oh, hi, Jill."

Wanting to appear nonchalant, Jill asked, "Sammy, nice to see you. How are you? Out for a walk?"

"No, well, yeah, I guess. But I'm here 'cause I have to feed Guzzle."

"Feed Guzzle? Does Guzzle need to be fed?"

"Well, yeah. Guzzle has to eat, too. He's only human." For some reason, Sammy found this enormously funny, and began to guffaw loudly and at length.

When eventually he stopped, mostly because he noticed that Jill seemed not to see the humor in his remark, she said, "I know Guzzle needs to be fed, Sammy, but why are you doing it? Where's his master?" She silently gave herself several points for maintaining her patience.

It never occurred to Sammy that there might be any reason not to tell. "Oh, didn't you know? All those guys went away on a trip."

"A trip?"

"Yeah, but I forget where...wait--oh yeah, I think they went to Maine someplace."

"Maine?" responded Jill, trying to keep her voice from rising.

"I think it was Maine.Or maybe it was Massachusetts. No, I think it was Maine. Which one's closer?"


"Maine, then."

"I see. Maine. Hmmm. How long are they gone for? I guess for a while since it's so far away."

"A week, I think. I mean, I guess that's how long, since that's how long he asked me to feed Guzzle for. I can't believe he forgot to tell you."

"How about that? I guess sometimes he forgets. Oh, hey, ya know what, Sammy? I gotta go. I just remembered I have a haircut in twenty minutes. Ha, talk about forgetting. Can't be late for my haircut, right? So, listen Sammy, I'll see ya around. Take care, OK?"

"OK, sure, yeah, see ya Jill."

But before Sammy had even finished talking, Jill had already peeled off, simultaneously speed-dialing her cell.

"Hello, Gloria? You're not gonna believe..."


Jill had a week during which to contemplate her revenge, and she savored every minute. Gloria's 'I told you so' had been working on her the whole time like a cheese grater on an open wound. The night before he was due back, she drove over to his apartment. Oh, he'd be so sorry he'd ever given her his key...

It would be a lot of hard physical labor, what she had in mind, but she was a woman possessed. She also knew the severity of what she was about to do, but the past ten years (now she knew firsthand what "I gave you the best years of my life" meant) could not be reclaimed. Gloria (and he, and even she herself) always assumed there would never really be a last straw. Well, here it was.

She went over to the rack where his paintings were stored. She gazed at them as she flipped through them one by one. There were a lot of memories...ALL OF THEM FUCKED. Fuck, Gloria had told her so, told her so so many times, and Gloria had been right. FUCK!

She took out the first painting in the rack. Being an artist herself, it was hard for her not to handle it with the utmost care. But she remembered what she was there for. It was big, four feet by five, like all the others. Eh, easier to drag it, she decided, which, after some hesitancy, she did, over to the front door of the apartment, then through the door to the top of the stairs. She made it down three flights, bouncing the painting on each and every step all the way, yet still huffing and puffing from the effort. Why did he have to use such heavy stretchers?

Suddenly she had a change of heart.Jesus, what was she doing? She turned around and took the painting back up.

Just drop the fucking things out the window! Hell, why should she work like a buggy lugger (her mother's word, pronounced with no “r”) when flinging them out the window would be so much easier, not to mention more fun, not to mention the results would be so much more dramatic?

She did cringe a bit as she gingerly dropped the first one, picturing it getting scratched on the garbage that no one ever seemed to bother clearing out of the yard below. But subsequently she heaved them with more and more gusto as she began to enjoy her self-appointed task. God, it was so cathartic! What a release! With each painting she was also throwing out the memories it contained. God, he was gonna freak!

After she’d tossed about fifteen of the canvases, ten representing most of what he’d done in the past three years, the others certain ones that she knew to be of special significance, she went into his flat file, where he kept his drawings. She started to rip them into little pieces, but somehow couldn’t bring herself to do it. Art, after all, was art, and somehow tearing them would be like violating the taboo against eating human flesh. She simply could not. Nevertheless, out the window they went too, reminding her of someone releasing doves into flight, although she knew that the analogy was ridiculous since it did not apply in the least.


They lay there in a heap. It was now four days after Jill's eruption, the trip having been extended due to a minor run-in with the local authorities in Maine that had landed the entire assembly in the drunk tank for a few nights (which made them consider the trip a great success).

He stood in horror and disbelief staring at them. Face up, face down, twisted like airplane wreckage; they looked like they’d been thrown from the window. Thank God he built his own stretchers out of lumber, otherwise the damage would have been far worse.But some did have broken corners and would have to be restretched, and one had an enormous rip in it that did not seem to be a result of the fall. It had to have been Jill; he recognized her writing on the hand-lettered sign in the middle of the pile that said, "LOSER ART—FREE!” He figured she’d be pissed at him for taking off without telling her, but he never thought she would resort to this.She must have had that nervous breakdown she’d been working on for so long. What was additionally disturbing was that nothing seemed to have been taken.

Well, there would be time to deal with her later. First things first; he’d have to carry everything back upstairs. It was a miracle that it hadn't rained. He couldn’t do it alone, but he figured he could start with the drawings. When he got back to his apartment he’d phone Guillermo and the rest of them to turn back around and they’d have it done in no time. Then, Jill.

As he bent over and picked up the first drawing, he heard a voice.


An impossibly beautiful and thin young man, a human whippet who could only be described as streamlined, was headed over toward him, running as best he could in his painted-on low-slung skinny jeans and pointy shoes.

“You mustn’t touch that—it’s art!!! Do you hear me? Stop!! Stop!!!”

Once he saw that he had been heard and that the person he was addressing had indeed ceased to do what he was doing, the young man’s pace slowed to a lope that was a very close approximation of a 1920’s movie vamp.

“Nobody’s touched it in five days, and the MINUTE I step away to get a cup of coffee, which is, I’ve discovered, what they call a latté around here, along comes some PERSON with no eye WHATSOEVER for art to disrupt EVERYTHING. This is NOT a Felix Gonzales-Torres piece—you aren’t REALLY supposed to take anything! Do you understand? Let me explain. This is what is referred to as an installation—oh, never mind, no point in even ATTEMPTING… be a kitten and give me that drawing, would you? Thanks, you’re a dear.”

He eyed the pile for a minute or two, tentatively placed the drawing on it, and then stepped back to take in what he had done. Seemingly satisfied, he continued.

“Dekko Sedgwick-Shrimpton. And you are…?”

“The artist.”

“Oh! Why didn't you say so? Well, thank GOD you’ve finally appeared. I have been waiting for you for DAYS. Although I must say you aren’t exactly what I was expecting, but we can discuss that later. Were you toying with your masterpiece, naughty boy? Hear me, DO NOT TOUCH. No need, my little praline, it’s CELESTIAL exactly as it is. Impeccably composed, and yet entirely free and expressive, as if it had been flung from the roof. How DID you do it? Listen to mother--I do not often use the word "celestial," so make note…it was obviously done by a HIGHLY skilled hand. You are a great talent. There is true passion here.”

“Sixth floor.”


“Never mind.”

You know, I will never understand the need of EVERY artist I’ve ever met to rework that which is already PERFECT. I mean REALLY. It is just… SO…”The word ‘so’, in Dekko’s usage, became itself an adjective, an unassailable decree that there was simply no actual word in the English tongue capable of conveying the necessary praise.

“I should explain perhaps. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dekko Sedgwick-Shrimpton, as I believe I've said. I have been here as an emissary this past week representing Morgan-Stern Gallery at the GiBLeT Art Fair. Out for a stroll for a breath of well-deserved fresh air and to absorb some of the local color, I came upon your installation, which is, I am convinced, a Sistine Chapel for the new century. When I saw it, I IMMEDIATELY called the gallery director and told him of my discovery. And I am never wrong in my estimations of new art. Consequently Mr. Stern himself will be here to look at it in person as soon as he gets back from Buenos Aires, where he is attending a major retrospective of buttock artists--I know, can you believe? In any case, your absence until after the fair ended has served only to make said installation more mysterious and hence more desirable. There were some major people looking at it, I'll have you know! Though, meeting you, the statement your work makes is changed somewhat, since it was assumed the piece had been done by one of the young up-and-coming artists from around here, and not someone quite so advanced in years. But I suppose I’ve seen them do more with worse on “Extreme Makeover”--have you heard if they’re renewing it this season, by the way? Oh, please God, let it be so…if they do not it is merely one less reason to go on living…”

"GiBLeT Art Fair?"


“Oh, nothing. You were saying?”

“I was saying that your work is a dramatic statement on the entire history of art and the meaning of art in our daily lives. It raises so many questions--what makes a hack as opposed to what makes a great artist, the need of even the most creatively challenged to make art, which human endeavors last and which don't--I am OVERCOME. Every detail is FAULTLESS, all the components just…I am unable to speak, my enthusiasm is so without bounds--I mean, taking these third rate de Kooning imitations and creating this masterful tableau...the sign alone is priceless, such a genius detail. The single slash—the bravura gesture indicating that although the person who bestowed these monstrosities on the world realized that all of their efforts had been completely and utterly in vain, that their time would have been much better spent doing volunteer work in a hospital gift shop, they could not quite bring themselves to destroy them. Touching. This is a MONUMENT to frustration and failure! Truly, I smell Biennial! Where did you get them, by the way? I assume some Salvation Army in one of the less-explored corners of the neighborhood, where the gray-haired Polish ladies still walk the earth fully resplendent in their old-world babushkas…


“Our next project would have to be YOU. You have obviously been spending so much time in your studio you’ve let yourself fall entirely to RUIN.I’ve seen it before, especially among older artists. It’s probably too late to get the bod in shape for the opening, but you can do amazing things with the right clothes—a little hair dye, a decent cut…I bet in your day you were quite a looker. We may be able to resuscitate some of that…have you seen “Pocketful of Miracles” with Bette Davis? It is not out of the realm of the possible. Think of the French! They are certainly no better looking than we are but they do know how to do themselves...however, we aren’t going there today, lest I begin raving. The other possibility is to have someone sort of stand-in for you, as a sort of public face...”

“I seem to recall they tried that with Milli Vanilli and it was less than successful.”


“It’s my work. I am the face of my work. For better or worse.”

“All right! Don’t get testy. I merely have your success in mind. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to call Mr. Stern to tell him I found you.”

He hardly knew what to think, much less what to say. On the one hand, what he’d been slaving for all these years, a validation for his life, maybe some money, and a chance to get even with Jill. On the other, a blatant deception that pointed out to him how out of touch he was with the art world and the world at large. Now he knew how Dr. Faustus must have felt.

Dekko was not long on the phone.

“Mr. Stern has been unavoidably delayed in Buenos Aires, and has instructed me to take photographs. We will be removing your piece to the gallery immediately, for inclusion in our upcoming group show. We will then use 3-D imaging software to make sure that every component is placed exactly as it was when it was placed here. A crew will be arriving in approximately one half hour to begin the move, so we need to get down to business.”

“Whoa, Nelly! Hold on! Did you want to give any weight to what I might think about all this?”

Dekko looked at him incredulously, as if it had been suggested that he grow antlers. He was hardly able to absorb this outlandish statement.

“Morgan. Stern. Gallery. What could you possibly be thinking except that you are exceedingly fortunate?”

“I need time to think this over.”

“TIME?! There is no time! Your piece is THE artistic statement of the moment…do you want to lose your moment?”

“I’d like to think my work…”

“Cease and desist immediately! I know what you’re going to say! Something about “the ages”. Look, I know this is rather sudden, but perhaps we should revisit our art history books. Andy Warhol, who passed from us twenty years ago last month (here Dekko crossed himself) made lasting art because he was perceptive enough to predict that at some point in the not-too-distant future, meaning now, nobody would EVER AGAIN be famous for very long. For this, he was a genius. Let us now fast-forward to the present day.It has been decided by the powers that be that these will be your fifteen minutes, although according to my watch, you may be down to thirteen, or even twelve, by now. Mr. C. Ray Stern, of Morgan-Stern Gallery, has decided to include your piece in an upcoming show, AND may I add, opined very strongly that it should be submitted for inclusion in the Whitney Biennial, the art-world equivalent of the Olympics, based merely on my recommendation, the photos I emailed him, and the surrounding buzz. It has been considered for purchase by Mr. Frederick Magnon-Crowe, heir to the Magnon-Crowe shipping fortune.I might suggest you take advantage of the situation.”

He looked for a sign that might give an indication of what he should do. There was none.


He was speaking with Guillermo on the phone. Even he, whom nothing could surprise, was stupefied by what had happened.

“Sometimes, my friend, I guess we find out things the hard way. For instance, I remember once in high school when Vicki-Ann Rotundo clued me in why it was that none of the girls in my class would go out on a date with me. It was hard to take, but it changed my life.”

“What are you getting at?”

“You are my dear friend, and I respect your work and your integrity a great deal. But you have been laboring for over thirty-five years with your art, dutifully sending out your slides, and receiving nothing but rejection after rejection.You aren’t as young as you used to be; none of us are. You have a chance now to at last have a modicum of security. An opportunity like this is guaranteed to never again come along again. It’s your chance to privately laugh up your sleeve at an art world that is full of corruption, faddish, foolish, as shallow as a Petrie dish, and has never treated you with anything but contempt. Plus, I have a brilliant idea. On your deathbed, fifteen minutes before you are about to pass on to a better world where there are no art dealers, you can spill the beans and tell these stupid motherfuckers that it was all a joke. That’ll get you even more press. You'll end up being preserved in the canon for all time.”

“Well, it’s done, and I’m completely drained. I can’t explain it—it was like being overcome by a huge wave. Once that Dekko guy started in on me, and the pictures started being taken, and the crew got there—then, he got C. Ray Stern himself on the line, all the way from Buenos Aires, to talk to me personally. This all took place in, like, an hour. And I’d only just got there and seen…it looked like a pile of garbage sitting there. What was it Vicki-Ann Rotundo told you?”

“None of your beeswax. She and I no longer speak. I think that instead of mourning, we should all be celebrating. Not only your impending meteoric rise to fame, but also what is sure to be the withdrawal from your life of the she-wolf who has been a far-too-dominant aspect of your life for far too long. What say I call up the gang and we toast la vie en rosé? It’s been quite some time since we’ve all gathered; by my estimation, at least six to seven hours. Whaddya say?””

“No, thanks. I need time to absorb all this. I’ve been through a lot.”

“Very well, amigo. I respect your wishes. Hopefully you will not object if the rest of us go out and discuss the events of the day. Just so you know, I’m very happy for you.”

“Thanks. I guess.”


As Dekko had predicted, the piece was the hit of the show. There would be an ecstatic review in Artforum, along with Art News, Art in America, FlashArt, the Timeses of New York, Los Angeles, and London, and many, many others. The sale to Frederick Magnon-Crowe was finalized, and there was indeed buzz about the Whitney Biennial one year hence. His mother called to thank him, saying that she could finally die.

The opening had been nothing short of an all-out assault. Luckily, he wasn’t expected to do anything but say “thank you” over and over and over again. He had been to enough of these large-scale exhibitions to know what they were like, but somebody mythical, certainly not he, was always the main attraction. For the entire evening, he was completely fenced in by People He Must Meet, with C. Ray and Dekko acting as gatekeepers, and did not get to talk to his friends at all. Any opening he’d ever been part of before was like a typical night of partying, except his paintings were on the wall and the choice of alcohol was limited to cheap white wine.

Jill had come with Gloria. Her appearance there, the first time he had seen her since before he left for Maine, chilled the proceedings appreciably. She did not speak to him.  She did not even approach him. But she made sure her presence was known.

The dinner following the reception was at Nogo, a restaurant he would otherwise have only seen the interior of if there were a picture of it on their web site. His piece, having been the center of attention at the show, was naturally also the center of attention during the meal. As the night progressed, the enormity of what he had gotten himself into began to dawn on him. He was in the domain of paintings costing millions of dollars, appearing in art books, and involving People You Read About, something entirely removed from his humbler aspirations to be a new Jackson Pollack, but with just the painting and drinking parts. He began to see also that he was entirely on his own. His girlfriend would have been invited along had she been his girlfriend right then (not that she would necessarily have proven an asset), but none of his buddies would have been allowed into this rarefied atmosphere (not that they would necessarily have proven an asset). His dealers were there, but they could hardly be considered confidantes or even friends. They were his agents, at least for the present, and he realized how little he knew them. As for the other artists from the show, who knows what they were thinking?

On the bus ride home that night, he thought about his situation. He would have loved to have Guillermo's take on the whole affair, but he couldn't help but feel like a cheat, not to mention insulted and hurt and angry. These paintings were his work, what he had to say about what it meant to him to be alive. He labored hard on them, stayed up till all hours until this line or that color was just right.  He loved his work. It had wound up in a big-time gallery, but not hung on the walls—it was heaped on the floor, disguised as or rather disfigured into some sort of tongue-in-cheek private art world joke.

Jesus Christ, what had he done?


Naturally, everyone was in a frenzy to see more. He was being called on by a steady barrage of dealers, collectors, curators, reporters, fellow artists, admirers, and hangers-on (how did they all get his number, he wondered?). He silently thanked whomever it was who had invented the answering machine, hoping that they had or would glide effortlessly through the gates of Paradise.

He had, he knew, a sizable problem on his hands, since there was nothing to show them except for however many of his "third-rate de Koonings" had survived Jill's purge. He had no idea how to build a body of work around the "installation" that sat in (the window of!)Morgan-Stern Gallery. Should he go back to his studio and start hurling the furniture against the wall? What do you do as a follow-up after you've lobbed your paintings out the window, or, rather, had them lobbed out the window for you? He had no notion of what to say about who his influences were or what his artistic statement was. How had his ideas developed? Had he started out by putting his sketches in a blender?

Whatever he did, he knew the whole deception was beginning to snowball. He'd have to come up with something. And quick.

Little did he know that Jill was working on solving his dilemma. Her way.

Several days after the opening, she dropped in at Morgan-Stern Gallery. She marched right up to the front desk, where Dekko was busy rejecting artists' submission slides.

"Hopefully you will not interrupt what I am doing unless it is with something of profound and unlimited importance."

I need to speak with Mr. Morgan or Mr. Stern."

"Mr. Morgan is deceased. Mr. Stern is with a client and as such cannot even be thought of, much less disturbed. What is this in regards to?"

"I would really need to speak to Mr. Stern about that."

He handed her a piece of paper and a pencil.

"Please fill out the application, and when you're done, bring it back to the desk. You'll need two forms of id, at least one with a picture, and three references from people not related to you."

"This can't wait."

"I'll be the judge of that. All gallery business is filtered through me. If I feel that what you have to say is worthy of Mr. Stern's attention, I will pass it on to him."

"You are the victims of a fraud. The piece in the window was not created by the person claiming to have created it."

"Impossible. The provenance of every work shown by Morgan-Stern Gallery is without stain."

"Not in this case."

"And how might you know that?"

"Because I did it."

"I see. And you are...?"

"The artist's girlfriend, Jill Skrobac."

"Dekko Sedgwick-Shrimpton."

"Pleased to meet you."


"As I was saying, I came up with the idea and executed it myself. If you were a little more familiar with his work, it would be pretty apparent to you he didn't do it. He is a painter, and doesn't know how to express himself in any other medium, including speech. Furthermore, he was nowhere around when it was being made. By me. He was in Maine for a week before the art fair, and in jail in Maine for three days during the art fair. I have these to prove it."

"And these would be...?"

"I happen to have in my possession the room receipt from his hotel, and his court summons. Both of them are dated and signed. I'm sure once Mr. Stern hears about why I want to see him, he'll be more than willing to set up a meeting."

"I see. Well, certainly I will need to consult with him first. Please leave some form of contact information."

Jill handed Dekko her business card. He thanked her. She turned around to leave.

"I look forward to hearing from you."


Dekko recounted Jill's story to C. Ray.

"So, if what this decidedly unhinged individual told me is true, we have been defrauded and the perpetrator would have been the artist himself."

"Call him.Find out if she's for real. But don't tell him what's going on—just mention you talked to a woman in the gallery who said she was his girlfriend. Depending, we'll have her back in here, we'll hear what she has to say, and if necessary we'll get our lawyers to ship her back to GiBLeT in cans."


The next day Jill sat in C. Ray's private office, a sanctum sanctorum seen by fewer people than the ocean's floor. Present were C. Roy and Dekko, as well as one of the gallery's lawyers, a Mr. Howe.

"So, the receipt and the summons are proof that he was in New England and couldn't have been involved in making the piece in question. And going to his studio and seeing his work is proof that he couldn't have been involved in conceiving it, either...he's not going to be able to come up with anything that even resembles what I did. Trust me. need me to produce his work for him. Which I'd be perfectly willing to do. It would then only be a matter of figuring out the details of how I would be compensated for my efforts...I have some ideas about that as well."

Mr. Howe replied, "Miss Skrobac, what you are suggesting, even by the lax standards of the art world today, is not only illegal, it is immoral. Fortunately, Morgan-Stern Gallery has no need to involve itself in such matters. There has been extensive dialogue between MSG and the artist's agent, and an appointment has already been made for Mr. Stern and Mr. Sedgwick-Shrimpton to view the rest of the series at his studio. Additionally, even if you had fabricated it, you have no way of proving that you weren't merely a jobber constructing the piece according to the artist's previous instructions. Many artists now employ workshops to manufacture their art--Jeff Koons, for instance, Damien Hirst--I'm afraid you have no basis for a claim."

"Uh-uh. It's mine. I did it. All by myself."

"But you have nothing concrete to substantiate that."

"Listen, I made that thing, and without me, the well's dry. Like I told Dekko here, it's not in his repertoire. No matter how hard he tries, it's going to come out half-assed when he does it. Comprende?"

"Miss Skrobac, thank you for your time. Now if you've nothing further to discuss, I'm afraid I must excuse myself. Good day."

"What? Hold on one second, Buster."

"Excuse me?"

"I said hold on. Who do you think you are, kissing me off like that? You wanna know the truth? I'll tell you the truth! Your masterpiece over there? It's not art! It's not even garbage! It's payback!

"Excuse me??"

"Payback! Vindication! Reprisal! I chucked his paintings out the window to get even with him because he forgot our anniversary, which, incidentally, was the last straw after ten years of neglect, just so you know, and you people thought it was art! It's not art! It's revenge!

Here Dekko chimed in.

"A major collector paid five hundred thousand dollars for it. I would call that art, Miss Skrobac. Mr. Howe has stated our position. Now kindly pack your fabrics as he suggested and vacate the premises.Otherwise we may be forced to call the authorities!"

"All right. Fine. But you'll find out. When Frederick Magnon-Crowe comes knocking, you won't have so much as an arrangement of table scraps to show him. I'm sure we'll be speaking again. You know how to reach me."


Besides acting as his agent, Guillermo was helping him produce his new body of work.

They had already incinerated some of his old prints ("Oh, come on, you never liked these. At least I never did."), dissected a sewing machine ("Tell them it's the preview of the new direction you'll be taking!"), and made a mountain of crumpled beer cans ("If we drink enough, that can be a piece, too.")

A studio visit from C. Ray, Dekko and Frederick Magnon-Crowe himself had been set up for two weeks from the day Guillermo started returning phone calls for his friend in his capacity as agent. This whipped everyone up into a froth, at once impatient and grateful. Guillermo told them all that the artist had been sequestering himself because he was "deeply involved in his process". This, he explained to his friend, would only serve to deepen his mystique, a ploy that had, he pointed out, succeeded quite well at the GiBLeT Art Fair.

"I'm worried, Yerm."


"Oh, I don't know...everything? Do you understand what it is we're trying to get over here?"

"Nothing different from most artists these days. Remember the opening we were at last week where the guy had dumped the dollar store cookies on the table? I bet Frederick owns one of his, too. His father spent, what, eighty grand on art school—so he could dump imitation Oreos on furnishings? I rest my case, your honor."

"Don't say that! I may be hearing it for real in the not-too-distant future. And what do you suppose Jill was doing there? She could only be stirring up trouble."

"What a Gloomy Gus! Fate is smiling on you! You are on your way to becoming a rich and famous artist. These are the two adjectives most artists covet more than any others to have applied to themselves when they are being described. Lay back and enjoy it, kiddo. And don't worry about the banshee. She's finally proving to be an asset, and we'll make sure she continues to do so."


After two weeks of breaking some things apart and slapping some other things together, they felt ready for the big event. Dekko said that beside himself and C. Ray, Frederick would also be bringing along his art consultant, Victoria Haire.

They cleaned the studio, itself a mammoth task involving the whole gang, and hid all of the paintings that had survived that fateful night so no one would even think of recycling them into another installation. Guillermo accounted for Jill's story to Dekko as the insane ravings of a spurned lover bent on revenge, which he readily accepted, having met her.

The appointed day arrived. The four guests showed up, and after the obligatory greetings and chitchat, began to survey in earnest what was before them.

The reaction was less than enthusiastic.

The first person to speak was Victoria Haire.

"These are"

"Fun", Frederick added.

This was clearly a euphemistic way of saying that even if they might be considered witty by some, perhaps, they did not demonstrate the passion evident in the piece that Frederick had bought.

"I guess you decided to take your work in a new direction. Especially in the sewing machine piece."

Victoria Haire asked, "Is that pile of beer cans a commentary on the state of modern debauchery?"

It was Guillermo, in his capacity as agent, who answered. "You're very astute. Yes, it is."


Frederick delivered the final blow of the ax.

"These are beautifully done, really, I mean I can see you haven't lost any of your craft, but I don't think somehow that these have the emotional rawness of my piece. I guess you're happier now, huh? I mean, that's good, but I really need to have a certain consistency to keep the integrity of my collection. I'm sure you can appreciate my position...gorgeous, though, really. You should be very proud."

After some more obligatory chitchat the group turned to leave.

On their way out, C. Ray looked over his shoulder and asked Guillermo,"Do you have something to tell me?"


C. Ray briefed Dekko on this new state of affairs.

"Ingrate. We nurtured him from a nascent know-nothing young collector who couldn't tell a Braque from a Basquiat and now after a couple of years he thinks he's entitled to his own opinions. Well, never mind that now. First things first. Make reservations for you, me, Frederick, and the consultant at Nogo one night this week.We need to smooth things over. Next. We can't have this getting out, clearly. Nobody can think that Frederick's collection is anything but one certifiable Mona Lisa after another, suitable for sale as a complete collection to anybody dumb enough to buy it. People might start to question the value of all those piles of junk he's collected over the years, most of which we sold him, don't forget. Last thing is to get the girlfriend on the line and tell her to have another tantrum by next week, latest.


And so it was up to Jill to put on her cape and leotard and save Metropolis. Or save Metropolis yet again, as she saw it.

The first thing to do was to get herself in the mood to wreak another devastation that she could call art. One phone call ought to take care of that. And if he wasn't around, Guillermo would probably do, in a pinch.

To be sure, it was Guillermo who answered.

"Good afternoon, Atelier des Arts Trop Cher."

"Well, if it isn't the agent slash accomplice."

"Well, if it isn't the world-renowned installation artist slash iconoclast. Emphasis on the 'slash'."

"You're supposed to be grateful. I'm keeping your 'client' off the chain gang."

"Admittedly, destruction of personal property does not carry as heavy a penalty as fraud, but when push comes to shove, which for you is a lifestyle choice, we are in this situation together, as repugnant a circumstance as that may be. However, by putting aside our petty personal affairs, we may yet be able to have this turn out profitably for all involved parties."

"Speaking of petty personal affairs, I need to speak to the brains of the outfit. He around?"

"I shall see if I can summon him to the telephone." He summoned. "It's Medusa. For you."

She could hear his footsteps approaching. She tried to ignore the fact that she was excited to be hearing his voice again.

"Hello, Jill." He sounded tired, she thought.


So, lots going on. How have you been?"

"Fine. You?"

"Kind of overwhelmed, truth be told. So, I guess you're gonna make some stuff I can show at the gallery, huh?"

"I suppose so. Although I'm not sure exactly why. Probably do you some good to be sitting behind bars instead of standing in front of them."

She immediately regretted saying that.

"I appreciate it, Jill. And you are gonna get paid."

"If Mr. Major Patron decides to buy it, that is."

"He will. I'm sure you can destroy something in a way that he'll find aesthetically pleasing."

"You sure know how to turn a girl's head."

"Listen, I know I shouldn't have said that that was my art, but you shouldn't have treated my paintings that way. Why did you do it, Jill?"

His voice was so plaintive and he sounded so genuinely hurt she had no choice but to respond with something sarcastic.

"I thought it was time people saw them someplace besides your studio."

Even by Jill's own standards, that was mean.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"That's all right. You can't help it. It's encoded in your genes."

"Thanks. Now, enough of the sweet talk. We just can't go on getting along like this—we're gonna have to start fighting."

"About what?"

Jill was stumped.

"I don't know. You must have done something to piss me off."

"I haven't been doing anything for weeks but disassembling and reassembling all my possessions, trying to get us out of this mess you got us into."

"What was that?"

"Well, let's face it, Jill, if you hadn't gone off like a grenade, none of this ever would have happened."

"Look, you. I didn't let some hood ornament talk me into trying to pull the wool over the eyes of a big time art collector."

"What was I supposed to do? I had to try and salvage something out of your episode. But that would be Jill, always overreacting.

"Overreacting! FUCK YOU! Ten years with you would have sent Buddha to a rubber room!"

"See what I mean? Overreacting!"


Guillermo heard her all the way across the room.

"Goodbye, Jill."

"GOOD!!!! BYE!!!!"

She slammed down the receiver, which Guillermo also heard.

"Well done!"

"After all these years of practice, did you think I’d lost my touch? She's got work to do!"


She'd show him.

No need to think. All the pictures of them together. His "Man of the Year" plaque. Books. CD's. That goofy stuffed octopus from down the shore...


Jill put in a call to C. Ray to let him know that she had made several pieces she was sure Frederick would love. She knew her good work.

C. Ray said that he and Dekko would come by the next day. This time they would have to preview everything before they could even consider contacting Frederick. But they seemed excited nonetheless.

There once was a commercial on television for Colombian coffee featuring a character named El Exigente, "The Demanding One." He would ride into the tiny village on muleback, a serious, almost somber man, sporting a heavy mustache and a sombrero, whose mission it was to see if the coffee beans the villagers grew would please his notoriously discriminating palate and meet his impossibly high standards.As he took a sip from his cup, a hush would descend over the assembled crowd; even the birds and the beasts would fall silent. The tension would be unbearable, the air still. El Exigente's smiling approval would cause a celebration among the villagers that was so joyous it could only be quelled by the announcer's voiceover.

Such was the scenario that took place in the studio.

"Your long night of the soul is OVER. Frederick will DIE", said Dekko to our hero. "But not until he has taken out his checkbook."

"I think we have reason to be happy", added C. Ray. I have sold heaps, stacks, and piles to Frederick for a number of years now, and I believe I have good insight into his taste. He is sure to want to have at least several of these for his collection. Dekko, I think we can make that call."


Frederick was a little more guarded in his enthusiasm than the gallerists would have liked, but that was to be expected after the disappointment of his last studio visit. Courting a collector was something like trying to talk someone off a window ledge anyway, but now especially he would have to be handled with extreme delicacy. He promised to come by in a week.

When he arrived, with Victoria Haire in tow, and surprisingly not on muleback, there was such a profound silence that the clicking of Victoria's heels on the wooden floor reverberated as in an ancient stone cathedral. Everyone knew that this was not the time to point out subtleties of line and composition. This was a time for silence. The art must be scrutinized, absorbed, pondered.

After an agonizing twenty minutes or so, Frederick spoke.

"What are we thinking, Victoria?"

“We’re thinking brilliant! These are as equally as powerful as the piece that was shown in the gallery, but they show such growth and maturity that they perhaps should almost be considered a new period instead of merely a new body of work! There is a whole dimension that has been added, whereby the artist seems to have adopted a feminine persona of his own creation, certainly a nod to the role-playing element of Cindy Sherman’s early photographs. We have only had time to cursorily examine the subtleties of its line and composition, but I truly feel that this is that will bear extensive and repeated viewings. In short, I believe that we are seeing the emergence of a major new talent.”

Some of those present wondered if even she understood what she had just said.

“It's like you read my mind. That's exactly what I was thinking", Frederick chirped. “I guess that's why I use you as my consultant--you have such good insight into my taste.Now, gentlemen, as Victoria knows, I'm leaving tomorrow to go to the Chicago Art Fair, but I will certainly give you a ring the minute I get back. Stupendous, really.”

Once again, El Exigente had smiled.


But there could be no revelry in this particular village without a signed check. Unfortunately, on a whim, Frederick decided to extend his stay in Chicago and then fly directly to Switzerland for Art Basel (since he was in an art fair kind of mood), after which he decided that since he was so close he might as well take in the Venice Biennale as well (Those art fairs were just everywhere.) By the time he got back home, over two months had passed, an eternity in art years. C. Ray had tried to get him to have his accountant wire a deposit, but he had been so wrapped up in the whirl of activity that he kept forgetting.

The Wednesday after his return, he and Victoria were whisked off to dinner by C. Ray and Dekko at a white-hot new restaurant called Mofo, which had a vintage Radical Chic theme. There were large framed photos of Leonard Bernstein hugging Bobby Seale on the walls, and some of the ceiling beams hung down to suggest an explosion. The drinks were served in sawed-off lengths of pipe.Dekko found it all a bit Magic Kingdom for his taste, but it was the ne plus ultra of the moment, so he felt obliged to cope.

The talk was mostly about the art fairs, with the real aim of the conversation being to find out if Frederick had "found anything," or, in other words, if he had spent a lot of money. C. Ray and Dekko were relieved to find out that he had "found" very little.

However, they were also stunned to hear that Frederick had decided to pass on buying anything that he had seen at the studio.

"It's like this, C. Ray. Victoria's been keeping an eye on what's happening here in the city while I've been in Europe. Truth is, last week she found a terrific piece by a young artist in some microscopic space in GiBLeT, of all places. He'd been written up in some online art zine...anyway, his idea was to pour dozens of bags of cheap cookies all over a card table—it was utterly brilliant.  You'll be happy to know by the way that this kid cited your artist as a major influence. He should be very proud to carry so much weight with a whole new any rate, I really believe we need to support these up-and-comers. Victoria simply would not allow me to buy your man's piece, much as I fought her tooth and nail over it! Something about it being too "old school". And between you and me, I got the other one for a steal."

C. Ray and Dekko tried their best to gently cajole Frederick into changing his mind through the rest of the meal, but with Victoria Haire present, keeping an eye on the proceedings like a Rasputin in Gucci, he could not be swayed. The evening was thought to be less than successful.


The next day, artist and agent sat in a local watering hole in GiBLeT, one of the few regular bars left in the neighborhood, mulling over what had happened.

"What a flake!" Guillermo declared. "But chin up, mon ami.You are now a known commodity in the art world. You will surely have no trouble finding a new gallery should Mr. Stern and the deceased Mr. Morgan decide to no longer represent you. And I've no doubt that other hopefully less vapid billionaires will be quarreling bitterly for the privilege of owning your work."

"Jill's work, you mean. If they were any less vapid than Frederick, they wouldn't be buying crap like this in the first place. Frankly, I'd have to think about if I even want to subject myself to that again, Yerm. I need a break."

Suddenly, Sammy burst through the front door of the bar. He was completely out of breath; in fact, he was hyperventilating. His eyes were as big as two canned pineapple slices, and his face was the color of a pomegranate.

"Sammy, are you OK? What's wrong?"

But Sammy didn't--couldn't--answer. He stood rooted on the spot, still breathing heavily in and out, looking nothing short of shell-shocked.


"Was that a palindrome?" asked Guillermo.

"Wait, I think I know what he's saying. Sammy, start breathing more slowly...OK, now try again. Calmly..."


Sammy, did you sell a piece made out of cookies to Frederick Magnon-Crowe?"


He went back to hyperventilating.


After a good half hour, they slowed him down to a mile a minute. Still, every so often he would start to glaze over, and would have to be talked down, like from a bad acid trip.

"I don't believe it.", he said, shaking his head. "I just did it 'cause I thought it was so crazy how everybody thought it was the best piece of art ever when Jill threw your paintings out the window. I figured how hard could it be, right? I mean, no offense..."

They didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Wait...bitter laughter! That sounded about right.


How bad was it, really? he asked himself. Not bad at all, when he thought about it. Just like before, pretty much, except (a) for once there would be some money around, (b) he could paint his paintings that nobody wanted to his heart's content, and (c) Jill could hold it over his head that she was the one who actually made the piece that made him rich and famous, thereby cementing their relationship. Well, that was two out of three, anyway.


This story was originally published n the literary magazine Exquisite Corpse (edited by Andrei Codrescu, guest editor Bill Lavender (  It was subsequently picked for inclusion in issue #35 of eSCENE, Best of the Literary Journals (edited by Walter Cummins of Web del Sol, as well as voted a “Notable Story of 2008” in the storySouth Million Writers Award (  On October 19th, 2008, I presented a staged reading of the story as part of the Hoboken Artists’ Studio Tour. The cast featured Annie Bandez, a.k.a. Little Annie, Kathena Bryant, Michael Clay, Jonas Garberg, Lenny Kisko, and Steve Martinelli.