Here is the second of two sets of additions to the novella Artifact Panel. If you’d like to see the original 10,000 word excerpt, click here. The other set of additions is here. You're also welcome to contact me directly. Again, these additions are NOT in any way a sequel or linear continuation of Artifact Panel. These are all pieces that would be arranged among those existing in an order as yet to be determined. The hope is that the finished, final version of Artifact Panel would be a small odd book or chapbook, full of white space.
Additions to ARTIFACT PANEL
Until I joined the ritual during the day, I had no idea that the abuelas, aglow, are always carried in using antlers.
The gringos grieve. Someone’s beloved sister, not yet old, had just received a lung transplant, but as soon as she got home she fell and broke her hip. Back in the hospital, she up and died, off-handedly, it seemed. An accidental death: she didn’t mean it. She suffered, struggled, died, but now all anybody says is, She had just gotten entirely new furniture. Everything. The very best! Entirely new.
I apologize for not being a better devotee, a real one. For drinking red wine at noon even on the day of the ritual. I promise not to erase, not to knock out. It’s just -- if I have any chance of making it through this day -- the volume has got to go way, way down, at least for a few hours.
The Red Onion has bumped its price for a cooler of beers (that’s 6) from 100 pesos to 120. Now the Canadians must do research. I am a slow person. A person who only figures things out much later. Therefore it is only now dawning on me that -- the Canadians are not actually so relaxed. Don’t the Canadians seem relaxed? I thought so. But this is just the time allotted for relaxation. And these are the allotted beers.
Certain gringos have adopted me as a sort of mascot. Me and my adorable earnestness. A limp, lopsidedness, and just 3 sets of clothes. They buy me beers and shots. I am their queer performing dog. See how the dog speaks correctly. The dog speaks so correctly it’s funny! Today my patrons buy me lunch because they are thinking of going to India. (Because they drink Bombay Sapphire?) At the mention of Bodh Gaya, Varanasi, Dharamasala they do not even perk up. And so I ask them, How good are you at being cheerfully uncomfortable? And right there, that’s the end of India.
No, that’s too bitter. It’s only fair if I admit how very much better I am at being a dog than at being a man. Not only am I more successful as a dog, I’m also more comfortable. Almost all my qualities are better suited to a dog than a man. I am a good dog. Doggishness suits me.
I am what is called a white person. These people also are called white people. Therefore, it is expected I will naturally belong to them, understand them, and not find them bizarre. Something has seriously broken down. What is the problem with white people? Over the centuries, many answers have been suggested. I refuse to believe there’s something inherent. I just wish to hell they could find something to talk about besides their ongoing struggles with the cable company.
Most of these poor blanched gringos, living from one Tangueray to the next, think that any topic the least bit interesting is highly controversial. Thus I’m careful always to refer often to drugs, orgies, moneyboys, the sauna. Not that I’ve done any of that lately, but, you know, it means SO much to them! It is my karma yoga, my sacred duty, to be a bad homosexual. Yes, it gets exhausting sometimes but -- CONSIDER THE ALTERNATIVE.
I remember a friend, also a husband, describing the depression he fell into when, after 7 months of intensive Japanese study, he could understand, at last, what Tokyoites were actually saying. In the same way, perhaps it is unfair that I esteem more highly my Mexican friends, whom I seldom understand in full. For all I know they’re congratulating themselves on having made canny real estate decisions, same as the fucking gringos. I don’t think so though. I can say with certainty that I have not heard the word chardonnay.
Sunday night at Anonimo, the lawyer and the ink brush bear are there, drinking up 10 peso beers for the umpteenth. In the absence of the angel, some scraping is necessary to come up with the semblance of liking me. They make an effort to be pleasant. Is that not commendable? “I pretty much like you,” says the ink brush bear. (“Twinkie bear” is what the miniature drunk Irishman at the bar calls him.) The lawyer thinks I’m a dumbass and he’s probably right, but his world-weary shtick, too, is well-worn. They do have some specific tortures they practice: about every 8 minutes they take a group selfie, angled in such a way that I am cut out of it.
Protagonist, summary: Despite being so sensitive it might qualify as an actual disability, he reliably seems too dumb to notice anything.
When I am, at last, awarded my own personal psychiatric nurse, that strapping professional -- a compassionate soul possessed of encyclopedic knowledge, tight white pants, enormous biceps, as well as a few stubborn, stiff, dark hairs which jut from the collar of his tight white uniform -- is going to know that I am no more allowed unlimited coffee than I am allowed unlimited cocaine. My wise nurse will require me to wear dark sunglasses. And just the same will bark: no leering! Please keep in mind: just because I am depraved does not mean I am a bad person. It’s just that I need a lot of strictness. An awful of strictness.
My brain makes its own drugs -- how convenient is that! After trying a few of the manufactured kind, my brain appears to make its own more nimbly, more potently. What I mean is that I have absolutely no problem putting myself out of my own mind. It only takes time. And often no time is needed.
I remember years ago, in Chicago, strolling through a market with one of my artist friends. (ALL my friends were artists, naturally, but he was one of the real ones, one of those who, you know, actually got down to it.) I pointed at a massive display of gingko biloba and asked, Does that stuff really work? My friend shuddered and said, I couldn’t stand to be any smarter than I already am. I swear to you, he wasn’t arrogant, wasn’t an ass, he really meant it. In myself I note the false assumption (is it definitely false?) that if I thought and felt less I would be more able to live. Therefore: liquor, pills, poppers, coke, meth, meat, insomnia. The downright pursuit of damage. A muy, muy bad idea, for sure -- but very understandable, innit?
Ideally of course there would some means of calming down that did not skirt death. But this is a work in progress.
Not to excuse myself. No way. Simply to recognize that virtually every single fucked-up, obsessive, addicted thing I do is actually nothing other than an attempt to calm the fuck down. Fucked up! No excuse. Just the same, I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my sympathy to the rest of human civilization, presumably struggling likewise.
3 acts. The final act begins on a broken street. A big man jumps: a glacier of pavement tips up, so massive I fear I’ll be crushed. I shout, Why am I never told what to do? But when I try to step back, I fall forward instead, the glacier falls and I am sealed, as though within a grave. The grave, however, has a false bottom so that I fall through, into a world which is subterranean and benevolent, antipodean and hushed. A trickster is there, in his violet vest and little beard, along with a sign explaining that we will be having tea for exactly 7 minutes. “Your day and night are switched?” He nods. A rice porridge is prepared with vegetables and egg. Eating it will restore me. Also I am given pens, refillable pens, which reveal to me that death is not in any way a problem.
The other two acts are less clear. In the first I am murdered by a flinty-eyed gunman and lie dead in the street thinking, that’s it, the dream is over now. The plot to kill me had involved deceptions complicated and immense, exhausting to unravel, also boring. I was dead and no one minded, including myself. I lay there feeling kind of disappointed. Honestly, I thought be more to death. I might as well go on. The second act is entirely lost -- though, who knows, it may yet turn up. I know it included that tender, hushed, antipodal world, so that when I returned there in the third act it was both familiar and welcome.
That which is called Imagination -- if only for reasons of safety. Jolting awake in the candlelight to hear the shaman sing and to note, That’s funny. There are more invisible people here than visible ones. I don’t have a problem with that -- it’s that kind of party. I can’t actually see them, which is disappointing. Don’t you, too, tire of making do with inklings? I want to see with open eyes, straight on. Sometimes that is necessary. Otherwise you may wind up marooned in “reality”, the official and authorized version, which is all the time flashing its badge and acting like boss.
The very most lightening thing, the most cheerful, the essence of subversion, of escape: to abruptly find oneself able to perceive the screen, the space, the light and hum, and not just this mismatched picaresque, so nonsensical and so doomed! It would just be too unbearable sad (too unbearably stupid!) if it were possible to take reality (“reality”) as seriously as reality (REALITY!) demands to be taken, like the stomped foot, in a shiny and responsible shoe, of a determined 6th grader giving a speech to seek re-election to the Student Council.
Temazcal at dawn to complete the ritual. This handsome rat-faced man mimics the way the stupid gringo sobbed during the peyote ceremony. Count the scars on his lean chest beneath his nipples: 4 times he has been a Sundancer. Only in the morning, when it was all over, did somebody tell me, Peyote’s only really bad if you’re stuck in your own mind. It’s perfectly fine this warrior makes fun of me. Weakness is the husk of my strength, the first layer. That rat-faced man is dancing for the whole world.
One thing I saw: the pretty young girl who knelt beside me after I’d been sobbing for a long time. She showed me a bottle. I’m not gonna lie to you, I was hoping it was something to drink, something no less than 100 proof. But, no, it was for anointing. She poured some of the oil into her palm, touched it to my forehead and at once turned into blazing light -- this slip of a girl! She was brighter than the fire. She was so bright I could no longer see her. And, far gone as I was, I was with it enough to consider both sides of the non-sided thing: here she was, a goddess, arriving to remove in a flash all my pain, and, at the same time, a teenage blonde, with something she bought at the hippie shop, doing what she imagined might help.
* * *
Redheaded widow in mourning, sunset on storm clouds, I look up from swimming to see the angel already standing on the beach, though he usually stayed in till full dark. He seems uneasy when I join him on the sand. Tres veces. How dyou say? Three times. Bump. OK. Bump bump. Follow! Just a big fish. Medusa maybe. Maybe a sirena. Man sirena. The angel mimes being pulled out to sea. A siren! I say and (predictable, sorry) I mime a merman with tackle so immense he needs two fists for it. The angel shakes his head. Siren for you, no for me. I’m top! Siren no ass.
By accident, I swear, I bought Corona Mega instead of Corona Familiar, so that the angel and I were drunk in the waves, the beach nearly deserted, and the angel snuck off his shorts in the water, handed them to me and went off happily swimming, his smooth ass bobbing up now and then, then swam back and demanded that I do the same. (Evidently this is the Mexican version of caution: one man naked at a time.) The angel returned to shore, then carried his phone back into the waves to take pictures of me -- he almost dropped it -- is it conceivable that this is a mutual love we are having?
How sweet it is to swim on Sunday morning among families on holiday and hide from the sun beneath the pier. I can swim a little now, at last. No doubt it looks like flailing but -- I move from place to place. Now, as the angel climbs onto one of the barnacle-encrusted pilings to dive, he stumbles, his goggles fall from his hand and, before we can reach them, they sink. Listo! says the angel
listo. . .