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Bushman lives, p.11
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       Bushman Lives!, p.11

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  “Oh, without question, I’d give this way a try.”

  “And now, I will relate the important thing. Are you ready?”

  “Ready.”

  “I am unable to make a baked potato as good as one I can imagine.”

  “Yet this one is very good.”

  “It is, and I thank you for the compliment—but mark you, every time I bake them, and as good as they may be, there is an ideal in my mind that they do not match.”

  “And this is the important thing?”

  “It is—because that is the reason some of us make art, and why all of us need it. Do you get it?”

  “Almost.”

  “Fair enough.”

  Chapter 61

  A Clean Girl

  The people who attended Arnold Zwieback’s life classes, male and female, were rumpled and scruffy, also bedraggled. They all appeared to have just gotten out of bed, having slept in their clothes. They looked depressed, and slouched as they stood around on the corner, smoking.

  Except one. This was a girl who always arrived in a taxi. She always wore crisp, freshly ironed cotton dresses, and expensive-looking sandals. She had clean feet. She did not have charcoal dust or grunge under her fingernails, and she had a genuine leather portfolio to carry her drawings in. She smiled at everyone, and seemed happy. Naturally, everyone avoided eye contact with her, and more or less ignored her. Billy Zweiback told me her name was Miranda Sheldrake.

  “You’re Harold Knishke, aren’t you?” Miranda Sheldrake asked me one day. What could I do but admit it? “Would you like to come to a party?” She tore a corner off a sheet of expensive drawing paper and wrote an address and apartment number on it. “It’s tonight. Nine o’clock. I hope you’ll come.” Then she got into the taxi that had come for her, and was gone.

  I was puzzled and bewildered. Why had Miranda Sheldrake, a clean, unnecessarily cheerful, and apparently rich girl, invited me to a party? And why did she know my name, even? Well, I had a suspicion about that. A lot of people knew my name in connection with the song about Old Harold Knishke, which sung by Blind Beet was pretty much completely unintelligible. What I had begun to suspect was that not only I, but everybody, had no idea what the song was about beyond that it was about someone called Harold Knishke. That time at the Ugly Mug, Jenny Thimble had introduced me as the genuine and authentic Harold Knishke, the one in the song. I thought it was just a goof, but all the people applauded. Could she have thought the song, the complete gibberish song sung by Blind Beet, was actually about me? Could Miranda Sheldrake have wanted me at the party because I was a famous somebody with a song written about him? Or maybe she didn’t even know about the song, just that Harold Knishke was some sort of celebrity? Or maybe she found me attractive—maybe my rakish and painterly appearance struck her as charming. I asked myself: If I were a girl, would I invite me to a party? The answer was yes, definitely.

  I looked at the address on the scrap of expensive drawing paper. It was 860 North Lake Shore Drive. It was in one of those two famous buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe, the ones that were perfectly rectangular, like a kid had made them with his Erector set, and they were supposed to be the most advanced and modern buildings ever built, and represented the future of architecture, and charged the highest rents in the city of Chicago. I was interested in seeing what the inside of one of those buildings was like. I had seen them from the outside, and they were fairly neat, I suppose. I mean, they were sort of . . . stark. They just stood there, glaring at you, and seemed to say, “I am a building. Kiss my ass.” This was cool, as long as all the other buildings near them were the more old-fashioned type. The stark, squared-off buildings with no decoration of any kind made the other buildings look a little foolish, like they were overdressed. But there were a few other square slab buildings going up here and there in the city—apparently it was economical to build them like that. I wondered how cool the Mies van der Rohe ones would look when all around them were other big tall boxes.

  Chapter 62

  I Meet a Third

  It turned out that it wasn’t Miranda Sheldrake’s party. It was at the apartment of a kid named Cordwainer Fish III on the twenty-third floor. Cordwainer the Third’s parents weren’t home. The rooms were spacious and had a nice feel to them, and there was an incredible view of the city. It so happened I had recently spent some time looking at the African collection at the Art Institute, so I was able to note that the Fishes’ private African art collection had a lot of pieces that looked just as good to me as the ones in the museum. All the furniture had been designed by Mies van der Rohe himself, and I had the idea that the carpets were worth a lot.

  I saw Miranda Sheldrake when I came in, and she saw me. She flashed me a bright smile and came over and kissed me on the cheek. She smelled pretty good. Then she took me by the hand and led me over to meet Cordwainer Fish III. “Cord, this is Harold Knishke,” she said. She emphasized the word this.

  Cordwainer Three was the most relaxed person I had ever seen. He was leaning against a sort of big rectangular thing that was the base for a Nimba headdress of the Baga tribe in Guinea. I knew what it was because the Art Institute had one. The Fishes had two—there was another one on the other side of the room—and they were both bigger and had fancier carving than the one in the Art Institute. Then I remembered that the African art collection at the Art Institute was called the Fish Collection. The Third was wearing a blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, blue jeans, and loafers without any socks. He smelled better than Miranda, and from farther away.

  “Pleasure to meet you, old chap,” Cordwainer said. “May I offer you a martini?”

  “Did you call me ‘old chap’?”

  “Yes. It’s an expression of friendliness. I might have called you ‘old chum.’”

  “You might have called me ‘old chum’?”

  A martini is a drink served in a little stemmed glass, and it has an olive in it. I should have asked for a beer.

  Most of the other boys at the party all looked more or less exactly like Cordwainer. The girls were like Miranda, who kissed various people on the cheek, not just me. The exceptions were one black person, one homosexual person, one sloppy, unshaven rude person, and me. It was a clean, relaxed, good-smelling crowd with white teeth and excellent haircuts. There was jazz playing on an excellent stereo system, and the place was air conditioned.

  It turned out that everybody there, except for the exceptions, went to private schools—Bateman, Parker, the Latin School—and they were all going to go to Harvard and Yale. They all knew each other, and they talked to each other about other private school people they all knew who were not at the party. It was a lousy party.

  The black guy and the homosexual guy were standing in a corner talking to each other. I was standing in another corner talking to the sloppy, unshaven rude guy.

  He was pretty interesting. He was a sculptor. His name was Julius Hargrove.

  “I haven’t seen you at one of these before,” Julius Hargrove said. “What are you, the celebrity?”

  “I think I am. I mean, they think I am. It’s because my name is Harold Knishke.”

  “Oh, like in the song,” Hargrove said. “I’m the genius. I get invited so I can insult people and get drunk.”

  He liked martinis.

  “Also, there is some pretty good nosh. Little cheesy things, or sandwiches usually. I think we’re getting beef stroganoff at this one pretty soon. I prefer hors d’oeuvres because I can stuff tons of them in my pockets, which they love for me to do, and I can eat for two days off one of these parties.”

  The black guy and the gay guy in the other corner had quit talking to each other and were gazing off into space with bored expressions.

  “Excuse me a moment,” Julius Hargrove said. “I ought to do my thing.” He spun around and shouted into the room, “Fucking nitwit capitalists! Pea-brained imbeciles! You’re all dead, and you don’t know it!” People tittered. Then he turned back to me, “That’s all
there is to it. Painfully easy, really.”

  “What’s the point?” I asked. “I mean, why have us here? Nobody is talking to us.”

  “It’s so when they tell each other about the party, they can mention we were here, and not just people they see every day, or people exactly like the people see every day. They don’t talk to us because they have absolutely nothing to say and couldn’t possibly understand or be interested in anything we might say since we don’t know the people they know. If you listen in on their conversations, you’ll hear that all they can do is mention the names of people like themselves who are not present.”

  I listened. I learned that Freddie was in Palm Springs, and Buffy was in Rome.

  “So, they really are dead and don’t know it,” I said.

  “Afraid so,” Julius Hargrove said.

  Chapter 63

  It’s a Date

  I was surprised and confused when Miranda Sheldrake hooked her arm through mine and told me she was ready to go. That she said this while gently tugging me toward the door could mean nothing but that she intended me to go with her. Julius Hargrove processed this even faster than I did.

  “What? You’re going already?”

  “The evening is young,” Miranda Sheldrake said. “We have places to go.”

  “You’re going before the main nosh? What about the stroganoff?”

  We were outside the apartment, waiting for the elevator.

  “I told Cordwainer goodbye for both of us,” Miranda said.

  I was still processing. Apparently I was Miranda Sheldrake’s date. If I had more social experience, I might have suspected this from her having invited me to the party. As it was, I had no idea what any of this meant, or how I was supposed to behave. We got onto the elevator.

  “What is beef stroganoff, exactly?” I asked Miranda.

  “It’s cubed filet mignon sauteed in a sour cream sauce with onions and mushrooms, and served over noodles.”

  “And we’re leaving before it’s served because . . . ?”

  “Because who wants to stand around eating at some dopey party with a bunch of teenagers when we can have much more fun?”

  “Sour cream sauce?”

  Outside in the street, she asked me, “Where’s your car?”

  “Don’t have a car.”

  “No car?”

  “Also, I don’t know how to drive.”

  “Well, we can take a taxi.”

  “Don’t have any money.”

  “You know how to hail a cab?”

  “Actually, I’ve never done it, but it seems fairly straightforward.”

  “Some boyfriend material you are.”

  Boyfriend? I stepped out into the street and waved down a cab. We got in. Miranda told the driver to take us to the Bogenswerfer Gallery. “We’re going to an art gallery at night?”

  “It’s an opening,” Miranda said.

  “What’s that?”

  “When they open a new show, they have a reception. You may still get your beef stroganoff, or anyway something nice, and you can meet important people.”

  Chapter 64

  Minimonoism

  The crowd at the Bogenswerfer Gallery smelled like the crowd at Cordwainer Fish III’s party. They were not drinking martinis—instead, some kind of white wine that had a slight kerosene taste was being handed around in plastic glasses. It was noisy, people were laughing too loud. Everybody had fancy clothes.

  The party was in honor of a painter named Lash O’Hara. There was a big piece of white cardboard on the wall with an explanation of the paintings printed in black letters. It seems that Lash O’Hara invented a kind of art called Minimonoism. Here’s how it works—he paints everything in one color, say black. So a painting with the title Sunrise in the Stockyards, which was one of the paintings in the show, has the sky, clouds, animals, buildings, all painted in flat black. The effect is the same as if O’Hara had just taken a big brush and painted the whole canvas black. But that would not be Minimonoism. In fact, he had carefully painted the whole scene in realistic colors, and then had carefully overpainted the whole scene, stroke for stroke, in black. If anyone purchased the painting (and several of them had little red stickers on them, which Miranda Sheldrake explained meant they had been sold), they would get, in addition to the painting, an x-ray film showing the underpainting—and the x-ray was painted over with the same color as the painting—in this case flat black. It would be possible for the owner of the painting to chip the flat black paint off the x-ray and see the picture of sunrise in the stockyards, but of course that would diminish the value of the artwork, which was in the thousands.

  Also on the wall there were blowups of reviews of Lash O’Hara’s work from various newspapers. All the reviews said he was a genius. And, of course, there were the paintings, all of a single color. They had titles like Nude Eating a Pizza, Storm over Lake Michigan, and Lincoln Park—Blizzard. That one was all white.

  Lash O’Hara was also on display. He was wearing a gray suit, shoes, socks, shirt, and a hat, all the exact same color—and he had makeup of the same color on his hands and face. There was a little knot of people standing around him, and he was explaining Minimonoism to them—saying more or less the same thing that was on the poster. He also was telling them that Monominimalism, apparently another variety of painting, was not the same as Minimonoism and was someone’s attempt to steal his idea.

  “Is this a goof or a stunt of some kind?” I whispered to Miranda Sheldrake.

  “Are you kidding?” she said. “This gallery sold a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of his paintings last year.”

  Girls in black and white uniforms carried around trays with miniature hot dogs with cheese and a strip of bacon wrapped around them and fastened with a toothpick, as well as the kerosene-tasting wine. The hot dogs were not too bad, and I ate quite a few of them.

  Chapter 65

  Meet the Boss

  “Come meet Lydia Bogenswerfer,” Miranda said.

  Lydia Bogenswerfer was wearing boots and a lot of makeup. She was smoking a black cigarette in a long holder. “Who have we here?” she asked, and smiled in a way that struck me as a little creepy.

  “This is Harold Knishke,” Miranda said. “He is really talented.”

  “A young Turk, eh?” Lydia Bogenswerfer said. “Are you at the Art Institute?”

  “I’ve been studying with Arnold Zwieback and Golyat Thornapple,” I said.

  “Impressive,” Lydia Bogenswerfer said.

  She thinks Arnold Zwieback and Golyat Thornapple are impressive?

  “Bring some of your work around to the gallery. It’s possible I can do something with you.” She waved the cigarette holder in such a way that I knew she was done talking to me.

  Miranda steered me away. “That went really well,” she said. “Don’t say I never did anything for you.”

  “I would never say that,” I said. “You invited me to Cordwainer Fish III’s party and you brought me here—in a taxi—and I have never had little hot dogs like that before.”

  “Most important, I introduced you to Lydia. She obviously liked you. She can give you a career.”

  “A career?”

  “Yes.”

  “Well, that would be good, I guess.”

  “Now I’m curious. I’d like to see some of your work.”

  “You’ve seen my drawings at the life class,” I said.

  “I don’t think I ever noticed. Do you have a studio or someplace you keep the stuff?”

  “I do, in fact. It’s not far from here. You could come over sometime.”

  “Could we go now?”

  Chapter 66

  The Art Business

  As we were leaving, Julius Hargrove was coming in. “You left before the stroganoff,” he said. “That was a rookie move. It was excellent.”

  “It’s little hot dogs here,” I said, “with bacon and toothpicks.”

  “Oh, good! Pocketable!” Julius Hargrove said.

  “Did y
ou ever consider lining your pockets with plastic freezer bags?” I asked.

  “Way ahead of you, buddy.”

  Outside in the street, Miranda said, “Rats! I don’t see any taxis.”

  “It’s not far at all,” I said. “We can walk.”

  “Really?”

  As we walked, Miranda explained the art business to me.

  “Let’s say someone like Lydia Bogenswerfer likes you,” she said. “She might put some of your work in a group show and see what kind of reaction it gets. Of course, if someone buys it, you get a third, and if it looks like a lot of people are interested, she might give you a contract.”

  “What kind of contract?”

  “You get a certain amount every week, say a hundred dollars, and she pays for your art supplies. In return for this, anything you draw or paint for let’s say five years belongs to her.”

  “And if she sells anything, I get a third.”

  “No, because she has been paying you that hundred dollars, and paying for your canvases and paint and so forth. You don’t get anything. But she will give you advice, and tell you what to paint and how to paint it.”

  “She tells people what to paint?”

  “Sure. Who do you think told Lash O’Hara to invent Minimonoism?”

  “Lydia Bogenswerfer?”

  “I’m sure she did.”

  “But Minimonoism is all idea. Anybody could do the paintings—they’re all one color.”

  “What’s your point?”

  “My point is, anybody could do the paintings.”

  “Wrong. Only a Monominimist could do them, and actually only Lash O’Hara, because so far he is the only one.”

  “And he gets a hundred dollars a week, and free paint?”

  “I would think he gets more. He’s a top artist.”

 
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