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Nude in Black and White
Posted on Oct 14, 2011
By Mr. Fish
While visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., at age 11, I found out that the transparent bubble on a warplane from which a gunner fires his machine gun is called a blister. This seemed somehow appropriately unsettling, as if any aircraft misappropriated for the purpose of wreaking havoc on the soft gooey insides of human beings would, as a matter of cosmic jurisprudence, end up being covered with welts and vesications. It was like cirrhosis being visited upon an alcoholic, or syphilis upon a whore, this sudden appearance of gigantic, non-aerodynamic blisters on the lower back and belly and ass of an airplane made morally corrupt by a bug-eyed addiction to violence. Had I visited the museum only a year previously, I might’ve been less attuned to the engineering specifics of military aggression, preferring instead to while away the afternoon lolling around the Apollo 11 command module or gazing up at the silver underside of the Spirit of St. Louis and reveling in the pride and optimism once promised to America by famed Nazi sympathizer and eugenics enthusiast Charles Lindbergh. As it happened, however, I had recently been shown a tattered photograph of actress Susan Dey without a shirt on and my priorities had changed.
The picture, which showed every evidence that it had been burglarized with great haste from a magazine and passed around so rapaciously by the entire sixth grade that its texture had become less like paper and more like chiffon, depicted Laurie Partridge herself laying topless on an unmade bed, her mouth like a tiny bow, her pert breasts like upturned teacups, her nipples as pointy as rosebuds squeezed from a pastry bag. As base and vulgar as this description might seem to me now, there was no other way for an 11-year-old to process a naked woman as there was a newness to the female anatomy then that made objectification just another 15-letter-word that like health insurance, I’d eventually get around to caring about. That said, upon seeing the image in 1977, which I would later find out was a still from a movie called “First Love,” my politics aligned in an instant with those espoused by the character that Dey portrayed on TV. As if suddenly freed from the confines of a very dark cave, I found myself groping to gather the light that was Laurie Partridge’s corny pacifism and unconvincing feminism and cheerful dedication to social justice for refuge in my soul, assuming that only a fellow hippie would ever be given access to what I knew existed beneath her fringed and floral poncho.
I thought about Susan Dey and blisters and being a hippie last Thursday when I found myself driving around outside the Air and Space Museum looking for a place to park. I was in D.C. for the purpose of lending my body and rancor to the Occupy Wall Street protesters gathering in Freedom Plaza for their first day of rabble-rousing. I was traveling alone—everybody else I knew had to work—and I couldn’t wait to engage with likeminded strangers and experience the unique thrill that comes from finding camaraderie among beatific and morally anchored interlopers. “What—?!” shouted my wife through the earpiece on my cellphone, her voice made puny and metallic by the wafer-thin technology I held in my hand.
“I’m lost!” I shouted back above the cacophony of car and foot traffic surrounding me. “I thought I’d see other protesters carrying signs and sleeping bags and just follow them,” I said, looking this way and that, “but there’s nobody like that—just assholes in suits!”
“I can’t hear you!” she hollered.
“Where’s Freedom Plaza?!” I screamed.
“Freedom! FREEDOM!” I said, turning heads with my inadvertent channeling of famed anti-Semite and red-faced, Jesus-loving misogynist Mel Gibson.
After being directed remotely to the protest site by my wife, who guided my trajectory expertly from a windowless room a hundred miles away, I passed through an archway at the southeast corner of Freedom Plaza that was made from a pair of papier-mâché RQ-1 Predator drones mounted on long poles, the irony of the parallelism too ham-fisted for me to appreciate. For the next two hours I read homemade signs and chuckled at sloganeering T-shirts and spoke with revolutionaries about doomsday, foreclosure and what tomorrow should look like, listening peripherally to event organizers and enraged speakers shout into a microphone from the makeshift stage and reconfigure Marx and Debs and Guthrie into cheap rhymes and bumper sticker shorthand. “Wall Street executives are nothing but a bunch of bullies!” shrieked a bearded 30-year-old who was skinny enough to have his posture affected by the weight of his gigantic glasses. “And bullies are big! And they’re mean!” he concluded, giving everybody in the audience the chance to cheer and pump their fists into the air in contempt of all the team captains in grammar school who chose them last for kickball. Cameras biopsied the scene from every angle, creating the uneasy feeling that many of the participants were not really participants at all and, instead, were spectators hoping to get a contact high from the small number of real hell-raisers trying with all their might to recast this Fuck You Mardi Gras against modernity, itself, into a culturally viable sit-in against rich white people, specifically.
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