Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune,
Bird fly high by the light of the moon,
Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman...
shopping, the Venus nudes, getting scarlet lettered, what’s on your dance card
Laurel started staying later and hanging out more. She and Richard had a pretty strong soul-connection. He really made her laugh, and his depth and sincerity of intention inspired her. She wanted to spend every moment with him that she could.
They’d work during the day and listen to Cocteau Twins.
They’re from my day- the eighties. You wouldn’t know much about that.
As the day wound down, Richard would say,
you eaten? Go get a sandwich, and some Svedka- a small one.
One day they were out running errands or something, driving through the garment district in his car- a square Honda-ish van with a large back. It was good for transporting the most art while burning the least possible fossil fuels. As they drove down Santee, the scent of taco spice and chili-mango mingled with the color of a thousand silks, and people weaving their way through the market. Richard pointed out a girl, maybe 12 or 14, who was beautiful but a little scruffy, in a printed babydoll T. He said,
Look at that girl. She could be a model, she could be anything. She doesn’t know how beautiful she is.
Yes. She is.
I want to take you shopping.
I’ve always wanted to do that. It’ll be fun.
I’ll go with you, but I’m not sure about that.
At the time, Laurel was almost undoubtedly wearing a long-sleeve green flannel shirt with some type of homemade choker, a cami, and skinny jeans with the TOMS that she was given when she worked at TOMS, because that’s what she always wore. It expressed her *edgy chill*. They go to Sears, where Richard takes her to the shoe rack.
You need some heels. Try those on.
Laurel put on some brown ankle boots with heels. Richard nodded his approval. He bought her a couple of other things too- maybe a dress. She does know for sure that she bought her a wide brimmed black felt hat. He was very jazzed on the hat, and said they were going to do something with it. He also bought her a flaming neon pink bikini.
the Venus nudes
After Richard took Laurel shopping, he started having her model for him in the studio. He had a series of butts, with some very silly phrase printed across them. He wanted to add her to the series of butts, so she put on the bikini and let him photograph her from the back.
He would also give Laurel ‘personal critiques’; She got a personal critique the day she did the butt photograph. He had her put on the heels and bikini and stand on a podium. He stroked his goatee, and assessed her figure from top to bottom.
Nice, he said after a few minutes. Then, You have athletic legs.
She sort of grinned, and laughed on the inside. She was pretty thin, but she was also kind of like, muscular. After that, she started swapping breakfast bagels for something more like grapefruit juice to be more suited to his feminine ideal.
A night soon after that, Richard and Laurel were wrapping up whatever they were doing for the day. Usually around 5, they’d take out a vegetable tray, or Richard would send her to Alonzo’s for a sandwich, and he would start drinking. Tonight, they were kind of in a mood. He asked her to put on the hat, and lay on the couch for a photograph. She remembers that he started massaging her feet. He wanted to take a nude. She agreed.
This is going to be my Venus painting, he said.
He arranged the hat, and told her how to arrange her body. He wanted her legs crossed on the couch, hips up, hat drawn over her face. He took the photographs. She thought they were really beautiful. She was also stoked for Richard on finally taking his own photographs- she thought it was a weakness in his art practice that the subjects of his portraits were women taken from Google searches- Frida, Bettie Page, Grace Slick.
Well, the Book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy,
The law of the jungle and the sea are your only teachers
In the smoke of the twilight on a milk-white steed,
Michelangelo indeed could've carved out your features
getting scarlet lettered
The next day, Laurel comes into the office, and Hailey O’Shea is out.
We got in a fight.
Oh, she’ll tell you. She’s pissed off about the Venus photographs.
She thinks it’s not right. Like she’s one to talk, there’s photos of her all over the ‘net from when she was a Suicide Girl.
They don’t discuss it much further- but Hailey O’Shea and Laurel lived together, and she got hell for it when she got home.
Babe. What the fuck. Like, honestly. I come into work and find pictures of your PUSSY on the Mac? I got you this job, because I wanted you to be an ARTIST. Richard can not be buying you clothes. That is completely inappropriate and it is my responsiBILITY…
Laurel felt like she was flipping her wig over nothing. It’s true that Hailey had been a suicide girl, so she thought she would get it, and Laurel thought Richard’s photographs were great. It’s not like female nudity in art is a new thing, and she was emotionally invested in Richard’s art and wanted him to do something original.
After that, Hailey and Laurel didn’t talk. She got scarlet lettered in the office. Nobody in the back warehouse would talk to her anymore, and Hailey was giving her the cold shoulder both in the studio and at home. Laurel was hurt, and really surprised, because Hailey seemed like a feminist.
I feel like an older sister to you, she used to say. Laurel felt the same way about her.
Regardless, there was nothing she could do about it.
Reed was still asking Laurel to do art with their record label. He gave her a drawing to turn into a screenprint, so she burned the screen over at Contemporary Duplicates, and Richard hooked her up with some paper and ink to make the posters.
She inked all the posters black and brought over some extra watercolors and pencils for people to hand-paint the multiples at the opening, which was taking place in the Alexandria Hotel Ballroom.
LAUREL HAS VARIOUS INTENSE PSYCHOSEXUAL EXPERIENCES WHILE REED’S BAND PLAYS TO AN EMPTY BALLROOM
Laurel’s Soliloquy: The Shape of the Cage
5th and Spring, downtown LA, Occupy LA 2011
The rioters below sparkled and popped, reflected in the banks’ modern facades, a cold skin that now quivered with color and screams.
Across the street I was locked into the Alexandria hotel ballroom by LAPD.
my face to the window
sealed and pathetically moist
like a tinned peach or a princess story
across the street your two hands raised
familiar lights swimming in darkness
Sometimes you look in somebody’s eyes and then the rest of you follows your gaze until you’re inside their skin. You float right in and remember their childhood, their shames, their bad haircuts and small triumphs- the things that have stacked up to build them. There’s a freedom to drift in and out. An oriental wave kisses the California shore and flows back into the Pacific with new secrets.
somewhere in the flow of this pulsating electric swamp
somewhere in this is it.
The streets are mirrored corridors. Networks of control. Eyes are mutual surveillance. Power dynamics are omnipresent. Reflections multiply.
But right now all the reflections push me away, back into the cage of the ballroom, back into my self.
I am unwelcome in your kind of seeing. A window with darkness on only one side becomes mirror, and I am a mannequin for the pleasure of barflies and camera lenses, powerless over my objectness.
Back in my cage, presentness forces me to see.
I’m everywhere in these repeated eyes, seen again and again and again. I am young and my body will be a very nice shape and color for the next few years, and that is a blessing, to be aesthetically pleasing. I’m afraid of the day when I’m not pretty; mirrors will certainly take on a new kind of violence. But then, maybe someday I’ll stop looking in mirrors entirely. I’ll pretend that I am only the beautiful things. All the beautiful things. In blindness I could be anything.
I gazed through the cut glass flowers of the grenadine bottle, damp with just the dewy memories of the vodka we had snuck into the ballroom a few hours ago. Another night through liquor lenses.
The cage is a blessed shell, the luxurious sort with antique crown molding and expansive hardwoods in the ballroom. It is a diva, demanding a lush velvet, a tacit agreement, a scandal.
The cage has a brass band, and the saxophones saturate the air until it drips. The band is every friend and every lover, playing out old truths. Their glissandos bleed like pinesap, sticky gold welling up from old rings. I wanted to forget every past life for a minute, to hold somebody close.
On the blank stage of the ballroom
/ myriad lives like blades of grass
yet to be realized, bow as they pass
The political violence on the street below was making me nostalgic for some kind of trite romanticism that I had skimmed off the surface of Russian war novels.
Rubecca was a voluptuous goth with a babyish face. I guided her through a three-step waltz and she learned fast. After the dance Rubecca pulled me to the side, our palms still pressed together.
this-was-my-first-time-to-dance I’ve never danced before
I wait confused before realizing she is doing that thing that very shy people do when they want to kiss and
goddamnit I only wanted to dance
Our pressed palms sizzled and burnt to a crisp. As they fell to ashes on the floor I pieced myself back together, suddenly uncomfortable being seen in her eyes.
The cage is a stage, and to see is a violent cleaving.
It is sexy and pleasurable, like hands on your neck,
lifting every hair on your spine.
All your nerves go right to the sky. It’s the cleaving of your soul from your face-as-a-visual. Sometimes the vertigo can be thrilling, but it’s very dehumanizing.
In her eyes I’m pressed back into another cage, back through my own pale eyes into the center of myself.
It’s easy to get sensitized to the compaction of a small vessel and let it become your whole world. Skin adjusts rapidly to new sensations, otherwise the constant awareness of your own clothing on your body would be a huge distraction in everyday life. I am numb to my skin. But, numb or not, I remember life before the cage.
I remember her.
She flutters sometimes in the iridescent edges while I polish glassware on the night shift. She vibrates in the rapid circles of a spinning silkworm. She hums the song of a swarm of white bees. She is a fretless guitar that plays every note at the same time. I became a pale shadow of her the moment I was named into the daylight.
If I returned to that place now, it might seem empty- I see with the numb eyes and move with the hurried limbs of the dull and living. The
razor-world dulls your feelers after a while, but that’s where you are.
There’s a new path to walk now.
You walk in the shadow of the iron crows,
under the gaze of the red, red, eye.
Your heels grow weary and calloused, warty as sunned kale, and you walk.
You find peace in the repetition,
and your eyes dilate slowly to swallow the sunset.
let’s press against the edges until they fall
we’ll meet in the middle
we’ll be plummeting flumes
I return to look into the orphic glass. It will be the last time. My irises dilate and my toes are shy as they peek over the edge of the world. I seal my eyelids forcefully. On the closed lids my mind projects a pathway; it unfurls before me to catch my falling steps.
Between glass windows your hands or mine, what’s-the-difference beckon in the fog and the hallway begins.
Most of the doors along the way are left ajar, offering a tiny glimpse into the neighbors’ lives. One door is posted with hand-scrawled notes addressed to the insects that live in the building. At the next, a completely naked man slumps over his take-out pad thai.The television babbles. I try to stop and see inside, but the usher guides me through quickly, like Willy Wonka giving a tour of the chocolate factory. Each door is the portal to a world of neuroses, and we don’t have time to get lost in all of them.
The blindness gives me courage.
The riots are a muffled abstraction above which I easily walk. I remember the breathless field that nestled me. I remember the cloudmilk that cradled my thoughts, unspoken. When I’m all spread out across the roaring wind like that, all I can see is our geometry...
2 hands/ \sdnah 2
what’s on your dance card
Richard was working on repairing his relationship with Hailey Laurel thought. She kept working on watercolors most days, and tried to keep everything mellow and irie with everyone, but people were still treating her like she was on a blacklist.
Most nights she’d go home, do some things for school, eat something. Richard would text her,
what’s on your dance card tonight sweetheart?
Not much. Let’s hang out.
Richard would pick her up in the art van, and they’d go to openings. She always dressed to the 9’s, and sometimes the 10’s, and so was Richard. He would wear a suit and tie with a striped oxford, and comb his gray curls back. She would almost always wear a black-and-white minidress that she bought at Hot Topic, black tights, and black patent heels, or sometimes the man-flannel, choker, and the heels from Richard. Despite their mutual efforts, Laurel still probably had scruffy blonde hair, and paint under her fingernails.
Tonight, they went to a street-art-ish gallery in Hollywood that was showing very surreal watercolor paintings of pizza. They were hilarious, and seemed topical, since Laurel had a long career in the pizza industry and a surrealist bent. Richard was friends with everyone in town, and threw around some good vibes and handshakes at the gallery while Laurel examined the watercolor technique.
The next party was a pre-opening reception at Perry Rubenstein for the Neil Diamond x Shepard Fairey prints. They were invited because Richard printed for Shepard- he was one of their main clients. Helmut Newton’s Sex and Landscapes were also on view that night. Richard went out in the courtyard to meet Neil and say hello to Shepard, and Laurel checked out the Helmut Newton photographs. As she was heading back out to the courtyard, she made eye contact with a man in a green plaid suit and long hair. He flashed her a grin and said,
you could be one of those girls,
gesturing toward one of Newton’s women, in black thigh-highs on a velvet couch. Laurel grinned and did not reply.
She was kind of teasing, because it was so outlandish.
Thanks. I got it in Tokyo, with my band.
Oh, who’s your band?
Don’t know ‘em.
Ah, well. Who are you here with?
This guy, Richard. We make screenprints. He’s friends with Shepard.
They swapped phone numbers.
Laurel walks back out to the courtyard to find Richard, who’s ensconced in the far corner with Neil and looks occupied. She catches sight of Adrian Grenier from Entourage, who is, indeed, surrounded by an entourage of gay bartenders. She joins the gaggle of fans, thinking maybe she could talk to him. She had always liked his icy blue eyes and dark hair- but, she never got the chance. As she was chatting with the bartenders, Laurel made eye contact with the musician again across the courtyard. He was with a friend of his, and they were talking while looking over her way. His eyes sort of sparkled, and he half-grinned. She kind of knew she would see him again.
After that, Brian was also on Laurel's ‘dance card’.
the art dealers from dallas; the beautiful woman in the photographs
As time went by, Richard started asking Laurel to go through love letters from his ex-wife.
Come on, sweetheart, let me show you something.
They go through a back hallway into an underground vault of files and boxes.
My archive. We need to organize it to give to UCLA.
He takes out the box of Her. takes out a Polaroid.
Artists have the thickest skin and the softest hearts. And like Hailey, Richard’s tough veneer belied an incredibly sensitive spirit. The moments that he let it show, were so touching, and so profoundly sad. He had longing in him- a feeling more personal to express than even sadness.
So swiftly the sun sets in the sky
You rise up and say goodbye to no one
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
Both of their futures, so full of dread, you don’t show one
Shedding off one more layer of skin
Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within.
She was nude in the desert, one hand shielding her eyes. Richard had framed her in the photo to show how much she had in front of her.
I want you to go through this box, learn everything about her.
I want you to write to her in New Mexico, and bring us back together.
In the box was a novel she’d written, about growing up, a tomboy, surfing at Point Mugu. Laurel loved the book, and she was surprised it wasn’t a bestseller.
She’d take me biking around Hawaii. We’d wander around, seeing everything. Tropical flowers, waterfalls. We lived on fruit juice. Papayas, Guava. Really clean stuff. I was so healthy, so active. All that sun and exercise, cleanses the body. She was a good woman. You would love her. You have to find her.
Laurel started making drawings of her, and trying to track down her mailing address in New Mexico to reconnect her with Richard in some way that didn’t come across as wildly intrusive. Laurel was falling in love with her herself the more she learned about her, and she wanted to meet her. Richard said,
We’re going to take a roadtrip. We’re going to meet her.
Well, the rifleman's stalking the sick and the lame,
Preacherman seeks the same, who'll get there first is uncertain
Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks,
Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain,
False-hearted judges dying in the webs that they spin,
Only a matter of time 'til night comes steppin' in
Laurel and Richard were making work for the Dallas Art Fair, and Richard’s dealers were in town. One of them was a tiny electric pixie girl, with bleached blonde hair and neon pants. She always wore the oversized Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses that had been very popular that season- the ones with huge round frames and curls of plastic on the side. Her companion, who was in charge of the business and money end of the operation, was a burly, sweaty man with flushed cheeks and bad manners.
They brought bad energy into the studio, and Richard acted differently around them. It’s like he was playing an extra flamboyant version of himself to meet their expectations. Laurel didn’t like it at all.
After they came through, it seemed like things changed a little at the studio. Richard was very susceptible to people’s energies, and he was a crowd-pleaser. Laurel felt like it was better for him to spend time with his real friends, like the other Chicano artists from his youth, and Cheech Marin, Hailey O’Shea, and the people who actually cared about him.
Richard was very interested in Laurel's romantic life, and would keep tabs on who she was seeing at any given moment.
What’s up with that Weezer guy? You really like that guy? I don’t think he’s right for you. Seems sleazy to me, and I don’t like the way he dresses.
I like him.
She was also kind of hanging out with a rave promoter and his model girlfriend, and a writer boy from the east coast.
At the time, her ex-boyfriend Reed was also still showing up uninvited at the most intrusive and inopportune moments possible. Including, in the studio on her 21st birthday.
the night everything went up in flames
They were making some art that day at the studio, but it was chill. They’d been doing less real work lately, and Laurel was working on the drawing of Her, the woman in the photograph. Richard called it “tweeker girl art”, for the compulsive attention to detail, and time-consuming process.
Richard places a few of the Bob Dylans towards her.
Get free with it, kid. Let’s see you get weird. Here, this’ll loosen you up a little. (pushes glass of Svedka with cranberry and orange juice toward her). Just go for it.
Laurel picks up an oil stick and hesitates, swaying a little in front of the print, unsure.
Come on! coaches Richard.
Laurel dives in and starts scribbling around a little, awkwardly, then hits a groove.
Richard had also brought on more new girls for the front warehouse. They all got along pretty well. Maybe he was trying to support more people, and possibly diffuse the tension that had set in after Laurel's exchange with Hailey O’Shea over the nudes. Anyway, it was a pretty chill day. In the middle of the afternoon, Laurel got some mail from Brian- a dozen red roses with a happy birthday card. About an hour later, she got another dozen roses from Richard, with a bottle of wine. She felt weird about it all.
The studio cleared out later in the evening, and Richard and Laurel decided to draw portraits of each other. He made a large drawing of her smoking, with her hair tied up in a gypsy scarf, and the same green flannel she still wore, despite his numerous efforts to glamorize her. On the edge of the drawing he scrawled, t h i s i s m y h a r e m.
Laurel wasn’t even sure how Reed knew where she was, but her ex-boyfriend showed up soon after this, with two other boys. Reed left after a few minutes, but the other two decided to go out to a bar with Laurel, and bring one of the new artist girls with them. Brian wanted to take her out. She didn’t know why she avoided him that night... Richard was literally always talking smack on him, and it was making her question her feelings. Also, she was feeling nauseous and very upset about seeing her ex-boyfriend. Reed's presence always kind of made Laurel feel like she was going to vomit or pass out. Anyway, the boys took her out. The other artist girl was pretty, in a soft way, with clouds of brown hair and very little makeup. She was older- maybe over 30.
Laurel left the studio shortly after that and ended her relationship with Richard. She wrote off all of her relationships as a hollow fiction. She left the two dozen roses out in the sun to dry on the hood of the car she was now living in. She spent the next year studying Karl Marx, living in solitude.
It's a shadowy world, skies are slippery gray,
A woman just gave birth to a prince today and dressed him in scarlet
He'll put the priest in his pocket, put the blade to the heat,
Take the motherless children off the street
And place them at the feet of a harlot
Oh, Jokerman, you know what he wants,
Oh, Jokerman, you don't show any response.
Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune,
Bird fly high by the light of the moon,
Oh, oh, oh, Jokerman
Author's Note: This is a work of R-rated literary fiction.