The Rise and Fall of Sylvester Sylvester
(in the "Baldie Stories 1" collection - on sale at Amazon.com
The launch of the hair-sculpture series had catapulted Sylvester Sylvester's mediocre career from a chip-and-dustbin sculptor into a porcelain-precious art-star.
"No darling, Cinque Terre! Sweetheart! We open in London, fly to Prato to visit Andrea, and then after party in Vernazza, or Monterosso, or something."
When he tried to move away from the hair-sculpture series into the belly-button lint series the empire nearly collapsed, but thirteen shrinks and forty milligrams a day later, things stood up again.
"No, I don't really mind except for the ankle bracelet. Honestly, I still don't think it's polite, but when they explained how valuable I am, not only in dollars and cents but as a cultural asset, I figured it was a small price to pay..."
The first reviews were less than inspiring. In fact, they were simply rude. "Hairball Dreamer," said Smitty Roberts.
But he pressed on. The bad press grew in pace with the scale of the hair-sculptures. By the time he had replicated Michelangelo’s David in pubic hair, his career had been secured.
"Someone will always complain that you've changed! It's jealousy."
He forfeited his friends with the ease and grace of a dedicated visionary. His divorce was a masterpiece of decorum and civility. The attempts to spin the accent didn't fare well, but his truculent British made for some good laughs. By the time he was famous, so were his new friends and family.
"Are you kidding? Birdy-Birdy isn't a pet name for my new wife! You haven't heard of her? Famously failed snuff-film star, third world self-help guru, Post-Fluxus Now and Then Again-er? I have no idea what it's all about, but she looks fabulous head to toe in motor-oil..."
There were two art-star children: Yem-Yum & Hoppity. There were issues: Yem-Yum was born with two tongues. Hoppity wouldn't learn how to speak until he was twenty-six, and then all the words that came out of him when he did were horrific. But SS & BB, as they were known in short circles, didn't care much for the kids anyhow. No tears lost there; the tots treated the art-stars like lepers. Couldn't stand them.
"The children - just never got the feel for them, you know, in a plastic sense, art-wise – that is, three dimensionally..."
Great fame came with even greater absurdity in art and in family life.
Sylvester Sylvester teased his hair up into a mighty volcano above his long forehead. Every ridiculous inspiration made that mountain shudder and worry. Birdy Birdy staked a claim, officially, on a plot of space within that mass of hair, claiming it "A Studio within a Studio." She staged performances atop Sylvester Sylvester's head. She fashioned cages out of garbage and hair, introduced insects and vermin, made short digital clips - the torture of both man and beast - and sold them to educators as learning tools.
You wouldn't believe how fast they sold.
"They call it "Picasso's Castle", but it's mine now, I bought it, right? So we call it Casa Neurotica. Ha! Get it? A play on words! Neural erotica! Ha!"
It was about that time when the hues of joy and tints of fortune shifted spectrum for the art-star clan.
"Chiggers, dear. Chiggers or larvae; something or another with wings or claws or antlers… You know something? I once spent two months sitting on a cold branch waiting to take a picture of a newborn deer, just to see what the tiny antlers looked like! Can you believe it? Anyhow, it's an infection - critters burrowed under my scalp. Long-short, I'm bald as a bat!"
Meetings became awkward among those wealthy collectors and sparkling curators who divined weakness through osmotic translations of failed couture. One bad hair day, and the vultures whispered. And there was “Good-Bad” and there was “Bad-Bad," just as there was “Good-Good” and “Bad-Good.” Not so tricky as it sounds. Sylvester Sylvester's festering scalp evolved. Soon, dribbling pustules sputtered over a scaling toss of infected flakes, pink meat, and grey ooze...It was “Bad-Bad."
The top of that head was a crime scene. SS was slow on the pick-up.
"What do you mean it didn't bid well? What does that even mean? We own that auction house, don't we?"
And before Yem-Yum had his second second-tongue removal (the little bugger grew right back after the first removal), Picasso's castle was sold to another equally visionary art-star and was renamed Pookie Palace. To add insult to injury, the poor structure was immediately adorned with a twenty-five foot tall vitrine filled with raw chopped-meat, which baked in the late July sun, just outside the welcome-rotunda, until the Board of Health came and carted it away.
"Well, of course BB is upset! But it's common knowledge! You never approach a body slathered in motor-oil with an open flame!"
Down was less graceful than up. Jack and Jill. Humpty Dumpty. The rest of them…
Eventually, Yem-Yum would find success in gimp-porn. This worked well to support theories of Darwinian linearity. He would sire sixteen children, half of them double-tongued, and they, in turn, would thrive and multiply until things got really sordid. But before all that happened, this happened:
"We all overextend! It’s capitalism riding invention! Daring pays for daring! Art is commerce! How can I be broke?"
They were kind enough to take off the ankle bracelet. They left him the credit cards, the balances, and the receipts for the collateral on loans that paid for the Up. The fine art in hock never had the SS initials. They wouldn't rate it, even though the loans were signed with the very same initials. Funny how Down works sometimes.
"No, BB and I love each other mucho gracias! It is our art that defines our attraction, not our physical selves! My disfigurement and hers…this is no coincidence!"
In fact, it had mattered greatly. Birdy Birdy was appalled by the disintegration and dilapidation of Sylvester Sylvester.
What began as an infection of the scalp spread downward - hot lava seeped beneath Sylvester Sylvester's skin. Angry molten eruptions burned through his flesh. The pain split him in half, and then quartered him. Birdy Birdy sympathized. Her burns were no less dramatic, and they covered her in no slow dripping manner. Flames had consumed that horrible day, and the few moments before she had been extinguished were moments that would pain her forever. She feared she would never perform again.
But it was art and love that mattered! In the end! Nothing else! Balls to anything else!
Except that SS had a very hard time looking at BB.
"I'm a surface aesthete! I love the surfaces! Give me a nice surface, and I'll show you something nice."
He'd meant to suggest that he was not a shallow being, not by a long shot. He was a spirit who had been folded into being from gossamer strands of universal fineness. He'd meant to suggest that his perception was rarified and profound; his existence, a singularity of cause - a tattoo to that effect he considered; something in Latin across one brow, or better still, the tips of his fingers...
What he meant to say was that Birdy Birdy no longer aroused him. It had been bad enough with the kids plowing through her. Now this!
"The Highbank Annex is not on the water, it's in the water! This is about the meeting! The Highbanks were repulsed! Listen, I'm not giving in! What do you mean you won't stand beside me on this?"
Sylvester Sylvester lost sleep. Alone, in that big bed, he cried and dreamed other people’s dreams - dark things - resistance, lethargy, and ordinary fear. Birdy Birdy gave up sleep entirely. It simply hurt too much.
"I made it on hair and lost it on hair! I am a phoenix! The bald phoenix! Rebirth! There will be a sign!"
Hoppity hadn't as much as burbled a sound in the up or down years. It was noticed. His only reaction, to any attempt at communication (or any external stimulus at all), was a singular dissatisfied and disparaging eye-roll. Except when someone got hurt. When someone got hurt, Hoppity laughed with his head raised high, chin to heaven. Hoppity laughed a lot at Sylvester Sylvester and Birdy Birdy. SS could only admit to himself that it was in this interminable silence and deranged laughter that he found his sign.
The universe had forsaken him and was mocking his isolation.
"I'm down to six assistants, four packers, and two runners. This isn't a studio - it's an abandoned warehouse! And my studio manager had a meeting with accounting and they're cutting back on catering!"
Oh, the empire had grown to its limit and was contracting rapidly. Sylvester Sylvester hadn't touched one of his own works in eleven years. He hadn't sketched one out in six. He hadn't worked concept or strategy in two. He picked scabs, cried, and tried to believe in the vision of the bald Phoenix rising. But instead, all he saw was Yem-Yum's second tongue growing in for the fifth time, Hoppity spewing his awful nothing, and Birdy Birdy. There was that.
Her need for attention and determination to be the strangest of all creative minds inspired her to create GimpPark. She spent six hours a day in a hole in the ground, "performing." Others she hired performed beside her. It was a minor success. SS never saw BB much after that. She found her own crowd and he found something else. Eventually Birdy Birdy wrangled a divorce from Sylvester Sylvester. She waited until the kids had grown and did it to legitimize the relationship with a confused, cross-dressing hermaphrodite who assumed the well-suited role as the bearded-lady in the geek show.
It was better for her.
"Milano is off this year. And Venezia hasn't happened in six years, so there goes another country!"
And as the countries and dealers and clubs (you wouldn't believe the clubs, how they knew - one opening flop and you aren't making it to the Adonis Wing at Sha-Sha) withdrew their favors, Sylvester Sylvester found himself back in the studio, late at night, with his one and only remaining assistant, Flemgaard. Together, they drew up concepts for new works of art and puttered around with tools he'd never touched before: paint brushes, carving tools, armatures, cameras, blow torches, and other items that lay around in various workshops and different floors of the ever-shrinking studio real-estate that was his home. It was boredom and the need for diversion from the crumbling losses that put a mallet, a strobe light, and a die grinder in his hand. His condition never improved. Bacterial viruses bred mercilessly upon his body; diseases found inspiration in his hospitable bowels.
"Yem-Yum left grad school to travel to Amsterdam. Says he met a nice group of people there the last time he visited with BB's troupe. And Hoppity is still here. Funny, with a name like Hoppity, you'd have expected more."
Long after the last agent broke contract and shortly after the last gallery returned unsold work, Sylvester Sylvester began making profound and beautiful things. He'd never sell them - no one looked or listened when they pretended to look and listen - but SS didn't notice and didn't mind. He and Flemgaard broke artistic boundaries daily. They sat quietly in the small, single-floor studio, sketching, thinking, and drawing in the power of that silence, while Hoppity washed brushes, edited photos, changed tanks, and rolled his eyes.
Hoppity was twenty-five years old when Flemgaard married his sweetheart, Betsy, and moved to a small town with no name beside the Snake River in Wyoming. Six months later, a dealer stopped by after hearing rumors about a tragic character, a rising phoenix, a hermit of sorts, living downtown with his idiot son.
"He wanted to look around, why would I mind? It had been years. I had no need, and no care. The place was paid for, they'd taken theirs, and there was enough left for a quiet life. I told him to make himself at home. He didn't flinch when he saw me. Point for him."
The dealer was shocked by what he saw. Astounded. The body of work was breathtakingly simple and profound. The idiot boy trolled among the divine objects, tinkered with them, grimaced and shook among them, disappeared and reappeared silent but proud.
"Twenty-six years. Not a word. Then, the dealer stands there in the morning sunlight and makes a suggestion. He spoke a few kind words. I hadn't heard kind words in a long time. Not from the art world. And then..."
And then, Hoppity spoke.
It was loud and profane. It was a storm of anger and violence. It was what Adam should have said to the serpent. It was pure and hateful. It was magnificent and lasted for as long as the dealer stood there with his kind words and decent suggestion. When he was gone, Hoppity went quiet again. And Sylvester Sylvester looked at his son and nodded.
"No, not too many people come around much at all, with me looking the way I do, and Hoppity guarding against kindness and good intentions the way he does. No. We see Flem now and then. YY doesn't bother; he's busy spawning. BB died last year. Chainsaw accident. I miss her. All in all, we get on. We make things. It's nice to make nice things."
And that's it. That is the story of the rise and fall of Sylvester Sylvester.