“Horseshit,” whined Penny.
“Actually, Penny, Jereme Michalek worked primarily with orangutang excrement on account of the anthropomorphic …” Penny’s teacher trailed off. She didn’t have a clue what she meant. She had dreamt of being a ballet dancer, a tailor, a docent at a hot, seafaring museum. And now she was splitting hairs about turds. At least, she chortled to herself, she wasn’t splitting turds. Is this how it always went, crap artists all the way down?
Penny and the rest of the class had completely checked out. Their mousy professor was thumbing wildly through a philosophy textbook or a high school yearbook. She was all thumbs, two left feet, a real Zooey Deschanel in Virginia Woolf’s clothing. At least she had the presence of mind and vanity to keep making “wolf” puns.
Penny’s computer cruised through the typical bohemian laundry list: “The Found Art Journal of Lost Ideas”, “Pepper’s Transvestite Freak Farmville”, “Whole Foods”, “The Jane Fonda Revue of Godardian Fancies.” Growing up in Studsbury, Kentucky or Tennessee — the one with the panhandle, whatever — Penny was a real unique customer. Here he was just another emaciated boy with feathers woven into his hair and an ironic Morrissey-mooning-the-camera tattoo.
“Furthermore,” droned the professor, having finished ripping pages out of the phone book, “Jereme denied having ever even seen Dunston Checks In.”
The class had dismissed themselves hours ago.
Defeated, but elated that she didn’t have to babble anymore about the fecal tendencies of mid-century outsider artists, Professor Lady slumped down in her chair. Her students’ horrible essays were shat across her desk mixed in with pieces of the yellow pages. God, these freshman theses were bad. “The Totality of Things: A Found Art Project by Penny Worthbit.” Don’t aim too high there, Penny:
Tin cans, rusted beer tabs, a short run of twelve-foot-tall Taschen books about the rise and fall of this or that movement. To the ordinary man, just a bindle of forgotten times. (A bit too lyrical, Penny.) To me, though: objets d’art. (Why is this in a different language, P? Is there a specific usage of the idiom you are referencing?) This pile of Topps cards of the 2009 Orioles (Mediocre synecdoche, sugarplum) shouldn’t be anything. But in the sweet, dumb smile of all this crap, we can really see things completely independent of human thought. (How did you possibly come to this or any conclusion, you firm piece) Yes, it’s mostly old chairs with rotten caning and some shoelaceeeeees. (Spelling) But wrenched free of the normative societal shackles (Yucky alliteration, baby) and put together in an entirely meaningless fashion, (Huh?) The Totality of Things begs the question, “Whis is this?” This is everything. One man’s trash is another man’s eudaemonia. (Cliché, my sweet)
You weren’t supposed to hate your students this much. Then again, you weren’t supposed to sleep with them. Lady mimed a ba-dum-ching motion, praying that a laugh track would come and split her right in two.
The totality of things was a real tough. If this was a story about Groucho Marx, we would say that he smoked like the totality of things. Then again, it was impossible to tell whether the totality of things was smoking or whether you just happened to be fixated on one of the many burning piles of scrap paper in Penny’s freshman thesis. “Ambiguous, just like the doctor ordered,” read Section 3.4: Puff, puff passive. What wasn’t on fire or about to be was an oxidized tangle of I-beams, H-beams, non-alphabetical building components, and chairs. When the totality of things talked, it did so in a grotesque tintinnabulation.
To be fair, most of the totality things was found art. But that’s the thing with found art. You could go crazy separating the found art from the lost art, the lost art from the junk, the junk from the unartistic children of enervated foremen. In a sense, it was all found art and, as Jereme Michalik notoriously proved in his Last Shit Conjecture, all found art is lost art. As the Real Househusbands of Allentown demonstrated, junk is indistinguishable from the unartistic children of enervated foremen. The whole thing proved very little but Penny was convinced it proved a lot. It was garbage from germ to gloss.
The receiver hung with the torpor and silence of a Big Mouth Billy Bass ripped off its placard and stripped of its batteries.
“Hello … helloooo. Goddammit, is that you again Ludwig?”
“Ahem, erm, this isn’t the, umm, Madame Manon’s Secret Friends’ Line?”
“No. This is Professor Lady. You have made this mistake twelve times in the last week. Three times today. If you want to talk to me –“
“Of course, of course. The speed-dial and all … I suppose that’s how speed dials work … the cruel determinism … the praxes of … telephone –“
“I really could use someone to talk to though. That student I’m sleeping with, his work — if you have enough charity and malevolent humor to call it that — is just bemusing.”
“But what compels me to call you … to answer … call and response … ten-hut … and the ants go marching down … in the ground …”
“I feel like he is trying to make a masterpiece, but the pitiful instruments God has given him, all of his pitiful instruments, are just unsuited for the job. I mean an American Pickers studio lot filled with found art, charred furniture, twine, stuffed cats … I mean half of the thing was on fire when I saw it.”
“Yes, yes … the implied contract between dialer and dialed … the normative weight … laconic only when necessary … the meaning of the call comes from the response … no, there must be more …”
“And the title of the piece, ‘The Totality of Things’ …”
“What did you say? The Totality of Things? It’s a false God, a snake-oil salesman peddling its material truth with the currency of equivocation. Loosely speaking it is, but, insofar as we say, think, or assign the predicate of being, it can’t possibly …”
“Yeah, I mean it just kind of sits there. Burning. Should I fail him?”
“Oh, yes, whatever … uninteresting and deceptive … at what point God … always occluded …”
“What? Oh, nevermind.”
His thoughts rumbled prismatically. Each spark of an idea immediately splintered into several hundred dissenting opinions. His — or perhaps her — head was not right. She kept listening to that Michael Jackson ditty, “The Man in the Mirror.” There were several mirrors and a few “hot rims, chromed out eleven hundred” that were reflective enough. But even with these considerable resources, the Totality of Things was having a hell of a time sorting himself out.
Why had he let Penny create him? That’s the trouble with invention. Some ectomorph in a four-cent button-up gets credit for you simply because he shifted around language a bit, made it range over what was now you. Previously, you were just as much. Now, you are a thing or a whatsit, a Sham-wow, or, in this case, all-encompassing.
Penny sat in the corner, ignorant of the crisis. He had smoked a healthy satchel of doobage and was crestfallen that his attempts to hot box a Chinese lantern had failed. It was probably for the best. Quite a lot of the Totality of Things was on fire Texas-esquely, and Chinese lanterns are notorious for not doing well with smoldering roaches.
Like every artiste, Penny was homeless, which meant he lived in an abandoned television lot that also served as a Vegan brunch hall, a pop-up corduroy pants boutique and a funk revival club. An unmentionable amount of chickpeas had found their way into the Totality of Things. Penny’s professor joked that he was on the verge of making the Totality of Hummus. Penny didn’t laugh. Neither did the Totality of Things. To be completely honest, the Totality of Things was a humorless prick, with the one notable exception of an old laser disc of one of those Saturday-morning episodes of Wittle Quine.
Hullo ol’ friend.
Screw you eh? We ain’t your mates.
Puck delivers a ROUNDHOUSE to the FIVE YEAR OLD’s FACE.
But I thought you might like to play in my strawberry preserves fortress and fight the evil Queen Mab, made entirely of Melba Toast.
Buck crushes the ornate crispy sculpture of an all-too-busty lady sovereign.
How’s about you scuttle on and fo’get bat us, so we can go back to that big-chested woman’s dream. Aooga. Buck’s eyes pop OUT of his head like a Go-gurt in the hands of MAGNUS SAMUELSSON.
Puck’s tongue shoots out of his mouth and begins to spin like a sideways HELICOPTER. It goes faster and faster until it flies out of his MOUTH like a SLING.
You’s chappies a’ no fun a’ ah.
You imagined us. Why didn’t you make better friends?
A’ ‘ont ‘are a-ee-ore.
Mark Zuckerberg shoots HIMSELF in the HEAD. The theme song “All My Fake Friends Are Dead” begins to play.