"You got any drink?" I yelled out as I lugged my travel bag into Von Lipson’s South Beach Condo and plopped it onto his dinning room table.
He shouted out from the bedroom, "You finally made it."
"That doesn’t answer my question."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah…there’s a couple cases leftover. They’re by the fridge."
Von Lipson was an up and coming mixed-media artist. He had the verve of a circus dog jacked-up on T-7, which was counterbalanced with a grumbling aura of misery. His platinum bleached hair was counterbalanced by decomposingly black eyebrows. And his Wonderbread complexion was counterbalanced by the fact that the blood of a surfer was sizzling in his veins. He was a walking contradiction of all sorts…a half-Jewish, half-Japanese fuming soft parade.
"Left over from what?" I went into his kitchen, pulled a bottle of Citra Montepuchiano out of one of the cases scattered around on the floor and then began to fumble oafishly through the kitchen draws and cabinets in search of a wine key.
"Leftover from my opening."
"How long ago was that?"
"Last night, you palsy. I had that private opening at the Locust gallery."
"That was last night?" I eventually took a lid off of a black fiberglass box that was sitting on top of one of the Citra cases and found a disfigured corkscrew. It was bent like a mangrove cluster that had lost a wrestling match to a rouge typhoon and it dared me to try and make use of it.
"Yes, palsy, that was last night."
I snatched the disfigured corkscrew out of the metal box and proudly said to it, "You don’t intimidate me."
"Intimidate you? What are you talking about?"
"Whatever…I brought all the unopened shit back here."
I looked over the minimalistic Citra label. "What’s a matter? Those pop-t’art groupies who drool all over your sculptures like Pavlovian piss hounds turned their noses up at this stuff?"
Von Lipson pulled a tank top T-shirt over his head as he entered the kitchen. "Not at all. The Montepuchiano was flowing hard last night. And considering I sold all of my pieces, I would say it got everyone lit beyond payola’s tits."
"Then what’s with all this fermented booty?" I made a chaotically animated attempt to harpoon the Montepuchiano with the jumbled utensil. Managing to gorge out only a small chunk of the cork, I started pushing the rest of it into the bottle.
Von Lipson looked at me with beleaguered curiosity. "I always make sure that there’s more than enough on hand at every opening for all the invitees. And the leftover "booty" always comes in handy when I have to entertain hollow-legged guests like you."
"Is that right?"
The cork plunged into the bottle.
We poured ourselves a couple glasses of Montepuchiano and then made our way out through Von Lipson’s dining room and into to his den. I looked around the furnatureless cavern. It was tricked-out with 30 or so neon Bonsai trees and the room hummed and buzzed and glowed like a fiber optic jungle.
"Your electricity bill must be outrageous," I marveled.
As Von Lipson slid his balcony door open and we stepped out into dusk he replied, "The whole concept of money is outrageous."
I absorbed the balmy licks of wind and they forced me to wallow in meteorological nostalgia. "I have to get back to South Beach more often."
"How’d your flight go?"
"Coming from Heathrow to Miami International is like Godless time warp. One minute you’re surrounded by snooty cucumber-sandwich-brained tossers, and a movie, a meal and a few tiny bottles of chardonnay later you’re trying to slalom through a third world zoo…a whole family tree of Haitians are demanding their duct-taped and shrink-wrapped refrigerator boxes be cleared for carry on luggage and Bolivians with clenched ass cheeks are hurriedly waddling toward the nearest bathroom stall before cocaine stuffed condoms inch out of their colons…and to be quite honest, I’m not even sure which airport’s atmosphere is worse."
"All airports are shit." He looked at his Seiko diving watch. "So I imagine all this Elián hoopla made getting here from Miami International a journey in its own right."
"Finding a cab was impossible. But I didn’t see any protesters or rioting or anything like that."
Von Lipson pointed out over Biscayne Bay, toward the West. "I guess it’s mostly happening in Little Havana. They’re piling up tires in the streets and setting them on fire. They started yesterday, after the raid. I haven’t heard of any looting or anything like that, though. I guess it’s pretty tame stuff compared to the L.A. riots."
"It’s a joke compared to the L.A. riots." I looked out at the labia-pink sunset and saw thin streams of inky smoke rising up from behind the Miami skyline as if they were overgrown pubic hairs being stretched toward the night.
From a balcony below us a gringo voice yelled out mockingly toward Little Havana, "Siesta, siesta! Siesta, siesta!" Then several others from different balconies joined the chant. A couple of balconies to our left, a gangly woman sporting a bathrobe and a seaweed facial added the accompaniment of a wooden spoon bashing against a steel pot. She started to jump up and down to the rhythm of her clanging, which caused her robe to come undone.
"Too funny," Von Lipson laughed as she bounced around and her exposed flapjack breasts slapped against her ribcage.
"This whole thing is too funny. I don’t even know why I was sent here to cover it. I’m sure as hell not going to be able to write anything about any of this that the Suits in New York will consider printable."
I just couldn’t bring myself to take anything concerning the Elián González saga seriously. The whole thing was just too farcical: The blubbery-eyed, ghastly bipolar, crackpot cousin, Marisleysis González; the mule-brained, drunken uncle, Lázaro González; an MP5 submachine gun prodding a brainwashed, six-year-old political pawn out of the hands of star struck fisherman, Donato Dalrymple, who was cowering with the boy in a garment closet; the mayor of Miami, Joe Corolla, a.k.a. Loco Joe, appearing on National TV and weeping openly because he was cut out of the loop and not privy to the fact that the raid was going to go down…the entire affair was like one of those melodramatic Spanish soap operas staring Erik Estrada, formally of CHiPs fame. All that was missing was the sappy music in the background--and the half-clad, pasty-faced woman beating the pot to the rhythm of the "Siesta, siesta!" chants was doing her best to compensate for that.
"Everyone here in South Beach is sick of the mere thought of that kid," griped Von Lipson. "Janet Reno should have yanked his plantain-whacking ass out of there a long time ago. But at least it’s finally over with…no real harm done."
"I don’t know about that. This whole fiasco might just undermine the next presidential election."
"It’s only Little Havana. They’re not gonna be able to cause the whole country to swing for one candidate."
"You never know. They’re passionate people…and when you start mixing passion with misguided notions, things tend to go sideways."
"And who knows how deep those Cuban-American tentacles reach."
"Where do you think he is right now?"
"The plantain whacker."
"Oh, Elián. They brought him up to his father, who was flown from Cuba on a private jet to some hideaway in D.C."
"A little R & R courtesy of our tax dollars." Von Lipson shook his head in raspy bafflement.
"The irony actually goes much deeper: we’ll be spending U.S. tax money to hire a team of shrinks to deprogram all the capitalism out of Elián."
I took down the rest of my Montepuchiano in one gulp. Von Lipson followed suit, then opened the balcony door so we could leave the banging and chanting behind and refill our glasses. Once inside, he slid the door shut and snickered, "The whole concept of money is definitely outrageous."
Out of the Background
Jotaro Lipson had always dabbled in sculpture. He would often spend his spare time scouring junkyards in Miami, Hialeah, and Opa Locka to find unruly hunks of metal that he could weld into nightmarish shapes. But when he started working as a head waiter in a jet-set sushi bar, he inadvertently rubbed elbows with Gail Posner, heiress to the RC Cola fortune, and art aficionado exemplar. She eventually hooked him up with, Clayton Chauncellieré, a renowned and elusive art agent who was able to parlay Lipson’s talent into a prospering career.
It was Chauncellieré who came up with the idea of adding the "Von" to Lipson’s last name. "A nice German touch to round out the unfathomable Jewish-Japanese thing you’ve got going on," he told him. "It’ll simply pique every critic’s curiosity…a subtle conundrum…get them chasing their tails before they even see your work. O’ mi solé, O’ mi solá."
"He always ends his discussions with a couple of cigar-cutter winks and the meaningless expression, ‘O’ mi solé, O’ mi solá,’"Von Lipson had told me. "I’m grateful for all he’s done for me and everything, but he needs to cut that shit out or I’m going to scissor-kick his jaw straight up into his medulla oblongata."
Chauncellieré also suggested that Von Lipson focus his energies on a medium that was "less abrasive," advising him to switch to the mixed-media genre. With a few other tweaks everything clicked and now Von Lipson was on the verge of becoming the next Big Thing.
I wiped a patch of condensation from the mirror above the sink and glared at myself towel drying my hair.
"Have we known each other for six years?" I asked Von Lipson through the bathroom door.
"How the fuck should I know? If it’s one thing I’m not, it’s a calendar."
"Take a guess." I emptied an eyedropper full of vitamin B-12 under my tongue, snorted a line of pulverized Oxycontin, waited a few seconds, then took a sip of wine.
"Yeah, sure. Six years sounds great. You planning some sort of anniversary?"
"Elián’s six years old, ya know."
"Good for him. You done in there yet? We gotta get roll’n."
"Done?" I murmured. I looked at the blur of myself in the streaky puddles that blotched the wiped area of the mirror and tried to patch together the past six years in my life, which now seemed like they were being shot through a tenderized prism. I watched the puddles merge and bead and race each other downward in trickle lines and started to feel disturbed about my inability to see any time period of my life as a whole.
I squirted several of Von Lipson’s hair gels into my hand and began massaging the concoction through my short, choppy hair, cementing clumps of it into fashionably viable chunks.
Within seconds my head-lettuce marbleized.
"Do you think time is just as outrageous as money?" I said to Von Lipson as everything else slowed down.
"Did you already do your line of O-C?"
"You shit." I heard him take a long, slow, deep breath…which was actually a quick snort. Then he huffed, "I hate to bust out that old cliché, but time is money."
"So be it." I grabbed the tubes of hair gel and squirted what was left in them into my glass of Montepuchiano. I swirled the lava-lampish blob around and then gulped it all down, hoping to grout some kind of assemblage inside of me into a congruent reflection.
To Have and to Hold
The taxi ride to the Delano was a carpet ride through soft, warm candle wax.
"So you’re not going to go to Little Havana?" Von Lipson asked me as our driver squished his cab through the streets.
"I’ll get there at some point. But not tonight." Overwhelmed by the total blackness of the clothing we were both decked-out in, I stared out the window, out at the silence of the traffic lights.
"Fly-tastic. I just have to drop this off. Then we can splatter ourselves all over town." Von Lipson was caressing the object that I had mistaken for a corkscrew earlier in the evening. It was now attached to a chunky brass chain whose links were shaped like percentage signs. Evidently, the object was one of the sculptures Von Lipson had sold at his art opening the previous night and the buyer wanted to wear it as a pendant. So Von Lipson was given artistic license to design a necklace to hang it on and the linked %%%’s were what he had whipped up in the morning.
I pointed at the wiry pandemonium and asked, "Why’d you let me open the wine with that? I could have fucked it up."
Von Lipson shrugged, his shoulders as loose as hot yogurt. "It’s going to be worn as a necklace. How much more fucked-up can you get than that?"
He looped the chain around his forefinger and dangled the pendant out in front of him. In the hum of nothingness, we watched it pendulum back and forth.
The foyer of the Delano Hotel is like a staved corridor for a parade of Trojan horses. Mammoth white columns resembling phallic runway lights funnel you toward the Blue Door restaurant, opposite the lobby entrance. Diaphanous curtains flow down from the ozone-high ceiling at subliminal intervals and quaver like nymphomaniacal cheese cloth from the slightest breeze. Candelabras radiate obedient flames, which mollify the cherry-toned, wood-paneled floors.
We voyaged over to the hostess at the Blue Door and Von Lipson informed her of our rendezvous in the back garden. She nodded and elegantly cut a dollop of guarded air out of our path as she swooped her hand out toward the restaurant’s rear patio.
Standing atop the pristine stone steps that descend to the Delano’s garden and pool, Von Lipson scanned the area below us.
"Coco’s not here yet," he said while trying to light a cigarette that had been dangling out of the corner of his mouth since we got out of the taxi. The wind blew in off of the ocean that was just beyond the pool and repeatedly extinguished the flame of his Zippo lighter. His rabid lack of patience yanked him over to one of the candle-lit patio tables, where he grabbed a votive that was flickering within a smoky glass shroud and used it to ignited his Marlborough.
"Your brain up for some calisthenics ?" he asked, puffing out a halo of smoke.
I tapped my heel against the lip of one of the steps and mumbled to myself, "O’ mi solé, O’ mi solá."
Von Lipson shoved his giant wooden pawn up one position with a reckless kick. The black token reeled and stammered, but managed to settle into its square before it tipped over.
I couldn’t help but picture the clueless face of Elián plastered all over the pawn’s head.
An impish Weblo in a melodramatic chess game.
A Weblo who’d been force to wobble by his extended family--who would be the ones to ultimately fall down.
"You going to move?" asked Von Lipson.
I looked around the garden, at the Alice in Wonderland landscape, at the palatial full-length mirrors leaning up against the towering palm trees, at the hammocks filled with disheveled-shirted men groping their lust-puppy dates, at the sparkling glaze of a pool overflowing with blue caraco water, a white cast-iron table for two set up in it’s one-inch-deep shallow end…then I returned to our life sized chess pieces, pieces absentmindedly maneuvered into the most vulnerable positions.
I was about to try to answer him when a muscular silhouette trumpeted, "Looks like I got me a couple of egg-headed musketeers over here."
Without taking his eyes off of the game pieces, Von Lipson replied, "Didn’t think you were going to show."
The figure strutted toward us with gooey but calculated strides.
Cumulonimbus breasts rolled out of the darkness first. Their nipples were covered with thin strips of black silk that shot up around the neck and down into tight folds that python'ed the waist. The legs were chestnut and beamed down to strappy sandaled feet. A face was the last to emerge. A mulatto face. An intimidating, experienced face. A face that gale force winds screech to a halt for and decide to smother with feathery affection instead of gusty blasts.
"Are you going to go, or what?" Von Lipson grumbled. He turned to Coco, his face haunted with contemplation, and asked, "Just let us finish up this game, okay?"
"Don’t hurt yourself," Coco replied.
"I can’t play anymore," I confessed. "My mind is about as tactical as a weeping willow right now."
"All the better to feel the vibe of the board with," Von Lipson countered.
"The only vibes I’m feeling right now are softening the board so much it’s turning into a cotton field."
"Fuck it." Von Lipson booted his queen with a swift, pungent kick. This time the piece did fall over, toppling several other pieces with it.
"What ever are you going to do with that temper of yours, Lippy darling?" Coco said with glamorous disinterest.
"Tell me about it. And I’m fluted on O-C, too."
"My oh my."
"But think of how I’d carry on if I didn’t indulge in it once and a while."
"How true, how true. Speaking of indulgences: where are those delicious spirals of lusty heaven you created?"
"Over here." Von Lipson lead Coco over to a swinging lawn chair and grabbed the necklace and pendant off of it. "Here ya go."
"You can have the honors." Coco knelt down humbly, as if waiting to be decorated with a sacred idol from an almighty witch doctor. Von Lipson festooned the ornament around her neck with a quick but somewhat elegant unfurling motion.
"Happy?" he asked.
"I feel like I’ve been christen by a famous god. But don’t you think you can add a little bit of that custom detailing I requested last night?"
"Requested? Um…" Von Lipson bit his lip. His entire face rolled into a warped accordion of wrinkles.
"Oh Lippy, you are fluted, aren’t you?" sighed Coco. "I just wanted a little bit of background—just this once—so I can showcase your new work with proper…accentuation."
His face bloomed back into place. "Right, right, that’s right. You got the stick?"
From a small purse, Coco produced a lipstick tube and handed it to Von Lipson. He seized it from her, tore off its cover and hastily twisted the bottom part of it. A knob of black paste swirled out of its top end and he began to smear it all over Coco’s white-powdered chest, creating demented paisley designs that complimented the pendant’s contours.
"Don’t shy away from the headlights, Lippy dear."
"Yeah, yeah…" He slipped the silk strips to the side of Coco’s breasts and began to smudge black curlicues around their nipples.
In the midst of this body painting exercise several gaudily clad Saudi Arabian men took interest in the activity and swarmed in around the duo. With their arms folded over their chests and heads nodding like novice scientists in a monkey lab, they orbited around Coco and Von Lipson, gravitating closer and closer to them.
Enthralled with the new audience, Coco mused out to no one in particular, "Aren’t you just totally jubilant now that this Elián thing is done and over with. All that waiting, waiting, waiting for something to happen. What were they waiting for?"
Von Lipson finish his flesh mural and, to the displeasure of the Saudis, snapped Coco’s silk straps back into place.
"Don’t fret, boys. Don’t fret at all," Coco purred, beckoning the foreigners into a huddle with an enticing forefinger gesture. Von Lipson backed away from the group and within seconds they became a tight throng of whispers and boisterous laughs.
Somewhere during the course of this laughter, I started to become aware of the fact that the hair gel wasn’t sitting too well in my stomach. I staggered back against a palm tree and took a breath of what felt like chubby air. My gut wrenched like a diseased womb and I could taste the emulsifying wax and propylene glycol dicaprylate seeping up my esophagus.
Coco broke from the huddle, approached us and asked, "You fellas care to join us for some fellatio alfresco in the round?"
"Not this time, Coco," sighed Von Lipson.
"You always say that, Lippy dear. We’re not afraid of a little raunchy karma, now are we?"
"Not at all."
"Then at least let me warm up on you, give these guys a show before I let them all jump in."
"You go ahead," I told Von Lipson. "I feel too out of focus right now."
"No, that’s quite all right," he said to Coco. "I’ve already christened you once tonight."
Coco flounced off toward the beach with the Saudis in tow and said, "True, true, true. You artists and your scarcity doctrines..."
"How come you’re so banged up?" Von Lipson laughed as I fell to the grass and began to fertilize it with a pasty stream of burgundy-colored chemicals.
When I felt my stomach was empty, I rolled over on my back to watch the palm fronds assault each other in the onshore wind. Von Lipson stood above me and tried to light another cigarette while continuing to laugh decadently.
"Hehehehehe…you turned into one cushy-bellied hell of a pussy," he jibbed, nudging my head with the tip of his shoe.
"Let’s not throw stones in stained-glass houses."
I pointed toward the beach, to where I thought Coco & Co. would be. "Yeah, stained-glass houses."
"Why didn’t you take her up on her offer?"
"Because Coco ain’t no her."
"But her…you where lipsticking on—"
"Implants, palsy." Von Lipson finally got the Zippo to light the Marlborough. Then, with carefree abandon, he started kicking over more of the chess pieces, adding, "Damn fine implants. Hehehehehe…"
Due to my overall wooziness, we 86'd the idea of hitting any nightclubs. Instead, we agreed to take a taxi over to the design district so I could check out Von Lipson’s new work.
Our cab jettisoned off of Miami Beach and onto the Julia Tuttle causeway. For the whole ride, the driver kept on babbling about how Cuban Americans were threatening to close down the main access routes into Miami/South Beach, which was basically connected to the mainland by the MacArthur, Venetian and J.T. causeways.
"Busloads of them are going to lie down on all the roads and bridges of the causeways…create human chains to barricade any vehicle from passing until they bring little Elián back down here to Miami," the cabby explained.
"That would be a damn fine blood bath of stupidity," laughed Von Lipson. "Miami has so many fucktarded drivers who wouldn’t think twice about mowing over anyone foolish enough to lie down in the middle of the road. They’ll stomp on the accelerator and squash them into the pavement like refried beans."
When we hit the mainland we rolled down our windows and could hear the blasts of Pinto, Pacer and Gremlin horns in the distance, from somewhere deep in the belly of Little Havana. Cuban voices rode on the thick evening breeze, whimpering desperately to Jesus, begging him to, "Salvemos a Elián!"
We took the Biscayne Boulevard exit and were immediately inundated by off-ramp orange and coconut salesmen who had turned in there produce inventories for shopping carts full of Elián souvenirs, which they peddled ferociously to any automobile in sight.
"T-shirt for you, sir, si? Es Elián en Marisleysis’ arms, you like one? One on a key chain, perhaps? Si?"
Glitzy, low riding pickups stuffed with Yo-yo Boyz raced through the side streets like funked-out Kimono dragons, their dark tinted windows pulsing and thumping to thunderous base lines.
Bargain-rate trollops sat on rotting bus-route benches, their fish-netted legs crossed, their unpolished thigh-boots swaying. Orbs of apricot bubble gum would occasionally sprout from their lips and attempt to obscure the pale, bruised complexion of their faces.
Flavors of pus-laced urine, poisonous sweat and intestinal decay wafted around lethargically, refusing to dissipate into the atmosphere.
"Welcome to the design district," Von Lipson announced.
"I thought this was the next up-and-coming part of Miami?" I asked.
"Give it some time."
Infected a la Mode
The Locust Gallery had a couple metallic sculptures sprinkled within its albino walls. Hearkening back to Von Lipson’s roots, they were all variation of the piece Coco had bought and they were all on podiums and displayed in black fiberglass cases. But for the most part, the gallery was full of Von Lipson’s mixed-media sculptures, several of them already in the process of being crated for delivery.
I perused around the acid-treated concrete floor with Von Lipson and mulled over some of the mixed-media work.
"So this is what’s landing you fame?"
"I can’t produce them fast enough."
They were home appliance monstrosities, decorated with a potpourri of digital era imagery, all having celebrity-personalized mannequins incorporated into them in one way or another, their titles bleeding saccharine irony…
Stone Washed: Hollywood lioness, Sharon Stone, being shoved by some invisible force into a washing machine wallpapered with San Francisco Chronicle newspaper pages, all her pleading limbs shooting out from around her head like frantic sunbeams.
See, I Told You So: Radio commentator, Rush Limbaugh, holding cake mixers to either side of his head, their beaters spinning around in hollowed-out holes where his ears should be.
No Choice: Presidential hopefuls, Gorge W. Bush and Al Gore, fighting over a bulging hefty garbage bag as they both try and pull it out of the front of the broken screen of a projection television set.
The one that really caught my eye, though, was a decapitated child mannequin that was unclothed, painted red, white and blue, and standing atop two upright vacuum cleaners, a foot on each handle.
"This reminds me of an installation that some fagoogled New York artist did," I said.
"Jeff Koons," replied Von Lipson.
"Yeah, Koons. He started out doing this kind of conceptual work and then got real kitsch."
"Koons did something similar to this, but it was just two Hoovers stuck in a fluorescent-lit Plexiglas vitrine."
Von Lipson began to brief me on Koons’ rise to fame in the late 1980’s. But Von Lipson seemed more obsessed with Koons’ personal life than with his artistic acumen. He went into great detail about how Koons had wed and then divorced Hungarian-born porn star Cicciolina, a woman who not only managed to steal his son from him, but also somehow went on to become a member of the Italian parliament after her adult movie career waned.
"Yeah, I might of pinched a little from Koons," Von Lipson admitted, "but not without integral reasons…besides, all he was doing was presenting prosaic things in extraordinary ways so they seemed like unreal hyper-things."
"What textbook did you lip-synch that from?"
Disturbed at my comment, he pointed at the headless child vengefully. "Look at it in its entirety, palsy. I’ve got multi-layered motifs riffing and jamming all over the place."
I decided to entertain him and slowly walked around toward the back of the piece, nodding and "hmmming" along the way. When I got there, I saw that the child was holding his own decapitated head behind him…actually he wasn’t merely holding it, he had it shoved halfway up his own ass…not only that, the head was a replica of Elián’s and it was crying tears of feces.
I came back around in front of the composition, looked for a title plate, couldn’t locate it and asked, "What’s this called?"
"Chronic Fatigue Syndrome."
I nodded. It seemed pathetically perfect. "I guess this sold for some serious scratch."
"Thanks to that raid yesterday morning, yeah. It was a bit of a coincidence, though. I merely conceived the idea for it based on all the political, legal and media wrangling that’s been going on for the past few months. But now, make of it what you may."
"Sell it to me. I’ll double what ever the buyer paid you for it."
"No can do. Gail Posner bought this one."
"There’s no way I can sell this out from under her. She the one who hooked me up with Chauncellieré. She’s half the reason I’m here."
"I’ll triple the price."
"Nope. There’s no price tag on this one at all."
--Little Rock, AR / April 2002