The hardest part of being an artist is not the poverty, or the nay-sayers, or the part of my mind that is always telling me that I am a worthless man without a real job that gets my clothes dirty and buys a spilt level house and a garage decorated in power tools . . .. No, the hardest part of being an artist is dealing with art-fucks. And this weekend, much to my dismay, I once more found myself surrounded by a bunch of pseudopeople who talk like they are the most important beings on the planet, and dismiss everyone who doesnâ€™t notice as an uneducated fool.
This dismal affair was on a day when the sun was a harsh, hot, unrelenting enemy in the sky, making me sweat and fret like some piggo noticing an empty tray at an old Country Buffet. There was no shade, no weed, and no one who had the remotest idea that they were still human under all those berets and male skirts and tattoos and face metal. M. was behind my being there, as she is behind most of the tortures in my life (as well as the pleasures). She is on the committee putting on an adult prom at the big star on October 2nd (which I refused to volunteer for, though of course I am now â€˜helpingâ€™ her design and implement the decorations; which is okay, I guessâ€¦ I will do anything for her, and my favorite people are involved, so I have to go, even though my prom experience was not exactly anything I want to repeat â€“ in fact, see the next entry for a prom warning).
I tried to meld into the background, standing around smiling slightly as the mostly art institute assâ€™s talked about themselves. With a good buzz on, I could have taken this a lot more philosophically, of course, but sadly enough, I am finding myself straight with an alarming frequency of lateâ€¦ One after another they all said that they were â€˜performance artists.â€™ M. walked up from chirping with someone about then, and thought she was doing me a favor by pointing me out to them and saying, â€œJohnny sells a lot of paintings, but he says itâ€™s just a hobby.â€�
She doesnâ€™t seem to notice the sneers this evokes in the â€˜real artistsâ€™. Forced to speak, I ask them what kind of performance art they do?
One girl says that she shoots video of herself. Then they all nod like this is what they do. â€œWhat kind of subject matter do you use?â€� I ask, not realizing, silly enough their faces seem to say, that they consider themselves subject matter enough.
â€œI spit on myself in the last one.â€�
â€œWhat did you mean by that?â€� I ask.
â€œWhat? I said that I spit on myself.â€�
â€œI know, but . . . what was the metaphorical meaning?â€�
â€œI think that is for the audience to decide, not me.â€�
â€œWas this a project for school?â€�
â€œWell, it was a little more than that.â€� The whole group laughs derisivelyâ€”I would discover a few minutes later why, when they all told me that they went to the art institute, where they indeed made their â€˜performance videos.â€™
â€œYea, well, Iâ€™d slap the shit out anyone who spit on me, including myself.â€�
M. shoots me a withering look, then follows the spitter as she walks off. I hear M. telling her something to the effect of, â€œHe thinks that kind of thing is funny, Iâ€™m sure he didnâ€™t meanâ€¦â€�
â€œWho is that?â€� One of the girls asks me. I realize again that my looks and my lack of a wedding ring are giving the wrong message, but I go with itâ€¦
â€œIâ€™m not sureâ€¦ I think she bought one of my paintings, or saw my TV showâ€¦ I donâ€™t know? Did you hear that girl who said she was spitting on herself?â€�
They all look embarrassed, and then, swear to dog, they all went on to tell me that they too had spit on themselves on video. Like five of them. . . and none could tell me why?
I then use my standard way of getting out of conversations with pretentious women who think I will lower myself onto them, flipping my wrist and acting all decorator, I say, â€œJesus, there isnâ€™t one hot piece of male ass in this place. Too fishy for a swishyâ€¦â€� Then I kind of sashay over to the next group. I see M. watching me from across the crowd, looking at me with what I know is her, â€˜Donâ€™t make me kick your assâ€™ look.
Hoping against hope that someone will offer me some weed, I tell myself that I will go from group to group acting like I am whatever will get me stonedâ€¦ This time I walk up on some guy talking who has bushy brown hair and is wearing all black, including a beret and a hanker-chief tied around his throat, despite the 89 degrees of heat lying on our flesh us like hot, damp towelsâ€¦ He looks for all the world like he is acting like he is smoking the cigarette in his hand, waving it this way and that as he goes on and on in a way that makes him sweat even more than his asinine outfit. I stand there for a few minutes hearing little else than my own voice in my mind saying, â€œYou have to be nice to these people, they might have weedâ€¦ you have to be nice to these people, they mightâ€¦â€�
He pauses at some point in his act to acknowledge my presence by looking down his long nose and asking me, â€œYouâ€™re the television writer?â€�
I wrote for television a long time ago, but for some reason this is still about the only thing that I have done that impresses peopleâ€¦ which means that some of my worst work impresses people the mostâ€”which should be a lesson to all, but of course is not.
I think all this, saying only, â€œA long time agoâ€¦ I just write for the sheer hell of it now.â€�
Sensing the upcoming period in my sentence, he starts speaking the split-second that I pause, â€œIâ€™m an actor, myselfâ€¦.â€� He then proceeds to talk about himself, telling me this and that about school and plays he was in and other stuff I could give a crusty ratâ€™s ass hair about.
He speaks in this stagy voice that sounds vaguely English â€“ which interests me more than anything he is saying, so I finally interject a question during one of his too numerous dramatic pauses, and ask where he is from?
I am slightly puzzled to hear him reply, â€œThe humble environs of Kansas, is indeed where this tornado came bursting out of.â€�
â€œDo you rehearse that line before parties?â€�
M. seems to appear of nowhere just in time to give me a shove and say, â€œJohnny! He thinks heâ€™s a comedian. Just ignore him, thatâ€™s what everyone else does. Even our dogâ€�
He laughs stagely at M.â€™s joke, and then continues talking about his favorite topic, â€œWhen I came to Chicago, I thought it would be hard to break into show business, but it hasnâ€™t been, at all. Not for me, at leastâ€¦ one hears stories, of course. Iâ€™ve only been here a month, and Iâ€™m already starring in a rather exciting new production.â€�
â€œWhere is the theater?â€� I donâ€™t believe him until someone asks the name of the theater.
â€œThe Whipple Room.â€� He replies, like everyone standing around will know the place, though of the five people there, I suspect that M. and I are the only ones who do, because he did indeed managed to impress a couple clerks and a waitress who call themselves performance artists.
â€œAre they still at Belmont, next to Western?â€� I ask him in a voice that is way under impressed, because I canâ€™t hide such things well even when I want to, and I can tell he is a little annoyed by me.
Before he can say anything else, I ask him real quick, â€œDo you have any weed?â€�
His eyebrows kind of rise as he replies, â€œNo, noâ€¦ my body is a temple.â€�
Relieved that I donâ€™t have to pretend like I like I can tolerate him, I point at the drink in his hand and say, â€œA temple for beer?â€�
This makes everyone laugh except M. and the actor sees the look in my eyes and takes my hand and squeezes hard enough to hurt as she leans over and whispers in my ear, â€œI will beat you down.â€�
This â€˜show businessâ€™ that the pretentious one has â€˜broke intoâ€™ is a less than an entire store-front, has no stage, linoleum tile of a pukey brown color on the floors that is left over from a hardware store, a few rusty folding chairs, a badly painted sign, and some egomaniacal jerk who writes all the plays and then suckers fools like this into making his pedestrian, boring vision take life. M and I went to one of their productions once, to be nice to someone, and I left the place telling myself that I would no longer ever, ever hang out with anyone who had anything to do with that theatre. I lean in close to M.â€™s ear and say, â€œYou know how very, very difficult it is for me not to just punch him. I should get to say something, at least.â€�
PART THREE OF ART FUCKS
M takes me by the arm and starts to lead me away, â€œLetâ€™s go get another burger.â€�
â€�No. I wonâ€™t eat another one of thoseâ€¦â€� I say in a loud voice.
M. whispers to me, â€œThey are not cat burgers.â€�
â€œIâ€™m telling you, I found whiskers in mine, and a paw!â€� I say as loud as I can get away with.
â€œNot another word about the hamburgers.â€�
â€œSure, babe. You know, I think breaking into show business requires getting paid, or at least not having to actually take tickets.â€�
She hits me again. â€œWhy did you have to make that face when he named the theater?â€�
â€œAnd you wonder why I always think you are lyingâ€¦â€�
â€œYou know how shitty that fucking theatre is . . . even then, Iâ€™m surprised they arenâ€™t charging him to act there.â€�
I look over and see the actor is looking at me, evidently having overheard.
M. whispers that she is too embarrassed to stay at the party. This made me happier than I could show â€“ I even made a mental note to remember to use this â€˜embarrassment thingâ€™ again to get us out of other social situations. â€œAny old asshole can get work in the arts in Chicago, if they use the word â€˜workâ€™ the way most people use the word â€˜hobbyâ€™.â€� The actor is now just standing there alone, doing his best to pretend that he canâ€™t hear me as he looks off into the distance and puffs his clove cigarette like he actually has a thought to ponder.
â€œWill you shut up, he can still hear you!!!â€� M. tells me as she punches me on the arm hard enough to leave a bruise.
I make out like I am surprised he can hear me, since I canâ€™t hear in one ear and indeed do make such mistakes occasionallyâ€¦ though my intention is to tell him the truth, even if he isnâ€™t ready to accept as much and M. doesnâ€™t want me to. And not just to be mean, like M. thinks, though that should be reason enough . . .
I might have to kick that pretentious actorâ€™s ass if I see him again, just so he can bleed out a little of his pretensions. I can see myself asking him in my quiet voice, â€œYou ever played someoneâ€™s whoâ€™s ass is getting kicked for being the most deluded, pretentious fuck that I have met in years?â€� No, why should I bother, since I am sure the real world is going to beat me to him all to hell soon enough, when he realizes that he is not going to be â€˜discoveredâ€™ in a theater that will always have more roaches than audience members.â€¦ Well, he will if he is luckyâ€¦ more than likely, with his ego, this guy will probably delude himself through theater after small, soon to close theater. . . call himself an artist long after everyone around him just thinks he is a pretentious, smelly drunken moocher.
M. mentioned our reading at this picnic, and of course they all said they would come â€“ even the fucking actor, which, even though I am thinking of this right now, is another reason I had to be cruel, because though I assumed they are as full as shit as all the other weenie whackers who are always promising me that they will come to the show for some undogly reason that I canâ€™t fathom, one of them might have actually came to the big star cafÃ© and spit on themselves, or something else as stupid and unsanitary, and of course, of course, then I would wind me up in jail for assault, again.
You see, Chicago is a city of drama. Every neighborhood has a few theaters tucked away in this or that empty space. A few people put up a sign and started doing plays, having parties to raise money, and try to stay open as long as possible before going bust and dissolving into a small history of an insignificant, existential experience.â€”an experience that is usually more important to the performerâ€™s ego than the audience. Like a lot of aspiring artists, I came to Chicago and was surprised how easily the arts community embraced me, put me on a stage, trusted me to be worth having in their troop, shooting their film, etcâ€¦ until I realized that as long as I volunteered my time, some fool would be more than happy to sucker me into working for them. In fact, within a couple years of living in Chicago, I was compiling an impressive resume in the arts, which I have since found is worth considerably less than its own weight in manure. Yes, I found a half ass famous theater, an imrov guru who started the movement, filmmakers, bandsâ€¦ etc.. who would let me work for free.
If you did this in business, offering to work for free, think of all the great firms that you could work for? That stupid, ugly-souled bastard Trump would let you into his business in a second, maybe even give you a title if thatâ€™s what it takes for you to work for free?