There is this vast, echoing hall of muted beats and floating particles — a warehouse of sorts, underused and sparsely populated with varying personalities shuffling their feet in resigned circulation. No real light source to speak of; no sense of drive or purpose, either. It's a bit like a bomb shelter, except someone accidentally brought the bomb inside and now there's something akin to a mini-apocalypse with which the careworn have no energy to deal. A toxic mushroom cloud. All vowels, no consonants. Shot out.
This space is between my ears.
"What's this?" Tony's face whitens in horror upon encountering a shipwreck where his miserable friend used to be.
"What's what?" My teeth widen to conceal the black hole behind them. "Oh, this? Well, it would seem that I haphazardly embroiled myself in an early-evening social situation and in the process I may have accidentally blown myself up. Or, I went to happy hour at the Parliament House."
This is why I'm a bad friend on Fridays. Tony and I had explicitly made plans to autopilot our way through a no-frills art "happening" with minimal bells and whistles, more than likely tempering our hyperawareness and acute sense of aesthetics with a couple of cocked brows followed by quietly snide quips. "Oh, Orlando," we would rib-nudge before taking small sips of cheap wine. But out of duty, we would smile and nod and never, never look like crass idiots. Thanks to my involuntary midlife self-sabotage tendencies, tonight cannot possibly go as planned.
"Sorry," I try to hold my tongue in my mouth while keeping at least one eye open. "This will never happen again."
Only it always happens. In fact, it's happening right now, and not even in my head this time. For tonight's cultural proceedings, the bright-orange aberration on Mills Avenue, Say It Loud, is imitating life inside. My life. The muted beats, the sparsely populated warehouse, the dim haze, the apocalyptic shuffle — they're all here in abundance. It's as if I just closed my eyes.
"So, what are those?" I point at the tiny animal shapes crowding the floor.
"They're supposed to be badgers, I think," Tony zoologizes.
Crazy genius Doug Rhodehamel has spontaneously emitted another one of his turn-the-household-item-of-your-choice-into-a-creature installations, this one under the name of Migration 2. It's a sequel, of course, to Migration, which saw the unlikely morphing of matchbooks into camels, and it represents yet another stage in Rhodehamel's literal evolution from spores to animalia. But, as with most of Doug's work, it's also an exercise in repetition, one that you pretty much "get" after looking at it once, so then you try to read more into it than necessary. Like this:
"So, shouldn't they be bison or something?" Tony queries. "Do badgers even migrate?"
"Why, yes they, do," I Wiki. "In fact, the migration of badgers has been tangentially linked to the spread of tuberculosis among some livestock."
"I'm wondering how he crafted each one of them, though. It looks like he spent a lot of time sculpting each into a different suspension of animation," Tony goes on.
"Or it's just toilet-paper rolls strategically ripped," I snip.
It's probably the same kind of conversation everybody not really looking down is having right now as they shuffle counter-clockwise around what appears to be a smudged clay continent. One with toilet-paper rolls on it. Naturally, I'm taken by the juxtaposition and have to at least once make a (wet) ass out myself.
"So, Doug," I think I'm clever, but I'm really just drunk. "So is that diarrhea on the floor or what? Is this like one of those crazy fecal installations I read about in the Times?"
"No, it's dirt," Doug stares me down, flashing back to the last time I saw him, when I tripped over his Stonehenge installation crafted from soap bars. I was drunk then, too.
The rest of the evening is a brown fecal blur interrupted only by hot pockets of ridiculous, tuberculoid repartee. A hairstylist with fuchsia spikes talks to me about her "milky white tits" — the very ones she flashed me this one time downtown — while her mother talks about the merits of her own ass to queerly unresponsive Tony and me.
"They don't want what you're selling," the hairdresser intervenes knowingly.
On a far wall, a group of four or five young children are living out their future drug exploits by running up and splatting themselves against the white backdrop, Permanent Midnight—style. Taking their cue, I initiate some long-winded conversation about the sheer importance of the Blow Monkeys reunion to anybody who will listen, quietly noting to myself that if I were a Rhodehamel art installation, I would be a Blow Monkey crafted out of tiny straws. I smell a relapse!
Meanwhile, over in the corner, Rhodehamel's own father is quietly stepping on a cardboard badger over and over again, which, if you think about it, is art in itself.
All of this while the echoes, the beats, the consonant-free vowels and directionless shuffles simulate a migration all their own; one not for sex, food or tuberculosis, but rather one of just standing near something that seems like it might be something.
Tony and I decide to go from something to nothing and assimilate ourselves into a gathered hipster throng of plastic wine cups and uneven hair outside by the dumpster. Tony throws back the backwash from his Miller High Life tallboy and tosses the can into the trash, in one fell swoop replicating the entire value of another night in Orlando.
"OK, let's go," he burps.
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