(Soft) City

copyright Jay Russell 1996. May not be reproduced without permission.
(Written to be performed at Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology,
 Hayward Gallery, London, 17 July, 1996)    

     Andy is so excited.
     He brushes a silver forelock from his eyes and presses
his face against the window.
     As the bus emerges from the Sinus Tunnel he is
greeted by a house-high sign: Welcome to Oldenburg (a licensed trademark
of the Ray Gun Manufacturing Company, pat. pending,
void where prohibited by law.  This does not affect your statutory rights.)
     This is it:
     The City.
     Andy feels an electric thrill run through his gaunt body. 
It makes him feel like a hick.  "I am a hick," he whispers to
himself, thinking of his life designing displays for Pittsburgh 
supermarkets.  Andy is tired of stacking boxes of Brillo and 
Corn Flakes and building soup can pyramids.  He wants so much more.
     Andy has been around a little, of course: he spent that night 
in sleepy Rauschenberg; and like so many, he's done his
time in Lichtenstein.
     But Oldenburg...
     It's the city.  The Soft Apple.  If you can make it here,
you can make it anywhere!  And for today, at least, the town
belongs to him.
     Andy has no special plan.  He just walks the streets, taking
it all in. His wife thinks Andy's at work; the boss thinks
he's home sick in bed.
     Andy giggles to himself, covering the red, razor slash of
his mouth with two pale fingers.
     He listens in on the conversations of passers-by, all
dressed so elegantly, looking so urbane:
      "It's...it's not an engagement ring.  Is it?" a Grace
Kelly blonde ponders.
      "Look Mickey, I've hooked a big one," a squat, little
fellow quacks into his cell-phone.
     Andy stops to gawk at the displays in swanky Matson-Jones
5th Avenue.  I could do that, he thinks, dreaming of what he
wants and doesn't have.
     The corner news agent hawks his wares: A BOY FOR MEG, 
The Post announces; 129 DIE IN JET, The Mirror screams.
     "Oh, my," says Andy.  He pops into a fast-food joint,
opting for the giant hamburger and shoestring potatoes.
     He comes upon a row of oh-so modern townhouses.  He peeks
through an open window at a lavish bedroom done all 
in zebra-skin and marble, with fluffy throw-rugs.  The sheets
on the bed are shiny as white vinyl.
     "Hmmmm," Andy wonders aloud, hands on hips. "Just what
is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?"
     He's distracted by a loud noise behind him.
     "What's happening?" he asks.
     From over the square, he sees a car crash reflected in
the metallic, Airstream surface of Jim's DinerA delicate hand and
a pair of luscious female legs lay disembodied on the pavement. 
      "I love you with my Ford," a crying woman shrieks.
     Andy turns away.
     He takes the subway uptown.  The massive, arched walls of
the underground tunnels are lined with velvet and the
beautiful trains neither rattle nor clatter, but seem to
whisper "ni-co, ni-co" as they glide along the reedy rails.
     Rising back to street-level like some bleached, blotched
Venus, Andy is dwarfed, overwhelmed by the wonders at the
heart of Oldenburg.
     He genuflects beneath the immense, gleaming chrome faucet
spectacle of the Cathedral of St. Jasper the Divine.
     He smiles at the happy/sad expression on the face of the
giant teddy bear that waves, as if hailing a cab, from the far
end of Central Park.
     He is awed and astonished by the views afforded from atop
the bowling balls that roll slowly up and down Park Avenue:
the terrifying, mouth-watering ice-cream bar to the north; the
fin-like teeth on the colossal saw spanning the shallow depths
 of Larry River to the east; the shining beacon of the twenty-story
fan welcoming huddled masses from its place in the harbour
to the south.
     "Gee," Andy sighs.
     As he pauses at the corner of 47th and Solanas, Andy has
a momentary vision: he sees himself staying, living, working
in the city, leaving his dull life in Pittsburgh behind.  He
could start a business here, build a factory, found an empire!  
He'd surround himself with all the city's glitz and glitter
and be waited-on by beautiful Chelsea girls.  Fame and
celebrity beckon.  Just a few minutes' worth is all he asks.
     "But do I want to be such a machine?" Andy wonders.
     The moment passes.
     As the bus pulls out of town, Andy's head is still full
of the splendours he has seen.  He snacks from a souvenir jar
of jumbo maraschino cherries.  He has a thousand 
ideas for new displays, the likes of which will set Pittsburgh retailing on
its ear.  A special something with green Coca-Cola bottles,
perhaps, or even some other brand of pop.
     Andy can't wait to get back home and tell Norma Jean all
about it.