“The Great Flagpole Caper”

February 14, 2009

Posted by Nick Sarno

 

The following story was written by our own Caroline Picard. It made its first appearance as an excerpt in Sketches: Organizing Arts

     The dummy was stiff. It hung as the highest point of reference, exemplifying some crime. An academic chuckled on the usual route to his office: a body was impaled on a flagpole. Its tie blew in the morning.
     Three security guards spoke into chest receivers. They each frowned distinctly. Their frowns did not mind the professor in tweed who walked with a can through their line of site.
     “Probably a prank,” said Lt. Drake.
     “Probably.”
     “I think.”
     “Still we gotta get it down. Don’t want any accidents.”
      “Accidents?”
     “Sure-cars passing by, think there’s a body up there.”
     Lt. Mitchell used the chance to look at the billboard with two breasts behind the dancing tie. “I think that’s new. The Michelob?”
     “Nah-it’s been there at least a week now.”

***

     Since the thing was permanently drilled around the pole they had to pull it apart and broke the wooden structure on the inside. It’s fairly obvious that the mannequin was damaged.
     A body was impaled on a flagpole of a university campus for 28 hours. After the first 20 the body was brought down by campus security and then re-erected at half-mast later on the same afternoon. Grounds keeping destroyed it the next morning.
***

     Despite our best efforts we live on the brink of peril.
     Fortune goads us on along the line between Pascal’s extremes; mediocrity is sandwiched and seduced by metaphor.

***

     Rick and Amanda build the body with a complex internal structure to make it both safe and lifelike, as an impaled-body-flag ought to be. They didn’t want the thing to fly off the pole and fly into the street. It had to be secure. They took the American flag down, folded it precisely and replaced it with the wooden body.
     The school didn’t know how to take it down, so they tore it into pieces, they crushed the interior structure, stretched out the metal neck, tore off the limbs and cut the flagpole rope. The body ended up in Facilities Management, but security gave the pieces back in the afternoon. They       seemed sorry.

***

     So there’s a rumor at new city that someone stole the death by design
flag from UIC—
I’m supposed to write something about it, but I don’t really know what
happened–
I was thinking of calling it the flag caper.
caroline
(773)266.4234

***

     The assistant dean was nervous; her knee would not sit still but bounced. It was unclear whether the body was art of guerilla political sentiments or just a vandal’s idea of a bad joke. There was a trustee meeting scheduled for the next day and she hoped they wouldn’t ask about a missing flag and missing patriotism. Facilities management had cut the rope in their haste. The rope would take some time to fix.
Apparently the one that cut the rope had left early; he had been upset about the whole thing. He had said he was sick.

***

     Hey Anthony,
I got your email address from Richard Holland with Bad at Sports–I
work at Newcity and wanted to write a piece about Michelle Maynard’s
flag–I understand that it was removed by campus security and possibly
damaged? at this point I feel like I’m following a rumor mill, but
would love to talk to you on the phone about it if you have any time
today.
The deadline is this evening, so the earlier the better-
you can reach me at Newcity : 312.243.8786 at ext 51.
thanks alot,
caroline Picard

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The Bad at Sports editorial overlords
to duncan, me
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Howdy,
It was taken down by the University Security and damaged. It is a
complicated story and you should get in touch with the people
involved.

Your best bet will be to contact these people, I have knowledge but go
direct to the source.

Teena “tmccle@artic.edu” <tmccle@artic.edu>,
“Philip von Zweck” <pvonzweck@yahoo.com>,
Anthony at Gallery 400 “Aeelms@aol.com” <aeelms@aol.com>,
I will also send you Michelle’s e-mail as it was technically her flag

PLEASE feel free to name drop us.

R

***

     The telephone rang in the Assistant Dean’s office. That would be the press. Apparently the body had been a work of art. Apparently it had been part of a project called “Temporary Allegience”. Last week there had been an all-white American flag that said fuck all over it in ivory. Nobody noticed that one. Apparently she had signed the paper giving the project the thumbs up. Laverne picked up the telephone.
     “Hello? Yes?” She paused to listen to the press. “Yes. Yes I understand, ” nervous laughter, “it’s nothing really. Everything’s fine. There was a flag, the flag looked like a body, it was taken down, but there was no damage done. The artist was there, she oversaw everything. Really, I don’t know what those boys at Bad at Sports are making such a big deal of.”
     Laverne lied.

***

     As a result of the ham-fisted nature of deinstallation, the original thing was dead. The dummy was damaged beyond repair. Amanda and Rick had only skewered the body with a pole. Facilities Management mangled the body beyond belief-just to hit it. They tore the carcass apart in deference to public safety. It was an atrocity, they said, an atrocity and a distraction.
     The artists’ best friend did not. Lie was measured against truth and Laverne buckled to tell her side of the story.

***

     Machiavelli makes a good point.

***

     “On Wednesday morning the UIC police were responding to reports that came to them through the public and they were witness to several almost accidents. So they were concerned about safety issues,” Lorelei Stewart, director of UIC Gallery 400 said. The public had reason to balk. There was a dummy impaled on a flagpole. The flagpole is the site for Philip von Zweck’s project “Temporary Allegiance” in which people are invited to hoist a flag of their choice for one week at a time. “Philip’s project has been established and has been functioning so that the public has a way to respond to it. It’s a really interesting venue for a voice, so that a number of people can express themselves through the flag,” Stewart says, who helps to facilitate von Zweck’s project, while maintaining a distinction between it and Gallery 400. Artist Michelle Maynard contributed a macabre mannequin, “she wanted to fly a flag in conjunction with her show.” Maynard is currently in a collaborative exhibit with Teena McClelland called “Death By Design, Co. TM” at Gallery 400, in which the general public can star in the staging and filming of their own horror movie death scenes. Several UIC policemen arrived Wednesday morning to assess the situation and witnessed several near-accidents. The dummy was brought down by Maynard and gallery a staff member; in this case no damage was done. “In my position, I had to talk to several different departments and figure out a way to put up the flag to mitigate traffic concerns.” The flag was replaced in time for the opening that evening. “What I had to do was negotiate with [the administration] that we could have [the flag] up and meet those safety issues. Part of the reason was that we hadn’t gotten those answers and I was over eager.” The dummy resumed its perch at half-mast and controversy persisted. “On Thursday it was taken down by members of facilities management who hadn’t gotten conformation that all the safety concerns had been addressed. Since the thing was permanently drilled around the pole they had to pull it apart. So they pulled it apart and broke the wooden structure on the inside.” Imagine morbid frustration of university employees extricating the body under morning light. “There’s a context that they’re used to and this was a little out of the ordinary. But they were ready to give it back to us and ready to have us put it back up and ready to repair the flagpole and get the next flag back up.” Although hoisted flags are not insured as artwork, Maynard will be compensated and “Temporary Allegiance” will continue as planned. “It comes with the territory when we produce projects within the series “At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago” which supports experimental or non-conventional new works by Chicago artists. When we do that the other side of the coin is that one of our responsibilities is to educate people who aren’t so familiar with work of this kind.”

***

     Vasilly was silent. He was looking at the beer on the board behind the body. The beer stood at the same height, but because it was farther away one assumed it was in fact taller than both the body and the flagpole.

***

HOW DARE YOU Inbox
The Bad at Sports editorial overlords
to me, Duncan, Amanda, Kathryn
More options
Jan 28
Okay,

Now you’ve incurred the wrath of bad at sports, I’m sad to say, unless
I missed it, you didn’t even give us a nod of the hat for putting you
onto the Gallery 400 story. For shame.

You’ll get yours.

Bad at Sports

***

     Vasilly does laundry on Sundays for his girlfriend. He does their laundry together. She used to do their laundry, but then she called him insensitive. Laundry was a compromise. Twice now, he’d forgotten to put the soap in before the cycle started.
     The body was strung up on Monday. Vasilly had done laundry the day before. There had been a march for breast cancer. He liked to do laundry early when no one was awake, but he didn’t mind the women.
     Yesterday he saw the crossing guard make a pass at an advocate for breast cancer. There had been a breast cancer walk and the crossing guard had been smiling at the early bird. He asked her if she needed a drink (you sure look like you could use one), somehow implying with his tone that he would like to take one with her and what “drink” mean involved courtship. It had been 8:30 in the morning. The breastwalker adjusted her fanny pack but did not otherwise acknowledge the proposition.
     Meanwhile a bum was applauding.
     Squinting at a bus stoop he looked halfway respectable-looking like he got a job two weeks ago and went on a bender with his first pay check instead of going home. The later he stayed out the more the impossible the thought of facing his wife and the more determined his drinking. He was still wearing Friday’s suit: what was no longer pressed. Kiddy corner to the Laundromat the man clapped his hands at four ladies in the distance. The fanny packed passed him, and the man was looking at new pink prospects.
     “BOOBS!” he cried, clapping his hands overhead-his face a map of broken capillaries that spread thick through his thick skin, undeterred by large pores and pockmarks or the bulb of his telling nose. His cheeks bulged with an exuberant grin, and he caught hold of his own humor as though grabbing the string of a balloon, and soaring up where it carried him high: an ecstasy fell upon his giddy shoulders. “BOOBS!” he cried again, still clapping, barely drunk but sensitive with a harp buzzing through his heart: the whole two weeks of dry work and resolution and shared hope that turned last night into a weight of disappointment to say the least: he was laughing on the rope of his own balloon and the world was chuckling with him, this giddy sprit being the real affliction.
     Pretending not to notice, one of the four mentioned that it was good the stores were still closed because otherwise she would probably tell the others to go on without her. She’d catch up later with a new pair of heels.
     Titters.
     Vasily tittered too.
     He went back inside when the women took no notice.

***

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green lantern
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Jan 30
i’m sorry you didn’t get the nod. the piece was edited after i handed
it in. i appreciated your help, but i couldn’t figure out how to drop
bad at sports without sounding like a gossip; i shirked the
controversy I guess. I suspect too that newcity would’ve been happy
for more he said she said but I didn’t have the heart. so I mentioned
bad at sports a little half-heartedly at the beginning, then thought
they’d cut even more to make it a three-line paragraph.
so. apologies.
I’m sure I will get mine, though whether bas is the agent is yet to be
seen, and whether this year or in twenty–
maybe we should settle it over a whiffle ball contest.
in any case I’m gone for a few–so it will have to be settled when I
get back. that’s right, I’m ditching town. the Monday morning shaming
might have done me in.
do you want any reports from south East Asia?
Caroline

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The Bad at Sports editorial overlords
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Jan 30
BAS is all about dueling these days.

R

***

     A black man in spandex had brought his bike inside. The man and the bike blocked Vasily from his wet clothes. The man look at Vasilly and Vasilly looked back. He purposefully used his mean dumb eyes, but the man was not intimidated. Vasily was surprised. He wondered if he liked the man in spandex.
     The black man began to talk. His gut leaned on the handlebars of his bike. He hadn’t done anything for breast cancer.
     “I done the AIDS thing-” he tickled the tips of his fingers tighter in front of his nose, reminding Vasilly of cartoons. On Saturday mornings you could head them through the closet and they were always accompanied with the smell of pancakes. Sundays sounded like the televangelist. “And the babies thing…..but I aint nevah done no breast cancer.” The man pointed to Vasilly’s wash, “There y’go. Now you’d on the spin cylce.”
Behind the spin cycle an old Russian was shouting. The woman boasted six feet. She was taller than Vasilly who was small. The women was probably 200 pounds. Vasilly was more quiet than usual. He stood very still for camaflogue.
     Myopic eyes would let go of Siberia. She was bald in patches with pockmarks and spider veins and everywhere she was the same color gray. The woman had no rouge. She was looming over the Hispanic proprietor who did not speak very good English. She was telling about how her crone’s legs were ugly and turned her knees in toward a squat for emphasis. Varicose veins riddled the loose folds thereabouts. Her legs were mottled with their own ideas of death. Socks and sandals resolved her feet.
     “Look at my legs! These legs! They’re ugly! Look at my legs!” The crone pointed down with both index fingers, “People’s mean. You wouldn’t believe it-how mean people are. People on the bys come and sit next to me. They come and sit next to me to tell me my legs is ugly and how I should dare wear shorts. I should never wear shorts and not in summer especially. They racist. I don’t care what nobody says. I don’t have to talk to them I don’t give them nothing. They don’t like my legs. They racist. I don’t like them.”

***

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Green lantern
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Jan 31
I could send you a white glove in the mail, but you might have to
throw it one the ground yourself….
– Show quoted text –

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Jan 31
I’ll kick your ass!

***

     The sun rose at 7:08 am. The days were still getting longer and the light dispatched a feeble gray. Vasilly scratched his head.
“Still we’s gotta get it dahn,” Drake said. “Don’t want any accidents.”
     “Accidents?”
     “Sure, car’s passing by think there’s a body up there.”
     Lt. Mitchell looked past the pole in the sky. He pointed at the billboard behind. “I think that’s new-the Michelob?”
     “Nah-it’s been there a week now.”
     “No kidding? That’s a fine pair a twins.”
     Drake grinned, “Yeah, that’s how come I saw.”
     “Could be terrorists.”
     “The body was made of wood. It had arms and legs and wore a suit. The hands moved a little with the tie. The feet were pigeon toed but still.
     “That’s what I said. Could be terrorists.”
     “Where’s the flag at?”
     “See?”
     “We’ll know if we find it.”
     “We’ll know if they fold it.”
     Drake sighed, “How we goin’na get it dahn?”
     “Ladder?”
     “We could get a ladder.”
     “What if it’s a bomb?”
     “It’s some stupid prank, it’s not a bomb.”
     “Could be a bomb in a suit.”
     “Those guys don’t care about guys like us. We got nothing to worry about. Vawzilly, go get that ladder, will you?”

***

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green lantern
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Feb 1
don`t make me bring Mr. Miagi back.
– Show quoted text –

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The Bad at Sports editorial overlords
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Feb 1
Like it would help you one bit, the crane technique will not help you
against our superior kung fu powers.

That’s it, Bad at Sports officially challenges green lantern to a fight!

***
  

     Vasilly got the ladder and Mitchell climbed up.

     “Christ, he’s gotta moustache.”

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One Response to ““The Great Flagpole Caper””

  1. urbesque Says:

    this, i feel is kind of a complicated story (in a way in which stories should not be complicated) about an incident which is kind of interesting in and of itself. as i suppose must often happen when looking back at old writing, i wrote this at a particular time when i was very concerned about being smart; i wouldn’t have called it that, but each word became so precious to me that i wanted every sentence to have multiple meanings and associations and as a result i feel like every sentence became more and more tight-overworked and without any room to breathe.

    the result was that a story that may have been interesting was obscured by the weight of its words.

    this story, for instance, is about a true event a few years ago at gallery 400, where Death By Design (Michelle Maynard and Teena McClelland) constructed a body-mannequin and, (as part of Philip vonZweck’s on-going curation of a flagpole) impaled it on a flagpole on the UIC campus. And the security guards had a fit, (due to alleged complaints of drivers) and they took the body down, raised it up again, and a second time (the security guards) tried to take it down they basically tore the thing apart, because they couldn’t figure out how to unfasten the fake corpse.

    as a story there is just something incredible, i think, about what it must have felt like to be a security guard in that situation, and how, at a certain point, i’m sure the body would become real in some way….

    yours,
    intending towards simplicity,
    caroline


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