“The creative artist is automatically an outsider, because he sees through the world that everybody else takes as the final reality, and he’s a very scary kind of guy.” Gahan Wilson, nicknamed
“The Wizard of Weird,” 2/18/1930 – 11/21/2019
“So, for what I hope is the last time, I’m going to tell you that we’re going to see the collection of an outsider artist, she happens to be my actor friend Jesse Fink’s sister- before you ask again, he’s the play actor from Brooklyn- and he was nice enough to get us a shot at photographing the whole gallery and meeting the artist.”
“Ok. But remind we why we are doing this again at this time of night?” asked Earl. “Were gonna get back to the bnb late.”
“Because our lady artiste, a neo egyptologist and outsider artist, is a night owl and the site we work for is going to give us a fat ass bonus for clocking in the interview early.” Said Barry.
Earl huffed as he took the camera equipment up the stairs to the front double door. “I don’t appreciate the “fat ass” lingo, Bar’.” He stopped at the threshold of the door.
Barry arched his eyebrows.
“As a proud member of the Bear community-“
“STOP Barry. JUST-stop.” Said Barry, facepalming. “You can now let go of all those things that have been on your mind.” he said, mock-therapeutically.
` “What is your problem, Barry?”
“You use being gay against me too much, but we’ll deal with that later.”
“Does you’re mom know your gay?” asked Earl.
“Enough is enough. I’m black and you never hear a word of it. If you didn’t want to take the assignment you should have stayed this one out.” Barry said, pulling his turtleneck.
Earl’s shoulders slumped. “Ok, look, I get it. But if I- if we do this, can we stop at that one coffee place on the way back to Beacon tomorrow?” he asked.
“Ugh, don’t tell me it’s so you can talk to Chad. He’s not going anywhere.”
“He’s my friend Barry.”
“He wants to ride your coattails, Earl.”
“Shut up, he does not.” said Earl.
“Hell, he want to ride you. All the way to Portland. You will gallop, GALLOP off to cultural irrelevance.” He said, doing a mock-horseback riding dance.
“Dude what happened to your jokes, their not even clever.” Earl said quizzically. “My cousin Sandy is funnier than you and she’s a stone cold black metal fan.”
“Oh the one I met at the Christmas party.” Barry said, pretending to not remember with his usual rate of failure.
“You did more than meet her bro…” said Earl, trying not to laugh.
“I seem to recall that. Well she might have the sarcasm, but I have the, um…Alright, alright. Let’s just get this tired too-late-for-halloween, too early for Xmas shit over with.” He dashed to the double doors as Earl struggled behind him.
“Since when is it “Xmas,” Barry?” Earl asked, dead serious. “Plus your attitude sucks. Maybe you should just do web design for Vice or something.”
“Not listening.” Barry muttered.
“I know, that’s you in a nutshell.” Earl said.
Barry rang the doorbell, which was a medley of overlapping staccato harpsichord notes, eerily fading a bit at the end, as if the wire were shorting out somewhere.
“Yeesh, I hope her taste in art’s not her taste in doorbell ring tones.” Said Earl, almost slipping with the weight of the camera bag.
“You can shut up now Earl.” Muttered Barry curtly.
“I’m going to put on Metallica all the way back to the air bnb.” Threatened Earl.
The doors opened while they were bickering. They were greeted by the sight of a small, thin woman dressed in a black, sporty pea coat and wearing short heeled boots, as well as Dior designer sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat that with her long, straight hair kind of made her look like a neo- goth Yoko Ono.
“Hi/Hello.” Both said nervously, and jostled for a handshake.
She shook her head, laughed, and took a puff of her cigarette on a very long holder (it smelled appalling) and remarked,
“You guys look like hipster bloggers who got lost in the early 2010’s.”
They looked at each other, and laughed nervously.
“Exactly how I pictured you!” she said. “My name’s Ilsa Greta Fink.”
“Oh, Ilsa! Like the exploitation film?” said Earl giddily, shaking her hand. “Earl by the way. Big fan of your photography.”
Barry swore inaudibly and shook his head. They were going to have a talk about subtlety on the drive home, again. Though maybe it was futile to discuss some things with Earl, after all. “So you are the famous artist. My name’s Barry. I heard you speak Spanish.” He said casually as he shook her hand.
“Si, un poquito.” She admitted.
“El es la cabeza.” He said, gesturing to Earl. “Yo solo soy su mascota. Arf, arf, arf!” he said.
She giggled and shook her head. “I’m not the artist, though. My sister is. It’s cool that you keep your language alive, I heard that you were half Cuban on your company bio online but I didn’t know that you were bilingual.”
He nodded and tapped two fingers to his forehead in a little salute.
“Come in quick, maybe you’ll get to meet her if she’s in the mood, and likes you.” She said. “You mguys are cool and all, I mean it’s just that… well, you’ll see, come in!”
The two of them exchanged incredulous glances, and followed their hostess past the threshold, with another set of doors to keep the cold out and frosted glass just like the door on the outside. Silvery iron accents on the harsh lining and heavy handles of the door. That, and the vertical, distressed wood of the door itself suggested a revival style, not common in New York for it’s price, although the house itself was probably planned out to cut costs, Barry thought.
They came into the foyer, kind of an Old World Show-and-tell. Two suits of armor holding pikes, either a replica or a real medieval globe, and a stuffed bear were among the curios he could imagine a svelte Euro-centric host yammering about for hours, before moving his guests on to the rest of the house.
No such thing happened, though. Earl just unpacked the camera set up and took a few warmup shots that would probably go in the middle of the article.
“Charming.” said Barry, turning the recorder in his pocket on a little early.
“Oh, don’t say that. It’s a rich man’s TGI Fridays display. I’m glad my sister’s elsewhere in the house, or she’d throw one of her precious books at me for saying that.” She shuddered. “Anyway, yeah, my mom’s a medieval scholar and my dad runs a few luxury furniture chains and is in the antiquing business, so their tastes, such as they are, cross pollinate.”
“New Money, huh.” He would be careful to give a courteous interview.
“Yeah…” Ilsa said. “Why don’t you, uh, pack up and well go to the living room and wait for dinner?”
Earl nodded and packed up his stuff with surprising rapidity. Barry nodded as they departed the tacky display room.
Moving on, Barry was disappointed with the taste of the hosts, certainly expecting something more outrageous from the family of an artist as notorious as this one, but at least things were going smoothly. Once there in the “living room”, which in reality was more like an extravagant parlor, Earl was at his worst.“Oooh, I just love the furnishings.” He said, rubbing his hand over the arm of a hardwood bench.
“Earl. Take thine sleeve and wipe your essence from off that sofa.” growled Barry.
“Bar’, your Shakespeare sucks. Plus, now were listening to Iron Maiden on the way home.” Earl said.
“Oh! Lavish that bench all you want. Those are stressed Mahogany. Everything in the living room is. is You couldn’t hurt them if you tried.” Ilsa said.
He sprawled out and man spread with a gratuitous “Aaah…” It was left to Barry to catch the rented camera equipment and sit it on a nearby table with as much restraint toward Earl as he could muster. Ilsa watched Earl but didn’t say anything.
“So, Barry, what brought you guys to be interns at a place like ArtThink Collective?” Ilsa asked.
She sat down on an uncomfortable looking armchair with positively baroque looking armrests, andclicked on a throwback lamp secretary’s desk light.
“Well, ArtThink was put together by partners in life and business school drop outs Lou Chen ofJapan and Nate DeCosta from upstate NY. What began as a startup became a storied art agency that works especially with outsider artists and other fringes. At ArtThink we… why are you laughing like I’m Dave Chapelle back in the day?” he said, more than a little nervous.
She waved a hand dismissively. “I read the company mission statement! I was asking about you two! Who roped you into it?”
“Why put it that way?” asked Earl.
“I don’t know. Because you handle that camera like a faberge egg, once you get shooting anyway. And the pictures were marvelous, even though they’re digital.”
Earl blushed and shrugged. “Well, thanks, I guess…”
“And Barry well, he talks like a Harvard graduate.”
Barry coughed irately. “Well, my father went for his Doctorate there, he’s a retired lawyer and now teaches abnormal psychology. I know, quite a switch. My mother was a schoolteacher, but she moved back to Florida. As you know there’s a sizable Cuban and Black Cuban population there-”
“Yeah, mhm.” She said, flipping her hand with the cigarette holder before putting it out in an ivory ashtray in an irritatingly slow fashion.
Barry swallowed and shuffled his feet to avoid saying something.
“But again, how did you two end up with…”
Earl cocked his head and began, “Ya know, funny thing is…” Bereft of all patience, Barry winced and interrupted, “Oooh, you know, I was in NYU going for my communications degree, and Earl here was doing Photography at FIT, and we met at an gallery opening for a retrospective of Latin American and Caribbean modern art, which my girlfriend dragged me to. It turned out that Earl here was handing out cards for his photography practice. He had heard my Brooklyn based arts and culture podcast, so we hit it off. I went on his Instagram right there on my phone, and saw his pics and told him he should go pro. He told me there was a big offer for people with media experience at this startup he worked for, which was none other than-“
“ArtThink.” Said Ilsa thoughtfully. “So, two big city bro’s, plumbing the dark places of the art world for hidden gems.” She said, wiggling her fingers.
“Well, when you put it that way, sure.” Earl said.
Barry smiled weakly. “It’s… been an interesting ride, to say the least.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. We took the train all the way from…” Barry cringed inwardly and put on a phlegmatic expression as Earl did his damdest to kill time by reciting their voyage from Brooklyn to the house they were currently sitting in. He balanced his chin off his fist, eyeing Earl from time to time to see if he would get the hint. Ilsa, Barry saw from the edge of his vision, giggled into her hand.
Barry started singing to himself a song by the Smiths, “Oh, there is a light and it never goes out…” while cleaning his ornate stopwatch.
Ilsa broke the one-man conversation to say, “Barry, I didn’t know you liked New Wave! Plus, that’s a beautiful watch!”
“Shh. You’re not supposed to know I like the Smiths. Yes, I suppose it’s a beautiful timepiece. Or a piece out of time. My great-great grandfather on my father’s side was a factory owner. We don’t know much about him, but his Christian name and this watch have come down to me.”
“He was called Barry?” Ilsa said, a bit confused.
He laughed. “No, no… he was called Bartholomew. I got tired of being called “Bart Simpson as a kid so I changed it to Barry later on.”
“Sorry…” She said, scratching her head. “I’m oblivious to most things that aren’t fashion, romantic lit, and fast cars.”
He shook his head and looked askance. “You’re no more oblivious than we are.”
She scratched her chin. “That’s fascinating though, how things come down to us through the generations. I think about that a lot.”
He nodded, and had an idea, glancing at Earl, who was alert, though whether or not he was listening was debatable.
“Hey, I have an idea. This summer, if out schedules work out, Earl, me, and some couples from the company are going to…”
A bell rang deeper inside the house.
“Dinner is served!” said Ilsa. “My sister should be down any minute, though honestly it might take a while.”
Barry grunted, getting up from his chair. He figured he’d hold on to the question until later. “No.
It’s ok. A meal’s a meal, aint that right, Earl?” He said, slapping the big man on the knee.
“You can totally shut up now.” said Earl.
“Oh, cute, are you two a couple?” Ilsa said, stretching and getting up. “You have the best sarcasm dynamic. It’s
to die for.” She said, her heels clacking loudly on the marble, or more likely faux marble, tiles.
Earl had a mischievous look in his eye as Barry glared at him, unblinking, humorlessly.
“I know exactly what you’re thinking, pendejo. You’ll do no such thing.” Barry growled as they
followed Ilsa through a short hallway. All of the windows were heavily frosted.
“Fine but were listening to Dragonforce on the way back now.” Earl said.
“Ok, just don’t say what I think you’re about to.” Barry said.
“It’s 2019. Everyone and their Grandma is gay now.” Earl mumbled.
“Not in my family.” Barry said with an air of finality.
“Alright, just a little something to hold us over until the interview…” said Ilsa, gesturing to the long table, the contents of which left both Earl and Barry speechless (and made them momentarily forget their cock sparring).
“I think I smell garlic. Is that garlic?” Earl asked.
“No, Earl, it’s just you.” Exhaled Barry, winded.
“Sure is. There’s garlic bread, chicken parm and some steamed greens. I’m sorry I’m not breaking out the wine for you guys tonight, but you really want to be on your toes for the interview.”
“Huh. Garlic Bread and chicken parm. You don’t strike me as Italian.” Observed Barry.
“No, we just ordered it from a local place. There’s only one person in the kitchen tonight and He’s not the chef seeing as my parents are away and don’t really trust him with the house. Otherwise,” she said. “You’d have to listen to my dad’s business stories and my mom praising medieval society. And you’d be eating Weinersnitzel with baby russet potatoes.” She made an exaggerated hand waving motion and scrunched up her face, as if allergic to the very idea.
“I wouldn’t have minded German food.” he started, but the look on her face froze his blood.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t praise German food. It’s not bad, but it’s not stellar either.”
“Ha. Looks like you pwned yourself, Bar’. Maybe there should be a word for that.” He said, serving himself too much bread.
“There is; it’s called “every day of my life.” Barry said, cutting into his chicken.
“Come on, Barry, you’re too serious.” Ilsa joked.
“Nah, I’m just the right amount of serious, if you pardon my saying so.” he said eyeing Earl, who was stuffing his face with everything in sight. Barry thought of poking his associate’s stomach with a fork. But seeing as that would be the end of their evening, he just shrugged.
“I have a job to do.” He said. “I don’t like anything or anyone coming between it and me.” He said, scarfing down a piece of chicken as if to make a point.
“Right… here I thought I would be making you guys uncomfortable.” Her cell phone buzzed as Barry tried to assuage the situation. “Well, anyway,”, she said, ignoring him, “Looks like my sister’s going to catch dinner after all. We’ll endure her and then we’ll do the art shoot you came for. Then, I’mafraid, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Getting her to bed is sometimes a problem. Right now my brother’s trying to get her down.”
“Jesse’s here!” said Barry in genuine interest.
“Yes, well, mainly to help with tonight, but also, he said, to see you. He wanted to keep it a surprise but I had some of my favorite wine earlier.” She cupped her hand on her mouth to smell her own breath in two huffs. “Shiiit. Now I’m going to need a tic tac or two.”
Barry thought of saying something, but chose to remain silent in his practiced way. There were bigger fish to fry on the way back home. Earl just chewed thoughtfully, acting like he was ok with Barry’s shit, though this evening, he was really just storing them for later, when, he mused, like a bear emerging from winter thaw, he would let Barry have it.
“There’s a few things you should know before she comes down” she said.
“Such as?” Earl asked.
“I’m the one doing the interview here.” Barry said, “I’ll ask the questions.”
“Unbelievable.” Ilsa said, looking down at her plate. “Jesse told me about this. So, Barry, and also Earl, here are three things not to do.”
They both stopped eating and perked up.
“First of all, don’t mention politics. If she wants to do a waffle, just let her. Otherwise she’ll rope you into an argument you can’t win and we’ll be here all night with no interview and no pictures.”
“Second of all, don’t for the love of God take offence to anything she says. Just ignore it. She’s not backward, she’s just obsessed, it’s part of the package. Try to ignore her taunts as much as she can.”
Neither Barry or Earl nodded. They just looked very withdrawn.
“Third of all, and most importantly, don’t hand her anything sharp. We had that problem the last time we had my cousin Sven over. He needed stitches on his mouth and it took four strong guys to get her off of him.”
Earl whistled. “Good grief. You won’t have to remind me not to do that.”
“May I ask what triggered her?” Barry asked, wonderstruck.
“The vain assertion that some of her vain assertions about today’s politics were patently ludicrous.” She said. “By the way, I just got a text. Jesse is on his way with her.”
“Excellent… So, Sven broke rule number one. Tch. Earl, you sure you’re up to this?”
The larger man put his fork up in a defensive reposte, and responded “Um, no, Barry, I came to eat dinner and turn around. Gosh, I’m a professional too. Just because I don’t do everything you tell me too doesn’t mean you’re above me in station. We’re both interns. Were here to do what we came here to do, and do a damn good job of it.” He said, looking down and stabbing his fork into the chicken.
“You know, maybe this was a mistake.” Ilsa said, facepalming. “You’re work is good guys, but I think your dynamic is all wrong for what you’re doing here tonight. If you’re going to interview her, I need to know that you two have got things in order.”
Barry tried to do damage control, with his usual rate of bullshit. “No, no no no no, please understand Miss Fink-“
“Ilsa.” she said angry.
“-we are professionals. I am a top interviewer and Earl can be a positively stoic cameraman. Now, that being said we have done some amazing shoots slash interviews but we haven’t gotten the chance to shine.” He said.
“I don’t know…” she said, breaking his gaze.
“You can give us that, Ilsa. We will try our best not to put anyone danger in speech or action. I myself have years of on the job training, having grown up in a household with two neurodivergent siblings.” Earl said.
Barry nodded confidently, though in fact he was left speechless, not that he didn’t know Earl had a fine mind. You just had to get him positioned right, he thought. He just felt a twinge of guilt that this man was probably his best friend and he didn’t know him at all.
“Believe me, between me and Barry, there’s nobody more qualified or sensitive you could have trusted with bringing your sister’s art to the world.” Earl said, wiping down his chin with his napkin.
“’Scuse me, I eat like a wild beast.”
“Not at all, you said you were hungry on the phone, so I had the assistant chef prepare you something.” She said, draining the last of the wine from her glass.
“You rang your highness? And did I hear you call me the “assistant chef”?”
All three looked to the adjacent kitchen and there was a short, stooped, bug eyed and thin man in a stained smock that said “fuck you” in ornate letters.
Ilsa turned away from him and stuck up her finger.
“I’ll take that from your dad, but not from you miss.” he rasped. He had a distinct accent, though there was enough New York in it that neither Barry nor Earl could properly place it.
“A man’s place is in the kitchen, Mr. Sangria.” She said.
He blew a raspberry and waved his arm. “You got my name wrong. You don’t get to use it. My kitchen name is Reptar. R-E-P-T-A-R. That at least you can get right.” he said.
“At least I can get something right beyond re-heat.” She said, waving her pinching her nose.
“Ach. And you called me “assistant chef. I’m the brains of this operation.” Reptar rasped Indignantly, taking off his hat.
“Um… this is all very colorful, but were pushing against interview time…Earl, get the camera ready, will you?” Barry said softly, fixing his tie.
Earl shrugged and went over to the sofa, where he had left the equipment. “Got the wrong idea, Barry. Don’t know where, don’t know when…” he muttered. Barry wanted to say something but the quip stabbed at him.
Barry couldn’t read Ilsa under her sunglasses, but the expression wasn’t good.
“Is there something-“ he started.
“Don’t, it’s ok. I notice everything.” she said flatly. “Reptar, seriously, get back to your post.”
“No, you shut up, I heard the young artist is coming down and I wanted to say hello.” He said. “So that’s what I’m doing.”
“Reptar, were interviewing her. Plus she’s a lunatic.” Ilsa said.
“No. She’s a genius, you’re just mad because you never will be.” He said.
She took her sunglasses off and revealed blackened eyes. “No, Reptar, I’m mad because she fuckin’ hit me with a bat the last time we unrestrained her.”
He shrugged. “One day she’ll get free and I will laugh.”
“How much you want to bet?” he said.
As the two bantered and cleared the table, Barry and Earl prepared the camera in the living room, near the fireplace. Barry shut off his audio recorder to save battery life. He checked his watch- a quarter to nine.
“Told you we should have taken that other assignment, you know, the Latvian pottery couple in Vermont.” Argued Earl in a hushed, singsong “I-Told-You-So” voice.
“Oh I aint scared of no crazy rich white lady.” said Barry.
“I aint scairt neither, I just rather not be skewered over a barbeque.” he made some pig sounds.
“Alright, Deliverance. We die, I owe you a coke.” He said.
“And if we live?” Earl asked.
“Ah… you call it bro.” Barry said apologetically.
“I will make you regret saying that.” said Earl.
“…yeah, I know.” said Barry.
The two of them jumped and almost knocked over the camera equipment as an old and bitter sounding grandfather clock struck deeper inside the house.
“Shit.” Earl and Barry said almost together. Earl tightened the screws a turn on the legs of the camera unit. Barry straightened himself up and adjusted his tie as nine clear gongs reverberated through the house.
“What, that gong never get to you?” Barry asked Reptar, who was leaning against a chair and smiling like a cat.
“Nah. Just you’re outfits. You look like a used car salesman and he looks like a lumberjack.” he said.
Barry smiled dangerously, and was about to denigrate the poor man when they heard two pairs of footsteps coming down the long hall. One male voice, which must be Jesse, sounded angry. The other, who must be the main event, was shrill and mocking.
Barry and Earl just stood there, not knowing what to expect. Then the two emerged down the stairs that went to the upper west wing of the house. Jesse went first, with his cowboy hat and curly moustache and muscle shirt, drinking some alchohol straight out of a jar.
Barry nodded and tried to greet him, but he simply said, “I’m really, really not in the mood tonight man.” He went down the stairs slowly, as if expecting something, looking over his shoulders at the famous family ward.
The woman behind him was blond, 5’8 and somewhat athletic. Quite pretty and energetic actually. Not really what Barry or Earl expected of a paranoid recluse. There was nothing even remotely off about her except that she wore a grey, sweeping cloak around her casual clothing. She wore a pair of platform shoes which muffled her descent a bit. Her hands were behind her back.
At first Barry thought that was just some form of feigned obedience, so he nodded to Jesse, and extended his hand. “Hello, I’m Barry Afolabi.”
“She’s handcuffed, boss.” Said Jesse. “Always it ever since she took a bat to my sister’s face two months ago.” He said.
“She’s your half sister, Jesse. You’re adopted.” the woman said coldly.
“Check your priv’s. You need to behave in front of guests.” Jesse said.
“Somethings up here.” Mumbled Earl.
Some things are wrong here, we’re talking to them, thought Barry.