by Greg Petix

The Vienna Epitaph, September 6, 1912:

    Once again, as perrenial as the blossoming of weeds, the Artists of the Future show at the Bau Wau Wau Institute has unleashed a new tide of banality on to the shores of the art world, though surprisingly. like pieces of sea glass polished by the unrelenting churning about them, a few small treasures lie amidst the usual flotsam and jetsam of mediocrity In particular, among this pack of framed ineptitudes that hang from the walls like crucified thieves, the paintings of Gustav Michaelson display a talent that is far beyond the grasp of his peers Michaelson paints with an assured hand; his works are all sinuous lines, dynamic spatial relationships, and bold strokes, His major work. a minor masterpiece, is a dark comedy entitled "Dead Heat" (oil and eggwhite, 23" by 46"). This brilliant fusion of symbolism and satire depicts a nightmare racetrack where the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse run neck-and-neck while Moses, Mohammed, and Buddha, their faces kaleidoscope grotesqueries, place bets on the sidelines. Michaelsonts paintbrush is like a scalpel, cutting into the universal myths of salvation to reveal harsh, hidden truths. My hat is off to you, sir -- a splendid first Showing

    The only other artist worthy of mention is one Adolf Hitler, whose clumsy yet passionate paintings are slightly better than the soulless and pretentious tripe of his fellow artists. In his offing Why?" (watercolor. 31" by 40"), the fallen Christ is shielded by a young man (the artist?), who shouts out defiantly at the whip tails and stones that lacerate their half-naked forms. The delicate wash tones and subdued colors imbue the central figures with a profound sympathy. Although at this point in his development Mr. Hitler shows more potential than prowess, his naive doodlings stand marginally above the rest of the swill currently posing at the Bau Wau Wa

    I dreamed a dream of love this morning. Have you ever had one? They are wonderful, In these dreams, you are in love with a woman. a woman you might not even know, but that is not important because you are so in love with her that the sum totality of your life is loving her. The amazing thing, the transcendant thing, is that she loves you back Her eyes, which are seen or not seen, reflect your affection a thousand times over and there and forever you are completely and totally in love! When you wake up, the unbridled joy of the dream spills over into conscious reality, until the sound of oxcarts on cobblestones insinuates itself into the room and the new day sun glares at you through the window, and you remember with sadness and a sigh that you are not in love, and there is no one in this world who loves you. As the dream fades into memory, its bittersweet residue gilds the morning with fools gold.

    On the sidewalk below my apartment, a young girl hawks chestnuts to passersby. She is there everyday, selling Sowers when it's warm and chestnuts when it's cold. She shivers next to her little pot of coals and weakly stamps her feet. Pedestrians pass her by disdainfully or simply ignore her. I grab a fistful of change from my night table and toss It down to her. She scurries to pick up the coins, which she puts into the pockets of her ill-fltting trousers. She looks up at me, loveliness latent in her dirty face, and shouts, Thank you, Mr. Hitler!"

    "Be happy, my little friend," I call back with a wave. She runs off to spend the money, her coal pot jerking back and forth in her hands. Breathing a deep lungful of the crisp morning air, I smile up at the cloudless blue sky over Vienna.

    I am a complete failure. I don t know why I even try. All morning I have been attempting to catch the sky on canvas, but no matter what chromatic alchemy I use, the blue is beyond me. I have softened turqoise with gray, mixed cornflower with azure, and tempered sapphire with ivory, but with every permutation of color, the blue still eludes me. Damn it all. If I was Gustav, I could capture the blue. He always gets the blue.

   My mother would tell me that Gustav made out so well because he was a Jew, and Jews always helped each other out. I think it was the only time my mother was wrong. It is Gustav's good looks, not his ethnic origins, which pave the smooth road of his fortune. It is all that seems to matter to most people.

   I want to create beauty so bad. When I was a boy, I would gaze at the mirror above my mother's vanity, and I knew with the Certainty of prophecy that the ugly little troll that I saw in the dusty glass would never be beautiful. If I ever wanted to possess any kind of beauty, I knew that I would have to attain it through diligence and imagination, the tools of the artist.

    There is so much of it out there, floating by serenely on ponds of grass, in stockings and evening gowns, parasols like ship's sails rising above them. Yet there is none for me; like love's leper limping through the halls of Olympus, I swim alone through a swamp full of ugly. At the age of twenty-three, my right hand is the only mistress I have ever known. I have been denied that primal rapture, which has been both our blessing and our curse since that first pair of cells chose union over division, inventing sex and death in one fell swoop.

   l wish l could stand in Gustav's shoes for just one day. When women look at him, there is an admiration in their eyes that I have never seen reserved for me. The barren lot that I see when I walk down a street full of attractive women is a bountiful field to Gustav, and his scythe is clean and sharp. His physical glory blinds women to his conceit. his selfishness, and his childish cruelty, while I trudge through this world unloved and alone. I will never understand what I have done to deserve such a fate.

    My soul is strangled by self-pity and sorrow. After the manic joy of the early morning, I should have expected this deep depression--the one always follows the other like the seasons, gray-clouding every silver lining with expectant dread. I have to get out of this apartment. I need the consolation of other people, to walk among them as if I was one of them, even though I am not. I will bring along my sketchpad; perhaps its thick pages will soak up some of my misery.

    After sulking about the streets of Vienna for a few hours, I find myself in a tiny bistro named Der Wienerschnitzel, securing a measure of solace from one of their frankfurter sandwiches. Walking around the city hasn't raised my spirits any, it has just made my feet hurt.

   From across the dining room, I hear a falsetto yet husky voice command the waiter, "Give me a kosher, and make it hot." I look up to see the author of such a provocative statement, and there she is...my glorious lady of morning. Herfs is the face that has haunted my dawns and now glows pale radiance into the perpetual dusk of this candle-lit bistro. Her body is resplendent in a tight fitting blue dress, her broad shoulders bare, her erect nipples pressing out from the flat plain of her chest. I stare at her brazenly, not caring if she should look up to see me, and I am fined with an overwhelming hunger that can not be sated by bread or sausages.

    I whip out my pencil and sketch her, the lead pressing furiously into the paper, creating a lovely replica of her valkyrie form. I rip the finished drawing out of my pad, walk over to her table, and just as her thick, red lips encircle the tip of her sausage, I present it to her. After attempting this ploy unsuccessfully with scores of women in the past, I am thoroughly amazed when she asks me to join her. I calmly sit down and introduce myself, though inside l am giddy with euphoria I talk about my art, and she tells me about her experiences as a drill sergeant in the Austrian army. Within a few minutes, we aare laughing together like old friends. I venture to place my hand on hers. She doesn't pull away. Heartened by this unprecedented victory, I ask her if she would like to accompany me to tonight's ribbon ceremony at the Institute. She says yes. She looks me right in the eye and she says yes.

   She gets up to leave, explaining to me that her lunch break is almost over. I offer to escort her to the barracks, but she says that it wouldn't look right. I don't want to press my success, so we say our goodbyes untl tonight.

    As she walks languidly out of the bistro, I stare at her full, round bottom and whisper her name like a prayer, "Lola."

    That evening, as I head for the Institute, the stars are invisible behind the brightness of the full moon- The streets pass by like the shore seen from a flatboat lazing down a meandering river. The buzz of the gaslights hums through my veins and my head is light with joy. It is all because of Lola; meeting her has redeemed my life.

    When I see the chattering throng in front of the Institute, I feel a fleeting urge to turn and run, but then I see Lola, standing placidly away from the crowd, her long blonde hair fluttering in the wind. A smile touches her lips when she sees me. and a chilling warmth washes over me as if I were slipping into a hot tub. We approach each other and hug, and she feels soft and warm in my arms.

    We enter the gallery and the excitement of the night helps me forget my nervousness, Faces and voices swirl around us like people seen from a carousel.

   When I show her my entry painting, she says that it is beautiful I tell her that after the night's judging, I want her to have it. Thankfully. she leans over and kisses me right on the cheek. Another inch to the left and she would have kissed me on the lips! Standing there shocked from the phantom touch of her lips burning on my cheek, it all seems very unreal, We continue our tour of the exhibition hand in hand, and the sense of unreality becomes vertiginious.

   In front of Gustav's entry painting, a small group of people congregate, cooing with admiration. With awe in her eyes and voice, she asks me who is the creator of such a brilliant work. As if in answer to Lola's question, Gustav, reeking of cheap wine, snakes an arm around each of our necks. His words are slurred.

    "So Hitler, you came to see me win the blue ribbon?"

   I tell him that he is drunk, to which he replies,

    "And you're a virgIn, but I'll be sober in the morning."

    He proceeds to laugh like an idiot. I tell him that he is acting childish, which makes him laugh even louder. I slip out from under his arm, but his other one remains around Lola She makes no attempt to escape him.

    "Where'd you find this piece of work, Adolf? I guess after failing with every woman in Vienna, you had to start approaching the..."

    I shout at him to shut up. My voice is louder than I wanted. Threateningly, he asks,

    "What did you say, you little runt?"

    I hate it when he gets like this. I apologize and remind him how difficult he can be when he's had too much to drink. His face turns a deeper shade of red and he growls into my face,

    "You should see how difficult I can be if I don't get enough to drink. I could get so difficult that a certain runt might end up in the hospital! "

    Trying to hide the fear in my voice, I offer to get him another drink, hoping to calm him down. I ask Lola if she wants anything. and she replies,

   "Whatever Gustav's having will be fine.''

    I head for the bar, my body shaking in anger. I'm tired of Gustav's abuse. If he wasn't so big, I would teach him a lesson.

    At the bar, I order two glasses of brandy, and I ask the bartender to water down one of them as much as possible. While the drinks are being prepared, I search for the blue of Lola's dress in the crowded room. Gustav's arm is still around her, and he smiles at her with a predatory gleam in his eyes.

    I grab the drinks from the bartender's hands and quickly weave my way back through the crowd. Suddenly, a hush descends upon the gallery. I look up at the podium, where the head judge is conducting for silence, and I forget about Gustav and Lola. After cleari After clearing his throat. he begins:

   "Thank you all for attending. Since you have been waiting so patiently, I won't keep you in suspense any longer. The recipient of this year's blue ribbon prize is..."

    The quiet of the room implodes. I forget to breathe.

   "...Gustav Michaelson! Congratulations, Mr. Michaelson!"

    Applause erupts around me as all heads turn towards Gustav. Before he can run up to the podium, Lola grabs him and plants a congratulatory kiss on his lips. It seems to last for minutes.

    A dull ache settles on my heart. I know that this is what was, what is, and what will always be. Holding back the tears in my eyes, I swallow the two brandies and retreat to the bar, where I proceed to chase after oblivion.

    As the evening progresses, I watch as Gustav and Lola dance to minuets and waltzes, but I'm afraid to look at her eyes, afraid to see what is reserved for Gustav therein. Dark ropes of jealousy entwine my heart. Their bodies press closer and closer.

   When the exhibition begins to wind down, I pull down my painting from the wall and approach them. I tap Lola on the shoulder as she is giggling at one of Gustav's stupid jokes. When her face turns from his to mine, I can't help but wince when I see a tiny light extinguish in her eyes.

    "Oh, hello Adolf. where have you been hiding all evening?"

    Ignoring her question, I presesnt her with the painting.

    "Oh Adolf, it's wonderful, but could you set it down someplace?

    I don't want to drag it around for the rest of the night."

    I place it carefully on a nearby chair. I ask her if I can get her anything from the bar, but she declines. Gustav whispers something into her ear and Lola, laughing hysterically, throws her arms around his neck. I return to the bar in defeat.

    A little while later, they leave the gallery together. A panic runs through me. I have to do something, anything. As I run for the exit, I notice my painting, abandoned on the chair where I placed it. Passing through the front door, the cold night air blows chill against my damp eyes.

    On the street in front of the institute, Gustav is helping Lola into his automobile. He slams the door and goes around to the back- While he is turn-crarlkillg the engine, a small girl approaches him from out of the shadows like a wraith. It looks like the girl who sells chestnuts beneath my window. She says something to Gustav, to which he replies,

   "Get away from me, you filthy, little rat"

   He then gives her a strong push that sends her to the ground. Crying loudly in pain, she scrambles back up and runs away. Gustav s laughter tails her until she is out of sight.

   A hot fury burns within me, and for once. I give myself over to it completely. I leap at Gustav in a mad frenzy. He sidesteps me easily. and turning, punches me square in the face. I fall to my hands and knees, sweating and paralyzed from my rage Between clenched teeth, he whispers,

   "You'll always be nothing because you don't have the balls to take what you want. What woman could ever love such a spineless coward as you?"

    I don't look up I can barely hear him. It's all slipping...

   "Gustav, what's going on back there?"

    It is Lola's voice. He answers,

   "I'm just teaching some street trash a little lesson, baby."

    She laughs. "Gustav, you're so cruel."

&&& He kicks me in the side. I barely feel it. A tear crawls down my cheek anyway.

   "See you later, loser."

    He gets into his car and drives off. The noise of the car's engines recedes into the distance. I don't move.

    In between my hands, a small puddle shines with motor oil and mirrored moonlight. From its surface, an ugly, misshapen face looks up at me, its lips quivering like a lunatics In its left iris, I can see a little boy skating on a lake of black ice. He skates so slowly, like a swan floating on a placid summer pond. Pale leviathans swim beneath the ice, their ghostly sillouhettes floating out and in to vision. Suddenly, a sound like bones breaking grates through my skull and the ice beneath my feet shatters. Thick, red liquid pulls me down screaming until it scabs over my mouth. I sink deeper and deeper into the plasma as visions rumble past. I see a choir of cubist titans rape the little chestnut girl, and she likes it. I see myself as an old man, sainted and seated on a throne of manure, the king of shit, alone with my love. I see Gustav and Lola writhing in ecstasy, rutting like animaks on a bed made of viscera, clouds of cholera hovering around their act like swarms of flies. Gustav's face is that of a rat, and Lola squeels like a stuck-pig slut. Her syphillitic tongue hangs out like a bloated leach.

   How could I have been so blind? They poison the waters with their existance. Mother was right. Their perversity upsets the balance; a world where evil is loved and the good is mocked becomes real through their degeneracy. They have chained me up in loneliness and laughed at me. This must stop. This must stop right now.

    Lifting my face out of the puddle, I rise to my feet and stand straight and erect. The moon shines down on me like a blessing, baptizing me in resolve and dignity. I am born anew.

    I was never the problem. It was always them.

    Cold and hard, I will triumph over all of them.

The Vienna Epitaph. December 21, 1912:

   The idea was intriguing: commission a number of young painters to submit works dealing with the apocalypse, allowing each artist to define the nebulous term in any way he saw fit. Unfortunately. the results of the experiment, now showing at the Winnetou Gallery s Gotterdammerung exhibition, are quite disappointing. Walking through the exhibit is like standing in a room full of naughty children, each one trying so hard to be bad. The urban purgatories and industrial infernoes sulking on their canvasses are the kind of pedestrian nihilism you would expect from first-year art students. Only one piece oversteps the obvious and attempts to explain the causes instead of simply pointing out the disease. Adolf Hitler's "Exterminator" (oil and eggwhites, 33" by 45"), a Nietzschean discourse disguised as a passion play, speaks volumes about man's capacity for evil. The scene - Jesus' bearing of the cross - is standard, yet the focus of the piece is strikingly novel: the dynamic sweep of the painting draws the eye's sympathy not to the fallen Christ, but to one of his Roman attackers in the Roman centurion, Hitler has created the prototypical superman: his whip raised above his head like the lightning bolts of Wotan. his cruel smile gleaming like a straight razor, his body a pillar of sinew and purity. In contrast, his victim looks like vermin, with his long matted hair, his absurdly long nose, and his ugly, piercing eyes staring stupidly at the ground. The Christ depicted in "Exterminator" is a pathetic, filthy wretch, and we can almost understand why the centurian wants to eliminate him. Our sympathy for the weak is overcome by our admiration of the strong. and that is why this painting is so vital: the artist doesn't just show us evil, he makes us feel evil.

    If you seek out the architects of this abbatoir we call a world. you won't find them in some rococco nightmare landscape, you will find them within us all.

Adolf Hitler is a painter to watch out for.