Sunday, January 9, 2011

Belvedere's Shaking Hands

I've never had Belvedere Vodka, but there's two bottles on my mantle, tall, opaque relics left by the French exchange student who lived here before me. The land lady says he tied air fresheners to the fan to cover the smell of what he was smoking. Threadbare, he ghosts the windows of my apartment, shedding traces of his presence, little fuck-yous that I, with parenthetical asides and (reader beware) a flurry of footnotes, arrange into a story line.

His name, reader, compatriot, was Belvedere Vodka.

Naturally he was a tortured soul, a sleepless, V-neck of an artist whose eyes saw Van Gogh's starry night but whose hands--swollen, putty mitts-- dropped spare change in grocery lines.

Upon entering his eyes, the stars looped his brain and turned his blood to plasma, which, you recall, is the fourth state of matter found only in distant galaxies, the capillaries of a hummingbird, and the smallest bud of a tree the moment before lightning strikes.

The plasma accounted for a peculiarity of Belvedere, a

shaking of the hands often passing for a tick; or, as his parents told their friends, tourettes, a neurotic disorder typical of socialist leaders, beautiful women, and great, misunderstood artists.

Mr. Vodka's parents were richer than God. They had, on more than one occasion, invited God over for a bottle of Inspiration; and, if Vodka Senior was feelingphilantrophic , a tour of The Factory. Belvedere remembered one Christmas when God, being his usual drunk self, knocked over a shelf of Campbell's soup cans that bled on the concrete. This soup, or blood, was mixed, bottled, and shipped with the rest of the Inspiration, and accounted for the production, among one artist, of some very peculiar silk screens in the summer of that year.

Upon coming to America, Belvedere made a point of eating Campbell's soup for lunch, a routine entailing the literal digestion of God.

(Here, reader, the author must deliver on the promise of parenthetical commentary. It is not my intention to offend any parish, sect, or individual who doesn't find God at the bottom of a soup can. I will say this, however; There are as many ways of coming to God as there are bottles of Inspiration --I myself find him in greeting cards-- and we shouldn't criticize Mr. Vodka for what, to me, is an expression of genuine prayer)

On the mantle above the fireplace, Belvedere kept four bottles of Inspiration. When his hands shook--and they always shook--he would unscrew

On the mantle above the fireplace, Belvedere kept four bottles of Inspiration. When his hands shook--and they always shook--he would unscrew one of the bottles and paint.

Mr. Vodka was no great talent. His perspectives were crooked and, except for a handful of boneless contortionists, impossible to achieve given the constraints of gravity. His buildings grew taller with distance and his streets vanished to both sides of the canvas simultaneously so that his cities resembled upside-down stars. His art never surpassed student-status, though it should be noted that upon seeing his painting, a four year old girl in Pennsylvania scratched her left calf and asked her father if she couldn't have some more of what he was drinking.

On Sunday afternoons, Belvedere played chess.

His favorite piece was the knight, it didn't matter which color. He liked the way his finger slid down the horse's neck. Once be began stroking the curve, he couldn't stop; the cursive c motion glazed him with a tired, hypnotic calm.

When his Inspiration ran dry, he slipped a glass knight under his pillow and pulled it out whenever his hands shook. Under the pillow next to him (he had a queen size bed) he kept the October 2008 issue of Rolling Stone and 99 cents.

Here, my poor, victimized reader, another comment. These items, as well as Katherine Hepburn's autobiography--a plain book with red borders he kept next to the ashtray—are the cancerous bones of American culture. They prop up a flickering, movie-screen skeleton that spills milk and cries for Coca-cola. To Belvedere, these items were more than skeleton, or a literary motiff; they were America itself, as real as the grocery lines and the great yelping stars that made his hands shake.

Every day he wrote a letter to Katherine Hepburn. He never got a reply. True, she had died five years ago, but this seemed very poor excuse for not replying to a letter, especially one he sent every day and that always contained the same message:

Ms. Hepburn--

You are a star.
Do your hands shake?


B. Vodka

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