LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 51, No.2 - Summer 2005
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 2005 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
LINA ramona VITKAUSKAS
To Mark Willis, who showed me the poetry of potatoes and to Todd Hall, who showed me their evil grasp on humanity
It became evident that the spuds were connecting us psychologically, intuitively, in fact. The fact of the matter was that we were beyond normal coincidences now, trapped in a thick, mushy morass of fate - no chives or sour cream here to camouflage the bland truth of it all. There was no way to extricate the bind between us now - Reese, The Photographer, the spuds, and myself. We were symbiotically intact, a helix of destructive behaviours, sexual intentions, career goals, and potatoes. But I guess that's just how karma works - one woman's attempted level of intimacy becomes another man's future chess piece. Between the creamy potato soup I ingested during my vodka binge and The Photographer's dinner party, there was no way to escape the inevitable grip of the evil spuds.
They dominated the weekend like an incessant theme song. Reese had somehow found himself behind a potato chip truck in traffic. The Photographer was expecting him at four, as he had promised to help prepare a peanut butter-slathered duck for the dinner party. The truck in front of him spat exhaust out upon Reese's windshield, no doubt en route to elementary schools in the metropolitan area, full and ready to disperse the tiny foil packets of crunchy fun inside them to local children on Hot Dog Day. Reese thought of his own Hot Dog Days now as he stared at the back of the truck, it's blue logo swirling laurel-like around its advertising tag-line: "They're lip-smacking delicious!" He vividly remembered the times he would proudly proclaim his order to Mrs. Cistova, his beautiful third grade teacher who smelled and looked like a cyst - at least that was what his friend Keeley Walters told him. But as Reese sat in traffic reminiscing, it was only an indication of what was to come with the vile vegetation.
I was wondering at that precise moment, in the control room at the microchip factory, whatever happened to Hot Dog Day, and why potatoes were even involved. How anyone could have ever thought potatoes were "treats" at all -beady eyes all over their rough, fibrous skin - they were the riffraff of edibles. Brown with no sweetness. Coarse with no center. You could keep hacking away at their ivory, mucous-coated endoskeleton until you'd peeled it away to nothing. Nothing but a sloppy, oxidizing mess of slippery rinds. My boss wanted answers now.
"Sauzaitis, what's going with production today? Have you seen the mess on the floor?"
The floor. I was still thinking of the rotting potato peels on the floor, as if
I had just chopped away at thousands of them for a mess hall full of
"...a major accident..."
I could hear the echo of those plotting, vengeful spuds hitting the concrete as I peeled away their skins, leaving their yellowing inner flesh exposed - naked. I imagined right then, in the midst of microchip factory concerns being spewed at an alarming and increasingly voluminous rate, that those spuds were plotting against me, Reese, and ...yes... even The Photographer.
They filed away their agenda so easily, disguised themselves so artfully in their own plain, staple existence. Fried, mashed, baked, twice-baked, boiled, ground, sliced, steamed, broiled, grilled, scalloped, smothered, scattered, and chunked - potatoes were guilty. They were guilty of plainness, guilty of fouling up my plans to impress my fetching writer friend, guilty of causing Reese to lacerate himself in the bloodiest of ways, and especially guilty of being connected with "meat."
A writer I met at a bookstore - a tall, endless smile of eccentric, enigmatic heaven. He had asked me for drinks after a reading that night, which, in retrospect, inevitably wound itself into the tangled spud-web. A beautiful blind man had approached the microphone wearily, groping the slender stand with such desperation as his hollow voice echoed through the cafe of the bookstore:
"...my testicles hang like russets..."
How foolish I was that I could not see the dangerous path of spuds I now treaded upon. It would only be later I would realize at the pub for drinks and a snack when the waitress would say, "Sorry, the kitchen is closed. But I have soup left if you want it... Cream of Potato."
The Photographer surveyed the city from his apartment complex roof. All seemed to be going smoothly for him, he was soon to meet with a gallery owner at the pub for drinks and a snack. He was expecting Reese at four to start preparing the duck for his dinner party, a pre-celebration of sorts of his meeting with a prominent gallery owner. The Awkward Hungarian, so named for his misfortune with ladies, was to come to the soiree. The Photographer had promised his good friend a fatty duck meal to accompany a generous fifth of peach brandy from Budapest. Because of his excitement, The Photographer called upon Reese, a sometime sculptor, to help prepare an exquisitely original part of the meal, a fresh approach to keeping with the theme of his photo series -lightly dilled new potatoes cut into bold, angular, nudes posed hypnotically in curled recoilings of pain and anguish to represent - "Famine."
As he began to climb down the fire escape to prepare for his meeting, he noticed billowing smoke from a factory further down into the city. Thinking nothing of it, he dug his hand into his pocket for the gallery owner's business card.
So they piled around me one by one like a wall of eyes, peering into me and extracting their vital information like spies, interrogating me of my intentions so gracefully in their innocent demeanor. Reese was still somewhere across town on his way to see The Photographer. And here I was, still thinking of that blurry night of alcohol infused gibberish, a mistake I made trying to impress the handsome writer. We had begun to talk after the waitress padded off to get my soup.
"I haven't eaten all day," I explained to my new, exciting compatriot.
He nodded to me to raise my shot glass in a toast to chance meetings, to two groping writers on a hot, summer night, and to lemon-tangerine vodka. The spuds had not yet begun to emerge fully in their premeditated and plotting state - they were only naive ingredients then, wholesome with only the intent of nourishment. At this point in the evening, so titillated by the potential of my own Henry and June fantasy coming to realistic fruition, who was I to argue... or suspect?
Reese finally arrived at The Photographer's apartment at four eleven, where he found his friend slumped on the couch in dismay.
"Hay man, what happened?"
"My 'Famine' series... rejected!"
"What? What happened? Did you meet with the guy or what?"
The Photographer wiped at his tear-teetering lids. "He left a note with the hostess at the pub..." he sniffed. "There was... another artist he was interested in instead."
Dumbfounded and tired from his trek across the city, Reese walked into The Photographer's kitchen to get a drink.
"Well, what did the guy say?"
The Photographer cleared his throat and graciously accepted the semi-warm beer his friend now handed him.
"Well," he sipped, regaining some composure, "He postponed the whole thing., said he changed his mind... decided he's going to go with another series... some woman who manipulates photos of vaginal cysts..."
"...And get this... he didn't even face me. He made me wait an hour and the Fredo wrote it all in a note and left it with the hostess at the pub."
Reese, still reeling from his vague memory of Mrs. Cistova, lit a cigarette.
The Photographer began to shake his head chuckling a bit. "See you later, Richard A. Tater."
"What?" Reese eyed his friend suspiciously, as if it may have been a hoax.
"See you later, Richard A. Tater." The Photographer repeated, shaking his head with a smirk now emerging.
"You've got to be kidding me... the guy's name was Tater? As in ...tots?" Reese was sure this was a joke now.
"Yes, as in tots, as in skins, as in treats, as in..." The Photographer's smirk now fully extended to a grin. "As in Taters."
"How convenient," Reese shook his head in disbelief, now smiling along with his friend.
The Photographer held up his hand, defeated. "No lie."
Lying on the floor in the control room thinking last of toasting my comely writer cohort, I could feel the heat rising from the depths of tan-colored Berber. The microchip factory was burning. My boss threw his arms to the ceiling in a rage while my frantic co-workers doused the open flames with extinguishers, sulfuric yellow powder spraying forcefully from hollow funnels.
I rose from the carpet, zigzag impressions from the carpet engraved upon my cheek. I was in complete synchronic-ity with what the spuds had done to my life now - they had sent me through a series of destructive mishaps, their tawny shells sprouting worm eyes, like the Mocking Kachina doll I'd seen in the Native American exhibit once... they, descendants of the nightshade family.
"So where is the duck? The brandy?" The Awkward Hungarian entered the apartment, watching his two friends sitting on newspapers strewn about the carpet in the living room.
"No more brandy," Reese slurred impeccably, waving the empty bottle into the air limply.
The Photographer cleared his throat and tried to earnestly explain to The Awkward Hungarian why they were now drunk and among slippery, rind-filled newspapers on the floor.
"There was some bad news and we uh... hmm... uh..."' But he could not hold his laughter in.
The Awkward Hungarian was puzzled. "But what about the gallery... the possible showing? I thought your gallery owner friend could help you and we would be eating in celebration...?"
Using his sculpting skill, Reese had begun to carve queens, pawns, and rooks from the slimy, starch lumps. His tiny, new potato slowly amalgamated into a knight as he chuckled. "We got bored, so we decided to play some chess..."
"But we had no pieces..." The Photographer added, grinning.
"So we decided to make our own..." Reese shrugged, his mouth purling into a twisted smirk.
The Awkward Hungarian looked to one man then to the other. It was clear there was to be no celebration here and his friends had gone completely mad.
Hawing ingested the soup at the pub, vodka shots swirled about my stomach combining with the heightening, supernatural forces in my brain. At precisely the moment The Photographer was explaining his bad luck to The Awkward Hungarian, my Henry Miller was holding my hair back as we stood by a berry bush up the street from the pub. The alcohol had dizzied my brain and the spuds had made their direct hit, soup hurling forth, my dress now Pollack—spattered with the garden twists of chives and lemon-tangerine vodka.
"Christ!!" Reese jumped up screaming.
The Photographer looked at his friend Reese, who now bled incessantly from his thumb.
"Jesus! I'll get a towel... hold it up! Hold it up, Reese!" The Photographer disappeared into the bathroom and reappeared with sterile gauze and white tape.
"I'm okay!" Reese pulled away. "I just cut it."
The Awkward Hungarian inspected Reese's thumb. "You have completely peeled the skin!"
"Just don't touch it!" The Photographer grasped onto Reese's wrist and began to compress alcohol pads to the deep thumb slice to swab it clean.
"Are you okay?" He pulled me slowly to a standing position.
"Yes..." I stammered. "Yes, I'm fine."
As I teetered near the small puddle of the sidewalk spuds, their regurgitated presence strengthened their evil clutch. My Henry mumbled and sputtered uneasily about getting the car, becoming, in a poof, my Gomer Pyle. While standing at the edge of the amoeba I had created, I could not shake the feeling that they, in their spewed form, stridently mocked me - annihilating any chance of instilling the image of Bohemian exotic femme in any male mind. Nin had vanished, and all there was left now was a pile, pile, Pyle...
"...Four stitches..." Reese finished.
"Are you kidding?" I sipped my tea, nursing my hangover.
"No, I was cutting those damn potatoes into little chess pieces and... slice..."
"Christ," I gulped. "What was the piece you were carving?"
"Isn't a knight like a private?" I twisted the phone cord between my toes.
"Nah. That's a pawn."
"Like a pawn in this evil plot, that kind of pawn?" I mused.
"Yeah... as if we are all pawns in a universal game of fate..."
"What about 'prawns'?"
"Nah. Prawns are very large shrimp."
"No. That's an oxymoron."
"I think you're an oxymoron." Reese spat.
"Okay," I sighed. "I'm an oxymoron."
As I hung up the phone, I slowly realized that there had been no coincidence here, no construct of chaos that could ever so organically align itself as the astrophysical perfection of Orion's belt. None could universally clip itself discreetly into the snap-latches of physical and spiritual track parallels nearly as lithely, nearly as genetically tactical as these spuds. None could ever completely corrupt or conquer the covert python-like grip of potatoes - connecting us all psychologically, intuitively, in fact.