about love, or something
came from Molalla, I think. Maybe Montana. Some place with a short
"a" sound and a lot of cows.
I met him one night in a bar where the people were
crammed in and shouting over the jukebox. He told me his name, where
he was from, and some long story about cows. All of which I immediately
forgot, because he was not a girl, and he didn't look like he had
enough money to buy me drinks.
Maybe it was Wisconsin.
But it didn't matter about his name, because everyone
called him "Focaccia." I wondered if maybe he only introduced
himself to people in noisy bars.
Everyone called him Focaccia because whenever he went
to a restaurant, he ordered whatever would fill him up cheapest.
That's how I assume he got the nickname, anyway. I
only went to a restaurant with him once, and he ordered focaccia,
and Dave said, "Man, you always order focaccia." So I'm
taking Dave's word on this. I didn't take a survey or anything.
In fact, this whole story is pretty much Dave's or
Jennifer's or Brandon's word on what happened. I didn't see much
of it. Most of it I just heard from other people, and while I was
listening I was concentrating on coming back with a better story.
Or (if it was a woman) on how I could glance at her breasts while
maintaining eye contact. So the facts about Focaccia sometimes got
frappéd in my brain like a gigantic milkshake and now I am
pouring that milkshake into your ear.
Focaccia discovered there was often free food when
art galleries had a new commodity to exhibit. Often, it tasted good.
The food. Focaccia liked art galleries. Unlike the sports bars and
most restaurants, the malls and department stores, jewelry stores
and ladies' lingerie shops, Focaccia did not imagine a sneer lurking
behind the smile of every clerk or waitperson who looked at his
wrinkled clothes and greasy hair. At the art galleries, if his hands
were clean, he might be mistaken for someone with culture. Or someone
with money, which is interchangeable with culture.
One night at a gallery opening, Focaccia looked up
from his double handful of chips, and what he saw took his breath
She was dressed in black from her knuckle-crusher
boots to the mouse-brown roots of her greenish-blonde hair. From
one side of her nose dangled a ring large enough to hold a set of
apartment keys; if she kept an extra set there she would never get
locked out. Her lips were purple and swollen like bursting plums;
her eyes were sunk deep inside blackened sockets.
She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Focaccia felt lust and desire stirring in his heart,
or somewhere near his heart. He felt intellectual kinship and spiritual
siblinghood. He knew instinctively that this woman was his one-in-the-universe
soul mate. He spun away and stared at the wall. Should he run for
By lucky coincidence, there was art on the wall. He
forced himself to look at the closest piece. That wasn't easy. He
couldn't tell it if was a sculpture or painting or collage or lithograph
or mezzotint, and until he knew what to call it he couldn't decide
if he liked it. There were splinters of wood, or maybe plaster,
and pictures cut out from magazines, and strokes or drips or globs
of a pretty blue color (Was she still looking at him? She was!).
That blue was the best part of the sculpture or painting
or collage or lithograph or mezzotint. It was like the blue walls
of his bedroom in the house on Belmont Street, where he lived that
one summer just before moving from Portland to Seattle, where he
got the job in that metal-plating shop where he wore rubber gloves
and a rubber apron and went home high from the fumes every night
and then woke up the next morning not sure whether he was still
high, or whether he was back to normal but just couldn't remember
what normal was anymore.
He still wondered sometimes if his brain was working
properly, like the time just three days ago while he was waiting
for Scott and thumbing through some books from college Scott had
never read, but still believed eight years later that he (Scott)
would read someday, and he (Focaccia) noticed the word "naked"
and read the paragraph to see if it had anything to do with sex,
and the paragraph didn't seem to make sense so he read it again,
and it seemed even more confusing the third time, and he was pretty
sure it wasn't about sex but he kept reading anyway in case it turned
out to be, and when Scott finally said, "Are you ready or what?"
Focaccia awoke as from a trance, and realized he still
did not understand any three consecutive words, even though he had
read it so often that he could still remember every word, now, in
the gallery, three days later.
"The naked relativism of this opus leads us on
a dialogical and dialectical debate in which the purported reality
of the meta-universe can only be synergized by reconceptualization
of his very methodology."
Focaccia was astounded to hear someone speak the very
words he was thinking, in a voice remarkably like his own.
Behind him, a man gasped. Glass shattered. A woman
The girl stepped forward, her lips parted, her eyelids
drooping with desire.
"That was the most provocative analysis I have
ever heard about a work of art."
"Yeah," he said. "It's cool, you know?
I mean, the picture looks so funky."
He heard a loud voice directly behind his left ear.
"I agree. Provocative, with attitude. An edge. A raw edge.
A bloody raw edge with quivering nerve ends shooting sparks of intellectual
The voice belonged to a man about his size and age,
and yet his complete opposite. Focaccia might have said he was his
doppelganger, but he had never heard that word, and had no idea
what it meant. This guy looked like someone who knew where he wanted
to go, and already had the ticket paid for. First Class.
"James Amherst," the guy said. "Glad
to meet you. Are you an art critic?" He stuck out his hand.
Focaccia shook his hand, instinctively, just as he
would dive for the dirt when a high fastball curved in toward his
jaw. And with the same forethought and deliberation, he answered
the question: "Sure. Yeah. I'm a art critic. Uh-huh."
He told him his name, too. Probably told him his real name. He probably
didn't say, "Everyone calls me Focaccia because I always buy
the cheapest thing on the menu."
Then Focaccia looked at the girl, who hadn't lost
interest yet, and told her his name, too. I think.
"Hi," she said. "I'm Courtney."
"You've probably heard of me," Amherst said.
"I publish the alternative paper, The Seeping Pus-Filled Boil.
I'm looking for a critic. A critic with attitude. A critic with
an edge, a raw edge. With quivering nerve ends. The job is yours.
Drop by my office tomorrow."
Focaccia nodded, but he still could not take his eyes
off the unearthly beauty of Courtney ("unearthly" as in
"heavenly," not "unearthly" as in "blood-sucking
lizard-faced aliens from a distant galaxy"). As he stared,
he felt a curious change come over him. Somehow, the excitement
of the lie he had told, combined with the attention it attracted,
plus maybe microwaves from the Russian embassy, caused a strong
and stimulating reaction in the region of his body most distant
from his brain, speaking in a figurative sense.
Courtney glided forward, and the tips of her breasts
grazed his chest, and the reflection from the track lighting shone
off her nose ring. She pressed her hips forward, and their bodies
made contact at a point lower than her breasts, and Focaccia could
tell that she, too, noticed his state of enlargement.
"You have such a big 'intellect,'" she said.
"I get all excited when a man says something abstract and existential."
She led him to a back room and relieved his discomfort.
Wow, she's good at this, he thought. Maybe
she's a nurse.
Courtney's attentions left Focaccia in a state of
rapture, from which he awoke 24 hours later in the offices of The
Seeping Pus-Filled Boil.
James Amherst shook his hand, said it was great to
have him on board, and sent Focaccia to the Sidney Preston Gallery,
where he watched four TV sets showing what looked like out-of-focus
home movies shot by a four-year-old playing Ninja Turtle.
Focaccia lost interest after two minutes, but he felt
that, as a critic, he should adhere to a higher standard of pretension.
That held him another three minutes. Then he said loudly, "We
strive to see beneath the surface, but the true nature of reality
refuses to reveal itself. We try to deny the abyss with the veneer
of chaotic hyperactivity."
Someone gasped, a glass shattered, his "intellect"
grew larger and Courtney had to come rescue him.
The next week, on the way to the Preston Dolores Gallery,
he walked into the broom closet and couldn't find his way out until
an hour before his deadline. "Through the use of negative light
and claustrophobic voids, the artist shows us how we are blinded
by our preconceived ideological and contextual paradigms."
His "intellect" grew so much that he could
barely extract himself from the keyboard before Courtney arrived
to save him.
The next week, at a Dolores Sidney Gallery opening,
Focaccia loaded up with those tiny slices of bread smeared with
that salty grayish-brown goo that's made from olives (what's that
called?) and set them down on a counter before noticing that the
works of art on the counter were tiny little pieces of wood or plastic
smeared with grayish-brown goo.
"The artist postulated a dialogue with the viewer
of the art as consumer, challenging the viewer to leap the psychological
distance between subject and object, and inviting us to experience
the art fully by consuming, digesting and (it follows) excreting
the objects, as has the artist himself."
This time, his "intellect" grew to such
immense proportions he had to call Courtney to come and rescue him
at his desk. But the moment she saw him, instead of the usual gasps
and moans and shrieks, she began to cry.
"Courtney, what's wrong? Did I say something
stupid? (And why would that make any difference now?)"
"Can't you see?" she said. "You've
gotten too big for your britches with all this art criticism. Your
'intellect' has grown to the point that you can no longer engage
in normal human interaction.
"Oh, Focaccia," she said (although she would
have used his real name, if he had ever told her, which he might
not have), "I want to love you, but I'm afraid I may destroy
myself in the process." And she draped herself over his "intellect"
Focaccia felt sad. He felt confused. And he felt some
other gnawing emotion, which he couldn't describe (his parents had
only taught him the basic emotions anger, sadness, self-pity
and glee and left him to learn the rest in the streets),
but it was that emotion that made him feel good when she was around
and not so good when she wasn't around.
What could he do? Like the flash of an exhibitionist,
the answer was suddenly revealed to him: he could give his entire
month's paycheck to a head doctor, who would solve all his problems.
What a fine idea! Focaccia decided to look up "Head Doctors"
in the phone book as soon as he could figure out how to get Courtney
"Courtney," he said. "This screaming
is really beginning to grate on my nerves."
Courtney paused in mid-sob, and Focaccia froze in
amazement. The moment he uttered those truthful words, perhaps the
first truthful thing he had said to her (other than "I'm hungry"
a couple of times, and "Wow, that feels good"), his "intellect"
shrank a tiny bit. He experimented again.
"Courtney, that haircut looks a little strange."
She gasped. His "intellect" shrank another
"Courtney, I know nothing about art. All I do
in those reviews is make up the most meaningless statements I can
think of. My life is a sham, and I am a sellout, and the worst thing
is I don't even get paid very well for betraying my integrity."
Courtney gasped yet again.
And then there was silence. A heavy silence. A thick
and sticky silence. A silence like molasses. The kind of silence
that comes when you realize you might have done something, or said
something, that cannot ever be forgotten, or changed, or forgiven.
Ever. In a million years.
For Focaccia's "intellect" had shrunk again.
Really shrunk. Way shrunk. He was sure it had never been that small
before; at least since he was six.
Maybe there was such a thing as too much truth.
"Ummm, honey," Courtney said. "Maybe
you could lie to me again."
"I could never lie to you, the only woman who
still thrills me."
"Hooray," said Courtney when she viewed
"Hooray," said Focaccia. "I thought
I was going to have to get a real job."
And then Focaccia realized something profound. It
was incredibly profound. Something about love, or something. Maybe
it was something like, success is the perfect balance of honesty
and dishonesty; I don't really remember.
That's too bad, because it changed his life, and Courtney's
life, and if I could write those wise words here, and you could
read them, it might change your life, too. You would feel your life
changing, right now, as you read these words. What would that
feel like? But I can't remember, so you're stuck with your life.
However, Focaccia and Courtney lived happily ever