January 16, 2016 by RJ
I’ve known Bradley Lastname since 1985. I first met him when I was in Chicago to do a performance, “Love Me Like a Bitter Pill.” Lastname, as you’ve probably guessed, is not Bradley’s real last name. A writer and visual artist, Bradley has long been a legend in the neo-dada and mail art worlds.
I invited Bradley to send me an unfinished piece for my collaborations project. I communicate with Bradley by email and I always get a response by snail mail. He sent me a piece called “Art School Confidential: A Story I Never Knew How to Finish.”
But was it a story or an outline of a story? I suppose it’s a story in essence, but the prose read more like a description of a story. Of course, Bradley being a conceptualist, this made perfect sense.
The three sheets he sent included illustrations on two of them, to go with the story, drawings of a parakeet on a perch progressing, or rather regressing, from a fully formed bird to a simple schematic, two intersecting ovals.
Bradley’s story, or synopsis, began, “The professor of art is a failed painter and terminal alkie who usually comes to class drunk & verbally abusive…”
To give a synopsis of Bradley’s story, or a synopsis of his synopsis, the lesson this particular day is on “HOW TO DRAW A VENN DIAGRAM.” Here’s where the birds come in. The professor “starts by drawing a perfect parakeet, and gradually deconstructs it until he produces the Venn Diagram in panel #6,” i.e., the two intersecting ovals.
A student asks the professor why he doesn’t just draw a Venn Diagram without the preceding five panels, and the professor “lets loose with a torrent of obscenity that would even make Lenny Bruce blush.” And that, pretty much, is the whole story, minus the ending.
Bradley writes, “I came up with 2 possible endings, but wasn’t really satisfied with either one.”
The first ending: The student, who has been told to go fuck himself by the professor, lights a cigarette lighter in front of the professor’s face, causing the professor’s high-octane breath to catch fire, killing him in the conflagration.
“In the second ending,” Bradley writes, “the parakeet in the first panel springs to life and flies off the easel and pecks the professor’s eyes out.”
So now it’s my job to finish the story. Immolation or “out of the inkwell” retribution? For me it’s a no-brainer. I choose door number two. The first ending I find gratuitously violent. Sure the professor is a prick, but does he really deserve to die such a violent death? Plus, though Bradley may not have thought it out this far, surely the student would have to pay the consequences of his actions. I’m sure Bradley wouldn’t want to condemn the poor student, who acted impulsively, to life in prison.
The second ending is highly preferable in several ways. It better integrates the drawings into the story, first of all. And eye-plucking has a long and honorable literary pedigree, Matthew 5:29 and Oedipus, for instance. And he is an art professor, after all, so this is poetic justice. “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”
Wait a minute, there’s the same dilemma: eye plucking vs. fire. Am I being tested?
PETER CHERCHES is a writer and jazz singer from Brooklyn. He’s the author of Lift Your Right Arm (Pelekinesis, 2013) and two previous volumes of short prose. His work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.
BRADLEY LASTNAME moved to Chicago in 1978 and began creating a body of work that raised dada, existentialism and the absurd to a new level. His work…2- and 3- dimensional collages, paintings, sculpture, poetry and prose…has been published, shown in museums and galleries, and presented in one-man shows, throughout the U.S.