N o v e m b e r   2 0 0 2

Guest Writer

Something about love, or something
by J.K. Mercury

e 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. Usually focaccia.

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 away.

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 the door?

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 screamed.

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 charisma."

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" and wept.

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 off him.

"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 fraction.

"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 the results.

"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. Sorry.

However, Focaccia and Courtney lived happily ever after.

Visit our archives.

site design / management / host: ae
© 2001-2005 nwdrizzle.com / all rights reserved.