Van Gogh Illo
Skull with Cigarette - Vincent Van Gogh


by David McDaniel


Image: A mild day, early winter, a beautiful break from the misery of last week, sunshine and blue skies. A perfect day for the party, and my four-plex is a beehive of bustling artists, musicians and painters, actors, jugglers, performers of all kinds. But for the moment we all share the art of housecleaning, making things bright and shiny, spic and span, clean and fresh, for tonight is the grand opening of my recording studio. Many people are expected, many bands are to play, many beers will cease to exist. It is a happy expectant time and we whistle as we work, looking forward to a night of song and dance, new beginnings and maybe even some sex.

And then a yell from the back yard, seems like there is a small fire in one of the wash sheds. No problem, there is a virtual army of willing bodies and the hoses are cranked out and the shovels are wielded mightily. And I call the FD, even though I feel slightly stupid doing so, just to be safe, just to have an official certifiable death to our little vagabond blaze. And by the time the fire guys arrive the flame is out, and we vacate, dropping our hoses and shovels, sheepishly, guilty for leaving only wet ashes for the pros.

Wrong. For it seems that our little vagabond blaze has slipped quietly through a crack in the wallboard, up the stud and into the roof. And we are gathered out front, goofing and joking, waiting patiently to take our safety lecture and get back to this party business. And we are horrified when our little vagabond blaze reappears on the roof, transformed, triumphant, bellowing, a hideous snarling inferno.

A nightmare, a bad trip, a surreal hallucination, fragmented, a freak show, a neighborhood circus full of smoke, screams and curses, weeping and laughter and TV crews and a fleet of large red vehicles. Casual bystanders who want to know what happened and well-meaning neighbors who want to know what happened and a parade of notepads and forms and cameras who want to know what happened and I am numb. I valiantly try to perform, but my voice doesn't work and there is only the image of me on network, a frazzled blackened freak, staring dumbly and muttering, and I'm sure most of the viewing audience wondered vaguely if I was on crack or Valium or both. I was seeing and I was believing, but it was as if I were viewing the spectacle from a great distance in another time. The capacity for thought was revoked, I was an observer and nothing more.

A robot, an automaton, leadenly informing shiny people that the party has been canceled, reciting personal stats for various officials, avoiding the gaze of my fellow artists, avoiding the question. What is left and what is gone? Who lost what and how much and is he going to hug me or punch my lights out, grieve with me or tear my balls off for having my house destroy the means of his art. I am trying to shrink. For the first time in my life I don't want to be me, this celebrity, infamy, sorrow. I want to be away and alone, but I desperately need comfort from someone, anyone, but I want to be alone, but not alone, close, gone, non-existent but smothered with warmth and un-conditional love. I want to be nothing and have everything again, and I want someone to tell me it's alright so that I can call them a motherfucking liar and then fall into their arms, but I don't have the capacity to initiate anything whatsoever so I pace and I stare and I mumble when it is required.

And at last the party breaks up. It is night and we are permitted to file through the grisly skeleton of our dreams, the happening party pad of this afternoon. And one by one our grief erupts, eerie wails from the dark as the little deaths pile up and are chronicled. It is a selfish personal time and there are no hugs, no sympathetic nods and pats, no kind words. We are stumbling through a steaming corpse, lost to each other in the dark, wrapped in personal tragedy, eagerly looking for the edge of destruction, the magic line where things become alright again. I am as good as I can be, surveying the damage with a practiced carpenter's eye, gauging the extent, formulating material lists and a time line, a general format for re-construction, an inconspicuous inward snap and my knees fold, involuntary slump downward and suddenly I'm on the floor with my guitar sobbing and begging and asking why of no one in particular; the whole afternoon comes crashing down and all I can do is cling to a sodden cinder and heave, mindlessly stroking a piece of charred wood that was my sustenance for a decade, my gal, my livelihood, my constant companion through thick and thin, my lover and the voice of my art, and I want to get up and plug her in but there is nothing to plug into and there seems to be something wrong with the strings and my legs are stuck to the floor and my breath won't come and then strong grimy hands are laid upon me, lifting...

David McDaniel is a born again hippie who received no degrees on the way to setting an NCAA record for accumulative hours. He has taken abuse as a professional musician for 15 yrs, but this literary abuse gig is fairly recent. David currently resides in burned out building in Austin, Tx where he hammers on wood, various musical instruments and computer keyboards.

He writes: "This piece is an episodic chunk hewn from a much larger monstronsity entitled "The Great American Novel" or "Delusions of Grandeur" depending on how I feel that day. The fire actually happened (Nov 1996). Unfortunately. Wish it were true fiction. I still live in the four-plex. I divide my time between manic construction and laying in front of city bulldozers."


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