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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Speaker for the Arts

Reprint: it is for Christmas, and it is my favorite.



I was dreaming this morning at 4:00 AM. I know because I woke up as I finished my dream-speech, thrust my arm forward into the air, and fell onto the bedroom floor, having run out of mattress. I woke up, looked around, and remembered having raised my arm outwards, recalling the Levi's commercial which runs "O, Pioneer, My Pioneer!" with cuts of young folks running, jumping, hiking...remembering that the advertisement originally had a shot with a young girl standing nearby a statue, the scene lit by fire light, and everyone raising their right arms in a salute redolent of the 1930's and 40's and very Leni Riefenstahl covering events at Nuremberg. (The later edited versions of the commercial excised this portion.)

Ah, I said, I'm having a Hogan's Heroes moment. I am imagining myself as Werner Klemperer 's Colonel Klink being an absolute toady in front of General Burckhalter. Then it came to me: I had been at a meeting about the Arts, and we had been discussing something along the lines of making the Arts relevant for our community, and I had made a point and finished my speech with a flourish of the radius and ulna...or...and here's where it gets a bit dicey...it may have not been a flourish at all; I may have punched a lady in the face: it wasn't quite clear.

Now it may strike you as odd that we here in this community would have a round table about the Arts and end up fighting like animals in the octagon cage, but that's why we love this town, as Ernie Hudson ( in Ghostbusters ) might say; it is the wonder of its topology.

And it was a dream sequence. Don't forget that. That is an important point: dream sequence versus reality. The entire country forgot this distinction sometime back in the first decade of the 21st century, and imagine the egg on our faces when we couldn't even find any Christmas cracker bon-bons (those tubular constructs with pull tabs on the end you...pull, actually, and it goes...sort of poooof! crack!, and if you're lucky, you may get a small toy or fortune from inside it: party favors!!) ...couldn't even find a Christmas cracker party favor in Saddam Hussein's Holiday Pantry!
So - dream sequence (mind you, if anything profane or untoward happens, I am guiltless) and there is a goodly number of us Art types thronged into what resembles The Shop Around the Corner in the You've Got Mail version - or possibly Gepetto's workshop...or Heidi's grandfather's house...all very cosy, very woodworky, very alpine cum Hochzeit, very lots-a-booksy, library-and-roaring-fireplace-type things, as if Heidi's grandfather did a lot of reading, instead of rescuing stranded skiers from avalanches and giving tokes of brandy to lost pilgrims and what-not. (I think I may have mixed up Heidi's Opa with a St. Bernard, but it does not affect this story in the slightest.)

Anyway, in comes an artsy chick from the cold, layered with four layers of loveliness to protect her from the winter's chill, and she has a determined look on her face. To me, she looked like a Russian Ice Queen, and the sweep of her scarves echoed the sway of her long, pendulant braids! I can't quite see these braids yet, but I'm sure I will later. She comes in and makes an intercept course right at me, looking a bit peeved, and I'm suddenly wondering what happened to the fair damsel I kissed in the summer boathouse (dream sequence, again! dream sequence). Well, it was the guy behind me she was coming full speed after, not me. He was an athletic chappie in a Norwegian sweater; an Arno Breker type that looked as if he could have posed for any number of monumental statues of the 20th century.


An Arno Breker Statue


She reduced her forward momentum considerably as she neared us and hove to; her eyes flashed warning shots across our bows. He handed her some sort of poster or sign that had to do with the whole Artsy deal we were involved in, only it seemed to be about the size of an advert for the side of an autobus. She gave a look of "it's about time!", and secured it on her main deck (continuing the feeble metaphor of ships and vessels), did a 180, and strode off - not before sending the faintest Marconi wireless bit of electro-smile, a spark of white teeth flashing duh-duh-duh-daaaa!...and I heard Vera Lynn whispering that we'd meet again, and actually the time and place were quite well known: about midnight at her place...but it was all for Arno Breker, not for me.

I was getting light-headed from the exhalations off the warming bodies, when the meeting finally came to order, or as much order as is possible in a meeting of the artsy folks. My cousin - who had somehow infiltrated the meeting, obviously to cause trouble - suggested that Montag tell the assembly his opinion on what the group should do to to promote Art.
I heard my name and jolted out of whatever reverie I was then engaged in. (It never ceases to amaze me that even in my dreams, I am usually wool-gathering or daydreaming somewhere. I mean, how many drams of Nepenthe does one need?!)
I rose to my feet slowly, whispering fervidly to my neighbors, "What the heck are we discussing?"
"Arts." they said. "Promotion of..."
They seemed to speak as if they were assembling a card catalog with entries sorted by last name, or pretending they talked like Yoda:

" arts, promotion of "

and

" yourself, don't make a fool of " .

It was one of those dreams of school where one has not studied for the exam and you struggle to remember exactly what the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram looks like, and your hangover keeps humming a Max Steiner motif from " A Star is Born ", and you know you always get Frederic March mixed up with Raymond Massey, and you know you are screwed royally.

I slowly stood up. I thanked my cousin, greeted all the assembled worthies, verities, luminaries, heroes and heroines of the Arts...I kept it going while my brain spun like a Land Rover stuck in a mud wallow somewhere in Kenya. So while my tongue wagged like a red pennant in a strong offshore wind, the extra addition I had had built onto my brain was working overtime to come up with a plausible statement of intent. I knew it was working; I could hear the million typewriters being pecked on by the million monkeys I had hired to do such drudge scripting and editing.
Finally, a runner from my extra brain rushed into the main hall of my intelligence - a structure that eerily resembled a Big Top right now - and thrust a couple sheets of paper into my sweating hands.

"That's it." the runner said.

I looked at the scribbles in amazement and disbelief. "This...is it?!"

"That's it!" and he ran off.

I heard myself intone, "Now, to the main point of my remarks..."

I would like to say the room reverberated, but it was more of a rustling noise, bodies moving around, more layers of clothes being removed, and a distinct scent of eau de pissed-off was in the air, since everyone wanted to get their 2 cents in, and who the heck was this Montag feller anywho?

The lady in front of me popped up. She wore a Burberry scarf, and a brown leather coat. She wore black boots collared with fur over tight jeans painted on her legs, which themselves looked like two sharp stiletto blades pendant from her hips: she was an erotic Aphrodite-Scissors-Legs, used to cutting men in two with those mortal gams, and she was tired of waiting for me. I fancied I heard a whetstone being applied to steel.
She spoke as if I did not exist. She held her head directly in front of me. Her hair was the artifice of time and expense. It settled like a carpet for the Muses, and she frequently had to give one of those twist things women do when their hair descends upon their eyes...exiting it all to the side of the proscenium arch of her lovely face with a managerial flip of the head and combed by an ushering hand; that same fair hand she would not hesitate to knock me aside with.
The chairperson finally thanked her, even though she was not done, not by a long chalk. The chair mentioned that I had not spoken, or at least had not spoken to the point, and it still was my turn to speak, and - by the by - would I be kind enough to wrap it all up in a timely manner?

She glared at me. She sat down, plotting some revenge.

I spoke.
I said that all mankind are artists by nature. (That sounds good. They'll eat it up! Like greedy school boys cramming sweets into their mouths!)
The basics of living beings are the things they do, the crafts, things made, things found; what is Art but the transformation of craft and work and rote, things found and things made, into a higher level of life, the Aesthetic Level. (There was a groundswell of approbation coming my way....it almost made me sway as I stood there.)

If we were to reform the educational system to inculcate into each and every child the fact that Art is transformation of Life by discipline and theory and imagination, we would not have need of constant meetings to ponder what one should do about promoting the Arts, for -indeed!!- to paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge, Mankind and the Arts are my business!  
(Everyone was smiling and beaming, except the lady in the Burberry scarf. She turned and glared at me. Her very long scarf had loosened and one end had drooped to the floor, where I had covertly affixed it firmly with the toe of my shoe. And happily I had done so, for she decided to cut off my speech. She stood abruptly in front of me, only to be pulled back down, croaking, as her scarf pulled her back like an unruly mastiff on the business end of a leash. "Sorry,sweetheart," I muttered, as I removed the offending toe from the choke-scarf. I nailed that bogart!)


Returning to the Arts, I said that they are similar in this respect to religion; as St. Paul enjoins us to create within the spirit; put away the things of childhood, and transform yourselves!

At this point, some smiles sort of froze, as if someone had clobbered the individuals on the pate with a rolling pin. A dazed look unrolled over the room... Hastily, I dropped the religious stuff. Christmas had just passed, and everyone had had quite enough of that, thank you. Religion is a lot like cookies, food, and drink: one tends to overdo it during the holidays, and is, thus, forced to go on a rigorous fast after New Year's to try and get back into one's groove.

"The Arts are the business of mankind!" I said. "When this society realizes this, and teaches every child to live his life to its fullest potential, then the Arts will come into their own! " I said, not having a clue what any of this actually meant. I ended with my arm thrust out, saluting that brave, new world of the future.

It was at this point that I fell and kissed the floor, O, Pioneer, My Pioneer!

--

2 comments:

Baysage said...

If you can remember your dreams with this precision, you have transcended the realm of the usual, sir. But, I know you just kicked your pail of creative fluids over and spilled this wonderful holiday fantasy for yourself and me and anyone else who takes the time. I personally want to thank you for that pleasing interlude. Love the bit about religion and Christmas. Ain't it so so?

Montag said...

Thanks. I still laugh when I read it.