Post Road Magazine #29

Pathfinders: A Play

Ben Merriman

Characters

B         Adult human, fragile

C         Adult human, frivolous

D         Adult human, hard

(A gallery in an art museum: a white backdrop, optionally hung with copies of modernist works. B is seated between C and D on a museum bench, facing the audience. They speak in a loud and wooden manner, regularly punctuating their statements with sniffing and snorting; they may be under the influence of cocaine or experiencing art narcosis.)

D: (loud) It is an unfinished project—in painting, the modernists have never fully exploited the technical resources provided by the history of Western Art. Where the poets asserted the contemporaneity of all moments, the artists broke with the past. (sniffs) It is for us today to redeem the promise of modernism by taking the avant-gardes themselves as a now-ancient hoard that we may plunder as the moment should demand.

C: (sniffs) (loud) I used the New Objectivity to buy a Snapple the other day.

B: (sniffs) I think the stuff has been cut, my stomach doesn't hurt and I can feel my teeth just fine.

C: Give it time. (pause) The fixtures in these museums really don't suit the purpose—white sinks, white stalls—white powder in a white cube. (sniffs) American museums afford one so little privacy. In a proper European museum the stall is closed off entirely. The most discreet place in the Netherlands to shoot heroin, I warrant, is the second floor bathroom in the Stedelijk Museum.

B: (sniffs) We should have gotten coffee before we came here. I'm a fucking husk.

C: (shouting to museumgoer) Middlebrow! (pause) B, we are surrounded by typical bourgeois specimens, it is a repugnant business being around them. How can you think about coffee?

D: My stomach turns over, looking at them. Or else the stuff is working.

C: It is enough to make me vomit. I would vomit right here, but that is just what the middlebrow wants, I couldn't give such a person the satisfaction.

D: They would forever be recounting the incident (sniffs) the unfortunate incident where they went to the art museum and some vulgar person...

C:  ...some vulgar personage...

D: ...vomited all over the gallery and got bile on the Franz Marcs.

C: The horror!

D: Art should have some bile in it. (pause) I think the stuff is working now.

B: I don't think I got enough. Excuse me a moment.

(B exits)

D: Hey, all of you! I scorn you!

(pause)

C: I should have had the falconer bring my raptors for me. It is so gratifying to have a falcon at one's side.

D: Will your falcons scratch at people's eyes if you tell them to?

C: Of course. Why do you think I keep falcons—for falconry?

D: You don't have any falcons, do you?

C: No. When I said, "I should have had the falconer bring my raptors for me," what I meant was "I should have been born rich enough to have a falconer who could bring my falcons to the art museum."

D: A lofty sentiment.

(B enters)

B: Better. What were we saying? I was saying that one glimpses beauty for an instant and it is gone.

C: Perhaps you were saying that, I was saying that I would vomit all over the gallery except that the bourgeois expect that of me.

D: And why mention beauty in an art museum? What's wrong with you?

B: I can talk about beauty, we're not in church.

C: Confess!

B: No.

D: Confess!

(pause)

B: I spent the night with somebody I had just met, and by daybreak I liked this person more, far more, than this person liked me. I hurt all the way to my follicles and nailbeds. I would say I have a hangover, but I haven't slept.

D: Ugh.

C: This business again?

D: I will tell you a story for your benefit.

B: Oh yes, edify me, I'm a silly little thing.

D: For your benefit, I tell you: I was seeing a woman and then she left. After she had gone, I missed more than anything else the feeling of my hand resting on her hip. I would wake up in the morning aching because my hand had nothing to rest on. In the shower strands of my hair fell out and tangled around my fingers when I put in conditioner. I piled the lost hair on the corner of the tub, and watched day by day as the hair grew into a great snarl. I monitored my suffering in this way until the day came that I cut off all of my hair and threw the snarl away.

B: But you still hurt.

D: No, I had sheared the hurt off.

C: A healthy decision.

D: A decision to live a smaller and harder life.

C: Something similar happened to me. I started dating a man and I found out he liked impressionism. So I started dating a different man, only to learn that he also liked impressionism. Two weeks of my life wasted. A person has to be careful hooking up with strangers; bad taste is contagious.

B: Those are terrible stories. I wanted consolation.

C: To be consoled, remember that it is in the nature of a relationship for it to become imbalanced, what you feel is what others have felt, and what you have perhaps made others to feel. We are as vile as any others.

D: To be consoled you can sleep around more, until it ceases to hurt, and make yourself a thing among things.

C: To be consoled you could buy a falcon.

D: And scrutinize yourself pitilessly, as a camera would.

B: I have a photo of us together.

(B pulls up a picture on a cell phone)

C: I see nothing notable.

D: I see people who have not adequately instrumentalized themselves. Why so weepy? It's just the action of some chemicals in the head, stirred by the behavior of mucous membranes lower down.

C: Plus the composition here is very poor, and the medium has a granular quality that I find unmoving.

B: It was a cameraphone!

C: Well, your lover is not a consummate artist—it is no great loss, as I see it. Probably some bourgeois specimen.

D: A typical bourgeois specimen. A bourgeois insect in a specimen box.

C: A bourgeois insect who stimulates your mucous membranes.

(C and D laugh)

B: I hate you.

C: Relax, they'll throw us out soon and I'll buy you a coffee.

D: We should get a doughnut, too.

C: Absolutely. Hey B, go give that fellow lover of the arts a doughnut.

B: No.

C: Fine, I'll do it.

(C approaches a museumgoer)

C: We, uh, (sniffs) are commemorating the centennial of Rayonism with free doughnuts.

(C punches museumgoer in the arm)

C: (very loud) Hurts, don' it? (laughs) Hurts, I say!

D: For the Fatherland!

B: Ugh, this is lowering.

C: This is noble. Your love is lowering.

D: No, your love makes you stupid.

B: I like to be low and stupid, I like for my brain to turn to sap and ooze out of my head. Being smart is horrible. What have you gotten for being smart?

C: Looked in a mirror and saw that areas around my eyes have become permanently tired and creased. Slept with certain people and congratulated myself for having done so.

D: Accomplished certain things I had not thought to accomplish, failed to accomplish some things I had thought to.

C: Left home for a big city, returned home, left again. I was hungry all the time.

D: Woke up in the morning and shouted I hate everything because I felt it to be true. Went to bed at night saying history will vindicate me, but said it only in a whisper.

C: Wanted the vindication of history but wanted the vindication to come sooner rather than later, so that I could buy an apartment with it. Thought about art.

D: Wished I would drop dead.

B: Common, common! Smart and ambitious? The commonest things in the world.

D: Well then call Lulu or whoever and say thank you for making me stupid and special. Leave the business of being smart and ambitious to us plebes.

C: We are in the presence of a genuine individual, living in a domain of lofty sentiments. I am now going to purchase a cup of coffee for a bourgeois subject, who feels things that we don't.

(The three stand up to leave)

B: You're hurting me.

D: See, the bourgeois subject feels pain, even.

C: A most remarkable specimen.

B: (sniffs) If you are going to pin me down, I will need some more anesthetic first.

END

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