I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

June 26, 2007

If anyone died from suspense at the end of the last entry, I sincerely apologize. Sometimes, the power of these situations is too much even for my unstoppable reporting technique to contain. There should be disclaimers, perhaps. But now, I must continue. If you are returning to this website late and you have not read the first entry in this series, do not go any further; it will make no sense to you, and you are likely to find your emotions overwhelmed.

Shibuya B-Boy Battle: First match 9

So, at the end of the last entry, I was in Japan, and the original painting by the famous monkey was in Chicago. I was not sure that my mother could be entrusted with the care of fine art, but I had little choice. I've read a lot about how to be an art collector, and the literature is unambiguous on the point that you should not dent or bend the fine art, both of which stood a strong chance of happening if the monkey painting had to make two trips through customs. (This was around the time that Steve Wynn poked a hole through his Picasso; abuse of fine art was a hot-button topic.)

(I realize that some may consider my concern for the care of art hypocritical in light of a certain story that has been going around for years about my tenure as a security guard at the Krannert Art Museum and a painting which is shown on this page. In response, I kind of gaze off into the distance, and then suddenly change the subject.)

I could only trust that my mother would not botch the job. The seasons turned; beautiful autumn came to Hiroshima and the Chugoku area, winter followed and with it visits from friends, and spring slid out from behind all those cold winds. It was time to leave Japan again. I went on a long trip, returned to Japan a third time in order to pick up my stuff, and took my sweet time going from the west coast of the United States to my once and future home in Chicago. Through all of that, the painting by the famous monkey waited, hidden to me and to the world. My mother was under strict orders not to open it; whatever kind of wrapping those chimps had managed would have to serve as the last line of defense for the fine art inside.

Because I have, as I said, read extensively from the literature, I was aware that an unveiling is the sort of thing an art collector does with brand-new, never-before-seen artwork, so I announced that I would be holding one of those after I got back to Chicago. (Of course you're invited.) As you can imagine, though, I was more than a bit concerned when my mother admitted that she couldn't find the monkey painting, even though she knew it was around there somewhere. Tense days and nights followed. My mother doesn't actually do a whole lot except go to work and take yoga classes once a week, so she dedicated herself to the task of figuring out where she put the monkey painting, and by the next time I visited, she had found it. The painting was expertly packaged in exactly the sort of big cardboard envelope that humans might use.

"Well done, Dan," I said, softly. "Well done."

I had to open it. The literature is ambiguous on the point of whether the art collector himself is allowed to see the artwork before the unveiling, but I decided to excuse the impulse; I am, after all, new at this, and can be forgiven a few lapses in procedure. I slid my finger under the flap of the envelope, and removed a few knick-knacks: a certificate of authenticity, an autographed photo of Cheeta, and some other papers of that ilk. And then there was nothing else between me and the painting.

I am become Poseidon, God of the Sea, and you shall know my likeness

It is really fucking good. I was genuinely astonished from the moment I laid eyes upon it. I had an idea in mind when I chose the colors green, brown, and yellow, and Cheeta understood completely, transforming my pithy notion into the stuff of great artwork. The painting is abstract, and it is suggestive of bananas hidden in a forest. (The forest may be upside down.) I don't mind admitting that I almost cried; I had a masterpiece in my hands. At last, I had my own painting by a famous monkey.

Well, the unveiling is still yet to come. I need to get a job and possibly a new apartment first. Since I am still unemployed, I have plenty of time for scientific analysis, and I am pleased to announce, after extensive testing, that my famous monkey painting is a remarkable 54% better than anything Van Gogh ever did, which is saying something, because Van Gogh is really considered one of the major painters of his era. It is also 16% better than 82% of Picasso's work, 7% better than 70% of the remaining 18%, and the rest has yet to be calculated, but it's looking good for the monkey, and also for my happy life as an art collector.

I will be commissioning another painting shortly after getting a job.

June 22, 2007

I've had this news excerpt sitting around since last August.

(news) NEW DELHI - In an effort to keep monkeys out of the New Delhi subways, authorities have called in one of the few animals known to scare the creatures - a fierce-looking primate called the langur, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported Wednesday.

The decision to hire a langurwallah - a man who trains and controls the langurs - came after a monkey got into a metro car in June, the newspaper reported.

On June 9, a monkey reportedly crawled through some pipes and ended up aboard a train, scowling at passengers and jumping around a car.

Passengers had to be moved to another car while staff chased the dexterous creature, causing delays.

The langur handler was being employed to prevent more such problems.

"There are too many monkeys," Dayal was quoted as saying.

It's "cellar door" for some; for others, "too many monkeys" is the most beautiful combination of words in the English language. Admittedly, I was on the subway today, on my way back from buying some pants, and it was extremely crowded; I am not sure that monkeys would have improved the situation, so fair enough to the New Delhi subway riders and their langurs.

Do you see how understanding I have become in my old age?

The monkey's viewpoint?

I am ashamed to say that I wrote about the monkey painting on MySpace before I did so here. There is no good excuse; expectations are low on MySpace, so when you post something there, you're not really under any obligation to make it good. As long as it's OMG - or, ideally, OMFG LOL - you've held up your end of the agreement with the reader. Well, enough of that.

So there was the whole Howard Hong thing from the summer of 2005, when that visionary art collector paid like $25,000 to buy some paintings by a famous monkey from the swinging Sixties, which extensive scientific analysis (more about that later) has revealed to be the smartest thing anyone has ever done. I was unemployed at the time after my impulsive move to Austin, and I could feel the tangible lack of progress my life was making toward a state of ownership of art by famous monkeys; despair set in. Howard even emailed me, but I didn't really know what to say other than, "Can I have one? The article said you had a few of them. Seriously, could I have one?"

Well, everything got back on the right track, I'm happy to say. As you might know, I did finally get a job, and then I split for Japan again; I paid my debts and resumed my place as a responsible member of society, even if it was, perhaps, not the precise society that genetics had intended for me. And I got to thinking about making progress again. After a brief flirtation with investing my new-found savings in stocks and bonds, I decided to do the mature thing and find a famous monkey who sells his art.

And that's what led me to Cheeta. Famous? Check. That chimp was in the Tarzan movies, also also something called Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, according to his IMDB page, which, based on the title alone, may be better than Citizen Kane. At 75 years old, Cheeta has been recognized by Guinness as the world's oldest chimpanzee, and his love for life is matched only by his love for cake, which I'm sure we can all understand. He's received a lifetime achievement award from the mayor of Palm Springs, and he hobnobs with Elayne Boosler and Jane Goodall. This, then, is a very famous monkey.

The history of the world

I've wondered, in retrospect, if Cheeta wasn't a great painter, would I have bought one of his paintings anyway, as a symbolic gesture, as a prisoner of enthusiasm? Fortunately, that concern never came to pass; Cheeta is actually a sensational painter. This, I think, is quite good; there is an emotional richness in this one as well, but it's somewhat less mature in form. (This one, on the other hand, shows a mastery of technique - if anyone was so foolish as to think that monkeys slap paint on canvas without meaning, that's conclusive evidence that they're wrong - and it's frankly rather haunting, too. I have a theory that it may be a memory from the set of Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, but only Cheeta knows for sure.)

The good news for aspiring collectors of fine art is that the residual checks from Tarzan aren't paying all of the bills any more - and Criterion is apparently dragging their feet on the Lugosi DVD - so Cheeta, resourceful chimp, has combined his passion (the other one, not cake) with his need to pay the rent. (That's a trick I haven't figured out. You could, if you like, say that Cheeta has made a monkey out of me.) After running around the apartment and yelling in deep reflection, I sat down at the computer and commissioned an original painting from Cheeta. After I sent in my payment, someone named Dan - either a person, or a monkey named Dan who has figured out how to use computers - emailed me to say that the payment had been received, and Cheeta would paint it soon. I told him Cheeta should take his time. I know that you can't rush monkey art. Dan had asked me to choose three colors for Cheeta to use, and I suggested green, brown and yellow, but said that Cheeta should do as he liked. I know how artists get when they feel like their art has been commercialized, and I didn't want to get into that kind of situation with my first original monkey commission. I think Dan is all about the bananas, though, because there was no delay; my mom emailed me only a few weeks later to say that a wrapped package had arrived, and it mentioned chimps on the address label. I told her that package was fine art and she had better be careful with it. She said she'd put it in the storage closet with my old comic books.

(I should clarify, by the way, that I was living in Japan at the time, but I had the painting shipped to my mother's place in Chicago, because I figured it was a real long-shot that a pair of chimpanzees could work out international shipping. It was impressive enough that they had a PayPal account.)

So the monkey painting was in a package at my mother's apartment, unseen by human eyes, and I was on the other side of the world. This story is getting exciting; I will continue in my next entry.

June 21, 2007

It is almost time to return to the websites of our youth, almost time to speak again of the early summer crazy. I am back from Hiroshima, back from Australia and Thailand and Cambodia and Vietnam, back in Chicago. I have some things to post from the back-log before I really get caught up, though.

Below is an entry that I started last July and never finished. It's about bowling and some of the students from Hiroshima. I can't remember how much more I planned to add, but it has a narrative and establishes some suspense, so I think it's worth passing on.

July 24, 2006

There was another school bowling event a couple weeks ago. This was the second of its kind; in an earlier entry, I described how the first one began with frustration and ended with delicious maple cream cookies. Evidently, I had talked up these maple cream cookies so much they ascended from third prize to first prize this time around. Second prize was a jar of some kind of seaweed jerky, and I didn't get a good look at third prize; the "good effort" prize, which as far as I can tell was given to the bowler with the worst score who was the biggest spaz about it, was a can of Hanshin Tigers coffee. I wasn't on the prize committee. It's the sole province of a demented, cheerful old lady who enjoys failing to learn anything about pronunciation from me on Saturday afternoons.

(She respects my authority as teacher and would never contradict me, but I have to keep an eye on her during class, because she is fond of instructing the other students on any points that I do not specifically cover. I had to dedicate like half a class to un-learning to make the 'you' in 'thank you' high and squeaky because of her. She had taught them that your intonation should go up really sharply on 'you', and they're all terrified of her, so they do what she says. Meanwhile, this woman doesn't even know how to introduce herself.)

Always optimistic about the future

The second time was bigger than the first; the students who organized the event had so much fun last time that they drew up rosters, diagrams and flow-charts for this one. (That's how the Japanese show they are having a good time.) There were to be three games. Each teacher was made captain of a team, and the team rosters changed every game in order to give all of the students a chance to flourish under their favorite foreigner's leadership. That, also, was not my idea. I'm paid to be a pleasant, encouraging figure in a classroom. I'm not paid to be that way at a bowling alley. The rules are different in a bowling alley. Nobody gets congratulated for anything less than a mark, and a score of less than 100 is cause for great shame and embarrassment; if there are nihilists in the parking lot, we fight them, and if you throw two gutter balls in a row, you are banned from bowling in the presence of other human beings for at least one year. I don't think any of that is unreasonable. Unfortunately, the other teachers were being model cheerleaders for their charges, making me look like a sullen mope instead of the figure of unimpeachable integrity that I actually was. When my "team members" jumped around and squealed with delight over making contact with the pins - and looked at me for approval - I didn't know what to do, so I stuffed eight Ricola tablets in my mouth and abdicated the ability to speak. (I'm not totally positive whose Ricola tablets those were. There was a bag of them, so I helped myself.)

Predictably enough, I started slowly. The Ricola tablets were down to a relatively manageable blob by the middle of the second game, and I began rolling well. I only registered an 8 in the first frame of the third game, but then a zen state descended upon me and I reeled off eight marks in a row. It was, perhaps, some manner of Ricola-induced derangement; I don't know. My memories are fuzzy. I remember a lot of chest-bumping with a Japanese guy who was bowling well at another lane. I've forgotten his name - I do remember that he only knew one English preposition, 'near', and he had discovered that people thought it was hilarious if he just kept using 'near' instead of learning any other prepositions, even though his teacher was annoyed at everyone for encouraging him, so there was a lot of chest-bumping and yelling "near!" - but when I emerged from the zen state, it was the tenth frame, and a huge crowd of people had been watching me for some time, and I didn't pick up the spare, leaving me just barely short of 200. I hadn't looked at the score since the beginning of the game, so I honestly didn't even know I was close. Someone told me, and I crumpled to the floor.

I should explain that I want that 200. I want it like I used to want to be president, like I used to want to be an astronaut; I want it like I used to want to be published. I really want that 200. The thing about bowling - what separates it from almost every other sport - is that the circumstances never change. It's always you, your arm, and a ball with three holes in it - always ten pins at the other end of a long, wooden lane. In basketball or soccer, one game may be drastically different from another because of the opponents, or your overall physical fitness, or even the conditions of the place where the game is played. Each game is its own, independent entity. But bowling exists outside of time and history. When I bowl, I am bowling in that moment, but I am also bowling in every game I have ever bowled. I am still with my friends at the Diversey Rock 'n Bowl in Chicago on a Tuesday night, and I am still alone at JJ Club Ichi Maru Maru in Kyoto, waiting for the rain to pass. Nothing is past. Every game is a response to every other game; everything is everything. (And that's why 300, a perfect game, is not something I like to think about; it represents transcendence, but it also represents death.)

I picked myself up off the floor, now aware of my failure. At the prize ceremony, I was awarded first place, and the delicious maple cream cookies. I had been far and away the winner of the total pin count and three-game average. Everyone congratulated me. But I could think only of the failure. I didn't know how to say "I want to die" in Japanese, so I did the best I could, which was to say "I am going to a grave", which confused everyone.


So there is that; we are back in the present day, in 2007. We all went bowling several more times in the months that were to come, and had a grand old time doing it. I still haven't bowled 200, and haven't really come any closer than I did then, but I've had some respectable games. My friend and frequent correspondent Arden emailed me a few weeks ago about a book he was reading where a Japanese general, Shoichi Yokoi, returned from his second tour of duty in the war and said, "It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive." I guess that's what I was going for with the end of that entry. Well, now it's published.

I keep forgetting how much I enjoy this sort of thing. Jesus! I haven't even written on here about the monkey painting that I bought. That will be the next topic.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


January 2012, December 2011, January 2011, September 2010, August 2010, June 2010, March 2010, October 2009, February 2009, January 2009, September 2008, August 2008, March 2008, February 2008, October 2007, July 2007, June 2007, January 2007, September 2006, July 2006, June 2006, January 2006, December 2005, September 2005, August 2005, July 2005, June 2005, May 2005, March 2005, February 2005, January 2005, December 2004, October 2004, July 2004, June 2004, May 2004, April 2004, February 2004, January 2004, December 2003, November 2003, October 2003, September 2003, August 2003, July 2003, June 2003, May 2003, April 2003, March 2003, February 2003, January 2003, December 2002, November 2002, October 2002, September 2002, August 2002, July 2002, June 2002, May 2002, April 2002, March 2002, February 2002, January 2002, December 2001, November 2001, October 2001, September 2001, August 2001, July 2001, December 1999, November 1999, October 1999, May 1999, February 1999, January 1999, December 1998, November 1998, October 1998, June 1998, May 1998, April 1998, March 1998, February 1998, December 1997, November 1997, October 1997, September 1997, and the uncategorised wilderness of the Beelzetron era: 010622 - 010619, 010615 - 010611, 010608 - 010604, 010601 - 010529, 010525 - 010521, 010518 - 010514, 010511 - 010507, 010504 - 010430, 010427 - 010423, 010420 - 010416, 010413 - 010409, 010406 - 010402, 010330 - 010326, 010323 - 010319, 010316 - 010312, 010309 - 010307, 019223 - 010219, 010216 - 010212, 010209 - 010205, 010202 - 010109, 010126 - 010122, 010119 - 010115, 010112 - 010108, 010105 - 010102, 001229 - 001224, 001222 - 001218, 001215 - 001211, 001208 - 001204, 001201 - 001124, 001124 - 001120, 001117 - 001113, 001110 - 001106, 001103 - 001030, 001027 - 001023, 001020 - 001016, 001013 - 001010, 001006 - 000927.

Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.