Bushman Lives!, p.9Daniel Pinkwater
Sterling Hugebee asked Geets if he could swim and if he was ever seasick.
Geets reminded Mr. Hugebee that until very recently he had been a recruit in the navy, so the answers to those questions were yes and no, and why did he ask.
“Just curious,” Mr. Hugebee said.
That evening, practically the whole neighborhood gathered on the Hugebees’ deck, and Mr. Hugebee, having set up a screen and projector, ran silent Laurel and Hardy movies.
You’ve Heard of Adolf Hitler, I Suppose
Golyat Thornapple had a studio not far from the corners of Diversey, Clark, and Broadway. It was at the top of the Diego Forlan Apartments. Everybody in the building except Thornapple was from Montevideo, and the landlady was a former zonal beauty queen. I had taken to visiting him there to get advice about art and life.
Thornapple’s studio was cluttered and messy. He had a lot of paintings he had done, some pretty good ones of gorillas, and also lizards in ballet shoes and tutus. I wasn’t sure if I liked them. I also wasn’t sure if Thornapple liked me. It may have been that he only tolerated me because he did not want to incur the displeasure of the DeDwergs—but he seemed reasonably happy, or at least not unhappy, to see me, and talked to me, which was something.
“So, I suppose you’re a Zen Buddhist,” Golyat Thornapple said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I thought all the young people were Zen Buddhists nowadays. In my time we were communists.”
“I don’t even know what a Zen Buddhist is.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
I had visited Golyat Thornapple three or four times before I noticed that the stuffed owl on his mantelpiece was not stuffed but actually a live owl.
“He came with the apartment,” Thornapple said. “Was here when I moved in. He catches a mouse now and then, and the landlady brings him the occasional torta frita. An owl can be good company.”
“Mr. Thornapple, I recently became aware that the Art Institute, besides running a museum, a gift shop, and a cafeteria, also has a school of art. Do you think it might be a good idea if I were to enroll?”
“Well, it might—but art schools can be tricky. You’ve heard of Adolf Hitler, I suppose.”
I said I had.
“Were you aware that it was Hitler’s youthful ambition to be a painter? He applied to the Vienna Academy of Fine Art in 1907, and they decided he wasn’t talented enough to be in their school, and turned him down. So he went on to become a dictator and mass murderer and started World War Two. Now, I have seen a couple of his paintings—not very interesting, but who knows, he might have improved—and even if he hadn’t, he would not have taken up much room in the art school, and if they had let him in, there’s a chance he would not have later plunged the world into a vicious war and caused the deaths of millions of people and untold suffering.”
“So, you’re saying?”
“Art school can cause a lot of damage.”
We Make a Deal
“Look,” Golyat Thornapple said. “It wasn’t my idea to be your guru, but you’re a nice kid, and even though you’ve been warned, you seem to be fairly intent on learning about art. So, let’s make a deal—I will teach you what you need to know, and you can assist me with various things. Does that sound reasonable?”
“It sounds fine,” I said.
“But you have to agree to do what I tell you, follow orders as if you were in the army and I was your commanding officer. Would you be willing to agree to that?”
I nodded yes.
“I agree that if you will teach me about art, I will assist you with various things, and I will follow orders as if I were in the army and you were my commanding officer.” I saluted for good measure.
“Saluting is not necessary, and you will not have to call me sir. Here’s a dollar and a quarter. Run down and get me a six-pack of beer.”
“What kind of beer costs a dollar twenty-five for a six-pack?”
“Bullfrog Beer. They sell it in that place across the street. And I’m not going to share it with you, first because you’re a minor, but also because it takes decades to get so you can tolerate the stuff.”
“Is it a brand name or a variety of beer? Does it have any bullfrog in it?”
“One doesn’t want to know. Get going. When you come back, I will commence educating you.”
When I came back with the Bullfrog Beer, Thornapple handed me some kind of gourd with a metal pipe sticking out. There was hot liquid in the gourd.
“Here. Yerba mate, the tea of the gauchos. You sip through the silver straw. Get comfortable. We’re going to listen to Don Giovanni!’ He had an old-fashioned record player, the kind that looks like a little suitcase. The lid was propped open, and there was a long-playing record on the turntable.
“What’s Don Giovanni?”
“What? You want me to listen to an opera?”
“Not only listen.” He tossed me a little booklet. “Here is the libretto in Italian and English, so you can follow the story.”
“Why do you want to do this to me?”
“I’m educating you. We have a deal.”
“About art. What does some opera have to do with it?”
“It happens to be the greatest opera ever written, or the second greatest after The Magic Flute, both of them by Mozart. There are differences of opinion. And we have a deal. Yours not to reason why.”
“But opera is horrible.”
“Orders is orders.”
“What is it about, this opera?”
“It’s about a jerk. He goes around seducing women, although he never actually scores in the whole opera. He has a servant he treats like dirt, and he kills someone, and in the end gets dragged off to hell.”
“And this is the greatest opera ever written? Or second greatest?”
“Sip your mate, read along in the libretto, and when it’s over you will tell me if you think it might be the greatest or second greatest opera ever written. Incidentally, this is a rare recording of the 1938 Glyndebourne Festival performance of the opera—this is your lucky day.”
“How is this going to teach me how to be an artist?”
More than three hours later, I had hardly moved. I am not sure I had ever sat still that long, or paid closer attention to anything.
“Golyat, this has to be the greatest opera ever written,” I said. “It has to be the greatest anything ever written. How did he do that?”
“He was Mozart.”
“The story is stupid.”
“It’s an opera.”
“But it was the most exciting thing I ever heard.”
“Even though the story is stupid, and the people are idiots, especially that Don Ottavio, I was all involved in whatever they were singing about. He did it all with the music, right?”
“And it was funny, then all of a sudden it was beautiful, and then it would get exciting, and when Leporello got scared, I felt pity for him, and when the Don was being a complete schmuck, I sort of admired him for sticking to his schmuckness, and being brave about it. And then when the Commendatore dragged him down to hell, my pulse got fast and I was sort of scared myself. And at the end, after the Don was gone, I thought the people remaining were even bigger idiots than he was. And the whole thing is kind of cynical—like people are idiots, and the story makes fun of them . . . only when they express what they’re feeling, it’s beautiful and I kind of love them.”
Golyat opened his fifth can of Bullfrog Beer. “Now you know something about art.”
“But a painting couldn’t do that, could it?”
On a Wall
“Well, I know that sometimes a painting can put your mind in a different place—I’ve experienced that
“Okay, get out of here,” Golyat Thornapple said. “I’m ready to go to bed. Drop around tomorrow after you’ve read up on murals.”
I Get the Idea
I struck lucky right away. The first book I found in the library was about a Mexican mural painter named Diego Rivera. His full name was Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodriguez. And he was big enough to carry a name like that. This was a wild guy—I mean, the things he did, and the places he went and the trouble he got into were beyond anything that could possibly have happened, but apparently they did. On top of this, he was married, on and off, to another painter named Frida Kahlo who was, if anything, wilder than he was. My intention was to just look at the pictures of murals he had painted, but I started reading and had to check the book out and take it home to read the whole thing.
But already, when I was still looking at the book in the library, I was able to form an opinion about the murals. He put everything in them—historical figures, baskets of fruit, peasants, soldiers of the revolution, ancient pyramids, machines, skeletons, eagles, generals, famous people then alive, animals, gods. Little sections of the murals would have worked as paintings, but it was all one thing. Of course, these were just pictures in a book. I could only try to imagine them as huge, taking up whole big walls, and what it might be like to stand in front of one, taking it all in.
It wasn’t Mozart—but I got the idea.
Golyat Thornapple himself went to art school. This came out one night when I was sitting with him in his studio, drinking yerba mate out of a gourd.
“Did it do you any damage?” I asked him.
“Not directly,” he said. “I had been off to war before I went to art school, so I knew something about taking care of myself. Of course, an art school was partially responsible for there being a war at all—so that has to be taken into account.”
He left out that he did not simply go to war—he had to be dragged kicking and screaming. He said that it was not that he was afraid—just that seeming to agree with such a thing would suggest one hadn’t given it any thought.
It would be clearer if I started at the beginning, having pieced together his life story from bits and pieces of things he said to me.
Golyat Thornapple had long hair as a youth, and often wore a cape. He was what he described as a fancy dancer, recited poetry on street corners, and sang Swedish folk songs, accompanying himself on an oud, which is an Arab lute. He consorted with the intelligensia of Chicago, drinking coffee with poets and philosophers in various bohemian bistros, and once had himself chained to one of the lions outside the Art Institute in protest that its modern art was not modern enough. His father, who worked in the meatpacking industry, and his mother, who was active in her church, did not know what to make of him.
When he received his draft notice, he ignored it. He also ignored repeated warnings from the authorities that if he did not appear at his local draft board he would be arrested. Then he received notice that he was going to be arrested. Finally, they came for him, and took him off in handcuffs.
He was taken to jail. Then he was taken, also in handcuffs, to see the draft board. “Are you a conscientious objector?” they asked him. “Do you have religious scruples that prevent your serving in the military? If you are a member of an organized religion that prohibits participating in war, there are ways we can accommodate you.”
Golyat said he had no such religious principles.
“Are you a craven coward, or are you an agent of a foreign power, or an enemy of the United States?”
He said he was none of those things.
“Then why do you refuse to serve in your country’s armed forces in time of war?”
Golyat explained that war is infantile, and nobody at all should agree to take part in one—and that he was just taking the reasonable position. He added that if everybody else were to do as he did and act on the promptings of his common sense, no war could be possible and a lot of trouble could be avoided.
So they threw him back into jail.
Every so often they would take him in handcuffs to see the draft board, where they would have the same conversation.
Then they would throw him back into jail.
This went on for months.
One day, possibly because he was tired of being in jail—he himself did not know why he did it—Golyat said he would agree to be drafted, and he signed something.
He was whisked away to the army. First was training—he was not treated nicely. The army suspected him of being a Nazi spy. “Are you a Nazi spy?” the officers would ask him. “Tell us who your Nazi spy friends are, and we will let you go back to Chicago.” Golyat explained that he was not a Nazi spy, and had no Nazi spy friends. So they would make him crawl though the mud while live ammunition was fired over him.
Then training was over and Golyat Thornapple was sent overseas. He arrived in Europe and was just in time to be in the D-Day invasion. Then he got a telegram: “Come to London.” It was signed by General Eisenhower.
In London, an officer talked to him. “We have been watching your progress since you were in jail in Chicago. You are a tough little fellow. You held out for a long time before agreeing to be drafted, and as you may have noticed, your training was extra unpleasant, and you held out against that. So, we think you would be perfect to do something secret for us. You would like to work on something secret, wouldn’t you? We know you would. And if you tell anybody, you will be shot.”
So Golyat went to work helping to camouflage things so they would look like other things when seen from the air—this was to confuse enemy bombers. Airfields would be disguised to appear to be farms. A haystack might conceal an anti aircraft gun, a barn could be an airplane hangar. A large factory for building aircraft or weapons might have a fake village built on its roof. Golyat liked this work, and he turned out to be good at it. He had many ideas, some of which were put into practice and others of which were rejected—such as his idea to disguise the soldiers as sheep. He found he liked working on a large scale. He got to design whole fake farms, and hoped to do a fake village.
Golyat wondered what was so secret about what he was doing. Obviously, one would camouflage things in war, and he was certain the enemy was doing it too. Why had the officer told him he would be shot if he ever told anyone what he did?
Then he was ordered to report to a unit in the actual war zone in Europe, the Ghost Army, officially known as the Twenty-Third Headquarters Special Troops. There were about a thousand men whose job it was to impersonate other U.S. Army units in order to fool the enemy. They used rubber inflatable tanks and guns, sound trucks with huge speakers over which they played sounds of trucks, tanks and marching soldiers, spoof radio transmissions, and such tricks as driving the same vehicles through villages again and again with different numbers painted on them, and having soldiers talk loudly in bars about battle plans so local spies and informers would hear and report bogus information. They were mostly quite successful. Golyat told me their biggest worry was that the Germans would someday bomb their rubber inflatable tanks with rubber inflatable bombs. Sometimes they would move whole imaginary armies close to the enemy, with nothing to protect themselves but rubber artillery. Sometimes they would send Golyat Thornapple behind the enemy lines.
Golyat met many creative people who like him had been recruited into the Ghost Army—painters, designers, musicians, writers. In between working tricks on the enemy, hiding from bombs and bullets, and running for their lives, they talked about art. By the time the war ended, he knew what he wanted to do.
So Golyat, his tuition paid by the government under the GI Bill, enrolled in the prestigious Creeping Shrub Academy of Art in New Jersey. He studied drawing, painting, and the history of art. Golyat liked being an art student. He had his own little room, three meals a day, hot showers whenever he wanted, plus nobody was shooting at him. The teachers were nice to him, and he had a girlfriend named Blossom, who was large and round, his favorite shape for a girl.
Golyat worked hard, and showed talent. He did a lot of drawing and painting. He bought a 1938 Plymouth coupe with lots of rust, and he and Blossom would drive around the countryside in New Jersey, sketching and painting landscapes. But Golyat found it all a little unsatisfying. After designing fake farms, and hoping to design a fake village, and after arranging battalions of rubber tank after tank, truck after truck, and hundreds of dummy soldiers to be dropped by parachute, just drawing on a piece of paper or painting on a stretched canvas didn’t amount to the kind of scale he wanted.
In the library of the Creeping Shrub Academy of Art, Golyat found books about murals. He studied these over and over. He found murals exciting. He began looking around for walls. He persuaded a localfarmer to let him paint the side of his barn. Golyat painted a farm, like the one he had hoped to design in the war. It was a beautiful farm. The farmer was not happy with the painting because it made his actual farm look crummy by comparison. Golyat was not happy with the painting because he felt the barn was not big enough.
Bushman Lives! by Daniel Pinkwater / Young Adult / Humor / Fantasy / History & Fiction / Science Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes