The Ugly America

I WAS DESIGNING THE 1998 Pensacola land-fill fire when I got the call: my friend Frank G. had been hired by Paul Allen to design a public eyesore on 5th Avenue. And after decades of arranging skylines at the behest of wealthy industrialists around the world, Frank had simply run out of bad ideas.
I hopped the next Concorde and was in his Seattle office within the hour. "What's your budget ceiling?" I asked coolly.
"$400 million. And Mr. Allen insists that at least half of that be squandered." Frank G. looked at me with panic in his eyes. "That won't be easy. It's expensive."
I snorted. "Requisition 200 million Susan B. Anthony dollars from the Federal Reserve ... they're giving them away. Smelt them, then dump the slag into Puget Sound." Truly great art can do harm even when you can't see it. "Now, what is this project? Some sort of carnival attraction?"
"I guess." He reddened. "Um ... honoring rock music."
Jesus. "First off, it's got to be structurally unsound." In the same way that rock music is unsound. "Think you can manage that, Frank? Think you can make it structurally unsound?"
He tapped feverishly on his laptop and looked up. "I ... I think it can be done. We remove the --"
Details. "And it has to be filled with idiots." Great art should be awful both outside and inside.
He smiled. "Already thought of that. We're going to charge visitors $20 a head." I indicated my approval with a crisp nod. He went on. "Now ... what should it look like?" Ugly EMP
What should it ... "look like"? I stared at him. Frank O. Gehry ... I was so irritated with him right then that I no longer feel obliged to protect his identity. You know, plenty of people claim to be talentless. Problem is, they're usually good at it. And when they're commissioned to design and build public eyesores, people look at these edifices and ooh and aah and talk about how awful they are.
Come on. Truly great art comes from pain. It makes your eyes sting and burn. You don't stand there and look at it, for god's sake. And if you're going to create art of this sort you can't merely not know how. You have to be the sort of man where you get worse and worse at it the more valuable experience you acquire. Eventually you get to that delicate point where no matter how bad you try to make it, you end up just fucking it up.
I spoke slowly. "Frank? If it's so hideous that people can't look at it, then it really doesn't fucking matter what it looks like. Now, then." I brainstormed for a second, then pointed out the window toward the construction site. "Tell me, Frank: what's that big pointy thing?" He looked for awhile, then shrugged. Me: "That's the Space Needle, Frank. Now, then: what lives in the Space Needle?" He just kind of looked at me, completely befuddled. Fucking New Yorker. "The Wheedle lives there, Frank. Imaginary creature from a popular children's story. Now, then." I leaned over him. "Close your eyes and imagine. What do you think it would look like if ... the Wheedle took this enormous dump?"
He neither closed his eyes nor imagined. "Dump?"
"That's right. Think of it. Glorious Turd 'neath the Needle. Curvaceous ... glistening in the sun. What could be more horrifying?"
He grew agitated, his tiny eyes flitting around the room. I could sense the creative juices flowing down his forehead and jowls. "Could we ... could we instead make it be a mastodon turd? Kids love dinosaurs."
Dinosaurs! I slapped his face and boldly berated him in fluent Bohemian, which the Dadaists used so successfully in 1914. "Nein! Stürmlizarden ich bin Kaputten! Sie ist ein Schwein und Dummkopf!" [No, dinosaurs are extinct. You're being irrational.]
Paul Allen piped up from the corner. "It would look cool if it looked like a smashed guitar. Like --"
"SHUT UP YOU FAT FUCK!" I screamed. Who let him in here? Fuck this: my work was done. I flipped my crumpled invoice on the table and walked out with an air of ennui.
And now, in this new century of ours, there it stands: EMP, a colossum impedimentum looming over the Fun Forest, burning and stinging the eyes of one and all I imagine, I can't say for sure, I haven't actually seen it and I'm guessing that's why.

The Wheedle took this Enormous Dump

Last year the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was trying to get staff cartoonist David Horsey a Pulitzer Prize in lieu of a pay increase, so they gave me a call. Kind of an interesting story goes with that.
It's funny. When most people first read that David Horsey won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Worst Political Cartooning, they assume they must've read some sort of misprint. "Must mean that guy David Schulz," they mutter, bored. But that's merely a second misprint: it's Charles Schulz ... you idiots. Anyway, you can see how baffling the whole thing is to people.
I stood in his office on that tedious morn last year and looked over some sort of "cartoon" he had put together for that day's edition. Something about politics, I suppose. Ugly Horsey
"Whoa, Horsey," I said; he just stared at me unsmiling. I went on: "Wouldn't adding a little Hitler moustache to one of these personages make it more clear who here is the hateful party?"
"I did that with fangs." And he pointed them out for me.
"Fangs ... cool." Again with the fucking fangs. I mean, Vampirella has fangs. And she fights for the forces of good. "But remember that the yuppie scum who read your cartoons are busy people. They're not going to look around for who has fangs." I tapped on Liddy Dole's upper lip. "Little Hitler 'stache. Completes the picture." And I forced the pen from his wrinkled little fist and quickly Hitler-'stached her. A dim light went on in his eyes. "Oh, yeah," he said. "Looks like that guy Hitler."
It's not that I invented the Hitler 'stache. I guess you could say Hitler did that. But certainly I was the first to --
Wait a minute. What the fuck am I talking about? This isn't an interesting story. I hate writing about the fool Horsey. He's bad, but not bad enough to win a goddamn award for it. Or maybe that's what the award was for. Most Not Bad Enough. Who gives a shit. I've seen the award they hand out and it is hideous.

"Jesus! Wear a fucking eye patch!"

When they first saw the Chihuly Eyes, most people thought that surely they were his most horrifying works yet. Nonsense: they were my works. Here's the story about that.
Dale Chihuly wandered into my studio one morning like he always did and when I looked up I noticed he was missing one of his eyes.Ugly Chihuly
"Must've been some kinda wild party," I said with a wink. "Why wasn't I invited?"
"Nah," he said. "Fender-bender. I want to put some art in the socket. Somethin' ugly." And that's the story of how Dale Chihuly began doing ugly glass.
The thematic idea behind putting something hideous in your eye socket is to make the rest of your face look better by comparison; with Chihuly, that was a challenge. See, (To be continued next year at the new Downtown Seattle Public Library Building.)

No actual celebrities were harmed during the making of this article. Celebrity fabrications provided by:

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