On Thursday evening, I saw Matthew Barney’s Creamaster 3.
On Friday evening, I stood very still for a few minutes, gazing at the pendulous keys swaying in the ignition of the locked car, and then looking up to the setting sun dipping even with the red “adobe” tiles of the suburban homes. I didn’t have the usual feeling of sudden dread or regret — it would just be a matter of time. A few hours at worst. An opportunity to appreciate the aesthetics and the physicality of trash lying around the parking lot, trash which could be ingeniously put to use as tools.
The car had been stolen a few months ago. It looks as if a large screwdriver had been jammed into the driver’s side lock and twisted. Maybe the thief didn’t have a slim jim, or maybe just wanted to display brutal mastery over the idea of access. I hadn’t fixed the lock after the car was recovered, so it remained scared and hanging slightly out of the door. I assumed I’d be able to open it with a pair of tweezers and popsicle stick, or If need be, a screwdriver and a hard twist.
Scanning the nearby asphalt, I quickly found an old coat hanger lying on top of the nearest wad of landscaping, already bent straight by one of my ancestors trying to manufacture an access tool. Its ends were rusty and fatigued, but most of it had been protected by a white plastic sheath where the metal remained strong and pliant. The inside door locks are gray phallic lozenges with no lip or head to lasso in the ancient manner. But their ribbed finger-grip zones looked ripe for raking with the jagged tip of a well-bent wire. Just a matter of time.
First, the broken door lock.
A twig. A twist tie. A bit of plastic spoon. The transparent blue flap from a thin box of breath strips. A cotter pin. The metal clip ripped from the cap of a nice ball point pen. Apparently the lock was not quite so broken.
Then, the hanger on the inside lock. Bend down to go in, bend up to go out…
It was an hour and a half before I noticed the first blister on my thumb had broken and another long one had welled up beneath the blackened skin. The rubber door seal on was torn and dangling. The ribbed grips on the plastic lock were delicate and coy, totally unwilling to accept the advances of the rusty hook, especially at such an oblique spiral.
A yellow hummer drove up and parked, crookedly. A tiny tiny bald man got out. He stood eye-level with his hood.
A sporty black BMW drove up and parked, crookedly. A portly middle aged man with fluffed hair got out. His belly stood level with his hood.
I was the only person visibly loitering within the mile-long line of sight afforded by the open blacktop. Although no one looked in my direction, everyone near me assiduously set and un-set their car alarms when going in and out of the stores. Bwoop-boop! Boop-Bep!
A black jaguar pulled up, started to park straight, then gave the wheel a twist at the last second to angle crookedly in the parking space. I didn’t look to see who got out. Beboo-Woop!
The sun was down and I could feel my eyes bugging out in their dry sockets. Time to go to the office supply store and get some real tools.
Slice of “New York Style” pizza and a large lemonade with “0% Juice.”
They came in a single leatherette zipper day-runner pouch: wire strippers, a plastic syringe with a wire claw inside, a multi-angular ratchet driver, a bright yellow anti-static bracelet with snap-on lead wire and alligator clip, a pair of reverse-force tweezers, a pair of needle-nose pliers. And a flat head screwdriver.
I tried the outside lock again, this time with a brand new tiny flashlight in my teeth. After a few minutes it became clear that the person who stole my car did not use a flat head screwdriver. Or a piece of rusty coat hanger. Or a pair of tweezers. Or a popsicle stick.
Surrendering, I carried my new leatherette tool satchel to the first pay phone. It had no dial tone, but it had a phone book. Four tow company numbers.
I carried my new leatherette tool satchel to the second pay phone inside the office supply store. It also had no dial tone. “That phone don’t work,” said the employee as I walked away. “The one outside works.”
I carried my new leatherette tool satchel to the third pay phone outside the store. It had a dial tone. But it did not take quarters. It did take dimes. Using all my dimes, I called a tow company. Answering machine. No more dimes. I tried an 800 number: no answer. I tried my phone card: expired. I tried to put quarters in the phone as fast as I could to see if it might catch one, but they fell steadily into the return slot like a lazy jackpot.
I carried my new leatherette tool satchel to the forth pay phone. Someone was using it to chat. As I waited, I wondered, how long can the process of repetition and variation reasonably go on?
The fourth pay phone buzzed loudly, but it took quarters. Called. Connected.
The operator at the tow company was incredulous. Put me on hold. Asked twice in disbelief for my non-existent cell number. While I waited on hold a second time, I wondered, how long can the process of repetition and variation reasonably go on? The buzzing grew louder as I was transfered abruptly to a tow truck driver. He asked every question again. He was even more incredulous. He asked everything twice. Then again for my cell number. But only asked for my credit card number once. I was suddenly aware that I had no idea who I was speaking to over a buzzing pay phone.
The tow truck arrived after a delay twice as long as he said, but only one and a half times as long as I expected. The driver happily told me that he wasn’t planning to show up at all since he wrote down the wrong credit card number. But since he had another call in the area he figured, what the hell.
It took a total of 45 seconds to open the car with a slim jim, including time spent walking to the tow truck and back. It took about ten minutes to drive to an ATM and pay the man. Pay the man a lot.
Total running time clocks in at about three hours.
Matthew Barney owes much of his symbolic use of continuity and taboo-breaking imagery to the 1987 film Dirty Dancing. In that art house classic, Johnny Castle locks his keys in his car, so he simply finds a nearby post and smashes open one of his windows.
It is powerful evidence of Matthew Barney’s artistic triumph that I did not resort to the tactics of his predecessor, Patrick Swayze. Instead, I chose Barney’s method of a tortuous and cryptic circularity, a painful avoidance of the straight line as the tracework of demons. Although it’s impossible to say just how much effect high art has on the “real world,” all I know is that I still have a back window.
Thumb’s up, Mr. Barney.