This is the text that came out of our first ever Exquisite Code performance, held at the apartment of Brendan Howell and Sabrina Small on ???? in Berlin, Germany. The participants were:
the moon was almost full and her eyes were almost blue. this was her first time at a honky tonk bar and the men were not at all what she had expected. she thought surely there would be very tight jeans and cowboy hats and bootts but these men were dressed like your average construction worker...carhart pants and baseball caps. and the music was nothing like the hank williams and willie nelson she'd been hoping for. it was vince gill and shania twain and it was awwful frankly. starla stared at the men around her and willed them to ask her to dance. ask me god damnit. she thought this but was actually smiling coyly and sipping her roy rogers. next drink will be a gimlet she thought. a mechanical bull started somewhere in the back of the room and starla turned around to see a woman in a tube top--god how typical--flinging her arms back and howling her yeehaw howl. when she gets off maybe i'll get on. starla thought about the power of visibility in these desperate pick up situations and she thought about how visible she was at that moment. she was wearing red, tight clothes, and her hair was very voluptuous. she had a good deal of makeup on and glittery earrings. her age was a factor. she was 47 and she looked it. the makeup helped a little but basically she looked like a woman who has grown children and maybe the men in here knew that despite the complimentary lighting. ONe man had a blue sweatshirt and gray hair and starla focused all her sick desperate energy on him. she scanned the room again and then got up to go to the bar. her high heels clicking like teeth
the way to the bar was paved with many characters. there was a dancefloor with a disco ball and a few couples slow danced with a lax sort of energy. then there was a hall of famous western photos--johnny cash, dolly parton, will rogers and other older western stars Starla couldn't recognize. Starla thought about how these people were dead now and how there pictures didn't excite anyone that much despite the fact that they had become famous which is what the average person hopes will happen to them so that when they die they won't be forgotten. THe bartender looked up at Starla and she sensed in her paranoid way that he smirked at her. She wanted to get her gimlet and get the hell out of there. the bar was cluttered with bottles and their were wagonwheels with little christmas lights on them. starla thought about how her voice would sound when she ordered her drink and she tried to get a husky tone in mind. she perused the bottles like a woman who just came into some money peruses the high priced shoes at saks. the bottles were different and more colorful than she had remembered. there were bottles that looked like little virgins and bottles that looked like sexual deviants. the bartender nodded to her and she slid her hand across the bar. "I'll have a gin gimlet, hendricks not the cheap stuff."
The bartender nodded his polite nodd again and fixed her a gimlet. She scanned the room once more. scanning was an obsession with starla. When she faced the bar again her drink was ready and the man in the blue sweatshirt was standing to her left. He looked about 40 but starla couldn't really tell. he had kind of a meth face. really tight skin around the jaw and a hollowness to his eyes. starla looked over at him and smiled, lightly she hoped, then she reached into her purse and began to take out a 10 dollar bill. The man in the blue sweatshirt walked over to her side and asked with a silky voice, "You wanna get another one of those for me sweetheart?" In her mind Starla was absolutely floored by this. it was the opposite of what she wanted. she felt like an old gay queen buying drinks for young beautiful guys. but this guy wasn't even young or that beautiful. despite all she was thinking starla just shrugged and asked the bartender for another gimlet. she hoped he would make it the regular way with the cheap stuff since she hadn't specified this time. but then he went for the hendricks and starla felt her heart fly into her ear. she took out another ten and laid it on the bar.
"I thought I told you not to come back here," a voice tremeloed for a second behind her, and then settled into a surprisingly solid baritone. "And I thought I told you that I wouldn't be quite so understanding next time."
She whirled a tight 180, too fast, and a faint but familiar sensation, a sensation that burned itself into her inner ear's memory from a dozen or so adolescent ballet classes, triggered an old response and she jerked her waist back in the opposite direction from the momentum of the initial impulse, planted her foot with too much force for her heel, and saw the edge of the bar coming at her, not so well varnished and routed without much care, said her prayers in a sense, made a last inept attempt to avoid the impact by arching her back in a way that a woman with grown chidren should know better not to attempt by this point, and then gave in, wishing she had loved more, complained less, and accepted that invitation in 1997, on a cold street corner in lower manhattan, for sushi, even though she knew she would probably have to excuse herself to the bathroom to puke.
The impact was softer than she expected, somehow fleshy. A hand. "I wasn't talking to you, honey," she heard, and then passed out from the pain shooting through her back.
The dreams were never this good, even when she had paid too much for them, even when she had ventured into parts of the city against which her parents had long cautioned her, usually on the arm of someone swarthy and in a leather jacket and full of beer and promises, and then waited for more than an hour in a bare room under the overpass smoking generic cigarettes and pretending to be interested in the mossy fishtank or yet another screening of that scene with the germans in the Big Lebowskii. they were vivid, colorful, dynamic, exciting, sometimes surprising (and vaguely reassuring) in their complexity and their sensuality. They were violent, disturbed, childish, obvious, slowed down a bit too much or a bit too speeded up, existing in several dimensions simultaniously, suggesting past lives or future ones or possible diverged possibilities from lost opportunities and tragic last minute charges to the chicken exit, or one more drink so as not to remember. Perhaps, she had thought while lying in the arms of someone or other in a barish room on sofa cushions removed, somehow, to the floor, sucking hard at the air above her for a single whiff absent stale chinese food, I am less boring than i had imagined i was.
This was nothing like that. This was not from her. This was gigantic and tiny, and so powerful as to make her, as impossible as she would have thought up till now no matter how hard she had tried, forget herself.
WHen starla was 13 she knew for a fact she would never be beautiful. she was at jessica's sleepover party with 12 other girls, all of them in the elaborate nightwear that was possible only in the 70's. they looked like a children's cast of the Beyond the Valley of the DOlls. Jessica was giving them makeup tips. She has swatches of fabrics in different colors and she was laying them on each girls shoulder and studying them accutely to ascertain whether the girl was a summer, winter, spring or fall. THe tone of the skin and the hair and eye color corresponded to different season. jessica herself was a summer. this meant she looked good in almost everything but especially bright vibrant colors. Starla sat down under jessica's watchful gaze and submitted herself to the seasonal swatches of color. "She"s no spring girls. THis moss green looks awful on her." The girls twittered. Next jessica laid out summer and the same was true. "Oh barf." then it was fall. "Well these aren"t as bad but they don't really do much for you starla. Mybe you're winter." Jessica draped starla in the cold shades of winter and shrugged then nodded her beautiful tanned head. "I don"t know. maybe you"re no season at all. maybe you're nothing."
"No no no no no. It's all wrong, I can't take it anymore!!! I've been working on this thing for 7 years now, and it's garbage!! It's worse than garbage, it's shit, it's the shit of the shittiest shit on the planet." Martin tore up every part of the script he could get his hands on in his first attack. In the next attack, he threw the rest out of the window and scattered the whole story, Starla's story into the streets and the canal that divided the neighborhood where he had been writing what was supposed to be his best novel. "Why did I ever think this could be anything... anything at all!! I'm the worst writer in the world". "no you're not, you've gone through this before. You've made mistakes and had to start over, but it has always turned out amazing in the end". "yeah, but this one is different, this one is horrible.. unbelievably horrible." "I'll never write again, never, never never...". "come on, yes we will. We have to, we have to do it for Starla"
How do you portray boredom? boredom and failure as an image...maybe it's those hang in there" kitten posters. or maybe it's the laundromat on a sunday when all those sad old people are washing their ratty old clothes. yes that's it. boredom and failure is the little brown stain in your underwear that never comes out. no matter how much you wash or use bleach it's always there. a reminder that you'll never be perfect. that someone might find your secret stain and know that you are sad and lonely and boring and a failure. and what is the portrayal of hope and success and excitement? what is the opposite of a shit stain? the opposite must be something like a beautiful piece of pie. this perfect slice of keylime pie with a meringue top. and you eat it and it is so full of promise and perfection and you know as your eating it that the rest of the pie is there waiting for you that the promise could last for a long time. for a lifetime in pie years. I want to be the pie and not the shit stain, Joe thought. i want to be the pie. he looked out at the canal and saw a mother with her two children walking and chatting. he wanted to be a part of another life, fuller happier life.
Joe lept out of his chair and chased down the stairs. He flung open the doors and scurried to the canal. he looked for the mother with her two kids thinking he would perhaps observe them but they weren't there. so he began to run. he jogged along the canal. it was winter and the ducks and geese were clustered in those few unfrozen spots. the ground was covered with gray snow littered with bottles and trash. he jogged and watched the women on the other side jog as well. he realized jogging was free. it cost nothing. jogging was a way to spend time outdoors with people and it was all free and you could go for as long as you liked. and if you did it every day there would be beneficial physical results. stronger legs and a better repspiratory system. But just as joe was thinking of all of this, just as his mind was floating in a perfect ecstatic place, his body collapsed. he felt a jolt in his stomach move up to his throat and the next thing he knew he was huddled over the stone canal wall, puking and heaving into the canal. when he finally stopped, he was looking down at the ice covered canal spattered in his own vomit. an old man walked by with a newspaper tucked in his arm and he began hitting joe with it. He muttered something incomprehensible, maybe it was french. and joe understood that it meant, you bum. you sick swine of a bum. how could you.
This was what he had been studying the language for. This was the moment. This was the reason he had fought against Starla, and Martin, and Jessica and the fucking honky-tonk. This was the reason he had chased that shadow of Starla underneath the overpass into this godforsaken place somewhere at the meeting point of long island and queens. This was why he had come to the small red house on the edge of the canal. This is what he had been running away from...seasons. Aging. Dancing and flirting and drinking and ordering fucking drinks and talking and hoping and then jogging jogging jogging jogging jogging jogging. This is why he had come here and desperate tried, each morning, to forget to know how to say how he felt and what he wanted. He and Starla, here looking for a new language...too old for this, too old. Too old to wear red, too old to pay this much or anything for new dreams. Too many old dreams. Too many memories of Starla. Too many memories of Martin. Too far to jog. Too many minutes or seconds wasted thinking about fucking Jessica, too many accumulated so that they take up some small amount of space, still so small, in the place that makes up a life, but enough space to be seen, to be catalogued, to be stacked, to be packed into a box that can only contained so many things when it's finally time to leave. So too much space. 'Bum', he thought....'how do you say 'Bum' in German?'