From the September, 1971 issue of National Lampoon
The air of my studio roiled with the sweet scent of pigment. My hands were slick to the wrists, my clothing splotched and smeared. I was tired but elated. The painting was finished and very, very good.
Some artists will tell you they are incompetent to judge their own work. Once complete, their painting seems to have come from elsewhere. I didn't paint it, man, they say, I just painted it down. Not me. I'd painted that painting and knew with certainty it was the best thing I'd ever put on plaster.
My school is chiaroscuro frescoes, whatever that means. The barely completed one, lustrous in the late-afternoon sun, was a slow explosion of moody swirls called In a Brown Study. The more I stared, the more excited I became. My first totally abstract work was a creation of high inspiration, even genius. It would strike my critics dumb.
I was applying my signature (a palm print in the southeast corner) when Oh Horseshit, my head Big One and harshest critic, threw open the door and began addressing me in his strange guttural language. He broke off abruptly as I stepped back from the wall. He stared. I held my breath, watching his eyes for that glint of recognition, wishing to cherish those few seconds during which he would first grasp the magnitude of what he was seeing.
"Jumping Jesus!" He spun. "Helen! The little asshole's wiping his shit on the wall again!"
His tone of voice told all. I felt no surprise when he rushed me under his arm to the stink room, crudely tore off my Pamper, and slammed me onto the water pit. Thus confined, I listened through the closed door as Big Bumps, my other Big One, scrubbed into nothingness something even a bow-wow would recognize as deservedly eternal. After a time, she began to make loud retching noises and I took my mind elsewhere. I mean, enough is enough.
Ignoring as best I could the sensation of icy void beneath my bumbum and the cold sweat already dotting my plastic-sheathed willie (which had, as usual, been placed in the descending tunnel at the front of the seat), I wondered wearily how I had erred. I mean, I try as hard as the next guy to be open and responsive to criticism. I had watched Oh Horseshit's every gesture, analyzed Big Bumps' facial expressions until my head spun. For the thousandth time in the past week, the old cliché went through my head: communicating with Big Ones may be difficult, but, with perseverance, it's impossible. What possible need of theirs could be filled by such wanton destruction of beauty? Were they merely Philistines or was it something deeper, more sinister? I hoped not the latter, but that anyone, even Big Ones, could prefer Mother Goose lithographs to my paintings was hard to swallow.
Yes, Mother Goose lithographs. Can you imagine what it's like, lying around day after day being smiled at benevolently by Little Miss Muffet, Bo Peep, and Georgie Porgie? And if that's not enough, for a color scheme they chose powder blue! Dull, dull, dull!
Brown, that's the color --- rich, deep, filled with secret fire, the color of earth, mahogany, and chocolate. And moo.
Hard to believe that at one time I had been unaware of moo's potential! Until last Monday, my sole use of moo had been to squish it pleasingly between the cheeks of my buttocks. In fact, until Monday, I hadn't been a painter at all, but an architect, creating elaborate maquettes for developments, heliports, and shopping centers --- out of blocks.
So, on Monday afternoon, I was constructing a series of modular towers. Around little-hand-on-four, the door to my studio opened and in walked Broad Buns, the Big One who lives next door, bearing Fishface, who unfortunately lives there with her. Smiling ingenuously, she deposited him on the floor in front of me, as if he were a present.
The second she left to join Big Bumps, I swept my blocks with my arm to another part of the room. Fishface's manner unsettles me. He spends most of his time staring into space and making random noises, his small balding head bobbing like a dashboard decoration. His most highly developed skill is the blowing of foam around his tongue, which protrudes far more often than good taste dictates. I believe he may be a defective.
After a time, his vacant stares and dangling strand of drool made me nervous and I went down the hall to see Big Bumps about my late-afternoon bottle. When I didn't get quite the response I'd been hoping for (she threw a shoe at me), I returned angrily to my studio where, to my shock and dismay, I found that Fishface had one of my blocks and was about to put it in his mouth!
I decided to kill the little fuck. But, as I advanced on him, he leapt into a sudden animal crouch before the block pile, baring his pink, rubbery gums and hissing. I'd never seen him move so fast. Retreating to a safe distance, I looked for something to throw but found nothing. My small body began to tremble with frustration. Then I remembered moo!
There's usually a couple of tubes of it knocking around my Pamper. I reached in, found two relatively unmashed pieces, wound up, and let fly. My second shot nailed him between the eyes. Not bad for someone who's soft all over and still falls down a lot!
At first, following the loud, liquid impact, Fishface crouched unmoving, though his face fell and his hisses ceased abruptly. Then, in slow motion, he toppled backwards onto his bumbum. His mouth opened until it seemed to fill his face and emitted a thin, piercing shriek, like a peanut whistle.
Five seconds later, Broad Buns burst through my door like a demonic choochoo, Big Bumps hot on her heels. When they saw Fishface's browned countenance, they stopped short. Big Bumps made teeth at Broad Buns. Broad Buns did not make teeth at Big Bumps. She tucked Fishface under her arm and strode from the room. Neither she nor Big Bumps, who ran after her, noticed that the little bastard still had my D-G-M-R-Anteater-Panda block.
I had loved that anteater. Overwhelmed with grief, I decided to suck my foot. Eyes closed, I saw again the edentate's sly smile and long, narrow snout. A tear began its way down one of my cheeks. I shook my head. It would not help to brood. I opened my eyes; my gaze slid with distaste from Mary Mary, jumped over the cow jumping over the guess what, and came to rest near the left foot of Bo Peep. There was something there, something brown and glistening.
Suddenly alert, I started for the wall, but my legs didn't work and I fell over on my side. I started to cry but found I couldn't do that either. Then I realized schmuck! and pulled my foot out of my mouth.
The something on the wall was the moo that had missed. It was quite beautiful, swollen at impact into a divine, glistening bulbousness. At first, I merely stared in wonder. After a time, I reached out tentatively to touch its inviting surface. To my dismay, it came loose in my hand. Cursing myself, I tried to restick it, but to no avail, my only effect being to mar its shape, to cause with each gentle pressure a further departure from its initial perfection. Finally, my control broke and I pressed with all my might. Moo slid from the sides of my palm like jelly from a sandwich.
Stunned, I stared at what I had wrought: a dusky, grasping hand, seeming poised to snatch Bo Beep's staff upon her very next step. I had transformed kitsch into a profound study of the small Sicilian ambushes of day-to-day existence. I had created a work of relevance, spontaneity, timelessness, and pleasing aspect. In short, art.
My first thought was, "Wait till I show Oh Horseshit and Big Bumps! Will they be proud of me!"
I rushed downstairs to the kitchen, but things didn't go quite as planned. Big Bumps responded to my tugs on her apron by striking me smartly on the top of my head with a large, metal spoon.
Oh Horseshit, on the other hand, ignored me. After a mere twenty-five minutes, however, he stopped my sobs in a twinkling with that special Big One magic of clamping his hand tightly over my mouth. He then agreed to accompany me to my room, even volunteering himself for horsie. Since horsie is what he calls dashing out my brains on low doorways, I declined. Thus it was pursued rather than accompanied that I arrived at my studio.
By coincidence, the corner in which I chose to cower was quite close to Bo Peep. Oh Horseshit had scarcely landed his foot twice when he noticed my artwork and, with a bark of surprise, left off. Yes! I cried silently, what you're looking at is more important than mere lust to kill. Can you see? Can you?
Abruptly, Oh Horseshit threw both hands over his mouth and ran from the room.
This reaction was new to me, but I soon saw it again, in more elaborate variation. Big Bumps, who soon appeared, not only mouth-clapped, but bent at the waist, made several zoolike sounds and expelled great jets of lumpy yellow matter from her mouth. I took these responses to be negative.
My job, obviously, was to figure out in what way my work was wanting. Perhaps Big Bumps' lumpy yellow matter was also a pigment, perhaps a preferred pigment. I mean, it didn't look like much, more like creamed corn than anything usable, but I thought I'd give it a try. When I bent to scoop some up, however, Big Bumps shrieked and scooped me up. From behind the bars of my crib, I watched her fetch bucket and brush and annihilate my creation.
The following morning, a special plastic seat, ironically bearing gay decals of smiling ducks and rabbits, was affixed to the water pit, and I was forced to sit with my bumbum suspended over its dank interior. Augmenting the discomfort was fear. I had seen this powerful white engine at work (it eats Kleenex and ashtray refuse) and realized how easily one of my size might fall through and be sluiced away. As a torture, it had a certain Oriental quality. I tried to outlast it by concentrating on the question of why I had been seated there in the first place.
Obviously, it had something to do with my painting. I allowed myself to become self-critical. A picture of a hand wasn't so much. Perhaps I shouldn't have expected all kudos.
Suddenly, I noticed the wallpaper. It portrayed long-legged birds walking amidst lush vegetation. That was it! The Big Ones, in their convoluted way, were trying to tell me to lay off that symbolic crap and paint instead the multiple creations of God's good earth!
Accordingly, that evening I rendered Tree in Sepia. After the viewing I got to spend several hours on the water pit with the radio downstairs turned up loud to drown out my panicky cries for release.
So nature studies were not the answer. I looked for an alternative but was stumped until Big Bumps entered the stink room and placed on my lap one of the many-leaved paper rectangles she and Oh Horseshit sometimes stare at for hours. It was open to a picture of a boy sitting on a water pit and smiling. Suddenly, I understood what the Big Ones wanted: surrealism!
Thus, on Wednesday afternoon, I completed a surrealistic masterpiece portraying limp boombooms on a field of infinite brown. I called it The Persistence of Mammary. That night, Big Bumps doused my blocks with lumpy, yellow matter, rendering them permanently distasteful to me. I began to suspect a new message: art not spoken here. I considered cutting off my ear.
On Thursday, I decided to withdraw to some unspoiled, bucolic locale where I might work without harassment. In the verdant peacefulness of our backyard, I completed a gentle study of the innocent brownskin hanging Broad Buns' wash. I called it Natural Rhythm. Unfortunately, the innocent brownskin noticed what I was doing and ran screaming to Big Bumps, who quickly scrubbed the wall of the garage back into anonymity. I later learned that there are 366 tiles in the wall over the bathtub and more than two thousand stained white octagons in the floor.
After this failure at representationalism, I used Friday's supply of moo to complete the abstract to which I have previously referred. As you know, it, too, received bad reviews.
Looking at the problem from a new angle, I now searched for a subject so sacred to Big Ones as to ensure the preservation of my work. During my first eleven trips to the water pit on Saturday, I relentlessly asked myself what was sacred to Big Ones. On the twelfth visit, I had the answer: themselves! What a fool not to think of it sooner! The critic never lived who panned his own portrait!
Then, a second realization, as dire as the first was triumphant: I had to moo! I knew from an unfortunate incident with a water glass earlier in the week that the least hint of extraneous moisture simply ruins my pigment. Five thousand places to moo at my house, and I have to pick the water pit!
I slid off the seat in a panic, searching wildly for a stash . . . and found one! Squeezing my cheeks together so tightly they ached, I humpety-humped across the room, squatted, and gratefully allowed four fat tubes to slide out of me and nestle in the warm, plastic security of my flung Pamper.
Abruptly, there was noise without. Footsteps approached.
Thrusting the Pamper in among the dirty sheets, I made it back across the floor and vaulted onto the water pit just as the door opened. Oh Horseshit started matter-of-factly towards me, but Big Bumps paused in the doorway, wide-eyed. She emitted a startled yip and pointed a trembling finger at me, averting her eyes. Her face had gone quite white. Puzzled, I followed her finger and found that my willie had failed to return to its tunnel and instead was propped on the lip of the seat so that it pointed straight up. Oh Horseshit put his hands on his hips and barked disparagingly. Big Bumps shook her head, apparently unable to speak or lift her feet. Oh Horseshit snorted, approached me, and lifted me from the water pit. My willie fell back to normal. With a sigh of relief, Big Bumps hurried over to the water pit, and both Big Ones peered into its enameled depths. They straightened, Oh Horseshit spreading his arms wide in negative exclamation. I bounced to the floor, caroming off the sink, and rolled into the corner. Pointedly ignoring me, my Big Ones left the room growling and yapping together.
I'd pulled it off! A little painfully, I gained my feet, plucked my Pamper from the hamper, and scampered for my studio.
By happy coincidence, last night's beef and strained peaches had emerged darkly umber, the perfect shade for the brooding Wagnerian work I would now undertake. Four tubes had been a lucky break as well. Have I given you any idea just how big a Big One really is?
There's a riddle we have: Why do Big Ones never suck their feet? The answer: Because they're too far away! For this painting, I would need scaffolding. Pulling a chair to the wall, I mounted and began.
The indignities and persecution of the week slipped like splinters from my hurting consciousness; my senses focused totally on my work, on the sliding of fingertips against plaster, the heady bouquet of the pigment, the slowly forming images before me. I became part of a fused entity --- me, moo, wall. I scarcely noticed the passing hours. I neither hungered nor thirsted, even though Big Bumps had taken me off all food and water that morning.
It was she who I painted first. Borrowing a technique from the Hindus, I gave her six arms and hands, one pair wringing, the others busy individually, one writing a list, one holding a long-ashed cigarette, one pulling at a fallen stocking, the last clenched in her teeth. Her body was a fruit-and-vegetable cart: instead of a head, she had a turnip; plump tomatoes replaced her knees; from her chest grew watermelons.
To her left sat Oh Horseshit, oblivious to the fire of saxophones and alumni magazines that burned beneath his chair. He had three heads: one sucked a pacifier; one was lost in a burst of exploding newspaper; the third stared with fury straight at me. His feet were propped on a makeshift hassock of cracked phonograph records. Ringing him concentrically were borders of broken glass and feathers.
Minutes or hours later, I finished. Outside, to my vague surprise, it was dark. My day had been long from In a Brown Study to Artist's Big Ones at Home. Spent, I collapsed into my crib and dreamed of nothing at all.
I awoke to the sound of a long, ululating retch. Sunday-morning sun was streaming through the window and I could see through my bars about a third of my painting, glowing with chocolate radiance. The other two-thirds had disappeared into the scrub bucket of Big Bumps, who had apparently just paused to anoint my floorboards from within.
A coy finger of dread made light with my intestines. Why wasn't I on the water pit?
The door slammed downstairs. Big Bumps straightened and wiped her hands and mouth with a towel. When Oh Horseshit entered the studio, she ran to him, eagerly plucking at the package under his arm. Oh Horseshit tore off the string and brown paper and proudly held forth a red rubber bladder trailing a wriggling red tube capped by a shining black snake head, its mouth a tiny open O. Big Bumps squealed with pleasure. Next, from his overcoat pocket Oh Horseshit withdrew a large bottle and poured a grayish liquid into the bladder. Big Bumps giggled. Then they turned on me and, showing teeth like bathroom tiles, carried me into the stink room.
How Oh Horseshit pumped that bladder! Each time I whimpered, Big Bumps clapped her hands and laughed aloud. I fantasized wildly, imagining my own inflation. Was taking it up the ass the beginning of becoming a Big One?
At last, limp and evacuated, I was returned to my studio and with many a smile and chuck beneath the chin, I was left alone. Only then did I allow my tears to come. I felt as useless as an unpierced nipple. What good is an artist without his paints? Useless . . . unless there were an alternate source of supply!
I sat straight up in my crib. If not my moo, whose? The Big Ones'? I assumed they mooed --- they have bumbums much like mine, though uglier --- but I knew not where or when, nor the ultimate resting place of their extrusions. No, I would have to look elsewhere.
Suddenly, it hit me --- Fishface's bowwow! That little bowser had turned Broad Buns' backyard into a very Carrara marble quarry of moo piles! It was good moo, too, some of the best I'd ever seen. More than once I had laid my head inches from the animal's straining rump in order to watch that first darkly glistening tip emerge. It was the perfect pigment!
My depression burned off like fog under the brilliance of this idea: Alert as a cat, I scaled the walls of my crib, tiptoed to the bathroom, and secured a pillow slip from the hamper.
Soon, I had enough moo piled up in my toy chest to cover the long wall of my studio, precisely what I had in mind. I believed I had found a final solution for my Big One problem. Big Ones, different as they were from me in every particular, might yet share some common ground where we could meet. I felt certain that Big Ones could not be the highest form of life on this planet. What if Big Ones had Big Ones of their own? I've noticed their respect for cars already. And you've never seen a Big One take on, say, the Chrysler Building, have you?
If the dimensions were great enough, art would win out. Well, I would give them greatness. I would spare no anger, but neither would I scrimp on the mighty love that welled inside me. I would give them the Sistine Chapel, Guernica, and Horton Hatches the Egg, all in one. I would call my work The Playpen of Worldly Delights.
First, though, I would rest. The many trips to Broad Buns' backyard had tired me, and, in my second day without nourishment, I felt hampered by intermittent staggering. I dozed fitfully throughout the day. When I awoke, it was dark outside, but my hands were on fire. I stripped for action. Pulling a first great, meaty coil of doggie moo from my toy chest, I turned to the wall and let the fever take me.
I regained my awareness to the morning songs of birds. The air was thick with sweet fecal perfume. Then, first light speared the wall!
Reader, I looked through a picture window into Sepia Heaven. Words cannot paint it for you. You must close your eyes, hold your Teddy very close to you under a snug blanket, listen to the tattoo of rain on your window, and wait until you are almost asleep. Now, look hard. Freeze what you see. Drop a brown tint. Shoot it through with golden highlights. There. That is my painting.
It was a work of such blazing genius it would incinerate the hand that tried to scrub it. Reeling with hunger and fatigue, I somehow gained my crib and fell unconscious.
"You stupid shitface!" bellowed Oh Horseshit, inches from my nose.
"Igggghhhhh! Uckkkkkkk!" put in Big Bumps, jackknifed by the wall.
I tried to pull the covers over my head, but Oh Horseshit was too fast for me. In the stink room, he sat me firmly down in the basin and withdrew from the mirror cabinet a tube of toothpaste. Clicking his tongue for attention, he held the tube over the mouth of the water pit and, with ominous calm, twisted and rolled it until long, aqua tubes extruded to splash insipidly below. He then did much the same to me.
After Oh Horseshit's departure for the day, I watched Big Bumps pass the stink room door carrying two buckets, two scrub brushes, a paint scraper, a mop, and a shovel. As the morning passed, her retching noises took on the insistent quality of a woodworking shop.
I felt crushed in spirit, devoid of emotions, so empty inside I wondered if Oh Horseshit hadn't squeezed out a few of my organs. And perhaps the remainder of my creative urge as well. Life was too short to spend being squeezed in the stink room. I would paint no more.
When she had completed the erasure of my masterwork, Big Bumps joined me. She was quite a sight. There was moo on her hands, moo on her clothes, moo in her hair. Stringy matter hung from her slack jaw and mingled with the brown on her blouse. She looked like a salad.
I watched her slowly undress as the bathtub filled. Out came Big Bumps' boombooms, and an immense pair of squash they were! They spilled from her white boomboom holder to hang and dance like Slinkies. Next, down went her black lace Pamper.
Suddenly, I forgot art.
Big Bumps slid into the tub, sighing gratefully. I began to sweat. In its sheath, my doodle had become so hot I seriously expected steam. In the grip of this strange, new emotion, I honestly didn't realize I had mooed until a cold tongue of water kissed my sphincter.
At the sound of the plunk, however, Big Bumps had catapulted from the tub with a small animal-cry of hope to peer between my legs. It was a feeble little moo, no bigger than a pencil stub, but Big Bumps unleashed a scream of purest joy, threw her arms around me, and hugged with all her might. Her boombooms laved my face like two great soap bubbles.
Now, hours later, I lie in my crib, stomach full once more, my soft, rather appealing flesh newly bathed and powdered, decked out in a fresh Pamper, and swathed in warm flannel jamies. Oh Horseshit came home a while ago and visited my crib to pay his respects, tousling my hair and pinching my nose in camaraderie. All is well. Having told this tale, the artistic experience already fades. Sometimes, I have decided, it is better to bend with the winds of change.
Besides, there are new discoveries aborning. Moments ago, as I lay musing over the experiences of the day, I felt a sudden return of the hot doodle sensation. I have just made a visual check, and know what? My willie is hard like a rock. and standing straight out from my body.
Wait till I show Oh Horseshit and Big Bumps! Will they be proud of me!!