Note on the Text: I was telling this story the other night and someone suggested that I really need to write it down, that it is just too weird, it should be preserved somehow, and since Helen has been away Paperpools has been filling up with interesting stories about various people, I have decided to drop it in as my last wild-card contribution before she comes back to town. If you do happen to recognize the main character or the bestselling kids book series mentioned please keep that information to yourself, just because I don't want it to reflect badly on them. Sorry about the length, I couldn't really cut it down. So, here we go:
Adjacent to my art studio, a modest basement space in a former sailor's brothel, was a hip-hop production studio. I rarely closed my door when I was there working on projects, so people would just sort of wander in randomly to say hi. One of these wanderers was a young hip-hop artist named Josh from the outer suburbs. Usually when I saw him he had huge aviator glasses near-permanently affixed below his apparently receding hairline. Small, wirey, always hyper, pacing constantly (due to an inner-ear disorder that would often make him nauseous if he stood still) he was a fun visitor, we chatted a lot. He was rarely without a tall can of malt liquor in one hand and an American Spirit in the other, wandering into the studio with a Fear and Loathing gait “Heeyyy, heey, whatcha working on in here Mr. TAR ART RAT? OOOOh, niiice, that is craaazy shit man, that is some crazy shit you got there. What is that?”
We would trade sometimes- he'd give me his latest album or a remix of some ancient Jamaican .45s his producer had just bought in an old steamer trunk at a junk shop down the street, downloaded and remixed and I would give him a small painting or drawing in return.
After a few months of these small visits he approached me with a project. A very popular children's book author was a big fan of a cable access show that Josh and his brothers had done for years, a puppet show of sorts. One a side-note: I could also never disconnect this information from the story he told me about getting kicked out of High School because he would constantly do a puppet show with his own testicles in class. I never chose to witness the demonstration he always offered:
“Yea, his name is Ballsy McWrinkleson- I just draw a face on him, put some clothes around my hand and squeeze so he pops out a bit- maybe like a nice little suit or something, something classy, and – hey, maybe you wanna build a little set for him? Like, a little late night tv show set like Letterman or something-”
“I... uh, wait...starring your balls?”
“Just one ball. We can film a series, put it on YouTube-”
“I dunno if they'll allow it on YouTube, we might get booted to one of those PornTube sites or something”
“But it's just BALLS! No penis even! That is – like- fine, right? Just a nut with a little smiley face?”
“I... I... jeez, I honestly don't know man.”
Regarding the children's book author, after being a longtime fan of the cable access show one thing lead to another and the next thing you know Josh was doing videos for the author's website. I myself had a full time job so was reluctant to help out at first, although it sounded like a great project. Initially another guy had been working on the set designs and constructing mechanical puppets, really cool stuff actually, but creative differences (and I assume drug issues) came between he and Josh and suddenly I was on-deck. To kind of offically confirm my dedication to the project Josh bought me a brand new mountain bike and then showed up at my work with a briefcase full of thick-packed envelopes, he handed me one and said “Heereyago, Sir!” The danced off with his signature gait. Inside the envelope was $2,000 cash, more money than I had ever seen all together in real life at one time before.
We worked on the sets and creatures at night, usually starting around 7pm and calling it quits sometime before the sun came up, this went on for months. We began by converting Josh's entire studio space into a miniature metropolitan city. Filmed segments here and there while Josh's brother edited and added special effects. We built robot and monster costumes, usually all night long while drinking beer or bulk cheap boxed wine and watching random dvds on the huge flatscreen TV Josh had just bought, "Rat Race" feat. Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese and Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise's “the Last Samurai” and Billy Crystal's “Mr. Saturday Night” were somehow always in rotation, along with one of the Matrixes (Matricies?). All these were stacked all over near and around the tv along with a lot of blowjob-only porn.
Just before he went off to the – some fancy- islands for a few weeks, the author had given Josh a lot of money up front to get started on the project, much of which went towards transportation costs, (namely the 1971 convertible muscle car Josh had just bought) and other random things... somehow, Josh justified, which were always related to the project.
At the end of several hours of work we would go out. Or somehow even when we weren't working and I was just out wandering Josh would coincidentally drive by while I was out downtown and holler “Heyyy, Mr. TAR ART RAT- let's go for a ride, sir!” I'd hop in Dukes-of-Hazard style and we would end up on a drinking binge through Chinatown or on a chilly remote beach somewhere drinking with 16 year old girls or hunting down prostitutes in the industrial district. With Josh it seemed like there were always teenage girls around smoking and doing their nails.
“Hey man, you wanna go get some hookers?”
“Uhm, not really Josh, I have to get this sculpture finished for the head of the costume.”
“It's ok, we can take a break- go to s strip club and get some hookers.” he would just toss this all in the open with a manic energy, he talked ferociously, a mile a minute.
“Uhmmm, naw, that's alright, man I'll just have another one of those KIRIN Ichiban. I thought you weren't allowed to touch strippers-?”
“Sometimes if you hang around long enough and give them enough money they'll just let you have sex with them. That happened last weekend, the girl was kinda gnarly though. Her name was Cheryl or Cherrie or something like that, she was a total meth-head, really pretty, though. She had a nice round booty. I went straight for the ass, I'm crazy about that, love to just bury my face in it- She even let me do her without a condom-”
“Whoa, ok, that is a REALLLY not a good idea man, jeez- you should be careful-”
“Yea, I know, hey- she had one of your posters that you made up in her bedroom, though, those ones you put all over town-”
“Oh, ... cool.” What do you say, really? What can you say to all this...? These type of conversations happened often with Josh, where I was just left saying “Wow, uh,,, Well..”
For a meeting that weekend we took a ferry boat out to an island to meet with one of the project team members and ate at his resteraunt, Josh talked endlessly about the project at first, saying how the author had turned down Peter Jackson for the movie rights and how we might all go to Japan for the release there in the Fall. Not sure if any of that was actually true, but then the subject turned to girls, both of us had just come out of bad break-ups from long-term relationships and it was all downhill from there. We were at a Mexican themed sports bar drinking until close, then wandering back towards the ferry-
“Oh, shit man, I really wanna call that Cheryl girl... wait, where's my phone...”
Sometime in the last few hours as we wandered the island's small towns Josh had lost his phone.
We went back, looking everywhere, he insisted on crawling through peoples yards, peeing on their patios, looking,babbling, looking, but the phone was nowhere- not even at the Mexican-themed bar. We returned to the ferry terminal and had missed the last boat back to the city. The next one didn't leave for several hours.
On the walkway to the waiting area Josh collapsed, screaming then moaning about his lost love and then tried to throw himself int to he sea, all the while the state ferry workers looked on trying to decide whether or not to call the police.
“He's just having girl trouble- it's ok- don't worry!” I tried to explain to them feebly while Josh crawled around on the ground moaning dramatically.
Soon thereafter the author returned and realized that the project was way over-budget and in a state of near chaos, so he was then in the studio working and editing daily. Josh had to promise to stop drinking, things ran smoothly from then on out and we got a lot done. We got dressed up in our huge home-made costumes, went out and filmed in public parks and around the city (without a permit) to small crowds who would gather, kids would recognize the book's main character, it was actually a lot fun.
After the project was completed Josh disappeared. Weeks later I bumped into him speeding in his muscle car through downtown. He was kind of hard to miss, wearing a huge cowboy had and the same aviator glasses, blaring raunchy rap which reverberated off the glass of the skyscrapers all around. He explained in the same stop-go fevered style of speech about how he went across the country to meet a girl he had been corresponding with online. When he arrived she was 100 lbs heavier than in her photo, So he turned right around and started bus-ing it back home.
"That photo must've been at least five years old, man. Jeez. I Greyhounded all across the country, though. It sucked, don"t ever do it- and you wouldn't believe what happened- I liked Montana, though, got this hat there...” That night we had a party on the roof of a parking garage, half a dozen cars all blaring music which, once again, echoed throughout the hi-rises of the city since we were 6 stories off ground in a forest of buildings. Josh and his friends had figured out that after the parking garage attendant left you could just drive up to the top level, an open-air roof with a great view of the ocean and cityscape- you could grill, spit on bar-hopping frat boys down below and even camp out there They (the owners) didn't seem to know or care.
From then on I rarely saw Josh. I was preparing to move to Berlin and he had a new girl, a quiet 19-year-old, sweet but no bullshit. They had moved into the studio for some reason, which was a bit surprising at first, because I still had a key and would drop by to pick up or drop off tools- and there they were- in the windowless space sleeping at 3 in the afternoon.
“Hey, Sir!” Josh would say waking up instantly “shoot- what time is it?”
“Jesus, three! We just sleep all the time here, never know if it is day or night without any windows... ”
The place was a disaster, everything from gigantic unraveling sheets of chickenwire to two-week-old sushi to a series of “Addicted to Cock” dvds was strewn in every corner garnished by sharpies and dead paintbrushes, rocks, treebranches, somebody's clothes, wires, unidentifiable electronic parts and devices...
Josh finally got evicted from the space after not paying rent for 4 months. It was kind of awkward, too. Every time I walked by the rental office the building manager would say:
"Hey, have you seen Josh?"
"Oh, no... not recently." Even though he could've very well been sound asleep in the studio or creating beats in the other studio downstairs. I think he only used the backdoor entrance for that last month.
When they were finally forced to leave the studio space he only took the valuables- the TV, the expensive tools and random gadgets. So many of the supplies we bought for the project didn't even get used. The man-sized bumblebee costume was still in its package. The astronaut helmet had never been worn, except when one of the hip-hop guys up from the production studio had used it to hotbox himself.
I saw Josh one last time driving with his girlfriend. He gave me a ride home, and I gave him a painting in return, one I actually really wanted him to have- it was a good one. One of the few.
“Have fun in Germany, Mr. TAR ART RAT!”
“Yea, man, come visit sometime- come to Europe, it would be good for you.”
“I dunno man, my granddad survived the concentration camps, he didn't have much good to say- he was kinda crazy actually. I was always afraid of Germany because of that, the stories he used to tell...”
“I... yea. That's awful.”
“Hey, you got a couple bucks for gas?”
I gave him some money and the muscle car screeched off down the street, him waving, his girlfriend smiling in the passenger seat as they headed back off to suburbia to lay low for awhile and regroup, I'd imagine. Haven't seen or heard from him since but he has released a few more albums and I heard he was on Howard Stern's radio show.