Veronica had woken early and read her notes on the hotel strike while drinking green tea and eating a banana. Afterwards she switched on her computer and double-clicked the icon on her desktop titled “The Article”. The first page read: “Untitled Hotel Labor Dispute Article”. Those were the only words. As Veronica stared at the monitor, her room had begun to fill with secondhand smoke. Sarah, Kutra, and Le Ned, her roommates inside the house on 20th Avenue, had begun their daily abuse of marijuana.
Veronica, living in the basement, smelled traces of the cannabis just about every day. Although she didn’t partake, such a minor nuisance was not worth complaining about. However, this morning the smoke seemed to be seeping through her ceiling and she needed fresh air. With no windows to open, the young woman snatched her poetry book and began her escape.
Veronica had a separate entrance to the rest of the house, but her roommates always had their cellar door open. Many times, while trying to leave, they would shout down to her, asking if she wanted to “burn one”. Veronica believed they were all likable people, but she didn’t smoke marijuana and got bored by their stoned musings.
Hoping the roommates were too engrossed in their conversation about The Lord of the Rings, Veronica made her way to the door. She found just the right moment to leave when they all began talking simultaneously about their perfect synergy with the Hobbits. Veronica was almost outside when Kutra yelled, “V-Ron!”
Kutra was nineteen years-old, bony, and wore her hair in a beehive. Despite the fact she was stoned every moment of her life, Kutra was focused and alert. That was probably because the young woman had a penchant for snorting her ADD medication. Just like her cohorts Sarah and Le Ned, Kutra had never worked a day in her life. All three subsided off trust funds.
Veronica could have sprinted away from her roommates and their masticated brains, but she did not believe in rudeness, and didn’t want to jeopardize her living situation. Regardless of its basement setting and peeling wallpaper and capricious plumbing, the house was minutes away from the ocean. And since the owners of the house all had trust funds, her rent was far below market value.
“Where ya going, V-Ron?” Kutra yelled down.
“Just for some coffee,” Veronica answered.
If Veronica had divulged her actual destination, Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant on Geary, she would have been obligated to bring them takeout which she could not afford. Combining their being born rich with their cannabis intake, Kutra, Sarah, and Le Ned did not comprehend such variables as disposable income.
“C’mon up. We’d like to hear how you feel about living in Middle Earth. We’re totally interested in somebody else’s opinion. We’re smoking some serious shit too.”
Sarah, Kutra, and Le Ned could never remember that Veronica did not smoke pot.
* * *
Three times during the night Camden almost walked to the fridge for a glass of water. On each occasion he could not muster the energy to hydrate himself, and upon wakening at ten a.m. his throat was scabrous. It hurt to cough, which he had been doing all night because of the cigar he had smoked. He would have paid the contents in his wallet for anybody to bring him water.
The only person who could have carried out the task had left the apartment a few hours ago. Nor did she have any use for three dollars. Georgia Leveque had studied her bloated, phlegmy, and pungent boyfriend for several minutes before leaving to meet a friend. She didn’t even consider fetching him a glass of water.
But Georgia had left a typed note.
After a shower, six frozen waffles, four pints of water, one string cheese, and a Gatorade, Camden read the note. It had taken all his energy not to topple in the shower, and reading was difficult. Being so hungover, the severity of Georgia’s tone did not register with Camden’s, as Jim Morrison once said, fragile, eggshell of a mind. The note read:
This is not a matter of ‘philosophical differences’ as you’re fond of saying. Right now there are only facts, not abstract mind concepts. And here they are, blunt to the bone:
• You’re a child when it comes to our problems. You think that not talking about them will make them go away. It just makes them worse.
• You’re doing nothing to improve your career situation. The security job was supposed to be temporary, just something to get you on your feet. Six months later you’re still doing it and not even applying to other jobs, ones that suit your education and experience.
• You’ve become a drunk. You still have the cute smile and good looks, but lying next to you at night when you’re wasted has utterly turned me off to you sexually. If you think I’m being too harsh, or a bitch, then it’s because of problem number one.
• You refuse to talk about anything important, and then I build up all these complaints and I explode. Call me when you get up.
Most boyfriends would have detected a bitter tone after the salutation. But in Camden’s state he’d missed it, just assuming it began with Baby or Sweetie. And full comprehension and hangovers do not mix well.
In fact, the only physical activity he could do was put on a DVD, and it seemed like a Big Lebowski sort of day. It was on Camden’s Top Ten List, to the dismay of the rest of The Unsuccessful Men’s Club, who preferred the Coen Brothers’ other work like Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, and Fargo. But the Dude and quest for his rug that really tied the room together always made Camden feel better.
While on his couch and watching The Big Lebowski, Camden knew he should call Georgia. The note had to be addressed. Yesterday Camden promised he’d be on the 10:00 p.m. Caltrain and would be home by eleven. But he’d stayed out carousing with the Unsuccessful Men’s Club until last call, and got a ride home from Sal. Georgia had every right to be pissed.
He paused the DVD, freezing the image of the Dude’s face being covered with Donnie’s ashes, and picked up his cell phone to call his girlfriend. But instead of pushing the button in his address book, Camden made a turkey and avocado sandwich with oil and vinegar. When the film was over and only crumbs remained on his plate, Camden called Georgia.
“Just getting up,” she said.
Saying he had eaten a sandwich and watched Steve Buchemi portray Donnie before calling was not an option. Neither was claiming that he’d slept until one p.m. But there was another lie that just might work.
“I just saw your note, Georgia.”
“Bullshit. I put it on the fridge, and there’s no way you didn’t at least get yourself a glass of water. You must be hungover as shit.”
“That’s why I didn’t notice it,” he said.
“I don’t really care, and I don’t have time for your shit. I’m at the studio now, and I’ll be here late.”
Georgia’s workshop was an old log cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains just off Skyline Boulevard in Woodside. The small plot of land skirted the State Game & Fish Refuge and boasted spectacular views of the bay. Georgia’s father had purchased the cabin in 1977, and for two decades spent several weekends a year in it. He gave it to his daughter as a place to paint and sculpt.
“Do you want me to make dinner?” Camden asked.
“Don’t bother. I have a lot of work to do and I might even spend the night.”
“I thought you got creeped out when you spend the night there alone.”
“I do, Camden, but I have that exhibit in two weeks. I’ll be fine.”
“Do you hate me?”
“You said you’d be home by eleven and you didn’t even call. Then you’re all liquored up and wake me.”
“It wasn’t that I wasn’t thinking of you, it was just that I was drunk.”
“That’s wonderful, Camden.”
“Do you want me to drive up? I could bring Chinese food and a bottle of Port for dessert.”
“We’ll spend tomorrow together,” Georgia said. “Well, tomorrow might not be good. Anyway, tonight I really need to get some work done.”
Camden wanted to ask if she was cheating on him, but he was not emotionally or physically capable of such a conversation.
* * *
Georgia, wearing a loose, paint splotched cotton dress, moved around her sculpture titled “Buddha on Broadway”. She stood five feet, nine inches, and climbed barefoot on her wooden step stool to reach the top portion of the object. Georgia’s long, wavy sandy brown hair was tied back with a black bandana, and she inspected her sculpture with dark brown eyes behind black framed glasses. She was sylphlike when viewed from the front, which she attributed to her father’s French genes, but she was grateful she got her Indian mother’s curvy backside.
When chicken wire snagged her index finger and blood streaked down her hand, Georgia was more annoyed at the interruption than in actual pain. She had been working for two hours straight since speaking with Camden, and continued curling the wire around the base of the sculpture. But when she noticed the circles of blood on her dress, the artist dropped her pliers and went to the bathroom for a Band-Aid.
“My God, it’s fucking brilliant,” Miles Krakow yelled from the other room.
Upon returning from dressing her wound, Georgia found Miles sitting on the floor with his legs crossed. After lighting a cigarette, he continued in his praise. “Absolutely fucking brilliant.”
“It’s still not finished.”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t touch it again,” Miles said.
“You’re not me, and there’s still some finishing touches to be done. And that doesn’t even include casting the bronze.”
“So what do we have here?” Miles asked and leapt up and began circling the six-foot-tall sculpture. “Chicken wire, wax that will become bronze.”
“Some of the wax will stay wax,” Georgia said.
“And there’s some sandstone and . . . I guess that’s a plastic trash bag. I can make out just a hint of a Buddha, and then it abstracts into a wonderfully bizarre frenzy of images. A religious piece?”
“Do you think it is?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. Given your heritage, shouldn’t you have done something with Ganesh?”
“I’m half French too, Miles. And even so, the Buddha was born in India.”
“Well, whatever the fuck your intentions are, I love it.”
“Thanks,” Georgia said. “But I’d rather be painting.”
“Please, darling, don’t give me that shit again.”
Miles Krakow, who dressed in the hipster fashion of skinny jeans, irreverent t-shirt, and aviator glasses, was famous for his paintings. He created epic canvases that one esteemed critic claimed combined all the best of Van Gough, Dali, and Pollock to create original masterpieces. Heavy praise for an artist, especially a fourteen-year-old. After his first show Miles became a sensation, a child prodigy who was loved by critics and the masses.
This success lasted for a decade until one day Miles woke up and decided he never wanted to paint again. At least that was the way he described it in interviews. The truth was he had been growing bored with the medium for years. But when he announced his retirement nobody believed him. Miles Krakow and painting were synonymous.
But eight-years after declaring he was finished, Miles had stayed true to his word. Although the man had not given up on art. And his new medium had kept him in the public eye.
Georgia snatched the cigarette from the artist’s hand and took a long drag. At thirty-four, she was a year older and far less successful than Miles. Georgia had even studied Miles in college, a bizarre fact she couldn’t expel from her head. She took one more drag and tossed the cigarette into a cold cup of coffee.
“No smoking in here.”
“Oooh, I love it when you’re bitchy,” Miles responded, instantly taking another cigarette from the pack.
“My Dad likes to show up without warning, and you know how much he despises cigarettes.”
“It’s your cabin,” Miles said.
“Don’t give him another reason to hate you.”
“Georgia, your Dad loves me.”
“He used to.”
“C’mon, he can’t still be upset."
Mr. Jean Francois Léveque, Georgia’s father, had progressed far past the emotional realm of being upset. He was upset when Miles and his daughter ended their five-year relationship. He was upset when the boy retired from painting. But Miles had done something that had caused Mr. Léveque to percolate with an anger that would never subside. Something involving the young man’s new artistic expression.
“You set fire to one of his Picasso’s.”
“One of my Picasso’s,” Miles said. “I bought it from him.”
“And when you declared your intentions, he demanded it back,” Georgia said.
“Your father has such an astute eye for art, I know in time he’ll come to understand my vision. Not only that, I guarantee he’ll eventually want to buy my piece. He’ll see the genius in my new medium.”
Miles’ new medium was the desecration of an established artist’s work. So far he had set ablaze the Picasso lithograph, took a chainsaw to a Henry Moore, ripped into tiny pieces a Winslow Homer, and urinated on one of his first oil paintings; which he then melted with acid. Miles performed these acts of vandalism in front of a cheap video cassette camera from the 80s.
He claimed to be inventing a new medium, one that reflected the violence and barren culture on the 21st Century. The world did not agree. He was pelted with eggs and rocks at his first exhibit. Numerous death threats were issued. And just last week several countries passed laws prohibiting the sale of any art work to Miles Krakow or anybody acting on his behalf.
“Miles, the man lives for art,” Georgia said. “The preservation of art. He thoroughly loathes you.”
“Frenchie will come around,” Miles said.
“You’re a fucking lunatic. I’m afraid to be seen in public with you.”
“History will judge me differently.”
“First I thought you were just being eccentric in a sort of Andy Kaufman manner,” Georgia said. “Now you’ve launched into full blown Howard Hughes craziness. Seriously, you need to stop taking so many pills.”
“I indulge in the occasional red or blue or green pills. Sometimes yellow and orange.”
“C’mon, Miles. How long are you going to keep this up? I mean, nobody will even sell you a painting anymore. And I know you sold every piece of art you ever made or acquired when you retired.”
“Poor planning on my part, an impetuous act that I deeply regret.”
“You regret all that money you made?” Georgia asked. “How much was it? One hundred million?”
“More than that, biatch. Which is why I’ll find somebody to sell me an artistic treasure. And if not, maybe I’ll pay somebody to steal one.”