I wake up and call B.
B is anybody who helps me kill time.
B is anybody and I'm nobody. B and I.
I need B because I can't be alone. Except when I sleep. Then I can't be with anybody.
I wake up and call B.
'A? Wait and I'll turn off the TV. And pee. I took a dehydration pill and they make me pee every fifteen minutes.' I waited for B to pee.
'Go on,' she said finally. 'I Just woke up. My mouth Is dry.'
'I wake up every morning. I open my eyes and think: here we go again.'
'I get up because I have to pee.'
'I never fall back to sleep,' I said. 'It seems like a dangerous thing to do. A whole day of life is like a whole day of television. TV never goes off the air once it starts for the day, and I don't either. At the end of the day the whole day will be a movie. A movie made for TV.'
'I watch television from the minute I get up,' B said. 'I look at NBC blue, then I turn to another channel and look at the background in a different color and see which way it looks better with the skin tones on the faces. I memorize some of Barbara Walters' lines so I can use them on your TV show when you get it.'
B was referring to the great unfulfilled ambition of my life: my own regular TV show. I'm going to call it Nothing Special.
'I wake up in the morning,' she said, 'and look at the patterns of the wallpaper. There's gray and there's a flower and there're black dots around the flower, and I'm thinking: is it Bill Blass wallpaper? It's just as famous as a painting. You know what you should do today, A? You should find the best drawer-liner paper in New York and make a portfolio out of it. Or have it made into material and go to an upholsterer and have a chair covered with it. Have the flowers tufted. And you could put accent pillows. You can do so much more with a chair than you can with a painting.'
'That forty-pound shopping bag full of rice that I bought in a panic is still sitting next to my bed,' I said.
'So is mine, except it's eighty pounds and it's driving me crazy because the shopping bag doesn't match the curtains.' 'My pillow is stained.'
'Maybe you turned upside down in the middle of the night and got your period,' B said.
'I have to take off my wings.' I use five wings: one under each eye, one on either side of my mouth, and one on my forehead.
'Say that again.'
'I said I have to take off my wings.'
Was B making fun of my wings? 'Every day is a new day,' I said. 'Because I can't remember the day before. So I'm grateful to my wings.'
'Oh, Jesus,' she sighed. 'Every day Is a new day. Tomorrow isn't that important, yesterday wasn't that important. I really am thinking about today. And the first thing I think about today is how am I going to save a buck. I wait in bed for whoever I want to call to call me. That way I save at least a dime.'
'I pop right out of bed. I shuffle, I shuttle, I tippy-toe, I cakewalk, anything to avoid the chocolate-covered cherries that are spread all over the floor like land-mines. But I always step in one. I feel the chocolate . . .'
'I CAN'T HEAR YOU. I CAN'T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE SAYING!'
'I said I realize it's a feeling I like.'
'I get up and I tip-toe. I'm afraid I'm going to wake up my houseguests it's so early, and then when I slip on a chocolate-covered cherry I really hate it, because it reminds me of putting honey on something, and then, God, the knife is dirty, and I get it on the carpet, you know how honey always drips. Honey should come out of something that squirts—like ketchup in a drive-in.'
'I crawl to the bathroom because I can't shuffle, shuttle, tippy-toe or cakewalk, with a chocolate-covered cherry caught between my toes. I approach the sink. I raise my body slowly and brace my arms against the stand.'
'I don't do that,' B said. 'I get the chocolate-covered cherry caught between my toes and then I sit in a yoga position and try to get my foot into my mouth so I can lick off the rest of the chocolate-covered cherry. Then I hop to the bathroom so I don't get any more chocolate-covered cherry on the rest of the floor. Once I get there I have to lift my leg up to the sink and take a foot-bath.'
'I'm sure I'm going to look in the mirror and see nothing. People are always calling me a mirror and if a mirror looks into a mirror, what is there to see?'
'When / look in the mirror I only know that I don't see myself as others see me.'
'Why is that, B?'
'Because I'm looking at myself the way I want to see myself. I make expressions just for myself. I don't make the expressions other people see me make. I'm not twisting my lips and saying 'Money?' '
'Oh, not money, B, come on.' This B is rich so of course she has a one-track mind.
'Some critic called me the Nothingness Himself and that didn't help my sense of existence any. Then I realized that existence itself is nothing and I felt better. But I'm still obsessed with the idea of looking into the mirror and seeing no one, nothing.'
'I'm obsessed,' B said, 'with the idea of looking into the mirror and saying 'I don't believe it. How can I get the publicity I get? How can I be one of the most famous persons in the world? Just look at me!' '
'Day after day I look in the mirror and I still see something—a new pimple. If the pimple on my upper right cheek is gone, a new one turns up on my lower left cheek, on my jawline, near my ear, in the middle of my nose, under the hair on my eyebrows, right between my eyes. I think it's the same pimple, moving from place to place.' I was telling the truth. If someone asked me, 'What's your problem?' I'd have to say, 'Skin.'
'I dunk a Johnson and Johnson cotton ball Into Johnson and Johnson rubbing alcohol and rub the cotton ball against the pimple. It smells so good. So clean. So cold. And while the alcohol is drying I think about nothing. How it's always in style. Always in good taste. Nothing Is perfect—after all, B, it's the opposite of nothing.'
'For me to think about nothing is just about impossible,' said B. 'I can't even think about it when I'm asleep. I had the worst dream of my life last night. The worst nightmare, I mean. I dreamt that I was at a meeting someplace and I had a plane reservation to come home and nobody would take me. They kept taking me to this house instead, to look at an art work for charity. I had to go up the stairs and look at all the paintings. And there was a man ahead of me and he kept saying 'Turn around! You haven't seen that!' I said, 'Yes, sir!' It was a curved wall going up a curved staircase, it was painted yellow, from the bottom to the top, and he said, 'Well, that's the painting.' I said, 'Oh.' Then I left with a man in a gray suit and a briefcase who went down to put another fifteen cents in the parking meter, but his car wasn't a car, it was a couch, so I knew he couldn't get me anyplace. That's when I tried to stop an ambulance. I wound up having to go to the party another time. Another man dragged me back to see the painting and he said, 'You haven't seen everything yet.' I said, 'I've seen everything.' He said, 'But you haven't seen the man downstairs putting the fifteen cents in his car.' I said, 'Ha. That's not his car, it's his couch. How am I going to get to the airport on a couch?' He said, 'Didn't you see him take a black notebook out of his pocket and write fifteen cents in it? He said it was the longest meeting he'd ever been to. It's a tax deduction. That's a work of art. That's his piece, putting the fifteen cents into the parking for his couch.' Then I realized I didn't have any money to pay for my plane reservation—I had made and canceled it four times. So I went to a shingled house near the beach and picked up seashells. I wanted to see if I could get inside this broken seashell, and I tried, A, I really tried. I got the top of my head In it and my barrette, through the hole. One strand of my hair and my barrette. I went back to the meeting and I said, 'Could you please put a propeller on this man's couch, so I can get to the airport.' '
This B had something on her mind. Why else would she dream like that?
'I had an awful nightmare last night too,' I said. 'I was taken to a Clinic. I was sort of involved in a charity to cheer up monsters—people who were horribly disfigured, people born without noses, people who had to wear plastic across their faces because underneath there was nothing. There was a person at the Clinic who was in charge who was trying to explain the problems these' people had and their personal habits and I was just standing there and I had to listen and I just wanted it to stop. Then I woke up and I thought, 'Please, please let me think about anything else. I'm just going to roll over and think about anything else that I can,' and I rolled over and I dozed off and the nightmare was back! It was awful.
'The thing is to think of nothing, B. Look, nothing is exciting, nothing is sexy, nothing is not embarrassing. The only time I ever want to be something is outside a party so I can get in.'
'Three out of five parties are going to be a drag, A. I always have my car there early so I can leave if they're disappointing.'
I could have told her that if something is disappointing I know it's not nothing because nothing is not disappointing.
'When the alcohol is dry,' I said, 'I'm ready to apply the flesh-colored acne-pimple medication that doesn't resemble any human flesh I've ever seen, though it does come pretty close to mine.'
'I use a 0-tip for that,' B said. 'You know, one of the things that gets me hot is having a 0-tip in my ear. I love to clean my ears. I really find it exciting if I find a little piece of wax.'
'Okay, B, okay. So now the pimple's covered. But am I covered? I have to look into the mirror for some more clues. Nothing is missing. It's all there. The affectless gaze. The diffracted grace . . .'
'The bored languor, the wasted pallor . . .'
'The chic freakiness, the basically passive astonishment, the enthralling secret knowledge . . .'
'The chintzy joy, the revelatory tropisms, the chalky, puckish mask, the slightly Slavic look . . .'
'Slightly . . .'
'The childlike, gum-chewing naiveté, the glamour rooted in despair, the self-admiring carelessness, the perfected otherness, the wispiness, the shadowy, voyeuristic, vaguely sinister aura, the pale, soft-spoken magical presence, the skin and bones . . .'
'Hold it, wait a minute. I have to take a pee.'
'The albino-chalk skin. Parchmentlike. Reptilian. Almost blue . . .'
'Stop it! I have to pee!!'
'The knobby knees. The roadmap of scars. The long bony arms, so white they look bleached. The arresting hands. The pinhead eyes. The banana ears . . .'
'The banana ears? Oh, All!'
'The graying lips. The shaggy silver-white hair, soft and metallic. The cords of the neck standing out around the big Adam's apple. It's all there, B. Nothing is missing. I'm everything my scrapbook says I am.'
'Now can I go pee, A? I'll only be a second.'
'First tell me, is my Adam's apple that big, B?'
'It's a lump in your throat. Take a lozenge.'
When B got back from peeing, we compared makeup techniques. I don't really use makeup but I buy it and I think about it a lot. Makeup is so well-advertised you can't ignore It completely. B went on for such a long time about all her 'creams' that I asked her 'Don't you like to have people come in your face?'
'Does it rejuvenate?'
'Haven't you heard about these ladies who take young guys to the theater and jerk them off so they can put it all over their face?'
'They rub it in like face cream?'
'Yes. It sort of pulls it tighter and makes them younger for the evening.'
'It does? Well, I use my own. It's better that way. That way I can do it at home before I go out for the evening. I shave my underarms, spray them, cream my face, and I'm all set for an evening.'
'I don't shave. I don't sweat. I don't even shit,' I said. I wondered what B would say to that.
'You must be full of shit, then,' she said. 'Ha ha ha.' 'After I check myself out in the mirror, I slip into my BVDs. Nudity is a threat to my existence.'
'It's not a threat to mine,' B said. 'I'm standing here now completely naked, looking at the stretch marks on my tits. Right now I'm looking at the scar on my side from my abscessed breastbone. And now I'm looking at the scar on my leg from where I fell in the garden when I was six.'
'What about my scars?'
'What about your scars?' B said. 'I'll tell you about your scars. I think you produced Frankenstein just so you could put your scars in the ad. You put your scars to work for you. I mean, why not? They're the best things you have because they're proof of something. I always think it's nice to have the proof.'
'What are they proof of?'
'You got shot. You had the biggest orgasm of your life.' 'What happened?'
'It happened so quickly it was like a flash.'
'Remember how embarrassed you were in the hospital when the nuns saw you without your wings? And you started to collect things again. The nuns got you interested in collecting stamps, like you did when you were a kid or something. They got you interested in coins again too.'
'But you haven't told me what happened.' I wanted B to spell it out for me. If someone else talks about it, I listen, I hear the words, and I think, maybe it's all true.
'You were just lying there and Billy Name was standing over you and crying. And you kept saying to him not to make you laugh because it really hurt.'
'And . . .? And . . .?'
'You were in a room in the intensive care unit, getting all these cards and presents from everybody, including me, but you wouldn't let me come and visit you because you thought I'd steal your pills. And you said you thought that coming so close to death was really like coming so close to life, because life is nothing.'
'Yes, yes, but how did it happen?'
'The founder of the Society for Cutting Up Men wanted you to produce a script she'd written and you weren't interested and she just came up to your work studio one afternoon. There were a lot of people there and you were talking on the telephone. You didn't know her too well and she just walked in off the elevator and started shooting. Your mother was really upset. You thought she'd die of it. Your brother was really fabulous, the one who's a priest. He came up to your room and showed you how to do needlepoint. I'd taught him how in the lobby!'
So that's how I was shot?
For some reason the idea of B and me needlepointing . . . 'After makeup, clothes make the man,' I said. 'I believe in uniforms.'
'I love uniforms! Because if there's nothing there, clothes are certainly not going to make the man. It's better to always wear the same thing and know that people are liking you for the real you and not the you your clothes make. Anyway it's more exciting to see where people live than what they wear. I mean, it's better to see their clothes hanging on their chairs than on their bodies. Everybody should just have all their clothes hanging out. Nothing should be hidden except the things you don't want your mother to see. That's the only reason I'm scared of dying.'
'Because my mother will come up here and find the vibrator and find the things in my diary that I've written about her.'
'I believe in bluejeans too.'
'The ones made by Levi Strauss are the best-cut, best-looking pair of pants that have ever been designed by anybody. Nobody will ever top the original bluejeans. They can't be bought old, they have to be bought new and they have to be worn in by the person. To get that look. And they can't be phoney bleached or phoney anything. You know that little pocket? It's so crazy to have that little little pocket, like for a twenty-dollar gold piece.'
'No, American are the best. Levi Strauss. With the little copper buttons. Studded for evening wear.'
'How do you keep them clean, B?'
'You wash them.'
'Do you iron them?'
'No, I put fabric softener. The only person who irons them is Geraldo Rivera.'
This talk of bluejeans was making me very jealous. Of Levi and Strauss. I wish I could Invent something like blue-jeans. Something to be remembered for. Something mass.
'I want to die with my bluejeans on,' I heard myself say.
'Oh, A,' B said impulsively, 'you should be President! If you were President, you would have somebody else be President for you, right?'
'You'd be just right for the Presidency. You would videotape everything. You would have a nightly talk show—your own talk show as President. You'd have somebody else come on, the other President that's the President for you, and he would talk your diary out to the people, every night for half an hour. And that would come before the news, What the President Did Today. So there would be no flack about the President does nothing or the President just sits around. Every day he'd have to tell us what he did, if he had sex with his wife . . . You'd have to say you played with your dog Archie—it's the perfect name for the President's pet—and what bills you had to sign and why you didn't want to sign them, who was rotten to you in Congress . . . You'd have to say how many long-distance phone calls you made that day. You'd have to tell what you ate in the private dining room, and you'd show on the television screen the receipts you paid for private food for yourself. For your Cabinet you would have people who were not politicians. Robert Scull would be head of Economics because he would know how to buy early and sell big. You wouldn't have any politicians around at all. You'd take all the trips and tape them. You'd play back all the tapes with foreign people on TV. And when you wrote a letter to anyone in Congress you would have it Xeroxed and sent to every paper.
'You'd be a nice President. You wouldn't take up too much space, you'd have a tiny office like you have now. You'd change the law so you could keep anything anybody gave you while you were in office, because you're a Collector. And you'd be the first nonmarried President. And in the end you'd be famous because you'd write a book: 'How I Ran the Country Without Even Trying.' Or if that sounded wrong, 'How I Ran the Country with Your Help.' That might sell better. Just think, if you were President right now, there'd be no more First Lady. Only a First Man.
'You'd have no live-in maid at the White House. A B would come in a little early to clean up. And then the other Bs would file down to Washington to see you just like they file in to see you at the Factory. It would be just like the Factory, all bulletproof. Visitors would have to get past your hairdressers. And you'd take your extra-private hairdresser with you. Can't you see her in her inflatable jacket, ready for war at any moment? Do you realize there's no reason you couldn't be President of the United States? You know all the bigwigs who could get you in, all of society, all the rich people, and that's all anyone's ever needed to get to be President. I don't know why you don't declare yourself In the running right away. Then people would know you weren't just a big joke. I want you to say every time you look at yourself in the mirror, 'Politics: Washington, D.C.' I mean, quit fooling around with the Rothschilds. Forget about those long trips to Montauk in the Rollses. Think about a little helicopter to Camp David. What a camp it would be. You'd have such a camp. Do you realize the opportunity of the White House? A, you've been into Politics since the day I met you. You do everything in a political way. Politics can mean doing a poster that has Nixon's face on it, and says 'Vote McGovern.' '
'The idea was you could vote either way.'
'So, I could vote for Andy Warhol if you put Jasper Johns' face on it.'
'So from now on, it's 'Support Andy Warhol.' '
'Well, write it in.'
'We can start the country over from scratch. We can get the Indians back on the reservations making rugs and hunting for turquoise. And we can send Rotten Rita and Ondine out to pan for gold. Can you see the Blue Room with Campbell's Soup Cans all over the walls? Because that's what Foreign Heads of State should see, Campbell's Soup Cans and Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. That's America. That's what should be in the White House. And you would serve Dolly Madison ice cream. A, see yourself as others see you.'
'In the Presidency?'
'Oh, it would be so nice, with your brown hat in the wintertime and Archie in your office lying on your coat.' 'Mm hmm.'
'Just think of yourself doing all the things you do in the morning—like taking off your wings—but doing it in the White House.'
'Oh, come on. We've been talking for so long I still haven't taken my wings off.'
'Flush them down the toilet.'
'A, if you don't make it to the Presidency, you can become a Customs Official.'
'Remember the time you were searched at Customs. Your airline bag was loaded with candy bars, cookies, chewing gum. And they laughed. You used to eat nothing but sweets. You really have the sweetest tooth of anybody I've ever known. Now you have gall-bladder problems and have to take those large white pills before every meal. I keep telling you to have it out.'
'I have to go and dye. I haven't dope it yet today.'
'You spend so much time at home fiddling around with the color of your hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows. When we talk on the phone, I'm always hearing some other B yelling, in the background, 'I'm going to throw out the Clairol 07!' I don't think you should throw out your dye, but I think you should dye both eyebrows the same color. When you stay home from the Factory I think it's because your wig is out being dry-cleaned or dyed. It's always the same in back, that fluffed-up back that I always want to pat down. Sometimes I'd like to pull your wig off but somehow I can't ever do it. I know how it would hurt you.'