Art for Art’s Sake – David Lohrey
August 29, 2020
I’ve seen a lot of churches. That lovely
Greek Orthodox on New York’s Upper West Side,
its interior powder blue and white. Oh, wow.
And Rome, my God, the Santa Maria della Vittoria,
and on any street in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico,
or take Landau Island between Macau and Hong Kong;
churches are everywhere but not here.
They’ve been abandoned like sharecropper shacks
not long ago on the way to Little Rock or Mississippi.
The wind blows through them, they’re used in desperation,
to protect one from the weather, for crude copulations,
or for defecating in the cold. They come in handy.
To get protection from the cold, some privacy
for a long-postponed urination. Is that all churches
are good for? Water closets for the poor? Such folly,
such desperation; was it once called desiccation?
Warring factions such as believers and non-believers
share a bathroom. Blasphemy is lonely.
II. Depths of Disaffection
Are churches meant as cold storage?
Nothing more than closets for Christian artifacts,
bins for Renaissance rubbish?
A filing cabinet for foolishness, a site for buried knights,
retarded kings and perverse priests,
with postcards: two for a dollar.
What an end to human charity.
To be closed off and boarded up like an old
vaudeville house, like theatres on the Keith/Albee circuit,
silent movie houses of the soul,
demonstrations of human folly
and a little devil worship, like LA’s Ambassador Hotel,
where Robert Kennedy bled to death,
right next to the Coconut Grove.
Nothing more than mommy dearest,
episodes of human anguish, dramatizations
of belief and superstition; a house full of Halloween
masks, a closet of soiled kimono, a toilet with no plumbing.
The gargoyles are watching.
Those naughty faces stare from the belfry.
They stick their stone tongues out and wave their pricks
at people passing below. Some are pissing
on those who shuffle along the pavement.
They rain greetings on passers-by,
cursing their indifference.
Look up and look into the faces
of the angels and the devils;
Their grimaces and tight smiles greet you.
Go in or cross the street, quickly.
Get out of the way of the golden showers.
Why else place monsters on God’s sacred palace?
Scowling goblins, volcanic midgets, smug angels
growl or grimace and spit right in their faces,
reminding those on the way their path is blocked.
They’ll never get away. The end awaits.
Death is true. Look forward to it,
face it, or live one’s life in a permanent state of dread.
IV. Murder in the Cathedral
Those Baroque cherubs with bare asses cling
to the cathedral’s ceiling, plucking golden harps,
as they tug at human hearts.
They hang like bats from the ceiling, chubby tots,
babies, not even toddlers. Gazing down,
they denounce vanity but celebrate the divine.
In the courtyard lies the monastery’s beer hall,
a haven for families and alcoholics.
The once sacred place has been turned into an attraction;
St. Jerome as another Mickey Mouse, a sacred Donald Duck.
The gargoyles are mere decorations,
There for our amusement, there as ghouls
and goblins meant to rile or to tickle.
Did the Soviets have it right?
Kill off the Christians and rebuild the churches.
Bring in the tourists! Against all warnings,
written and spoken, tourists snap selfies, dick pics in the pews.
Husband climbs the ladder while wife plays look-out.
To break off the cherub’s tiny prick. That’s where we’re at.
Next she’ll ask the priest for his autograph.
If such sights were never meant to be uplifting
but only for distracting or merely for haunting,
meant not to preoccupy, not to impart wisdom,
but only to amuse, like taking in a motion picture,
riding a roller coaster or visiting a brothel,
then churches were built for fools.
They’ve become destinations like park benches and beaches,
like restaurants with patios. The priest sucks
strawberries and cruises cute waiters. He orders the tilapia
with a side of organic honey. Who is he kidding?
No wonder we imagine priests, like everyone else, with hard-ons.
Who ever thought priests not strong enough to resist
what all men know is sordid? Masturbation, say what you will,
is not a celebration; whatever the elaboration,
it is never more than a consolation. But without faith, how can one
be expected to see a priest as any different?
It’s been quite a blow, this
recent event. They’re removing the
Confederate flag from my back yard.
Never mind, it’s on private property.
The city council and the home-owners
association ordered its removal when they
learned I’d put it up to honor my great uncle,
Robert E. Lee, Jr.
I am a distant – very distant – grand nephew
of the once-famous general. At first,
they demanded the flag be burned by torch,
that is, to be burned “alive,” as it
flapped in the wind; they’d just take a blow-
torch to it. Someone finally said, perhaps
it was the fire chief, that setting fire to a flag
in mid-air violates city ordinances.
It was once said that to be so treated would be
an insult to tradition. After all, the general was
a graduate of the United State Military Academy
at West Point. He wasn’t just some drunken sailor.
Flags are meant to be lowered and folded, not set
on fire, someone pointed out, thank the Lord. But,
city council is on a mission. They knocked down all
the statues in town square, including one of John Adams.
Today, it was announced the State of Washington would
henceforth be known as Arcadia. Jefferson, Missouri
is changing its name to Maya Angelou City. Incredibly,
the Mississippi State Assembly has voted to cancel Jackson.
That once-proud name will henceforth be changed in honor
of Eudora Welty, the novelist long associated with the state
capital. From now on Jackson will be known as Magnolia. In
another blow to America’s past is the decision to drop the name
of Lincoln, Nebraska. State Senate voted to replace Abe’s statue
with a sculpture of a dolphin leaping in mid-air. The senate
president got it into her head that dolphins are less controversial
than Abraham Lincoln. The city’s new name will be Prairie.
I have been advised to take it all with a grain of salt. When
I went in to see my dermatologist, I asked for a Dixie cup and
a bit of cold water, only to be told from henceforth the cups should
be referred to as Pixies in honor of our friends at Black Lives Matter.
Most shocking of all must be the decision to replace the statues
on the face of Mount Rushmore with “a truer face of America.”
Yes, they have already been demolished. Congress promises
new profiles to better reflect our multicultural heritage.
I sent my old flag to a collector in Osaka, Japan. He’s not
heard of Robert E. Lee and the Civil War. He collects
memorabilia, including samurai swords and souvenirs
of the Rising Sun. It’s against the law in Japan to hide the past.
Art for Art’s Sake
Take two little chicks, you know, baby chickens. Go on:
take them. Look at them. Now let’s turn them into art.
Chick #1 will be turned into a prize-winning photo, of the
sort exhibited in a chic Manhattan gallery. Price tag: $3, 400.
The other, henceforth known as Chick #2, is to be a photo sold
in various sizes at the Main Street Arts Fair in, say, Laguna Beach,
or perhaps, lakeside at Edgewater Park, just outside Toledo, Ohio.
The 9” x 16” framed color photo will go for $80.
Chick #1 is a black and white photo of a baby chick as road kill.
The chick, run over by a car, is dead; in fact, the fluffy little thing
is now in a state of advanced decay. Its body, barely identifiable
is nothing more than a crushed body, a few feathers, and what’s left
of its tiny head and bill. The body is covered in brown ants.
The gallery owners are confident that the photo will sell by the end
of the show, if not to a wealthy collector, then to a buyer
from the local museum.
And then there is Chick #2, which the photographer has captured alive,
in full-color, its fluffy little body caught on camera running around on
newly-mown grass. Its bill is wide open, emitting a loud chirp.
The little chick is moving so fast, its little feet have left the ground. It’s
virtually in flight, although its wings are too weak to fly. They flap.
The yellow chick is full of life. The lawn is green and the sky is blue.
If there were an Easter egg lying nearby, the picture would make
a perfect gift card for a child of six or an eighty-year-old widow.
Life does not rate as art. The picture of the dainty chick is seen as a cliché.
Its yellow hue is bright and radiates joy. In art, this is known as kitsch. It’s
junk, appealing as it does to the sentiments of a six-year old child. This is
nothing more than bottled soda, whereas art collectors crave aged whiskey
or fine wine, hence the preference for depictions of death. Ants crawling
over the remains of a dead bird evoke deeper feelings than joy. Viewers
seeing such a sight might even feel an existential chill. This is thought
to be good. Dread counts as an authentic feeling, while joy is thought to be fake.
This is the impulse behind modern art; we are moving in the direction of the real.
In future, gallery attendees, if they have enough money, will be handed a pistol;
if they desire something authentic, they will be invited to shoot.
Artists will be paid to take pictures of their corpses.
Audacity of Hype
I value the black rhino but not human beings.
Save the rhino. My colleague doused his SHIT HAPPENS
T-shirt with red paint and walked down the middle of Beale
at the end of May in a Death Parade. He sees this as a cultural
“action.” He submitted a video of this zombie attack
to his tenure committee and was made associate professor of English.
His wife went topless covered in pig’s blood. Never mind Jane Austen.
If it were 1943, the most admired companies would be making
gas ovens. Yes, that’s how bad it is. We worship money. Our favorite
website, after all, was invented at Harvard by boys looking
for ways to keep track of women’s tits.
We were promised a rosy picture but what we get instead
is a Sears & Roebuck catalog, pure and simple;
Who thinks anyone can write better than Sherwood Anderson
after 50 years of creative writing classes?
There are terrible shades of Bill Clinton in Obama’s dream of life
after the White House: “I want a private jet and a personal valet.”
He wants a man to hold his underwear. What you need,
my coach once said, is an attitude adjustment, “Bend over”.
There was a time when Pollyanna had it right.
Grant’s Tomb is not in Acapulco.
I want to live with Satchmo. I want to cook him dinner.
I need a crew cut.
Lou Rawls could sing. I don’t know about you.
I wasn’t born in Gary, Indiana.
I don’t identify with the downtrodden. Who’s their leader?
I wanted Donna Reed as my mother.
Mario’s teacher in Monterrey threw rice on the floor, made
him get down on his knees. He knelt like this for hours with
five textbooks over his head. In LA, he told his teacher to go
fuck herself. The Principal, Dr. Burson, punished the teacher
for giving too much homework. “Man,” Mario figured, “I can wrap
these dumb fucks right around my little finger.” Ask Henry Kissinger,
Power is an aphrodisiac.
Declarations of Concern
We care. My concern is that you don’t
care enough. Please share a moment
from your busy day to demonstrate
how much you care. We wonder how
anyone can get through the day without
lending a hand to one’s fellow man or woman.
It’s the burden of commitment, an act
of compassion, empathy on display for
all to see. Go ahead: bend over. We are
eager to see evidence of your devotion.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate
your compassion? Did you cry when you first saw
the space shuttle exploding in mid-flight? Perhaps
you are not a patriot. Did you weep the night
Hillary lost to the Donald? Perhaps you are
not fit to vote. Have you donated your stock
profits to the starving masses of the Sudan or
remembered Ukraine? Perhaps you are not
fit to walk among fellow members of the human
race. Perhaps you are deplorable.
And what of Otto Warmbier, the young corpse?
Did you pray for his soul or are you a fan of Kim
Jong-un? Perhaps you are too cosmopolitan to
fall victim to grief. I understand. You’ve attended
classes on screaming down your enemies and
practiced public spitting. You prefer to dress
in black and smash your enemies
over the head, while splashing acid.
I just got off the phone with one of the concerned.
She’s an operator with We Care, a national distributor
of disposable diapers. Their dispatcher neglected
to pick up our child’s soiled goods. No new diapers
were delivered despite our having signed a one-year
contract. The diapers were in fact delivered next door.
Now our neighbors can be seen wearing our son’s
diapers. Our boy is irate. He spends his days lying in
his own waste, bawling at the top of his lungs. His first
words were “No one cares.” When the police arrive,
they shoot him.
My advice? Don’t call the operator a cunt. Give
in. Smile. Tell her you have a concern. Learn
from your mistakes. Don’t give out your Social
Security number. Join the snowbirds in Florida.
Save your money. Tell your teacher the dog ate
your homework. Don’t believe your philosophy
professor when he says God is dead. Invest in
Disney. Don’t buy Premium. Wash your own
car. If you catch James Bond, don’t leave him
tied up while you confer with your henchmen.
Mr. Goto and I spend every Thursday at his sister’s
restaurant in Shimokitazawa drinking Asahi Dry.
After class, he likes to practice his English. I enjoy
shooting the breeze; I need a little company. I try
to avoid expats who either hate this place or, worse, love
it. Either way, their self-hatred makes me uncomfortable.
We first met shortly after his return from the States. He’d
been there for 3 years with a top-notch firm out of Chiba.
He’d left his wife and kids behind. Goto hadn’t wanted his
wife infected by American ideas. Women, he declared, are
only good for two things: fellatio and cooking. He feared his
wife would meet Americans who would talk her out of both.
His son is getting soft. Goto-san says the problem started
when boys stopped entering the army as they still do in China.
He’s determined to teach his son not to be ashamed of his body.
He has taken to hiding himself from his family. He cups his
genitals when the family enters the public baths. Father Goto
believes his son acts like a little girl.
When Goto was young, he attended a private military academy
where boys swam naked and ran track at dawn in the buff.
Being unashamed of one’s body is part of manhood, according
to the Japanese. Rituals of manhood have slowly disappeared.
His son doesn’t want anyone to see him naked. Nudity is no
longer required at his son’s school; they don’t take public showers.
Goto-san says the first step will be to take his son weekly
to the public baths. He will not allow his son to hold a towel.
He will wash with the other men and soak in the public pool.
Next, he will make his son walk around the house naked after
dinner. He will not be allowed to show embarrassment. The boy
must not cover-up, blush, or seek to avoid his mother’s gaze.
Young Yuki, Goto’s son, will have to train for the annual
all-male naked parade in which men and boys run through
town with nothing on but a loin cloth between their legs.
Women and girls line the streets and splash them with cold
water. The mid-night Hadaka Matsuri features nearly 10,000
males who prance without clothes through the city streets.
Many attend with an eye to having fun. Goto-san tells me
he has an ulterior motive. He wants to celebrate the night
his son matures. He wants to see the boy walk about without shame.
He promises to commemorate his own father’s military service
and the sacrifice of Japanese soldiers to the defense of the nation.
Goto-san can’t wait to drink to his son’s masculinity.
Day of the Lord
America is the only country in the world that doesn’t
maintain public toilets. Enclosed spaces invite indecency.
Even the homeless get horny. They defecate in the open
like monkeys in Delhi. The streets reek. Men and women strut
around like pigeons. Their depravity has gone viral.
Nobody objects to the Bushes (and their billions);
it was Nancy and her lust for fine China that drew rebuke.
We fear hunger. We can smell fear. Most would prefer
war to lust. Charles Manson was more highly respected
than Timothy Leary.
You can’t blame a man like Obama who wants to be rich. What’s
50 million dollars between friends? After eight years in the White
House he is bidding for his own basketball team. Greed is not
unseemly. But we don’t like that man in the White House
who eats McDonald’s.
Whitman called for a poetry of exaltation. Brecht: a poetry of thought.
We got a poetry of despair, written by alcoholics and the suicidal.
We’ve embraced the William Gaddis school of gigantism, like
Soviet architecture and aerial photographs of four-leaf clover
interchanges. Like elephant turds, they are impressive.
Construction has been funded, but nothing’s been set aside. 3000 public
schools were built in the 1930s, but there’s no money for upkeep.
Students tear pages from school books to wipe their asses. The pipes
on the 3rd floor are plugged up with Dante. The girls’ bathroom is
flooding. The Principal’s answer is to tell the students to stop reading.
Kirwood McMann head custodian at PS109 preaches every Sunday morning
at the Magnolia Street Church of Christ. He recites the oracles of woe as he
unloads 43 rolls of toilet paper from the trunk of his 7-year-old Cadillac Sedan
de Ville. When I complained to him about my filthy classroom, he looked
up and said, “Why you gotta say “filthy” when “dirty” will do?”
Rev. McMann tried many times to explain to me the ways of the world. “The
people,” he preached, “have forgotten how to do right. This country is filled
with wealth taken by theft and violence. Sundays are too long. People can’t wait
to get back to cheating the helpless. And you say your floor is filthy. It is you,
you sir, who is filthy!”