12. Art

A: You take some chocolate . . . and you take two pieces of bread . . . and you put the candy in the middle and you make a sandwich of it. And that would be cake.



We were staying at the Hotel Mirabeau in Monte Carlo in a suite lent us by friends after we were asked to vacate the nearby Hotel de Paris because B had forgotten to extend our reservations in advance for the grand Grand Prix weekend. My room overlooked a hairpin curve of the racetrack. I could see—and I could definitely hear—ail the Grand Prix preliminaries from the moment they began at five-thirty every morning and as they continued throughout the day.

I was organizing some transcripts when B and Damian knocked on the door to see if I was ready to go out for lunch. They were early. Damian looked beautiful in a navy-blue Dior. When you asked her out, you never knew in advance if she'd look like a million or like two cents. And the way she'd decide she should look would have nothing to do with where you were going—she might wear a Valentino to a rock concert and jeans to a Halston party. In fact, that's probably exactly what she would wear to both.

Damian and B held their ears when they heard the noise. "I was thinking about racing," said B as twenty little cars with big engines roared by. "Any minute those cars could go right over."

"I think it's just to see who can make the most noise," I said.

"Do you think the drivers have death wishes?"

I said, "I just think they want to make a Big Splash. Like when Andrea 'Whips' Feldman jumped out the window and said she was 'going for the Big Time: Heaven.' I don't think they think about death—it's more the idea of the Big Time."

"Then why don't they try to become movie stars?"

"That would be a come-down," I explained, "because alt the movie stars are trying to become race-car drivers. And besides, all the new movie stars are the sports people— they're the really good-looking people, the exciting people— and they make the most money."

The roar died down as the cars sped across to the other side of town. Now it sounded more like a 707 than an Apollo lift-off. I tried to enjoy the relative silence for a minute, because in another minute they'd be back—it only took that long to run the course. B remembered a phone call he had to make and went back to his room to talk where it was less noisy.

Damian and I were alone in the room now and if my wife weren't there, too, I would have panicked. I used to always panic when I was alone with people—I mean, without a B— until I got my wife.

Damian walked over to the window and looked out. "I guess you have to take a lot of risks to be famous in any field," she said, and then, turning around to look at me, she added: "For instance, to be an artist."

She was being so serious, but it was just like a bad movie. I love bad movies. I was starting to remember why I always liked Damian.

I gestured toward the gift-wrapped salami that was sticking out of my Pan Am flight bag and said, "Any time you slice a salami, you take a risk."

"No, but I mean for an artist—"

"An artist!!" I interrupted. "What do you mean, an 'artist'? An artist can slice a salami, too! Why do people think artists are special? It's just another job."

Damian wouldn't let me disillusion her. Some people have deep-rooted long-standing art fantasies. I remembered a freezing winter night a couple of years ago when I was dropping her off at two-thirty in the morning after a very social party and she made me take her to Times Square to find a record store that was open so she could buy Blonde on Blonde and get back in touch with "real people." Some people have deep-rooted long-standing art fantasies and they really stick with them.

"But to become a famous artist you had to do something that was 'different.' And if it was 'different,' then it means you took a risk, because the critics could have said that it was bad instead of good."

"In the first place," I said, "they usually did say it was bad. And in the second place, if you say that artists take 'risks,' it's insulting to the men who landed on D-Day, to stunt men, to baby-sitters, to Evel Knievel, to stepdaughters, to coal miners, and to hitch-hikers, because they're the ones who really know what 'risks' are." She didn't even hear me, she was still thinking about what glamorous "risks" artists take.

"They always say new art is bad for a while, and that's the risk—that's the pain you have to have for fame."

I asked her how she could say "new art." "How do you know if it's new or not? New art's never new when it's done."

"Oh yes it is. It has a new look that your eyes can't adjust to at first."

I waited for the cars to roar around the hairpin curve again below my window. The building was shaking slightly. I wondered what was taking B so long.

"No," I said. "It's not new art. You don't know it's new. You don't know what it is. It doesn't become new until about ten years later, because then it looks new."

"So what's new right now?" she asked. I couldn't think of anything so I said I didn't want to commit myself.

"Is what's new now what happened ten years ago?"

That was pretty smart. I said, "MMmmmmaybe."

"That's what that lesbian was saying at lunch. She said that even the very intelligent French people who are interested in everything cultural don't know the names of famous American modern artists. They're just now learning about Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg. But what I want to know is, when people were saying how bad your movies and art were, did it bother you? Did it hurt to open the newspapers and read how bad your work was?" "No."

"It didn't bother you when a critic said you couldn't paint?"

"I never read the paper," I said. It was lift-off time again.

"That's not true," she yelled, miraculously making herself heard above the noise. "I see you reading the papers all the time." She looked around the room at the piles of news-papers and magazines. "You buy enough of them."

"I look at the pictures, that's all."

"Come off it. I've heard you make comments after reading your reviews."

Well, I never used to read the papers, especially reviews of my own work. But now I read very carefully every review of everything that I produce—that is, everything that has my name on it.

"When I used to do the work myself," I explained to Damian, "I never read any reviews or any of my own publicity. But then when I sort of stopped doing things and started producing things, I did want to know what people were saying about them because it wouldn't be anything personal. It was a business decision that I made to start reading reviews of the things I produced, because as the head of a company, I felt that I had other people to think about. So I also constantly think of new ways to present the same thing to interviewers, which is another reason I now read the reviews—I go through them and see if anybody says anything to us or about us we can use. Like today in this French paper the writer called my tape recorder such a great name—a 'magnetophone.'"

I went over to the pile of newspapers and found the article I was talking about. "Doesn't that look nice on the page? Different. A new word for the same thing."

"Did you read the review of yourself in the Liz Taylor movie?"

"Of course not, because that's something I did myself so I don't want to know what anybody thinks about it. I told B to tear it out of the paper before he gave it to me."

"It said you were 'slightly repellent, like a reptile.'"

She was testing me to see if it really didn't bother me when I heard things like that about myself. It really didn't. I didn't even know what it meant to be "like a reptile." "Does that mean I'm slimy?" I asked her.

"There's something about reptiles," she said. "Looks aside. They're the only animals who don't like to be touched." As she said that she jumped out of the chair. "You don't mind being touched, do you?" She was coming at me.

"Yes! Yes I do!" She kept coming. I didn't know how to stop her. I panicked and screamed, "You're fired!" but it didn't do any good because she didn't work for me. That's one reason I only like to be with Bs who work for me. She put her pinky on my elbow and I screamed, "Get your hands off me, Damian!"

She shrugged and said, "Can't say I didn't try." She walked back into her corner. "You do hate it when people touch you. I remember when I first met you, I bumped into you and you jumped about six feet. Why is that? Afraid of germs?"

"No. Afraid of getting attacked."

"Did you get this way after you were shot?"

"I was always like this. I always try to have a corner of my eye open. I always look behind me, above me." Then I corrected myself—"Not always. Usually I forget, but I mean to."

I walked over to the window. We were fourteen stories up. This was the highest I'd ever slept. Not the highest above sea level, but the highest up in a building. I always talk about how I'd love to live on the top floor of a high rise, but then I get next to a window and I just can't handle it. I'm always afraid of rolling right out. The windows here went down so close to the floor that I'd rolled the metal shutters down the night before. I don't understand the idea rich people have of living higher and higher. I knew a couple in Chicago who lived in one high-rise building and then when a higher rise was built next door they moved into that one. I walked away from the window. Maybe my fear of being up high is chemical.

I always bring every problem back to chemicals, because I really think that everything starts and finishes with chemicals.

"You mean you don't get wiser as you grow up?" B said as he walked back into the room.

"Yes," I said. "You do. You have to, so you usually do."

B said, "But if you know what it's all about, you get discouraged and you don't want to live."

"You don't?" I said.

"Right." Damian agreed with B. "If you're wiser it doesn't make you happier. One of the girls in one of your movies said something like 'I don't want to be smart, because being smart makes you depressed.'"

She was quoting Geri Miller in Flesh. Being smart could make you depressed, certainly, if you weren't smart about what you were smart about. It's viewpoint that's important— not intelligence, probably.

"You're saying that you're wiser this year than you were last year?" B asked me.

I was, so I said, "Yes."

"How? What did you learn this year that you didn't know before?"

"Nothing. That's why I'm wiser. That extra year of learning more nothing."

B laughed. Damian didn't.

"I don't understand," she said. "If you keep learning more nothing, that makes it harder and harder to live."

Learning about nothing doesn't make it harder, it makes it easier, but most people make Damian's mistake of thinking it makes it harder. That's a big mistake.

She said, "If you know life is nothing, then what are you living for?"

"For nothing."

"But I love being a woman. That's not nothing," she said.

"Being a woman is just as nothing as being a man. Either way you have to shave and that's a big nothing. Right?" I was oversimplifying, but it was true.

Damian laughed. "Then why do you keep on making paintings? They're going to hang around after you die."

"That's nothing," I said.

"It's an idea that goes on," she insisted.

"Ideas are nothing."

B suddenly got a crafty look on his face. "Okay, okay. We agree. Then the only purpose in life is—" "Nothing." I cut him off.

But it didn't stop him. "—to have as much fun as possible." Now I knew what he was trying to do. He was hinting for me to hand them some cash for "expenses" that afternoon.

"If ideas are nothing," B continued, laying his argument for easy money, "and objects are nothing, then as soon as you get some money you should just spend it having as good a time as possible."

"Well," I said, "it doesn't mean if you don't believe in nothing that it's nothing. You have to treat the nothing as if it were something. Make something out of nothing." That threw him off the track.

"What???"

I repeated myself word for word, which was hard. "It doesn't mean if you don't believe in nothing that it's nothing." The dollar signs slipped out of B's eyes. It's always good to get abstract when it comes to economics.

"Okay, say I believe in nothing," Damian said. "How would I convince myself to become an actress or write a novel? The only way I could ever write a novel would be because I believed it was really going to be something, to have this book with my name on it, or to become a famous actress."

"You can become a nothing actress," I told her, "and if you really believe in nothing you can write a book about it."

"But then to get famous you have to write a book about something people care about. A, you just can't say that everything is nothing!" Now she was getting upset, but she kept thinking, trying to come up with a way to make me say that something was something.

I repeated, "Everything is nothing."

"Okay," she said, "say I agree with you. Then sex would be nothing!"

"Sex is nothing, right. Absolutely correct."

"But it's not! Why would people want it so much if it's nothing!"

Everybody has to come to their own conclusions about sex—it's not something you can convince them with by argument. But just for the exercise I said, "What happens when you have sex, Damian?"

She thought about it for a second and said, "I don't know, it's nice, you feel the other person's body, your emotions somehow get involved, I don't know, you just feel different than you do the rest of the time."

"And then you come," I said.

"And then you come, okay. But you feel different, even if you don't come. It feels natural and normal. And different— afterwards if I think back on it I can't believe I did it!" She laughed.

"Look," I said. "Say you think that it was really something and the person you had sex with thinks that it was nothing."

Damian looked hurt now. I realized that she was taking my hypothetical case personally. "Well, if that person thought it was so nothing, why would he want to sleep with me again?"

"Because," I explained, "he thought it was nothing and you thought it was something, that's why. That's the reason you're doing it again. He likes to do nothing and you like to do something."

B said, "So it all comes down to what a person thinks: in other words, there's nothing objective, really. It's all subjective. I could say, 'Wasn't that something that we did today?' and the other person would say what they thought, but it actually was the same thing happening—the same lips kissed the same lips. A camera would show it just the same, no matter what you thought."

"Show what?" My mind always drifts when I hear words like "objective" and "subjective"—I never know what people are talking about, I just don't have the brains. "Show what?" I asked again.

"Two people kissing."

"Two people kissing," I said, "always look like they're fish. Two people kissing, what does it mean, anyway?"

Damian said, "It means you trust the other person enough to let them touch you."

"No it doesn't. People kiss people they don't trust all the time. Especially in Europe and at parties. Think of all the people we know who'll kiss anybody. Does that mean they're 'trusting'?"

"I think it does, yes." B said. This B was stubborn. "They trust a lot of people, is all."

B kissed Damian. Two people kissing always look like fish.

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