These two pieces, Business and Scout, respond to the work of specific visual artists. Business is a sestina based upon six words (jar, moist, scale, lip, kitchen, picture) I jotted down while considering the work of Elizabeth Murray. Scout replies to a series of uncanny and quite funny paintings by the Detroit artist Jim Chatelain.
The party was a gas, this morning our house is cluttered, crowded; I trudge into the kitchen. Assorted strange cars are in view through its window; I stare at them, grind coffee, work a whole bean between my lips. The top shelf of our icebox is filled with various containers of milk: bottles, jugs, jars. Each is inventively painted: one is a robin’s egg blue, another is striped, another is decorated with sea, sun, palm and coconut trees; tropical sorts of pictures. I remove this container, wait for the coffee, flip through a magazine, feel my armpits grow moist. My elbows and feet, in contrast, look and feel rough, dry, even to the point of scaly.
I open the magazine to an item that announces itself with a photograph of a woman wearing mountain climbing gear standing in front of an incline she plans to scale. "What She Needs To Get To The Top," reads the headline; does this athlete/model, I wonder, ever wake up to a dirty kitchen? I read the article, its pieces of advice on how to all-at-once: achieve financial success, spend rugged outdoor time, keep your body hydrated, your skin smooth, youthful, moist. When I lived in the tropics my skin appeared smooth, youthful, moist; since moving to this dry place I constantly apply heavy creams to my hands, thighs, lips. Without a routine total-body-drench my skin would turn rough, dull, dead --at least that is a condition I dread and can all too easily picture. I skim the article, make note of their tips on financial success and skin care, especially protective outdoor beauty creams and their different portable containers: high-tech tubes and compacts, purse and pocket-size jars.
This magazine article suits my mood for friendly entertainment, nothing fierce, nothing intense to unsettle or jar. Skin care is my line of work so that information attracts me, and chances are I may never reach financial success, or get to the point of even dressing in mountain climbing gear, let alone of standing at an incline I plan to scale. Still it is something pleasant to dream about, pleasant to picture.
I grow agitated sitting here now, though normally I enjoy our kitchen. Normally I love spending time here, concocting beauty products, baking; pies are my favorite, especially pinching crusts decoratively at the pie pan lip. I’m good with crusts, my beauty product distributor—snoring somewhere in our house—is good with fillings, getting them to be just the right consistency, not runny, not dry but appetizingly moist.
Actually, I am beyond agitated sitting here now, hanging around in these cluttered, crowded conditions; I hate these conditions; hatred makes my eyes moist.
True, I wanted the party, but I did not expect it to go so late, to grow so disorderly; waking up to a dirty and jammed house is no fun, it is an event that unsettles, that jars. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror and immediately smooth out my furrowed brow, and frowning lips. Not that I am anti-facial-lines; my products are not designed to make consumers look younger than their age, just perhaps healthier than what is considered normal to their age scale. My product distributor expects to sit down with me and sample new skin enhancers today, in this very kitchen. But in this mess I am conceptually barren, unable to think, work, put anything together let alone a solid, new product picture.
When it comes to body flaws my beauty product distributor exaggerates his features into an ugly and extreme picture. Once a month, or so, he calls me up, lists his imperfections, magnifies them, thanks me for developing the milky hydrating mask which transforms—at least temporarily-- the most damaged skin into an organ that is smooth supple, moist. Of all the cars parked in our driveway his is the sportiest and cleanest, though his glove box contains more food than we have in our entire kitchen. You can count on: packets of crackers, tins of tuna, a cocktail olive jar. And his constant companion, the food scale. This is his glove box (it is a super-sized glove box); his trunk holds samples of the newest addition to my beauty line: simple cosmetics to brush on the eyes, to dab on cheeks and lips.
There is no solid reason for my agitation or perspiration; guests will wake up, help clean, thank me for the party, kiss me with freshly glossed lips. The party was a gas, this morning feels grim but the day will get better, I should (but am too slow-moving to) vacuum floors, scrub toilets, empty the dish sink; I should re-hang all the fallen pictures. To divert my mind from this big mess and my personal laziness I think of endearing guest traits: my distributor, for example, religiously weighs his food portions but never himself—he is vehemently anti-body weight scales. He is a genius at distributing my home remedies that keep your skin nourished, clean, but most of all moist. He and I share devotion to hydration for skin and body--last night he brought each party guest a gift of his newly patented Dual Hydrator, that is, a portable water container whose top unscrews to a compact-sized moisturizer holder, and whose bottom is a 6 ounce, shatterproof drinking jar. We both believe in this contraption, capable of preventing skin and body dehydration simultaneously; he believes (I am personally unsure) that drinking from a wide mouth container is healthier than pursing your lips around a bottle or straw; when he visits, we make sure to have neither in our kitchen.
By evening everything scales back to order: the kitchen is clean, guests-- thankful for their party gifts: Dual Hydrator jars, and moistening lip/cheek gloss—have gone home, my distributor and I get down to business: he applies my newest deep-cleansing mask, I document with a series of instructional pictures.
Guests arrive this evening; I start off my day with Scout in the Ocean Room, programming our morning experience. Yesterday we released synthetic sharks and turned on heavy currents and weather (wind, hail, thunder), which made for an invigorating, at times frightening, morning. Today, in the mood for something calmer, we set a light wave/light breeze program, and discharge imitation sea creatures, designed to brush against users with gentle pressure: no biting, no rough rubbing, no insertion. I position myself strapped (with easy to close and unfasten Velcro) to a plank, where I do leg, arm and abdominal stretching exercises; Scout sits high up on our craggy Styrofoam cliff. He’s relieved to have this wide view; yesterday he was underwater, just at my hip, forced to focus on that specific body segment.
The biggest problem with this Ocean Room is the window that looks onto our garden. I had envisioned a small porthole, high up, to view sky, clouds, and weather. But that wasn’t communicated to our construction crews, who put in a window that turns out to be a towering, floor to ceiling rectangle. I don’t ALWAYS want to view our garden; guests don’t either. We provide plenty of vegetation on our Ocean Room’s floor, but more importantly, that outside garden butts into Ocean Room concentration. So I asked our crew to design multi-sliding panels of tinted glass; users can choose which blocks of outside they want to view, and which they want to blot out. I did not ask them to seal the bottom towering rectangular window portion, because I worried sealing up the opening might bring bad luck.
Scout is adaptable: his slanted bottom is buoyant when he wants to float; mobile when he propels across water, or scales our assorted Styrofoam structures.
Last year this room revolved around pirate scenery and accessories. It contained a large mound of land with hammocks, treasure chests, assorted tropical trees, and wrecked-ship fragments.
Anchored in our ocean were sailing ships rigged with telescopes, stocked with bins of salty food and water. Staff and guests dressed pirate-like (the eye patch, the cropped trousers, the bandanna, the rum bottles) and behaved like pirates, but not cruel, toothless or scurveyed ones.
Now, those supplies are in storage. Our latest plan is a fairy tale type complex of seaside castles. Pink, we think, with red flags, long hair spilling out of windows, unicorns prancing along beaches, and Scout stationed on the drawbridge, in the turrets.
Unstrapping my straps, I move from the plank to the water slide, which loops, twists, loops down to a wide bottom. I slide down, lie on my stomach and do weighted leg lifts; did I mention the exercise equipment in this Ocean Room? Weights disguised as coral, seashells, and rocks. Scout not only views, he assists: explains which buttons activate which sea creatures, and which regulate water temperature, weather and plank settings. He even helps users physically train.
Some guests even appreciate his help on one of our most private features: the option of pressing one button that activates a smooth pipe, positioning it between users legs—each individual manually determine its depth of actual penetration—and emits a spurt of fluid. Many guests love this; I agree it is a pleasure, but because it performs a physical function I have met in other places--which is not the case with some of my guests—I rarely choose it.
Lighting can also be programmed: sun, clouds, total darkness, or starry constellations. This morning I choose dimness.
Although the space is enclosed and filled with water, there is nothing womb like about it. Ocean Room is spacious and unconfining.
Water is lubricant, but too long inside shrivels the skin. We call this our Ocean Room; true, it smells salty. But the water is fresh, and filled with oils, which seal in, don’t take out, skin moisture. Bottles and jars of skin moisturizers await users once they step out of "Ocean".
Another reason I don’t want to be reminded of our garden from this Ocean Room is the complexity. Not only of living matter (soil, petals, snakes) but also of colors and smells. Garden smells are so many and so various. They truly distract, for example by conflicting with the saline smell we’ve so carefully wafted into the ocean room. Some days Scout leaves with users. Today he rests. I dry off, moisturize, dress and walk across the hall, up a set of stairs, and get into another robe for my visit with Mack, Mack focusing on specific mind/body treatments.
I sometimes call Mack, "our salon," the term doesn’t do him justice; he performs so many and such versatile functions. Hair, nail and skin beauty treatments, but he also gives good advice, and performs excellent detoxification. My guests and I can eat, drink, inhale anything and keep clean, thanks to exercise, food, and regular Mack detoxifications. I’m not saying we’re unhealthy, or overly imbibe in toxins, yet who knows what lurks in our soil and air, especially around this complex and its buildings, continually undergoing construction and re-construction.
Today I undergo my detoxification, then opt for a weather dose; Mack simulates various outdoor elements. He can envelop you in a hot summer, or crisp fall, evening. Today I select an afternoon of steely Nordic winter, which requires slipping on an insulated body stocking since the temperature dips well below freezing. My eyebrows turn to ice, as does a bit of saliva around my lips, but the cold climate does give my skin a fresh color.
Yesterday my weather simulation was a dewy spring rain.
Mack is a gifted acupuncturist; he has helped more than one guest break a smoking habit, heal an arthritic condition, turn vegetarian. We sometimes call Mack "Doc." He tailors all routines to individuals. When I get a massage, for example, Mack pays special attention to my long, often chilly, fingers, so good at forming pie crust dough. And he gives rides; you can get sensations of altitude—rocketing up high—and depth—plummeting down low; once I spent an entire late morning as if I were crewing a lightning fast submarine.
This late morning I don’t choose a ride. Mack performs a special eye hydration procedure, curls my eyelashes, gives me a long overdue total body wax, and successfully medicates a lingering yeast infection, made worse, no doubt, by an overlong afternoon spent gardening in a wet bathing suit after a session in the Ocean Room.
Mack is exceedingly popular. During our busy seasons—no matter how carefully our expert staff schedules--groups of guests are going to find themselves waiting. So, waiting became just another part of our Mack experience. We put together a pleasant, even stimulating, waiting room: coffee and juice bar; deep velvet chairs; hypoallergenic rugs and fake fur pelts for those who prefer floor lounging. Shelves of books, periodicals, board games; hollow seashells to listen, or blow in to. In winters, an electric fire which radiates warmth.
At first, I did not want that fire. Too reminiscent of dangerous animals, stifling tents, dehydrated meals. Not to mention the flammability of drifting ashes. But my staff convinced me that my fears were dramatic. Given that no actual burning goes on.
Users leave Mack with an immense sense of well being, I’m no exception. My next visit is our Mean Sex building.
Guest fees do not include use of our mean sex building; but no one seems to mind paying extra. We call it mean sex, but in fact things never leave the realm of rough play. To reach the site you must walk across a field, over a bridge, pass through thickets of thorns and briars to another bridge that crosses a moat that leads into a Styrofoam—made to look like stone—fortress.
In the front hall is a costume and prop room: capes, gowns, and diapers. Masks, cuffs, highchairs. Gloves, collars, kneepads. Boots. Nerf knives; guns with nerf bullets. Imitation candles with realistic looking flames; these reach and flicker over buttocks, bellies, under throats, without causing burning or blistering. House rules: no videotaping. And no more than mild biting, squeezing, and slapping.
Room designs range from medieval to modernistic.
This morning I’m here for one reason: to check out the cleanliness of Potty Room. On my way I pass one of our "Restraint Rooms" which is small, dusty, gothic (except for the Velcro opening and closing all equipment). I haven’t been comfortable here since a goof I made during my last interactive visit, several months ago now. I was training a new staff member; we simultaneously punctured pouches of red dye located above each of our right ears; I—velcroed to the wall—watched the dye drip down over her (phenomenally high) cheekbone, when I became distracted by her surprise for me: a very small dentist whose dental kit overflowed with astonishing objects. Her creativity made me ashamed of my conventional, out of date surprise—simple leash and studded collar.
But I cannot wallow in that mistake; I’m here to investigate Potty Room, a station used by a few regulars who orchestrate their play around going to the bathroom: forcing one another to go; not allowing one another to go, allowing one another to go, but only in specific ways and places. It is very easy to make Potty Room look clean, but I have to test bacteria levels before I’m satisfied it’s sterile. Today results come out sanitary, which adds to the solidity of my mood.
Leaving, I look outside the window at the steely, saucer spaceship which appears to have landed on an open field. It hasn’t really landed from outer space; it is a prop of our UFO abduction.
While UFO Abduction is in an entirely separate structure from our Mean Sex unit, I mentally connect the two. Because of their body-machinery combination, and their hints of degradation. No other portion of our complex, except maybe meals, is so geared toward individual needs. We give guests personal UFO fantasy experiences. Some require staff to dress up and behave like monstrous aliens, bent on physically and mentally probing, perhaps also on taking some vital human idea, body part or fluid. But just as many users request staff to enact what they imagine are gentle, non-probing aliens, curious but not dangerous; sniffing, maybe even licking the way a young puppy or bear cub might. Another harmless alien-type our staff enacts is the friendly ghost kind: calming, nebulous, marshmallow-like forms, rubbery or cottony to touch. Most guests pick desert or wood location. Our abductions take place exclusively at night; we use strobes to fill the sky with luminous, riotous color; or swarming insect shapes. Sometimes the sky is simple pitch black. Guests can also experience being in-ship. In an actual ship. Some ships are spanking clean, others have an appearance of being dirty; we smudge floors and walls with pudding and jelly-like goo, fill them with bad odors (material from our foul smelling mushroom compost). But the outsides of ships are pristine and symmetrical.
I now head over to Camp, where we have other ships, to check on the snake situation.
In our various kinds of camp, specially trained staff guides guests over rocky terrain, through deep, dense forests, on wide-open seas. We also have special hunting and fishing trips where guests learn to spear, skin, gut, scale and cook their catch. Today, responding to a request for authentic, as opposed to robotic, rattlesnakes (for culinary reasons, which I’ll soon explain), I duck my head into "Desert" where guests learn how to hike a trail, protect themselves from dangerous creatures, and find edible food. Snakes have become a growing desert focus. At this point, desert doesn’t have any natural poisonous snakes, only natural non-poisonous, and imitation poisonous ones. Our snake education overviews: the importance of correct footwear: leather boots, heavy soles, thick socks. How to determine if they are poisonous; how to suck out venom, if bit (guests with canker sores, cold sores, or gum scrapes from hard food or dental work get a protective mouth liner). We teach participants to look where to step, or, when it comes to steep, rocky trails that require hand and foot action, what to look for before placing down unprotected fingers or palms. Because one of our chefs loves our "desert" so much, we’ve been able to integrate cooking into Camp.
Her basic and gourmet rattlesnake recipes have guests requesting authentic rattlesnakes; guests wanting the experience of killing and cooking the poisonous reptile.
I’ve tasted, and cooked both recipes, and will repeat them here: kill the snake (cut off its head, then skin it—carefully avoiding the poisonous fangs, and slice meat into strips). For the basic recipe, coat the strip in beaten egg and corn flakes, and pan fry. For the gourmet recipe, marinate the meat (lemon, basil, garlic and olive oil) before grilling over mesquite chips. I understand the appeal of genuine rattlers, but the danger factor leaves me undecided.
Camp also offers fitness and beauty on the trail. Hiking, with frequent stops for spot reducing; weights, disguised as rocks (clearly labeled 3 lbs., 5, 8, 12, 15) are used for lunges, squats, military presses. A cliff with pegs and ropes for mountain scaling. Aloe, and other plant juices are excellent for skin care. Running feet through sand and gravel rubs away corns and calluses caused by hiking. Make up can be found in any of the berry-covered bushes; our berries redden cheeks and lips for hours.
This area is desert-like, yet we do take liberties with authenticity. For example, the big pond we put in, which we stocked with fish. I love visiting desert, knowing I can enjoy the feel of the blistering sun on my face and neck since these desert rays are artificial, 100 percent safe, incapable of causing any real skin damage.
BIO: Lynn Crawford lives outside of Detroit with her husband and two sons. Her work has appeared in various anthologies including most recently Fetish Fiction (Four Walls Eight Windows) and The Oulipo Compendium (Atlas Press). Articles on art and literature have appeared in Art in America, Bookforum, American Ceramics, and The Detroit Metro Times. She is the author of two published collections of fiction, Solow and Blow (Hard Press), and Single Separate People, a newly completed novel.