Archive for October, 2009

Lu & Mike

October 9, 2009

Lu took a sip of the cappuccino that she ordered specifically “with no chocolate on top.” She startled the waitress but Lu knew better – or rather, she knew that you never knew in which place they’ll sprinkle your milk froth with cocoa just like that. She sipped the coffee expertly and calculated if she should go for the New Brittany Salad, named after the place, or for the whole-wheat baguette with rocket and chévre cheese. It was a tie; the calories were almost the same since the salad was a thorough-bred so to speak, with processed meats and creamy blue cheese. Mike knew that the dilemma she was facing had sent her brain spinning, he could see her big blue, doll-like eyes nervously jumping from one item to the other on the menu; she was lost. As in: what would be more suitable calories- and nutrients-wise, how should she decide, and what might be more important, how should she decide so that she wouldn’t regret her choice when they finally brought the plate over.

He proposed they order both meals; he’ll have one and they can share which meant she could ultimately pick the one she liked best when seeing and evaluating it.

He thought back to the time when she hid her idiosyncrasies from him; she could get even more tense (or could she have? was it possible?). He would try asking what was wrong with her, considerate (yet rhetorical) questions, and she wouldn’t respond. “Are you ok, then?” he would conclude. She’d shake her red bob vigorously from side to side, like children do when they learn to demonstrate a no. “Ok, then,” he’d say and go back to whatever he was doing before, and then she would fall back into place after a while. Usually when the food came or when they finished eating and she was content that despite the difficult conditions she managed to divide her plate into quadrants and eat precisely 500 kilo-jouls. Or a similar number, he didn’t really remember; her System was elaborate and numbers differed from meal to meal.

If she didn’t calm down, he’d usually try to buy her something nice, or he’d take her straight home, lead her by her delicate white hand right into bed. That seemed to ease her. He was very proud of his expert bed skills until he found out what really did it for her – it wasn’t so much the hormones that flooded a normal human brain with ecstasy at sex; she was mostly aroused by the fact that she just burned a particular number of calories. He sometimes wished he could go back to those times when he wasn’t privy to the System.

He now knew that she preferred complicated positions not because she was wild or inventive, but just because it was a better exercise. Not that he didn’t take advantage of that; who was he not to. After all, there had to be some sort of reward for sitting through all those painful orders, the manic eye rolling when she tried to calculate, the eternal hunt for the ultimate health restaurant and the religious keeping to the schedule. The schedule was probably what he had the hardest time accommodating to. Before he met her, food was not an issue. It was not a subject, not an object, definitely not a riddle or a problem, it was just food. Mike was always the “I’d eat anything” kind of guy. In the last six months, however, he had learned that it was healthiest to eat 5 times a day, 3 main meals in 4-6 hrs spans, with so called snacks in between (98 percent of food didn’t qualify as a snack, so the choice was tough. They were permanently on the hunt for grated carrots). He learned to eat in ways he didn’t even know existed: vegan, live, raw, curry without flavor, noodle soups without noodles.

I mean, he thought, I kind of understand why. She was only thirty but with some pretty wild times behind her; there were supposed to be all kinds of substances inhaled, injected and snorted in the past. The System was her way to regain control over her life. When she first told him about the drugs, on the verge of tears, he thought, what’s the big deal. He had done his share of coke, acid and what-have-you back in the day himself. He still did, occasionally. It’s kind of cool she does too, he had thought, thinking back to the hyped-up chemical sex he used to enjoy in his twenties. He might’ve even stroked her bob to show her there was no reason to take it so tragically. But take it tragically she did. She explained to him that she used to be a-ddi-cte-d, in fact, according to the rules, she still was. She was an AA, technically. So? He always assumed that he was a bit of an abuser himself, although he never had a real problem. He just enjoyed the ambiance. Just liked blurring the edges of things slightly. He might’ve even picked her because she, with the sharp fringe and the screaming red hair, evoked the sense of a slightly dirty girl who liked to have fun in naughty ways.

They ordered the salad and the whole-wheat toast, yet when the food arrived he could tell that neither satisfied her; her face grew long. The waitress looked at him, perplexed, did I do something wrong?, and he so wanted to shrug, to wave Lu’s panicky behavior off, but he knew that by that he would only make his girl feel more insecure. So he smiled at the waitress and he made sure it wasn’t an apologetic smile, it was just a neutral grimace that said nothing.

Lu ate the lettuces, unhappy, and a little of the turkey breast and exactly four cubes of cheese; she moved the tomato rings to the brinks of the bowl because they made her stomach overproduce acid and the same happened to all the pieces of bell peppers because she had read somewhere that they, together with potatoes and tomatoes (one more reason to hate them), were microbiotically un-kosher.

That lunch was the tipping point; he didn’t know exactly why, it was probably just his patience giving up on him. Of course, the first thought was he had to kill her. But then, being an English gentleman (from a long line of Sirs of Levonshire, prounounced laiv-n-shy) and also realizing that he did have feelings for the fucked up nut, he decided to opt for a less dramatic solution.

Yes, he did consider talking to her for a minute. But that had proven pointless in the past – numerous, uncountable occasions when he kept repeating like a mantra what a beautiful person she was, exquisite looks and great personality, but nothing helped. She always stared at him, solemn and a little sad, as if she were saying I-know-you-mean-well-but-what’s-the-point. The most bizarre thing was that Lu was perfectly skinny. Once she gathered her courage and let him get “a horrible glimpse of the inside.” It was a longish monologue which he didn’t remember in full extent; as far as Mike was concerned, all this girl had was an ex-drug problem and maybe lack of self-confidence. One couldn’t blame her for that, not everyone descended from a long line of Sirs; et un plus – Lu had arrived in England from one of those post-Russian countries. He secretly dismissed her PhD in Psychology; never heard of that university.

“It’s about the space between my muscles – between the flash and the skin, do you know what I mean?” Lu had begun the horrible glimpse. “So. Aside from making sure that I give my muscles – the flesh, the best possible nutrition, so that they stay all muscle instead of loose jelly mash, I need to make sure that the connective tissue is super-healthy too. Actually, I’d prefer the space underneath the skin to disappear altogether. That is where fat cells like to nest. Have you noticed my skin? (nervous giggle) No cellulite. That’s because for years I have avoided F&S, fats&sugars. I think I started to do drugs because I wanted to make sure any potential F or S would be burned away. I imagine how the space between the muscle and the skin bloats after I eat something, and then when I get rid of it, how it flattens out again. Flat is what I want underneath my skin because only then do I feel light, not weighed down by unhealthy shit. It all comes down to health. You – for example – are fit, but you eat steak and potato wedges. I suffer when you do, because I know it literally rots in your bowels for days (at this point Lu actually shivered). It’s sickening.”

He mixed a light cocktail of 3 different drugs that night; they dissolved nicely in her morning acai tonic. He was hoping that together they’d give her (and him) about 4-5 hours of a sort of optimistic haze in which Lu would not feel overly self-conscious and on top of that she’d completely lose her appetite. No embarrassing orders for a while, that’ll be nice.

He hoped it would work but was nevertheless surprised how perfect it was. They enjoyed a lovely morning together, Lu didn’t count calories and she was telling him, in a very amusing way, what she was seeing. There was a pink elephant, she described him as huge, and she giggled when she said he was chasing her. He was stoked she didn’t draw a parallel, as she normally would have, between her and the oversized creature. Good, now he only had to work on destroying her sub-conscience – that was clearly still preoccupied with weight and chasing.

They spent a couple of nice half-days like this but it was getting harder for Mike to deal with her normal self when the drugs’ effect evaporated. It was so stressful to see her obsess about food even more in the hours when she was clean – she started panicking when she realized she hadn’t behaved according to the System.

He upped the cocktail. She was now on drugs for ten hours a day. After she came down, he had to give her another pill to calm her nerves and prevent the après, the moral hangover, so that she wouldn’t commit suicide because she had missed two meals. It was great; only the first two doses made her hallucinate and the final pill just made her relax. He wasn’t getting laid.

He went back to the lab he had borrowed from his friend, the maker&dealer, and added a sexual stimulant into the mix.

A true miracle occurred. Lu jumped on him exactly 40 minutes after she had drank the powder diffused in a Coke. They fucked for two days. She was so into it, he had never experienced anything like that. She let him take her from behind; from above – with her legs behind her head; in the mouth then in the pussy then in the ass; in any given order. It was a fucking orgy, he was living a dream.

*When she died on the third day, the doctor stated it was a heart attack and asked if she, by any chance, took any drugs. Mike said that she used to but she had claimed she was clean.

“I guess she lied to you,” the doctor said.

“I guess she did,” said Mike.

He then went back to his friend’s lab to work on the perfect potion – one never knew when one’ll end up with a crazy nutritionist again.

**When he died on the third day, the doctor stated it was a heart attack and asked if he, by any chance, took any drugs. Lu, still a little hazy, stared straight ahead for a while. Then the chemicals must’ve stopped working, or it was the shock that made her sober up. She squinted her eyes into hateful slits.

“All the red meat,” she said. “That’s what’s killed him. And the heavy cheeses. And the creamy desserts!”

“Right,” said the doctor. “I guess we’ll know more after the autopsy. Bye-bye now.”

“Doctor?”

“Yes, miss?”

“You wouldn’t have a snack on you, would you? A bunch of carrots, or an organic health bar?”

Lu & Mike, en Slovaque, in the Fall issue of Inspire magazine. Lu & Mike po slovensky v Inspire magazine numero Jesen 09.

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Dialogue with Conceptual Artist Kateřina Šedá

October 5, 2009

So they flew you in yesterday, huh? You came straight to the party then; that must’ve been exhausting. But you got to have a party – parties go together with artists, with visual artists especially, don’t you think? I guess you could say the same about musicians. And Hemingway.
I saw your work, your piece, this morning, when you were putting it up. Mine’s over there. We’re like neighbors. Mine’s kinda small-looking next to yours. Just kidding. I love yours. It’s just great, it’s a great idea.
You look a little Nordic, any ancestors over there?
That was a dumb question, pardon me.
You really flew in from that small village? Of course, from the airport in Prague. But you live in that village. And your grandma as well. How many kilometers? That’s what – about 70 miles from Brno? No, I’ve never been to Brno. Never been to Czech Republic, actually. Would love to go.
But so tell me – your piece, the whole thing up on the wall here, what is it exactly? All these drawings of screw drivers, nail sets, what’s that – ah – pliers. And a rake. Cute.
I see: items from a hardware store your grandma used to work in. She worked there for over 30 years? That’s a long time.
Yea, they’re great. Very… whimsical. Whimsical? It’s like eccentric, interesting in a cute way. How old is your grandma? The drawings are pretty good for a seventy-nine year old. Naïve – yes, but quite accurate.
It’s not about the actual drawings, is it? I imagine it’s more conceptual. The concept being saving your grandma from death?
Sorry, that didn’t come out right. It is what I heard though; I saw an article about it. You get a lot of media coverage, I have to say. Mostly indie magazines though?
No, I didn’t read the whole thing. It was a crazy time; I was in the middle of a project and everything kinda –. Nevermind.
Your grandma was depressed, that’s how it started. Sorry about your grandpa by the way. She was depressed and you decided you needed to make her do something. She wasn’t doing anything? Something besides gazing at the TV. What did she say when you came up with the idea? Or, like, how did you approach her?
All items – you asked her to recollect all the items she used to sell at the hardware store. Man, I can’t imagine I’d be able to remember all that shit. And I’m only 25.
Wait, so she in fact did come up with all the stuff! And then you asked her to draw it out. It’s a brilliant idea. Your family must be really proud of you. You know, that you invested so much time into this. Into your grandma. It shows how much you care. And it gives the whole project a social spin.
Yea, definitely.

I’m just wondering how you motivated her.
Of course I want to watch the video. Is that part of the exhibit?
I thought so.

Ha-ha, you’re kind of yelling at her here. You’re a stern supervisor, aren’t you.
This tells a lot about the process – about our work – how strict the regimen needs to be, no matter how expressionistic the artwork. That’s a great point.
‘What is this grandma? Name the object you’re drawing. And why are you drawing it like that?’ Phew, I wouldn’t wanna be depressed on your watch, girl!
But it did help her, didn’t it. Did she finally come out of the inertia?
Inertia? That’s like when you don’t care about anything. The state your grandma was in before you started your project.
She looks like she doesn’t care about this stuff at all. It almost gives you the impression she’s suffering. Did you make her do it every day? On the hour?
Six hundred drawings. Oh-my-fucking-god.
Look at the shaky captions.
She does it so mechanically. It looks like she’s only doing it because you’re forcing her. I know, I know. That’s probably the only option. Obviously, she wasn’t going to snap out of her depression after one session. But it does seem a little brutal.
With all due respect.
I saw your other works, and this is… It’s very different. I have to say I almost feel sorry about the poor thing. Just lost her husband, for chrissake.
How did it make you feel? Was it weird when she said that in the interview? When she said that the only things that fill her life are the TV and her dog?
Hm.
She keeps saying ‘Toh ye yenno.’ What does that mean?
And can I ask you something? When did you decide you wanted to make this into an artwork? I guess what I’m asking is: Have you thought about her first or last? I’m sorry, not last – second.
Maybe it’s not a legitimate art question. I’m definitely not trying to undermine your intentions, believe me. Just, you know, being curious.
What did you say?
‘It doesn’t matter?’
Is that what she’s saying or what you’re saying?

(The Slovak version of the short story Dialogue with Conceptual Artist Katerina Seda was published in the latest issue of the urban magazine VLNA, Retro. // Slovenská verzia poviedky vyšla pod názvom Rozhovor s konceptualistkou Kateřinou Šedou, The New Museum, NY v splietacom urbánnom magazíne VLNA, v aktuálnom čísle Retro.)