Cherry Gets Me Going

from My Last Days

Mom knew that excessive humility is pride in disguise. She taught me to show my best face and figure to the world—defining clear bounds of decency and hygiene. When I accepted my mission to the Metropolis, she designed the uniform that symbolizes my legend.

First we experimented with peel-on masks we ordered c.o.d. from Hollywood. Mom’s original notion was to turn me bald, so that my blue-black hair wouldn’t be disturbed by flight or by lightning-fast action: I’d be The Human Bullet, or The Man-Missile. (She harbored a crush on Yul Brynner at the time, the harmless straying that she and Dad never begrudged each other.) But the ventilation technology preventing overheating inside a mask awaited invention, and my instincts recoiled from hiding my good looks and changing the name I longed for.

“Clarkie, you have a right to be yourself,” she declared, her warm heart sensing and loving my feelings. In these shining moments of blissful family inspiration, we decided that I should display my God-given potency whenever I was fulfilling my mission, but when I walked among ordinary mortals as one of them, I would be in disguise.

This policy determined, we hugged again, and we pondered my aerodynamics and my image with Dad, poring through my piles of Popular Mechanics and the Life Magazines on her coffee table for inspiration.
“I’ve got it, boys!”

She showed us a picture of Dame Margot Fonteyn leaping over the flaming fountain at the Hollywood Bowl. She chuckled at Dad’s shaking head and my drooping shoulders, “It’s o.k. boys. I know what I’m doing! You’ll see. I’m going to cover you in glory, son. Shoo-shoo away.”

Two hours later: “Here, Clarkie, try this. You’ll have to watch your diet wearing this, sonny.”

Thrilled by the fresh scent of the deep blue cotton leotard she’d cut and sewn, I rushed upstairs to my mirror, heart pounding harder than I ever remember. No team or scout uniform could prepare me for this ecstasy—I cannot imagine any American boy knowing what I knew then, my one truly liberating experience on earth beyond my calling from Dr. Pill. There I was—red, white and blue, plus a field of gold emblazoning the symbolic S over my heart. What an artist my Mom was: she combined the white of my skin with the blue leotard and the red S symbol to give me the motivation and inspiration of Old Glory. She bathed my S on a corn-yellow field to fill my heart with the kindness of Kansas. I explicate her work for you now; then I posed before my mirror in pure joy.

I was transfigured.

I know in my soul that form-fitting leotards are the fashion of my native planet: in the ‘seventies, when spandex became popular and men and women sallied forth from health clubs in skin-tight attire, I felt less lonely on earth.

But Mom’s design caused me problems in the crotch and on the buttocks. I felt (and I feel to this day), a reluctance to reveal either my genitals, healthy as they look, or the crevice defining my muscular glutes. I whispered to Dad.

“Mom, Clark loves his uniform but he’s upset folks’ll see his wiener and his hieney. —Can you fix it for him, Mom?”

No problem for my resourceful mother: she copied the cloth padding over the crotch-fronts of women’s bathing suits to smooth my buttocks. In front she inserted a 1 x 3 x 7” strip of foam-rubber indented to match my genital profile. I felt she solved the problem behind; but I was too modest to display the healthy bulge out there in front. Mom stared at my body for a few minutes, and hit upon the red trunks that combine with the tactical pads to preserve my decency and minimize friction and wind resistance.

The next day she completed my cape; it felt a little showy and feminine to me, but Mom asked me to wear it for her and Dad, “You’ll be cold up there in the sky, Clarkie.”

I wear it with pride, feeling their loving arms as I don it.

Petroleum-based materials have enhanced the technology of sport and flight. My uniform has evolved within its basic image and structure, affording me the relief of wicking action when my exertions produce moisture. My frontal support is provided by a felt-upholstered styrofoam mold, reminding me of the polished, inlaid carrying-cases into which James Bond places the deadly tools of his trade. I allow myself these little private jokes about my colleagues.

Cherry Trinken heads up the PR department at WE: she’s our highest-ranking female executive, and has Murd’s ear on everything. PR is a solid profit-center: Cherry’s art-franchises are a cash cow. Cherry carries the private numbers of the rich and famous in her sleek platinum palm pilot; she can get anyone anywhere anytime.

Her romances are legendary; WE achieved smashes with two authorized, two unauthorized, and three underground biographies, and produced a blockbuster movie that became a TV miniseries. She played herself in the film, wearing, when clad, her designer lines. The demand for more Cherry only grows.

Cherry Ltd.’s venture cap deal with WE is the stuff of speculation: punditry has it she outnegotiated Murd arranging financing and structuring ownership. “My equity position and risk exposure justify my faith in myself,” she told Barron’s. “I have superior financial taste to Martha Stewart’s and Oprah’s.”

She made lewd advances at our first business meeting. As we gazed South towards the sun purple on the harbor from her corner office atop the WE (still known to some as the Empire State) building, I was saying, “You’ve had so many interesting relationships, Cherry. I cannot understand why you’ve not settled down to raise a family with one of your prominent escorts.” My gaze was fixed on Lady Liberty as I spoke. A rhythmic pull on my cape interrupted, and Cherry, her little pink tongue licking her eponymous lips, whirled at me, wrapping her lucrative body tight inside the cape Mother made me.

“Ooooh, let’s make babies of steel, Supe. Only you can be my man,” she sighed in a voice all hot breath.

Thrusting her cantilevered left breast into my S symbol dead center, she gripped my hips in her left arm, tickling my pectorals and armpit with the perfect cerise nails of her jeweled right hand. She licked my ear and my neck--it tickled. Like a child with an aggressive babysitter, I felt helpless to contain waves of giggles as she sought my lips with hers and slid her shiny fingers with obvious intent across my trunks.

I executed a lightning head-fake to dodge the moist pink warmth. The sturdy materials of my cape trapped our combined body-heats. Her exploring hand found my crotch, but deterred by my molded plastic sheath, it darted about my pelvis like an evil lizard. My mature moral consciousness returned. My blood turned to molten lava burning from my agonized heart to my seething extremities. I wanted to kill Cherry; I longed to bellow out my hurt, to hurl her across the Metropolis and smash her against the broad brow of Lady Liberty. Her breathing was the roar of a bellows, an excruciating ringing echoed in my skull just as it echoed through my trauma with little Janey at Lazy Crick.

It was an effort as great as any I have exerted on earth to save Cherry from my rage. I strained and groaned. Mistaking my agony for arousal, she renewed her attack on my rear and my front simultaneously. I cursed her in my heart for desecrating Mom’s work, but my mission would end in scandal if I killed her, no matter how malicious her assault upon my values and my person.

I took a deep cleansing breath.

“Cherry,” I said, gently but firmly removing her hands from my thighs and detaching her breast from my sacred symbol, “I must not let personal feelings interfere with my mission. Your charms are most laudable; your breasts are magnificent, your face provocative, your hair-color beautiful, your jewelry dazzling, your makeup perfect, and your scanty business-suit alluring. But I curb my bodily functions with iron determination, and I must not distinguish male from female as I pursue my mission.”

“Screw your mission,” Cherry hissed, giving me the very look of dismissive disdain that hurt me so deeply throughout my formative years as an alien.

I took another cleansing breath, but still my rage seethed: the teak furnishings, the velour drapes, the priceless memorabilia were blended shades of red as if we were in a darkroom—Cherry the blood-red core. My x-ray vision supervened. Cherry was a skeleton, an armature of organs. I traced the ducts of her mammary glands as she eyed me shamelessly.

I strode to her terrace, the scene of so many famous power-gatherings, and flew away.

But I’ve got to hand it to Cherry: she summoned me back the next day through Murd’s private line to my vibro-beeper. She was all business; we worked at the conference table by the lofty terrace as if nothing had happened in that very space. With the focused eagerness of the true entrepreneur, she outlined the PR campaign that has made us an item: we drop from the sky at big openings, the winds lifting her Cherrywear so that the cameras and the eyes of the surging crowds can shoot up her legs. She tells the media, “I just wish you could feel the power I feel,” squeezing my bicep. I am happy to be needed to swell the WE bottom line.

Recently Cherry unveiled the proposal that generated this book, “Listen, Supe, I want you to start journaling. You owe your story to the world. It’ll be a smash: inside the man of steel! Demographics great from top to bottom. Let’s do it. I’ll get you all the backup you need.”

She has assigned a crack team of confessional ghosts, but I’ve asked her to hold them off until I am well into this new mission—for security reasons, I’ve said, but in fact I need to come to grips with talking about myself. I need to bone up on how to succeed at introspection.

Doing my research, I’ve asked Cherry how she conceived her blockbuster breakthrough business concept, MAMA, The Museums of Acceptable Modern Art, whose franchises have swept the nation’s Fully Developed zones, taking the full 97% permissible market share of this high-end product.

“The Sixties, Supe. They taught me how to cash in. No Sixties, no MAMA.”

Cherry attended Wellesley College with Hillary Clinton. “That was THE time of intellectual ferment and fulfillment, Supe, ‘life, liberty, and the hot pursuit of happiness.’ I wrote Hill’s revolutionary graduation speech. I thought she’d delete ‘passionate’ and ‘penetrating,’ but no: she had the big-picture; she saw the connection between her personal needs and the country’s future.

“God, it was great in college: a crucible of ideas and sensations, four years of cerebral orgasms. We knew early on that she’d do politics and I’d do media: the total power scene. We knew it was ours if we wanted it enough. That’s what I tell the girls in business schools: just want it, girls. Dream it, want it, take aim, and go for it.

“The Sixties were made for Hillary and me—revolution after revolution--sex, drugs, race, clothes, poverty, Indians, image, women, posters, peace, rock, angels sweeping the campuses incubating tomorrow’s—yes, today’s!—leadership. Revolution is your inner GNP, Supe.

“The world needs to understand Cherry Trinken. I’m more than success and glamour; I’m a revolutionary.

“But early senior year, Supe, I had just simply the worst case of the existential fuck-its. Late Sunday morning I come back to Wellesley from one of those awful boozy parties with frat-boys at Williams in that icky building that looks like a hamburger, and I’m just a little sick of being Miss Most Pawed-Over. I’ve got all this work to do, this awful pile of books to turn into more fucking papers, and I just ask myself, what is the meaning of all this meaning?

“There I am, Sharon Trinkelstein of Queens, and the very first girl to go to Stevenhenge Academy off Park Avenue where they convert us into Episcopalians, and I’ve done the nose and I’ve worn the preppy wool skirts and learned good preppy manners and I’ve climbed the first summit of WASP power womanhood, I’m the big campus mover and shaker with Hill—but I’m running on empty, Supe, I mean I know it all but I don’t like it anymore.

“See the stuff that makes them jump off the bridge at Cornell and hang themselves at Harvard, the pressure, the competition, the professors chuckling over your hick upbringing and your God while hiding books from each other in the library, profs on the make for corporate grants and not giving a shit about their students, promising me fellowships while staring up my skirt—hey, that’s the game and I was born ready to play. No, it was deeper than that, Supe. It was that what the game was about that turned to ashes on me.

“I lost it Supe. Toking on Southern Comfort, angst up my wazoo, crying, laughing, yelling, ‘Go deconstruct yourselves you assholes!’ I took my new gut-strung Thunderclub from Head for Ladies and smashed the books all over the room. Helplessly mouthing, ‘Oh, crap on you, Mr. Brown, I tore pages from Life Against Death and wiped my ass with them. My career, my life lay torn, shredded, a shitty heap on the floor, and all I had to show for all the pushing, pushing to get to this point was a perfect two-handed backhand to the spine of Moby Dick.

“But there was one book I had brought back from Paris that kept me ahead of everyone—la Critique de la Critique de la Critique de la Critique. As I staggered and flailed through my despairing orgy of deconstruction, my favorite mot hit me like the voice of my future, ‘The death of the author is the birth of the consumer.’

“And, Supe, I just knew: at that moment when life was a crappy dumper full of beer cans, butts, sweat, bad breath and condoms, I knew my calling—turn art into money! I accepted the challenge: hey, the fine arts are the most boring thing around, but already museums were the highest society icon and painters considered great because they sold big! Nobody liked what they bought, any more than they liked opera. Like table manners, art and opera were middle-class self-torture, a weird offspring of Puritanism.

“What if I could give them something they’d like: they already felt they should—what if they could? They were rich; they deserved more than art was giving them. I vowed to give them the same happiness they got from power shopping.

“The rest is history, Supe: I climb the ladder, I become a trendsetter, I get capital, I launch MAMA #I with dear little Eddie Minksop on 57th Street in the atrium next to Nukee House, smack in the middle of New York culture—Warner World, Rock Center, the NBA Store, Von Umph Tower, Jeckyl and Hyde, Tiffany’s. Then the bull market, MAMAs spreading like wildfire, WE buying in and the rest is history!

“So you see, Supe, feelings matter—Cherry without her Wellesley Crisis wouldn’t be Cherry. That’s the inner Cherry.—Have I helped you?”

Cherry was modest about her contribution to the art of management and marketing. The subject of countless B-school case studies, MAMA hit on a formula for delivering a product Fully-Developed consumers could count on: the reliable artist. MAMA artists are rigorously tested and quality-controlled. To qualify, they must Auto-Deconstruct. They submit the personal data that drives their creativity: DNA, sexual preference, religious affiliation, psychic profile, clothing-style, recovery history, significant relationships, political preference. These are run against the MAMA and WE databases for accuracy, and a general search of insurance and medical industry records initiated.

Should these check out, the artist submits a Style Preference Profile, detailing the subject-matter, degree of optimism, degree of differentiation from popular products, sexual appeal, level of iconoclasm, ease of installation (with consumer directions) as well as a one-paragraph authorized discussion and analysis-text, to assure consumers of the acceptability and importance of what they purchase. If this Profile tests well with income-qualified focus groups, the artist signs not only a Content Supplier Contract specifying the product specifications and the royalty percentages, but also a MAMA Non-Compete detailing the conditions, if any, under which he may produce original non-Profile material. Artists remain MAMA-authorized not only by upholding their agreements, but also by submitting quarterly financial data, medical data, relationship data, and blood samples.

A Time cover article, “Can this Woman ‘Americanize’ American Art?” heralded Cherry’s crusade, and soon Madison Avenue, 57th Street, the Hamptoms, SoHo and TriBeca were experiencing astounding vacancy rates as the cream of the artistic world deserted their galleries to join her uptown and in suburbia. Suburban real estate agencies struggled when it became the rage for women bitten by the entrepreneurial bug to take advantage of liberal financing terms and break ground for Original MAMA franchise museums. Newspapers across the land created Art Sections featuring sales standings and exciting accounts of art-slams. Artists began to rival business heroes, athletes, and rock stars in the popular pantheon. Cherry was everywhere preaching the gospel of female empowerment through the arts.

“You see, Supe, the personal became a product in the 20th century, but until my breakthrough vision at Wellesley nobody knew how to make that product pay big time.”

Cherry inspires me to believe I can make a contribution to the health of our society by writing about my Self. As I work, I am tortured by doubts—but Dr. Pill and Cherry teach me that light can rise from darkness.

My Last Days, novel.
Chiasmus Books, Portland, Feb. 2008.