On day one at NEU-Art I almost died
when I walked in to Mandi Matarozza’s
rattlesnake installation after orientation. Picture a giant plexiglass
box whose edges are designed to be invisible. Picture giant gleaming black and
tan rattlesnakes entwined around garbage collages, burned out computer screens
and partially de-limbed department store mannequins. The feeder left the door
open – I thought it was the admin office.
Mandi was pissed as hell but it wasn’t my
fault – I was from the 'burbs and had never heard of
her allegedly famous Living Deathtraps, media and modernity being retaken by
nature’s wily grasp. Mandi
cried when the NEU guard fried her beloved snake with a tazer.
Said it should have been me. I thought that snake looked pretty neat all fried
and dried but Mandi and I had a different aesthetic.
The snake fiasco sure didn’t win me
any friends that first day. By the time I made it to my dorm I’d been relegated
to sleeping in the storage space by the door. Seven girls in a twenty by twenty loft space,
I guess someone had to sleep there. Michelle Matarozza,
sister of revered Mandi, had designated herself as
space boss (not, like, leader of intergalactic travel but the chairperson of
the area in which we were to live) and she told the other girls that I was going
to be phased out in the first week of classes anyway because I was ‘clearly a
philistine.’ (Five days later Michelle
ran Mandi down in the solar powered car their dad
bought for them to share, but I’ll get to that later).
I joined NEU-jobs in hopes that I
might be able to take a chunk out of my student loans. It turns out that the
NEU-cafeteria was to be the place where I made my first and favorite friend.
Peach was such a doll until she tried to kill me, but I’ll get to that later.
So it’s the first day I’m on caf duty and I’m really overwhelmed, what with the rattlers
and the roommate shunning. This giant, box-shaped lady with a hairnet told me
that Peach is my new best friend. I laughed, Peach rolled her eyes and I
thought her half bleached/half pink hair was totally cool. The first thing
Peach did was throw away the hair net that The Box gave me, and that was cool
too. I was glad, because waiting tables was rough, especially when my shunny roommates made me get them more butter three times.
Peach hocked a loog in the last one –‘It’s art. NEU-expectoration.’ – and then we
cut out early to smoke cigarettes on the roof which made us the coolest of
all. At first I coughed a lot, but Peach
was patient and my lungs got to like it pretty quick.
It was quiet on the NEU-roof. Peach
and I were looking out at the woodland/wasteland that surrounded our ultra-modern digs. Peach rubbed my back and I felt this tiny spark of happiness that
was super unusual for me. Hell, of course I was unhappy, it was my natural broody
and despairing attitude that had made me a shoo-in for
the NEU in the first place. But that little spark went out when Peach said
‘What’s your focus?’
See, all NEU-artists need to have a
focus. Mandi Matarozza’s
was obviously living installations. Before the rattlesnakes, she did a series
where she constructed giant words out of chunks of meat and then took pictures
of them going rotten and then writhing with maggots from a helicopter. She was
famous for that. The rattlers were decidedly less profound, but no one would
say that to her face. Peach told me that she was a chop-shop artist – where you
take old texts and cut up the words and splatter food and paint and stuff on
them to craft new meanings from old works.
I had no clue what I wanted to do.
And if I didn’t declare a focus by the end of week I’d get phased out, like
Michelle said, or be commissioned to being a life-long caf
By the end of day I found myself sleepless,
tossing and turning on my water mattress in the corner. I got up around 2 a.m. and
went to the bathroom. When I came out, Michelle Matarozza
was sitting on the purple fuzzy couch with a bottle of mezcal.
She was out of her head – wretched and retching.
ME: Are you ok?
MICHELLE: Make yourself useful,
server girl, and get me a bucket.
ME: Is this your focus? Bodily
functions expressionism? I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out what I want
to do, maybe we could talk about it?
ME: Oh, wow. I don’t really get it.
But hey, that’s why we’re in school, right?
MICHELLE: Please, this is nothing.
I’m the sister of Mandi Matarozza.
I’m going to have to do a lot better than this if my parents are going to let
me back into the house. (Michelle looks at me hungry eyed) I do have this idea
about corpse art. (She passes out before she can elaborate. The mezcal spills all over her mahogany tresses. I don’t make
it back to sleep that night).
On day two I was taking a breather
in the outdoor commons before my caf shift. Wondering if I could turn my time there into
some sort of food-based art form, but then I realized that would just make me a
chef. A bunch of my fellow year ones were doing mime-based performance art
around me, which I guess I could have focused on also, but mime always seemed
like such a soft option.
Then I saw Mandi
Matarozza and her entourage sashay out of the Warhol
building. I recognized a few of my shunny roommates
on the outskirts of her circle. Michelle approached them with this gross pissed-off look on her face. I overheard bloody bits of their conversations including
the words ‘Car keys’ and ‘Don’t be a bitch Michelle I didn’t take them.’ Then
Michelle slunk off with the entire group laughing at her back. So much for sisterhood.
My cell rang just then and it was
my mom being breezy. ‘Your little sister didn’t come home last night and have
you seen her these teenagers always rebelling I thought she might have come to
see you and by the way have you chosen a focus yet you don’t want to let your
family down oh here’s your sister after all just walked in the door what do you
mean you got locked in the boiler room oh honey I had better go love you mean
I hung up and put the phone back in
my NEU-bag next to the car keys I’d swiped off of Michelle Matarozza’s
passed-out body the night before. I don’t know why I took them, it just felt
right. Sometimes you have to go with your instincts.
I hid those keys toot-sweet when
Peach surprised me with a kiss on the lips. She talked me into helping her out
with her latest chop shop by saying it might lead me to my focus. But it turned out to be
just a bunch of rolling around on old paper in what I thought was real blood
but was actually the synthesized kind and it made me lose a little bit of
respect for Peach right there.
We went to work at the caf right after and The Box yelled at me for not properly
cleaning the synth blood out of my hair. Said it’s a
health code violation and I told her that her face was a health code violation
(especially that truly majestic mole that laid claim to the lower right
quadrant) and the only reason The Box didn’t deck me then and there is because
Peach showed her one of her boobs.
Later, on my break, I sat at a
table and made some sculptures out of yams and discovered my skills were
lacking in that area as well. I was maudlin – a very typical NEU-state of mind.
I knew, I NEU (haha, get it) I was truly a
NEU-artist, but I was flailing and in danger of going under if I didn’t declare
a damn focus. I tried to focus on finding a focus, but Michelle Matarozza distracted me.
Mandi Matarozza and her entourage were piled onto this table,
wearing berets and waxing poetic. Michelle Matarozza
had her tray and was trying desperately to find a place to sit, cramming
herself as close to her sister as she could get. No one would move for her. She
looked like she was going to cry or maybe puke again. Michelle’s sad little
beret was flopping wildly and in danger of exiting her head area entirely.
So I gave it a little help. I
swished by her on pretense of clearing the next table. Her beret fell SPLAT into a mound of creamed corn on her tray and
she dropped the whole damn thing on the floor. Food went flying! It covered Mandi’s Matarozza’s friends and Mandi Matarozza’s face. Michelle lay spread eagled like on the floor. This eerie dead silence
fell over the entire caf. Mandi Matarozza got this look in
her eye that was half murder/half glee. She took her plate and dumped it on
Michelle’s head and this incredibly profound food fight broke out. It was like
a dance, the denouement being when Michelle ran off in tears covered head to
toe in nutritious goop.
Four days later I sat in my counselor’s office jangling Michelle Matarozza’s car keys.
COUNSELOR: Have you considered LGBT studies?
COUNSELOR: I’ve noticed you spending a lot of time with Peach.
COUNSELOR: There is no shame in being a career caf
worker, dear. You’ll still have a NEU-degree.
ME: I truly feel I have a higher calling.
COUNSELOR: Well it’s not calling very loudly now is it?
COUNSELOR: You’ll have to declare something by tomorrow or I’m afraid
we’ll have to send you home. NEU-Arts is not very
tolerant of students who lack focus.
I relayed that conversation to Peach on our spot on the roof that night.
She asked me why I didn’t just join her at Chop Shop. She said I love you or
I/we would love to have you and I laughed in her face. Peach didn’t like that
and threatened to artistically kill herself or me. I
didn’t buy it because of the synth blood and told her
that I no longer respected her or her work. It was our first (and last) fight.
Still brooding on my way back to my room I (literally) bumped into
Michelle Matarozza wandering the hallway. She told me
that one of Mandi’s rattlers had gotten sick and that
Mandi had flipped, blaming Michelle, and she had
taken their solar car despite Michelle’s date that night to take her pet to the
vet before it’s death rendered her art obsolete.
I sat down there in the hallway and Michelle Matarozza
sat down next to me. Me and Michelle had a talk that
night. About life. Art and glory.
About razing the past to make way for the future.
Peach stalked by us a few times, trying to blend in with the midnight
muralists, but I paid her no mind. I was really onto something - I could
practically taste the inspiration.
The day after that was D-Day. Day five. What a
day that was. That morning, through sheer determination, I audited four classes
in succession. Film Studies, Women’s Studies, Post-Modern Interpretive Dance,
Learn to Love Wine and Cheese, and Personal Expression Through
Calculus. Nothing resonated.
I was bushwacked by the time I got to the caf that night. I couldn’t ignore that little spark that
had ignited itself (again) in my heart – not quite happiness, but
something . . . hopeful.
I went to my locker to get out my server duds and heard this crazy
breathing coming from the corner. I turned. It was Peach. She was disheveled. Mad. Lovely. There was this fiery absence in her eyes that
really turned me on. Before I knew it I was kissing her on the mouth, grabbing
at her breasts in clumsy fashion. I felt a sudden and cold fluidity along my
right side and pulled away. She had a giant carving knife in her hand that had
red on it. I looked down at my rib cage and saw blood oozing out from under my
bra. It was a sunset red, vibrant, so much more beautiful than her silly
synthesized blood could ever be and I told her as much. She lunged after me
with her knife. We interpretive danced around that locker room.
Peach was closing in when The Box bum rushed her out of nowhere, pinning
her knife arm to the ground. The fire in
her eyes sputtered and died. Peach burst into uninteresting tears. The Box
looked up at my bleeding torso.
THE BOX: You better get that bandaged. It’s a health code violation.
ME: I quit!
And I ran toward the outdoor common with a sense of purpose.
It had started to rain and I knew that a moist evening constitutional
would do me a world of good. I really believe that the word ‘fate’ is trite
– but I hadn’t been an NEU-artist for long enough at that particular point to
have completely left my trite days behind me. So I’ll jut call it fate that
at the very moment I reached the edge of
the outdoor common and the woodland/wasteland, I saw Michelle Matarozza running down Mandi Matarozza with their solar car.
It was cinematic. Slow. Subtle. The bumper
struck Mandi Matarozza
directly in her nether regions clocking her out onto the pavement. One recycled-rubber tire ran up over her solar plexus with a wicked bump and crunch. Her
entourage watched gape-faced as Mandi somehow got to
her feet. A piece of her scalp had torn loose and hung down over one wide starey eye. She opened her mouth and screamed and screamed
into the rain that was pelting her exposed brain. The girls surrounding her ran
amok like headless chickens (clucking, too!).
was responsible for the chaos – I the master manipulator, key stealer,
whisperer and all-around perpetrator of pandemonium. I was finally filled with
That’s how I
became the first ‘Art Through Anarchy’ focus at NEU-Arts.
The department handbook entry reads ‘The practice of being a master of manipulation and
focus through non-focus. The banner outside the new Matarozza
Anarchy Wing is written in blood (pigeon), and it states: “Craft, by its
nature, invites the dissolution of the self. Only by decentralizing the artistic
process in violent mayhem is contemporary artistic praxis possible.”
of my new ‘Genius’ ‘Supervise’ ‘Brilliant’ status on
campus (aw shucks) I was able to talk Peach into harvesting the pigeon blood
for the visual portion of my studies. My counselor,
who is now my biggest advocate, thinks that Peach should join my focus – but
I’m more interested in recruiting the Matarozzas
because A) Their name is on the building, B) I want to see what extremes I can
push Michelle to next and C) Mandi’s brain is
hanging out of her damn head! She mostly just drools right now but I have faith
that, with a bit of incentive, she’s going to be just as brilliant an artist as
she was before the accident. She doesn’t even need to build her crazy
installations anymore – she’ll elicit the most profound responses from people
just by taking off her hat.
working my magic on the girls as we speak. I feel confident that we’re all
going to make a great team – as soon as they’re let out of their straight
jackets, of course.
Molly Rydzel is a writer, sommelier and part time welder who lives in Brooklyn. She spends her free time stockpiling in anticipation of the apocalypse and singing in her Siouxsie and the Banshees cover band.