Friday, October 18, 2013

A Former Student Ate His Dead Girlfriend's Tit, or: The World Is a Colorful Place Full of Mysterious Degenerates

Over the past four years, I have had the distinct and unique honor of teaching adult students at several community colleges the wonders and magic of writing and oration.  These students have come from all walks of life and a variety of backgrounds: several are former members of the military, several are seeking a second career in a field much different than their first career, several are high school dropouts who completed the GED program and now want an Associate's Degree (and even a Bachelor's later on), many are parents with delightful children and more than a few are 'former' criminals and convicts: a couple of 'reformed' drug dealers, an actual pimp who made young ladies work they asses good and, most recently, a man in his late 40's who murdered his ex-girlfriend (while under the influence of a powerful cocktail of drugs and booze) by stabbing her multiple times with a kitchen knife, stripping her naked, cannibalizing her one lady lump and then keeping her corpse in the bathtub for days.

Now, about this whole Tit-Eating thing: when this ex-convict was in my class, I had no idea he had this kind of history.  I rarely, if ever, do.  Students come into my classes - some in their twenties, most a lot older than me - and it's not as if the main office hands me a dossier with their life histories, criminal records and psychological test results.  It isn't until much later (if then) that I find out from other meddling, gossip-y instructors about the nature of some of the student clientele.  I was in the faculty room, and one of the other teachers (a professor of business) was talking to a colleague about this particular murderer.  It essentially came down to "You know about [student name]?  He has quite the checkered past."  I informed both of these instructors that he was in my class over the summer, and actually a decent, if quiet, student.  Ever the skeptic, I wondered how on Earth someone like this was not only allowed to be let out of prison, but was allowed to you know, take classes ... or take classes with me, to be specific.  I was told that he served his 20+ year sentence and was freed (under some kind of supervision).

The crime was committed in a neighboring state in the early 80's, he was only a teenager at the time and the heavy amount of narcotics he was taking contributed to his deranged state.  Since then he was a "model prisoner," turned to Jesus and wanted to positively contribute to society.  My reaction of shock and disbelief was certainly understandable: why is this man not locked the hell up?  Like forever?  What kind of judicial system lets cannibals out to roam the streets?  I understand he served his sentence, but who in God's name is going to hire this PCP-lovin' mammary muncher?  When I got home, I immediately rifled through my collected materials from this person.  It turns out the essays he gave me for class were ... well, they were quite normal.  For his process-analysis essay, he wrote about how to fix and do maintenance on a bicycle.  For his 'personal narrative,' he wrote about a friend from high school who joined the Army.  I was waiting to read something in there that 'gave away' his nefarious and disgusting past, but there was zilch, nada and nothing.  He wrote, and forgive me for saying it, like an adjusted individual past middle age.  The pimp I had in class?  He was ever so vocal about his 'methods,' and even offered to loan me one of his honeys (I politely declined).  The guy who robbed an armored car in NYC and served time in federal prison?  He couldn't talk enough about it.  The dominatrix who told me I looked like Jude Law (in a very noble attempt to get an A out of me even though I knew she was full of shit)?  Her process-analysis essay was about how to tie up a john.  But there was no way this fellow was going to write about eating part of his dead girlfriend.

When I told friends and family about this, lots of eyebrows were raised.  Are you sure?  (Sadly, yes.)  Were these other teachers who told you this making it up?  (Sadly, no.)  Why is this guy on the street?  Did you know?  I mean, if I was aware that someone is capable of this level of deviant behavior would I have treated him any differently than I did or graded him differently?  I certainly wouldn't have probed deeper (to quote one generally inebriated, perpetually stoned acquaintance: "You could have asked him what it tasted like!"), but I most likely would have been more cautious around him (though, as I recall, no one in class - some of whom had to have known - minded sitting next to him).  It just raises so many questions: what drugs were you on, exactly?  What did she do to make you stab her?  Were people in prison scared shitless of you?  When you turned to Jesus did he do a spit-take?  What company is going to look at your permanent record and say, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is cool as fuck, we need someone like you hanging around the office."  He better not ask me for a letter of recommendation.

In teaching this individual, I apparently checked off an entry on my non-existent Bucket List I didn't know should be in there.  Future students: the bar has been set.  You have to collectively up your psychopathic game. You have a lot to compete with.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Everybody, Please Sell Out

It is 2013 and I believe it is now safe to grant everyone in the free world permission to officially Sell Out.  For countless decades the notion of even slightly compromising one's own artistic integrity for the almighty dollar - of letting one's noble ballad play over a commercial for douche, of letting one's persona be utilized to hawk products such as fast-food sandwiches, automobiles, tobacco products or ill-fitting and heinously overpriced clothing (stitched together by modern-day slaves) - was considered a damnable and shameful offense akin to fellating the Prince of Darkness on Good Friday.  Being deemed a "Sell Out" was usually followed by one's personage being referred to by any number of odious slurs and expletives and one's entire mystique and reputation unfixably shattered.

In the 21st century, this no longer applies, not simply because artistic integrity is as comically out-of-fashion as Dial-Up Modems and Voting Republican, but because things are too goddamn expensive, the artistic fields are flooded with self-confident hacks and YouTube has turned every ding-dong with a webcam into a virtual celebrity to trolls, frat guys, housewives and shut-ins.  It's about what sells, what's funny and what's disposable.  The great Bertolt Brecht once remarked, "Grub first, then ethics," but that statement can now be altered to the following: "Cashmere blankets, a sporty car with decent gas mileage, Netflix Instant, the latest Apple gadget, a stainless-steel refrigerator full of exotic fruits, the monthly cell, Internet and rent bills covered, then ethics."  You may certainly feel free to adjust the above entries to suit your eclectic preferences (vintage vinyl, a moped, a VIP pass to a strip club, neocortex-damaging club drugs, some purse with gold letters on it, etc.).

As delightful and eccentric as some of our most notorious cultural outcasts and rebels were, I cannot help but think if they were operating today they would need to have a Twitter and be active in promoting themselves, on late night TV trying to sell their cryptic novels, in ArtForum getting grilled about why they put green and pink together on the same canvas.  Henry David Thoreau would have been asked by H&R Block to do an ad for them.  Oscar Wilde would have to go on Piers Morgan's dimwitted program to promote some play and the two could debate matters pertaining to the U.K.; Wilde would be kicked off the program for saying something decidedly politically incorrect (and no doubt refer to Morgan as a bloated twat).  Lord Byron would be forced to make a fake apology on public television for wanting to fornicate with anything that walked; he would be harassed by the TMZ crew on a regular basis and routinely called a "pervert" and forced to hire a P.R. image clean-up team.  To make ends meet, individuals who shunned the spotlight and worked on their art in virtual anonymity would be forced by current cultural standards to at least make some kind of attempt to market themselves in one way or another.

Granted, some artists do shun the spotlight and avoid attention and are still quite good.  They resist labeling, they resist succumbing to pressures to conform, they exist in some kind of obscurist vacuum where a handful of "friends" know about them ... though even their friends are quick to dismiss and criticize and label them "kooky" and "perverse" if pressed.  In forty years time - perhaps after they cease to exist in human form - the materials of these individuals' lifetime pursuits can be "discovered," brought out, "appreciated" and sold and marketed for a lot of money ... ironically after they themselves no longer require any kind of income to live, eat, travel and so forth.  A dead artist is a valuable artist, but not to the artist him/herself.  Some brave souls have managed to maintain their artistic integrity and still have steady careers - David Lynch (who has directed commercials and TV shows ... but on his terms), John Waters (who is a wonderful spokesman for himself) and Richard D. James (who may or may not be making music using multiple monikers), to name but three - but largely this is a difficult field to maneuver around and requires its own unique form of self-preservation and ingenuity.

So instead of being broke and dead, there's a solution: dance the good dance for the masters.  Since the majority of individuals attempting art have minimal talent, sell off what talent can be sold.  You're a vacuous actress who photographs yourself making the same face over and over and over again?  You think you're Audrey Hepburn?  You have teeth like a horse, and at certain angles you look like a skeleton spray-painted with skin (three cheers for anorexia, right?).  But hey, if you think you're desirable, and someone wants to pay you to pose in a picture and grin goofily, TAKE IT.  Wrote one song of catchy brilliance and seventy five others of half-baked acoustic mumbling?  Find that one gem of a single and SELL IT TO ANY COMPANY THAT ASKS FOR IT.  Made some atrocious documentary about some country you visited for five minutes that features not one but ten children starving with bugs crawling into their eyes?  You're such a suburb-dwelling humanitarian!  MARKET THAT to the bleeding hearts with no brains.  Came up with some dumb-shit art project that involves you laying in bed with multiple people as a reflection of your inner torment and dissatisfaction with intimacy?  Hell yeah, sister, male genitalia is ugly: you HANG THOSE PRINTS UP.  You're a famous celebrity and don't make enough on your per-film salary (in the millions) and want to go to Japan and make even more money telling those trendy people to buy your cologne that bears no resemblance to your natural odor because they can't make a fragrance that smells like a closeted homosexual?  SPRAY THAT RIGHT IN THEIR FACES.

What I'm saying is that we have things to pay for, and those things can get pricey, and working behind a desk and using one's free time to slave over one's art as a spiritual release from the monotony of everyday survival can and should be avoided.  Even if you're rich from mind-boggling luck and meager talents God bestowed upon you, you can always be more rich. Take the payments offered to you, sell yourself as if you mean nothing, never stand up for your principles, never covet your most precious creations, don't use your natural gifts to form an admirable body of work.  If you have millions to spare, don't even begin to consider using that treasure trove to fund the visions of basement-dwellers with minds of gold and stardust.  You don't have to be Henry Darger anymore (hell, you don't even have to know who Henry Darger was).  You just have to smile, do what you're told and watch that bank account skyrocket.  No lasting talent, no problem, right?