Clean the Bodies or Lay and Be Cleaned

March 13, 2010

My friend Greg got fired and moved back to Youngstown. He misses Brooklyn bad and likes to keep tabs on what’s going on here. Yesterday when we were chatting online he told me about an art thing he’d read about: “You have to check it out. The artists are going to be lying on the floor naked and you’re supposed to clean their bodies.” I like art sometimes and naked people most of the time, so I said I’d check it out. It was at English Kills Gallery, 114 Forrest St., 7 p.m. I arrived early. There were ten black mats on the floor and ten artists milling about, men and women, taking off bras and socks and what not. Next to each mat was a mason jar filled with water and a stack of linens. “Clean the bodies or lay and be cleaned,” read a small sign on the wall. It was one of those You Can Be In The Art Too things, but I was there to clean bodies, not to be cleaned. A big dude in cut-offs was walking around and giving orders: “It is now 6:58. At exactly 7 o’clock you are to be lying down on your mat. Do not move when a viewer cleans you. Do not talk. Your eyes must be open. You are to stay still for exactly one hour. Jeremy. Jeremy! Are you concerned about people taking photos? Let’s hope we don’t get too many pervs this time.”

At 7 Mark said, “Begin.” Jeremy removed the lens cap from the video camera and said, “Go.” It was time to clean the bodies. I walked over to the prettiest girl. Yes, predictable. I knelt on the floor and dipped a linen into the mason jar. Yes, I was nervous. I wrung out a few drops on her stomach. She didn’t flinch. Her breasts were lovely, but I kept things civil and cleaned her hands.

And enough of that. I stood up and walked outside. Jeremy was on the sidewalk smoking. You can’t just clean a naked woman’s hands in a gallery and not tell a stupid joke afterward, so I said, “How much for the girl?”

“Are you a serious patron?” Jeremy said.
“Yes, I am serious.”
“Come inside and talk to Mark.”

It’s always nice when someone returns your bullshit, and Jeremy had an expert deadpan. We walked inside and then into the back room and he said, “Have a seat on the couch.” The big dude in cut-offs came in and said his name was Mark. “Thanks for making it out tonight in this weather.”

“Sure thing.”
“So Jeremy tells me you want to take a piece home.”
“I do.”
“Which piece were you interested in?”
“The girl I cleaned, the pretty one in the corner.”
“Ann. Good thing you got here early, she’s the gem of the show. The piece is two thousand dollars.”
“I’ll give you twelve hundred.”
“The piece costs two thousand dollars.”

A guy in a suit walked in the room with his arm around a naked girl. “I left a check with Jeremy,” he said. Mark was disappointed: “Mitchell. You can’t have Bonnie until the show’s over.” Mitchell said fine and Bonnie returned to her mat.

“Are you goofing on me? This is a goof, isn’t it?” I said.

“This is not a goof,” Mark said.

“These people are for sale, for real?”

“They are pieces, not people. And yes, of course they’re for sale. This is a gallery. I don’t make money every time you come here and look at shit on the walls and say, ‘Very good. I feel it. I feel it.’ I sell shit. People give me money for shit artists make and Ann’s an artist kinda. Do you even have two grand?”

I’m not rich, but I’m employed. (I work at a fashionable hotel called the Hudson.) But man, two grand is two grand. Two month’s rent. And with our dirty-diaper economy I can’t be going around town buying people-art. That’d be tacky. So I said thanks but no thanks.

As I stood up to leave, Mike said, “Dude. Ann will be worth twenty times that in five years, I guarantee it. Don’t you know anything?”

“How will she be worth forty grand in five years?”

“Two reasons: One: Bradley Yingling, the artist, is a manic depressive flit who’s bound to hang himself one of these days. I just hope he does it in here. And two: Ann is only twenty. Women improve with age. Well, the good ones do.”

“Is Ann one of the good ones?”

“That’s the gamble.”

“How long would I own her?”

“Until you sell her. Or until someone steals her. Someone could steal her.”

“But what about her expenses, like food?”

“She works at Roberta’s so they feed her and, as her patron, you’ll probably get free food there sometimes.”

So I bought Ann. After the show was over she put clothes on and we took the train back to my place. Ann said, “So where do you want me?” I made space next to the aquarium and laid down a beach towel. I filled two cups with water and stacked napkins next to the towel. “All set.”

“So what’s with the kid in the kitchen?” she said.

Jill’s feral child was leaning against the fridge eating an apple. It took some convincing for him to quit Lunchables, but he’ll be better off in the long run.

“Jill’s kid,” I said.
“Who’s Jill?”
“This girl I got with.”
“Why is her kid in your apartment?”
“Because she died yesterday and I wanted to show him around Brooklyn.”
“Oh fun. Where’d you hang?”
“Marlow and Sons, then Habana Outpost. We wanted to hit up Char No. 4 but it was slammed so we got corn at the ball fields.”
“Nice. What’s his name?”
“I’m not sure. Want to give him one?”

Ann named him Ann. “It’s the only name I’m into,” she said. Ann liked my apartment, but she said it needed decorations. I said it already has decorations. “A dart board is not decoration.” She brought over her sketches (she draws weather vanes) and taped them to the walls. Each sketch was titled “Weather Vane” and then a number, so “Weather Vane 60,” for example. After sex she would talk about what the weather vane sketches mean. At first I hated them and we fought about it: “I can’t get any deep thinking done with all these weather vanes on the walls.”

“What deep thinking? We both know you’re just drinking and carrying on until the nukes start flying.”
“I’m opening a hotel someday, and I often think deeply about outer space.”
“But you’re not a do-er like me.”
“I do.”
“Do you? What have you done lately other than plan to murder a bum and frame the mayor for murder and then not follow up on it?”
“I was only murderous because I wasn’t getting laid. Men need to be either fucking or killing, you know, and after you came along I didn’t feel the need to murder anyone so, in essence, you’re the reason why I didn’t follow through on that one.”
“God. If you don’t like my art, you don’t like me.”
“I do like your art. I bought you because I like your art.”
“My art is different now.”

We fought often. She began taking baths and having long talks with Little Ann, and one night as I was eating dinner in the kitchen I could hear her say, “And that’s why he’s angry all the time. I’m not sure he’s worth it.” I yelled, “You’re not worth it!” and we didn’t have sex for a week. And then another week. I finally gave in and said she could keep the weather vanes on the walls, but only if she agreed to stay home with Little Ann on Wednesday nights so I could go to trivia at Pete’s. She said yes. She enrolled Little Ann in preschool where he learned more words and soon he was walking around the house saying them.

Next: The Fox in the Garage Part 3: The Meat

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