Chapter 1. Intro
Yeah, yeah, I know that that big chingada System-famous I.I. superstar reporter Ms. Anna Paik is due here a little while ago, but – ay, ay, ay, that blob of paint! It just hangs there in the very center of my splatterpaint studio like a miniature Jupiter gone todo loco – the big planet with tides and weather and gravitisimo snapped on the strain of the mindscrambling secret of its monstrous microscopic inhabitants so's its regular bands get all broken up into merrily swirling asymmetrical patterns of mingling paint of cyberexaggerated color – like the glorious, unholy mama of all cat's-eye marbles, it glares at me.
I try not to see that Zulu bitch.
I'm so glad there's no gravity here, no está aquí, no way, nada . . . but that floating glob has a pull just the same. I orbit in free-fall, make the cabrónes let me paint here in the center of Ithaca Base where the spinning doesn't suck you to the floor like the irresistible pull of Jupiter – so big, so bad, so goddamn awesome that as you fall into those convulsive, frenzied clouds, you feel like you're being sucked up, not pulled down – Jupiter is too big, too gigantic for you ever to be on top of it – and it's still pulling me.
And she still pulls me.
"I'm gonna make you a Pablo Cortez!" I growl, and attack. Paint stick in hand like an Aztec priest wielding a flint knife, or that cop swinging his baton on that cool starless night years ago in L.A. that crushed the buckle from my gas mask into my skull, leaving a cute scarito in my scalp that I wore my hair extra short for months to show off. Or like in that time before time when space wasn't separate from time or anything was separate from anything else and all was the goddess Coatlicue, She of the Serpent Skirt, but then she was the Cipactli monster: alligatoroid, fishoid, but more a great, quivering mass swimming in an endless sea that was also a sky, a mass with mucho, mucho hungry mouths that devoured everything, the monster, the sea, the monster, the sea, so the sea was the monster and vice versa – everything all mixed up like Siren zapware feedback – ay! Makes me want to be like the Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca – I wonder which which I am, culture-giver or trickster? Could I be both? Why not? I know how they felt when they decided, Hey, enough of this formless nadaness! Let's tear this monster/paint blob apart!
It explodes – like an amphetamine-choked blob, like the Cipactli monster, brutally torn in half by her moving mijos, screaming as her lower half rises to become the heavens and her upper half falls to become earth – forming the universe – but she manages to bite off Tezcatlipoca's foot in process, so he tears off her lower jaw. Mutilated and screaming, space and time set in motion as we move from Ometecuhtli's timelessness to Xiuhtecuhtli's fiery spinning clockwork around the North. What the Mayans call the Burden of Time is picked up, latches on. Amorphous micromonsters sail through the air, some colliding with me, sticking to my naked flesh and my chones. One seeks my eyes in order to blind me. Lucky I wear goggles like Tlaloc, the storm god, and a respirator – the paint just bounces off the Nostic-coated lenses.
This whole canvas-lined chamber explodes with color. Beautiful. Like her, Willa, the Zulu goddess that pollutes my Aztec pantheon.
Still, the polycrylic paint has this sickening tendency to settle into little giggling globes that just sit there like mini-Jupiters, mocking me. I refuse to allow entropy to happen in my presence, so like a samurai Jackson Pollock, I scream and thrash the disgusting buggeritos into tinier flying sky-serpents that gaily decorate the canvas on the walls.
The canvas is raw, unprimed, and the polycrylic is mixed with a base that gives it the consistency of water. Splatter marks don't just sit there looking pretty – they grow fur as the canvas absorbs it, thirstily. My work is always wild and woolly.
Soon the colorful swordplay is over and I am victorious. All the paint (except for a few stubborn, but insignificant BBs) is slapped into the canvas. I shed my goggles awhile and the furious splatters change into visions.
André Masson, eat your heart out!
Bizarre animated hieroglyphics materialize in the Jovian storm clouds: demonic cartoon characters exhaling balloons full of obscenity – endless 3-D labyrinths of orbital castles complete with living gargoyles and tapestries you can walk into – large, luxuriant cars encrusted in jewels and tailfins that race the crowded, tangled spaghetti of freeways with off ramps all over the galaxy – the vegetal love poetry that an intelligent network of vines sings to the jungle it intricately embraces – the ecstatic rush of falling into an ocean of warm mud that tastes delicious and makes you feel so good – pornographic geometries that can only be imagined on a scale more than intergalactic – the byzantine plots of surrealistic soap operas that take place outside of spacetime in Omeyocán, the highest heaven, domain of Ometecuhtli, the Dual Lord, supreme being outside of space and time: Sirenesque, because they never picked up the burden of time either, like before I hit the paint blob or the Cipactli monster got torn apart; see my problema? – the ballet of subatomic particles smaller than any yet discovered! – et cetera et cetera et cetera...
Letting the stick fly, I attack the canvas with paint-covered fingers – desperately trying to record the visions before they fade, but never finishing before they do, so I have to fill the many gaps with memory and imagination. I shift from warrior to artist; un poquito more Toltec than Aztec. Like that Nahuatl poem:
He knows colors, applies and shadows them.
Draws the feet, the faces,
Sketches the shadows, obtains a finish,
As if he were a Toltec artist
He paints the total colors of flowers.
Yeah, that's me-ish. My folks would be proud. I remember the poetry, the flowers and songs. It's important because the enemy destroyed so much of La Cultura. Sí, Papa. Sí, Mama. I remember.
Then I see her face again. Willa's face – that dazzling, living African sculpture that exists somewhere between the inside of my overloaded cabeza, the zapware fireworks of the Sirens, and the frontiers of the universe. It all starts turning into her after a while . . . then tears start growing in my eyes, get bigger and bigger, and finally break away and orbit my eyes like Earthish waterplanets.
The door seal pops. It's Anna Paik, come to interview me in my unnatural habitat.
I slip the goggles over my teary eyes, let myself drift so I face the door – I've lost track of where it is (again) but canvas starts to pucker, bulge like a zombie's grave, tearing loose from the gluespots, a large section breaks free, wraps around whoever it is that's trying to enter, then gets tossed where it hovers like a multicolor mutant jellyfish.
Then she enters. Anna Paik, the muchacha that the System loves to look at and listen to.
I can feel Willa getting jealous (they tell me it's my imagination).
Anna is awkward getting in. Even though she's been on an epic tour of the System, in and out of gravity wells for the last few years, she's still terminally grav-legged – even doing yoga facial exercises to fight facebloat, those lips, slicked the same shade of electric blond as her hair, stretch wide, clinching the light in a way that could cook my chorizo. She sees me seeing her and that cute overly-made-up-for-holo (kinda making her look like a pornette) Eurasian face popped into an instant professional smile with a flash blush and a hint of flirtation in those eyes that wore violet contacts for the occasion.
"Pablo, you started without us," she says, up close and personal, with a slight Russian accent that almost makes me forget she's wearing a bubble ziploc clear baggie suit over some skintight furry designer jumpsuit that's the same color as her contacts.
"I couldn't resist that paint. Hey, don't I rate those famous dark, mysterious eyes?"
Giggle giggle. "The contacts are part of the outfit, goes with the flocked toe and fingernails. We're contracted to sell it as a package. The demogs figure this'll go over big with the arty types."
"With or without the baggie?"
"Well, we couldn't let it get your paint all over it."
I get a toehold and prop myself upside down from her. "Hey, why not? It'd be a Pablo Cortez original. Real megabuck action there!"
She smiles again, really must have trained hard to get all her gravbound facial expressions to work in freefall. "We thought of that. Only the helmet is Nostic'd. We'll do a network time-lag-adjusted auction later."
"Interplanetary Infotainment thinks of everything . . . my agent know about it?"
"Of course, silly." Pause. She holds the smile while wondering if she should have called me silly. "You'll be getting a cut, I.I. wouldn't dare cheat you."
"Yeah, not even them."
She reaches up and puts a plastic-wrapped hand on my shoulder. "Look, we want us all to look good here, with the whole System plugging in and all." The pat is a poquito too hard, sends me back, but I'm braced, and she goes into an unplanned backflip. "Whoa! I don't think I'll ever get the hang of this. Anyway, speaking of looking good, we do have a makeup man standing by – he specializes in correcting for freefall facebloat ..."
I peel off the goggles and respirator, smear some paint on my face. "This is all the makeup I need."
"Okay . . . yeah . . . And are you sure that's what you want to wear?"
Her eyes are on my multilayer paint-spattered chones (and probably on what's inside them). "Ay! I put these on just for this interview! I usually paint in the nude. I figured I.I. wasn't ready to show me with my huevos hanging out." She cocks her head to the side where she wears a bulky earcuff, listens to it buzz. "Huevos? Eggs? I don't understand."
"Don't tell me your translator isn't programmed for slang . . ."
"Isn't Spanish Spanish?"
I laugh. "Yeah, like Russian is Russian and English is English all over the System. Words are words. I don't really care what language they're from – I just use 'em when they fit."
For a while her face goes inscrutable/Orientalish as if facebloat was setting in. Now something else comes through the door – the camera, mounted on a serpentine waldostalk and wrapped in Nostic'd plastic like the head of a mechanical dragon sealed in a cocoon. Anna vigorously stretches and clenches her face a few times, listens to her earcuff, and says, "They're ready to roll. You ready to begin?"
I nod. The red light on the camera clicks on. I flick my wrist and send the paint still clinging to my stick at her.
FROM THE UNEDITED HOLOTAPE OF THE "ANNA AT LARGE" INTERVIEW WITH PABLO CORTEZ FOR INTERPLANETARY INFOTAINMENT'S "SYSTEM NOW":
(Blobs of paint splatter on Anna's baggie.)
ANNA PAIK: Hi, everybody! This is Anna Paik, coming to you from a different place, a colorful place, a place where the activities of one man have become the focus of Systemwide attention in terms of both science and art. This is the studio of Pablo Cortez, in the central freefall module of Project Odysseus' Ithaca Base, orbiting just outside the magnetosphere of Jupiter.
(More paint splatters on Anna.)
As you can see, I'm not alone. Systemfolx, please allow me to introduce you to Pablo Cortez ...
(Camera quick-pans to a tight shot of Pablo, who is upside down and at a forty-five-degree angle to audience's viewpoint. He floats in semifetal posture, has the thin legs and thick, bloated chest of a spacer, and wears only undershorts and a respirator and goggles that are floating around his neck. He has an untrimmed beard and unruly black curly hair, all shot with gray.)
PABLO CORTEZ: Hi, everybody!
AP: Pablo, is this the way you usually dress while doing your splatterpainting?
PC: Naw, I usually wear less, but my mama taught me to dress when I get company.
AP: Would you like to say something to your mother?
PC: Sure would. Too bad it's impossible. She's dead. My father too. They fooled around with a lot of drugs in their time with one of those neo-Aztec cults. People keep saying that's why I survived my encounter with the Sirens.
AP: How interesting. Have drugs been an inspiration for your art?
PC: No! I don't believe it's necessary, especially with an imagination like mine.
AP: Do you use drugs recreationally?
PC: Not lately. Not after the Sirens. Sure, I fooled around with alk and canniboids – the usual kid stuff – when I was younger, but it was never more than a passing interest to me. Being drunk or stoned makes it hard to paint and draw – and that's the most important thing in my life!
(He starts looking at the paint-spattered canvas that lines the studio.)
AP: That puts you at odds with some of the leaders of the System's art community.
PC: That doesn't bother me. I've always been at odds with communities. And leaders. I've always lived between worlds, never quite at home anywhere – but able to travel anywhere.
AP: And you certainly have traveled. You were born in the eastern sector of Los Angeles, orbited in Hightown, and ended up in the Jovian System.
(His eyes are still fixed on part of the canvas.)
PC: Uh, yeah . . . I also bummed around the norteamericano continent back in my teens and early twenties – you know, cheap, obsolete vehicles-for-hire that were built back in the twentieth century that often left me and assorted campesinos and their pigs and chickens stranded way out in the middle of nadawhere. Still, I got to cross war zones, jungles, and deserts, see cities, murals, ruins, and museums, and find out how a big chunk of the human race still lives in this here new, improved twenty-first century. Quite an education, really.
AP: And yours has mostly been a do-it-yourself education. You don't have a high-school diploma and never went to college.
(He turns to look at her for a moment, then resumes contemplating the canvas.)
PC: I went to college – I just never bothered to register. I always figured the best way to approach schools was like a thief – or a Guerrilla Muralist – sneak in, ransack the place, satisfy a few curiosities and desires, then get the hell outta there before someone snaps the cuffs on you!
(He stretches his legs out to a wall, hunches himself to the patch of canvas he's been looking at, and starts working it with his fingers. The camera tries to follow.)
AP: Did you get this attitude from your parents?
PC: No. They were college-educated Chicano intellectuals. Both had degrees in anthropology. The problem was they identified more with the people being studied than with the anthropologists. Probably what made them go neo-Aztec. They were working on an Aztec myth cartoon project...
AP: Do you consider yourself anti-intellectual?
(He turns to her. The camera stays on the paint he is working.)
PC: No! I believe in the intellect, thinking, studying. I like intellectuals. It's institutions that I don't trust. Why is anybody who hasn't sold his brain to a bureaucracy and doesn't wait for official permits to think called anti-intellectual?
(He goes back to painting.)
AP: But since the arrest and disbanding of the Guerrilla Muralists of Los Angeles, you've had to deal with several institutions . . .
PC: Yeah, but I dealt with them my way. Not like the rest of GMLA. Except for my buddy, Buck Waldo, they're still back in their hometown, waiting for committees to vote on their ideas before starting work.
AP: Let's talk about the Guerrilla Muralists of Los Angeles. Most of the System knows about them because of you, yet strangely they are relatively unknown outside of the L.A. Sprawl.
PC: They stood regional. Thought small. Didn't go nowhere.
AP: But how did the group form? How did you get involved with a group of art students?
Uh-oh. Here goes. Looks like I gotta do a verbal autobio – at the same time all these images on the canvas are getting ripe and near the danger point where the Sirenflashes'll fade and Willa'll have done something for nothing.
And the camera is moving in close to catch my fingers fondling the paint. No bother – I'm an exhibitionist, I don't mind an audience – in fact, I love an audience! And now I've got the whole System (or at least those plugging into I.I.) looking over my shoulder. Yippie!
The part of my brain that handles talk is different from the part that does painting. I can do both modes at the same time. Just open up all the gates and let it all pour out!
I splat some more paint on Anna.
Let the show begin . . .