“It's not really meat, is it? I mean, there's no animal called a ‘sausage.’” — Yuggi Klentzman
Sophie Rae Shufflebeam came across her future daughter in a dumpster behind the Pick ‘N’ Pay. She had been shopping for olives. The baby, Oversight, was saved for Sophie Rae’s arrival by the dumpster’s missed pickup that week. Presumably some young mother-to-be had evacuated her bundle of joy and was not thrilled by the prospect of returning home to inquisitive parents.
“Wow, just look at you,” exclaimed Sophie Rae. The baby gurgled happily and bonded with its new mom.
From home, Sophie called the trash haulers and they confirmed the missed pickup. Traffic had been heavy; they were sorry and would be right over. Sophie Rae’s boyfriend, Yuggi Klentzman, wasn’t any more thrilled by the baby than its biological mother had been. Yuggi pouted.
“I’ll call her Oversight. ’Cause they missed the pickup, see?” explained Sophie Rae to Yuggi.
Sophie Rae loved scented candles. And she loved Yuggi—really, really. Maintaining the tantric purity of his corporeal self was Yuggi’s big thing this month, and he ate only unstuffed black olives and avoided thinking about mixed bathing; sex was off the menu on the home front. Sophie felt the need to nurture and lit a bayberry candle. Voilà, the next day there was Oversight.
“Kind of makes you think,” replied Yuggi, reaching for an olive. “Whatever.” Yuggi’s flirtation with chastity extended itself into a horizon-wide affair. He took up cooking and light housekeeping, put on weight, and kept their apartment spotless by moving as little as possible.
Sophie Rae caught herself as she tripped over Yuggi’s outstretched feet. “Uh, sorry,” he said.
“You could pick up your feet,” she said.
“I could, yes. I am waiting for the call of a Higher Power,” said Yuggi.
“Aren’t we all,” replied Sophie. The next morning Yuggi’s packed suitcase, a handsome Samsonite number in simulated rattan, was discovered outside the front door.
“I have been called,” he said. And left.
“Kay, bye,” said Sophie.
Sophie knew a little about art; it was Good and Good For You—she had seen this on TV. The closest she had come to Art was Phyllis Klosky’s improv group, the Phyllis Teens. That was high school in Grand Rapids; this was life and she mapped, right then and there, a career in Art for her newly minted daughter.
Oversight turned into a comely child, and with the passage of time a normal young woman, quick of wit and suitably endowed, delectable in every proportion. Her adoptive mother only once mentioned that her studies in Art History would never turn into a paying proposition unless Oversight taught Art History.
“That’s alright, Ma,” agreed Oversight, “But first I must be a Name.”
“You have a name,” said Sophie Rae.
“I will change it,” said Oversight, now a nubile young woman and of age in Mississippi, Alabama and certain Caribbean dictatorships. “Mom,” there was a pause. “I need a niche.” Niches were good. Together they Sought a Calling. The two prowled the Village, staying close to home. There was lunch to consider.
Sophie Rae noted that while awkward at most things, young Oversight excelled at standing around in her underwear. It was a proven scientific fact that men would pay money to watch women in their lingerie. Was this art? No, they decided. To become Art personified, young Oversight would need a Calling or barring that, a niche.
Oversight’s first presentation, Shanghaied by Sisyphus, was favorably received. Naked, she danced expressively while upon her body a pair of slide projectors did a quick cut dissolve of color panels illustrating the Kama Sutra she and Sophie had nipped from the pages of the Condé Nast Traveler.
Performance nights were open studios; the artists had to wait their turns and were expected to furnish applause for the other hopefuls. This gave Oversight, now named Ova, and her mother time to apply serpentine designs to the young woman’s body. As an artist, Ova/Oversight was her own finest creation. This was attested by the swelling of attendance on the nights Ova performed. The management of the performance space, a free-wheeling artists’ cooperative always short on funds, decided to headline Ova.
Shanghaied by Sisyphus was a parable on the Futility of the Creative Process, Betrayal and Ultimate Surrender, loosely based on the allegorical myth of a Greek condemned to push a boulder uphill for all eternity. As the lights were dimmed, Ova pushed and writhed under a barrage of squirming color. Ova had substituted a scrap Volkswagen for the rock.
After some weeks, Sophie Rae noticed her daughter’s enthusiasm flagging. “It’s those funky guys, right?”
It was those funky guys. Eager faces now grown familiar crowded the performance space on successive nights as Ova straddled her Volkswagen and the projectors flashed ochre, sepia and serpent-toned greens and blues. From the avid attention riveted on the young woman’s perfect body she correctly guessed these were not foreign car mechanics. These were perverts with sweaty palms. They were why Sister Wendy was on TV and never made personal appearances.
Lydia, the performance co-op’s maîtresse de salle, instituted the practice of patting down ticket holders for contraband towels and lubricants. Attendees were allowed to bring along their contraband for an additional donation at the door. The performance space prospered. The patting-down was popular, too.
Soon there were new faces and some forbidden cameras made it past Lydia’s inspection. The dream of a Calling ended in a flash of photographic strobes as a uniformed officer switched on the house lights during a particularly energetic evening as Ova/Oversight actually rolled the Volkswagen off the stage and three were injured in a stampede for the exits.
“Oh, no! Look!” The pictures made the next morning’s editions. There, caught by the camera’s merciless lens, was Yuggi hastily buttoning a Plymouth Duster duster, a hand-loomed cottage tweed specialty, to cover his nakedness.
“Mom, do you think I went too far?”
Daughter and mother agreed: they should have used the hand brake. Night after night after that small knots of overcoated theatergoers brandishing towels clustered forlornly before the shuttered performance space. To a man they agreed Art should illumine a higher level of existence or help us achieve realization as human beings. Being unrealized raised their dudgeons. But to no avail.
“Mom, I need another niche, I think.”
Sophie Rae agreed. Ova recalled a pictorial essay of a show by students of The Arts. One item was a cocktail dress made entirely of deli meats. “Cold cuts, mom. That’s my niche.”
“It’s not everyone’s idea of a little black dress,” said Sophie. “But we can string pearl onions for a necklace.”
Overcoated onlookers thronged to Sisyphus Sliced, which premiered at the Milwaukee Temple of Labor. It was December, an unheated space, and the overcoats stayed buttoned. “The cold cuts speak. Semiotics and poststructuralism. The cheese is my idea. The onions are accessorized,” said Ova, turning a becoming blue. Sophie adjusted a thermostat.
Cheese deforms, even in the peel-back slices, and the heat reflected by her mirror ball prisms caused a dripping catastrophe. The deli meat dress slid past her knees. Spicy Genoa tallow flowed, her body glistened and the police arrived, this time accompanied by the Health Department. The best charge the prosecutors could devise was follicle abuse. This was to place a Latin word at the top of the indictment. The incriminating evidence was the Velveeta and provolone, the hard salami and bologna plastered to her body.
Such doings were new and strange, even in Milwaukee. The case was dismissed.
Sophie Rae reconciled with Yuggi, off olives and welcomed back from the outer darkness. “Chaste makes waste,” said Yuggi.
Ova taught Art History, for she now had a Calling.
The dumpster baby returned to New York with her adoptive parents. Sophie Rae Shufflebeam lit scented candles and Yuggi sent out for pizza, no olives, like WTF, whatever.
A Performance Art space:
The Rules of Grace
The legendary The Kitchen
Inside Art, like looking in from the outside: http://www.eduweb.com/insideart/
Zeitgeist is the Right Geist was first published in the September 2002 Quantum Muse