BY ALICE CORTLAND
|Last night I hanged all my plastic dinosaurs. What should I relate
first? The pangs or the hangs? Letís start with the hanging, backtrack
to the panging. Now we have something (a plan), unlike last night when
I didnít have anything that could effectively hold telephone cord to my
stuccoed ceiling. In bed on my back, I see continents and seascapes in
the grains and spackle strokes on the ceiling. The continents are depressions,
areas that seem as if someone pressed a palm to the upturning stucco. Some
are longer as if an arm hit the ceiling with a quick jab. But these continents
are not palm and forearm made. One stuccos with a thin, rectangular metal
that's attached to a handle. I only began to mention stucco to comment
how difficult it is to pierce a stuccoed wall with a pin or a tack and
only oneís own thumb pressure. And last night I had neither pin nor tack.
Telephone wire, on the other hand, abounds. For some reason, we have a
coil of 20 feet in our cupboard. I have nothing to do with this. But now
I have done something with it. Cut it into five pieces, each three-foot
long, then tied spectacularly neat little nooses.
Why describe the dinosaurs? Doesnít the very word conjure all of your first-grade memories of stego-, bronto-, tyrano-, pterodactyls, even the duckbilleds. I imagine a brontosaurus is something else, something other than the dinosaur I have in my hand, which looks like a brontosaurus with scaly plastic and a curving neck, but this dinosaur has no legs: it has flippers. Surely these flippers, to scale, were as long as airplanes. But in plastic miniature they're three-quarters the length of my thumb. I write this beneath my poor, departed, hanging dinosaurs, spinning dinosaurs, twirling-from-the-neck dinosaurs, hanging, spinning, twirling from telephone cord that's tacked up, or stuck up, to the ceiling with superglue. At last I found superglue. Before I found superglue, I searched the apartment, every cranny, looking for a tack or pin. I found safety pins in my roommateís dresser. I found a button (wth a pin on the back) which said ďSave an alligator, shoot a preppy.Ē) Earlier in the day, on the train I saw a repulsively large man in short cutoff sweats and a camouflage jacket -- stubbbed-out cigar butt between thumb and forefinger -- wearing a button that said ďLifeís a bitch then you marry one.Ē He didnít seem like the marryring sort, but he got off the next stop, perhaps to see his sick wife at the hospital, nursing her, emptying pans, spilling his blood right into her arms. Maybe heíd switched trains to Chinatown to see a movie, butter his popcorn. But then again I was just thinking of buttons and now here I am with this fat bastard, feet up and jacking alone to some Chinatown porn.
No tacks, a few pins attached to objects too weak to pierce through and hold a cord-hanging dinosaur. Hammer and nails we have. We have a hammer with blue-padded handle and all sorts of nails. But too loud. Too loud. Last night it was late. I am cautious to maintain my privacy and slow to invade that of others, and the hanging could not wait until a reasonable morning hour. The hanging had to start then and there. I upturned my apartment looking for the proper adhesive. Something strong yet not requiring a hammer which would attract attention to something better left unheard. I would not like to brag of what I did, although it seems that's exactly what I'm doing now. Is this bragging? Or is this confession? Or is it possible Iím just making this all up, even the spinning, twirling, dangling plastic dinosaurs above me Ė their imaginary plastic tongues hanging out the side of their imaginary mouths, doing the death pant, Xís across their eyes, plastic necks steady, unlike the stems of flowers months after the still life.
How quiet I am now? I donít make a rustle, not a peep. I was quieter as I painted photographs. Flower arrangements can be expensive. Lush arrangements with a variety of lilies. The price gets high. I have a Polaroid camera. At the florist, they donít mind if I snap a few shots as long as I take the employees posing with heads amidst lilacs. I take the photos close up, of the basket, then individual photos of each flower. I thank the florist, then go home and prepare my paints and clamp down the heavy pages of my painting paper to my desk. I arrange the Polaroids on the wall in front of the desk and begin to paint each flower.
The hush of these hours. To imagine the screech of the brush, like a rat nesting in a bedroom wall. The precision can be so tight. My hand trembles as I fill in a detail.
I donít just work in flower arrangements or photos of flower arrangements. Once I grouped everything (except for my bed) into one corner of the room. This balancing on that, that just about to tumble over this. On top to this mess which now occupied more than half of my room, I placed a ten-dollar bill and turned it so the U.S. Treasury faced me. Just behind the car on the sidewalk is a lamppost with a white bulb. The lamppostís globe is exactly within a first-story rectangular window on the Treasury. From my distance, it seemed that the lamppost and the window combined to form a traffic light. A traffic light lit up to caution, on yellow: the Model T just beat the red light. But the intersection seems wide and the cobblestones are rocky and the carís tires a step better than wood. The Model T would be in the middle of the intersection when the off-bill traffic flowed in. A revelation, I thought. The Treasury wants us to proceed with caution into the intersecting traffic pattern of supply and demand, consumer and producer, yet above all of it, hovering above the Treasury building like block-letter skywriting, or a banner pulled by an off-bill biplane, the phrase: In God We Trust. So go cautiously over that cobblestone into oncoming traffic. Money propels us into the intersection. Trust in God to come out well. Thatís the code on the back of a ten-dollar bill. But then the lamppostís globe was most likely placed in the dark window so it wouldn't disappear in the white of the building.
Where does that put us? No closer to the moment I hanged all my plastic dinosaurs. I lost myself. I forget what I was trying to relate. I started ranting about the codes on bills. They are everywhere though, seeping though our wallets, into our asses. Enough. I must stop this. Iíve fallen far from the dinosaurs, but quickly, very quickly, I can return.
But Iíll return to the superglue. Has there ever been a quieter adhesive? A few dabs at the ends of the nooses, slight pressure for a few seconds, then they were stuck. I held the cords tightly and pulled myself up, my head practically touching the ceiling. Sooner pull down the ceiling than the noose. I slipped the telephone-cord noose around each dinosaurís neck and let loose. They hanged: hanging, dangling, twirling, spinning. A mobile. All done very quietly in the still. How they hanged. Why they hanged?
I question my motive. I had a number of these dinosaurs around my room. At first the novelty was appealing. They were fine decoration. But then I didnít notice them for weeks, although they sat on lamp fixtures, prowled bookshelves, sunned themselves on the windowsill. They were of no use. I decided to hang them.
Someone I know once received a dozen red roses and instead of displaying them in a vase she tied a cord across her room, from wall to wall, then hung each rose by the end of the stem. She had a sparse curtain of roses that dried and dropped petals across her room in a line on the floor. It was a nice effect. It enlivened the drab room. Perhaps I thought to do the same. But no one sent me roses. I had pictures of flower arrangements on my walls. But these were out of the way, flat against the wall, paint trying to look like flowers. Anyway, flowers are not my object of choice. Plastic dinosaurs hanging like a curtain of beads across my room suits me more than red roses.
Now I look to the future. I had twenty feet of telephone cord, originally, but I already used fifteen feet. That means five feet left. If I tied another neat noose, the knot wouldnít hold my weight. Unless perhaps I fixed fifty-pound weights to each foot, kicked away the chair. Thatís faulty reasoning though. Weighing down my feet would send me crashing quicker to the floor. How to put off the crashing long enough to do the deed? A starvation diet, weighing no more than a set of keys, exhausted with the slightest movement. Iíd be panting, at the brink, nearly dead from exhaustion before I could kick the chair out from under. Surely Iíd want a last meal, and that meal would provide the strength to complete the task but itíd also weigh me down, send me crashing to the floor. Maybe I could eat continuously, to the opposite extreme, panting and sweaty from obese exhaustion, manage to loop my neck with a lasso-type noose, kick the chair, then crashing down so quickly. But my rolls of fat would cushion my fall. My neighbors ignoring a heavy thud, a second, then a third bounce. And Iíd be fine. So Iíve put the last length of telephone cord away, not back in the cupboard, but in a bag in the closet beneath some shoes and shirts I never wear. Now I can look to the future.
Iíve decided to paint large representations of photographs I plan to take of the hanging dinosaurs. At times they look like nothing Iíve ever seen. In the afternoon I idealize them in the golden light. At night I hear them hanging, aware of their presence. When I wake up I am proud. I plan to paint great records of their hanging. This project now possesses me. My occupation. Preoccupation. But instead of getting to the painting Iím writing about doing this - maybe Iíll never get to it. The dinosaurs will continue hanging attached to the ceiling. I will continue to admire them. Nothing will change in that sense. But I will never see them tacked flat against my wall. They will remain hanging until one morning I'll wake up and look first at the clock, hit snooze and doze, rather than jump out of bed to admire my hanging plastic dinosaurs.
I started this, whatever this is, talking about severe pangs. Frustrating pangs, they were, I remember. But now whatever led me to hang the dinosaurs seems insignificant. There are dinosaurs hanging in a loose row across my ceiling. Dinosaurs that never litter petals across the floor. A constant source of diversion for now.
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