Art School
by Molly Rydzel

     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 server.

     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 it!’

     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?

     ME: No.

     COUNSELOR: I’ve noticed you spending a lot of time with Peach.

     ME: So?

     (awkward pause)

     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?

     ME: No.

     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!).

     I was responsible for the chaos – I the master manipulator, key stealer, whisperer and all-around perpetrator of pandemonium. I was finally filled with purpose.

     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 crafting chaos.’

     It’s 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.”

     Because 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.

     I’m 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.