posted/written by caroline picard

Woody Allen Woody Allen Woody Allen

An older gentleman, he came upon a fallen Redwood, collapsed and soundless in the yellow grass. The sun was hot, it stole the sound and smell from the air, except sometimes the man heard a buzzing fly land and when it landed everything was more silent than it had been before. The man studied the log, imagined its figure wearing away with rot, woodmites and termites and peculiar worms, until it wore down into dust—the shit of insects—and fed the dull earth.

Instead, the man took a cast of the tree:

He hired a team of employees and together they gathered around its stupendous girth. They raised the dead log on pedestals—sweating, the whine of the chainsaw—cutting the trunk into eight three foot cross-sections. They took elaborate photographs of each of the tree’s parts. Like a murder scene, quadrants of the surrounding area were taped off. Surrounding tree trunks bore neon pink symbols of work on their bases. Everything was documented.  Everyone wore rubber gloves.

They took a cast of its massive breadth, width, length in sections:

sealing the tree in soap, they poured wax around its parts just before nightfall and in the night the wax hardened and in the morning they cut the wax off in clean, re-sealable pieces. They sent those pieces to Japan in a very cool box.

What came back:

The tree—a new one, it resembled the original—came back without the wax, for the wax had been burned to make the new tree. The tree came in parts, the same eight three-foot cross-sections. Its parts made of wood, not Redwood but Hinoki. Its surface had been carved in a myriad of patterns, different borring strokes; the surface of the replica was carved to look like the surface of the old. This new wood blonder and clean looking, though with the self-same hollowed core of its dead predecessor.

There was a note attached to the mid-section.

Someone was asked to translate:

Once put together, this tree will last 400 years, before hitting a crisis of 100 years, during which it will crack. Thereafter it will last another 400 years before it begins to decompose.


*

Manhattan, New York, 2009: Mr. Allen finds himself sat in the corner window of a high-rise apartment—his own, (he can tell by the family photographs, framed and standing on the bookshelves, and the side table too).  He recognizes the pattern on the carpet; it looks to be Persian, red and black interlaced geometries. He remembers the smell of the place—the smell is both familiar and difficult to perceive; it must be a smell belonging to him.

Soon-yi sounds to be making coffee in the adjacent kitchen and he can hear the clattering of domestic objects as she opens and closes kitchen drawers, cabinets, the dish washer; he can hear utensils bump up against interior wooden walls. Mr. Allen conjures a flash of light pouncing on the landscape of things, sprung suddenly from the dark. He wonders if objects possess a sense of being.

It is as if I am in a dream, he thinks assuming a moment of adolescent existentialism. My actions are not entirely my own but I am more or less comfortable. He looks at his hands clasped in his lap and feels, for a moment, the texture of the corduroy underneath. Past his hands, legs, he looks at his feet in brown, waspy loafers. He isn’t wearing socks. For a moment he imagines his actors feel this way in a set and, going against better judgment, makes the disquieting attempt to peer over the bounds of his imagined consciousness—

into the dark, a mottled grey behind his eyes, either the color of his brain or simply the color of what he’ll never know—

His eyes glassy, he looks at you without seeing. “Talk to me, shout at me, so that I’ll wake up and know that I’m here with you and that certain things really are just dreams.” He is merely talking to himself, a recitation.

Truth be told, he cannot remember living in any other place. At the same time he does not remember how he came to be here.

He lifts a hand to feel his upper lip, relieved to find the moustache still in place.

*

The first opera singer ever recorded had past her prime when she was recorded. By then an old woman in her career, her voice wove through the aria like burning paper. Upon listening to the record, people of then recalled how remarkable she’d been before, as a young woman. “The best,” they told their children, smitten by nostalgia.

Children, when grown, repeated the rumor to respective children. And everyone, ever since, has believed the first opera singer recorded to be the best singer there ever was, for their memories make her so and there is no evidence to the contrary.

*

The young people aren’t any good in his movies. Terrible actors. They don’t understand. They try too much to be like him; they aren’t like him enough. They don’t listen to his direction. They impersonate rather than become. Scarlet Johansson. Jason Briggs. Christina Ricci.

Mr. Allen crosses one leg over the other, relishing contempt. Doughy and plump and taut. Ripe. Budding.

The aroma of coffee wafts into the living room.

*

The dream is one of paradise. In the dream men and women live forever, a glistening surface projected by the whirring of gears and oil and machinations run by invisible, grease-stained hands. The dream is one of desire.

*

Mr. Allen has a hand on his temple. His eyes are closed and therefore he does not see the grey day so much as he feels it. Or, discovers the feeling of it. He can picture it in his mind. The leaves are turning in the park below, across the street; he does not see these either. He knows only they are there. For a moment he imagines that the changing leaves are expressed in the sound of loose interior cutlery. He thinks of the sun as something that pounces.

And then he concentrates:

Music comes from a computer on the desk in the opposite corner of the room. It sounds like it comes from a phonograph. Concentrating on static, the overarching fuzz and pop, as bad as any radio station, he imagines the music to be broadcast from the past.

Mr. Allen presses his fingers into his eyes, pinching the lids together almost, feeling a dull pressure in the back of his head. In the darkness behind his eyes; trying desperately to imagine what she might have sounded like—this siren—when she was young. Feeling through the static, for the traces of her youth. Straining back into the past, her voice the bridge.

In a record, he believes, there is the promise of eternity.

*

Someone said LA was like a Dream Factory. He said working in the Dream Factory was pretty tiring; he was pretty tired of making dreams. He complained about the silt he was always breathing—dream silt. He hoped one day to unionize the workers.

*

In a club in Brooklyn with Soon-yi: Mr. Allen has come to the conclusion that Soon-yi’s friends, boys mostly, hide their sexuality from him. He is conscious of the shadows in the basement barroom—no windows, barely any light. Drums clatter and dash and bang as Mr. Allen is jostled occasionally by flanking, shiny strangers.

“One time in Romania I went to a bar we drank in bars that used to be dungeons they used to torture people in those bars. No I’m serious you could still see the burn marks on the sides of the brick where they used to keep lit torches while they tortured people.” Soon-yi can’t hear him and she smiles in a dreamy way watching the young boys on stage, watching the people at the club, hiding her mouth behind her hand; hiding her mouth from her friends across the room. Mr. Allen feels the shadows like a blanket. “I’ve been feeling so odd lately. I can’t explain. I don’t feel myself,” he says. “I must be getting sick. You can have my whole fortune.” Stuttering. “Did you hear? They finally arrested Polanski.” But Soon-yi does not hear because she’s dancing also, jostling up and down against the others in the room and Mr. Allen feels like an old man wearing socks.

It occurs to him that he will die childless, save for those things that he made in discrete instances; things starring himself in scenes he could control.

*

When Charles Darwin’s turtle, Harriet, died in 2006, they discovered her organs had not aged at all. It was believed that, barring disease or accident, turtles could live forever for evidence of time was not apparent on any of her interior organs.

In Hollywood there is a single mother selling serums of Harriet’s DNA on e-bay. It was manufactured abroad. Black market. It has not been tested. Some of her clients: Ashley Olson, Elizabeth Taylor, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson etc.

*

The next band comes on stage, just after Mr. Allen looks at his watch, notes the time and wonders what time he might be able to go home—

Soon-yi talks to some of her male friends at the bar.

Mr. Allen looks around at everyone in the room and shakes his head. He looks again on stage.

The keyboardist looks exactly like him. Only younger. And shorter. Should the keyboardist step off the stage, he might stand a head shorter than Mr. Allen. Everything else about the fellow is spot on. He hears Soon-yi giggling across the room. He imagines her covering her mouth.

“I have a proposition for you,” Mr. Allen says after the show. There are candles on the bar and they cast an irregular but welcome light. “I would like to hire you. Assume my life.” They sit at the bar. His doppelganger drinks a whisky Mr. Allen has bought. “I’ll pay you very well.” Mr. Allen’s hands dance around for emphasis. He finds himself regularly touching the young man, occasionally going so far as to pinch the fellow’s shoulders now and again, testing the fellow’s firmness. The sensation is exhilarating. Mr. Allen wonders, abstractly, if he was himself the same density once.

“Why should I do that?” the young man asks. He looks amused. He wears a plaid cowboy shirt with opalescent, buttons—snaps. Tight black jeans on and converse. Sideburns and Buddy Holly glasses. He smokes. His hands are smaller than Mr. Allen’s.

“Only, you’d have to cut down your sideburns.” Mr. Allen says, worried suddenly, brow knit. He studies the youth, looking for other discrepancies. “And maybe get just a slightly different haircut. I understand the times are different, but at least for the transition period, you’ll need to adopt a little more of my style.” With a sudden clarity of thought, Mr. Allen smiles, relived. “Oh! I know. You’ll have to go away for a while. I’ll send out a press release. I’ll say I’m going abroad. You go abroad too. We can meet in another part of the world, somewhere where no one will know who we are. Then I can teach you how to be me. Then you can come back to America. It’s very simple, really. We could even make movies abroad. When you, ‘I’” he smiles and winks, “come back, no one will ever know the difference.” The young man shakes his head. He seems not to understand. “This has to be good.” Mr. Allen continues. “I’ll pay you an exorbitant amount of money—where do you work? Retail?”

“Record store.”

“Right. Good. Well. You’re rich. Did you think it would be this easy?”

*

In the end:

After the first recording of the opera singer, but before the death of Harriet, an anthropologist and a sociologist made a movie with a cameraman and they traipsed around Paris and Saint-Tropez playing tag with a camera. The interviewee became the interviewer, each time asking, “Are you happy?”

No one was famous.

Metropolis

October 24, 2008

Posted by Nick Sarno

 

Back when the Green Lantern was new, a portrait of Marie was painted on the bathroom wall. When it was time to renovate the bathroom, the painting had to go. But rather than just toss it in the trash, we decided to give it a send off. Copies were made and hung in the gallery. After spending some time on our walls, we took them to the streets, offering them, for free, to whomever felt inclined to take them. To mark the occasion, we printed a pamphlet, which included the following story. 

 

I was working on this when Caroline called and asked me to contribute something. I had been thinking about superheroes, wondering what it would be like to live in a world where superheroes existed. I realized that, unless you happened to be a superhero yourself, or unless you were one of the few people to have actually run into one, it wouldn’t make much of a difference at all. When we walk to the grocery store and an ambulance, lights flashing and sirens blazing, speeds by us we always wonder where they are going. We think about who’s in the stretcher in the back. And then we go about our day. I’d imagine a superhero would evoke the same reaction. 

 

So here’s the story. It’s not one of my favorites, but I still really like the idea of stepping outside and seeing Superman flying through the air, on the way to some dramatic save, while I, in turn, head to the grocery store because I’m out of toilet paper.

 

Metropolis

 

1. The back to back episodes of “I Love Lucy” began at one o’clock. They always seemed to be longer than they actually were. She had seen each episode, even the pilot, a good half dozen times, but they always seemed to last longer than they actually were.

2. She checked the mail. It hadn’t come.

3. After Lucy, “The Golden Girls” were on. Following “The Golden Girls” was the show with the old man and the dog. It may or may not have been a spin-off. Marie wasn’t sure.

4. There was no room for a piano in the apartment and, even if there had been, there was no money to afford one. She let her nails grow long. Sometimes, when she looked at them, she felt more like a girl. She felt guilty for feeling that way.

5. The dog yawned.

The room had been built around the couch.

Ricky was singing in Spanish.

6. During the commercial break she did the dishes. There weren’t enough for her fingers to prune.

7. “Hey June this is Marie. Golden Girls is on. The one where Dorothy’s brother dies. Where he’s buried in the dress. Call me back.”

She sang it to the voicemail.

8. At three “Unsolved Mysteries” came on. “Unsolved Mysteries” was hosted by Robert Stack. Each episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” was broken into four or five segments. Each segment told the story of an unexplained event. Whenever possible, witnesses and family members and law enforcement officials took part in the reenactments. Sometimes the stories were about the supernatural: ghosts, U.F.O.s, Bigfoot. Sometimes they were about true things: crimes, missing persons, reunited loved ones. When she was younger she preferred the supernatural stories. She liked knowing that they would probably never be solved. But recently she’d become more interested in the real ones. Now that the show was in reruns, she’d never know if any of those mysteries had been solved, either. That little boy who went missing from his bedroom one night in Sacramento? He very well could have turned up at his aunt’s house a week later. She’d never know. According to the show, he was still missing. And he always will be.

9. The dog scratched at the front door. Her claws dug into the layers of paint, each representing the tastes of former tenants and landlords. She scratched through taupe (2000) and goldenrod (1996) and eggshell (1989) and eggshell (1986) and Chinese red (1977) and taupe (1970). She sniffed at the flakes of paint. She sighed.

10. Question one: Tell us about a teacher who inspired you and in what way you’ve changed because of him or her.

11. The applications had been filled out for weeks. Her name and address were written neatly in black ink. All of the appropriate boxes had been checked. Her transcript was attached with a copper paperclip. Now all she had to do was choose which of the two essay questions she wanted to answer and answer it.

12. Police considered whether Bill and Traci left voluntarily. They left, with only the cash in their pockets and the clothes on their backs. There has been no ATM, phone, or credit card activity on either Traci’s or Bill’s accounts since their disappearance.

13. A commercial for nursing school. A commercial for dish detergent. A commercial for trucking school.

They were struggling to reach the space her eyes were focused on. The space a few feet from the floor, a few feet in front of the T.V.

14. She kicked the blanket to the arm of the couch and rose. She opened the refrigerator. She opened the kitchen cabinet. She ate lunch three hours ago and dinner was three hours away, but she wouldn’t allow herself the snack.

It never hurt to look.

15. She could see the whites of the dog’s eyes. The blacks were focused on the leash coiled on the kitchen counter. She shifted on her paws. She whined.

Marie’s left knee met the tiles. She did this without disrupting the sole of her right foot. The dog placed her paws on Marie’s thigh. Marie brushed bits of 1996 and 1970 from the dog’s upper lip.

16. The mail arrived. The check from her father had not. She left it in the box.

17. Question two: What made you decide to apply to The Art Institute of Chicago?

18. She felt a tug at the leash as she attempted to zip her jacket. She did so more out of habit than as a response to the weather. As the collar closed around her throat she realized there was no chill in the air. There was no weather at all.

19. I don’t remember. I’ve been out of school for eight years now. I don’t even remember any of my professors anymore. I do remember liking the woman who taught the feminism and photography course. Once she brought her cat to class. She kept him in a kind of carrying case, though she never really explained why it was there. She was nice.

20. There were small buds of green on the branches of the trees. If they were ever to scrape against the sky, they would not do so as harshly.

21. The dog’s attention was focused on an ancient stain on the concrete. Marie paused to let her circle and sniff.

A hat was resting in the middle of the crosswalk in the middle of the street. It was an old man’s hat, the kind she didn’t know the name of. When a car passed over it the hat would skid on a cushion of air a few inches north. When a car passed by in the opposite direction, it would skid a few inches south.

22. Nothing. Or nothing in particular. I just assumed there was a piano there that I could use. I should probably find out about at thing like that.

23. The wind changed direction and she glanced up, as though attempting to discern its source.

And then she saw him.

Everyone she knew who had lived there for any length of time had seen him, or at least knew of someone who had. And with each month that passed that she didn’t she believed in him less and less. But there he was.

He flew overhead from behind her and then stopped, hovering mid-air. It was difficult to tell how high he was: she squinted her eyes and tried to fit him between the nail of her thumb and the nail of her forefinger. No more than a centimeter separated them.

His cape, 1977, did not billow out as it did in the drawings and photographs. It wrapped itself tightly around his form, buffeted by winds and cross winds. He laid himself down, if that’s possible to do in the sky, and drew his knees toward his chest. He kicked his feet back, as though pushing them against the wall of a swimming pool. And then he was gone.

24. The dog pawed her leg and Marie looked down. She scratched her ear and the dog bent into it.

25. She walked. Sometimes she led the dog and sometimes the dog led her. She wasn’t walking in the direction of her apartment and she wasn’t walking away from it, either.

Somewhere, she thought, someone was looking up and wondering where he came from and, when he left, where he was going.

If they had asked she could have answered.