Saturday, February 19, 2011
HOUSE LIGHTS OUT
Stage appears empty and remains dark for one minute.
SOLO UPSTAGE SPOT ON
Downstage near Back Wall: two lithographs on tripod easels covered in black velvet are DARK – these obscure, barely visible black objects are sphinx-like, ebony against night.
As if having been thrown out of a bar on to his ass, Eddie takes the stage in the spot, dressed in summer attire: sandals, black karate pants, tie-dyed shirt and Stetson hat. He brushes himself off and generally straightens himself up, fully regaining his composure before addressing the audience.
Please, knowing the importance of first impressions, let me counterbalance this bum sketch by taking you back in time, first to five minutes ago in the year 1988 and then back to 1980. Consider the facts, consider the fiction, in order to answer the question: Have I been treated fairly? - because, after all, as my friend Larry Lake, quoting, maybe, Robert Graves, quoting, maybe, Virgil, told me on more than one occasion: It is Death to be a Poet, Death to love a Poet, and Death to mock a Poet.
UPSTAGE SINGLE SPOT OUT (Five count)
UPSTAGE LIGHTS ON.
Eddie is examining a shopping bag imprinted with a small ink splash design of abstract expression.
So, I’m talking with the curator of the John Lennon Art Show. The former Beatle was murdered close to a decade ago and now his wife Yoko Ono, whose daughter lives here in Denver, is premiering an exhibition and “the first sale ever of John Lennon artworks in America,” his albums not withstanding.
I’m not good with names, although I do remember facts and the sound of trust in a conversation between men, . . . and I hear no brotherhood below the surface of this curator’s annoyance and dismissive manner with me. There’s no love, no matter what the world needs now, no being here and now here; one might color it: a failure to communicate. Everything I say, each fact of my story, he misinterprets as a threat. The words, paranoid and stupid, come to mind. He’s a servant at heart, not a man of the world, what with the pretentious mannerisms and Rolex gestures, his snooty-ness and arrogance, his assumption of superiority and authority via his perceived closeness to myth, the myth of John Lennon, (after all: it’s only rock and roll), and these character flaws inform on him, reminding me of spin doctors anywhere turning the ordinary into gold like alchemists of old only wished they could. A mere fifty dollars for a shopping bag with a printed John Lennon logo!
It will not be easy to tell him why I’ve come. I had assumed the exhibition would showcase the legend’s more visual side and expected to see paintings and sketches and lithographs. I had hoped to find where Nicky Indigo’s lithographs fit into the scheme of the pop star’s life. But there’s just shopping bags, pillow cases and bed linens, all imprinted with abstract expressionistic splashes of colors, quips of imagery, attributed to Lennon. My disappointment will turn into utter frustration.
So, politely, I’m informing the curator that contrary to the claims of the media blitz orchestrated in the papers and on tv, the artworks on sale, here in the lobby, these home accessories, are not the only John Lennon artworks ever sold in America, for I know of two numbered and signed John Lennon lithographs purchased in New York in 1980, the story and facts of which I would like, but never get, to tell him, because after relating to him that these somewhat infamous artworks of John Lennon actually “hang on public display in a record store on Colfax,” I am cut short, labeled looney, dismissed, and suspect, prevented from detailing both the story of their journey from John Lennon’s hand to mine and the cause of their infamy.
“That’s impossible. John Lennon never had an art show in New York. You’re both a lunatic and a liar, and if you don’t leave here this instant I will call security,” and to the snap of his fingers he turns his back on me and chirps, “Escort him out now!”
“Whoa! Wha? Gimme a br . . . !” are the incomplete sentences uttered as I am unceremoniously spun round with arms pinned to my angel wings, and on my way out the door, feet off the ground, of the Oxford Hotel in lower downtown Denver before I get to say another word. I want to resist, indeed, I’d like to counter with my own physical offensive, but I am certainly no match for these two . . . what professional bodyguards? - they don’t look like hotel employees - and they, indeed, are causing me no small amount of pain; and certainly not of my choosing is the ignominious exit you witnessed, guided by the vice grip grasp of these security thugs, one on each of my elbows, might as well be tasars on my testes, the sharp pain. Believe me, at this point I’m going where they direct, which turns out to be the post high noon sidewalk of Wazee Street, five blocks north of the loft, back out into a July Colorado summer afternoon. Not surprisingly, I remind myself, this is not the first time art and truth have gotten me thrown out of a place. Somebody’s art karma’s always to blame. This time it really isn’t mine. This time, it has much to do with Nicky Indigo.
LIGHTS OUT (Five Count) LIGHTS UP
Eddie mimes the raking of leaves and playing fetch with a dog.
On a crisp Colorado autumn late-afternoon, the year before John Lennon’s murder, my doorbell chimes its limited scale, do re mi, three times.
I am in the back yard of my Pearl Street house raking leaves and the leavings of my three dogs: Dylan Dog, Maku and Chieba. The sky-scape has changed from bright October blue to cold November grey, storm-on-the-way. No matter the change in weather and seasons, I feel every which way a man, with a loved and loving wife and child on the way, can, invested fully in the here and now of family and mate, of poetry and art, of words and visions.
I know it ain’t much to put in the bank, words and visions, that is, but, in the end, it is words and visions the mind is made of, and so it is with words I wonder out loud, as if questioning my canine companions, “Who’s at the door?” - all the while envisioning in my head a view of the front door of the house, with its full length panel of beveled glass, on which during my first bachelor year here in Denver I had painted with mostly green and yellow acrylics a life-size Isis, replete with moon-boat hat of horns upon her fine Egyptian head, a vision sufficiently eye-catching and arresting to give pause to anyone approaching unawares, thus affording privacy to those inside as almost any observer would look at the image of the goddess doing time embodied as the Nile Queen and not notice who might be peering out from behind her Egyptian highness.
Thinking in complete sentences now, I ponder: Who disturbs this day devoted to getting the house in order, to nesting, readying ourselves, as Marcia and I are, for the home birth of our first child come spring.
Through the nose-poked and claws-torn back door screen, I see my wife, responding to the doorbell chimes, heading towards the front of the house. I also see her make an abrupt u-turn in the living room and hurry back through the dining room, kitchen and back bedroom towards me with an alacrity and alarm usually associated with danger and/or fear, a reaction to situations, evil or paranoid. The look on M’s face tells me to come and deal with whatever or with whomever it is the door chimes announce. For who knows what primal reason I bring my Samoyed and Malamute mix, Maku, into the house with me as I head to the front door?
Now I must admit I have a poor visual memory. Even with corrective lenses, far-sighted-ness is a blur and crisp vision an illusion in my sometimes green and sometimes blue, hazel eyes, one consequence of which is that I have a difficult time remembering and recognizing faces, and, thus, pay great attention to another’s voice for purposes of recognition, and so it is no surprise to me that I have no idea who it is standing beyond the door, even after I get a good look from behind the transparencies of Isis. The young man is more than a bit of a scare and I understand M’s earlier refusal to answer the door, what with his bizarrely and partially shaved head, tattooed neck and hands, the tattered military fatigues stuffed into brazenly laced-high, black leather storm trooper boots, a noble Pict cartoon warrior, for sure!, with a shoulder bag on one arm and a largish cardboard portfolio under the other. His sunglasses reflect the concern of all of us inside _ me, M and Maku. As this comic book caricature on the other side of my glass front door begins to speak, Maku initiates his peculiar Eskimo howl which can only be described as a cross between a lament for the machismo of the Alaskan hunt and a warning that this dog is aligned with me and M, that he’s on our side of any dispute. Because the dog’s song drowns out the stranger’s voice, I study his moving lips. Now I’m no lip-reader, but I do catch the name “David” as his lips part and purse to v the vid in David; still, I have no idea who he is. But because he does appear to be the age of my former roommate, David Conjura, a twenty-something year old from Buffalo, New
York, and because his attitude is so recognizably East Coast, I hush m dog and open the door, just as M, with an authority that brooks no dissent, iterates her demand that I “do not let him, whoever he is, for whatever reason, into our house.”
I step outside on to the porch and all but lock the front door behind me. Storm clouds spill over the foothills behind the suit and tie assemblage hanging above the wooden railing of the porch, an artwork of invention - politics out of polyester - created to signify my disaffection with the synthetic state of affairs of the world in 1980. The southbound RTD Number Five bus accelerates towards Center Street and beyond, its engine’s noise precluding conversation for the count of ten as we check each other out. His body language connotes psychosis, from the aversion of his eyes to the manic tone of his attire. Still there is some sparkle to his presence, some prankster charm. When he asserts his identity: “I’m Nicky Indigo” and asks “Do I remember him?” it is his gold-capped eyetooth I remember, . . . I think . . .
As punk and Neo-Dinero as is the look and attire of Mr Indigo, I am Colorado drop-out-cool: plum cotton vest, purple and sky-blue tie-dye collarless shirt, not tucked into black karate pants, sandals, with a brunette Irish Afro to match the curliest of eyelashes. Our difference is the stuff of comic book cartoon and stand-up comedy. I note that Nicky has shaved off one of his eyebrows, giving his face a double identity of sorts; depending on which side of his face I focus, Nicky is either a fierce looking warrior of the lunatic variety or a mannequin-esque, hairless cameo of a Greek profile ready to be make-up-ed into whatever his director desires. Both visions of visage are frightening. I answer his question and follow with a query of my own. “No, and did you ask after, did you say, ‘David Conjura,’ while my dog was barking?”
Nicky Indigo, “Nickeye, for short” he asides me, begins and ends his story while the storm clouds from the northwest ponder the chinook wind up against which they have pushed and hold court high above the Rockies.
Nickeye, as it turns out, played cards here at my house one late late-night four years ago. He was in a manic transcontinental mode then, back and forth between Buffalo and LA, and passing through Denver one time he runs into David, an old hometown high school friend of his, as well as my co-worker and housemate. When David brings a somewhat off-track Nicky home to party, gamble and crash, he mentions that Nicky’s always been a little over the top when it comes to “restlessness.”
Now before I met and began courting my wife, in the waning days of my not-being-married-hood, to be a house mate of mine, it wasn’t actually a prerequisite, but it certainly helped, if one had a penchant for risk, given that for days on end, days at “Five Forty Two” often ended with late night waiter all night card and dice games. Most of my housemates over the course of those years when I rented out rooms seemed down right addicted to, or promptly became addicted to, the backgammon doubling cube. That game of blots and hits, dice and wits, went on sometimes round the clock. Many a dawn in the throats of the neighborhood birds signaled the end for three or four guys still exchanging dollars over backgammon or poker, the luckiest of the lot springing for breakfast at the Bluebird Café on University, where the most maple of waffles and a peek at the parade of the rest of the world waking up could be had.
So I guess Nick must have accompanied me through that ritual one night. Indigo tells me, “You played Dylan records, bootlegs, all night long. I lost forty bucks playing backgammon to David. And when I said I was, also, way into Bob Dylan, you told the story of how you got your overcoat from the clothing manufacturer with the burglar-ed Dylan photos all because your brother-in-law lays a Daniel Krammer photo book of Bob on you. And how you didn’t want to go when you had the chance to meet Bob Dylan, fabricating a fiction of car trouble to tell your wife’s girlfriend, Lucy - who, unasked, had gone great lengths to wrangle an invitation for two to a party where Bob would be. Instead, as planned, you partied with friends at your house in Wenona to celebrate the resumption of Bob’s touring. And when I wrote David last year from the Center, you sent me back my letter with the explanation that David had moved to whereabouts unknown. You also wrote that you liked the poem I had written for David. And I remember you were totally into poetry and story-telling. The night I stayed at your place you read your story, The Big Beer Bust, about stealing the same beer twice, and the sorrow you caused your mother, the worst sin being breaking a heart with a lie.”
His memory of and empathy for the particulars of that foggy evening is impressive. Nicky might have neither his feet on the ground nor his fashion sense in the Eighties, but he certainly has the facts of his past down pat. When he asks if I still have the Dylan bootleg records in this era of cassette tape, I find it spooky - oddly coincidental - that just yesterday, in light of the upcoming birth of our baby and the consequent onslaught of expenses to follow for the next twenty-some years, I considered selling to John Loquidis, a poet friend of mine who owns Jerry’s Records, my substantial collection of vinyl, everything, that is, but my Dylan bootlegs. Nicky tells me “Hip” when I inform him I still have them, “especially the white one you crayoned the artwork for,” referencing, like a savant, another obscure fact of that evening years ago. Not twenty four hours earlier I had that record in my hand, whose blank white sleeve I had marker-ed with rainbow psychoactive doodle-ings.
Our conversation proceeds. I’m telling him about the last time I saw David, about how David seemed to be getting ready to leave on some great adventure with Marty, another former Buffalo-ite of Nicky’s acquaintance, while Nicky is talking about a “settlement” and “being released” and his wanting “to pay me back for the kindness of returning his letter.” In fact, he says, “Last week in Albany my civil suit is settled. Thursday I am released from the Center in Buffalo, and Friday my lawyer gives me a cash advance on my settlement. Then, this morning, early, after a starry late night Greyhound commute, I’m walking and wandering the streets of Manhattan, Greenwich Village to be exact, and I wind up in this heavy, radical bookstore with John Lennon and the bookstore proprietor. As a personal favor to benefit this bookman, who personally turns the revolutionary peace star on to much of what he reads, Lennon is having an art show of signed, limited edition lithographs to benefit the bookstore which is currently more than a little behind on the rent. In the very expensive world of rental Manhattan real estate, being in business requires more than the good will of the radical intelligentsia. Unannounced and un- advertised, outside the world of the John Lennon’s celebrity, the art show is happening for those patrons of the bookstore in the know, and I just happen to saunter in with a pocketful of cash, my lawyer’s bindle of hundies, and I buy these two here puppies,” at which point he unties the twine binding his make-shift portfolio together. The delight in his eyes is contagious and I almost expect a magical creature of childhood, a jack-in-the-box puppy or a bird, to pop out of the confines of the cardboard. As he hands me the bundle, his demeanor switches from elfish to caught-in-the-act as Marcia intrudes on our schitzoid exchange, “Edwin, what’s going on?”
Maku snarls under his breath.
Indigo’s plea - “Here, please, I bought and brought these for you. As thanks, for you to take care of. I flew from New York and rode two buses to get here. They are John Lennon lithographs. He signed them both. This morning” - is met with a chilly silence and overt inaction. I do not extend my hands to accept his offering.
Ignoring my rude refusal, he pushes the package towards me. The look in his eyes says he’s leaving the gift whether I want it or not, and consequently, I take the portfolio in my hands reluctantly before he drops it. Nicky shuffles, back-stepping off the porch and down the stairs with an actor’s rehearsed charm.
He announces, “I’m going to Brooks Towers to see if I can find any of David’s old buds in La Place Pigalle, the bar with all the DiAndrea artworks. Maybe get me a Venus.” Grinning, he speculates, “Maybe one of the ladies there can tell me where David went.”
I don’t really want Nicky Indigo’s gift. Having grown up digging do-wap and the Philly a capella sound, I never much liked the Beatles, not to mention that the Beatles being English makes them suspect in my Irish heart of hearts. It’s not a good idea to offend a MacBard, dead or alive, so I protest and move to toss it back to him as he moves off further; from inside I hear Marcia insisting that I “Give it back.”
Crossing his arms over his chest as he skedaddles an eyes averted retreat across the lawn, Indigo isn’t taking back the package. Whatever it is, it is in my hands now, this treasure of a future martyr. A New York minute later, empty-handed, without the bounty of his settlement and chance meeting with John Lennon, Nicky Indigo jogs north on Pearl alongside the Number Five; a motion picture like image it is when he passes and then boards the bus at Alameda. It is also the last time I ever see Nicky Indigo.
Back inside, I lock the door. Without really speaking, Marcia lets me know that she doesn’t want the gift, doesn’t even want to unwrap it, that she doesn’t want to see it. The narrow focus of her eyes speaks volumes. Her body language draws a line in the sand that I won’t cross.
“Leave it on the porch. Maybe he’ll come back for it” is all she says. Even though some part of me is more than curious yellow about the nature of these lithographs, acceding to Marcia’s wish, I do not argue or protest. After all, she is my muse. She is inspiration and insight. She is neither illogical nor paranoid. She is pregnant and intuitive. So, leaving Nicky’s bundle unwrapped on the living room floor, we sit back and cuddle on our makeshift couch, turning the adrenalin of our encounter and distraction of our dilemma into something more gemutlich. The twine that had bound the cardboard portfolio lies now a coiled snake on the tile that fronts the fireplace. Maku sniffs and circles the mystery, reading with his wild-animal eyes and with his wild-animal nose this infusion of East Coast, New York scents into our West Washington Park bungalow.
We change the subject from Nicky and his thank-you offering to our plans for Christmas, a conversation which naturally leads to a discussion of presents, which in turn leads us back to the present on the floor.
“After all,” I say, “his stated intentions were only ‘to thank me’ and ‘find David.’ How can we not look?”
A Denver heart beat later, I’m on the floor. There’s lots of tape and glue binding the side of the cardboard portfolio and I’m afraid I’ll damage what’s within if I’m not careful. I need a knife and I get one, a utility knife from the bookcase in the dining room. Its razor is sharp and scalpels easily through the Scotch and duct tapes and the Elmer’s.
With the feigned flair of a cabaret mc, I open the portfolio as one would a casket of flowers. Nothing pops out.
Still, Marcia screams. Her intuition has been right-on.
I should never have accepted Nicky’s gift. For this is not the gift of a prankster on the drift. No, what lies here speaks of a sickness uncured, a nightmare ongoing, an infection of soul. Somehow, between their purchase this morning in New York and their unveiling on my living room floor, these two inspired four color lithographs have been transformed: no longer are they lovely crayon and painted sketches of the paradise John found in Yoko (there are images of Yoko, and of John and Yoko together, of birds and flowers, graffiti-like, all saying Peace, saying Yes, saying Love, saying Forever); now they are a collage of torment. Nickeye has glued Polaroids of himself in demonic poses to the surface of the lithographs. He has also Magic-Marker-ed scribbles of his own delusions. He might as well have wiped the ass of his mind with Lennon’s drawings. The ruination of these once cheery and cherry creations incites a riot in one’s psyche. Simultaneously, I’m sickened and angry. What the fuck kind of gift is this defaced memorabilia? Why would he come all this way to be so perverse, so au contraire. There is danger here, although I’m not sure who is in jeopardy. What am I supposed to do? Report this atrocity to the art police? Notify the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Should I trash or burn these? I wonder what Nicky had paid for them. Should I attempt to restore them? Maybe Steve Wilson could broker a deal? I’m scrolling through a mind’s eye movie of my options, when Marcia deadlines me: “Get the evil out of the house. Now!”
Fortunately, as someone said, there’s a solution for every problem. My conundrum is no exception. I must get rid of them and at the same time archive them. They do not belong here, but they belong somewhere.
And until tonight, that somewhere is where they have been the last twenty-five years: on the ceiling of Jerry’s Records on East Colfax Avenue, down the street from the Capitol, where the turn over of records, tapes, and CDs is eternal, and where the music lover sometimes pauses as he reads the fine print on a dusty sleeve to look up and see another era’s Yoko smiling down, a Yoko, drawn by the hand of murdered genius, crayoned in a fit of art, love and fearless imagination.
Please, have a look. (Gesturing with a sweep Eddie invites the audience to come on stage and examine the two lithographs)
UPSTAGE LIGHTS OUT
Eddie unveils lithographs and exits
BACKSTAGE SPOTS ON LITHOGRAPHS