Objects Are Closer Than They Appear
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It began harmlessly enough with a bumper sticker on his Vega reading "Practice Random Acts of Niceness" or something like that. In retrospect, I can only marvel at the psychology of someone who would bother choosing such a message and affixing it to his car with no means of determining whether his injunction ever had the intended effect or any effect at all. To be generous, I suppose the phenomenon could be akin to the display of "Jesus Saves - Repent and Believe" signs that adorn the odd country lane or state highway overpass. The messenger must be compelled by some inner principle unencumbered by the demographer's need for quantifiable results. What is important is the messenger's faithfulness to deliver the message; the response is contingent upon factors beyond his control. Then again, it could just be a banal gesture of self-promotion or a pathetic cry for help.
In any event, according to the law of diminishing returns, whatever approval or gratification was engendered by the bumper sticker quickly failed to satisfy him, and he began to plant movie crew signs throughout the city. Signs reading "CREW PARKING THIS WAY" and, more cryptically, messages ostensibly declaring abbreviated movie titles such as "TONGUE THIS WAY" and "SUBTERRANEAN ACHIEVEMENTS HERE" appeared with enough frequency and ubiquity that even the local television newscasts speculated on their origin and significance. Whether this brief albeit anonymous recognition served to spur him on or to discourage him I cannot say. But I do know that shortly thereafter he began what I can only describe as his one-man guerrilla theater.
Along one of the city's heavily travelled residential thoroughfares, he took to locating himself at intersections renowned for their tortuously long red lights. And, to his credit, he transformed the rush hour drive times into a pageant of such longed for spectacles that it was only his gift of elusiveness and obfuscation that enabled him to thwart the copycats and peace officers who came to seek him. Among his best-remembered performances were The Lost Kitty, which entailed his walking stooped over, proffering a clear-eyed Norwegian smelt grasped firmly by the tail and jiggled suggestively while crying "Here kittykittykitty" in a high-pitched voice, and The Late For Work, which featured, in the morning, full corporate attire and, in the afternoon, a Spanish matador's suit of lights but in both cases included a great deal of sighing, watch consulting and harumphing.
I must emphasize that these actions were neither criminal nor deranged. I say "actions" because these were never mistaken as performances. It was always apparent (and sometimes frighteningly so to the inattentive) that he was not acting; to aficionados it was also clear that he was not delusional but that he was an artist and a philosopher whose ideas occupied at least as much space in the universe as did his body. In fact it was his preternatural ability to project more by his absence than does any man and all but a few exceptionally desirable women that nearly led to his arrest and identification. At no time during his appearing did he mask or otherwise obscure his face. Yet he would not reveal his name and indeed avoided interaction with citizens. Nevertheless it was his very forthrightness and ordinariness that could render him unrecognizable. The city has many versions of a story - apocryphal or not I cannot say - of witnesses describing his features or choosing from picture books aspects of his face so that when assembled into a complete visage, the drawing looked more like the witness than anyone else.
Through means not yet determined by students of his technique and by calculations of space and time as incomprehensible as they are eternal, he contrived to so acquaint the commuting public with his habits of roadside jogging that on the day in question the boulevard was at a complete standstill while hopeful drivers sought a glimpse of him. It should be noted that by "roadside jogging" I actually mean that he would appear at an intersection in full sweat (accomplished, I am told, by the artful, clandestine and liberal application of petroleum jelly to his hair, face and clothing), never actually running but merely bouncing up and down while huffing, arms akimbo. On this day, he had stepped up his action, being shirtless, excessively shiny and blotchy. As well as I can determine, at each half hour from 7 to 9 a.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m. he staged heart attacks so horrifying and incontinent that even those onlookers trained in the medical arts were rendered helpless before the spectacle of his demise. Of particular note, I'm told, were the 8:30 death because it involved projectile vomiting by TWO emergency medical technicians and the 5:30 death because it led evidently to a premature birth by a gravid triathlete who had chanced upon the death during her afternoon walk. Most likely, it was the consequent adoration and fury of various mobs that precipitated his disappearance. This so-called Day of Death, mysterious in its tales of bilocation and resurrection, was the last chance the city had to view the artist at work.
Truly he was an artist, a genius even. It would have been so easy to profit materially if briefly from his signage, his danse macabre, his rugged good looks. I even heard once that he had a career as a faux naïf painter, and I don't doubt that he could have done it. But that wasn't what he was about. He faded as quickly as he had appeared, a kind of spiritual Kahoutek, perceived for his true worth, his true meaning, only by those with the eyes to see. Am I one of those so blessed? No more nor less than you, dear reader. I have seen as much as I can by the dim but necessary light of scholarship; like you I now can but shake my head, softly laugh and hope that the address on that sign reading "ESTATE SALE" does not exist.
Henry Porter holds a PhD in mankind