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Bushman lives, p.4
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       Bushman Lives!, p.4

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  Arnold Zwieback walked around among the drawing tables, smoking a cigar. He came up behind me, snatched the pencil out of my hand, and made some fast dark lines on my paper.

  “Like that,” he said.

  I didn’t understand what he meant. Then I sort of did. I was having trouble getting the whole figure on the page. My nude was sort of cut off above the knees, and my gorilla had a head too big for his body.

  “Change,” Arnold Zweiback said.

  The model grabbed a stool and kneeled on it with her arms around the gorilla’s neck. I flipped to a new page. This time I did slightly better, only the model looked like maybe a little bird sitting on the shoulder of King Kong.

  “Change.”

  This time she sank to the floor and lay at the gorilla’s feet. I knew I didn’t have a chance of getting this one right, so I just drew the woman, and the gorilla from the knees down. At the end of five minutes I actually had something better than I expected. What I had drawn might be a human. The gorilla legs were a failure, though.

  After the break, we had a thirty-minute pose. I got everything on the paper, using my eraser a lot, and Arnold Zwieback came and made marks on my drawing twice. He also spoke to me.

  “You seem to have a feeling for the gorilla.”

  “Well, I’ve always liked them,” I said.

  It was the hardest work I had ever done. Actually, I think it was the only work I had ever done. I was perspiring. I was concentrating. I also felt sort of embarrassed that my drawings were so stupid. I think I felt way more naked than the model. I got some comfort from glimpsing what the others were doing—most of their stuff stank too. I noticed the others made a point of not looking directly at anybody else’s drawing.

  I understood now why they all looked depressed coming in.

  Except this one guy. Blond guy. He was handsome, like Ralph Noble. He was drawing with a pen!

  He drew standing up, with his arm extended, and it looked like he was conducting an orchestra. He drew the girl and the gorilla with these smooth, curving thick and thin lines, and he could do three beautiful drawings on one sheet of paper without any mistakes in five minutes. I wanted to be him.

  “Okay! That’s all, folks,” Arnold Zwieback said.

  “We’re here every day. Come back whenever you want. Meanwhile, draw from nature, draw still lifes, draw from imagination. Rome was not built in a day. Don’t get discouraged. Bye-bye.”

  Chapter 12

  Ugly Mug

  The drawing students began flipping their sketchbooks shut and putting their pencils and charcoal and erasers and rags in their various boxes and bags. Most of them moved fast so nobody could see their drawings. The few who didn’t, except for the blond maestro, didn’t have anything a great deal better than what I had done. Of course, their stuff was better—actually lots better—but not worlds and universes better. There didn’t seem to be any reason why I could not develop the level of skill they had within a reasonable amount of time.

  I calculated that the fifty I had from Emil Pfiff, keeping back maybe ten dollars for some art materials, would buy around a dozen classes. If I neglected to mention to my father that I had swapped music for art, the three-fifty a week would continue, so further supplies and lessons would be covered, along with the odd hot dog. And maybe Billy Zwieback would arrange a freebie once in a while if I helped him carry stuff or clean up. I craned my neck to see his drawing board. As the son of the teacher, I figured he ought to be pretty advanced. What Billy had drawn was a series of little square panels, like a comic book, and in the panels he had drawn the gorilla chasing the model, and the model chasing the gorilla—nothing to do with the poses. The style was familiar, sort of like the newspaper strip Beetle Bailey.

  “De gustibus non est disputandum.” It was the chick from the Art Institute. She was looking at Billy’s cartoons too.

  “What is that, French?”

  “Yes. It means, ‘Everybody has their own taste,’” she said. “So, did you look at the painting?”

  We were outside on the corner by this time. The two muffled maniacs were still buzzing around the spooky white house, slapping on the whitewash.

  “It did things to my brain,” I said.

  “You’re not the only one, bud,” the chick said.

  “By the way, my name is Jenny Thimble.”

  “I’m Harold Knishke.”

  “Oh, like the song!”

  “The song?”

  “Yes, ‘The Ballad of Harold Knishke.’ Blind Beet sings it,” Jenny Thimble said.

  “Blind Beet?”

  “He’s a folk singer. You never heard of him?”

  “Never. And he does a song called ‘The Ballad of Harold Knishké?”

  “It’s pretty good. He sings fairly often at the Ugly Mug—that’s a coffee house where it so happens I am a waitress. You ought to come some night. You can hear a song all about you.”

  “I might do that. Where is it?”

  “It’s on North Park, just north of North Avenue, on the west side of the street.”

  “North Park, north of North, on the west side,” I said.

  “You can’t miss it. The first cup of coffee is on me.”

  “Thanks.”

  “After that, they’re a dollar apiece.”

  “Pretty steep.”

  “Well, there’s entertainment.”

  “I get it.”

  “Okay, well, I should be going.”

  “Right.”

  “I’ll see you here at class, I suppose.”

  “Sure.”

  “Or at the Ugly Mug.”

  “Right.”

  “Okay.”

  “Bushman lives.”

  “Right.”

  And she was gone. This conversation had gone on a lot longer than the one on the Art Institute steps. I thought I had handled myself pretty well.

  Chapter 13

  I Am Surprised

  It turned out that the dime store had quite a decent art supplies section. I bought a variety of pencils, charcoal, and erasers, a package of crayons, a bottle of India ink, and some drawing pens. I also bought three sketchbooks: large, medium, and pocket-size.

  I found I could fit everything except the two larger sketchbooks in my empty flute case, after I pried out and threw away the velvet-covered insert with spaces for the taken-apart flute.

  When I got back to the apartment I found my father home from work early. He had a job with the Chicago Salami Council down at the Sausage Mart, a big building near the Loop. It was because of his job that I had to get hot dogs on the sly and away from home. We never had sausage of any kind. “Once you’ve seen it made . . .” my father often said.

  “Don’t tell me!” I would say.

  “Time enough for you to learn,” my father would say. “One day, after you graduate, you may need a job, and I can use my connections to get you something in a sausage factory. Then you’ll know. Meanwhile, why shouldn’t you enjoy your childhood and be spared horrible dreams?”

  “I have no desire to work in the sausage industry,” I would tell my father.

  “Who does?” he would say. “But it can be a steppingstone to an excellent career. Look at me—I work in an air-conditioned office, associate with fine people, and only have to come in contact with actual salami once a year at our annual banquet, and even then nobody expects me to eat any.”

  This time, there was no mention of ground-preserved meats. Instead he said, “What have you got there, sketchbooks?”

  “Um . . . yeah.” I wasn’t prepared with an answer.

  “You going in for drawing?” my father asked.

  “Well, I thought I might,” I said. “Just to see if I can, you know.”

  “Did I ever mention that I went to art school?” he asked.

  I was surprised. “You did?”

  “Sure. Two years I went . . . nights. While I was working in the banger department at Shlup Brothers. But then I got married, and you came along, and the job at
the council opened up, and I sort of let it go. It’s a great thing, drawing. You don’t have to be talented. You can draw at the level you’re at. Now, those flute lessons I pay for every week—I don’t know. I never hear you practicing, but I have a feeling you stink. If you’re not musical, what’s the point?”

  I wondered if Emil Pfiff had called him and ratted me out. “So you wouldn’t care if I didn’t keep on with the flute?”

  “What kind of an instrument is that, anyway?” my father asked. “I mean, it’s never going to get you girls. You don’t show up at a party and everybody asks you if you brought your flute. So, show me some drawings.”

  I had my drawings from Arnold Zwieback’s life class folded up in my back pocket, along with the coverless book Christmas Royal had given me. I was a little hesitant to show my father, what with the subject being nude, but I actually wanted an opinion. I dragged them out. “They’re not very good,” I said.

  My father looked. “Oh, you’ve been to a life class. See, you’re not getting the whole figure on the page. She sort of runs off the edge of the paper at the knees, and in this one she only has half a head. Same thing with the gorilla. Did they actually have a gorilla there?”

  “A stuffed one,” I said.

  “Well, it’s a matter of practice,” my father said. “You need to go a couple times a week, and keep at it. What did it cost you, this life class?”

  “I got in for free this time,” I said. “I sort of know the son of the guy who runs it. But it’s three-fifty per class.”

  “I tell you what,” my father said. “Give up the nonsense with the music lessons and I’ll cover the cost of the drawing class. I’d rather you didn’t hang out with musicians anyway. They take drugs and skip out on their rent. And if you want, you can sell the stinking flute and keep whatever you get for it.”

  I was about 90 percent sure Pfiff had called him, but I didn’t want to complicate what was already a fairly confusing conversation. “That’s just what I’ll do,” I said.

  “Fine,” my father said. “When you get better you can draw my portrait.”

  Chapter 14

  A Little Night Reading

  Modern Art, An Invention of the Devil?

  BY REV. NATHAN DU NORD, B.A., M.A., F. R. ECON. S.

  Archimandrite of the First Reformed

  and Apostolic Jewish Church of Memphis Tennessee

  INTRODUCTION

  The reader will no doubt be aware that the Impressionists were nothing but a bunch of unwashed, wine-swilling Frenchmen who sat around in cafés or pursued dirty women at the end of the nineteenth century. Of course Van Gogh was a Dutchman, which is worse. And Toulouse-Lautrec was a tiny little fellow who drank like a fish.

  The activities of these parasites and degenerates gave rise to Cubism, Fauvism, Futurism, Pointillism, Constructivism, Orphism, Surrealism, Dada, and also Impossibleism, Supersurrealism, Dynamic Double Dog Realism, Ishkabibbleism, and Mama, which is like Dada only nicer.

  All of these movements were taken seriously for some reason, and are generally supposed to constitute the early history of modern art. In this book, I propose to show that the work of this assemblage of mentally deranged individuals is unimportant and should not be considered the real story of the progress of Art. To do so, I will first present the history of art, from the beginning of time, in a few pararaphs.

  Cave Painting. This was good. Primitive humans painted animals on the walls and ceilings of caves, and why shouldn’t they? After a long day of chasing mastodons, your caveman stayed up late painting one. If we still had people like that, this would be a better world.

  Egyptian Art. Also good. They were religious folk, and painted gods and things. They also built pyramids, and made gigantic sculptures for everybody to enjoy.

  Greek Art. The Greeks were good sculptors at first—later they changed from making statues of people standing up straight with staring expressions and their fists clenched and went in for cute people, which was a mistake. Their paintings and mosaics—not so good.

  Roman Art. The Romans copied the Greeks. Also lousy painters, and so-so sculptors. I am not dealing with architecture in this book—but theirs, and the Greeks’, was okay if you like columns.

  Medieval Art. In the Middle Ages, they got everything right. Inspired by constant warfare and the Black Plague, the artists of that time did wonderful things. It also helped that nobody could read.

  Renaissance Art. Things got even better. Oil painting was invented, also perspective, and trade flourished so there was plenty of money to spend on art. Different countries and regions developed different styles, and individual artists became famous. Everybody had a lot of fun.

  At this point, I started to get a little bored with Reverend DuNord’s list and started skipping ahead, reading a page or two here and there. I wanted to get to the modern art part and see what he had to say about that.

  What he had to say was that all art was pointless or fake, except art depicting birds, especially ducks. According to him, the greatest artists of all time were a guy named John James Audubon and whoever painted the covers of the L.L.Bean catalog. He also thought that Donald Duck was great art, which I agree with up to a point. But what was clear was that DuNord was a raving lunatic and nutbar. But that did not mean it was not a useful book. I had long since learned at Riverview High School that bad and insane teachers can still teach you things—including not to trust what anyone tells you.

  So, on a page in my medium-size sketchbook, I copied all the names of the artists he mentioned, almost none of whom I had ever heard, and also the names of the different art movements and periods in the history of art.

  Chapter 15

  In the Rwenzoris

  Sun comes up. We feel warmth. Night was cold. Pull big leaves around. Sleep close to others. Now light. Green stuff is wet. Lick. Stretch. Taste this one. This one is good. Soft. Chew. Wants to play? Chase him. Chase me. Ha ha ha ha. Run. Fall over. Falls on me. Ha ha ha ha. Eat this leaf. This one is good. Now everybody eats leaves. Quiet. Chew. Sun warm.

  Everybody moving. Go up the mountain. Find good green stuff. Smell green stuff. Taste. This female is mother. Carried me then. Now touches me. Eat this leaf. Breathe.

  Everyone lies down. Green stuff smells good. Feet in air. Lie in green stuff. Big male is watching. Nothing to fear. Smell. Breathe. Feel sun. Lie flat in green stuff. Mountain is good. We fall asleep.

  Bang bang bang! Young male makes noise. Little ones run to females. Bang chest. Show teeth. Scared. Ha ha ha ha. Not scared. Bang bang bang bang. Scream. Run. Shake green stuff. Ha ha ha ha. Fall down. Eat leaf. Sun is good.

  This one is friend. We go. Find good green stuff.

  Eat eat eat eat. Friend next to friend. Eat. Mmmm.

  Wait! Where is everybody? Moving again. Up mountain more. Climbing. Little ones running. They make noise. Ha ha ha ha. This is good. Fog. Air is wet. Good smells. Other green stuff. Eat. Good. Now sun. Now fog. Air is good. Other ones, males, females, little ones, good. Mountain good. Green stuff good. Big trees. Good good.

  Chapter 16

  Harp Music

  Professor Seymour Waldteufel, dominant force in the Anthropology Department at Lake Forest College, is enjoying high tea in the Palm Court of the Drake Hotel, where he resides. Clad in a rich pinstripe, Waldteufel is of impressive size, with immense shoulders, powerful arms, beetle brows, and piercing brown eyes.

  There is harp music, the delicate clinking of fine china, and the murmur of polite conversation in the elegant room. Waldteufel, a vegetarian, is addressing a large fruit salad. With him at his table is Nancy Watanabe, one of his students.

  “So, here is an article from Life magazine, June 26, 1950. ‘Bushman is Sick’ is the title, and the first paragraph tells about the time Bushman fell ill in his cage,” Waldteufel says.

  “The next paragraph gives some statistics—six foot two, five hundred pounds, twenty-two years old . . . and worth a hundred thousand dollars, having cost thirty-five hundred w
hen he was acquired by the zoo as a baby.

  “Then the article gives his history. ‘An orphan baby gorilla,’ it says. This causes the reader to think the zoo did him a favor by taking him in. It does not mention that he was an orphan because his mother was shot to death before his eyes. The claim is made that he was suckled for a year by a ‘native woman.’ That suggests some kind of special bond between the ape and humans. I’d like to see the native woman robust enough to breastfeed a two-year-old gorilla, which is what the article states as his age at the time of capture.

  “It goes on to say that his keeper dare not enter his cage because of his great strength, even though he is not as mean as Gargantua, the Barnum gorilla. ‘Not as mean as.’ You see, Bushman is nice, affable, the recipient of kindness from humans, and at the same time dangerous.

  “Then the article tells how Bushman was revived with digitalis, but at twenty-two was nearing the end of his life—twenty-two for a gorilla being equivalent to seventy years old for a human. In fact, twenty-two years for a gorilla is more like thirty-four years for a human.

  “And Bushman did die, later that same year. The cause of death was publicly given as heart disease. The fact that he had a severe dietary deficiency, because the zoo did not know what to feed him, was not published until years later.

  “And here is another article, from the newspaper, with the heading ‘Bushman Finally Gets Gas Chamber.’ Bushman’s stuffed and taxidermied skin is displayed at the Field Museum in a glass case filled with poison gas to prevent moths and insects. But the heading plays on the idea of Bushman, a convict behind bars, going to the gas chamber as if for execution.

 
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