ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY NINE

From Buck 65:

I remember the moment I discovered art.

The memory is a bit hazy. I was probably less than five years old. I was with my mother. We were in the decrepit home of a friend or acquaintance of hers. I can’t remember what the friend looked like except that she was big. Round. And I remember that the woman had scrawny, drunk boyfriend. He could barely talk. That frightened me. And they had a dog – a chihuahua, I think. I was very allergic to it. Strangely, it was the only dog to which I’ve ever had an allergic reaction. I just remember sneezing over and over and over again.

As my mother and her friend talked in the kitchen, I crept around the house. It was very old and smelled rotten. It was falling apart. I remember a treacherous staircase. The kitchen was bright, but the rest of the rooms of the house were dark. There was garbage everywhere. On the coffee table in the living room was a half-completed jigsaw puzzle. It was assembled enough for me to see that it depicted a naked woman. I remember imagining the couple working on it together and that when it was completed, they’d be so aroused that they’d tear each other’s clothes off and have horrifying sex. I was too young to be imagining such things.

Up the crooked staircase, I found the couple’s bedroom. I wandered in, unembarrassed. The bed was big and old like the ocean. A sheet of opaque plastic covered the window. Maybe it was winter and the plastic was there for insulation or maybe there was no window in the frame at all. I’m not sure.

My imagination was captured by a large dresser. The top of it was covered by a frilly doily. On top of that, arranged very neatly, were a woman’s things: several ornate bottles of perfume, a sterling silver vanity set, a powder pot, a pretty jewelry box… Stationed in a corner was a cheap plastic statuette of a monk standing on a little wooden platform. There was an inscription on the platform, but I was not yet able to read. The monk wore a naughty expression on his face. I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I pressed down on the monk’s head. When I did, a big ol’ plastic pecker came shooting out of his robe.

Leaning against the mirror at the back of the dresser was perhaps the most captivating thing I’d seen in my life to that point. It was a post card with a reproduction of the Mona Lisa on the front. Very carefully, I picked it up and studied it. I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. Needing to study more carefully, I sat down on the bed with the postcard resting on my lap.

Where did this image come from? How was it made? Why doesn’t it look like any other photograph I’ve ever seen? Why does the background look so strange? Is she on another planet? Where does the road behind her go? What happened to her eyebrows? What is she wearing? Is her hair wet? Is she sitting front of a fire? What time is it? Does she know Jesus? Is she happy or sad? What is she thinking about? What is she thinking about?

I stared at the Mona Lisa, asking her questions, for what felt like hours – until my mother found me because it was time to leave.

I saw the Mona Lisa in real life for the first time in 2002. As I stood there in front of her, asking her some of the same questions again, we (the Mona Lisa and I) were transported from the Louvre in Paris (the fanciest place in the world), back to that dark and dilapidated house where we came from. To this day and surely for the rest of my life, whenever I see the Mona Lisa, I will smell the damp rot of that house and will see visions of a big, stupid pecker shooting out of the robe of a plastic monk.