Genuflect by Gordy Grundy
June 2003; Issue No. 63
THE UNDENIABLE APPEAL OF THE HYPERREAL
"Bagby," I bellowed in a stiff, clipped British accent. "Bloody good to see you again!"
This was unusual. I don't have an English accent. It further alarmed my coterie because there was no one nearby named Bagby.
"Bagby, old man, what do you make of those Iraqi devils?"
I don't know what came over me. Then again I seldom do.
The last thing I clearly remember was standing on the terrace of an architecturally significant clubhouse of a country club in Southern California. I was a guest of some collectors who were members. It was another night in paradise. The sun had set a while ago. A few stars in the East were busting out of navy blue while the Western sky still echoed a rusting orange. It was a good-looking dinner party. Shirts were well starched, skirts were crisp and sweaters were tied around a lot of shoulders. Thick New Yorks were grilling over mesquite. Jasmine and eucalyptus danced in the warm evening air. A jazz trio played slow and lazy.
The conversation hovered between the French Open, Iraq and Martha's indictment. Maybe I was bored. Or just susceptible to an attack. When a HyperReal Projection hits, there really isn't much you can do about it. Or maybe it was the booze. Either way, I was transmogrified.
"Bloody good to see you again Bagby!"
I suddenly found myself surrounded by high ceiling'd walls of dark mahogany and gilt-edged books. Waiters in full livery sailed through the Library on silent steps over plush Persian rugs. The quiet light of brass Kashmiri lamps shadowed the room, but I could still make out a few of my fellow members snoozing in their wingbacks or reading the Times. I thanked Chandou, my favorite man, for the Gin Ricky. I had to smile; he has been serving me for most of my life. He's a bit slow, like all his kind, but he always gives me a grin and a laugh.
When I crossed my legs and sank deeper into the red Argentine leather, I caught my reflection in the spit shine of my cavalry boots. My nose may have been broken several times but it never broke my good looks. I set the drink down onto the side table, inlaid with African ivory, and brushed a speck of lint off the gold braid of my left epaulet.
I have never liked nor respected Lord Bagby. My elderly, working father recently needed his old friend Bagby's help and was refused. Nonetheless, I had to be polite. I had to ask again because Bagby lost some of his hearing years ago when we were taking a bit of lead in the South African campaign, "Bagby old man, what do you make of those Iraqi devils?"
The former consul's face darkened. "An ungrateful lot." He paused and then said with a laugh, "Those brigands are a far cry from the civilization that was old Babylon! Eh? Ho!"
"I had some good news this morning," he continued brightly, "My SS Lorelei landed safely this morning at Portsmouth. Sailing in from Calcutta. I shall sleep better tonight."
Lord Bagby married well after leaving the Foreign Service and then invested in shipping and cotton. He was a miserly employer, favoring a hard stick to a carrot. The "Free India" movement was hurting his business a great deal with the rioting in Bombay and New Delhi.
He took a pick and loosened the charred tabacco in the bowl of his pipe, then tapped it empty into the big elephants foot ashtray.
Bagby has a tendency to get long winded. I knew that he was going to start blustering about business, so I thought I'd tweak his ruddy nose a bit. I didn't realize how much.
"Bagby," I asked, "What do you think of this Mahatma Ghandi business?"
"That runty! Little bald!" Lord Bagby slammed his ham sized fist upon the Balinese endtable. His face grew scarlet and he stood abruptly. "That little brown Hindi has cost me a fortune!" Bagby blew long and hard enough to wake up old Smallwood who was snoring across the room. Continuing his rant, "That scrawny, brown, cotton weaver has---".
I stood up and with humor said, "Isn't that something, when a little man in a diaper can push around a Lord like you!"
Well, obviously I had touched a nerve. He cocked up to take a swing at me. I stepped back and he caught air with great embarrassment.
"Good God, man!" I said loudly and sarcastically, "This is a gentleman's club!"
Like a bull, Bagby tried to dance like a butterfly but his clumsy second attempt to connect his fist to my face sent his rather large frame crashing into a wingback chair, rolling it over with he in it. I couldn't see Lord Bagby but I heard a large "OOOFF" in harmony with the sound of breaking wood.
Chandou pulled the chair off of him.
Old Smallwood snickered.
Somewhere, a crystal glass fell to the floor and shattered.
Lord Bagby, huffing and puffing, crawled about on all fours trying to stand but his fat legs could find no traction. Servants were trying to help but he shoved them away.
Beet red, Bagby lumbered to his feet by climbing up the leg of the huge stuffed Grizzly Bear that Teddy Roosevelt had bequeathed the club.
A sharp cry turned everyone's attention. The Club Manager stood in the doorway, hands plastered on his face in horror wailing "This is a gentlemen's club!"
He spoke directly to me, this time rather dryly, "Lieutenant. Once again."
The Manager turned to the security guard behind him, "Eddie, escort The Riot out of the Club immediately and I don't want to see his boots touching the floor as you go."
Eddie, a former sergeant in the Royal Light Dragoons, was rather large. I've known him a while. We were friends. As he came at me, I saw the ole 'sorry-but-my-job-is-on-the-line' look on his face.
One of Eddie's paw-like mitts landed at the back of my neck and yanked skyward. My toes no longer touched the ground.
The next morning, I woke up back in Southern California with a needlepoint hangover. After a several hour Forensic Nightlife investigation, I learned that I had gotten quite rambunctious at the country club the night before. It seems I can't resist any chandelier that swings. Of course, some people have no sense of humor. Security was called and I hear I had a swell time leading a billyclub wielding septuagenarian on a foot chase at jogging speed, out to the soon to be stolen golf cart that ended up in the water trap on the Thirteenth Hole which... It just goes on.
CLOTHES MAKE THE COLONIAL MAN
I have never been so embarrassed in my life. What will the Iraqi people think?
The picture in the morning paper made me cry out in nationalistic shame. It showed Paul Bremer, our new Viceroy in Iraq, on his first day on the job. He was shaking hands with one of our new fellow citizens. In the picture Bremer wore a business suit with sneakers. I was too mortified to even laugh. Or cry.
If I had trotted out like that at home, my mom would have sent me back upstairs to change. We judge a book by its cover. First impressions are last impressions. Just ask Dale Carnegie. If clothes make the man, then a Viceroy makes a nation.
The entire presentation was flawed from the top down. What looked like a UN Peacekeeper's helmet on Bremers head was in truth a dry look, blow-dried do from the Seventies. If he weren't wearing a tie, I would have thought he was a Dallas society dame with a bouffant.
His dress was more appropriate to a winter in Iowa than a day in Baghdad. A heavy wool pin stripe suit with vest in the Arabian Desert does not project a knowledgeable image nor does it reassure a nervous people. You'd think the State Department would have their own Mister Blackwell to pack the steamer trunk. Tony Blair should have whispered "loose linen and breathable cotton" into his ear. There is a reason why GQ Gentleman's Quarterly goes to press every month.
I am assuming L. Paul Bremer wanted to portray himself as a dynamo, a take charge kinda guy, a man who literally hits the ground running. But the sneakers did not achieve that goal. Yachting deck shoes can work with a suit but shopping mall Ankle-Savers just spells D-O-W-D-Y. If I were an Iraqi, I would read the footwear as a promise of more looting, lack of water and no electricity for quite some time.
As an aesthetic and an American, I am appalled, appalled, by our presentation in Iraq. And obviously, so are the Iraqis. Just the thought of the embarassment makes me want to slap on a Strap-On. (I am referring to the popular explosive with a one-way ticket.) Has anyone considered the audience? What might the Iraqis be thinking? Our spectacular and explosive First Act with its easy foxtrot into Baghdad may have sent a message of power, hope and too much promise. American culture is no stranger to these good people. For generations, they have seen our films, admired our style and emulated the American panache. They know Tom Cruise and they all, except for the fundamentalists, have studied Pamela Lee Anderson in great detail. Their expectations are rather high. Here they are, expecting the best of Western Civilization but instead they get the best of Mid-Western Civilization. Clothes make the Consul.
LIVING IN THIS WARTIME
How am I living in wartime? Badly. I am pissed at the inconvenience, the turn of events and the anxious wait for some other sandal to drop. I am angry at the way everything is turning out. This Bin Laden fella has crossed a very wide line: You don't mess with an American's comfort. He has taken my old life, which I now fondly look back on as 'idyllic and easy', and he has given it the old 'shaken not stirred.' Everything has shifted. There is too much going on that is forcing me to take my attentions elsewhere. I am distracted to places I'd rather not focus. Free time, once plentiful, is now at a premium.
Never have I had a greater urge to make art. And, now, because of one's rather extremist religious leanings, I have less time than ever to make art. I am like a teenager in heat. I sneak out of work to paint but I really have to spend more time at work to pay the rising rent. And given the demands of all the other obligations in life, like sitting down and writing this goddamned column, I am now a seething inferno of frustration. I'm not doing what I want. The interior of my mind speeds like the ricochet of a machine gun. My Emotionalism is a volcano of rumbling unmet need. My intestines are a churning river of boiling lava. I am a rage. I roar.
And to further the Bin Laden blight, I have been painting badly. No, I am not living well in wartime. Thanks for asking.
TRUE TALES OF THE HYPERREAL
I have no idea what is going on but I can tell you what I prefer. The world may be rather dull and gray but my Rich Inner Life is filmed in Technicolor.
I prefer that the daring rescue story of brave little Army Private Jessica Lynch was true and just. I hope Davy Crockett died a hero's death at the Alamo. I am so relieved to learn that there are no Christian Terrorists. I pray Abraham Lincoln wasn't a homo and I am sure sweet little Martha Stewart was out digging in the garden when her Sell Order was placed.
GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based painter. His visual and literary work can be found at www.gordygrundy.com.
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