Bushman Lives!, p.5Daniel Pinkwater
“Oh, and going back to the Life magazine article, directly following it is another article, headed ‘A New Batch of Gorillas.’ This tells of a brand-new shipment of baby gorillas brought in by Trefflich’s, the animal dealer in New York. Trefflich is quoted about Arno, one of the new gorillas, ‘He is beautiful. What an animal! He bit me in the calf. He hates people already!’
“Now, Miss Watanabe. I think you might review some of this material, do a bit of research, and come up with some conclusions about what the captive gorilla means in our society, whether there is some kind of relationship to certain widely held prejudices and folk beliefs, and . . . Miss Watanabe, why aren’t you eating your French pastries? Miss Watanabe, are you crying?”
The author has determined that this chapter is unsuitable for a general readership.
On the Bus
On the bus, carrying him to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Geets Hildebrand had a pleasant conversation with a young woman who appeared to be of Asian descent. She told him about the article she had been reading in a scholarly journal.
“It’s about the Belyaev experiment. It seems this Russian geneticist, Dimitri Belyaev, was sent to Siberia to find a way to help with the fox farming industry there. The workers complained that the foxes were vicious and hard to handle. Belyaev had the idea that by selecting the least vicious foxes and mating them with other foxes that showed the least fear and aggression, the result would be a strain of docile animals, easier to handle.
“It worked out exactly as Belyaev expected. In a very few generations, they were getting foxes with less fear of humans, and less tendency to bite. What Belyaev was not expecting was that other behaviors changed too—the foxes began to bark like dogs, whine like dogs, come when called by name, and wag their tails like dogs.
“Even more unexpected were physical changes. The specially bred docile foxes began to show broader skulls, floppy ears, wavy and curly fur, and colors and patterns that wild foxes do not have . . . black and white patches, speckles and spots, piebald white blazes on their foreheads.”
“In other words, they turned into domestic dogs?” Geets asked.
“More or less,” the young woman said.
“What does the experiment mean?”
“Well, for one thing, it proves the theory of evolution, which some people still doubt, largely because it isn’t mentioned in the Bible, and more interestingly, it shows that instead of happening over hundreds and hundreds of years, evolution can happen fast—snap! In no time at all.
“Oh, here’s where I get off,” the young woman said.
“Bushman lives,” Geets said.
“Bushman lives,” she said.
Non Sibi Sed Patriae
A little while later, Geets got off the bus at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, midway between Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and showed his pass to the guard at the gate, who handed him a small map showing directions to Building 1405.
The Ballad of Harold Knishke
I got to be fairly addicted to drawing. I went to the life class a couple of times a week. After a while, Arnold Zwieback had Billy Zwieback and me drag the gorilla back to the shop he had borrowed it from and bring back some African shields and spears, which were easier to carry and fun to play with. Again, I got a free class for helping.
What I had learned so far was that drawing is about seeing, and the thing the life class does is lock you into looking at the model—and there’s another pair of eyes, in this case Zwieback’s, checking and making sure that what you put on the paper is what is actually there to be seen. Some of the more advanced drawers develop style, but the point is to train the eye. It’s not as much about the hand. I got to understand that drawing like that is like playing scales if you’re learning to play music—something I never understood or did when I was doing that.
Unlike scales, it was not boring. In fact, it was fascinating. There were different models, male and female, all different shapes and sizes, and every one of them presented different problems for drawing. Also, just seeing a variety of people naked was interesting. They just came in and posed. There wasn’t any conversation except sometimes a few words during breaks. The drawers were busy concentrating, and the models were busy posing. So you didn’t get to know the models, and I found myself trying to figure out who they were, what sort of people, just from how they looked. Sometimes after class when the model came out of the dressing room with clothes on, it was like a different person—you wouldn’t recognize them on the street even though you had just spent two hours looking at them. People have different faces with their clothes on.
Besides drawing in class, I drew constantly everywhere I went. I drew everything. I couldn’t stop drawing. Like I said, I was addicted. This was because I had begun to see things differently. It was a little like what happened when I came out of the Art Institute after looking at the painting by de Kooning, only that time it was involuntary, and confusing—there wasn’t any understanding in it. It was like suddenly a big orchestra was playing and I was just listening. Now I was starting to see how things were put together, how some lines were pleasing, how light changed things, how shadows worked. Now everything was interesting to look at. I could sit at a table in some lunchroom and the napkin holder, knives and forks, a half-eaten hamburger, a glass, could be complicated and beautiful.
I didn’t get to know the other people in the drawing class very well. I knew Billy, of course, and had a nodding acquaintance with some of the others, but they were all older than me, and smoked. Sometimes Jenny Thimble was there, and she always talked to me. I also would exchange a few words with her when I went to the Ugly Mug to drink expensive coffee and draw the beatniks.
Ol’ Haro Knshkkgg
I had been to the Ugly Mug on North Park north of North a few times, but Blind Beet had not been there on the nights I attended, so I had not heard the song Jenny Thimble always mentioned to me. I couldn’t go very often because the dollar per cup for coffee made a hole in my funds, and would have bought me a sketchbook. Jenny slipped me a freebie a couple of times, but obviously she couldn’t always do that. One time there was a Dutch folk singer there—he was all right, but I was glad it was one of the times I got free coffee. Another time there was this tall, amazing, beautiful black woman with a voice that made my brain vibrate. If she had been there every night, I would have gone broke coming to listen to her.
It was a cool place. The tables were gigantic spools that had been used to wrap cables around. You sat on crates. On the spool tables were candles in wine bottles with wax drippings all over them. Jenny and the other waitresses were all dressed in black, with pale makeup. And the patrons were interesting. There were a lot of beards. Also sandals. The standard costume for women was a black leotard on top and a skirt made out of a Indian bedspread. There was plenty to draw, even though the place was pretty dark.
Finally I hit the place on a night when Blind Beet was there. He was up on the little platform with the microphone when I came in, just beginning his set. He had a beat-up twelve-string guitar and was wearing an old-fashioned double-breasted suit and a baseball cap. He was around ninety, and had no teeth and a Delta accent as thick as grits. I couldn’t understand a word he said. When he got around to “The Ballad of Harold Knishke,” the beatniks started applauding when he played the first few chords of the intro.
The song went like this:
Ol’ Haro Knshkkgg he wah wah mmmmm
One day Haro he blng ga frooo.
Haro Haro wha chezgonga dooo?
Ol’ Haro Knshkkgg wah wah wah
Ol’ Haro Knshkkgg hoobahdoo
. . . and so on.
Whang whang whang, went the guitar.
When he finished the song, Jenny Thimble snatched up a flashlight and pointed it at me. “L
The beatniks applauded. “Ol’ Haro Knshkkgg! Ol’ Haro Knshkkgg!” they shouted.
I got up and took a bow. It seemed like the only thing to do.
And I got a free cup of coffee.
I developed a routine. I would leave the house early in the morning with my flute case full of drawing materials, a cheese sandwich, and a sketchpad.
Usually I would start out drawing trees and the lakeshore in the park and work my way down to the zoo. Drawing the zoo animals was something I enjoyed. Hoofed animals were the best because they stood still a lot. I did good drawings of the greater kudu, the lesser kudu, zebras, and gnus. The gnus were sort of challenging, because they don’t make sense in the way they look—I mean, they aren’t exactly rational in the way they’re designed, so you have to look hard and not assume anything about the way they’re put together. I learned from trying to draw them that I had a tendency to put on the paper what I thought I should be seeing rather than what was actually before me. And I made the connection with things that were wrong with my drawings and other people’s drawings in the life class. They’d be looking at the model but drawing an image that was in their head, not what they were actually seeing with their eyes. The gnus, also called wildebeest, taught me about that, and it was good gnus.
I always looked in on the gorillas—they were admirable specimens, and I liked them, but of course not one came anywhere close to being Bushman.
I also learned stuff reading the cards attached to the animals’ enclosures—for example, the horn of the kudu, which is wavy and pretty, is used to make an African musical instrument called the kuduzela, and also the shofar, which is a horn used in Jewish ritual.
From the zoo I would make my way to North Avenue, which is one of the main streets in Old Town, the artistic district. This was where the beatniks assembled, and I was getting pretty comfortable with them, and trying to fit in. I had sandals my father gave me—he got them on a trip to Florida and never wore them again. I tried growing a beard, but gave it up after a week because it was growing in patches and looked disgusting. So I bought a pipe off the card behind the counter in the Nor-Well Drug Company, and a package of tobacco, London Dock—which smelled, I suppose, like London docks. The pipe was a giant Rhodesian, it cost $1.49, and looked similar to a pipe Vincent Van Gogh is smoking in one of his self-portraits. I decided, rightly I think, that carrying the musical instrument case and the sketchbook, plus the pipe, was enough to make me look authentic.
Old Town did not have any actual sidewalk cafés like they have in Paris, where Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec and those guys used to sit and sketch and argue about art. I wanted to have an argument about art with someone, but I didn’t know anyone likely to have opinions I could argue with—nor did I have any opinions yet. I would have settled for overhearing an argument about art, but without the sidewalk cafés, it didn’t seem likely. There were a few folding chairs and a couple of tables on the sidewalk outside the Nor-Well Drug Company on the corner of North and Wells. You could get a cup of coffee at the counter inside and take it out and drink it while sitting in the street. It wasn’t a cafe, but it was the best thing available. I would get coffee and eat my cheese sandwich there, and try to do fast sketches of the other streetsitters and people passing by.
I got to have a nodding acquaintance with other Nor-Well regulars, and sometimes got into conversations with them. This gave me a chance to practice beatnik speech, which all of them spoke. It is fairly easy—you say “man” a lot and try to sound like Marlon Brando, and that’s all there is to it. Also, to sound like a beatnik you express surprise in an unsurprised tone about unsurprising things. Here is an example of an actual conversation in beatnik speech in which I myself participated while sitting outside the Nor-Well Drug Company:
“Man . . . that’s a green car. Dig.”
“Yeah. Man. Green.”
“I dig it, man.”
The pauses are important, and the word “dig” can be used anywhere. You can address both men and women as “man.”
Probably the most interesting person I got to know, sitting outside the Nor-Well Drug Company, was Eddie Balchowsky—he had lost a hand fighting in the Spanish Civil War, which I had never heard anything about. It seems that in the 1930s a bunch of Spanish generals who wanted fascism rebelled against the elected government and got a lot of help from Nazi Germany and some big American corporations that supplied them with trucks and tires and stuff. Some Americans helped as individuals, mostly by going and helping the Republic fight the fascist rebels. Eddie was one of those, and he lost his hand. The Republic lost the war, and a little while later other fascists in Germany started World War Two. We got into that war against Germany, so General Motors, and Ford, and Firestone tires couldn’t help them. Eddie was a poet and painter and musician—he played piano one-handed—and sometimes sang songs in Spanish from the civil war.
A close second to Eddie Balchowsky for being interesting was Anderson Punch, also known as Casey Jones, and mostly known as the Chicken Man. This is the guy that apparently every citizen of Chicago has seen some time or other, going around with a trained performing chicken. The chicken would dance on command, play dead, collect dimes and bring them to her master, drink beer from a bottle cap, and ride around on the Chicken Man’s head, nestled under his hat. For unintelligible speech, next to Casey Jones, Blind Beet was Sir John Gielgud—again, no teeth, and a down south accent dating from the year 1870—but Balchowsky appeared to understand him, and they would have a little chat while I furiously tried to draw them.
Other regular sidewalk sitters included Jerry the Junkie, who was pleasant and funny, but sort of stuck to the subject of his drug habit, of which he appeared to be proud. He said he was the only public relations man for narcotics. There was a guy whose one and only interest was a concoction made of protein powder, blackstrap molasses, wheat germ, bonemeal, honey, and figs, which he drank by the quart, and which, he claimed, would give the user spectacular health. He demonstrated this by whipping off his hat and showing how the health drink was curing his baldness. He had five, maybe six, hairs on top of his head—but, he claimed, those were new, and before long he would have a whole crop.
There was also the Indian yogi, who always wore a nice suit, and showed me some breathing exercises—I’m not sure what they were supposed to do for me. There was a guy with a bushy beard who was a philosopher, the guy with the army cap who had used me as a demonstration at Bughouse Square, a few people I knew from the life class, and an assortment of people, some of them normal, who would stop by for a coffee and some conversation. Everybody talked to everybody, and everybody said “man” a lot. It was like a club. I had never belonged to a club. I spent about an hour there every day, sketching, exchanging a few words with the others, and sucking on my giant Rhodesian.
How I Was Doing
Billy Zwieback turned up at my sidewalk club one day. I bought him a coffee. I was craving an opinion about my progress with drawing, and for some reason I didn’t feel like asking his father. Even though Billy drew nothing but comic strip cartoons, I figured he’d been around art his whole life and might know something. So I asked him.
“Don’t ask me,” he said. “I don’t know anything about art. Don’t ask my father, either—all he’s interested in is teaching drawing.”
“What? Doesn’t he do paintings and stuff?”
“He used to, but he was no good at it. He’s good at drawing figures, and that’s all he cares about. It’s like this—if you were an athlete, let’s say you were a shortstop for the Cubs, you might work out in a gym, besides actually playing baseball. There would be other people working out in the gym too; some of them couldn’t catch a baseball or get a hit to save
“So, what are you saying? This stuff I’m doing isn’t art?”
“It might be. I have no way of knowing. To me, it’s drawing, and I would say you are doing really well, considering you just started. I’d say some of your stuff approaches being mediocre.”
“Sure. You can be proud.”
“While we’re on the subject, why do you do cartoons instead of drawing the model?”
“I don’t know. I think I have brain damage.”
So, I found out the first lousy thing about being an artist. You can’t tell if you’re making progress or if what you’re doing is any good. You can tell if you like something you’re doing, or if it feels satisfying after you’ve done it, but you can’t tell if anyone else will react the same way—and you can’t trust people to be honest and tell you if they actually like something, because they may try to be polite, or they’re confused and don’t know their own taste, or think they aren’t qualified to express an opinion about art. But other peoples’ opinions is not the lousiest part of it—it’s the fact that the artist himself is never sure.
Bushman Lives! by Daniel Pinkwater / Young Adult / Humor / Fantasy / History & Fiction / Science Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes