(Excerpt from "Totally Losing Face and Other Stories")
Two gray-haired, retired couples from New York waited outside in a long line at the Vincent Willem van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Friends for many years, the two couples were vacationing together this summer.
“Har, this line is just not moving, and it’s almost 3:00 p.m.,” said Harold’s wife, Bestelle, impatiently. “The museum closes at five.”
“Well, gang, what do you want to do?” asked Harold, confirming the time on his watch and then looking curiously at the other three adults.
“We could try that other museum over there,” said Walter, pointing to an avant-garde museum nearby. “There’s no line and we can come back bright and early tomorrow morn to give our respects to old Vincent van.”
“That one,” said Harold, pointing at the avant-garde museum across the street. “Looks pretty artsy-fartsy, maybe that’s why there’s no line. What do you think Stell, Edie?”
The two ladies looked at each other and agreed, “Fine with us.”
The four tourists nonchalantly walked over to the avant-garde museum, strolled in without a wait, paid the entrance fee and proceeded upstairs to the first exhibit.
“Now that’s more like it,” said Walter. “No waiting, no lines. Just in and out. They run a smooth operation here.”
“Speaking of operations, did I ever tell you about my hernia operation?” asked Harold.
“Oh, Har! Please,” begged his wife, Bestelle.
“Yes, you have Harold, numerous times, in all its glorious detail,” said Walter’s wife, Edie.
“Well, a good story is always worth repeating,” said Harold.
“Honey, spare us,” said Bestelle.
“All right,” said Harold frowning at his wife.
The foursome entered the first display room of metallic objects: Thrashed wrought iron gates, swinging I-beams, twirling stainless steel spheres. One display consisted of a welded metal box with a hulking amount of steel placed on top of it to make the entire work of art look like a gigantic metal tree.
“Hey, I could do that,” said Walter, referring to the display.
“I think any farm-hand could do that,” said Harold, equally unimpressed.
“Honey, have an open mind, this is art,” said Bestelle.
“My mind is open, but you’d have to pay more to have that piece of junk removed than you would to purchase the metal to build it,” groaned Harold.
As they meandered past the numerous metallic objects, they walked by a display with an artist verbally directing a metal lifting device. Work in progress: Flying Rebar, a sign read. The artist stepped around an array of creatively arranged piles of rebar and yelled at a confused worker commandeering the metal lifting device. A large welded mass of metal was swinging from the lifting machine, as the artist helped push the swinging mass of rebar and simultaneously pondered the best position for his work of art. “Move it over here, no there,” the artist ordered. The worker moved the lifting device back and forth as he grunted and dripped sweat all over the ground. The artist held a chain with a hook in one hand and tried to visualize where the work of art should hang from the ceiling to give it the most desired effect. “It must assume a flying motion, hence the name—Flying Rebar,” he confidently told the worker.
“It won’t hold from the ceiling,” said the worker.
“We’ll make it hold!” yelled the artist.
“Hey, that display kind of reminds me of the time I was working construction on the Lower East Side,” said Walter as the foursome continued walking.
“Was that the time your thermos fell from the fiftieth floor?” asked Edie.
“Yeah, it was. Damn near hit a taxicab,” said Walter.
“You’re lucky it didn’t kill someone,” said Harold.
“I’m lucky the coffee Stell put inside the thermos didn’t kill me,” he said with a chuckle.
“I heard that,” said Bestelle.
They walked into the next room which had various forms of modern products artistically arranged: Soap bars swimming, milk cartons exploding, tea pots percolating above cups and saucers designed to look like baby birds in a nest begging for food. Blenders a-blending. Toasters a-toasting. Toilets a-flushing.
They walked past another display entitled Trash IT. The work of art consisted of numerous mangled computer products mashed together.
“This looks like someone put their trash into a trash compactor and is now trying to pass it off as art,” said Harold, pointing to the display.
“Shhh, Honey, the artist may be around here,” said Bestelle.
“Don’t shush me,” said Harold. “If the so-called artist were here right now I’d tell it to his face what I think of his art. Nothing wrong with that is there Walt?”
“No, if you’re an artist your art should stand up to criticism. But I think the guy who designed that trash display probably got run out of town a long time ago,” joked Walter.
“Well, his art is giving me the runs, I’ll tell you that,” joked Harold.
The two wives just shook their heads.
They walked into the next room, which had various erotic pictures on display: Nudes, dildos, dicks oozing life, dripping wet pussies. Cock sucking. Muff diving. Ball licking. Titty tonguing. Spent men. Satisfied women.
“Oh my!” said Edie.
“Well, they can do what they want behind closed doors, but do they have to sell it to everyone?” said Bestelle.
“Sell it? They’re trying to cram it down our throats! And would you look at them, not a one is wearing a prophylactic. Shocking, simply shocking,” said Walter with a grin.
“I’d say, and how about a little romance first?” added Harold, snickering for effect while the two wives waved the men off.
The group quickly exited the porn area, then slowly wandered through a few more display rooms, soaking up the art. Between two of the sections, they noticed a small dark theatre with rows of seats and two projector screens hanging above a stage nestled in front of the seats.
“Hey gang, let’s go in this mini theater and rest our weary bones. All this porn, oops, I mean art is getting me all hot and bothered,” said Harold.
“Good idea, I need to adjust my pacemaker,” joked Walter.
They entered the theatre, eased into the comfortable seats and began watching the presentation projected on the two screens. On one screen was a movie about an avant-garde artist and on the other was a continuous display of the artist’s works. “Life is art, you just have to find your way to express it,” said the artist on the left screen.
The two couples sank into the soft seats and intently watched the program, along with a few other attendees.
About five minutes passed, then a man carrying a dirty green backpack and dressed in a worn out World War II army trench coat loudly descended into the theatre. He was thin, with long, graying brown hair tied into a ponytail. He jumped onto the stage with authority, while the projectors continued to display images above him. The grungy-looking man, who did not resemble the avant-garde artist on screen in the slightest, put his crusty old backpack in a free corner below one of the hanging screens and removed his filthy trench coat. He took out an old checkered tablecloth from his backpack and shook it; dust flew everywhere. The tablecloth sailed in the air several times in slow motion as the dust seemed to collect on the projector beams and float in suspended animation. He gently laid the red and white cloth on the dark stage.
He leisurely removed his grimy old boots, shook the dirt out of them and placed one at one corner of the tablecloth and the other on the diagonal corner. Abruptly, he jumped up in the air several times and began loosening up and stretching.
“This oughta be good,” whispered Harold loudly.
“Shhh,” said Bestelle, elbowing him. “He’s performing!”
“Don’t shush me! I hope he takes a bath on stage. He smells like one of Walter’s movements,” joked Harold.
“He smells like yesterday’s lasagna-induced one,” replied Walter.
“Honestly, you two. He’s performing! Shhh,” said Edie.
After the man loosened his neck, cracked his fingers, jogged in place and windmilled his arms, he finally looked like he was ready to perform. He took an old fedora hat out of his backpack and placed it in the corner at the right of the stage. He carefully knelt down and placed a large white piece of paper on the brim of the hat. Immediately afterwards, he jumped on top of the tablecloth at the center of the stage and quickly raised his hands in the air, hoping for thunderous applause. None was forthcoming.
(To continue reading this story, please purchase a copy of "Totally Losing Face and Other Stories").
Excerpt from "Flying Rebar," a short story in Hillel Groovatti's new book of short fiction entitled Totally Losing Face and Other Stories.