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PAPER MOON BY REX SEXTON

 

Other works by Rex Sexton

 

 

About The Author

 

Rex Sexton is a Surrealist painter exhibiting in Chicago and Philadelphia.  His award winning art has been exhibited in museums, televised on PBS, written about in newspapers, reproduced in magazines and included in national and international exhibitions.  His poetry and prose have appeared in cutting-edge literary magazines.  His short story Holy Night received an Eric Hoffer award and was published in Best New Writing 2007.  He is married to the neuroscientist Dr. Rochelle S. Cohen.

 

Acknowledgments

 

The author would like to thank the editors of the following publications in which portions of this work have or will be published: Straylight, Foliate Oak, Saranac Review, Mobius, The Poetry Magazine, Back street Review, Saturday Diner, Platos Tavern, Struggle, Waterways, Bear Creek Haiku, Transcendent Visions, Nerve Cowboy, Edge, Ardent, Poetry USA, Soul Fountain, Fighting Chance, A brilliant Record, Loves Chance, B&R Samizdat Express, Rusty Typer, The Externalist, Write On!!, Reflect, Art Times, Lone Stars, A Time of Singing, Babel, Clark Street Review, Stray Branch, Poets Haven, r.kv.r.y, and Marquis.  Passages from this work were broadcast on  The Language of Imagination Talking StickwwLuver.com, Berkeley California.  

 

 

For Rochelle Cohen, Jacqueline Roig and Richard Seltzer for reading and advice and for Ray Foreman and Lester Key for literary discourse and inspiration. 

 

This is a work of fiction, whereby names, characters, places, and incidents are the invention of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously. Any semblance to real persons living or dead, events, or locales is in every respect coincidental.

 

Chapter 1

 

Chapter 2

 

Chapter 3

 

Chapter 4

 

Chapter 5

 

Chapter 6

 

Chapter 7

 

Chapter 8

 

Chapter 9

 

Chapter 10

 

Chapter 11

 

Chapter 12

 

Chapter 13

 

Chapter 14

 

Chapter 15

 

Chapter 16

 

Chapter 17

 

Chapter 18

 

Chapter 19

 

Chapter 20

 

Chapter 21

 

Chapter 22

 

Chapter 23

 

Chapter 24

 

Chapter 25

 

Chapter 26

 

Chapter 27

 

Chapter 28

 

Chapter 29

 

Chapter 30

I

 

Drifter digs, you opened the door and flopped into bed.  A single naked light bulb dangled from a ceiling chain.  Devil shapes tossed the room as its harsh light swung with the windows wind.  Each night Ingbar listened to the druggies doing pratfalls in the dark, as they staggered back and forth to the washroom down the hall, or tried to maneuver through their tiny flops.  Across the alley a back street lounge sleep-streamed until dawn.  Jazz and blues filled the night with saxophones and wailing songs.  Silhouettes slow danced in the windows.  The music wrapped the night in dream, enfolded him in memories.

 

Tiny backyards amidst a huddle of rickety, two-story, wooden houses, all assembled in maze-like rows, like graveyard headstones, are what appeared when Ingbar closed his eyes, each one rigged with clotheslines in the summer on which white sheets fluttered.  His childhood and not his teenage years, which were nearing an end, seemed to be what he recalled most as he drifted off at the days end, those times when the world was new and impressions fresh.  But he was in between no where and no way out, at the moment, caught in the middle with time running out, living a ghost existence in a transient room, without a past to hold onto and no future to go to.  The future, it rolled off your tongue and flowed back into the past as soon as you said it a ghostly concept in itself. 

 

Everything had been ghostly to Ingbar when he was a kid, so maybe that was the attraction his years of absolute innocence offered, even the string of shirts and pants and underwear his mother hung on that clothesline, dangling there without bones or brains, or hearts or souls.  Death was haunting Ingbar, now,  as well.  His mother had just died of cancer.  His father had passed the year before.  Dead at fifty of misery, a common disease in his section of the city.  They knew all about death early on in his neighborhood.  Murder Incorporated is what you might have called its residents.  Everyone made their living in the Chi-town slaughter houses, where penned trucks would rumble down the streets each morning, carrying cattle, pigs, poultry, even fish to the markets and the smell of blood and guts, especially on the hot days when flies filled the air, buzzed around them from waking to sleeping.  It was a gritty neighborhood filled with plagues.  Everyone died before their time.  Death was what they all shared with the sad eyed cattle they slaughtered.  From childhoods hour you slept in a graveyard - Ingbar all but literally.  Death came knocking at his door right away.  Along with the grim reaper came his even darker brother lunacy.

 

When he was four he had the fever not Scarlet like many of his playmates but Rheumatic, which crippled him up for nearly a year.  Ingbar got to explore those fascinating states of mind involving delirium and hallucination, seeing and hearing things that were not there.  Illuminations in the darkness, fairies dancing through the air, throngs of jabbering comic strip characters crowding the bed around his sick room, and visiting imaginary lands only rivaled by those in Alices Wonderland.  Not really what you wanted going on when you were trying to keep all those A to Z letters in order.  But the visionary world, filled with spiritualism and mysticism, was an unavoidable component of the bedlam he grew up in   that madhouse of fevered impressions he tried to capture on scraps of paper with pencil or pen imitating the funny papers he liked to gawk at in his sick bed were followed by the tall tales about men who, once upon a time, lived in the bellies of whales, or who parted seas, walked on water, got messages from burning bushes, took the advice of snakes, angels and devils, a God who hurled lightning bolts, turned people into pillars of salt.  More deliriums coming at him just as he thought he had gotten rid of them. 

 

Every morning, attending the mass before school, Ingbar remembered as he lay sweating in the nights heat, now, turning into a puddle not a pillar of salt in his drifters flop,  he would sit

spellbound in the pew amidst the candlelit statues of saints and angels, the divinities and prophets depicted on windows of stained glass, the hallowed space haunted by the Virgin Mary and Christ on the cross, the once living God who had walked the earth.  All miracle and wonder surrounding him despite the fact that he had a normal temperature not a fever. 

 

Angels flew in the city of wind, back then, at least in their heads when they were kids, around the steeples of the churches, over the rooftops of the tenements, under the viaducts and bridges, through the gangways of the houses, down the narrow streets and alleys, above the fuming slaughterhouse chimneys billowing black smoke into the wind.  In a way they still flew with him, embedded in his imagination.   Maybe it was his guardian angel who kept him, so far, out of prison?  Perhaps it was the blessing of imagination that kept everyone out of the prison that was life and its sentence of desperation?  He recalled how he and his playmates used to blow up chicken gullets like balloons for the girls to carry around on strings, and played pirate with sharpened stockyard bones, which they sheathed in their clothesline belts, like swords, marauding through the neighborhood.  And how along the sidewalks, the girls played hopscotch, arms raised in the air like wings, hopping toward the Blue Sky with tiny, one-footed leaps

   all toys for poor kids and then there was

   the ragmans horse-drawn wagon

   the vendors and the junkman

the blind man tending his news stand

the derelicts picking through trashcans

the knife-sharpener bent over his whetstone, sparks flying in every direction

the pushcarts clattering through potholes

the pigeon lady tossing her bread crumbs

the organ grinders uniformed monkey tipping his cap to everyone for money

the storefronts food displays, gathering flies under the awnings shade

the maze of narrow, ramshackle streets crowded with houses, tenements, factories

  the pig trucks, cattle trucks, poultry trucks, crisscrossing from every direction, (chased by the mutts who added to the bedlam)

the nuns sweeping down the parish steps, winds rippling their holy black habits

the priests in their robes and vestments  praying in candlelight and incense

the old women in babushkas telling their rosaries in sanctified stillness

the legions of raggedy kids swarming the walks and streets and parks, amidst a menagerie of birds and cats and squirrels

 

All that was gone.  The stockyards had closed when he was a kid.  The neighborhood of

his childhood vanished over the years.  Now his parents were dead.  He was just out of high school

and on his own.

 

II

 

Pink combustion.  Blotches of flame.  Smoke funneling out of the towering smokestacks like sulfurous serpents roiling against the sky.

 

TRAIN!  Bigger bellowed.

 

Heat shimmered in the toxic air.  White flakes flew with the feverish wind, swirling
between the industrial buildings and glazing sun scorched ground like frost.

COAL TRAIN COMIN!

The earth shook and the tracks rattled.  The trains whistle shrieked through the swelter like a strangled banshee.  Ingbar shielded his eyes from the blinding sun.  Black as death the iron nightmare rounded the bend and charged the yard.  He watched Bigger lumber doggedly toward it, pushing his wagon sized wheelbarrow before him, broad back bowed, shoulders slumped, pick and shovel clattering in its wooden bin.  The death dream roared swiftly past him, winding helter-skelter through the maze of tracks and thundering between the buildings, hauling thirty cars brimming with coal, like metaphysical coffins, for Ingbar and Bigger to bury.

 

No mas!  Ingbar studied the blisters on his calloused hands and echoed the cry he had heard too often from victims of beatings in the Latino neighborhood he had just moved from.

 

No mas!  No mas!

 

Soaked with sweat, he laid his shovel and pick against his wagon.  He searched the towers, spires, domes, silos, the docks, walks, ramps, doorways, the sun struck windows and building bridges, the lifts, the track yard, the alleyways between the sprawling buildings.  He scanned every nook and cranny of the mammoth complex, looking for suits, white shirts, hardhats with clipboards, snitches, rat-outs, lifers, and squealers.  They were out there.  Ingbar knew.  And they were watching.

 

Screw the squealers. 

 

He dug out his lunch pail from his wagons wheel rim.  The thermos rolled and clattered inside the metal box as he reeled like a drunk through the blazing heat, staggering through the inferno toward the nearest shelter.

 

The sun was Satans eye watching him, relentlessly, through the smoke of hell as he climbed the rungs of the water tower ladder, lunch pail in his teeth.  Hell flared all around him as he ascended.  The windows of the towering buildings caught fire.  Heat quivered on the tarred rooftops.  The spires and girders were molten gold, flames shot from the forges and foundries, while bellows boomed, pumps pounded, gears ground and heavy equipment hammered.

 

Jacobs ladder.  Ingbar sucked through his teeth at the scorching air.  He looked down dizzily at the holocaust below.  The fuming complex looked like a bombed out city in flames. Jacob lived in a pit.  He had a dream of angels climbing out of it.  Neat trick.  

 

He pulled himself up and sat on the ledge.   Twilight Zone snow flew around him on the shaded perch. The elevated air was even more foul than the stench below.  He thought the back of the yards had been bad.  Argo Illinois was the armpit of the world.  Directly beneath him, the train was unloading.  Hydraulic lifts hoisted whole coal cars, one at a time, from their carriages and dumped their loads, one by one, on the conveyor which ran to the furnaces as the train lurched noisily forward, a car at a time.  Ingbar sat paralyzed, jaw locked, arms numb, fingers curled into claws from the climb.  He watched Bigger lumber down the line toward the bridge where the tracks turned and wound through the complex, forming a maze which steered cargo to different locations.  When Bigger reached the bridge, he would turn the cart around and lumber back, scooping up the coal spills shaken from the cars as the train rattled through the yard.  In the distance, another freight train was charging down the line. When this one reached the bridge, it turned away from the complex and raced toward Chicago. It was a hundred car leviathan, which would tie up traffic all along the industrial South Side as it wound through the neighborhoods.  The train was loaded with hobos.   They sat atop the boxcars and waved at Bigger.  They waved at the town.  The townies, no doubt, shot them the finger. The hobos, no doubt, smiled and tilted their bottles in a toast to the townies. They didnt mind.  They were headed for Chicago.   Chicago was hobo heaven, at least in the summer.  They could panhandle the streets filled with millions, sleep in the parks or flop in the missions.  In the winter they would be gone, once again riding past the town on their way to southern or western locations.  Bigger waved back at the army of drifters.  Bigger was congenial.  Bigger would spend the day whistling tunes and cleaning the coal off the tracks, while Ingbar, the new hired hand,  would slave in The Pit, a bunker below the hydraulic lift, shoveling the mountain of coal that missed the conveyor belts as the cars spilled their loads.  At the end of the day he would be as black as the dust he dug into.  Blacker than Bigger. 

 

Ingbar freed the lunch pail from his clamped teeth and laid it beside him on the ledge. False frost, created by cornstarch dust, settled quickly on it glazing the lunch pails picture.  It was a used, dented grammar school box featuring The Lone Ranger and Tonto.   The Masked Man was rearing up on his white stallion Silver and shouting  Hi Ho.  Tonto, his ever faithful Indian companion, raced into the scene on his pinto.  The Phantom and the Savage fighting evil with the silver bullets of truth, greedy cattle barons, greedy railroad tycoons, claim jumpers, robbers,  killers Rock on Ranger.  Ingbar had bought the box at the Dollar Store when he moved into the town after he got the yard cleaning job.  Its main feature was that, unlike a brown bag, it could accommodate his sketchbook and he liked to draw the buildings and the workers at the plant whenever he got a chance.  American industry was both hellish and amazing, as was drawing if you had no training.  Ingbar lived in the rooming house above the Dollar Store.  His window faced the Black nightclubs which crowded the alley under the bridge where the trains turned.  Beyond them the plant smoked and blinked through the night.  Freight trains rumbled through the darkness, shaking the walls, his bed.

 

Ingbar rotated his jaw and flexed his fingers.  Still stiff.  He looked at his watch.  Ten more minutes to Showtime.  Creatures features, Zombies on Parade,   The Day of the Living Dead.  Commerce. Industry. The president Regans Morning in America. And American Exceptional-ism fuming before him.  He claw dug through his pockets and pulled out a pencil.  Drawing at school had always gotten him into trouble.  It would probably get him fired and then what would he do?

 

Youll never amount to anything!  The nuns and priests and his parents would scold him when they caught him drawing at school.  Pay attention to your lessons!  Quit day dreaming and drawing!  Youll end up a bum if you dont get your schoolwork done!  The nuns were especially vigilant.  They would banish him, perfunctorily, from the classroom to the coat closet where Ingbar was supposed to sit in the dark and repent for sketching in his notebook instead of pondering his textbook and failing to pay attention to whatever they were saying about math, history, geography, religion.  Actually it was the stained glass windows which inspired him, as well as the statues.  The Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Bridgeport Chicago was a grand art house, cloaked in mystery and brimming with wonderments.  It was that cathedral more than anything that inspired him to be an artist.  Michaelangelo, that was his goal.  And his daily banishment to solitary confinement only contributed to his delinquency.  In the dark and silent closet he would lay on his stomach, where the light filtered through the crack beneath the door, and draw more. 

 

His parents were Russian immigrants and not religious in any sense.  The Catholic school he attended was merely a matter of expedience.   Who knew anything about religion in the Soviet Union?  Maybe his grandmother, at least a little, whatever that might have been, Russian orthodox probably.    A ghost, even then, in her faded print dress, dusted with flour as white as her hair, he used to sit at the kitchen table and watch her bake the weekly bread.  That always seemed like a holy act to him.   The bread ritual was a weekly miracle, at least to him.  Her wizened face glistened with affection each time she glanced in his direction. Her cloudy eyes squinted for perfection as she molded the mysterious dough and they listened to phantom voices on the radio.   When the stockyards closed and moved to parts unknown, his Polish-Irish neighborhood began to turn into a barrio, as residents fled to find work farther down the South Side and Mexicans moved into the houses which sold for a song.  His father, whose health had always been fragile, had developed carpel tunnel from making sausages ten hours a day in the stockyards.  He couldnt find work with those crippled hands, so they stayed and became landlords, renting out the second story of their house and the small carriage house in the back where his grandmother once lived to Latino families. The high school he went to was a blackboard jungle where he got in a lot of trouble.  He didnt have much choice about that.  It was beat or be beaten, eat or eaten, the usual animal kingdom stuff.

 

Playing cool, acting tough, the kids in the barrio knocked each other off.  No big stuff.  A rough snuff is not enough to scare anyone off.   Dealing on the street you have to pay to play, sometimes with your life.  No loss.  Your life was a throw-away from the first day you entered the slum, crying and screaming, as if you knew what was coming.  Not everything is predictable but everything is inevitable.  If you were raised by a pack of wolves what would you be?  An astrophysicist contemplating the moon and stars instead of howling at them like your hairy brethren?  Not that Ingbar was making any excuses for being him.  Tomorrow is another day, they say.  We have tomorrow.  Today was lost, as was yesterday and the day before and all the years anyone can recall.  Tomorrow never comes, they say. What does in the slums?More of the same, you know whats on the way   nada, nothing, zip, zilch, same as any day.

 

The sun was almost directly overhead.  The high-noon Horror Show was about to begin. Ingbar dug out his sketchbook and laid it on his lap.  He bit into his sandwich and drank from his thermos.  When the plants whistle blew, legions of laborers, dressed in blue, green or gray work drabs, would file out of the buildings from every direction.  They would march in a lockstep to the plants cafeteria.  The spectacle resembled some penal flick: The House of Numbers, or Alcatraz.   To Ingbar it was like a scene from Dantes Inferno.  Corn Products International.  Argo Corn Starch.  Soups, syrups, cookies, cakes, breads, mixes and most important the famous box of cornstarch with the picture of the Indian maid emerging from a cornstalk.  Just as bad as the back of the yards.  Maybe worse.  But he had found a job there.  That was a start.  He tried to sketch out fragments of the flaming hell on earth.   One day he would assemble them on a giant canvas.  A portrait of America.  His America anyway.  He had to learn how to paint first.    

 

What you up to princess?

 

Ingbar felt the flat of a big boot pushing on his back.  He gripped the ledge as whoever was behind him began nudging him over the edge.

 

You gonna die or fly fairy?  Fairies fly dont they?

 

A gruff voice chuckled.

 

Hey watch it!

 

His sketch book slid off  his lap and went fluttering away with the wind, as the heavy boot pushed him forward a smidgeon more and he strained to push back, fingers gripping the

iron grating.         

 

You aint supposed to be up here queer.  You aint supposed to be anywhere.  Think Bigger down there is gonna squeal on me if I send you tumbling?  Na, no one likes fags in this town, dumpling.  No one likes fags anywhere, except in fagtown.

 

Whats with this fag shit!

 

Ingbar hissed.  He tried not to look down as he held on.  Birds flapped past and his heart pounded in his chest. 

 

Calm down Tinker Bell.  The gruff voice chortled.   This is just a warning.  We heard they hired a homo a couple of weeks ago. Youre lucky they sent me up here to do some patching and not one of the other guys.  Youd be flying, pretty boy, and I aint lying.

 

Im not a fag!

 

Ingbar snapped. 

 

Punch out, stay out, fairy. The voice said harshly.  Thats all I have to say.  And do it today.

 

The foot at his back eased away.  Ingbar let out a breath and gathered his things.  He swung onto the ladders rungs   A big, freckled, red headed oaf grinned at him as he climbed down.

 

III

 

Those eyes, Ingbar sipped his beer and watched himself watching himself in the clouded barroom mirror, like a cat in the dark, some sleek, nocturnal prowler.  A black one he grimaced.  Although he had showered at the plant and brushed off his clothes,  his jeans and tank top were still grimy with coal dust.   He studied his sunburned reflection in the glass, silky, symmetrical, too perfect in its angles.  The eyes were exotic, Lapis lazuli colored, too bright, too blue and made even more prominent and set like jewels in the deep-tanned skin of his face with its prominent cheekbones and square jawed chin.   He had his mothers eyes, large, erotic, her black, wavy hair.  Pretty boy.  The girls liked his looks.  They rubbed guys the wrong way.  I can deal with trouble, cause it.  Ingbar thought.  You had to pay to play.  He lit a cigarette.

 

Nothing like a cold beer after work, is there?

 

Some old guy he recognized from the plant smiled at him and lifted his foaming mug.His sunburned face broke into a map of wrinkles as he grinned, a taste of heaven in his hand.  Ingbar forced a smile and nodded at him.

 

The blue collar bar was dark, smoky, crowded with laborers playing darts, shuffleboard, pinball, guzzling beers.   The jukebox was blasting some raspy Bruce Springsteen song Born in the USA which was always popular.   Another blue collar Babylon, this town: bowling alleys, pool halls, gambling houses, whore houses, gangsters, gang bangers, crooked cops, corrupt politicians, thugs, thieves, racial conflicts, working class stiffs haunted still by the boarded up ghosts of Capones speakeasies and breweries which set the style way back in the twenties for the lawless little rock bottom burg.  Or so he had learned.

 

I was born in the USA, born in the USA.  Springsteen wailed.

 

The first thing he had to do was go after the Viking who hassled him.  Tonight if he saw him.   The guy was a good five years older and outweighed him by fifty pounds.  Every street fight starts with boxing but ends up on the ground.  He couldnt win.  But the lummox would know that he had been in a battle and he wouldnt want to take him on soon again.  The townies   would keep coming after him, at least for a while, one by one, until word got around that he wasnt anyone you wanted to take on.   Ingbar didnt think they would gang jump him.  Gang jump a sissy?  All that fag stuff was baloney.   They really didnt take him for a homo.  They just needed an excuse to go after the new guy, pound on him a little, push him around.  It was territorial.  They wanted to make Ingbar earn his place in their space.   Or learn it, the hard way and accept it if he wanted to stay.                 

 

Working that yard is hard, I know.  The old man turned to him again   But hang in there, kid.  It gets better.  Theyll be another new guy and youll move up the ladder.  Bigger stays.  He likes it there.  Why not, hes the yard boss.   Its the new ones he makes do all the work.  I did my time in the yard.  In fact, I broke in Bigger.  When they first hired me it was for an office position in the plants Technical Center.  It was the perfect job.  I didnt do anything.  I was in charge of the copy center.  I was the copy center.  I duplicated blueprints for the plants architects and Xeroxed work for the Administrative offices.  All you had to do was load and program the copy machines and the gig took care of itself.  I wore a smock.  My day consisted of killing time.  That meant listening to the radio and writing song lyrics.  Smoking grass out the back when I could.  One day I got so stoned I stumbled around the room in a daze, loading, unloading, stacking and never noticing that what was piling up was this blur of unreadable babble.  Whats this, McNulty?  The office manager, his name was Dousier, comes up to me.  Excuse me?  I says. Whats this mess?  Didnt come out too good, huh?  Who put you up to this?  Dousier asks.  Well Carol came in this morning with these papers.  Not that, this shit!  You trying to cause a strike?  These are the handouts for the union meeting. A strike?  No, you see, like I probably mentioned, sometimes you heat these machines up, like the older ones and   Enough!  Dousier shouted.  McNulty youre drunk!  And so they shifted me to the factory.  Since I came from the office, they gave me a pencil pusher gig.  I was the new meter reader and the job was to go all around the complex recording the stats for the power stations.  You may have to do that some day.  Be advised that many of the meters are underground.  Every morning I would don rubber overalls, hip boots, a raincoat, a coal miners spot-lit hard hat, safety glasses, a surgical mask, and then descend into the drainage tunnels with this clipboard.  The vast black maze crisscrosses the plants underbelly for miles.  Rats swim around you in waste deep water.  Pipes leak overhead and shower you with steaming residue as you wade through sewage.  The tunnel air is un-breathable.   My head pounded for hours afterward.  I gagged if I even thought about lunch. It was like sticking your head down the hole of a forest preserve outhouse.  Who would do that?  And then crawl into it!  These numbers McNulty.  The section foreman, Ben Busby, Bumble Bee Busby we called him, comes up to me, a short tubby guy with coke-bottle glasses. Numbers Mr. Busby?  These are made up numbers McNulty.  I dont know what you mean Mr. Busby.  I play dumb.  You mean theyre inaccurate?  I MEAN  theyre  Bullshit!  You know its kinda dark down there Mr. Busby.  I says.  Those safety glasses get foggy and I been having trouble with my eyes anyway. Youve been having trouble with your brain McNulty!  Give me your clipboard!  Wheres the pen? He grabbed them.  Once again, they didnt fire me.  This is a good place to work.  They stick with you.  Loyalty.  I got a good job now in the boiler room.

 

Dont pay attention to that old goof.   The black man sitting on the other side of Ingbar shook his head and eased his deep voice into the conversation.  He was a large ruddy, coffee colored worker with pondering eyes and a thoughtful expression.  He had a wise old owl in a tree demeanor.  The Vietnam war was stealing industrys manpower which was the only reason they never fired him.  They didnt stick with him, they got stuck with him.  McNulty may look as old as Methusala but hes only fifty-two.  He looks mummified because of all his boozing.  Theyll can him yet, you can bet on that.

 

Now dont start in Leon.  Im trying to help the lad with some life lessons.

 

You cant teach unless youve learned.  Listen young man, youre not from town. 

Where do you hail from?

 

"Bridgeport.  Ingbar answered irritably.  The last thing he needed right now was to start jabbering with a couple of lifer townies.  He watched the door,  checked the windows as figures shuffled to and fro outside in the dusk.   I moved here a couple of weeks ago when I got hired on at the plant.  He took a drag off his cigarette and recalled riding the CTA up and down the South Side applying at factories.  The town was the last stop on the transit line.  He thought the bus would fall off the face of the earth.  Maybe it had.

 

Back of the yards.   The owl brooded.  He sipped his beer and frowned. A barrio now as I understand.  What happened to the stockyards is going to happen to this town.  So dont get too comfortable.  Keep your options open.  Try to learn as many skills as you can.  Better yet go to night school and get yourself an education.    

 

You gonna start on that automation bullshit again?

 

McNulty rolled his eyes and lifted his hands toward heaven.

 

Automation.  Leon smiled.  The automation nation.  Listen young man.  In ten years ninety percent of the laborers at the plant will be gone.  There will be no need for them.  They will be replaced by computers and robotics.  You can take my word for this.  Reagan broke the unions. Technology and outsourcing, thats building factories overseas where the labor is cheaper, will decimate the body and soul of the America we know.  Im what is called a radical.   I was a part of the Vietnam protests, Civil Rights movement, equal rights agendas, and in addition to that I won a purple heart when I got drafted into the very war I raged against.  I pay attention.  I know whats coming.  There is a bigger tyranny.  You can call it efficiency or  call it progress or the survival of the fittest.  It the law of the jungle.  Get ready for it.  Whats this?  He reached over and tapped  Ingbars sketchbook.   It was a little battered and smudged with coal dust.      

 

Nothing.  Drawings. 

 

Ingbar glanced from the door to his book, remembered it flying when the big foot pushed him.  He better start hunting the bars.  Swing back to this one if he didnt find Eric the Red in any of them, then start all over again.  The longer he waited the harder it would be because he would start to think.  If he thought about it enough he might chicken out, let it pass, hope things would fade away, hope for the best.  If he did that, he knew, the townies would own his ass.

 

May I take a look.

 

Sure.  Ingbar frowned.  Knock yourself out, he thought as he handed him the book.

 

Jesus these are good.  The black man pondered the pages.   Heres Bigger.  And Sloan and that new foreman, whats his name?   God its a shame.  He shook his head.  The talent in this country that is wasted.   And you never know where its coming from.  I would never have imagined the schools taught art classes in the neighborhood you come from. 

 

They dont.  Ingbar ground out his cigarette.  I do it on my own.  For the hell of it I suppose.

 

The beautiful hell of it!  Can I borrow your sketches?  Leon lifted his heavy eyebrows.   I want to show them to someone.  A friend of mine who teaches art in junior college.   Ill take good care of them.  Maybe he has some suggestions, about where you can apply for a scholarship, if that is still possible in this age of Reganomics and where ketchup is a vegetable  as regards inner city school lunches.  With talent like this something has to happen.   

 

Yeah, Ill get fired if some foreman catches me doing them.  Do you know this guy?  Ingbar flipped the pages to his last sketch, a portrait of the big red head grinning down at him with the water towers warped boards in the background.  Does he drink in here?

 

Sure I know him, unfortunately.   Amazingly acute rendition.  Thats Mike McSweeny.  Irish Mike they call him.  I dont think he frequents this establishment.

 

Let me see that.  McNulty reached over and grabbed the sketchbook.  Well you sure captured his pig face and shit eatin grin.  Mike hangs out at Hustle.  Thats the pool hall down the block.  I had a game or two with him.  He aint as good as he thinks he is.

 

I know where that is.  Ingbar nodded.  Okay, hold onto the book.   He took it from McNultys hand and gave it to the black man.  Its almost filled up.  Ill start another one.  I have to split.

 

He finished his beer and said goodbye to them. 

IV

 

The world dropped into night.  The town, the industrial plant, the nightclubs under and  above the elevated train tracks, the maze of low lying houses and buildings were all buried in a bottomless night.  There was a peek-a-boo moon amidst a storm chased sky, like a demons eye, peering down at Ingbar as he moved through dark and street glow, past the storefronts blackened windows, the nighthawk diners and blue-lit gin-mills, the spectral prowl of shadows.

 

I feel woozy.  Ingbar recalled the comical utterance of the first bully he had every bopped, Two Ton Tommy Phelan, who stood there wobbling, with his head spinning and his eyes out of focus, after he socked him a good one in the school playground.  If you let someone bully you you are through, lesson one in grammar school.  He felt woozy now, not from the beer  but fear.  His pulse raced and his breath quickened and he felt sickened.  Born in the USA, born in the USA, he replayed the Bosss song as he forced himself along, heart pounding, sweat beading on his skin from the sweltering heat and his fight or flight fright. 

 

Hustle was mobbed.  Ingbar peered through the small rectangular window, a clandestine, mesh covered opening in the red brick wall, more like a bootleggers peephole than anything, which made one wonder why it was there at all.  Within was a long, oblong, smoke filled room receding in it depths from him, lit only by the pool table lamps, which seemed to make their green felt surfaces float in the darkness like magic carpets covered with gems.   There were a dozen tables, running two by two down the narrow high ceilinged room crowded by a bedlam of drunken men.   There was a giant billiard table in the back, horizontal to the rest,  table thirteen to complete the bad luck dream.    Next to it was a dimly lit back alley fire exit.   Shadow shapes crowded the walls of the crypt, as still and silent as apparitions in the darkness. 

 

The usual specters who haunt the gaming dives grifters, gamblers, sharks and jives, pimps, pushers and other denizens of the night.  Ingbar could sense amidst the shouts and bellows and cracking of balls, the thumping of cue sticks on the hardwood floor that pounded like tribal beats when anyone made a spectacular shot amidst the cosmic scramble of brightly colored orbs    the invisible rustle of money changing hands around the room, like the flurry of wind in a catacomb.   Irish Mike, or Big Red as Ingbar thought of him, lumbered around in the middle of the mayhem, his rust colored hair and beard flaring whenever he ducked under the lamp to play a shot, his big body glistening, pudgy face grunting and snarling.

 

He couldnt fight him in there.  Ingbar studied the madhouse.  If he tried hed be murdered.  Eventually the big oaf would overpower him.  No one in there would pull the behemoth off when he started to pummel him, and that sort of lummox wouldnt know when to stop.  In the middle of the room there was a doorway to the adjoining bar through which the players staggered back and forth with fresh bottles of beer.  Ingbar moved from the porthole and studied the bar through the glass door.  His best bet was to hang out in there and wait for the lug to go through the connecting door.  Hed come out eventually.  Even if he was sending some lackey to get his drinks hed have to take a pee.   The bartenders would break it up almost as soon as it began long before things got out of hand and really got going bad for him.  They didnt want some kids death connected with the establishment.  But Ingbar doubted, after looking inside the door and studying the long, narrow, smoky barroom, which was also jam packed, that they would serve him.  Unlike most of the bars in the neighborhood, which rarely carded anyone, Hustle would be the exception.  They had enough shady doings going on, the open gambling for one.  Making book in the back room another.  The pimps hanging around probably gave them a cut.  The drug dealers too.  In this set up serving minors was an unnecessary nuisance. 

 

I died in the USA,  Ingbar mumbled to himself.  Got stomped by a townie ape.

 

There was a fairly upscale family restaurant across the street, Town Inn, with plush leather booths and a quiet, cozy bar.  Ingbar had eaten there once.  The food was good but it was too expensive, at least for him at the moment.  When he got through his ninety day trial period at the plant he was going to celebrate there with a steak diner.  He would get a nice raise, full benefits.  That was the plan.  He crossed the street and peered in the window.  The cashier beyond the door was a young pretty girl.  He glanced back at the pool hall before he swung inside.

 

I hate to bother you.  Ingbar smiled at the girl, prim and proper in her Town Inn uniform.  But Im in a jam.  I just moved into town.  I got a job at the plant, and wouldnt you know it, before I can get set up my parents want to visit.   

 

She lifted an eyebrow.

 

Laundry.  Ingbar shrugged, helplessly.  I have to get it done tonight and I dont have any change.  I know its annoying.  I know you arent a bank,  like everyones been telling me up and down the street.  But can you sell me a roll of quarters?  Id really appreciate it. You dont know my mother.  Shes a real stickler.  Shell freak out if she sees the mess in my closet.  And you can bet shell check.

 

I think we can manage that.  The girl gave Ingbar a wink as she dug into her cash register.  Wouldnt you prefer loose?

 

No, Id lose it.  I have a hole in my pocket.  A roll would be best.

 

Ingbar gripped the roll of quarters in his fist as he crossed the street again and slipped into Hustles bar.  The mob was watching a White Sox game, hooting and jeering at each dazzling play.  There were bookend TV sets, one above each end of the bar.  No one noticed him slip in or paid him any attention.  He lit a cigarette and slouched against the wall, just beyond the poolroom doorway.  He pretended to watch the game.  His heart raced as he squeezed the roll of quarters and listened to the crack of the balls and the shouts of the pool shooters.  He wanted to get in a good one.  He had a potent straight right and the fist full of metal would make it twice as powerful.  He would rock the slob, follow it up with a left hook to the jaw and keep swinging and do as much damage as he could manage for as long as he lasted   before it went to the ground and the big oaf got on top of him. 

 

Kill the umpire!  Big Red suddenly startled him, staggering through the door with an empty beer bottle in his hand.  Kill the coach!  Kill everyone!  Kill yourself!  He pushed through two men seated at the bar and slammed his bottle down.  Whos winning?

 

Phillies again!

 

Kill the Phillies!

 

Someone hit a home run, Ralph Gar as far as Ingbar could tell.   The bar crowd went wild.  When Big Red turned around and staggered back with his fresh beer, grinning from ear to ear, Ingbar blocked him.

 

You remember when you told me to punch out?

 

It took a second for Big Red to register a flash of recognition.  Between that flash and the next one Ingbar punched him.  He followed with a left hook as the giant dropped his bottle and staggered back.  Another straight right broke the big mans nose.  Blood gushing from his beefy

face, eyes closed, he fell in a heap to the floor, stout legs buckling under him.  Strong hands

grabbed  Ingbar.  The mobbed room swelled even more as pool shooters piled in from the connecting door to see what the commotion was all about.  Ingbars arms were pinned behind him.  The mob pitched and swayed as more bodies crowded in, while a handful of brawny laborers were trying to clear a space around the sprawled out giant.

 

Call 911!  A gruff voice shouted from the depths of the jam-packed room.  He aint coming round!  Get an ambulance!  Call the cops!  And move it goddamnit!  This looks serious!   

 

V

 

A lost balloon, string dangling, a childs hand beneath it, reaching, a broken flower, blossom hanging, with the face of a man, weeping, a cross with no Jesus but in his place the blindfolded figure of Justice nailed to the crucifix, all drawings with an ink pen, amidst a multitude of such scribbling, each done by a different hand on the cell walls that surrounded him. Hard time, where the lawless mind attempts the sublime, trying to take back what was taken from them in that futility written into the sentence of their lifes destruction, peace, grace, scribbled onto concrete with ink stains to soothe their pain.  Ingbar made his, a broken winged butterfly beating through a hereafter sky, angels gliding by.

 

Show your face!   A skinny black guy gripped the bars across the cell from Ingbars and shouted.  I aint talking to myself!  There were six cells in the Townie jail.  Big for a community of this size.   The town was a mixed bag, mostly whites, but there were Blacks and Latinos living in communities of tiny-town ghettos segregated from the rest.  On weekends the cells were probably filled, for the most part, with drunken white brawlers sleeping off their black-eyed incarcerations and on into their blurry hangovers.  But in addition were the drug dealers, robbers, occasional killers, random pimps, pushers, Chi-town criminals and trouble makers.  

 

Shut your big mouth!  The cop seated at the desk around the corner from the cell block shouted back.  Or Ill come back there and seal it with a kiss   off my fist!  Just keep it up!  

 

Why am I in here? The black man shouted.  They aint got no reason to hold me in here!  He yelled at Ingbar, as if Ingbar was a witness to his persecution and could intervene on his behalf.  Wheres my habeas corpus?  He bellowed at the invisible cop. Wheres my lawyer?  Whats the charge?   

 

Right now the charge is disturbing the peace!  The gruff voice growled.  Mine!  Im trying to read the paper!  If I find your habeas corpus Ill come back there and shove it up your ass!  I aint warning you again!  The grunt that followed was the sound of a final  proclamation. 

 

Calm down bud.  Ingbar pondered the black man, shabby, lost, frantic with loose ends.    He dug in his pocket and pulled out a fancy wrapped mint-chocolate, which the pretty cashier at Town Inn had taken from a full bowl by her register and handed to him along with the roll of quarters.  Catch.  He tossed it to his Black jail-mate who caught it, studied it, and then shuffled back to his bunk.               

 

   I walk among the lost,

 

Ingbar settled back into his own hard bunk and stretched out.  He was on another planet, planet fog, beat from the heat, work, tension, the fight.    He scanned a poem scribbled on the

wall, wished he had a cigarette. 

 

   where chasms have no bridges,

   over bottomless abysses.

   I live alongside the longing.

   I live amidst the yearning,

   side by side with the struggling,

   in the ghettos and the grottos

   of misery and suffering.

   I am that haunt you sense in the

   mirror.  I am you in despair.                   

 

Two town squad cars had responded to the 911 call, sirens wailing, party lights flashing.  An ambulance screamed in behind them.  They took Big Red out on a stretcher, still unconscious, arrested Ingbar.   He managed to drop the roll of quarters, jostling amidst the mob, and kick it under the cigarette machine before they cuffed him and took him to the station.  They booked him for battery, and locked him up.  No prints, mug shots.   That would come later, if need be, at the Cook County Correctional Institution.  It depended on what developed with Mc Sweeny.  If he died the charge would be Manslaughter, second degree.  I dont know what happened.  Ingbar made his statement to the desk sergeant.  We bumped into each other in the doorway.  He shoved me.  I kind of punched him automatically.  When I saw how big he was I knew I was in for it, so I started swinging wildly.   He had no one to call, no one to make his bail.  If I dont show at work tomorrow theyll fire me.   I just started there.             

 

Shit happens, as they say.  The beefy cop ran his hand over his flattop.  Maybe you should have thought of that before you decided to shoot yourself some pool.   Hustle is not the best place to be if you want to keep your nose clean.  Youll get a court appointed lawyer in the morning.  Maybe he can talk the judge into letting you walk on your own recognizance.  Dont hold your breath.  Youve been drinking.  The desk cop studied him.  Figures.  If youd been sober when you saw McSweeny youd have moved.  Go sleep it off kid.  Maybe youll get lucky like you did with that punch.  Mc Sweeny would have beaten you to a pulp.                     

 

Hey buddy,  Ingbar closed his eyes and called out to his neighbor.  I walk among the lost, where chasms have no bridges over bottomless abysses.   

 

There was silence and then the black guy started singing.

 

The cold rain keeps pouring down
The sky keeps tumbling down
The world is turned upside down
Theres nowhere to hide or to run
Whats over cant be undone
The night has swallowed the sun
Nothings right and everythings wrong
Cries fill the howl of the storm
Armageddon has come
The dead are leaving the ground
The stars are spinning around
Whats lost can never be found

Jesus, Ingbar reflected, were all orphans in a shadow land, lost or abandoned.   If the guy started singing gospel music the cell block cop would come in and punch him.  Religion.  The Blacks really got into it.  Who could blame them?  What else did they have?  The desk sergeant had given him a break on his drinking.  He would have thrown the book at him if he were a Black guy.   No stone unturned there for the prosecution.  The Blacks hoped theyd get a better shake when they got to heaven.  Jesus loved them.  Prayer was a shelter made of wind.   Ingbar had quit going to church long ago.  God?  He didnt think so.  Bless me father for I have sinned.  What did that mean?   He lived in a no mans land of stab and grab, where everyone was on the make, take, fake not just in the barrio but the whole country, look at Reagan and the Yuppies everyone running around with their bag of tricks, rip-offs, payoffs, shakedowns.  Where were the goodies in his Christmas stocking, or his parents?   Since he was a kid he helped them take care of their rentals just for survival.  He figured out real fast that you had to fill  your own stocking.  And it wasnt through worship and prayer or good deeds or simple honesty and hard work.  That never got you anywhere.  But maybe he should have turned the other cheek with McSweeny?   He sure as hell didnt want to kill anyone.  Now he was in real trouble.  He could go to prison.          

 

In his mind, as he lay there in his cell, exhausted and disheveled, night winds whispered around him in a tangled parish garden, like chanting saints, or nuns at prayer.  Or maybe it was more like midnight angels fluttering in the dark, or priests reciting sermons, or choirs caroling incantations.  He was dreaming of Juanita, his girlfriend in the barrio.  They would meet in the old church garden.  Sweet sin, the sensations on their skin as they kissed, bit, tangled with delight, naked in the garden moonlight.

 

Bueno.  Ingbar groaned.  He leaned over her in the moon glow, searching her features, tasting her breath, feeling her quiver under him and the heavens open upon a world that was enough.

 

Hey kid, wake up!  The block cop was opening his cell.  One of your workmates made your bail!

 

VI

 

Irish Mikes O.K.

 

Im glad to hear that. 

 

Ingbar lit a cigarette, still foggy from sleep.

 

You wont be.

 

Rain lashed and lightning flashed.  Thunder rumbled above the blackened streets as they drove slowly through the downpour, windshield wipers, like panicky snakes fighting drowning, chasing each other, back and forth, across the battered old Caddys cracked front window.   

 

I talked to a nurse.  Leon lit a cigarette too.  Friend of mine since high school.  She was on duty in the emergency room when they brought him in.  She said, by the alcohol content in his blood, McSweeny was ready to pass out even without your punch.  Your knockout blow was like that one more beer that would have put him to the floor.  Hes been sleeping off a binge, not in a coma.

 

I hit him good.

 

Ingbar took a drag off his cigarette and blew a hiss of smoke at the spider-webbed windshield.

 

Good as you could.  Leon smiled and shook his head.  You showed some balls kid.  Seeing the black guy whom he had given his sketchbook waiting for him in the police station was astonishing.   He caught wind of the fight, Leon told him, at the Top Tap where he was still drinking with McNulty and, since Ingbar had asked about McSweeny wondered, as improbable as that prospect might be, if he was the one who had knocked McSweeny out.   He thought hed look into it.  Let me tell you about Irish Mike.  Leon frowned.  Hes as rough as they come.  He was a football star in high school, a tackle.  Played in college. Couldnt quite make the pros.  Came back to town with a bad attitude.  His father is a big shot at the plant.  Theyre both bullies.  Hell be a foreman before you know it.  He must have been riding you pretty good for you to go out looking for him.  You dont seem crazy, but I may be wrong.    

 

He was riding me all right.  Ingbar crushed out his cigarette in the ashtray, pondered the desolate streets.  If he tries it again hell get the same thing.  With a baseball bat next time, Ingbar brooded, if thats what it would take to get the behemoth off him.

 

Everybody, every baby is born to prehistory.  Leon shook his head.  Even if they are delivered into the twentieth century where we have men walking on the moon and all the benefits of science and technology, never mind libraries filled with the grand thoughts of historys luminaries.   Not much of civilization rubs off on anyone in their lifetime.  Were still basically driven by animal instincts, superstitions, tribal doctrines.  Greed.  Look at our pathetic politicians.

 

You should have been around during the Vietnam era: war, discrimination, racism, rampant corruption, Richard Nixon.  Youd think wed learn.  But There you go again.  To quote our current, illustrious president, whos reenacting his role in Bedtime for Bonzo, while the nation sleeps.  That perspective is one of the elements most striking about your drawings.  Theres no bullshit about the way you portray faces, no phony noble savage heroics about the working man like theyre usually rendered.  And something else.  Theres no God in them.  It took me a while to figure that out.  In a way, although I dont believe in God, it was disturbing.  Were so used to saints and angels mixed in with expressions.  In the cinema, or in magazines, the faces we see are so iconic.  Wanted posters, or mug shots, is kind of what your faces ultimately reminded me of.   Everyone seems hunted or wanted for something or can be or will be, all a bit seedy or shady or desperate or despairing underneath.  It is a shadow land the world in your sketchbook, predators and prey pursuing survival as best they can across an inimical land.  Its an edgy display.

 

I live on the next corner.  Ingbar pointed.  That rooming house above the Dollar Store.  Thanks again Leon.  Youll get your bail back.  I go to court in the morning.

 

Hang on a second.  Leon parked the old junker in front of Ingbars door.  I called the station when I found out McSweeny was okay to make sure they were updated.  They were.  The charges wont be entirely dropped, but theyll be reduced to something like disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace.  Maybe both.   Theyll fine you a hundred dollars and then let you go.   Same deal for McSweeny.  His father worked it out.  Irish Mike doesnt want to go to court.  Hell settle with you in his own way.  Soon.  After he does, his friends will go after you.  This wont end.  You cant win.  Theyll never accept you in this town.  You dont belong here anyway.   Well talk about this tomorrow.  You need money for the trial?

 

No, Im O.K.  Thanks again.  Ingbar shook Leons hand.  Ill see you at work.

 

Ingbar jumped out of the car and ran for the door.  The rain was letting up,  the summer cloudburst over.  The moans and groans of the exiles pointless agony greeted him on the stairs and followed him down the hallway.  His hand was swollen and his knuckles bruised.  The tiny room was stifling.   Silhouettes were dancing across the alley in the Black night clubs windows.  Blues floated in the air.   He remembered dreaming of Juanita and the old church garden. I walk among the lost, Ingbar thought of the poem on the Townie jail wall, where chasms have no bridges over bottomless abysses.  He got out of his coal dusted clothes, went to the closet and pulled out his suit.  He had worn it twice, at his graduation and his mothers funeral.  He tossed it on the bed, found a dress shirt, dress shoes and tie.  It was midnight.  In the tie box was his legacy: five hundred dollars.  Thats all that was left from the sale of the old house, after paying off the creditors and making up what was short on the funeral costs.  He took a hundred out for the court fine in the morning and laid in on the dresser.   He put another  hundred in his wallet for tonight.           

 

The cold rain keeps pouring down
Ingbar sang to himself, softly, as he got dressed.

The sky keeps tumbling down
The world is turned upside down
Theres nowhere to hide or to run
Whats over cant be undone
The night has swallowed the sun
Nothings right and everythings wrong
Cries fill the howl of the storm
Armageddon has come
The dead are leaving the ground
The stars are spinning around
Whats lost can never be found

He had never had a black woman.  He looked at the silhouettes across the alley as he tugged on his pants, imagined pearly white smiles, smoky voices, caressing dark, silky skin in his hands.  Maybe he never would.  Maybe hed go over there and the black guys would stomp him good.

 

VII

 

Morning rounds, chasing phantom art alarms, poltergeist startled smoke detectors, hand radio crackling. CLEOPATRA CLEAR.  Ingbar called Control. ASIAN ART ANOTHER GHENGIS CON.   Byzantine Banshees Gothic Ghosts Spectral Sanctum Phantasmagoria   

 

 Ingbar moved through light and shadow, down the corridors of dream, past the doorways of delirium, along the labyrinths of time, amidst the spoils of raided tombs, sacked cities, pilfered churches, ravaged kingdoms, robbed graves,  plundered castles the grab bag of Kings and Queens and Robber Barons. (And the howls of slaves, serfs, exploited workers).  

 

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan,  Ingbar mused, as he roamed the haunted hallways, through the spot-lit galleries ablaze with visions: Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Beckman, Turner, Tiepolo, Richter, Rembrandt, a stately pleasure dome decree.  

 

CODE RED  his radio crackled. SOUTH WALL LLK DO YOU COPY FIRST AID? 

 

 Kitchen fire someone burned Ingbar quickly dropped a freight elevator to the castles crypts, cut through the night-crawler catacombs, boiler rooms, power plants, mazes, tunnels.   It was like a dream, everyday, this place.  But more like a stray dog in poodleville is how he felt about his museum guard job.  Through the rooms the art patrons would come and go talking of Michaelangelo and designer hairdos and designer clothes and vintage wines and Lake front condos.  Leons friend, the art teacher, had arranged it for him.  It paid next to nothing.  But if he got in permanently he would get a nice raise and full benefits.  Best of all he could attend the Museums art school for free.  A scholarship was automatic for all the employees and their families even at the low end of the spectrum, although Ingbar doubted that any of his workmates were interested.  Permanent positions were hard to get in any of the support staff departments, which were all those not directly concerned with the art like curators, or restoration people, or executive office staff or handlers.   It seemed easier to get into the CIA or FBI than to get a security job there.  It could take as long as a year.  During that time the temporaries were five and fivers, which meant that if they were late five times or sick five times or any combination of either they were gone.  It was grueling and there was a lot of competition.  Everyone tried to hang on.  If you made it it was well worth it.  But the managers, seven in all,  could let you go for the slightest infraction, or they could look the other way.  All the managers had their favorites.  On top of that they hired in waves for special shows which were ongoing, like the retrospective Ingbar came in on featuring eighties art done during the Reagan era, which was soon ending and which Ingbar knew almost nothing about.  There were small armies of these temporaries overlapping, all trying for those few openings.  It was one way to maintain cheap labor, employees you didnt have to shell out benefits for.  But Ingbar felt confident.  The managers seemed to like him, give him assignments beyond his station, offered him extra training.  He looked good in his uniform and they always posted him in crowded galleries where he could greet the patrons and answer questions.

 

He had a hole in the wall room in the YMCA on Chicago Avenue.  It was a seedy strip filled with pawnshops, dives, greasy spoons, degenerates.  But it was in the midst of Chicagos Gold Coast and that was like a dream also.  The Magnificent Mile, a stretch of opulence which meandered through glittering skyscrapers and loaded with upscale shops, restaurants and boutiques was a few blocks from his door.  There were cathedrals, concert halls, mansions, museums, all spot-lit at night, amidst the citys rivers, parks, lakefront forests sparkling streets filled with clubs and cafes, and the beautiful people who belonged to the Jet Set and high society.  There were sailboats on the dazzling lake, pleasure cruisers, yachts.  It was like an alternate universe coming as he had from the back of the yards.

 

Rounds guard to Control,  Ingbar talked into his hand radio, entering Lower Level Kitchen.  Stand by.

 

Smoke fogged the food service entrance. Black robed demons, danced above a flaming oven.  Two techs from operations were foaming down the fire.  First aid tended a cooks burns in the corner. A mob of dark men and women, dressed in ghost-white uniforms, huddled in groups around the stoves, sinks, pot and pans. 

 

Que Pasa?  Ingbar drifted into the throngs of food service workers. Fuego  muy malo.  He shook his head.  Is anyone burned? 

 

The Mexicans eyed him warily, as always, backed away. Policia. La Chota. They were thinking. as they studied the tall young white man in the uniform,   

 

Ustedes OK?  He tried the shadowy figures again, but they fidgeted, made fists, turned away. 

 

KITCHEN CLEAR   Ingbar radioed Control  CALL AN AMBULANCE   SEND DOWN A SUIT.   If you can find one.  He added to himself

 

Been there amigos,  Ingbar brooded, as he zigzagged back through the belly of the beast. Been in between nowhere and no way out.  His mind flashed back to the fearful faces, afraid of  anyone in a uniform, afraid of losing what little they had   their hand to mouth jobs, claptrap shelters.  

 

Anyone who has an advantage, Ingbars father used to say, will take advantage of anyone who is at a disadvantage to them.  A life lesson if there ever was one. Gallery 220, oil on canvas, 2 small areas paint crushed from impact Ingbar jotted in in his notepad

Gallery 220, oil on board, large white drips lower right

Gallery 216,tempera panel, scratches

Gallery 217, oil on canvas, swipe mark from hand

                                 

The morning after Free Days invasion of the barbarian hordes.  They always found damage of some kind or another.  Usually minor, if you could call it minor.  Everything was worth a fortune.  Did these people think they were in a shopping mall?

 

Hey  Security  wheres that ear guy? 

 

Wheres what?

 

That ear guy.

 

You mean Van Gogh?    Jesus get some cooth will you?

 

ART HANDLERS GALLERY 201.   Ingbar alerted Control.  INSTALLATION IMPRESSIONISM.    

 

The floor sweepers were out in force. Custodians were cleaning the cases.  Physical plant was checking climate control.  Docents, conservation techs, carpenters, painters, electricians   the sleeping citadel was awakening from its night sweats slumber in Paradise Lost? Dantes Inferno? whatever purgatory God condemned it to toss. (That other Chicago story by Upton Sinclair, The Jungle?).   Holed up in the Y for the last few months with no TV, Ingbar had become a voracious reader.  Much of his reading was poetry.  Those jailhouse laments had been fascinating. 

 

He checked his watch, made one more note about the damaged painting in Gallery 214 (which some genius put scratches on a corner of with what looked like a car key) moved through the connecting door from the Old Masters section into the Executive Suites.  

 

Publications, Promotions, Memberships, Fundraising, Education, Finance, Curatorial,   Registration Ingbar checked for waste basket fires, hazardous coffee pots, dead archivists slumped on their library shelves. Yale, Harvard, Princeton diplomas hung on each ivory castle inner sanctum wall, Brown, Vassar, Radcliff   

 

You Have Just Entered Civilization. Someone from publications wanted you to know.  Art Tells Us The Truth About Being Human. Another office posting quoted.  And his favorite,   in the Directors office, straight from the horses mouth, an ode to artists for their concern for the poor, tired and humble masses and some rigmarole about how the museum valued this at least in the abstract.

 

Ingbar sat in the swastika lobby at the plush information and membership kiosk beneath the giant vase of fresh cut flowers   He knew the gilded Nazi swirls which trimmed the ceiling of the grand marble entrance were really ancient Asian symbols for peace, hope, love.  But after Hitler, they were forever swastikas and somehow oddly appropriate to this rich man-poor man, upstairs-downstairs labor exploitation setup as Leon called it.  Hang with it kid, give it a shot.  Its worth a try for that art scholarship.  FOOD SERVICE SETTING UP TRUSTEES MEETING.    Ingbar radioed Control as a caravan of breakfast carts rattled through the lobby, pushed by the Mexican ghosts. SHOPKEEPERS ENTERING STORE    CASHIERS,  COAT CHECKS,  ENTERING VISITORS SERVICE.     

 

The bee hive was starting to buzz, as the drones swarmed to work.  These were mostly temp. types, like him, day labor style slugs you never got to know, as they shuffled in and out shooting the dice for a permanent position.  Ingbar needed a smoke.  Time was pressing. The scheduler had called off and the managers had entrusted him (to lazy to do it themselves) with the jigsaw puzzle of gallery guard postings: Ancient, Old Master, Modern, Contemporary, Expressionist, Impressionist, Asian, American, Renaissance, Medieval, every nook and cranny. ESCORT GUARDS OPENING MICH ENTRANCE.   He informed Control.  

 

The daily round of Limos was pulling up outside.  Curators crowded the lobby as tycoons swept through the high arched doors. Grand Dames, Financiers, big money donors to be led on private tours through the museums lavish holdings: majestic Monets,  priceless Picassos, passionate Van Goghs, nightmare Dalis, saintly Rubens, El Greco martyrs, benevolent Buddhas, crucified Christs, weeping Marys, Holocaust horrors.   

 

He looked at his watch again.  The museums ghetto brigade would be dragging in soon the army of poverty-wage contract guards, like him, the museum harvested from the citys slums.  Many wouldnt show. (Low pay, no sick days, no benefits, why would they?  They had no art scholarship goal.)   They were headed for the special show but it was hard to predict how many would be absent and how many other guards he would need to shift around to compensate for the missing.  Those that did show werent very effective.  (It was hard to give your all on an empty stomach.)    

 

Out of the black mouth of the big king salmon,  Ingbar recalled a line from a Carver poem, comes pouring the severed heads of herring.    

 

He wondered where he should post himself.  Somewhere quiet, where he could  contemplate some masterpieces, think and sketch.  A risky business, if he got caught he was out.  But standing there all day amidst all that beauty, he couldnt help himself.

 

VIII

 

It was cold and raining.  Ingbar bundled into the bistro and sat down across from Normal at the candlelit table, hoping he didnt look too disheveled.  He dropped his book bag on the floor and toed it under cover as if it contained anything important.

 

No rain no rainbow?  He offered, grabbing a handful of napkins from the table dispenser and moping his splattered face and rain soaked hair.  Their table was in a corner by the window.  Shapeless figures shuffled to and fro, hidden under umbrellas, like plodding turtles. Normal smiled and studied the menu as if they were going to order anything except the cheapest items presented on the venue.  The nightly crowd of revelers slowly gathered, there was violin music, whispers and laughter. Beyond the worlds tears there are stars?  He pondered. 

 

She looked up and yawned and lifted her water glass. 

 

Whatever, sweetie, the night is ours, if we dont get struck by a lightning bolt.

 

When you are possessed by the devil no saint or angel belongs at your table.  Fortunately Normal was neither.  She was a fun girl, at least in her own angst-ridden way.   She was four years older than Ingbar and wasnt looking for love, at least not right away and not with him.   She had been around the block and had taken her love knocks, been through those truth turns (watch the spins, as you plummet downhill, racer, this way and that, amidst blinding whiteness.)  Its all a freefall once you jump in, feet first, at the mercy of whim.  The goal is bliss and you race for it, precariously, through the twists and bends, which come at you, pell mell, without rhyme or reason.  Headlong is the only direction.  The challenge is Olympian trying to get to the end of the slalom between love and oblivion without breaking your neck, heart, soul, spirit.  Wipeout threatens each negotiation.  She had gotten wiped out on more than one occasion.  Ingbar, at best, was a pickup.   A pretty boy toy, which was okay with him.  He never wanted what happened with Juanita ever to happen again.  The memory of it haunted him.

 

 There she was, in the middle of the slums, a gift from God offering love.

 

I got a job.  Juanita said, the last time he was with her, thrilled, proud, because that meant when Ingbar got one too they had just graduated high school they could quit meeting for burgers under the golden arches, get married, raise a family, be together, happy ever after.

 

Thats great.  Ingbar had answered.

 

He didnt tell her, then, that he was moving on.  He had places to go, things to do, people to meet, sites to see, art to make, promises to keep, at least to himself, about life and living.  He couldnt say that to her.  He just did it to her and disappeared.

 

Is it a white or red night?

 

Normal wondered, as if it mattered, because hed end up guzzling beer while she slugged gin concoctions.

 

They had met in the Black Moon saloon, a cheesy joint downtown,  The five and fiver routine, plus all the overtime he was putting in just to make ends meet, was wreaking him.  He decided to spend the weekend on a binge.  They awoke, tangled together and hung over, under her bed covers, having skipped, apparently, the violin sawing, popcorn chomping, relationship developing scenes in between.

 

Who you?  She squinted at Ingbar.

 

A frog til you kissed me.

 

He answered staring at the ceiling, which was still spinning.

 

So wheres prince charming?  Or are you still transforming?

 

Hes coping with the to be or not to be part of the morning.

 

Their meet cute hadnt been that cute more like the final act of a love on the rocks flick.  The kind that leaves you feeling blue as it fades to black and makes you want to get your money back.

 

Mind if I sit here?  She had asked, lugging her duffle bag sized purse, her bulky, road kill looking faux fur coat and holding a frothy, umbrella garnished, tall tropical drink, which looked, since it was the first day of winter, especially out of sync.  She plopped down on the stool next to his, before he could answer.  It was a quarter to three.  The bar was empty. She had been staring at Ingbar for over an hour, before she decided to move over.  I dont like to drink alone in a bar after everyone has gone.  She gazed at him in the back bar mirror blankly.  Kind of makes me feel like the last mourner at a funeral or something.  Kind of makes me wonder if it might not be my own.

 

I know what you mean.  Ingbar nodded in sympathy.  Thats why I always drink with my imaginary friend, whose stool you have inadvertently taken.

 

He was in a black mood.   The uncertainty of the job was depressing him.  He wondered if he was chasing rainbows trying to get that art scholarship.  He wondered if he was a fool living in some grand illusion, working his butt off like a lackey for no reason.  He didnt need the company of some spooky woman talking about funerals while she drank weird looking concoctions with little umbrellas.

 

Youre rude!  Normal had flared, tossing her bleached blonde hair.  That was totally uncalled for!  She got up in a huff and stomped off to sit with herself.  Hes rude!  She informed the bartender, who blinked at her.  Hes a barbarian!  He doesnt belong in civilization!

 

Thats when their meet cute began, as she slammed her drink on the bar top and the glass shattered in her hand.  So, regretting what he had just caused, he went over and picked out the shards, cleaning  up the bloody mess with booze and bar napkins.   Everything went blank after that.

 

I gotta go to work.  She yawned the next morning, rubbing her eyes as daylight hit the drawn blinds.  For a moment they both listened to an imaginary clock tick.

 

Me too.

 

Ingbar remembered. 

 

Nice meeting you.

 

Its been fun.

 

Too bad the kiss didnt work out.  Better luck with the next one.

 

We could try it again, sometime.

 

Ingbar reflected on her small, sumptuous body, not plump, or fleshy, but cushy, something to sink into comfortably.  Her face was pretty. 

 

I wouldnt mind.  But I think trying to turn you into a prince is probably a waste of time.  Youve got the looks but youre no gentleman.  Besides, Im not exactly a princess in case you didnt notice.  Im more like the chambermaid who got drunk and got laid.  Actually Im a hairdresser.  What happed to my hand?

 

Ice.  Ingbar answered with a yawn.  The pond was covered over.  I got stuck in the frozen water, croaking.  So you reached in

 

Sorry I asked.  What about breakfast?

 

Okay, well let the closing credits run while we chow down in some greasy spoon.

 

Credits?  Jesus!  You think life is a flick or something?  Is your imaginary friend coming too?

 

Lulu and I are through.

 

Lulu?  Talk about a Lulu!  What did I get myself into?  Im Normal.

 

Congratulations.

 

No, MY NAME IS NORMAL.  Everyone calls me Nor.

 

Isnt that a German soup company or something?

 

Thats Knorr.  K n o r r.  Jesus!

 

My name is Neither.

 

It would be.

 

 

It was night haunts, night spirits after that.  Slipping through moon-lit rooms together, down spiral stairways, through mystery doorways, into dream chambers, where love potions splashed on ice, and music played magic melodies for sleepwalkers who danced in a trance,       arms holding each other, eyes blazing with rapture as they devoured each other before youth was over.  And then back to her flat to make love after that. 

 

Do you believe in dreams?  Normal looked up from her menu. 

 

I dont know what you mean.  You mean like Freud and the shrinks and that they reveal hidden things about a person?

 

Dreams are strange.  Normal shook her head.  One of my customers today dreamed that she was dead.  Youd think that was bad enough but the bad part about the dream, at least to her, was that she was too fat to lie down in her coffin.  She had to stand there at her wake next to her casket while everybody laughed at her.

 

Is she that fat?

 

Poor dear.  She can barely squeeze into the chair.

 

Interesting.  I mean its a shame.  Maybe her dream was telling her to go on a diet?  Being that heavy is dangerous.  Are you ready to order?  I could use a beer.

 

Ingbar guessed hed drink frothy concoctions with little umbrellas in them too if he had to listen to stuff like that all day as Normal did.  Strange name Normal.  Hed have to find out why her parents stuck with that moniker.  He should talk with a first name like Ithiel.

 

IX

 

In black space the world sleeps, dreams, spins, holds its center together with stars made of sugar.  The cosmic clock ticks for astronauts.  The subway rumbles through tunnels that whisper secrets no one can decipher.  We paint our lives on air, nave artists astounded by  the miracle of being here.  Love is the only color we remember.

 

Leaping twirling pirouetting Ingbar sat crossed legged on the floor in a corner of the dance studio with his sketchbook in his lap, drawing spirals, parabolas on his student sketch pad, trying to capture the poetry in motion flying across the room to the plunk of a rehearsal piano, as Degas once did long ago.  Degas didnt even like ballerinas, Ingbar had learned.  He was a misogynist.  Was the whirl of white dresses like a vision of angels to him? or swans circling round and round a sunlit pond?  clouds floating on the wind?   What was it to anyone?

 

Art tells us the truth about being human.  Did it?  Was there one?  Truth was beauty, beauty truth.  Both were a symmetry of ideas and execution that brought forth a revelation.  Or so one would think.  Was that what art was all about?  Was that what made us human?  What did they mean by art for arts sake? in which all the elements of a composition didnt necessarily have to add up to anything?  A baseball game without a score?  An equation without a meaning?  A novel without a story?  

 

Scanning the newspaper, if you wanted to ponder life for lifes sake,  on the Clark Street bus each morning going to work, was like suffering brain fever a never ending delirium straight out of Celines Death On the Installment Plan a book Ingbar had just started reading: that vast black-humored hallucination where life was topsy-turvy and all the characters acted with maniacal frenzy, as they struggled through the chapters of their harried existences without rhyme or reason because there was none.  People were crazy, always had been, always would be.  Murder, mayhem, crime, corruption, Iran-Contra and Ronald Reagan.  There was some savings and loan crisis brewing or boiling in Texas but the whole country would have to fork up money to bail out the mess, which was due to corruptness.  Insanity,  Ingbar  had spotted that right off when he was still runny-nosed and wearing short pants.  The magic show of religion was one example.  It was amazing what people would swallow, and yet it was so prominent for him in his childhood.   Ingbar stayed amazed until he was ten and they began making grammar school trips on buses to the Field Museum of Natural History, The Museum of Science and Industry, the Planetarium, and evolution and simple logic moved in and the tricks wore thin and the lessons and sermons began to sound like the ravings of madmen.   But life went on, of course, in its own inane way and he sat mute amidst his vacuous schoolmates, stifling his yawns at the parables written by goat herders who lived in tents five thousand years ago (what on earth could they possibly know?) and pretended to pray.

 

Up and down, round and round, right, wrong, truth or dare maybe the whirl of white dresses was like a wreath of white ashes from which spirits of our better selves emanated like ghosts or cosmic essences?  

 

The world was a nut house.  Ingbars mind drifted.  Capturing the spinning figures had a Zen effect.  And there was no escape.  The inmates elected the wardens in many of the countries, he learned growing up, as his did.  There was an election in progress: Read my lips no new taxes!  the current vice-president Bush against the rather puzzled looking Democrat Mike Dukakis.  Maybe Dukakis looked puzzled because he was thinking?  He looked pretty stupid with his head sticking out of that tank.  Read my lips looked and sounded above it all, completely clueless as to how those in the day to day world got along.  Maybe thats why you had to read his lips his proclamations were too high up and out of earshot for the common man. 

 

Yet he would get in.  You could see it coming.  Ingbar would vote Democratic.  That was automatic.  Everyone in the city of big shoulders did.  Lets face it they were working class stiffs.  Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, child labor laws, forty hour work weeks, tycoons didnt need that stuff.  They did.  Elected or not it made no difference.  The insanity was hereditary, passed on through the generations from our distant cousins   those madcap monkeys.  Like them, everyone belonged in either a jungle or a cage.  Life was a zoo.  Instead of barks and grunts the menagerie of primates expressed the bewilderment of their deranged brains using the human language.   You could see that in Degas ballerinas if you looked closely.  There was a coarseness, something animal about the pretty young ladies.  Degas was insinuating something, perhaps a little irony.  Maybe everyone should quit shaving and getting hair cuts?  Maybe Ingbar should render the ballerinas with hairy legs?   Hair under their armpits?  Little mustaches on some that Nair hadnt undone?  We were still primates.  Maybe we should cut out the bullshit and take an honest look at ourselves?   We were created by God?  But for a slight miracle of gene experimentation wed still be sitting in trees picking off each others fleas.  The truth about being human?  But there was something sacred about Degas paintings, all art.  Maybe artists were holy men?  Werent they the first shamans painting magical pictures in the caves of France?  Now painted visions were cloistered in Museums and handed down through generations.   High priests and priestesses, called curators, tended to them in rooms as sacred as shrines in temples erected and maintained by royalty, that meaning, nowadays, socialites, tycoons, grand dames and financial gurus.  It was easy enough to read their lips a series of satisfied smacks as they devoured everything that came in their path.   One had to wonder what the dance of life was all about for the rest of us and maybe even, given the hopelessness of the pursuit for most of mankind over all of time, why we bothered to keep dancing at all.   Maybe it was a dance of living death, dancing toward the afterlife when all would dance in heaven.  Dont hold your breath. 

 

The room was crowded with students sitting along the walls with their sketchbooks. 

 

Many looked bored.  They were all rich kids.  They had to be, the school was over the top expensive.  The vouchers the museum gave him to cover a few lessons were for amounts which were more than he took home in a year.  On top of that was their room and board in apartments around Chicago or in the museum schools dorms.  And on top of that were the expenses for books and supplies paints, brushes, canvases, easel, pastels, charcoal, etc. something Ingbar would have to scrape up by working overtime early in the morning as a rounds guard or contractor escort or late into the night working events.  And on top of that was fun money.  There seemed to be plenty of that to go around.   Art students, like all students, liked to party.  Drugs were pricey.  Plenty of those on the campus too, without limit as far as Ingbar could detect.     

 

I taught there for a while.  Leons art teacher friend, Martin, gave him the lowdown on the school, his schoolmates, the art world in general.  The connections Martin had made, and maintained while doing gypsy teaching at the museum school, before he landed a permanent position at a junior college had helped Ingbar get his foot in the door as a five and fiver.  I studied at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus.  Martin reminisced.  A good school, innovative, affordable.  I went on the G.I Bill.  Martin was white, and gay.  Leon was gay.  The wise old owl and his Rock Hudson look-alike partner.  They met in Vietnam.  Both had been decorated.  The three of them sat sipping beers in a Boys Town caf, celebrating Ingbars good fate.   The museum school is a horse of a different color.  Solid gold.  It costs a small fortune, as you know, to go there like Harvard, or any high prestige university or college.  They offer a spectacular program.  But Im not sure its much different or better than the state school I attended.  After teaching all these decades I wonder if art can be taught at all, or learned in the first place.  You either have it or you dont.  You do, I think.  Martin lifted his glass to Ingbar.  I teach craft and thats hard enough to accomplish.  That spark, stroke of genius, as a teacher you hope you come across it.  Sometimes you think you do but you never can be sure.  For those at the museum school who are the real deal the world can be an oyster.  They have first dibs on whats available, exhibits, grants, gallery shows, teaching jobs, museum positions.  There is not much of that to go around.  A prestige degree will get you started.  And youve started on that.

 

But no one really knows in their own time what art is good or isnt.  Its hocus pocus at best, who pulls the rabbit out of the hat.  It took the Impressionists thirty years to be accepted.  No dealer now would stick that long with a group of artists.  Vermeer went virtually unnoticed for two centuries.  Van Gogh and Gauguin died unknown.  I could go on and on.  The fact is that only one percent of the artists working today even make it into the commercial galleries.  Very few of them make a living off it.  Fewer get rich.  The odds are slim to none.  As for the museum school, or any art school, less than twenty percent of the graduates go on to work in art related careers.  The museum school students are privileged.  Their parents can indulge them.   They dont have to focus right away on making a living.  Eventually the women will marry well and the men can be steered into other more lucrative endeavors.  Youre lucky.  Martin raised his glass to him again.  You work at the museum.  You have a lifetime position.  You can also get a degree and move up in their system.  You can transfer to another department if you want.  Art handler or the Department of Education.  Theres lots of options.

 

Thanks to you,  Ingbar had toasted him back, and Leon.

 

No, you earned it.  Maybe for you it was lucky we all crossed paths.  But you deserved what you got.           

 

He was lucky, for sure.  Ingbar mused as he scribbled and doodled and watched the dancers leap around to the rhythms of the music.  He wasnt born with a silver spoon in his mouth but fate had slipped a Cinderella shoe on his foot.  He was an orphan in a storm adopted by two gay men who had really taken care of him.   The museum had given him a permanent job in no time at all.  After three months as a five and fiver two positions had opened and they gave him one of them.  There had been another ninety day trial period after that but now he was a part of the museums permanent staff with full benefits.   More importantly he was taking two classes at the museum school, one in drawing and the other in poetry.   Those jailhouse poems had introduced him to an art form which sparked his imagination as much as painting.  Next semester he would take a class in art history and another in color theory.  He had moved from the YMCA to Boys Town,  a predominately gay neighborhood down the lake from the Loop also inhabited by downtown office works.  There were bookstores, parks, cafes, restaurants.  The room was large enough so that he could set up an easel and paint.  His schoolmates, at least so far, hadnt taken to him.  As soon as they found out he wasnt one of them, by spotting him standing in the galleries in his uniform, they shunned him.  Girls who had given him the eye now turned away when he passed by.  Guys snickered and sniggered behind his back, mumbled Fearless Fosdick after that cop in the comic books, not loud enough to get a sock.  It was a social-class thing.  Ingbar wasnt even sure his teachers were taking him seriously.  Over time he imagined that would fade away.  He wondered how many of the students felt his passion.  There had to be those who did.  Eventually he would connect with them.

 

One two three four what are we doing here?  Too many of the faces around him seemed to be asking.  They had to be somewhere.  It was a lot easier to play at art than to go to medical school or the corporate world.   Cubicle people live in corporate cells.  Ingbar mused as he sketched the ballerinas. Artists live in fairytales.  We all die in lullabies.  But first we drink our fill from wishing wells.  Lets face it were all nuts.  Ingbar closed his book as the music stopped.

 

X

 

Nothing offers what is encouraged when the inundations of ambiguity shape all aspects of the variant possible.  Documented, displayed, discussed, these evocations of disparate assumptions challenge our conception of the correlative conjectural.  In Parenthetical Contingencies, Fockus latest piece, the synthesis of synergy and entropy become as iconic as the Mona Lisa, as you can see.  However, the GQ guru lifted a manicured fingertip, you aint seen nothing yet folks!  Follow me.

 

Everything cool with Focku?

 

Degan, the Modern Art security manager, was suddenly beside Ingbar. The two of them  watched the gala gathering of  museum Trustees follow the curator and the artist Focku through

the private showing.

 

Cool as the chilled wine and cheese cubes.  Ingbar quipped. Kierkegaard cooked up his usual concoction of salami, pastrami, baloney, and fed it to the culturnoti who primly wiped their mouths with money.

 

Now, now, dont dis our trusty Trustees.  They all live hard lots with their mansions and yachts.  You keeping the riff raff out?

 

Anyone who looks embalmed is in. All those flush with the blood, sweat, tears of life are out. 

 

Good man, youre a credit to your guard uniform. Whats that one called?  Erectile Dysfunction?

 

Dont fool with Focku.  Ingbar wagged a finger.  Hes a genius.

 

I dont doubt it!  So, hows your shit doing?  Showing? Selling? Cutting off your ears?

 

Okay, as far as it goes.  Ive got a couple of drawings in a student show.  And this is pretty neat.  I take this poetry class.  The teacher is going to put together a chapbook of the students works.  One drawing and one poem each.  It will be sold in a handful of independent bookstores.  He managed to arrange it.

 

Splendid!  Another starving artist!  Another starving poet!  Stick to it!  We need all the low pay security guards we can get!   

 

Hey, one day I may be as famous as Focku.

 

Be careful what you wish for.  Degan wagged his finger.  You never know if youll catch on.  If you dont they could put you in a mental institution.

 

Hopper, Turner, Goya, Klee, Chagall, Velasquez, Picasso, El Greco, De Kooning, Gauguin, Daumier, Van Gogh, Ingbar would wander through the museum and ponder his favorite painters.  The museum had a single Rembrandt and a number of etchings.  That guy could really draw and no one could top him when it came to a  representational painting.  

 

Of course there were the galleries where wild flowers and butterflies danced on walls under sunny skies Matisse, Miro, Calder, Mondrian, Chagall, Degas again, and all the heaven on earth Impressionists  with those sweet colors and dreamy figures making a harmonious symphony of reality,  Monet, Renoir Pissarro was a little more edgy.  Some artists can take you to La La land, where life is beautiful and living is grand.  Ingbar was not sure where they were coming from.  No place he had ever been.  They seemed so beautiful now, even frivolous to him, like make believe realities.  What would sunset over the starch plant look like, especially after an acid rain?  But the Impressionists werent accepted in their own time.  They were considered sloppy and ugly.  Like Focku to Regan?  Funny quip about the mental institution.  Contemporary art puzzled him.  There was that breakdown that began with Cubism and those fragmented statements, harsh juxtapositions, distortions, the breaking up of objective realism.   The emotionalism of the Abstract Expressionists spoke to him.  Beyond that there were few with whom he really connected Goleb, Richter, Lucian Freud and Bacon.  Of the eighties artists, the neo Expressionists that he was hired on for, he liked Kiefer and Baselitz the best.  Kiefer painted giant mixed-abstracts concerned with the Third Reich and the Holocaust, violent and dramatic.  Baselitz painted figures but they were either flying apart or upside down.  He wanted to fragment the figures and draw attention away from the study or story they might imply and focus on the artistry of the work.  Ingbar supposed that meant the handling of form, color, material, whatever.  They were great feats, for some reason, and maybe because they were so colorfully chaotic and you read that aspect of the human condition into them, a crazy clown act, or the tricks of a demented magician, God, the cosmos, Creation.  Jasper Johns had the artistry focus with his flags and numbers.  They were cool too but came off as more decorative than anything, more pretty than profound in their own funky way, at least to Ingbar.  Most of the art in the museum seemed more pretty than profound.  He read somewhere that every movement became the next generations decorations.  That seemed true.  The Christ artists had a great business going trying to supply all those European churches who were their main wealthy patrons with images.   What a good long run of subject matter to crank out if you were a Christian!   But every period had its own take on man and life and living.  (And afterlife.) 

 

The Pop artists were fun, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, and so on.  Their premise was interesting that you could measure a society by what it threw away.  Its material waste.  But a better point might be made about its waste of humans, the human lives it discarded, the poor and the hapless.  The truth about being human.  That was a tough one.  Where Do We Come From?  Who Are We?  Where are we going? a haunting painting by Gauguin.   Ingbar was chewing on that one.  Would he ever find an answer?  Would anyone?  What was that old song about making your own kind of music and singing your own kind of song even if you may be wrong?   You had to give it a shot with all that you had, he supposed. 

 

The only thing he knew for sure was that art was for the rich.  They were the only ones who could collect it.  Maybe they were the only ones who could afford to study and do it?   Did that mean they indirectly shaped it?  Look at what the Catholic church bombarded mankind with, centuries of Biblical litany.   But what insights into life did the rich really have?  Life was basically a struggle for survival.  Amidst that there was love and hate, sex and death, the battle between good and evil, pleasure and pain, victory and defeat.   Okay maybe pleasure and sex fell more strongly into their domain.  You had to give them that one.  They ate good too, gourmet food.  There werent very many jailhouse poems hanging on the walls come to think of it.  The poor are always with us,  As well as the downtrodden.  Beyond the mere declaration of that fact no one seemed much interested in that aspect of the human condition, which was most of the earths population.  Goya and Van Gogh maybe.  Focku?  Hardly.  The museum walls were covered with myths, gods, royalty.  There was the Ash Can school, gritty urban explorations and maybe a direction Ingbar was destined to go in.  At any rate it came naturally to him.  Behind his back his schoolmates, who still couldnt quite deal with his presence among them, mocked him about his background and referred to him as Captain Ashcan because of his job and detailed ghetto drawings.  And then there were  the Surrealists,  Dali, Magritte, where the world was a complete and total crazy hallucination.  Now someone was talking!             

 

XI

 

A nude Normal was Mission Impossible.  Every graphite, pen and ink, charcoal or pastel rendering Ingbar made of her anatomy, and there were plenty, had to be headless, or topped, at best, with an oval cartoon balloon sans caption, just faceless.         

 

I dont get it.  Ingbar sat sketching Normal in the buff.  They got together at his  Boys Town place, a clean but Spartan studio apartment with a clutter of drawings taped to the walls, more often than hers because the bed was comfortable and the neighborhood bars more enjoyable.  I sketch your body and I draw your portrait endlessly and you refuse to let me put them together.

 

I dont want any nudes of me out there.  It gives me the jitters.

 

She sat nibbling chips and watching TV in the overstuffed chair.  

 

Out where?  You think I sell them on the corner to seedy men sneaking out of porn theaters?  The range of her expressions as she watched the television programs ran from delight to terror, tranquil to nightmare, dreamy to screamy.  It made him dizzy. Lucky he wasnt trying to draw her face today.  These are studies for an oil on canvas I want to make when I learn how to

paint.  This is art not girlie pictures.

 

I have to sit for that too?  Dont they have nude models at your school?    

 

Its not the same.  I dont know them.  I want something more intimate.  I want to put everything into it, really try to capture the essence of a human being.

 

So get to know them.  That should be fun.  Besides the whole thing sounds scary, like getting an X ray.

 

Thats my point.  I dont want anything clinical.  I want to wrestle with the total, body and soul. 

 

So do a Picasso triangles, rectangles, multiple eyes, breasts, face like a catchers mask.

 

Ill refrain from a comeback.  I have a better idea.  Why dont I just combine the sketches I have already like puzzle pieces, face body? Sounds like a plan.

 

It will never happen.

 

No?

 

En, oh.

 

Whats to stop me?

 

Your mother.

 

My mother?

 

Remember, you showed me a picture of her.  She pointed a potato chip at him.  She raised you better. 

 

 

 

The beer bottle artist drinks them first.  Thats how he gets his inspiration, before hesmashes them with just the right motion against the sticky bottle shaped shells of drying cement which he casts in his basement. Broken Dreams are what he calls his sculptures, each one numbered, tall as he is, glistening pillars of multicolored glass sparkling like intoxicated rainbows in his brightly lighted exhibit space.  God is in them, all things holy, so they say, each a jubilee of the almightys glory.  He sweeps the shards and glass dust onto a glued over floor pinned canvas, frames and hangs them.  Each of these he entitles Broken Spirit.  Like the sculptures each is numbered. Broken Spirit number 68.  Broken Dreams number 74.  They were a big hit in the art district.  Chicago had a taste for outsider artists, both real and feigned.  The Chicago Imagists were their claim to fame: Ed Pashke, Roger Brown, Jim Nutt and so on.  Their works were a cross between Pop Art and Neo Expressionism, featuring comic book figures and jukebox colors.  The works were funky, interesting.  Their dealers made a lot of money.  The beer bottle artist was pricey too.  His pieces sold for thousands. Maybe he would shift to smashing piggy banks if he ever went on the wagon, call them American Dream number ad infinitum.

 

 

 

The mural sized paintings of barrio life that surrounded him in the ghetto studio were amazing.  Each depicted, in clashing colors and expressionistic figures, drug lords and drive-bys, hookers, beggars, gangsters, horror, squalor, and other urban nightmares.  The pieces were created by a Latino artist Ingbar had met at First Friday openings in the gallery district, Alberto Pena.  Ingbar had shown him his sketchbook and Alberto invited him to his studio.  Alberto showed with other Latino artists in his West Side neighborhood.  Although he had gotten good reviews he didnt sell very well, which didnt seem to bother him, at least not at the moment. 

 

Who would buy these?  Alberto shrugged.  They are too unpleasant.

 

No more than Goyas dark period.  Actually there was a wild beauty in the paintings. They were violent but poignant, filled with heart stabbing portraits of impoverished families in the backgrounds, trying to live their dreams, and sad-eyed children lost in a bedlam.  Ingbar envied them.  He wished he had done them.  Here were visual jailhouse poems.  They brought to mind Diego Rivera with maybe a touch of Hieronymus Bosch thrown in, as well as a few amphetamines. This is bravura work.  Ingbar told Alberto as he looked around.   The chaos of colors was blinding.  Here was an artist taking on his own inner demons while he battled social injustice in the process. 

 

Im glad you like them.  Alberto smiled.  But I could easily get arrested for assault and battery to the senses.  Snow White in a glass casket was what I had been aiming at with this

 

Surrealistic portrait of the Dead Zones crack racket.  They stood before another giant picture, I was trying to symbolize the lost soul in the black hole of the ghetto, and the living-death-quest of hopelessness all around us. But the chaos of contours I created in the fairytale beautys features, after I started slashing paint on the canvas, and the undulating rhythms of brush strokes with which I concocted her coffin, had her come out of my backstreet fable as an angel wearing a death mask of sable, asleep on a billiard table.  So maybe Dust was the thrust of my journey into oblivion in a game you cant win, because a drug is a drug and theres plenty of Dust in the hood.  Besides, while Picasso said that what one paints is what counts and not what one intended to accomplish, he also said that if you know exactly what youre going to do theres no point in

going through it.  Life lives as it does, I guess, and you go with the flow.  Im no Picasso, lets face it; but neither is anyone else working now.  Kiefer, Richter, Viola, and Munoz, do you know him?  are my heroes, but still no Picassos.  From the past Goya is the best.

 

The huge windows were whirlpool washing machines, the snow flying, whirling, swirling  in them.      

 

It was the dead of winter, like now, when I did this one. Alberto led him to another painting and rambled on. I looked out at the falling snow from my studio and at the ragged figures roaming the streets below, dragging themselves through the drifts bag ladies, homeless families, dead-enders.  There were more each day as the Reagan recession swept the country.  Not that it was really fair to blame him for that.  Rolex watches, wedding rings, good luck charms were filling the pawnshop windows as the ghetto became a Rainbow Coalition like Jessie Jackson always shoots for but not in that way.  So I thought: Hey, fairy tales can come true and it can happen to you Blanco, which is what we call the white folks.  I put down a little sketch of Hansel and Gretel and then I went loco.       

 

Something was happening down the block.  There were gunshots.  Alberto and Ingbar peered out the window through the raging snowfall.  Through the darkness they saw figures merging, mingling, swarming together like the riot of colors in a splatter painting.  There were shouts, screams. They saw women flee, kids scramble through the dazzle, old folks quickly shuffle out of a mad dream scene, which was slowly changing and rearranging from Pollock to Goya characters captured in a flickering light and shadow aura, as gunfire continued to crackle  and the air wailed with sirens  from police cars, fire trucks, ambulances.

 

Another ghetto masterpiece, improvised before their eyes, unsigned, and leaving behind, like all creations of urban graffiti, which are quickly cleaned up by the city, a haunting and disturbing memory.   They both started sketching.

 

XII

 

Death grins as Goodie referred to them, snarled around them as they entered the freezing lobby together, shivering in their paper thin, museum security uniforms early in the A and M, while sensors sounded alarms around the marble ghosts of Greek and Roman gods. 

 

Goodie to Control.

 

Goodie chattered into her hand radio.

 

Go for Control Goodie.

 

Why is Satan smiling in my face all over the place? You best get some broom boy over here to knock these devils down, and that squawk you bout to be pickin up aint no holdup so dont send no patrol guard around!  Its just the Hawk some nightshift fool let in thats messin with the alarms again. 

 

Danged fools!  A disgruntled Goodie grumbled as she looked around the screaming room.  Goddie was a scrappy little gray haired black woman, skinny as a stick and as sharp as a tack.  Shed poke you a good one if you didnt heed the warning signs of her perpetual frown.  The glass wall of windowed doors was a glaze of ice, showing silhouettes of stiletto-death from icicles dangling across the entrance ledge.  She was teaching Ingbar how to open the back entrance, set up around the lobby and more specifically the guard station at the podium.  She was a fixture there. That night shift aint worth spit!  Goodie all but spat herself.  They must of left them doors wide open again when the flower delivery came for that million dollar wingding they throwin.  I think they do it on purpose just to tick me off! 

 

While Goodie dug into the lobby cabinets, huffing and puffing and cursing to herself as she pulled out piles of flyers, art cards, schedules, museum maps, pencils, pads of paper for the school groups so they could take notes on the art lectures, Ingbar took a look into the party room downstairs, a magnificent recreation or compilation of the original Chicago Stock Exchange with its dazzling ceiling and ornate fixtures.   Money and power, money and art.  It was temporarily filled with flowers to be picked up and displayed by the event crew around the museum.   Tables would be set up after and a black tie banquet held.  Money and power, tuxedos and gowns.  More flowers would come.  The back entrance, which Goodie was racing to set up, would be a madhouse of commotion.   When he got back she was hurrying to arrange the piles into uniform stacks along the long, narrow information desk,  her face set in a grimace as the pains of arthritis shot through her body.

 

Goodie to Control.  She scowled into her radio.  Would you kindly call the docents lounge and remind the ladies school groups comin soon?

 

Ten-four Goodie. Will do.

 

Danged docents!  Goodie scowled at Ingbar.  They take their own sweet time everyday sippin coffee while I runs around and get stuck helpin them busloads of kids like I aint got my own job!   You dont have to do this, she told Ingbar, but you better if they ever stick you here, cause if you dont help them the place will come down around your ears!

 

The sensor wails suddenly stopped, and with the silence they heard someone banging on a foggy plate-glass door. 

 

Good god, now what?  Goodie shuffled from the desk to the podium and grabbed her ring of keys.   Museum dont open for another hour!  She huffed.  Says so right on the sign, ceptin for school groups.  Cant some people read?  Im coming!  Goodie shouted, as she shuffled across the room, Ingbar trailing awkwardly behind.  Hold on! She bellowed.   But the frosted phantom kept banging and hollering and beating on the hazed, back door.

 

Praise the Lord!  An angry woman, bundled in furs, bustled past Goodie and glared at her.  You finally let me in!  It seems some people are a little pokey around here!  She shot a nasty look at Ingbar.

 

 Maybe some people got arthritis!  Goodie flared.

 

Then maybe some people should retire!

 

Maybe some people cant!

 

Then maybe some people should be made to!  Im here for the donors breakfast, which some people should have at least heard about, even if some people cant read.

 

She looked Ingbar up and down, as if he too were another illiterate idiot.

 

That breakfast aint for another hour.  Goodie informed her.  They be settin up the coffee soon downstairs.  If you want you can go get you some.  Sweet rolls too.  Which some people could use. 

 

Dont turn your back on me!

 

The woman fumed as Goodie turned away.

 

Some people got to work, sweetie. Goodie waved her off as she went back to her stacks.

 

Some people got to make a living. 

 

Sweetie?  SWEETIE!  Some people are obnoxious!  Some people are rude!  Some people dont belong in a museum!      

And we know who that would be.  Ingbar mused.

 

XIII

 

The Million Dollar Donor wingding the big annual Tycoon festival that started in the morning and went on past midnight.   Ingbar had worked many events staying from morning until midnight.  But this was the big one.  Word on the street had it that they sometimes ran until two, even three A.M. 

 

After he and Goodie opened, and the school groups passed through, he had been stuck monitoring the back lobby all day, arms folded, face grim, factory muscles bulging through his polyester uniform directing traffic: musicians, jugglers, dancers, caterers, florists, event organizers, contract waiters, waitresses, and extra hired hands of every description, as well as the befuddled museum staff  (curators, lecturers, toadies, executives) who never seemed to get the ins and outs as to the way these big affairs functioned; as well as keeping the derelicts out, watching for known pickpockets and general neer-do-wells.  In between his steely eyed sweeps of the bustling crowds, he found himself pondering the museums Ghetto Brigade the army of Black and Hispanic, no pension, no health care, no vacation, no sick days, poverty wage contract guards, all the five and fivers  as they hurried past him to the locker room downstairs for their helter-skelter lunch break, marveling at the contrast between the haves and have mores with his   unfortunate workmates.

 

The rich they are not like you and I.  Someone once said to someone.  It was Fitzgerald to Hemingway, or maybe the other way around.  And Ingbar wondered why these top of the heap folks couldnt dig a little deeper into their bottomless pockets and maybe take a little better care of those who watched over their priceless art. You would think that contemplating  all this truth and beauty everyday would lead to a little humanity and of all the places one could work this one would treat its workers better.   He found it bewildering and unsettling.  What was the point of all this truth and beauty anyway, all these books written to enlighten and all the music to soothe the savage beast?  It was a jungle in here the same as anywhere.

 

Hate to wake you up Ingy.  Degan was suddenly standing beside him, arms folded, studying the mayhem that was swarming all around them.   The big chief wants to see you in his office on the double.  Ill get Nelson to take your place until you get back.  Hes on his way.  You better get going.  But run a comb through your hair first.  You know how he is, all spit and polish.

 

Whats this about?

 

Dont have a clue.  Degan shrugged.  No back packs inside buddy.  Degan stopped a student.  Youll have to store that at the coat check. Cant really guess, Ingy.  There was a complaint made about you and Goodie this morning.   Nothing unusual.   Same ole same ole.  You two were arrogant and rude, dumb and stupid, disgraces to your uniforms and you both should be fired, or shot, but tortured first.

 

That old bird.  Ingbar shook his head.  But why the Chief?  Why doesnt he just have you yell at us as usual, maybe write us up if warranted?                

 

Would be strange if its that.  Degan yawned.  Just a guess.  You didnt glom any art  did you?  Here comes Nelson.  Let me know what happened.

 

The security offices were located in the basement of the administrative building at the other end of the museum, a block away.  Ingbar double timed it through the maze of galleries, crisscrossing the museum at a crisp pace.  He caught a freight elevator to the lower level and zigzagged through the basement hallways.  He wondered if it could be about Goodie?  She had a short fuse these days.  Maybe the chief wanted to sound him out about her and the incident.  Maybe he was thinking it was time to move her to a post less stressful?   The security CEO was a fair and thoughtful person, as far as Ingbar could tell, an ex military commander, a captain or major who had gotten into museum security after he retried.  He had a degree in art history which he had picked up slowly over the years for pure pleasure.    He would wander around the complex pondering paintings.  He still carried a regimental air about him but he looked, in his tailored suits more like some distinguished visiting professor, tall, fit, thick black hair graying  at the temples..

 

The chief wants to see me.

 

Ingbar said to Megan, the receptionist, as he entered the security suites. 

 

You can go right in.  She looked up from her typewriter.  Hes waiting.  Stragger is with him,  she added.   

 

Stragger was the in house detective, investigating art theft, vandalism.  He did the background checks on the employees, investigated the various forms of in house crimes.  This wasnt about Goodie or the incident this morning.

 

Which direction is that wall facing?  The chief asked Ingbar as he entered.  He was seated behind his desk.  His face was stern.  He gestured at the wall behind him.  Stragger, a burly ex Chicago cop, stood with his arms folded in the corner.

 

Direction?  Ingbar said baffled.  He quickly ran the labyrinth through his head starting

at the Main entrance which faced west.

 

North?

 

They said you were sharp.  Have a seat Mr. Ingbar.  The chief gestured toward a chair.  So you know left from right but not up from down.  He leaned forward and folded his hands on his desk top.  Ill get to the point.  Something was brought to our attention by an extremely powerful museum patron.  The chief held up a little book and showed him its cover: Words and Images a collection of drawings and poems by students of the Museum School, was the title.  He got it from his daughter. You have a class with her. I understand its in bookstores.  Your contribution is a sketch of a black, female, security officer in uniform, very well done I might add, and an accompanying poem.  The poem, which is also well handled, paints a grim picture of a heartbreakingly underpaid, labor exploited, abused and misused worker.   By the title of the poem, which youve taken from one of our most famous paintings, and the connection with our school, the museum is obviously the Snidely Whiplash of the story.  Imperiled Pauline is of course one of our five and fivers.   The chief shrugged,  Is this manner of employment fair?  A mute point.  The employment condition is lawful, in complete compliance with the labor laws, and the market place demands, I might add.   What is unlawful, not to mention stupid, is that you published statements derogatory to the museum.  You signed a paper when you were hired, Ill remind you, stating that you knew and agreed that any employee who brought embarrassment to the museum would be dismissed.  You dont think what you put in this chapbook violated this?

 

Look, I didnt know the poetry teacher was going to publish anything, poems or  renderings.  It was never mentioned.  Over the semester, proud of their duel talents, the class got more ambitious and wanted to bring in drawings to match their poems.  It was fun.  I did dozens of drawings and wrote dozens of poems.  They were created at random. I lost track of them.  Not until the last week of class, when some student suggested the book, did the chapbook come up.  Another fun thing.   Everyone chipped in for a publication.  I didnt have any hand in making the selections for this book.  The teacher was the editor.  He selected.  I didnt care.  I forgot what I handed in and what might be in there.  Besides, I never thought about any consequences to what I created.  Why would I?  I just make art from what I think is beautiful or important.  I try to say or show something about life and the human condition.  I never really think that Im making a statement, not in any political or social sense.  Theres nothing wrong with art making statements.  A lot of art does.   But as regards this, I didnt plan it.  If anything it was something that just happened.  

 

I see a victim of circumstances.  The ex military commander  smiled and spread his hands.  And then theres truth and beauty and the first amendment, freedom of speech, and artistic license.  Look in all earnestness  I tried to argue your case.   I truly appreciate your talent, as well as your industry.  Its hard to work a fulltime job and go to school.  You have excellent evaluations.  Youll be hard to replace.  I tried to calm the patron down by categorizing the whole affair as a folly of the young, youthful indiscretion.  I told him I would have a talk with you and settled you down.  But he would have none of it.  He remains outraged.  He will not be assuaged.                            

 

Besides theres more.  Straggers gruff voice entered the conversation.  You passed the initial employee investigation but not exactly with flying colors.  There was a misdemeanor charge on your record, no big deal, not enough to stop you from getting hired as a five and fiver.  You had impressive recommendations.  You did good work after that and proved yourself.  But I dug into things more deeply since this incident.  Our big donor insisted.  That charge in Argo, Illinois was a cover up.  Initially it was battery.  You put a fellow worker in the hospital.  Going back I found a rap sheet from Bridgeport.  Charges dismissed for lack of evidence, they included burglary and theft.  Another battery charge which was dropped.   Petty thefts dismissed, because they werent worth the trouble or the juvenile lockups were overcrowded.  A first offence that you got a pass on, a no priors gift from some lenient judge.The usual codling the criminal liberal stuff.   

 

We have to let you go.  The chief said solemnly.  Youre a loose cannon, at least to our very influential patron and you have a history of violence.   We cant risk anything happening in the museum to either our visitors or our staff members.

 

And may God have mercy on your soul.  Ingbar added to himself.

 

XIV

 

AMERICAN GOTHIC

 

   She woke in the cold coughing,

   listened to her children

   wheezing in the dark.

   The angel of death,

   beat its black wings

   in her fever dreams. 

   Rain pounded the tenement roof.

   Lift me Jesus.

   Floree clenched her calloused fists,

   shivering on the sweat soaked bed.

   Lift me lift me Jesus.

 

   Like holy ghosts,

   the snow white spirits

   slept in the sunlit court,

   hushed, celestial, chimeras

   carved from clouds of stone.

   Dont touch please.

   Floree drifted in a daze,

   between the paintings and the statues,

   amidst the throngs of milling patrons,

   across the chapel-like exhibit room,

   feverish in her museum uniform.

   No flash cameras mam.

 

   The marble hall seemed

   a mist of make believe,

   phantoms shifting in a haze.

   The statues looked spectral,

   even more haunting than usual:

   Abraham Lincoln, the shackled

   man-slave, the Abolitionist woman,

   the frail, fragile goddess of truth.

 

   But I gots to go to work baby.

   Floree remembered the morning like

   a dream. Ifen I dont I dont get no pay

   sweetie. Sides, they makes you get a doctors

   excuse.  We aint got no money for that.

   Dont be scared, child. I knows you and Libby

   real sick.  Misus Gracie gonna look in on you.

   I loves you sweetie.  I be home real soon.

 

The House of Blues where theres plenty of bad news in which the lost girl at the Honky Tonk piano wailed about, tearing your heart out, as she sang her tales of a the cold and lonely world, amidst the drunken hoots, smary jokes, cigarette smoke, asking what can you do when no one follows the Golden Rule?  Or where can you go when youre down and theres no way out?  Or when will true love conquer all?  Is there any love in the world at all? 

 

You sit, drink, try not to think. Ingbar brooded as he read in the dim light his poem and studied his drawing.  After Stragger had escorted him out of the building he had picked up the chapbook from the small bookstore around the corner from the museum.  You dont want to think.  But the lost girl is like the shadow you hoped youd erase when you slipped into this dark place, crying out to your soul everything you needed to escape and dont want to know.

 

Why paint, why write, Ingbar wondered, about the old lady in the alley asleep in a doorway, the raggedy kids playing in the gutter, their families living in squalor, the derelicts, lunatics, pimps, pushers, muggers, killers, the lost vet begging for cigarettes?  Scenes too real to find a refuge in bookstores or museums, amidst the soup cans and American flags, and the golden words penned for the aesthetic ruminations of future generations.  God he had blown it!  Ingbar downed his beer and waved for another. 

 

 

 

They drank at the dock waiting for the truck to haul them from Day Labor to the meat packing plants at the edge of the Loop where, block after block, stray dogs prowled the buildings from dawn till dusk.

 

They drank as they slid through gristle and blood shouldering sides of meat from the delivery trucks to the slaughter rooms inside where the butchers chopped them up, kicking off the mongrels as they staggered in and out, who fought for the bits of meat which spotted the grimy walks.

                                                                                                            

They nooned on Muscatel in the alley in the back, tossed the stray dogs lunchmeat from their crumpled deli bags.

 

They drank as they swept and mopped the bloody floors, scooping entrails into trash bags which they piled outside the door.

 

As the world dropped into night, they cashed their checks at the corner bar.  They stared at their drinks and waited for the whores.

 

 

 

Dreams float without soul, each night a new death. Each day a postmortem on dreams abandoned.   A China moon above a street of doom.  Ingbar had moved from his Boys Town studio into a Chinatown flop.  He couldnt afford staying there anymore.  He mailed all his drawings of Normal, whom he hadnt seen in weeks, to her as a souvenir, burned the rest, along with his copy of the chapbook in a private ceremony in an alley.

 

Drunks in doorways or asleep in alleys, huddled under cardboard or dreaming in the moonbeams.  The blackened windows of the Chinatown streets were filled with plucked ducks hanging by their necks.  The moon was American, its baseball in the heavens.  The stars were Gods.  He set the odds.       

 

Staggering past the blue-front window of a honky-tonk on Fortune Cookie Avenue, pint in hand, an Asian woman waved him to come in.  Happy Hour had ended long ago.  Maybe she had her own clock which didnt stop?  Maybe she could rewind his?  The sidewalks all ran to dead ends.  They took Ingbar with them.  Tomorrow he would get together with Martin and Leon, say goodbye, tell them he was leaving town.  He had enlisted in the army.  He was G. I. Bill, art school on the government bound. 

 

XV

 

Most dreams are out of your reach.  But you dream them anyway, even though they leave you more lost and miserable, amidst the rubble of your troubles, than if you had let them go, knowing they were a no show.  Life is a stormy road.  You head for a dead end as soon as you begin.  Somewhere in the middle you start to understand that you are a stranger in a no mans land where no one speaks your language and no one understands. It is the same for everyone.  Yet passion burns and souls yearn and while dreams die they live again.  There is lots of whiskey down that long road to oblivion, warm friends, loving women, starry-eyed children, as you once were, eager to begin.  And no matter how bad it might have been, Ingbar imagined, everyone would be happy to do it again.

 

Private Ingbar are you ugly?

 

Yes Sir!

 

Drop down and give me twenty!

 

Yes sir!

 

Private Ingbar are you weary?

 

No sir!

 

Drop down and give me another thirty!

 

 

 

Rain lashed the troop train and they lit them if they had em as the broken down leviathan lurched across the storm pounded wasteland, transporting its cargo of military Armageddon and the remnants of what was left of them, while wailing a death-drone-like howl of  agony, periodically, as it coiled through the jumbled rocks and twisted trees. 

 

Ingbar felt sick. Train sick. Home sick. Or maybe he just had a belly full of it.  They could see nothing. Sheets of rain blotted out the shapes of everything. Veils, shrouds, ghost shapes tumbled past the windows.

 

I feel like Im in a washing machine. Cox complained. 

 

Dont worry soldier, Percy smiled,  they gonna hang us all out to dry now that boot camp is over.  We gonna have fun in the Arab sun!  Next eight weeks we gonna learn how to fight a war on the desert sand!

 

Two days ago Iraq had invaded Kuwait, or rather the troops of the maniac tyrant Saddam Husain had.   It wouldnt be long before there were American boots on the ground their boots. 

 

Blood for oil!  We got to protect AMACO, SUNACO, SHELL, EXON MOBILE! Youre in the real army now gentlemen, fighting for corporate Capitalism!  No more play soldier civilians!  Who you writtin Slim?  Percy studied Ingbar.  All through boot camp Percy had been trying to rile him.      

 

 God, as usual.  Ingbar looked up and grinned.  Percy seemed to take him for some R.O.T.C gung-ho lifer.  There were a fair number of those clean-cut, small town, flag waving types mixed in with the broader base of hardscrabble guys trying to find some direction for their lives.  

 

My, my. HIM! 

 

THE MAGIC KINGDOM

 

Ingbar scribbled on the flyleaf of the crumpled book he had been reading:  A Farewell to Arms.  He was trying to get his mind into the military regimen.  

 

Screams fill my dreams, at the thought of you cloud dancing, showered by shooting stars in the midnight of your make-believing.I listen with a pounding heart to the crying and the grieving, while the moon shines like a nursery rhyme across your star-spangled  oil drilling. Eat, drink, be merry, as your bombs drop and your bullets fly across the desert sky and thousands of innocents die in yet another senseless slaughter from that fairytale you conjure with your wish for a new world order Korea, Vietnam, now Saddam, fun, profit for you but hardly for the troops nor for the innocent civilians who will be bombed by accident. 

 

Factory smoke and fog along the river.  Kiss a girl and make her quiver.  Kiss her right and youre her lover.  Lovers and warriors are what women go for. On the ground, head down, bodies all around, each soldier thinks about his small town, as black smoke billows from exploding bombs. He envisions the lunch pail brigade marching off each morning to the factories, and women, like his mother, slipping on aprons and dipping their hands into flour.  The soldier thought, when he left home to be a hero, he would find life sexier, surely better.  As the desert air crackles with staccato gunfire and the earth shakes under him and the barrage keeps pounding them. Kiss a girl and make her sigh. Kiss a girl and make her cry, when you say goodbye and go to die.

 

God ever write you back, Slim? Percy sneered at him.

 

Sure.  He said to say high.  Hes got a place waiting for you in the sky.

 

Ingbar closed his eyes. The chasms have no bridges over bottomless abysses.  He wondered what was next?  He had joined a peacetime army to get a military scholarship and now he was in another mess.  God knew what was coming, probably get his head blown off, or worse yet lose his painting hand, get blinded.  Life noir, Ingbar let his mind drift, where unknown hours fade to black and any new leads promise nothing but confusion and more black magic tricks in the Dead Zones matrix, where missing persons wander in a trance through the labyrinths of chance, filled with secret passages, false walls, corridors cluttered with carnival mirrors, stairways to nowhere, trap doors, the only way to negotiate the maze being Ouija boards. 

 

I didnt like that last comment.  Percy hissed.

 

Save your dislikes for Bagdad,  Persephal.  Ingbar folded his arms and put his feet up, as the train rocked. Youre going to need them.  God he had blown it!  Paradise Lost.  He could be pondering beauty in a gallery, sketching in a classroom, making love to Normal. 

 

Youd think one of these days hed get what ever dogs got coming like now and then, from time to time, something to do with the moon and stars and planets and signs.  He was beginning to see his sign, a big middle finger flashing at him from the sky.  Maybe there was a God and he was getting even with Ingbar for not believing in him?  He needed more war, danger?  He grew up in a combat zone.  The back of the yards was filled with roughnecks.  When the yards left it got worse.  Burning villages, raped women, slaughtered babies, tortured victims, dead armies, danced in the killer eyes of the young hombres he had to deal with everyday.  He felt like a ghost in a dream most of the time.  Well he was a ghost, a Blanco until he worked his way into the gangs and became simpatico with them.  This was not his world.  He couldnt even read the writings on the billboards and buildings for a long time.  He was back in the middle ages.  War lords, drug lords, turf wars, misery, poverty, murders, robberies.  Hed been shot at, grazed once, where was his purple heart? hit with tire-irons and bats, had scars from knife fights.  

 

 

 

They creep cautiously down the darkened streets, through the blackened gangways, along the unlit alleys.  They had spotted their hit while cruising the main strip a cluster of punks drinking beers in the bowling alley parking lot. 

 

Geronimo!  Jose whispers.

 

Slugger parks his junker in an alley around the corner an old beat up taxi painted black and lettered ghostly with Tales From The Crypt, and Death You Deserve It, scrawled on the sides in swirls of white an American flag flying from the antenna.

 

There are a dozen of the enemy.  They have to do it quickly, before the bowling alley gang gets wind of their gorilla attack and piles out on them in mass.  Slugger walks straight at them, Mr. Good Wrench hidden in his army surplus jacket.

 

You guys seen my brother?

 

They fan out around the cars gripping tire-irons, crowbars.

 

Whos this jerk?

 

Its me, Tony.

 

Slugger says cheerfully.

 

Anyone know this punk?

 

They rush them, swinging.  The punks are fast.  Ingbar blocks a bottle.  Blood runs down his arm from the slashed flesh, no problem.  They beat the punks bloody.  Bam, bam.  No one dies.  The punks must have God on their side.  Next day the punks jump them back, outside their pool hall.  Have themselves a ball.  Good training for war.   War?

 

Ingbar awoke with a start, covered with sweat.   Percy was glaring at him.  He sat up, dug in his pocket for a cigarette, lit it, blew smoke rings at the window, watched them hit the glass and vanish.

 

XVI

 

Well begin with a review of fractals: these triangles, rectangles, squares, hexagons, which you will remember from the aptitude test they gave you in boot camp.  Thats what got you in here.  They expand, form a pattern, multiply, rearrange, form knew more complex designs and configurations.

 

Ingbar sat next to Santa Claus and stared at the computer screen.  Santa was a nickname not a code name, although you never knew around here.  Harvey was round and jovial and sported a white handlebar moustache instead of a beard.  His white hair was brush-cut like most of  theirs (except Ingbars, although he still had regulation sidewalls).  He was a nice guy and was the gift who kept on giving, at least as far as satellite spying. 

 

Is this a river or the branch of a tree?  Santa/Harvey displayed knew images on the monitor, rapid fire.  Or is it the branch of a river, a tributary?  Is this the floret of a broccoli stalk or the whole thing?  We need recognition, location, identification, the shape of things and their possible meaning.  We need body language, mind reading, or the next best thing.  We need mug shots of blurry night vision ghosts and phantoms which can be filled in with thumbprints by the imagination.  We can pull back or zoom in.  We need to know what this man is thinking by his expression.  If we zoom in closer we can identify the cigarette he is smoking, a Camel, by the print on the cigarette paper.  If we pull back we see he is standing on a corner in your hometown Chicago.  Back further and we see an anthill.  And somewhere in the mayhem is the reason he is there, with whom he will rendezvous.  A projection of what may happen after that.  A glimmer of the compounded future.  Fractals are the basis of our conjectures.  Youll learn in time what we mean by that.  They are the card up our sleeve, the hidden rabbit in the hat.  You are most familiar with them through cubist and abstract art.  You were an art student, I understand, before you entered the service.  The principal is used for mathematical models, like economics and the study of the universe.  Which is not your jurisdiction or application, although one day you may want to study physics or astrophysics, four dimensional thinking.  You probably would be good at it.   

 

Fractal, Ingbar recalled the printout Santa had given to them, filled with pictures and designs, fractus meaning broken or fractured, all of it conjuring, in this sense, magnifying glasses and crystal balls, and a spy in the sky who could put together jigsaw puzzles.

 

After boot camp Ingbars orders were to report to the Defense Intelligence Agency in Arlington Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. which also included the Pentagon which was just down the road.  He was billeted at Arlington Station, a small elite post filled mostly with the sons of high ranking military personages who were planning to have a military career or morph into G.S. employees in the D.I.A or even C.I A.   The D.I.A concerned itself with the gathering and processing of satellite information.   There were fifteen in his class of the best and the brightest and they came from exclusive  military academies not the boot camps around the country.  They were to be trained in the operation of computers and in the decoding of the information that was sent to them by the satellites.  This included troop movements for the oncoming action in Kuwait, supply movements, and beyond that a myriad of things all over the globe, arms dealers, espionage workings, the locations and doings of possible and known terrorist organizations, you name it what they were eating at the Kremlin for breakfast.  Santa was one of their trainers and the principle mentor.  There was a catch.  First Ingbar had to get a Top Secret security clearance.  That had started as soon as he arrived, with a bombardment of psychological tests, followed up by an interview with the Pentagon psychiatrist, and another with an agent from the C.I.A,  followed by more with department heads and all manner of high ranking military big wigs.  Ingbar was always marching off to some John le Carre-like inner sanctum or other in his Class As, saluting his arm off and trying to play the game for no reason he could fathom except to try for as long as he could to stay out of the action in Kuwait which everyone knew was coming.  He didnt expect to pass the psychological tests, much less the F.B.I background check that they were running on him.  It all beat whatever the next round of military training would be for him, or at least postponed it, shaved time off his three year hitch.  Time, although he was nowhere he wanted to be, was passing in a descent way.

 

They put them all to incidental work around the compound while they waited for their clearances, doing yard work, occasional K.P. duty, even had them play waiters at luncheons in the Pentagon where they would serve generals and other upper echelon figures, governors, senators an honor to be sure, at least thats the way his classmates took it.  Except for the K.P. forays it was all easy duty and they loafed around most of the time, playing pool or cards or watching TV in the compounds rec rooms.  Ingbar spent most of his time in the compound library reading one tome after another from Tolstoy to Faulkner, Bukowski to Chaucer,  and listening to classical music over headphones.  The digs were roomy and comfortable, two bunk beds, four to a space, more like the air force and not an army barracks with a noisy crowd of rowdy guys.   His classmates reminded him of the students at the museum school, all well-to-do and had an air of the privileged about them.  They had expected to be assigned here, or somewhere similar, nothing less would be fitting or proper.  Little by little they figured out he was a commoner, and though they didnt actually give him the cold shoulder he found himself an outsider.   That was okay with Ingbar.  He was just passing through, killing time while they dug into his Public Enemy Number One background Back of the Yards, Argo, his treasonous museum dismissal where he had shot his mouth off, bit the hand that fed him, betrayed an institution that not only had offered him lifetime sustenance but a high priced education.  Defense Intelligence was going to give a Top Secret clearance to a whistle blower?  There was no way Ingbar was going to be one of Santas little helpers.

 

They could interview Normal whom he had all but dumped.  She could show them all the nude drawings he had talked her into posing for.  They could interview Juanita whom he had also dumped.  Jesus what if he had accidently left her with a kid?  He better contact her, one of these days, check that out.  They could interview his best friends, Leon and Martin, two gay men.  Both decorated veterans, for sure, but the fact that they were Homosexual, and one a political radical, wouldnt exactly ingratiate him with the Feds.  The chief could show them the chapbook and his little left wing commie poem about workers rights and social injustice and a subtle insinuation of rampant racism in America implied by its title.        

 

They could dig up Beasley, the probation officer the courts had assigned him to when he was fifteen in a plea-bargain.  Bernard Beasley was a short, thin, prematurely balding  bureaucrat  with a pencil neck and thin lips.  His beady eyes never seemed to blink.  They bore through juvenile delinquents, as was Ingbar, like tiny Bunsen burners.  His office was in the basement of the County Correctional Institution, a floor below the cages.  The walls of the little room, which was neat as a pin, were lined with books.  The books had titles like Sociopaths And Society, The Criminal Mind, and The Aberrations Of Maladjusted Malcontents And Their Maniacal Manifestations.  Do you know what incipient, non-rational, ratio-dynamic dysfunction is Mr. Ingbar?  Beasley faced him across the desk that first day, pencil raised, note pad in hand.  Excuse me sir?  The sessions were a cross between Kafka, The Manchurian Candidate, The Spanish Inquisition, and Hitchcock.  You were expelled from high school for drug possession Mr. Ingbar.  Beasley glared at him.  You were kicked off the track team for smoking pot.    You were suspended from school a dozen times, mostly for truancy, sometimes for cutting classes, other times for pranks, twice for fist fights.  You were recommended for expulsion in your freshman year when it was discovered that you were forging medical excuses for yourself and your friends on clinical forms which you stole from a physicians office.  Your grades are abysmal, your attendance abysmal, your performance and attitude abysmal.  You were arrested for and charged with attempted murder.  You and a bunch of other gangbangers.  Why you are here talking with me instead of a penal warden is a mystery of jurisprudence I cant fathom.  You have a history of substance abuse, anti-social behavior, deadly violence.  Are you sure you dont know what incipient, non-rational, ratio-dynamic dysfunction  is Mr. Ingbar?  All you have to do is look in the mirror.  Beasley would give the Feds an earful.

 

They could interview McSweeny, put two and two together and track down the cashier who had given him a roll of quarters.  Maybe they had already recorded the whole Argo incident on their sky cam?  Why not?  They were everywhere.  Meanwhile he was biding time.  The compound was pretty, filled with trees and lanes, benches to recline on.  It was loaded with black Russian squirrels, beautiful creatures some Generals wife had made the compound import from Siberia decades ago.  It would be wonderful to be able to see them scamper around in the snow.  He wondered what happened to the gray ones?  Didnt they inbreed?  How come he never saw any stripped or polka dotted ones?  Maybe they shot them?  Had some G.I. go around with an automatic weapon and eliminate them if they popped up now and then?  He wouldnt put it past them. 

 

She pulled her dress up over her head and glared at him.  Her eyes were dark and wild and Ingbar wondered who she was.  When he picked her up on K Street, it had nothing to do with intimacy.  He had  rented a cheap room in D.C. for the weekend to get away from the spit and polish and let off a little steam.  The Feds were probably filming the whole thing.  Let them.  They could add this to the black list they were compiling on him.  Seeing her in the flesh now  made him feel a little curious.  Her body was beautiful, her face mysterious.

 

Praise be to Jesus!  She hissed, as she crawled into his bed and brushed the hair from his forehead.  Praise dee Lord!  She rasped again.

 

After that, she spoke in tongues, muttering sentences he couldnt comprehend.  Were they curses or blessings?   He would know her from that night alone.  In the morning she was gone; preaching to someone else, somewhere, he imagined, her mystical sermon.

 

XVII

 

Everything is happening all at once everywhere, gentlemen. Santas  eyes gleamed as he wrote equations on the blackboard.   E=mc2 was the only one Ingbar recognized, not that he had a clue as to its meaning. Continuously, inevitably, simultaneously,  he scribbled numbers and numerals with a flourish, as if any of them made any sense to the class, so it is written, so it has always been, so it always will be, from the moment of creation and by that we mean the Big Bang gentlemen until the inevitable expansion of the cosmos into an atom-less, oblivion.  Santa was dapper in his tweed jacket, loafers and checkered slacks.  He moved around like a dancer, across and back.  Particles, molecules, atoms, gentlemen, DNA, evolution, civilization, Armageddon,  the moon, which holds our planet together, begets the tides and balances the weather, maintains the tilt of the planets axis,  is drifting off into space an inch and a half each year.  When it goes too far we will fall apart.  Our sun, a nuclear power plant, is burning out.  The stars and planets are flying apart.  Meanwhile Black Holes are swallowing everything and the constellations are disintegrating.  One day the age of stars will be over.  They will all burn out and God will finally be dead and existence will be over.  We may come touch and go from atoms and ifs,  James Joyce wrote, gentlemen, actually, more specifically,  we come from the dust of exploding stars which cook up all the elements, from the gold on your brides-to-be wedding bands to the blood, sweat and tears of procreation. but we are pre-surely destined to be odds without ends Joyce concluded.  He was right in that.  So whats it all about?  Santa smiled at the class.  Survival gentlemen for as long as we can.  What keeps that going?  Energy! food, muscle, machinery, oil!

 

We  began preparing for this one,  he wrote Kuwait on the blackboard,  since the end of Vietnam.  Actually even before we bailed out of that conundrum.  By the way we won that one.  Its all a chess game.  This he put a checkmark after Kuwait, is an appointment scheduled well in advance.  For two decades weve been gearing up for a war in the desert. Machinery, uniforms, weapons that will withstand the heat and the sand.  We know that terrain like the backs of our hands.  Weve been combing it with our satellites and our on ground Intelligence.   We have every move planned as you will see on TV when the battle, if you can call it that, commences.  The reasons are obvious.   Kuwait is just the beginning.  There will be more games to play in the Islamic sandbox.  Were going to be in that arena for a long, long time.  Fractals again, patterns evolving, all predictable, all inevitable globalization and a need for fuel.  Thats why were beefing up our unit.  We have equatorial satellites, polar satellites, and everything orbiting every which way in between.  Now, without further pontification, we will resume our lessons on computers and decoding.       

 

Ingbar had passed.  He got a Top Secret clearance just like the rest of the class.  He called Martin.  The Feds had come around to visit them.  They had chatted about Vietnam.  He and Leon had showed them their decorations.  They had been to the plant.  Leon had seen them prowling around talking to everyone, Bigger, McNulty, Ingbars foreman.  They went to the museum, talked to the managers, The Chief.  Martin had learned from Megan the receptionist, that the Chief, with whom they were impressed, a retired Major, gave Ingbar a glowing recommendation.   God knows where else they went but it seems even Beasley had given him a thumbs up.     

 

I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut.  Leon had grumbled at him over the phone. This Kuwait thing is really pissing me off.  Its got me thinking about Vietnam and the fifty thousand lives lost, all for no reason, all for political and corporate shenanigans.  The military-industrial complex,  its dj vu all over again.  You know this is just the beginning.  Theyre going to fence with that nutty fucker Hussein until we get in a war with him.  We need his oil!  At least the moguls do.  I remember the protest marches, the civil rights movement, draft card burning, bra burning, sit-ins, love-ins, Flower Children, we all had a dream back then.  No one dreams anymore, except about money. Protesting ended when they eliminated the draft. The only thing anyone cares about is their own ass.  As long as thats safe everythings Jake.  Youre good at what you do,  Leon finished off,  or at least at what they want you to do.  So dont mind me, Im just letting off steam.   Go for it, do what you have to do for them.  I would too.  I did, Martin also.  Better you are where you are than crawling around the desert sand so some fat cat can heat his swimming pool and cruise around in his Mercedes Benz.  Come see us when you get a leave.  Take care and congratulations.  Were proud of you.      

 

Ingbar called Juanita and learned from her mother that she was married and had a home of her own.  He called Normal.  She had a new boyfriend and was probably getting married too. Out with the old and in with the new.  The new for him, this D.I.A. development, was more than a riddle to Ingbar. It was the Twilight Zone.  Millions of complex systems, he stared at his computer screen and pondered his lessons, interact around us at every moment.  More systems  interact within us, in our body and mind, through our whole being, anatomically, psychologically.  Even bacteria had their systems.  They communicated through chemicals, pheromones.  Thats how viruses came to be humans.   Even the most insignificant events in the scheme of biological, human and social relations could set off a violent chain of reactions.  If not now but a thousand years from now.  Order and chaos competed for equilibrium.  Somehow, in the long run, chaos always lost.  At least so far, although the major powers had enough nuclear reactors to blow us all to bits.  Data was the name of the game.  You could never feed enough data into these machines for them to analyze   His classmates were way ahead of him as regarded the operation of these gadgets.  They were familiar with computers.  He felt embarrassed that he was such a novice.  They were ahead of him in everything.  They had already delved into books Santa assigned them, works by the astrophysicists Stephan Hawking and Carl Sagan.  Santa wanted them to have a notion of what lay beyond the sky they combed, the trillions of stars and planets, the immensity and complexity of the universe, and the fragility of life on their planet.  How it all came to be from the basic elements, hydrogen the first, and how everything that existed followed step by step in an inevitable lockstep driven by the laws of physics.   There were a hundred billion galaxies out there just like the Milky Way all twirling like pinwheels through immeasurable space.       

 

FUNDAMENTALS

 

Ingbar typed into his screen.

 

If you could record everything

that is happening everywhere

at any given moment and fed

this information into a computer,

you could predict the next one

and its consequence and so on:

how, when, where, why, Frankie

killed Johnny, or Sluggo kissed

Nancy, or Albert decided to

square energy instead of money.

 

He quickly erased his little musing when he saw Santa coming.

 

Rides of every kind,  Santa said as he settled in beside him and studied Ingbars progress,  spinning before our eyes, crisscrossing, cascading, dropping, climbing, intertwining. The Scrambler, Roller Coaster, Tilt-a-Whirl   fifty altogether, making us dizzy as we pushed through the mobs those summer days all scattered amidst a forest and connected by a maze of lanes that could drive a laboratory rat insane. I could hardly remember, I was about your age, on any given day, exactly where the rides were, or anything for that matter.

 

The maze went every which way. You could get lost in the Dream Lanes of Dreamland, which was the name of the amusement park.   Plus, they were as Mad as a Mardi Gras in New Orleans, filled with barker booths, game galleries, arcades, fireworks, everything topsey turvey, spin the wheel, shoot the ducks, ring the bell, pitch the penny, dunk the clown, fool the Wizard, knock down the bottles, see the giant, midget, bearded lady; while crazy calliope music played on speakers throughout the mayhem: Carousel, Home On The Range, In The Good Old Summertime and so on, mixed in with competing rock and roll tunes from the arcades and booths.  Kinda like this place.  He smiled.  Kind of like the universe.

 

There were plenty of treats to tempt the tricks, those country girls from the trailer park down the road in their mini skirts, short shorts and beehive boufants: popcorn and rides and a wonderland of bright lights and good times. 

 

Girls were everywhere all summer. Santa shook his head.  Pretty tanned teasers looking for fun and we were all more than willing to oblige them.  We worked there running those rides, taking the tickets, yanking the levers, pushing the buttons, turning the switches. We held the keys to the kingdom.  The keys to the freebees from the roller coaster to the cotton candy.  It was all there for the taking or the asking. 

 

Like I said there were rides of every kind in Dreamland and we were young and we all took plenty of trips through the tunnel of love.  We were waiting to get drafted waiting for Nam. Course I never got to Nam, thank God.  They stationed me here.  Been here ever since.  Still seems like Dreamland.  You seem to be surprised that you are here, yourself, Specialist Ingbar.

 

Puzzled, thats for sure.

 

Youre the best of the lot.  Santa typed in some codes for Ingbar to try to decipher..  Or you could be easily if you stayed with it.   

 

 You guys cant be that hard up.

 

Dont sell yourself short or us.  You have all the right ingredients, oddly enough.  Hard to make the perfect donut that mix of inhibitions, excitations, contradictions, I.Q., genes, learned behavior, environment that come together and make us us.  You are slightly paranoid, a plus in this business.  You dont trust anyone.  You dont believe anything anyone tells you until youve checked it out yourself.  You are not a follower.  You are not a leader.  You are not a loner.  You are an outsider.  You are smart, imaginative, introspective, inquisitive.  And you are aggressive.  By that I mean tenacious.  We know you are a fighter but most every kid would have to be where you come from.  Its either sink or swim.  You are not a hero, although you could act the hero if you had to.  Your courage comes out of the same fear that drives your paranoia.  An early childhood trauma of some sort, reinforced by your environment.  Five is forever our mentalists say.  By that they mean that everything you will be has taken root, by then, in your psyche.  You formed a little earlier.  You were together before you were a toddler.  Thats because you knew yourself before you really began to be formed, or else sensed yourself before you were programmed.  This would cause resistance.  Resistance begets independence.  So you must understand, Specialist Ingbar, we know you like a book.  A rare edition. As all the others are in our collection.  You fit in here, thats why youre here.  Anywhere else wont work, not as well.  The round peg and the square hole.  You can take our word for it.  Relax, enjoy whats in store.  And you shall, believe me.  We know you to the core.                

 

D minor.

 

D minor?

 

My core: D minor.  When we were in kindergarten the nun set up a row of glasses on her desk filled with various degrees of water from a pitcher.  She tapped each with a spoon.  She was teaching us the notes of the musical scale, adding, pouring out for the variations.  D minor went right through me.  It resonated with my soul.  I had heard it before deep inside me long ago in a dream which slipped my memory the first time I knew I was me.

 

Excellent!  I try to muscle you and you slip through, give me a little judo flip to boot.   But I was also trying to give you a hug too, a welcome to the crew.  Your goal is to be an artist?  A hard life at best.  Youll be lucky if you dont starve to death.  So, after your hitch you go to school, six years if you want a masters, a long time to be a poor student.  Now you are ready, at thirty, to go out into the world as a starving artist.  You hole up in some rundown studio in a slum for ten years and experiment.   Now you are really ready, but is the world?  Not likely.  Will they ever be?  Time passes.  You are fifty, sixty.   On the other hand, if, after you serve your stint, you stay with us as a highly trained civilian, become a government service employee, you can retire when youre in your mid-forties with a good pension and full benefits.  Through the years you will have had a highly skilled job, a career, which paid you top wages.  You can study art in the meantime, a little at a time, on your own time, live in Georgetown or Du Pont circle, show your paintings in D.C galleries.  We can get you started.  You know we pay for classes at Georgetown University.  All the guys are taking them, in physics, science, math and so on.  I can justify a course in color theory, and a few other art related subjects for a while.   It would hone your skills at recognition.  Think about it.  I better go see how Sullivan is faring.             

 

XVIII

 

You walk out of the dark and down some steps, where a light bulb hangs, and into the dark again.  Somehow you find a place amidst the shapes without bumping a table and knocking over drinks.  Its like a dark theater, only there is no play.  There is drama all around you, comedy too.  The players are anonymous, their parts unnoticed, their scripts unfinished.  Ingbar liked it because it was a shadow land of silhouettes where everyone all but vanished. 

 

Day after day, every day, night after night.  I got to get away.

 

He heard someone say. What few stage lights there were came from the bar.  By that the waitress, somehow, managed to write down your drink order.  Ingbar only had a few each visit, and then maybe a few too many after that, just enough to forget.

 

You dont see do you?  You dont understand!

 

I have my reasons.  Lots of them.   

 

What do you think?

 

What do you say?

 

What can we do?

 

Is there no other way?

 

Bits and scraps of dialogue from first or final acts made white noise in the dark; while the jukebox played soft tunes in the background and the night slipped away and the curtain closed, softly, on another day.

 

Each day moving hopelessly into the next, a tired voice grumbled, one dull day followed by another, with little to mark them apart and no reason to bother: punch the clock, bring home the paycheck.  Hardly enough to keep the family above water.  But you thank God you got what little you did.  Not what life promised but at least youre not homeless.  When I was a kid, I rode a painted pony on a carrousel surrounded by my family who waved at me happily as I whirled in a dream toward my destiny.  This was it, I guess.  I never foresaw it.

 

To bad Santa hadnt informed him about fractals.  Ingbar sipped his beer and noted.

 

I could see nothing. Darkness filled the window.  My head felt foggy, my body numb like waking up in bedlam.  I turned on the night light, reached for a cigarette.  I remembered a party, vaguely.  I remembered a dream.  The streets were empty. Dark, deserted buildings surrounded me. Although I could see no one anywhere, I knew I was being shadowedeverywhere

 

Tick tock he loves me not.

 

A woman began to sing a soft lament somewhere in the shadows of my cloudy remembrance.

 

Tick tock my heart has stopped.  Tick tock tick tock.

 

The smoke from my cigarette floated above my bed like a spirit, and softly disappeared into that shadowy space between here and nowhere.  My heart pounded as I waited for morning and my head to clear.

 

Must be a poet or the writer of screen scripts.  Probably went to a party with Santa and the crew and one of the Feds slipped him some truth Mickey and sent him on a guilt trip.

 

Now you see him, now you dont.  A womans voice hissed.  Mr. Master of the Vanishing Act.  Watch the rat pull a rabbit out of his hat!   Leaving me with another  illusion that I couldnt comprehend or grasp!  The bastard is an escape artist from responsibility, commitment, from any domestic involvement, from realities of every kind, especially if they involve the ties that bind.  Intimacy is not up his sleeve.  Love is not included in his bag of tricks.  Its one night stands for him not wedding bands.  Hell come around, now and then, to drop his pants. 

 

Hes all hocus pocus, I know, like Joe.  Her friend responded.  They all are Houdinis with hard-ons.  They sawed themselves into halves long ago.  All thats walking around is the waist down. Hocus pocus?  She should work for the D.I.A.  That would get her into focus. 

 

Bed to kitchen, back again, food, sleep, dream maybe of some other life by a sea, with youthful limbs and beauty queens.  Back and forth, like the living dead, clock ticking. Time marching, scythe in hand, to cut it all off, as though it never began.  Why am I still here, I wonder, with my silver hair dropping my pension in a parking meter to pay for a space that will be erased?  Time to get moving.  I tell myself.  Do something useful for a change.  Its been fun, eating and sleeping but its time to move on.  But I have nowhere to go.  I shiver in the cold, under the blankets, as rain mixes with snow and the winter winds blow through the rattling windows.  And with those winds come, sometimes, off the freezing damp, the scent of wet hair and rain soaked clothes and the memory of that stormy day Elsa and I met in a Berlin caf.  Those were my army days. Why do I dream of Elsa after all these years?  A Mox Nix box is where you store meaningless things, trinkets, souvenirs.  Mox Nix means means nothing in German.  Two pale ghosts Elsa and I dance in a dream.

 

A Mox Nix box,  Ingbar listened to the whispers.  Did that sum life up?  Was that the truth in the end about being human?  He had rented his cheap room by the bus station again.  He had to escape the post, get back into a life that he could understand, if only for a weekend, if only for a second.   Santa had really shaken him up.  The whole conversation from beginning to end had rattled him.  They had his number, knew him like a book, knew him so well they could manipulate him.  That was unsettling.  Did the mentalists slice and dice and dissect him through a computer or a mix of gadgetry and observation?   Let us now unlock Private Ingbars Mox Nix box.

 

What happened to the brain and all the human stuff: emotion, imagination, feeling and reflection each moment a mysteriously generated surprise flowing into the next one and so on,  all of them a wonderment, hallowed, sacred?   Was it all slight of hand?  The world happened, events happened.  There were people, places, interactions.  Was the schedule of your life set in place by a series of chain reactions, just waiting for you to keep its pre-arranged assignments like Kuwait?  The past, present, future werent simultaneous, but, lets face it, before and after were embedded in each other.  One sprang from the other and you could follow the domino effect on a computer, watch the fractal blossom.  Cause and effect, simple logic.  The Greeks knew all about this foreordained stuff: Oedipus Rex.  Was Time a vortex sucking everyone up?  Were we all cogs in a machine that reeled off a dream?  Life went on, it had to.  Without rhyme or reason?   No, in a completely orderly fashion.  It was all spit and polish, a lockstep,  even if we didnt notice it, created and conducted by the laws of physics, one step following the other in the cosmic order.  

 

What was with D.I.A?  Were they changing fate, reacting to it (in advance)  or going with the flow?  Whatever was their power were they really altering the patterns of the fractals.  They couldnt stop the universe from ultimately expanding itself into oblivion.  It seemed the scheme of things could neither be changed or rearranged.  It was always the scheme.  Did this aspect of living, if that was the case, make life more touching, or troubling?

 

I think therefore I am. Or was it I am what I am, a human, and therefore I think, but  not as well or as fast as a computer can?  Could those gadgets, as the artificial intelligence scientists anticipated, one day go it on their own, take over, do it better, faster, only, maybe, without the fun factor and grief component?  What was the soul, Ingbar wondered, that evanescence amidst the biological memory banks, switches, calculators, sorters and sifters, boosters and tweeters that composed ones consciousness?  Was there more to it than soft ware/hardware mechanics?

 

The jukebox was playing Born to Lose by Ray Charles a coincidence, or one of Santas agents playing tunes to rattle him in just the right sequence?

 

As fixed as a fact, as distinct as a thumbprint, that me in the center of Ingbars being   the I in his identity had been there from the beginning, like the Higgs bosom the scientists were searching for, the God particle that held everything together.  He had been introduced to his personal Higgs particle, his core,  before he was to his mother or father, or the world for that matter.  Santas mentalists had called that shot too.  He fell out of a second story window when he was a baby, eleven months old.   It was legendary, at least up and down the block and maybe beyond that, among his neighbors and with his family.  His father was changing the storm windows to the screens in the rickety old house, a seasonal chore he had to accomplish on a ladder.  Ingbar had managed to crawl up a pile of wash, the spring cleaning, onto the window seat, and from there to the sill.  The sensation of the plummet was the first experience he had of himself, that he was an entity and he was there.  It was the sudden absence of gravity.  He could still feel it, that fall, that flash of awareness.  The crash to the bushes below, shockingly painful, added to that recognition, or registration.  He was half kidding when he told Santa D minor.  But a note was struck : Im alive, I exist!  And being here, in the flesh, feels precisely like this!   

 

He woke up sporadically after that, parroting  words, like Momma or Poppa.  There was always the flash of himself in each ensuing little drama and that self awareness, the I  felt exactly the same now when he woke up in the morning, and it was like the variations of a score like Pachelbel put together in his Cannon in D minor.  The rheumatic fevers hallucinations had turned everything upside down and made reality a bit puzzling for a while.   But he had his core long before so he could experience the chaos pretty much as an introspective observer. 

 

Where do we come from?  Who are we?  Where are we going?  Santa had some answers for Gauguin.  Santa had some answers for him and maybe everyone.  Certainly some questions.  Did Ingbar want to be someone or did he want to be a bum?   All artists were bums. 

 

He would have had to work a lifetime at the museum, probably as a security guard.  Maybe a manager, like Degan, if he got a degree.  The D.I.A. work was interesting, challenging, and shorter by twenty years.  Plus it paid a lot better.  So why not play it that way?  The soul seeks its own society.  He would never find that in the military.  Santa was way off on that.  You cant always get what you want.  The Stones sang.  Did they get that from Hesse?  But you can lways get what you need.  What did anyone need?  Campbell said to follow your bliss.     Sounded good on paper, like many things.  Was he afraid of the freefall?  Who wasnt.  Could he actually stick it out here?   It would be more orderly and he seemed to have a mind-set for that.

 

One lonely night, Ingbar heard a hushed voice whisper at a table near him, riding a train, I saw this girl flash by in the rain.  She looked at me and then she was gone, down the opposite line, destination unknown.   I know its only a kinda dream, my dream girl.  But now nothins the same.  Nothins the same.  

 

XIX

 

Are you sick son?

 

Santa hovered over Ingbar.  Santa was a blob in a fog, morphing like a fractal into variations on his normal self.  His face ballooned and then deflated, bobbed and wobbled. His handlebar moustache first looked soft as snow and then pointy as bulls horns.   

 

Hes drugged up.  Halsley hissed.

 

Or dead drunk.   Pavlik offered.

 

He puked this morning.  Sullivan sneered.  It was completely disgusting.

 

The room was spinning, the voices echoing.  Ingbars head throbbed.  His legs felt rubbery.  His fingers felt like clothespins. The pain that plagued his brain was excruciating. 

 

Were sick of his shit Santa.  Becker glared at Ingbar.  You dont know the half of it.

 

He doesnt belong here, Santa.  Hes a complete degenerate. 

 

He hangs out in D.C. dives with all kinds of riff raff.

 

He stays in flops in Chinatown on the weekends.  I saw him come out of one when I went to the Smithsonian.  

 

Hes got drawings of hookers and street people taped to his wall, as if anyone wants to look at that stuff.

 

Hes got stacks of poems on his footlocker about winos and drug addicts.  And theres lots of political jargon in them that I would say was un-American.

 

He probably picked up some disease.  Woburn said flatly.  Well all get sick.  I didnt get stationed here to pick up tuberculosis or syphilis.      

 

The room was reeling.  Ingbar couldnt figure out what was happening.  He hadnt had a wild weekend, no weed, pills, he hardly drank at all.  It was serene and civilized.   He spent his days wandering around the National Gallery looking at the paintings.  He ate at greasy spoons,  true, the usual Mom and Pop places, a Burger King thrown in here and there.  At night he hit

the bars.  But they were upscale this trip.  They were bars he couldnt afford.  He hadnt picked up any whores. 

 

He was feeling out his new life, trying imagine what it would be like if he chose to take it: a government service worker, a Sunday painter for the next twenty-five or so years.  He wanted to see if it would fit.   It seemed like it would be worth it.  He ended up in a pricey watering hole near Embassy Row.  The place was plush. The wall behind the back bar was pure art deco, something one might have seen in New York in that elegant era when they made all those great films with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  The mirror backed shelves, which rose to the ceiling, were filled with expensive and exotic liquor bottles, many of them made of ornate shaped crystal, all art works in themselves. The most expensive were set the highest and the barkeep, who was dressed in a Tuxedo outfit, had to reach them on a sliding ladder.  Spotlights lit the display.  The rest of the room was darkened except for fairy lights, like little stars set in the ceiling so that you had the feeling you were sitting, dancing, drinking in a dream. All the cocktail tables, polished marble, seemed to float.  The chairs looked as comfortable as clouds.  Lush leather sofas and love seats were scattered around for anyone who wanted something more intimate.

 

He had a few unaffordable martinis and talked with a number of high-maintenance chicks in passing who were meeting dates.  They were chatty, flirty, and seemed attracted to him.  When they asked him what he did he told them he worked for the D.I.A.  This impressed them.  He was impressed himself.  Aspiring artist never knocked any chick dead, least of all this sort.  It always translated with them into dead beat or deadhead.

 

He didnt stay late.  He had to get a late bus back to the post this time.  They had to report in earlier than usual the following morning. There was a sick G.I. on the bus with him.  He had just gotten out of boot camp.  He was on leave and going home to another D.C. suburb just past Arlington.  They sat together.  The kid was in real bad shape.  He had the chills, fever.  Ingbar took care of him as best he could, even spread his coat over him to try to warm him up.  Maybe he had caught something contagious?

 

Settle down gentlemen. 

 

Santa chided them.

 

Ingbar was sweating bullets.  He felt like throwing up again.

 

You have a fever son.  Santa felt Ingbars forehead.  You better go to the infirmary.  Ill call and let them know you are coming.  Anyone want to help Specialist Ingbar get there?

 

They looked at one another.  Finally Pavlik volunteered.

 

XX

 

Clickety clack, clickety clack, youre on the wrong track, theres no going back.  Clickety clack, clickety clack

 

Ingbar was alone on the train.  The empty car, ablaze with light, seemed as ephemeral as mist as it streaked across the night.  He sat in the back in a cold sweat, head throbbing, heart pounding, a drawing of his mother lying on his lap.

 

The thickets and rivers and ravines flew wildly by, like waving arms menacing his night trip to tomorrow.  The ghost-white winter landscapes white hills, white valleys, white fields and woods were as much an unreality as the rattling cars blinding radiance.  He could not move and he was afraid.

 

Ten hut!  Santa stood over him, appearing out of nowhere, smiling as his portly figure rocked with the speeding train.  He was dressed in a conductors uniform, his handlebar moustache was waxed and gleaming.

 

But I wake up, Santa, Ingbar complained,  and the night is still there.

 

Lost in the moons glow, Santa sang, we chase the dream shadows.

 

He patted Ingbar on the shoulder and walked away.

 

The lord is my shepherd.  The trains wheels seemed to whisper darkly, now that all was silent again.  I shall not want.  I shall not want, although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

 

Your passport has expired sir!

 

Leon, dressed as a ticket taker, walked stiffly down the aisle past him, eyes blank, face

expressionless. He saluted Ingbar and walked on.

 

Your passport has expired sir!

 

Martin was behind him.  He was dressed the same way.  McNulty followed, then Normal, McSweeny, the black guy from the jail cell, Juanita, Percy, Degan and a continuous parade of figures he remembered from childhood and various other places, all dressed in ticket takers uniforms, all walking along single file with deadpan faces.  Your passport has expire sir! 

 

Your passport has expired sir!  They saluted Ingbar and passed on.

 

End of the line!  End of the line!  Beasley followed them and shouted, as station bells started clanging and the trains whistle blasted.  End of the line!  End of the line!

 

Amigo its good to see you!  Alberto Pena, the Latino artist he had visited in the ghetto studio in Chicago, strolled down the aisle behind Beasley.  He was dressed festively in a white silk suit and wearing a colorful sombrero.  Man, when your trip is over you got to come see me!  

 

I moved to Boston.   I got a good thing going!  I got a studio grande in the Boston Center for the Arts.  I got it made in the shade man!   I manage the building!

 

  End of the line!  End of the line! 

 

Beasleys cavernous hollering echoed into oblivion.  But instead of stopping, the train   began rocketing.  Faster and faster came the surging rush, until Ingbar had to grip the arm rests.  With the force of the thrust the lights went off and the train car vanished. He was hurtling through darkness as sleek as silk, smooth as satin, soft as velvet.  He was shooting down a long narrow tunnel with a light at the end.  He knew that he was dead.  He was riding the death train.  The pinpoint of light in the distance was the fires of Hades.  At the end of the tunnel Hell was waiting..        

 

Like a bullet from the barrel of a gun he shot into a blaze of light as brilliant as the sun.    Light so bright light everywhere   a golden, glistening radiance that went on forever.  What the fuck is this?  Ingbar wondered, as he pondered the splendor.  God?  Heaven?  The luminescence not only enveloped him it coursed through his being like nuclear explosions.  His phantom body roiled in ecstasy, cell by cell, each atom an individual exhilaration; while his mind was a crystalline prism sparkling with serenity and wisdom.  To late to get religion but he didnt seem to need one.  He was floating in Nirvana?   The hereafter?  Another dimension?  Energy is eternal delight.  Ingbar recalled a line by William Blake who had written often about his travels in another dimension.  He remembered the sick soldier.   He recalled his own splitting headache, raging fever.  This wasnt a coma or a dream in a delirium.  He knew those well.  He had done that, been there.  This was nothing anyone could imagine, nothing anyone could fathom. I am alive and I am real!  The puppet, Pinocchio, exclaimed when he was turned by magic into a human being.   Ingbar had that same feeling.  I am dead and I an real? The life he had lived before this moment was zero by comparison.  It was some kind of murky, shadow existence.              

 

Lie down!

 

Ingbar  sat up with a jolt, covered with sweat, heart pounding, pulse racing, eyes blurry.  

 

Masked figures surrounded him.  He sat naked on a narrow bed, tangled up in wires like a bug caught in spiders web.  IV needles punctured his wrists.

 

Dont move!   Another of the masked figures put a hand on his chest.  Youre sick!

 

The rest reached forward and grabbed him and he started swinging, socking each one in turn, left, right, bam, bam, wires coming undone, needles ripping from his arms, until they managed to overpower him and pin him down and tie him to the bed with restraining belts.

 

XXI

 

He saw black leaves scatter with the wind across a graveyard adrift with snow He saw ghost faces gaze at him through the smoke of war he saw Death march with a shovel across his shoulder down the road of no return he saw night and storm and lightening flare

 

Ace of Spades.  Ingbar called the hidden card.

 

Shoot the soldier!

 

Soldier?  Yes, he wore a uniform and he died by friendly fire.  Wasnt that what they called it when a soldier of the same army accidently killed another?

 

Ingbar changed nightmares and opened his eyes.  Phantom figures glared at him down the ghoulish bar.  Someone bought him a shot.  Someone reshuffled the cards.  He heard a fresh round jacked into the chamber as someone slapped a new playing card face down on the bar.

 

Another shot soldier?

   

The jukebox wailed its songs of glory, pain and joy, love and heartbreak, luck and loss.And the whiskey burned.  And he closed his eyes.

 

Amidst the fractals which was the only magic he got from the war Ingbar saw himself floating from his body through the other side of Time.  Fate and Chance played fortunes draw in a casino in the stars.  Their deck was flush with hopes and dreams, laced with tears and sorrow.

 

Ace of Hearts.  Ingbar told the ghost soldiers at the bar.

 

 

 

 

Slurred holy words hollered by the preacher on the corner Rap lyrics from stoop poets high on wine and crack cocaine Sex for money, money for drugs, drugs for money, murderfor money, murder for sex, for drugs, turf, love, oil

 

Gunfire crackles as Ingbar, dressed in his class As and wearing a mourners arm band, lights his last cigarette as he shadows through the labyrinths toward the valley of death.  God willing he will see a sign before that time.  God willing he will navigate fate through the twists and turns which dont abate. 

 

Somewhere, somehow, there will be a helping hand to guide out of him this maze-without-end to the promised land.

 

Listen to the wisdom of tradition.  Ancestral voices echo along the lost lanes.  Follow the All Powerful and obey His will.

 

Weary and worn he exhales the last puff of smoke from his cigarette.  It hangs like a holy

ghost in the air and then vanishes leaving him alone and scared. 

 

 

 

 

     It is midnight.  In the dark, in bed, lying alone and naked, Ingbar stares at the ceiling fan and smokes a cigarette.  The room is a stage set from the Twilight Zone.  There is a three legged chair beneath a wobbly table, a broken television and a one station radio.  The window wont open and its shade wont close. The sink faucet drips, the water pipes rattle, the floor boards creak, the radio crackles.  There is no hot water in the shower in the bathroom down the hall. There is no lighting in the hallway except a feeble, hanging bulb.  There is no paper for the toilet. There is no lock on any door.  The table lamp flickers when lighted. The dresser drawers wont budge.  It is the dog days of summer.

 

Ingbar hears the voice of God in the torpor, hacking and crackling through the static of the unchangeable radio, in the heat and swelter of the steamy urban night, indecipherable yet all powerful, unknowable and unrelenting, telling him that somewhere and yesterday and tonight and tomorrow and nowhere and always and never and forever

 

There is a full moon tonight.  The walls are weeping.  Teardrops glisten like diamonds in the purgatorial dark.  Ingbar reaches for his bottle, drinks to the hidden, like fog in a daydream, mingling shadows and moonbeams.   

 

And moonstruck lovers sigh on their pillows.

   And midnight revelers dance in the moons glow.

 

And his childhood voice laughs beyond the window.

 

 

 

 

Do you know your name?

 

Pudin Tane.

 

Do you know whos president?

 

Read my lips.  I dont give a shit.

 

Can you tell me how many quarters are in a dollar and fifty cents?

 

Enough to do my laundry.

 

I think we can untie him now.

 

XXII

 

They bombed Iraq for thirty-nine days before they sent in the army, navy and marines who lay in wait.  It was a real blitzkrieg.  Saddams troops surrendered the next day.  The bombing had taken everything out of them.  It was devastating.  Ingbar watched the whole show on television in the infirmary.  Few American troops were killed in the ground skirmishes.  To his credit Bush didnt march into Bagdad trying to get Hussein.  He won the war and dropped the issue.  Probably because, strategically, we werent quite ready, yet, to occupy the place or the political climate wasnt quite right.    We, and it, would be one day. 

 

The soldier on the bus had spinal meningitis.  An epidemic had broken out in his barracks. It had been too late to stop a few of the stricken from taking their leaves.  A handful had died including the young soldier.  Ingbar had caught it from him. 

 

The worst pain in the world.  The army doctor who had treated Ingbar, did the spinal tap, loaded him up to the limit with antibiotics and watched his pulse flat line and his breath stop, had told him afterwards when he was lying in agony on a plastic bed sheet filled with ice to bring his fever down, head still groggy, brain pounding, back aching.  Bar none.  The brain and the spinal cord are infected, packed with pus.  The central nervous system runs amok.  The fever from the infection is an inferno.  If you dont die you can come out of it disabled: blind, deaf, brain damaged, crippled.  Youve been through hell.

 

Heaven too.

 

Heaven?

 

Just kidding.

 

Ingbar had lost ten percent of his hearing.  He had to use reading glasses from now on.  Otherwise he was A okay, according to all the tests.  Except he wasnt.  He couldnt think.  He couldnt focus.  He wandered around in a fog.  He couldnt even draw in his sketchbook.  When he talked his own words echoed.  Any kind of light was too bright.  When he closed his eyes, Technicolor dreams reeled in the darkness of his mind without having been imagined or conjured.  They were delirium dreams, those comatose imaginings you see in a trance.  He had had them in his childhood.  At night it was worse.  The chaotic visions that overwhelmed him were almost as vivid as that other dimension he had found himself in.  He woke up exhausted, even frightened, definitely shaken.  There was something especially weird about them.  Sometimes at night he floated out of his body.  He would hover above the infirmary bed entangled in multicolored energy coils that spun around him like a spiders web.   

 

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  The doctor told him when he complained about some of his ghoulish ailments.  Your body had quite a shock.  Not much different than stepping on a land mine and being blown up.      

 

They gave him tranquilizers.  That helped a bit, at least with the Technicolor movies; or maybe time was the factor in that, because they gradually faded out.  The nightmares never stopped.   He began to notice episodes from these chaotic dreams that repeated themselves in reality the next day, or week, as if they were all glimpses of future events, prognostications, premonitions.   The fire in the infirmary, which turned out not to be much, just a minor electrical mishap, but still the alarms went off, there were shrouds of smoke and they had to evacuate the building.  The fistfight between two orderlies who really banged each other up.  The M.P. s  rushed in and hauled them out.  Or that patient in the wheelchair who had a seizure.  He had been sitting, reading in the dayroom next to Ingbar when suddenly he started writhing and his eyes began rolling back in his head a reaction to medication, it turned out.  But Ingbar had to stagger around in his habitual daze frantically trying to get some help.  He had dreamed all these beforehand and had to relive the experience.

 

He began to record the dreams, write down the premonitions, date them and then check them off as they happened, because he thought he was going nuts.  Leon called, Michaels sick.  He may have A.I.D.S.  Halsey stole my drawings.  My locker and footlocker have been tossed. 

 

When he got out of the hospital and back to his quarters his drawings indeed were gone.  They had been taken off the walls, stuffed in a cardboard box and stored under his bunk.

 

We had a vote when you were gone old man.  Halsey informed him with a smirk.  We decided the quarters should look more uniform.  Instead of individual decorations on the walls, as you can see, we now have these patriotic, framed photos of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial and other landmarks in our Nations Capital.  His things had been gone through, not by a professional, but obviously by the crew.  His mothers photograph was out of place.  Letters from Leon and Martin, his poems, were in disarray.

 

He still felt wrecked.  He couldnt handle work.  The computer made him dizzy.  He couldnt put any of the pieces of the puzzle together.  Reality seemed always a step away.  He could never step into it.  It was always something just out of his grasp.  Martin was okay.  The A.I.D.S alarm was a false one.  Of course the gay community was in a panic about every little sign.  The nightmares kept coming.  He dreamed again of Alberto Pena.  He asked Martin about him.  Martin wasnt sure but he thought he might have moved to Boston.  Everything was jumbled.  Ingbars mind was scrambled.  There was that run in with Woburn which he had dreamed about the night before and had to relive again.  As if once wasnt too much.  If he had the strength he would have punched him.   

 

You know we all had to get inoculations because of you!  I have to live with the Black Death as a bunk mate!  Why dont you transfer out?  Go somewhere more suitable to your sort, like some third world country where you can spread plagues around and no one will notice or mind?    

 

Finally Santa called him in.

 

Ive talked to your doctor.  He feels you may need more time to recover.   I also talked to your commander.  Youve been in the service for nearly a year.  You have a thirty day leave due you soon.  We can put the paper work through a little in advance.  A good rest would do you good.  If, when you come back, you still find the work here too stressful you can put in for a transfer.  We can get you a plum assignment anywhere.  How would you like to be stationed in Germany?  You could travel Europe, see all the museums.  You cant beat those frauleins or those French women.  Of course you would no longer be in the D.I.A but you could start a career just as good or go back to school and study art on the G.I. bill.  But, of course, wed love to have you back with us so well try that out first.  Thirty days in Sweet Home Chicago should fix you up.   

 

I guess I could use some time off.  Ingbar agreed.  Im not myself.  It would be great to get back to Chicago for a while.

 

The next day he bought a train ticket to Boston.  They could shove their fractals up their asses.  Recovered or not Ingbar was done with the military.  Hed had enough of saluting and way too much of spit and polish.

 

XXIII

 

Dark, rocky days in dead zones (like a dream but not) where nowhere is everywhere and nothing is anything and unknown hours fade to black.

 

The end of the world is at hand, man.

 

The alley man stared at Ingbar, starkly, gripping a Sterno can.

.

Ingbar shadowed through the snowfall, past doors which had no numbers, down streets which had no names, through shapes which had no faces, under clocks run out of time, while wind whipped shrouds swirled around like the ghosts of dead mens dreams.

 

Death toll mounts!  A newsy shouted.  More bombed civilian bodies found!

 

Ingbar bought a paper, used it for a hat.  White veils wrapped around him like wreaths, as he bundled down the ghosted streets, past the small grubby pubs and around toppling ghetto tenements, along the rows of shops filled with such stuff that only the poor would want.  I am a soldier of misfortune and  Ingbar mused as he marched through the deepening drifts, I fought that oil war on the desert sand, from a desk where I didnt have to risk my ass.

 

At a dead end dive, Ingbar ducked in from the cold.  He dropped a fistful of Midnight Run dollars on the bar, drank a beer and read the newspaper, which gave an account of the total  number of civilians to date accidently killed by our friendly fire.  A fairyland of falling snow whorled in the barroom window.  Crystal castles and other fanciful marvels replaced the tumbledown ghetto, while white winged spirits danced off the drifts, flew with the flurries, did twirls and pirouettes.  He wondered if all those dead souls were floating around in that other dimension he experienced, or were they merely rotting corpses shoveled under the ground.  He wondered again about what that was all about and what had happened and if it were all an illusion.  No, it was too real.  The kingdom of Heaven is within us?  He was in some kingdom, or some other realm.  He wondered about his premonitions and if they would ever stop and if each day would return to a blank slate again to be filled in as he lived them and not broadcast in his brain beforehand?  A Divine plan?  Whatever, we were still pawns.

 

 

 

 

Champagne sold cocaine Tequila in a Tumbler, mary jane   a shot of Jack with a Becks back, crack B&B in a snifter, young men White Wine in a stem glass, women Mint Juleps, hot gems Amaretto on the Rocks, children.  Clever these hoodlums.  Each of Ingbars regulars, in the Combat Zone dive he tended bar in held a ticket to some bliss in a tight, gloved fist.  What they drank told the shadows that drifted  in, now and then, the Joe-sent-me code buy you another one of those? for whatever treat they wanted  from whatever trick they needed to deal with.  Which was none of Ingbars business although if the place ever got raided he end up in prison.  He just poured the drinks, as the shadows came and went, and the clock ticked, and he counted the minutes, and counted his tips, and counted the days before the M.P.s knocked at his door.  He couldnt hide forever.  In the meantime he had a good paying job with fringe benefits.  What more could any guy ask for? 

 

Drugs sex, into the vortex.

In shadowy rooms with locked doors,

and grimy windows shut tight,

I needle-stab my punctured arms,

because they are there,

because I dont care,

and drug my way through life.

Faster faster, comes the rush,

never fast enough.  I float

in dreamland, glide through

heaven steeped in sweat soaked

exhilaration.

Life is many stories below,

death also and all my troubles

as I stroll on wobbly legs, 

through stars and moon glow,

where everything is possible,

and nothing is probable, and

everywhere is anywhere, and all

of it neither here nor there.

 

 

 

 

 

Bad times, when falling angels fill the sky like carnival confetti for the devils delight.Bad times, when nothing jives and the same lame lies pass like valentines among the cubicle people in their sitcom lives. Bad times, when the wind cries toxic moans as the planet dies.    

 

The cause of your misfortune is apparent.

 

Says an official of the military-industrial establishment.

 

Your errant mind is completely aberrant. 

 

Candlelit skulls light the windows of the tenements. Corpses chant mantras throughout the labyrinths. Each day shoots for the moon, lands on vampire bat wings.

 

Poverty is a privilege not a privation.  Says the official from the corporation. tis the lifeblood of a mighty nation.

 

Bodies float down a river of blood orphans, runaways, suicides, fallen soldiers, the lame, sick, halt and blind in a survival of the fittest where only the empowered thrive.

 

In a cellar window a wizened widow eats dog food from a can at a three legged table. While in drab, drafty, charity run nursing home hallways, like fading memories, the aged sit, useless.  And the veterans of the wars go ignored.

 

Bad times when peace is war, homeless shelters are closed for the poor, tax loopholes for the rich increase, jobs are outsourced overseas, up is down, wrong is right, and youre in between nowhere and no way out. Sewers run to the sea, Ingbar mused, wait for me.

 

 

 

 

No guardian angels in these dark grottos, crypts, caverns, night world catacombs, no mojo, ace in the hole, as the winter winds wailed like junkshop violins and winos rummaged through the streets and sanitation trash bins, while gunfire crackled across the Dead Zones labyrinths.

 

Ingbar  moved through night and street glow, past the poolrooms and the taverns, the seedy, blue-lit lounges, the strip joints and the dice dens, the crack shacks and the brothels, the dead end dives and gin mills, the midnight prowl of shadows, while eyes watched him like cocked pistols.

 

Nothing doing anywhere.  Cracked mirrors, broken clocks, windowless rooms, bolted locks, disconnected phones, loaded dice, stacked decks, snake eyes time in a bottle Night Towns broken clock measuring planetary motion by the shadows that prowl.

 

Up town  down town  round and round  falling down.

 

As they danced in black dresses around the rim of each drink, the daughters of darkness who circled the brink.

 

Candlelight flickered in the open doorway at the top of the stairs.  A veil of smoke drifted down the landing and shifted, ghostlike, amidst the hallways shadows.  Ingbar could smell her perfume.  The smoke held the dense aroma of incense burning.  Incense always made him dizzy its heady fumes hypnotic.

 

Deaths perfume. He remembered an old priests cryptic comment when he served for a time as an alter boy.  Nuns and priests and devils and holy ghosts whirled with his intoxication  as he staggered to the top.  He gripped the banister to keep from swaying.

 

She stood across the room with her back to him, dressed in black a gossamer black with lavish jet trimmings and lush midnight lace.  Her long, golden hair fanned across her shoulders, flared down her back.  Her skin was so pale it seemed translucent.  Candles, candelabrums fluttered on bureaus, bed stands.  Incense was burning everywhere.

 

Cin der el la dances on star dust.

 

She sang to herself in a mirror, applying red lipstick. The ashtray on the bureau was filled with butts, her eyes heavy from smoke and the long night.

 

Ingbar crossed himself and staggered in.

 

XXIV

 

Back and forth, left to right, like a moth around a candle, like a bat in flight.  Hand and eye mesmerized, watching the slash of blazing colors crisscross, collide, slowly erasing any trace of the screaming face that always stared at Ingbar, starkly, from each blank canvas, like a maniac unleashed; until it was magically replaced by occult incantations and voodoo rites, which people took for art line, form, hues, shapes, all rainbows in a mindscape of amazing grace.  It was cold in the studio, chilly scenes of fading winter in the windows, the sky a shroud in the approaching dawn, yet fever bright from the incandescent light.  Ingbar shivered and inhaled another coffin nail.  Before him on the canvas, faceless strangers came and went, as shadows swept across a land where mists enveloped each pale ghost lost in a nimbus about to disappear like smoke; until finally there was nothing, no beginning and no ending, nor anything in between, except lifes dream.

 

Artists Statement

 

by Ithiel Ingbar, March 16th  1991    

 

Artists live where all dreams end.  Truth, Illusion, are a dance of apparitions.  You try to capture them.  Smoke and mirrors are what you usually get but sometimes lifes magic.

 

I paint fate: dolls who dream, marionettes who emote, toys and puppets with hearts and souls.  Why?  I died when I was twenty.  I left my body and traveled to another dimension. When I came back to life, I found that something strange had happened.  The time/space continuum we live in went out of its rhythm and left me subject to premonitions.  I dreamed the future and awoke to relive it.  These were events along an existential terrain that I could predict but not escape; no more than a puppet can manipulate its strings.

 

This is a cold, mechanistic planet we inhabit, indifferent to our wishes, dreams, fears, passions.  It will do what it must with us, as trapped as we are in its dominion of cause and effect and we can forget about free will, good, evil, god, the devil.  It is all much more illusive than that.  We are players on a stage, not authors or directors.  The script was written long ago, in one big bang, on which the curtain will ultimately close   which does nothing to diminish our intense capacity to experience the miracle and wonder of it.  It ends quick.  Beyond the flat-line? all in due time.

 

All in due time.  Ingbar mused as he painted and ran over his artists statement in his mind.  But what was time?  Or at least to him?  He seemed to be living in between dimensions, either outside of time or too intermingled with it.

 

He had looked Alberto Pena up at the Boston Center for the Arts as soon as he hit town.  He told him right off that he was a deserter from the army and he had to hole up somewhere for a while.  He had to get his head together.  He had a brain injury of sorts and he couldnt fix it in the service.  In fact they were driving him nuts.  He would go back when he was better and they could do whatever they had to with him.  But he had to get his mind right first, get his feet back on the ground.

 

Hey man, no problem!  Pena patted his shoulder and squeezed his hand.  Ill give you a studio, gratis, while you get your shit together.  You can stay here forever, or at least as long as I hold this gig.

 

The BCA was a gigantic old edifice in a mostly bad neighborhood in the Back Bay of Boston.  It housed dance troupes, theater companies, musicians, painters, sculptors, art classes of every description.  Pena was in charge of its maintenance, collecting the rents and taking care of the tenants.  He had a giant studio.  He did not exhibit in Boston.  No one digs my shit here man.   He showed his work in SoHo where he did pretty well.

 

 He fixed Ingbar up with a gallery on Newbury Street, an upscale string of blocks which featured fancy restaurants, pricey boutiques and shops.  The gallery Works on Paper dealt only in drawings.  Ingbar had sold three so far: one of Juanita from memory, another of his mother which he had taken from her photograph, and the last of the Voodoo Lady he had slept with in D.C. .  He was haunted by her mystical beauty.  He remembered her expression as she wildly rode him, tossing her head, swinging her hair as she bucked and wailed in gospel tongues.  Actually the spooky woman had scared the shit out of him.  It didnt effect his erection.  He couldnt recall having ever had a bigger one.  When he finally exploded he was surprised the eruption didnt send her shooting through the ceiling.          

 

He signed the drawings with a false name, Joseph Fractal, and cashed the checks at theMidnight Run, a job which Pena had gotten for him.  Pena was also including his paintings in a BCA artist in residence group exhibit.  It would the first exhibit of paintings for Ingbar.  He had been leery about it at first but Pena had convinced him that his pieces were exceptional.He was painting like a madman, drawing and coloring at the same time directly onto the canvas like Van Gogh.  Alberto and a few of the other artists were teaching him how to paint with oil.  It was surprisingly easy and he picked it up fast.  He couldnt imagine how Picasso had such a hard time with color, first going through a Blue Period, and then a Rose Period and through Cubism, poking his way along, before he really got it together and became a color master. 

 

Despite, or perhaps because of, his heavy use of drugs, his mind was getting better.  The nightmares were less intense and fewer.  The premonitions still came but less frequently and they werent about every little thing.  Most of all, he thought, the reason his head was clearing was because his obsession with working was forcing himself to focus on his art and writing. 

 

He was coming around.  His head was on the mend.  What he had learned about life and the nature of man disturbed him.  The truth about being human was shattering.  Man was not the master of his own thoughts or actions.  Everyone was a preprogrammed robot and the same with him.  Just to avoid thinking about that drove him on.  He couldnt deal with it.  But he was doing what he loved to do.  Why should he care where his talent and drive came from as long as it was there?  As long as his works were getting better?   It was the same with everything.  Life was a jubilee.  He kept telling himself.  Life was for living.  He had taken to wearing his "dog tags whenever he painted much in the same way true-believers wore a crucifix or a star of David.  He was grateful for this existential insight his accidental army-death had given him.  Heroes, cowards, saints, devils, success, failure, it was all relative, as Einstein would say, or any gambler, to the hand you were dealt by fate.  Truth is beauty and beauty truth.  Where did anything go if all things were preordained and all acts were equal?   From each according to his ability to each according to his need?  Of, by, and for the people with the inalienable right to justice, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  Sounded okay to him.  He wasnt doing what he did for fame, fortune or glory.  What I did for love. would be a more apt description and something to write on his tombstone.  

 

He made a date with a dancer in the building.  She kept poking fun of him as he staggered back and forth to the hallway sink for cans of water to clean his brushes and dilute his colors.   You get any of it on the canvass?  She asked.  Ingbar was always splattered with paint,  his clothes, face, hair.  After each session he had to spend and hour in the shower trying to scrub in off.  Or are you a walking Jackson Pollack?  She was funny and pretty.  You can take me to lunch if you get cleaned up.  You can take me anyway.  It might be fun to date a splatter painting.

 

Boston was a pretty little town: the museums, the Commons, the Public Gardens, the strolling lanes along the Charles River.  Spring was in the air.  Love was in the air.  His head was getting better.  He was coming around, even though he couldnt stop  picturing the whole state of affairs as drones laboring in an anthill.  Must be okay for the ant community as well though.  Probably a constant turn on feeling each other up all the time with their little antennas and zapping each other with all those pheromones.  Go for it.  It ends quick.        

 

XXV

 

The other woman in Ingbars life was a teenage runaway the neighborhood called Star because she sang for money on a street corner.  He made many drawings of her and the other runaways.  Hide and move, ghost and go, beg, steal, sell yourself.  Sleep in doorways or abandoned buildings.  Slip like shadows down the streets and alleys.  All around Star and the other  runaways, the city rocked night and day; until those kids must wonder if theyre dreamers, sleepwalking through recurring nightmares.  Which they were; at least thats the way Ingbar portrayed them in his dark street scene, crowded with other denizens of the ghetto they lived in, where each night, under a pale street light, Star sang her songs to the passers-by, her voice a wail in the wind of all thats orphaned, lost, missing, abandoned, and coins dropped in her cup, enough, just enough.

 

Pimps, pushers, muggers, killers, whores, winos, druggies, beggars, the homeless, hapless, helpless, impoverished he had captured them with slashes of expressionistic turbulence.  All a magic act.  Sometimes that magic is black.  Star hadnt liked it: the fact that some disheveled doodler was trying to capture her on paper.   

 

You drawing me?

 

The pretty runaway had asked Ingbar, haughtily, the day he started sketching her on the street.  Sweet sixteen looked pretty mean, also knowing and cunning.  Her long golden hair caught fire in the sun and fluttered, faintly, at its soft edges with the wind.  Her deep blue eyes, set in chiseled white skin, pallid from street living, were twin tunnels of love any young man would give his soul for to take a ride down.   She looked like a prom queen in a rumpled blouse and faded jeans, a saint in a slum, wrapped in all the sad trappings of martyrdom.  Ingbar couldnt resist the pathos and the irony, her haunting beauty. 

 

Its a free country.

 

Ingbar got a kick out of bugging her.  When he sold a drawing of her at Works On Paper he would lay some money on her.

 

Not for me.  Drop some money in the can or scram, raggedy man.

 

So what you gonna do, beautiful, call the police?

 

I got friends who take care of me.  Theyll take care of you too, if I ask them to.

 

She was talking about pimps, not her fellow runaways.  Every low life  in the hood had to be out to get her in the game.

 

Theyll take care of both of us, doll.  Me first, maybe, but you soon after. You wont last long if you hook up with those friends, dating Johns and shooting up heroin. 

 

I dont hook up with anyone, Rembrandt.  And what I do or dont do dont concern you. So get moving before I make a fool of you. As if youre not already.  Ill scream, tell everybody you were trying to steal my change.   

 

Heres a little more.  Ingbar dropped what few coins he had in his pocket into her can.  Tell you what Ill do, beautiful.  If I sell the painting these sketches are for, Ill lay a couple of Ben Franklins on you for being my model.

 

Wow!  Bennies from heaven!   Ill tell you what Ill do, raggedy man.  You come back and drop some change in my can, hopefully more than those pennies you dropped in now, and Ill sing you a song. Now move along.

 

Star sang like a lark, a wounded one with a broken wing.  Her voice could soar, but just when it reached the heavens it always broke, tumbled down to earth.  The break could break your heart.  The wail from hell that followed impaled your soul, chilled you to the bone.  Maybe that  desolate fall from majesty is what haunted Ingbar?  He loved the way she sang so tragically. 

 

Who knew what Stars story was all about?  Why do kids run away?  Why do they live so precariously on these dangerous streets and not with their families?   Ingbar could guess.  The long standing human pastime of rape and incest.  The gallery had just sold one of the drawings he made of her.  Tonight he would surprise her with that Benny.  See if she was still such a smartass after that. 

 

A murky morning daylight was moodily ghosting through the garret windows.  Ingbar was dizzy from staring at the canvas, breathing oil paint and turpentine, chain smoking cigarettes.  He had been painting all night.  He blinked at the white walled, brilliantly lighted space cluttered with paintings, creaky bed in the middle, small table with a wobble in the corner, mini-fridge, a hotplate on the windowsill, at the battered dresser and the cracked mirror hanging over it, through which he saw himself gawking at himself with those lapis lazuli colored eyes his mothers riveting, Russian eyes, exotic and hypnotic, a cats gaze in the gaunt, pale face at the old, broken-clock radio atop the dresser, which he purchased from a thrift shop.  The classical music he played on it always sounded a little shocked.  The brick and board book case in the corner next to it was loaded with literary magazines with funky names.  Each one had a sample of his work in it under his pseudonym Joseph Fractal, which made living as he did worth it.  It had better.  It was all he was going to get from trying to tell those stories few could comprehend about the places he had been and how the tears of each generation water the graveyard of civilization, while dreams still flickered in the darkness, mankinds only ray of hope in chaos. 

 

Dominating it all was his best work Shadow Land a giant painting hanging in the middle of the studio, still drying, recently finished.   The tragic/comic runaway, Star as the neighborhood called her, standing in the center with her tattered clothes, golden hair an angel in a nightmare in the small rooms harsh glare.

 

Pena loved it.  All the artists who had been helping him learn painting did as well.   It would be included in the big show coming up at the BCA.  The BCA had a huge exhibit space a cyclorama a giant circle in the center of the old building under a huge domed ceiling.  The edifice had been erected eons ago to feature a wax museum type display of battles from the civil war.  The customers would buy tickets and view the spectacle from a balcony that encircled it.  

 

Now they had dance performances, art shows, plays in the space.   The artists had voted and they wanted to feature Shadow Land on the invitation.  Ingbar, of course, was floored by the honor.  It had been six months since he deserted.  Maybe, after the show, he could turn himself in and straighten things out.  Pay the piper and get his life in order.  

 

XXVI

 

Ingbar awoke with a start, drenched with sweat.  He must have been sleepwalking because he woke up on his feet.  He was moving, not moving exactly, somehow being transported, a step at a time, around a clutter of broken chairs and tables, over crushed beer cans and empty bottles, passed a pile of unpaid rent bills, toward the easel in his garret corner. It was night, and the loft was an aquarium of starlight.  Munch-like moons haunted the heavens. Van Gogh constellations swirled across the sky. Atop the nightstand, paint jars sparkled like prisms. The ghost-white canvas shined with astral light.

 

Ingbar was painting, not painting. Slanting forward, he slashed the canvas with road signs, religious symbols, astrological charts, corporate logos, chemical formulas, designer labels, mathematical equations, secret signals The creatures from his cracked world, cautiously, climbed out from their demimonde tableaus their Brut Art rendered gin mills, strip joints, dice dens, night clubs, jail cells, missions, soup kitchens, back street labyrinths, blind alley flops bag ladies, homeless families, penniless pensioners, beggars, winos, hookers, junkies, grifters, gangsters, orphans, runaways his non-sellable oeuvre of the near-dead, and the might-as-well-be, which included a new sallow

Self Portrait In Straight Jacket, rusty dope needles sticking through his head They slithered

down the warped walls, crawled out from the festering stacks, crowded around him with their

dead end eyes, gawked at him as he worked.

 

He was repainting them all in a castle in the clouds, feasting around a royal table, dressed in finery, flush with merriment, while cherubs circled chandeliers, and virgins danced on marble floors and rainbows arched across a kingdom where ketchup was no longer a vegetable to politicians, and lives were no longer negotiable to corporations, and liberty, equality, fraternity reigned forever, and no child was ever lost or abandoned

 

Suddenly Star appeared, the last to climb out of her canvas.  She was wearing a snow-white, floor length, gossamer dress.  She resembled an angel.

 

"Goodbye raggedy man!  She smiled and waved at him.  Im running away again! 

 

And then she extended her arms and flew out of the window and into the constellations.

 

XXVII

 

Star was dead.  Ingbar could tell by the alternate-universe dream he had.  Somehow during the night she had lost her sad little life.  He sat shivering at the wobbly table.  His head was in a fog.  His body felt numb.  He had slept through the whole rainy day, awakening, periodically, from bad dreams to thunder, lightning, the windows rattling.  Fog filled the window and he had the illusion he was sitting in a magicians crystal ball.   Maybe it didnt happen?  Maybe he could go out into the night and find her singing on the corner?  But he knew better.  

 

Police!  A deep voice thundered in the hallway, as a big fist pounded on his door.  Open up Rembrandt!  Police!  I knows youre in there!

 

Ingbar almost jumped out of his skin.  He looked at the door, grabbed a steak knife, moved cautiously, heart pounding toward the racket in his hallway. 

 

I didnt call the police.  He said gruffly. The last time some junkie pulled that trick in the building an artist got robbed at gunpoint.

 

Look Picasso, I just dragged three hundred pounds up five flights of stairs!  Now I think you better invite me in and offer me a glass of water!

 

The big black cop in his doorway was sweating bullets.  His huge barrel chest, stomach to match, was heaving for breath. 

 

Getting to old for that!  He rolled his eyes as he lumbered inside.  And way too fat!

 

It was like the entire fourth precinct station had entered his tiny BCA space, a conglomeration of bullets, brass buttons, badges and weapons all in one mammoth version.  The Law was here.     

 

Ingbar offered him a chair and went out to the hall sink for a glass of water.  The cop stood panting in the middle of the floor staring at the giant painting of Star at the center singing for her supper.  Eyes opened wide, lips parted, the Law was at least three inches taller than Ingbar and twice as wide.  He made two of him and Ingbar wondered if the rickety chair would hold him.

  

Whats this about?  Ingbar asked nervously.  Look if its about what happened at Midnight Run last night youll have to talk to Mr. Celonie.  I just pour drinks there.

 

Midnight Run?  The cop looked at him, quizzically  I dont know anything about  what happened in that joint.  Im here about her,  he pointed at Star, or rather her death.

 

Glistening with sweat, he guzzled the water down, studying the painting over the rim of the glass.  Ingbar noticed his eyes go soft.  The cop swallowed hard.  When he was finished he sighed and said sadly:  Sweet kid, could sing like a bird.  I used to stop my patrol each night and visit her.  An angel in a nightmare.  You got it Rembrandt.  He had slowly backed his big body to the bed as he studied Ingbars depiction of Star and the neighborhood.  When his thick legs hit the mattress he looked around and sat down.  A saint in hell.  He shook his head.  Yeah bro you do know.  Aint you got no ice in that little box?  He glanced at his empty glass and snarled.  No?  Youd think in this dump,  he looked around at the bright, warp walled little studio, cluttered with blinding paintings, the waterd run cold.  Thank you very kindly.  He smiled, derisively, as he handed back the glass to Ingbar.  It took me a while to track you down, Picasso.  He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead, under his hat brim.   I been cruising around, keeping an eye out for the clown that been bothering Star for some time.  She complained about you a while ago.  Some raggedy arteest bothering her on the corner, sketching her, offering her big money to come to his studio and pose for pictures nude, trying to get her into bed.  I was gonna have a little talk with you.  Ive been putting it off and now look what happened.

 

I didnt paint her nude.  Ingbar protested.  Or even want that.  Shes fully clothed.

 

I can see that.  Or so you say.  I know how that works.  But what happens next?  Star is dead.  You see something wrong with this picture, Picasso?   You dont seem to be surprised that shes dead.  I mean you got a painting of her.  You should be shocked.

 

Of course I am.  Ingbar said confused.  How did she die?

 

Well get to that.  You wouldnt happen to have an alibi for last night would you?

 

I worked until twelve at the Midnight Run, came home and painted til dawn.  Ingbar said stunned.  He suddenly remembered another of his nightmares: a giant gorilla was chasing

him through a circus, there were cages filled with creatures growling at him.  He got trapped in

one with a rhino who charged at him.  And here was Mighty Joe Young.

 

So just after midnight you got back here?

 

I guess.

 

Anyone see you come in?

 

I dont know.

 

Anyone here with you?

 

No, I was alone.

 

This picture here.  The big cop got up and lumbered over to a small portrait of a Latino girl hanging next to the Star painting. When you do that?

 

I dont know.  A few months ago.

 

Same way as Star?  You bother her somewhere sketching her?  Or did you bring this one up here?

 

I think I sketched her in a park.  She was reading a book.  Her eyes are downcast so thats probably the way that went.                   

 

You like sketching pretty girls.

 

Sure.  What artist doesnt?  But I sketch a lot of different people, young, old, male, female.  What attracts me is a certain look if theres something spiritual about them.  Saintly,

noble, magical despite the fact that they live these hard lives in this ghetto. 

 

You wouldnt have that sketchbook handy would you?  He gave Ingbar a wide smile.  Id love to see all those saintly faces you drew.

 

Ill get it.

 

Ingbar staggered to the closet, rummaged through his notebooks, heart pounding, sweat   forming on his forehead and palms.  What the hell, he wondered, was going on?

 

Artists live where all dreams end. The big cop  read aloud, leaning over the table as Ingbar came back with the sketchbook.  Truth, Illusion are a dance of apparitions. my, my, thats fancy writing,  plays tricks with my tongue   I paint fate dolls who dream, marionettes who emote, toys and puppets with heats and souls Toys? Puppets?  He looked at Ingbar quizzically.  I left my body traveled to some other dimension we can forget about good, evil, god, the devil Whats this stuff?  He picked up a chapbook of poems Ingbar had self published, and which he was going to include, at Penas suggestion,  in his portion of the BCA art exhibit, and began flipping through the pages.  I better get back to the pictures Picasso, the big cop shook his head, cant make no sense of this gibberish.  That your name?  Joseph Fractal?  He asked smiling as he took the book from Ingbar hands.  Never heard no name like that before.  He murmured, as he flipped through the sketches. Jesus.  Heshook his head, as he studied some sketches of an Asian girl.  Lordy, Lordy, her too.  He muttered.  Man every damned one of them.  How long you been living in Roxbury Mr. Fractal?  He looked up from the sketchbook.  His expression changed suddenly from that of mild bantering to a facts just the facts look.

 

I dont know.  Ingbar stammered.  I guess about six months. 

 

Mr. Honest.  But you know we can track that down I guess.  Mr. Fractal,  I want you to turn around now.  He smiled as he slipped Ingbars Statement and chapbook  between the pages of the sketchbook and tucked it under his armpit.  And put your little arteest hands together in back of you.  He pulled the handcuffs from his belt.  You have the right to remain silent.  That right is guaranteed by the constitution.  You have the right to an attorney.

 

XXVIII

 

Like a one note rhythm on a heartbeat drum, the clock ticks, the pendulum swings, as each second the present falls back into the past, while it falters toward a future, which ends when  it begins, marking the lockstep  on the calendar of regrets tick by tick.  Ingbar sat slumped on the bench in his holding cell staring at the wall.  When he stared at the bars he had to admit he was in hell.   It was all unreal, but at least he knew the drill.  Hed been arrested before.  He lifted his sweatshirt and took a look at the fist print turning dark blue on his stomach that he got when King Kong doubled him up with a punch to the gut.  You jive piece of shit.  Godzilla had fumed, when the fingerprint cop took off Ingbars handcuffs and noticed the steak knife sticking out of his pocket, which Ingbar had totally forgotten about.  You trying to punk me?  His eyes bulged and his chest heaved.  Ill break your fingers painter!  He grabbed Ingbars fingers in a vice-like grip and gave them a twist.  He would have broken them if the other cops hadnt pulled him off.  You better hope I dont get a write up for not properly patting you down Star Man!  He hissed in Ingbars ear.  Cause Ill come a visitin you later in your cell damned sure!    

 

Star Man was his nickname around the station.  King Kong had called it in as they cruised through the foggy streets of Boston.  Guess who Im bringing in!  He chortled to the officer at command after he identified himself and reported his mission.  Star Man!  He whispered.  Apparently that was the code name he invented for Ingbar when he first started looking for him after Star complained.  That is if I can!  He chuckled.  He floats from his body!  Just ask him!  You aint gonna float away from me now are you Picasso?   He kept asking and laughing as they wound through the shrouded streets.  You still there, Rembrandt or is that just the physical shell of you staring at me from the back seat.  Wish youd say somethin Renoir.  Between you and this Dracula movie scenery Im getting shivery!          

 

The night fog followed them into the station and stayed in Ingbars brain.  News crews filmed him as he entered.  Photographers snapped his picture.  Who called them?  Could it possibly be for him or were they there for something else.  In Bean Town there was always a lot going on.  He kept his mouth shut while Bostons finest booked him, printed him, took his mug shots.  Although he wanted to holler as the black cop lead them to each station of the process: This is nuts! 

 

Good collar Johnson.  The cops kept complimenting his fat friend as if he just brought in Jack The Ripper or some other heinous felon. Look at those peepers!  Jeepers creepers! 

Theyre as bright and blue as squad car flashers!  Star Man is an arteest.  Johnson smiled and showed each one, as they went along,  Ingbars sketchbook, flipping through the pages.   Take a peep at this!  Theyre all in here.  Remember that Asian girl? 

 

A steak knife?  A rumpled detective looked up at Ingbar with mock puzzlement when they inevitably took him to the proverbial small room with the little table and the polished mirror which was really a window through which Johnson, along with a huddle of plain-clothed cops were staring at him, while a hidden camera in the corner recorded his interrogation and with hope his confession.  Another room was available, Ingbar was sure,  in case they had to beat it out of him.

 

I was opening letters when officer Johnson came around.  Ingbar studied the disheveled investigator who sat smiling crookedly at him, a big, burly, bushy-eyed brute with the battered features of a punch drunk pugilist.  His cheap suit was in disarray, his chintzy, street vendor tie hung loose.  He looked like he had been summoned to duty from a night of drinking and arm wrestling in some dive down the street where big busted whores sat clapping and yowling at each sweaty victory.  His thick black hair was slicked back with grease.  He hadnt shaved in a couple of days. I slipped it in my pocket and forgot it.

 

Happens all the time!  The disheveled Dick Tracy spread his hands.  You give them the same excuse when they found that switchblade on you in lets see,  he leaned over and studied Ingbars rap sheet,  nineteen eighty-seven?  What did they haul you in for that time?   I got it right here, breaking and entering again?   No it was a battery change.  You were a busy boy back of the yards.  He brooded.   But lets get those cuffs off!  Have a seat!  He waved at Ingbar to lean over, unhooked one of the bracelets and let the other dangle.   Coffee?  He poured two cups as Ingbar sat down.  We may as well get cozy.  Im detective sergeant Grabowski. He lifted his Styrofoam cup in a greetings.  Homicide.  You know I really like your drawings.  Ingbars sketchbook was also on the table, open, and Grabowski sipped his coffee and browsed through the drawings. Jesus this is good stuff.   Officer Johnson says you can paint too.  Says its the real deal.  He wrote that on his arrest report.  Said some of its a little crazy, like Dali maybe.  I really dig Dali. His melting clocks.  And theres that other one where every things upside down.  You know where the city is raining people holding umbrellas. I did a stint as a guard in the museum working my way through school.  I see you were a museum guard too.  We ran your prints.  Ithiel Ingbar not Joseph Fractal.  Strange pick for an alias. Youre already wanted by the law.  You are an army deserter.  And a junky, Grabowski lifted his bushy eyebrows,  needle marks all over your arms.  More fun to paint and drug I guess than serve your commitment to your country.   

 

It all was a surrealist dream, Dali-esque.  Hitchcockian.   The detective was like a character in a Magritte painting.  Some antiquated pig-eyed gumshoe.  Each face in it a phantom version of a real face, each figure spectral, each street a shaft of smoke and mirrors, every step inimical.  He almost wondered if he was having another inter-dimensional nightmare and hed wake up in his studio, shattered but grateful to be there.

 

I was sick.  Ingbar shrugged.  I caught this brain virus.   I had to get out of there for a while. 

 

Im afraid Im going to make you a little sicker Mr. Ingbar.  Right now youre being held as a suspect in a murder.  Maureen Danton, a runaway from Maine, the girl they called Star in the neighborhood.  Raped and murdered.  But lets talk about these drawings, first.  These are really cool.  Not that Im an expert.  But with renderings like these is that what they call them, renderings?  You dont have to be.  These faces express feelings.  Theyre alive before your eyes.  Its really amazing.  Theres only one thing wrong with them Mr. Ingbar.  Two of your subjects have been murdered over the last six months, the same time frame youve lived in Boston, and another was attacked.  This girl, he flipped through the pages and held up the Asian girl for Ingbar to see, she got real lucky.  It was a freak thing.  The perpetrator had her on the ground and her panties down when suddenly this stray mutt rips into him.  Saved her life.  She managed to come to and scream.  Between the mutt and her screams he gave it up and took off.

 

Is there going to be line up?  Ingbar asked hopefully.  Is this Ms. Lee going to take a look at me?

 

Yeah, shes going to take a look at you.  Dont worry about the line up.  He waved the line up off.  The line up includes another matter.  Of course everything plays into the other.  He jumbled his big hands and joined his fingers with one another.  He needed a manicure. Like a puzzle, you know, that you try to put together.  No one ever saw the murderer.   Not even Ms. Lee when he attacked her.  He grabbed her from behind. She did get a glimpse of him. She thinks he was white, but he wore a nylon over his face.  He was tall, slender.  Probably about your height and build.  But back to the girls, Mr. Ingbar.            

 

Look.  I have hundreds of sketches of people around the neighborhood.  Why wouldnt I?  Thats where I live.  Not all of them are dead.  Its just a coincidence.

 

I see your point.  Grabowski rubbed the stubble on his jaw.  Its a good point.  But on the other hand, he yawned, its not to the point.  A couple of them are dead and another might be but for the grace of a mutt in an alley.  The ones attacked were females, pretty, kind of virginal, saintly.  You see how that goes?  A profile that fits a certain kind and interest   an attraction as regards the killer.  One with the same tastes as yours!  One of the victims filed a complaint about you.  As a matter of fact she filed two.  He shrugged and sipped his coffee again as if to give Ingbar his cue.

 

Okay.  Ingbar tried to stay in some kind of control  but he was staggered, his mind blown by what was going on.  If you added things up, at least the way the cops were adding them up,  it didnt look good.  But all this stuff is circumstantial,  Ingbar spread his hands, rabbits pulled out of a top hat.  Its still a bunch of coincidence.

 

 Do you have an alibi for the time of the murder?

 

I got home just after midnight.

 

Home alone?

 

Right.

 

Jeez another damned rabbit!  The detective frowned and slapped the table.  She was killed around twelve.  Any time actually between midnight and two oclock.  He swallowed the dregs of his coffee and pondered more of the drawings.  He paused at a page, made a mental note of something.

 

What about DNA?  Ingbar took a deep breath.  What about all that forensic stuff?  The sperm they found.  So test me and Ill be on my way.

 

There was no sperm.

 

The detective smiled at him.  His eyes said: Gotcha!  Ive been waiting for this one.

 

You just said she was raped.

 

The papers will say she was sexually violated.  What they wont say is how.   We got them to hold that back as we did in the first attack.  We suspected from the first murder, that was Maria Gonzales, that we had on our hands some especially kinky serial killer.   It was either that or an impossibly brutal boyfriend or gang related killing.  Even in the Back Bay we couldnt buy that, so we got the papers to keep some of the details under wraps.  We expected another identical killing to turn up eventually.  We needed these hidden details to help identify the psycho, maybe use them to set a trap.  The next hit wasnt long incoming.  The pattern was developing.  She may have been raped.  This guy is pretty clever.  He may have used a rubber.  He covers himself up real good sos not to leave hair strands or clothing fibers, gloves, rain slicker, nylon mask, rain hat.  This guy isnt stupid.  He may even be intelligent enough to bluff his way into D.I.A.  Three attacks one every other month.   A ritual?  Of course that could increase.  Nothing static about ritual murder addicts.  One begets another.  Serial killers usually start out tentative and then accelerate.  Who knows what goes on in the head of a psychopath?  They taught you the choke hold in boot camp, Mr. Ingbar?

 

The choke hold?  Ingbar tried to recall some of the combat exercises they put them through.  It was a peacetime army, pretty loose.

 

I guess so.  Why?

 

Of course they did.  Basic stuff.  Sneak up on the enemy, grab him around the neck.  Like they do in martial arts fighting to put their opponents to sleep, held long enough to death.  Another one of them damned rabbits, Mr. Ingbar!  The victims were grabbed from behind.  They were put to sleep and dragged in an alley.  Raped maybe.  But the point is the killing.  While the girl is awakening, we guess, the psycho shoves a knife, or some sharp implement, up her vagina and then he guts her.  Cute huh?  How romantic!  He holds her while she bleeds to death.  Hugs and kisses!  Is this some ritual regarding female menstruation?  Whats this vaginal blood letting?  Is it religious?  Is it apocalyptic?  Is it scientific?  How would you define the soul Mr. Ingbar?

 

What?

 

The soul.  On officer Johnsons report he says you mentioned the spiritual.

 

The soul?  Ingbars head was spinning.  How do I know!  The soul is a prism that casts rainbows from heaven.

 

Wow!  I like that!  Thats poetic!  But you dont believe is heaven, do you?  You say here in this artists statement.  Wait Ill find it.  You say: This is a cold mechanistic planet we inhabit it will do what it must with us Key words being puppet and mechanistic.  Seems to me Mr. Ingbar youre saying here that people are machines, life doesnt matter, it has no meaning, there is no such thing as a conscience, or bad people, or evil acts I paint fate: dolls  who dream, marionettes who emote, toys and puppets Im no shrink, but this is a little strange and kind of seems that you dont have any regard for the sanctity of life in any way most of us think.  At least thats what I get out of it.

 

Look, Ingbar stammered.  His head was reeling, his body numb, like waking up in bedlam where everything was upside down.  What Im writing is simple logic, cause and effect. All that is basic physics.  The Big Bang could have been God sneezing for all I know.  But the universe evolved and us with it.  You have to factor that in to the human condition.  Truth, beauty, its all the same.  All that soul stuff its biological, chemical.  Theres oxytocin, thats the bonding agent mammals have that induces them to trust and care for each other.  Im not saying there isnt love and caring or people arent worth anything just the opposite its all science, chemistry its all mysterious and fragile and complex who cares where affection comes from or what the soul is or isnt sometimes the chemistry gets goofed up its simply biology, animal organisms.  We come from this hodgepodge of cells laced with DNA and sometimes things go wrong no I dont think theres good and evil.  I dont think serial killers are responsible for their chemical imbalances.   So Im a liberal.  Most artists are, scientists too, anyone involved in the humanities.  Look at all the stupid wars we get ourselves into.  Besides  theres fate history, life,  swamping us by the time anyone learns enough of the language, and few do, to even question who they are its too late to do anything about it.  Whats that saying in psychology?  He flashed back on Santa.  Five is forever?  Nature, nurture.  Meaning by five your fully formed.  I write poems about such stuff.   Many writers do.  Theres that character in Nausea, created by Sartre, Andre Roquentin, who gradually discovers, as his story goes along, that he exists in other words he wakes up he sees the dream he has been living in, and all thats been imposed on him unconsciously as life goes along, all they tell you and teach you as they form you most people never wake up, they just go along they never notice the who, what, when, where, how, why of anything, they kind of parrot sets of beliefs one recording machine talking to the next but thats why we ponder, study.  Its still all mystery and wondering.  Maybe thats part of the problem with psychopaths?  They cant wake up from the delirium they live in.  Probably were born in.   Maybe no one can.  I try to get into those enigmas not only with my paintings but with my poems.

 

He was babbling like a maniac but he couldnt help it and he couldnt stop.  He was in a trap.  The whole thing seemed made up, like some wrong Man movie or cheap detective book.     

 

Yes, Ive looked through your poems.  Grabowski smiled, when Ingbar finally shut up.  Couldnt really understand them.  They kind of are like what youre saying.  But Im just a poor

flatfoot.  In one ear and out the other with my pay grade.  Lots of them political, radical. Most of

them incomprehensible.  This is all very interesting, Mr. Ingbar, and well get back to it after the

lineup.  He closed Ingbars sketchbook.  

 

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.  Grabowski held his arms up and pretended to be lifting rabbits by their ears.  You are a deserter and a junkie Mr. Ingbar.  Two girls that you sketched were killed.  You tend bar at the Midnight Run, a Combat Zone dive where you most likely get your junk.  You have a police record and a funny mind.   Its show time!  That tap on the door was our cue.  Im going to refasten these cuffs.  The disheveled detective stood up.  Its not that we dont trust you.  But you did smuggle a knife in here and you had some combat training.  Who knows what you could surprise us with?  Karate, Judo.  When we get there, theyll take them off.  You need to use the restroom first?

 

XXIX

 

Cold in his skin, feeling like hardened wax, Ingbar sat in the darkness and marveled at what life was throwing at him.  The line up had taken all of fifteen minutes.  He stood with a handful of plain clothes cops and then was dismissed.  Stay tuned.  The detective smiled.  Dont touch that dial.  Well resume our program in a while.

 

Come on Star Man.  One of the cops had grabbed him.  Time to return to your Star Chamber.  Dont you disappear.  He snickered.

 

Neat trick if he could do it.  Ingbar brooded, as they shoved him back into his holding cell. The cell was cold, rank, dank, cryptic and clammy, suitable for a public enemy. He settled back and closed his eyes, thought of Star and her murder.  What a horrible way for her to die.  What a

sad life.   How could everything get so fucked up?

 

He could imagine the shrink who watched him through the two way glass, scribbling. 

 

It is difficult to make an assessment of the subject on a short observance of his responses and demeanor in a brief interrogation with the questioning officer and an examination of some pages the subject has written which involves an artists statement and a handful of poems.