There’s a black fly in my chardonnay. The incessant drip drip drip of existence has rendered this sad sack of pickled bones a right mess indeed lately, trickling loss upon loss to the point of caricatured humility. Why do I look like my dog just died? Because my dog just died. Thanks.

Meanwhile, Tony’s on the horn shedding audible mixed-media tears around the fact that friend-of-Liza Robert Rauschenberg has kicked the soup can to join Andy Warhol in the afterlife’s never-ending “wow.” “I never understand why people cry when famous people die,” he sniffs. “But I’m crying and I thought you should know.”

“Whimsy,” I snap a unicorn out of my internal dreamcatcher. “It is no more.”

But is irony dead, too? Not if I can help it. Tonight marks a dramatic shift in all things understood about art and its discerning patrons. In the place of track lighting and mood music is a hairy beer gut and the peculiar stench of literally every man. Yes, it is an art show, Liza, but it’s art on cocktail napkins and it’s littering Wally’s. It’s a death-row pardon 10 minutes too late.

“I need napkin jokes,” I stiff-lip into Tony’s phone ear. “Think sanitary napkins, stained and spread across the face of a weeping global morality. Or, better, lipsticked-napkin phone numbers used to wipe your ass when the toilet paper has mysteriously not replenished itself.”

“Why, you could simply clean up with those jokes,” Tony hazards a weak wink.

“There must be a Bounty of them!” I go on. “See what I did there? It’s a paper-towel joke, because some people – like myself – do not distinguish between the two in their workaday utility. Genius!”

Billed “the art experience of the year,” the Stories From the Cocktail Napkin exhibit opening holds all of the promise of a disposable diaper, and ought be just the nut-sack foray our collective wounds are heaving for. But, alas, nothing is as it seems. See, the whole thing was a crazy idea based on a misunderstanding that includes even more tragedy.

Local artist Liz Watkins sent out an e-mail some time ago inviting her address book to happy hour at Wally’s, as gals are often wont to do. Another artist gal, Sharon Pollard, showed up and asked, “Where’s the art show?” Finding that there wasn’t any art at Wally’s – save the naked-lady wallpaper, natch – she left. Well, that gave Liz the idea to actually throw an art show at the old watering hole, et voilà! Except the day she figured it all out, she found out that Sharon was dying of ovarian cancer. A little “show must go on” and “we’ll do it for charity” followed, all leading up to this very moment: Tony, myself, about 100 other people and a bunch of rather serious-looking pieces of napkin art (hung with clothes hangers on winding twine) all crammed into the package-store front of Wally’s. Erm.

“How do we make this funny?” I fidget.

“We don’t,” Tony fidgets back. “We let somebody else do it.”

Somebody? Anybody?

“Well, that there looks like former mayoral candidate Billy Manes,” our salvation creeps in from armpit left. “You’re also the editor of the Weekly, right?”

Right. Mister Perfect is a longtime local defense lawyer and one-time circuit judge candidate named Mark Bender, and when he’s not expounding on the effects of text-speak on the English lexicon in the first few seconds of our acquaintance, he’s rattling on about something involving softball.

“It’s Bender-ball time!” he spurts on about a questionable catchphrase he acquired at some point during his tenure atop a sport symptomatic of lesbianism. And that’s all it takes for Tony and me to fall under his post-fratboy spell.

“Bender?” I flip through my cranial Rolodex. “You are a direct descendent of The Breakfast Club! Your father bought you cigarettes for Christmas!”

“What’s your favorite movie?” he plays along.

“Well, if I’m serious, it’s Magnolia,” I snort coke off an Aimee Mann CD, “but ultimately, it’s St. Elmo’s Fire, which is obviously the Magna Carta of youth’s demise. AND! It’s yet another Judd Nelson vehicle!”

“I was just watching St. Elmo’s Fire the other night,” he officially owns me, “and I was thinking that they were all trying to act so old.”

I never thought I’d feel so old at 22,” I Demi Moore against a backdrop of a pink wall, a giant clown and Rob Lowe with an inflammatory can of spray paint. “Do you want to fuck me? Because I think you want to fuck me.”

“No,” he doesn’t, but he does acknowledge that he’s well-prepared to meet the ridiculous requirements of my fairly abrasive pop-cultural attacks. “I like to shoot from the hip.”

From the Hip!” I overdose. “Judd Nelson again! This time he’s a lawyer! Like you!” Ugh.

Our ongoing cocktail-and-napkin story goes on in such a manner for about 10 minutes too long. After Bender’s wife appears – herself a bawdy piece of social perfection – the prattle drifts into gay marriage and the threat of foreign languages to American science, or something. Bender falls into a Republican stupor and traipses off to a corner to eat peanuts from a paper plate, while Tony and I cast unnecessary glances of victory across the smoky haze. Whimsy, if only for a moment, has just returned. But where’s the irony?

“Irony is falling in love at Will’s,” explains a heretofore unseen piece of art hanging in the back of the room, “and picking up child support at Wally’s.”

Oh, there.

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