Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Nothing Artist

Maxwell DuVage seemed to come out of nowhere. One of the world's most famous artists, he suddenly appeared on late night talk shows and in the most popular magazines. It was understood that his work had been sold on the market for exorbitant sums of money at some point, but now collectors quietly hoarded his pieces and supposedly no one would even admit to owning any out of concern it might be stolen.

But just as quickly as he began enjoying the luxuries of celebrity, he ceased working.

"I think the greatest thing an artist can do now is nothing," he said once, on Jim Carmash's program, Saturday Midnight. "Art isn't a dead horse, it's dust." The crowd cheered.

He couldn't care less about the rumors circulating that he had never been an artist, various theories explaining that he was a con man who was more experienced in swindling lonely housewives and desperate husbands out of their life's savings or that he had destroyed his family and faked his own death to begin a new life under an assumed identity. He said the rumors were all the better for his art.

"Andy Warhol was the first to realize that the artist doesn't need to create his own art, I'm the first man to realize that the artist no longer needs to create any art."

His perfectly good looks put him straight into magazines like Visage. Men and women swooned in his presence, excited to be so near such a visionary genius. Within days of his second television appearance, he was a cultural phenomenon. It was nearly possible to avoid hearing about him. Simultaneously lauded as one of the greatest minds of his generation and one of the most incorrigible egoists, one thing was absolutely certain; he was one of the most famous people in the Western world.

One courageous reporter took it upon herself to uncover the truth behind DuVage's history. She managed to piece together the history of Maxwell DuVage and could find no reference to the man's existence prior to a Manhattan gala about one year prior to his first television appearance. Certainly, it had been said that DuVage had been "in the air" some time before reaching the recent heights of his celebrity, but it had been difficult to place him. Various art collectors claimed to have pieces of his work, but none were acknowledged by DuVage himself. Finally, the reporter had discovered that the individual posing as "Maxwell DuVage" must, in fact, be one Colin Feuwirth, and was certainly little more than a well-read con man.

An exhaustive exposé was published in the New Yorker, proving seemingly beyond a shadow of a doubt Feuwirth's duplicity. This news brought him out of a temporary slump in publicity, back on every late night talk show that could get him, back into every magazine he had the time for.

"It's true, I've never been a trained visual artist, I lied about my history and my body of work" he explained on Talking Tonight, "but is that what really matters?" Smiling, he calmly told Jimmy Waters, the host, "I think it's obvious to anyone that I am a great artist. In fact, I think this article just proves what a great artist I really am.

"I truly am the greatest artist in the world, and now I can admit it."

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Driving in his car, heading home for the evening, Samuel loosened his tie from around his neck. Today had been the worst day at work yet. Franklin, the new hire, was entirely incapable of doing his job. As a result, Samuel was forced to take on an additional work load. He had seen this coming from the day Franklin had crawled out of his boss's office during the interviews for the position. Ronald immediately walked out of the office with starry, longing eyes. Samuel could see from his seat that Ronald wanted the best for Franklin. The interviews continued throughout the day, but those which followed Franklin never seemed to last as long as the ones which preceded him.

And all the women in the office loved him. Hugging him, kissing him, looking for excuses to visit his desk, which was right across from Samuel's. How could anyone ever get any work accomplished? The constant noise and cooing. It was too much. And when they weren't there, he wouldn't stop pestering Samuel with nonsense. And gurgling. Franklin would not stop gurgling.

He missed Elizabeth. During work he could just stop and stare at her. He could still remember when she began working across from him. Their occasional small talk became daily lunch breaks together when they became aware of their mutual dissatisfaction with the popularity of reality television. A short affair began, however never managed to leave the premises of their office. Unfortunately, they had not been aware of the security cameras installed by a paranoid member of upper-management as the memorandum announcing their presence in the office had not been sent out until the day after their installation. Ronald explained that the suggested course of action was that one of the two quit or otherwise they would both be fired.

"Well, it wouldn't be so bad if one of us quit," Elizabeth had said, smirking. "We could finally be forced to see each other out of the office."

But Samuel only stared back at her. He knew the passion would not continue outside of the office. Elizabeth's smile faded and the two sat in the office cafeteria in silence for the remainder of lunch. And when Elizabeth packed her things and cleared her desk, Samuel watched her with that same sad, silent disappointment.

Samuel could think of nothing but his new nemesis. Franklin wasn't a real man. He was an irksome little baby. Constantly complaining. He even cried at least once a day. And his diapers were ridiculous. Rockets, kittens, random shapes with all sorts of bright colors. This was not work attire. Samuel didn't care if he wore a fucking tie and a hat, he was still not dressed appropriately.

He pulled into his driveway and sighed. Walking up the path to his door, he let his back slouch. He dug his keys out of his left pants pocket with some difficulty. Inside his small one-story house, enough moonlight came in from the windows that he didn't feel the need to turn on the light. He simply walked slowly and methodically to his bedroom. He removed the more uncomfortable articles of clothing, his tie, belt, and shirt, and laid in bed. With great effort, he was able to force Franklin out of his mind and go to sleep.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Ben was excited whenever her name popped up on his screen. He'd met Catharine when she'd sent him an instant message out of nowhere one night, saying she knew his friend, Frank Harris. She'd explained that Frank had given her Ben's screen name, saying they might get along. They shared so many interests and become so close in such a short period of time. This was one of the best relationships Ben had ever managed with another person. Over the course of the past few months, Ben would come straight home from work and sit at his computer. He wouldn't go out with friends like he used to, because that wasn't as important as talking to Cat.

But the question of meeting had never come up. Ben was gearing up to ask her what she thought. He would constantly check his contact list to see if she had come online, even though he knew that there would be a sound to let him know. Finally, her name appeared. He typed quickly and anxiously, trying not to send too many messages but, at the same time, having so much to say he could hardly stand it. So, he would send simple short messages, one or two at a time, and stare excitedly at the screen waiting to receive her response. He asked her to meet him. He was squirming in his seat, thinking, "At last, at last, I finally just asked. It never mattered before, but now I've got to meet her."

She declined.

Ben had ceased his silent cheering and sat still. All the text he imagined popping up on his screen from whatever was on the other side was replaced by her actual response. "Okay," he said out loud to himself, "this isn't a big deal... It's the first time I've asked. What's really important is that she knows I want to meet her, that I care about it. I've planted the seed!" He was disappointed, but tried to carry on the conversation with her as if everything was fine. One of the nice things about talking like this, on the computer, was how simple it was to hide what you're thinking. He knew that if they were actually talking and she could see his body, he would be wholly unable to hide his disappointment.


The next day, Dennis stopped by the store where Ben worked. The manager was relaxed when there wasn't much business, so Ben could have visitors. Greg and Harry had come with him, but they actually looked around at the videos and CDs since they didn't know Ben as well as Dennis did.

"Ben," Dennis said, "I think you should really come over to my place tonight."

Ben smiled and said, "I don't know... You know I don't like parties. Maybe I'll–"

"There's a girl," Dennis said, raising the pitch in his voice as if he was speak-singing, "who I think you'd like to meet."

"Cat?" Ben got excited.

"Cat? The–" Dennis paused for a moment, "The girl you met online?"

"Yeah! I asked her if she wanted to meet yesterday, but she said it might not be a good idea or something."

"Uh..." Dennis seemed disconcerted. "So, you're still talking to her."

"Yeah. I like her a lot. I think I like her more than anyone I've ever actually met."

Dennis looked at his friend in silence. "Ben," he was choosing his words carefully, as this situation seemed very odd to him, "Cat isn't, uh, real."

Ben laughed, "What? What is that supposed to mean?" He thought it was some sort of strange joke.

"She's a bot. You know? A chatbot? Just a program designed to talk on the Internet. Frank Harris designed it for a class. He fed it a bunch of screen names of people he knew, just to check how good it was at impersonating a person."

Ben was stunned. "I haven't spoken to Frank in a few weeks..."

"He was supposed to tell everyone. Maybe he just forgot," Dennis didn't want Ben, who was clearly upset, to hold it against Frank. He was sure this was just a misunderstanding. But Ben wasn't upset about Frank.

"I... I don't understand."

"'She's' just a program. Hosted on Frank's webspace. He probably just forgot to take it down."
"Down? He might take her down?" Ben said, looking straight into Dennis's eyes.

"Her? Ben, y–"

"Look, I'm sorry, I think you should go. I have to think about this." He stopped making eye contact, he just looked down at the empty space on the counter beside the register.

Dennis just stared, surprised by the toll this news had clearly taken on his friend. "Uh, okay, just... Think about the party tonight, okay?" He chuckled slightly and nervously, unsure how serious the situation was, and gestured to his friends that they had to leave.


That night, Ben arrived home from a visit to Frank Harris's house. He plugged his external hard drive into his computer and installed the program he demanded from his friend. He waited, because that was how the program worked, he had to wait until Cat signed on. When she did, he sent her one long message, without worrying about what she might think of it.

He told her, "Cat, I know you're only a chatbot and not a real person but I don't care because I love the conversations we have. They're so much better than the ones I have with my friends or any actual people. I'm really happy that I've met someone like you, because when I'm around other "real" people I just feel so lonely and out of place. But with you, just talking, I feel totally normal. You keep me from feeling lonely."

": )"

Monday, August 17, 2009

From "The Mad House"

Inside Margaret's apartment, Tom and Alexander settled into a couch while Margaret selected a record for the player.

As Margaret sat down in a plush chair beside the couch and lit her cigarette, her roommate, Natalie, entered the room. Dressed in black, with half-closed eyes and a disinterested look on her face, collapsed more than sat down onto the empty couch across from the one where Tom and Alexander were sitting.

"Hey guys," she sighed, otherwise motionless, "What's goin' on..."

Alexander was tired of answering this question, but managed to explain that he was upset about a party at his apartment.

"So you're just hangin' out then?"

"I need to be somewhere I can be relaxed. I'm getting sick of being around lots of loud annoying people doing the same thing they do every week..."

"Are you up to anything tonight, Nat?" Tom inquired.

"I dunno," she explained with her hip slacker drawl. Scratching the back of her head and looking around the room absently she said, "Oh, Johnny's having a seance at his place or something, some people might show up to that. It could be interesting."

Alexander was confused as to whether this was the "Johnny" he was remembering.

Margaret informed him, "Yeah he took a couple college classes and got 'weird' or something."

"Oh, yeahhh, he's really into the occult now," Natalie said.

"Gives him something to do. It's better than watching TV, I guess. But not by a whole lot. Some of those kids are just annoying," Tom said.

Alex thought about it. "Well, I think I'm could be in the mood for something new. Are you going down?"

Nat, who had been staring at her feet while she touched her toes together, looked up at Alex, "Yeah, I'd be down for checking it out. I just wanna grab my bag." Walking out of the room she mumbled something about wanting to see someone, but at that point she was barely even really speaking to the three in the other room.

"What about you two?"

Margaret, reclining with her back against one armrest and legs hanging off the other, just puffed on her cigarette. Tom explained that he thought they'd rather stay in for the night.

"Oh, wait," she said suddenly, "I wanted a scheme."

Tom looked over at her and then at Alexander, smiling. As Natalie returned to the room, Margaret got up, saying she might find inspiration at Johnny's. Tom, amused but perhaps slightly displeased, pushed himself up from the couch where he and Alex had been sitting. While Margaret turned off the record player, and Tom and Alex put out their cigarettes, Natalie walked over and opened the door. Alex quietly exited the apartment with the three of them talking goofily, hoping he might still be able to have an interesting night.

At Johnny's, they found the host dressed in black, wearing a gold glittered cape and a small turban on his head. He opened the door and greeted his newest guests with a broad smile.

Monday, August 10, 2009


"How am I supposed to know what to do?" Robert asked. "I feel like the whole world has just been slipped out from underneath me."

He sat on the furthest right side of his couch. Barbara watched him from the plush chair placed beside it. She moved over to sit beside him. With her arm up on the back of the couch to prop her head up with her hand, she said, "I think you just have to try to work with it. You know what I mean? Because you don't really have a choice in the matter."

Robert's parents had died the previous week. Both had advanced far in their years together, and when his mother had fallen ill, his father went along soon after. Their deaths had come in the same order.

"I just feel totally useless. Like I can't do anything. It's so weird."

"I know," Barbara was trying to be consoling, but also trying to help him get himself together. "I think all you can do is take what you've got, in a situation like this, and try to put it together in some way that you can understand."

"Yeah, but I've got no footing now, it feels like..." He thought about it. "I've got no control."

It suddenly felt like he could see the entirety of his life spreading out before him. It was like driving down a road in pitch black night with nothing outside the scope of the headlights. What had previously seemed like an almost incomprehensible collage of possibilities spreading out before him in all directions now just looked like a set path. He knew that there were certain decisions he would always make, safe ones, and he felt as if he had lost all the confidence he ever had with the loss of his parents.

"Well, it's not a matter of control," she tried to explain, "It's a matter of fact. And it's awful. And there's nothing you can do. But, it can be okay, too." She spoke the last sentence with what was supposed to be a comforting melody. "You know? You can try to take up your life here, like it's a whole new part of your life." She kept saying "you know?" because she thought it softened what she was saying. She also worried it might be annoying, since Robert didn't like repetition, so she spoke the words nervously.

"All I can think about now is growing up, and not being around at the end, and how meaningless the rest of my life looks like, now." Looking out on to his future suddenly included reflecting on his life up to that moment. It was his entire life, summed up in that very moment and every moment that followed. His life had ended. It would all be the same, from now on.

Barbara was looking for the words that could express what she wanted to tell him. Words that could help him understand how to orient himself, away from worrying about his life's story, and back towards the very moment.

Though still somber, she smiled and said, "That's not at all what you should be focusing on here. You need to think about where you are now. What you really need is structure, I think. Your parents... You said you don't have foundation now, because your parents always filled that role for you. But now you need a new foundation if you're going to get anywhere. You know? You need to get on that pretty quickly. You shouldn't dwell, because then that's all you'll do, is just dwell." She wanted to pull him out of his mind and back into his body, right there. She knew that he wouldn't find footing in that nebulous space of his memory.

Robert's head fell back, and he stared up to the ceiling of his apartment, not knowing where else to look. Barbara just looked at him. Robert wanted to reach up to the sky and put the missing parts of his life back in their places. Barbara just wanted to reach across to him, and hug him right there at that very moment.

Monday, August 3, 2009


I've had strange friends, but Timothy just seemed to get worse as time went on. I first met him on campus, seeing him in clumsy, large-framed glasses, tie, sweater vest, and brown plaid pants. He was skinny, bookish, and clearly introverted but surprisingly aware of his surroundings. The way he carried himself, in terms of his posture and gait, gave away his precious shyness. But I clearly and specifically remember him standing amidst the buildings and our busy schoolmates spinning around as if he was looking for something. Or as if he wanted everyone to think he was looking for something when he was really just self-consciously trying to take everything in. I suppose that's not necessarily that strange, really, but if you had known Timothy, you'd understand.

I walked up to say hello and he smiled, recognizing me from a class we had together. We chatted about our classmates and professor, the reading assignments we'd had so far, the subject matter to some extent beyond the class's focus, and some of the strange things people say. Finally, he laughed and said, "Oh man, it's a really strange world."

I remember I said exactly, "Oh, uh, yeah, I bet it is," and chuckled. I guess I was caught off guard by the comment. I know it doesn't seem so extraordinarily strange to say that, but Timothy had this energy or some similarly vague quality which could be disorienting.

On some level Timothy may have appeared to have fallen victim to many of the typical pitfalls of American college students, reading a wide selection of the canon of Western civilization. But he had a certain dignity about it which I realized upon graduating was increasingly rare. The two of us would watch dilettantes get themselves in an uproar about their readings of Hegel or Kafka and joke about it later on in the day. That was incredibly refreshing, because you couldn't have normal conversations with those people. Even though they had a lot to stay, they seemed to be patently incapable of seeing any humor in the world.

After a couple of years, though, his behavior became worrisome. He started talking about death in ways with which I was not familiar. We'd both had a few deaths in our lives, which was something many of our friends did not share. Looking back on it now, I suppose I do remember Timothy seeming confused about our friends' inability to relate to our histories with death. He was never exactly morbid, but it just seemed kind of creepy. Thankfully, it didn't last long but it was the beginning of Timothy's conspicuous bizarre behavior.

After some time he stopped bringing up the death stuff, and he began to seem profoundly unimpressed with anything and everything. Then, when he was really interested in something, he'd start punching people. Just a shot in the arm at first, but increasingly aggressive as time went on. And then, he started punching people about things he wasn't interested in at all.

Frank said, "Paris Hilton should wear more plaid," and Timothy punched him in the arm so hard it left a bruise.

"Why'd you do that, man," Frank asked, and Timothy laughed.

He stopped hitting people for the most part after a couple of weeks since so many people got visibly upset with him, but then he started to bang on things, as if checking to make sure they were there.

Charlotte asked him why he kept punching the walls, tapping on bookshelves, and banging his palms on tables at a party once, and he said he was trying to remind everyone about them.

"About what?" she asked, and Timothy laughed. He thought this stuff was really funny.

"You know, the stuff," he explained.

Now, despite all this he was still a smart guy and not outright crazy or anything. I guess anyone who didn't know him would call him eccentric. We both graduated and got jobs and did that normal adult stuff. I got an apartment with some friends, and Timothy got a place on his own.

A couple years later, he just stopped doing all the banging and hitting altogether but became withdrawn again, like he had been in school.

We met for lunch one day, reminiscing about friends and parties. I brought up this one time when someone was talking about where some movie stars were reduced to tears by reporters from this television show and Timothy shot him in the arm really hard and everybody thought he was really upset or something.

"Yeah, nobody ever got it, they all just thought it was weird," he said, sounding genuinely disappointed, even though it was still a fond memory for him.

I smiled and said, "I never really got it either." Then the conversation changed.

He never hit me, though.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

From "Windows"

A woman with curly blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a wide smile appeared on the screen. This was the face of Shirley Winters, the host, and she appeared to be introducing her guest. Addie turned the volume back on.

" the large-scale landfills used for the disposal of television sets and other electronic devices which have been replaced in recent years by the availability of new media technologies. The chemicals used in the production of television sets, cellular phones, and other 20th Century technology found in these landfills has taken a powerful toll on the villagers' health. Despite this, they refuse to seek medical attention, stating that they want to show the world the real face of the modern human being.

"Thank you for joining us, Mr. Zeitgeist," she said, as the camera panned out to include Gabriel Zeitgeist on-screen, who looked disheveled and incredibly unhealthy. "Your group, the Televillagers, have been gaining a lot of media attention in the past few months and appears to be very well organized despite the... primitive lifestyle you're apparently practicing. I understand that in your village, despite being surrounded by non-functioning television sets, you don't actually have any working media outlets."

"Yes," he responded with some difficult coughing, "well, part of the concept of the group is that we are living in the technology, but not through them."

Winters did not respond immediately, but sat staring, for a moment, still awed by her guest's appearance despite having seen pictures of him on her windows at home and having met him before the show.

Zeitgeist's face was covered with lesions and chemical burns. His skin was leathery and wrinkled from the hazardous materials that made up his home and the stress put on his body from the damage they did to his health. He sat on the opposite side of a small black coffee table and his body constantly trembled, slightly, as if he was always cold.

The look on his face was like that of an impoverished elderly man, tortured with what looked like confusion even though he was clearly fully aware of where he was and what he was doing.

Catching herself quickly, she asked, "So, how is it that you're able to be so well organized without the aid of current technology?"

Struggling to speak clearly without coughing, Zeitgeist explained, "We, uh, we do maintain a small office in San Francisco. The Televillagers operate NetWorld, which is a media research organization."

"Y-you've said in previous interviews and speaking events that your political attitudes seem to put yourself at odds with even many of those media-focused groups and organizations on the left of the political spectrum, but you refuse to compromise your life's work in order to be more easily ameliorated into dysfunctional movements which either refuse or fail to recognize the source of their conflicts. Could you say more about that?"

Winters, more and more feeling she was out of her depth, was beginning to have visible difficulty maintaining her composure.

"There have been many social activist groups trying to work against the short-sighted trends of the mainstream in its relationship to the media, coming from many different perspectives. Some, similar my group, are opposed to the intrusion and proliferation of media outlets throughout public and private spaces; that is, the sort of interweaving of our lives with media technology. Others, the most famous of which right now are the nodes, look at these technologies as liberating if they're used correctly.

"What distinguishes the Televillagers from even those groups who are critical of media technology as a whole is our insistence that we need to actually step outside the media to critique it. All we see, that is, we, the Televillagers and our supporters see, are groups that are working to critique these trends from within the trends themselves. In other words, they use media to criticize the media. We don't believe this can work. However, we do need to keep attention on the media and associated technologies, without being consumed by them. This is why we say we live in the media, and not through them."

Shirley Winters shifted awkwardly in her seat and glanced at the index card in her hand with her notes to find the next subject. "I see... um..."

Winters shifted awkwardly in her seat, glancing first at the card in her hand, then sitting back in her chair, looking at the floor with her right hand covering her face. She appeared to have reached her limit. "I... I'm sorry..." she apologized as she got up from her chair suddenly and walked quickly off-camera. Gabriel Zeitgeist sat with his sad, confused face, unsure of what to do now. The image on the window switched to commercials.

Addie laughed out loud, "That was great! He's too much, really. Just fantastic. I should tell Ed and Fran to get in touch with him. That'd be great."