Lady Marmalade & The Ratcatcher
The New York Art Scene was dead.
So Morgan Tripfalter did what he had been doing his whole life.
He watched television.
Born in New York City during the mid-sixties, come of age in the gritty seventies and introduced to the downtown scene in the 80’s, Morgan was no stranger to what Manhattan had to offer. The good the bad and the weird.
Morgan rode the white horse and fronted a punk band of little repute —fucked his share of skanky actresses and got crabs — found Buddha, cleaned up and had a kid got a job and another and another and sold his soul again and again. The kid and his old lady moved to California and decided not to bug him for alimony and child support because frankly what was the point in that.
The bottom of the barrel was where Morgan Tripfalter resided in a basement flat on Avenue B as a building janitor who would sit out on the stoop late at night look at the stars and wonder when and how he had fucked up his life so completely.
He reminded himself of Siddhartha’s journey and fished through the garbage can next to him — he couldn’t believe someone would throw out a perfectly good paint set — must have cost at least $12.99. Watercolors and a brush.
The moon hitting the street light looked kind of like a black gingko tree speckled with bluish shadows. Morgan grabbed a glass jar from the little wooden shelf in the converted bedroom that used to be an equipment closet, filled it with hot water from the rusty faucet from the small room with a sink and a shitter down the hall. As Morgan sat on the stoop he heard the screeches of the buses and the mechanical noises of the city that people ignore. He dipped the paintbrush into the hot water and swirled it around on top of the surface of the black square until a dark puddle formed. He picked up a discarded New York Post and went to the racing section. He looked up at the lamp post and started to paint.
In the morning before he made his rounds to clean the garbage cans and wash off the street with a hose, Morgan took his little painting and placed it on the shelf. It wasn’t very good. In truth it was quite bad. That made sense as Morgan was pretty much terrible at everything he did. He was terrible with people, terrible with responsibilities and terrible at life. Making things ugly — that, he was pretty good at.
He found a pencil and wrote on the back of the painting, Gingko Tree in a Concrete Jungle or an Asshole’s attempt at Art. Morgan chuckled at his title and lit up another cancer stick as a reward. He let out a loud, lingering cough and then shuffled down the hallway, his 15 keys jangling on the keychain on his ratty jeans. The more keys you have, the more important you are — everybody knows that. His cell phone rang. It wasn’t a smart phone it was more of what you might refer to as a stupid looking flip-phone circa the 1990’s. He didn’t even know where he got it but he could receive calls from the landlord and the tenants who always needed cockroaches and rats exterminated — only the good jobs for Morgan Tripfalter.
Lunch was a bologna sandwich on white bread and Kool-aid from his little half refrigerator.
The radio was playing a 1980’s New Wave song — from Blondie. Morgan remembered as a kid she was always his favorite…he used to spank off to a poster of her from an old Trouser Press magazine. It was probably his love of Blondie that made Morgan want to become a punk rocker/junky — sure he liked the Ramones and the Talking Heads and the Sex Pistols but Debbie Harry was his girl. Later that night Morgan tried to paint Debbie Harry’s exotic looking face with her high cheekbones and almond eyes. What he came up with looked more like a Cheshire Cat with boobs and vagina. The title was easy, Hot Pussy from the Past. By the end of the week Morgan’s shelf had filled up with water colors of street scenes, rats, cockroaches, garbage cans, nude women with exaggerated breasts and butts.
One of those nights when Morgan was painting, a tranny prostitute stumbled by and asked him if he wanted any company. Morgan politely declined.
“What are you doin’ honey all by your lonely self on that cold doorstop, you wanna party with Lady Marmalade?”
“No thanks…Just painting.”
“No thanks, huh? Hmmm…What are you painting?…must be real important.”
“Then why don’t you paint ME, Picasso?”
“You want me to paint you? I’m not very good?”
“Sweetheart, you don’t need to be any good as a painter to make it honey child — you just need to be able to suck cock and take it in the ass if you want to make it in the art-world — trust me I know enough ‘artists’ and ‘gallery owners’ to know the real deal about the art world, sugar.”
“Aw, I don’t want to become a famous artist.”
“Then what the fuck are you doing out here all by yourself on this cold night sugar-britches?”
“You’re right…I think I’m gonna head in…thanks again for the advice.”
No problem, sugar. Advice is free. A party’ll cost you a painting…ok, Picasso?”
“Ha, ha… you got it.”
Morgan laid out another piece of newspaper on his small desk in his little room and started to paint Lady Marmalade in various poses. He painted her sad face heavy with mascara.
In the morning the phone rang. 8AM. It was the landlord. A real prick.
“Tripfalter…if I get one more fucking complaint about rats or cockroaches in any of the apartments I am going to fucking FIRE you — you dumb, lazy drug addict motherfucker, quicker than you can say take me back to the motherfucking penitentiary because I can’t handle the simplest fucking tasks in the world…do I make myself clear you useless fucking piece of human waste — Tripfalter, I’m talking to you …you dumb sack of shit…answer me, fucker — am I making myself clear?”
Tripfalter flipped close the phone.
“You motherfucking cocksucking asshole,” he muttered under his breath as he grabbed the roach spray and the rat-broomstick from next to his cot and went off to his appointed rounds.
That night the moon was bright. Morgan felt untouchable. He knew it was inevitable that he was going get canned. He was ready to move on. The janitor gig had been a nice refuge in a violent sea of disappointment after disappointment. He didn’t have much to take with him just a suitcase full of old clothes and toiletries. A dog eared paperback of Buddhist koans and about 50 new paintings on newspaper.
Early in the morning he left a note on the door “gone fishin” and started making his way to St. Mark’s Place. As a kid he always loved St. Marks. After one of his band mates had OD’d in a walk-up there — he always left flowers when he remembered to. It had been many years now.
It was a sunny day and the weekend to boot.
Morgan grabbed a cup of coffee to go and headed over to the giant Cube in Astor Place .
Someone had left a red plastic apple crate. Perfect place to pop a squat. He put his suitcase down and for some reason he felt like painting. He took his one and only paint brush and dipped it in his coffee- just as good as water. He smiled. Finding a stray piece of paper off the sidewalk to paint on is never a problem in NYC. Dipping into the black to sketch out the design of the cube didn’t take long. Then came the colors.
Before Morgan knew it, other artists and vendors were setting up shop around the Cube with little fold up tables. One skateboarder wiped out right next to Morgan and then sheepishly asked what he was painting. When he saw the cube surrounded by kids on skateboards he yelled, “Dudes! Check this shit out!”
Before he knew it there were six or seven teenaged skaters surrounding Morgan complimenting his sketch. “Yo, Chief! How much for the artwork?” Morgan was confused. He had never actually thought about selling any of his art. It was really just a hobby and for the most part he thought his art was as shitty as the rest of his life was.
“Yeah man, how much you want for that painting?” another one of the kids asked enthusiastically.
Morgan, still kind of stunned replied, “I don’t know, what were you thinking?” The kids talked amongst themselves for a moment.
“We’ve only got like twenty five bucks between us…would that be ok?”
Morgan couldn’t believe it. “Yeah, man — twenty bucks is fine. You got it. Here you go. Morgan started to hand the sketch to the ringleader and the kid handed it back to him and said, “Hey, aren’t you gonna sign it?” Morgan, again somewhat stunned took the money and quickly put it in his pocket then reached for his paintbrush — he dipped into his black paint and scribbled Ratcatcher on the bottom.
“Ratcatcher?” the ring leader read out loud, “that’s fucking RAD!!!”
After grabbing a slice of pizza and a Coke Zero, Morgan came back to the Cube and his red apple crate. The skaters were long gone but the other artists and vendors were pretty busy with tourist traffic.
Morgan opened up his suitcase and took out a couple of his better sketches. He found some rocks and placed them on the corners of each sketch and waited, and waited and waited. Eventually he had to take a piss. He asked another artist if she would watch his suitcase while he ran over to the Continental Divide to use their bathroom. He didn’t know why he trusted her. She was Asian and selling lithographs and seemed hard-working and earnest. It was just a gut feeling. When he got back, his suitcase was still there but one of the pieces of artwork was missing from the top of the suitcase. He handed the old lady a cup of green tea he had bought her from a café as a surprise thank you gift which she accepted gratefully with a funny smile.
“Hey what happened? Did some artwork blow away?”
“No, while you in bathroom; I sell your artwork for you.”
“What do you mean you sold my artwork for me? Someone actually bought one of my sketches,” Morgan replied bemusedly.
“British family. Dress very nice. They like lady with sad face. Look like painted clown — I told them it was original artwork — that you famous New York street artist that piece probably NOT for sale — they were in rush — I told them two hundred dollar — I was surprised. He laughed and gave me money no problem and business card and said YOU contact him. Don’t know why.”
The little old woman handed Morgan two crisp one hundred dollar bills. They looked different than how Morgan had remembered them. Benjamin Franklin looked different and the bill itself had different colors and holograms on it.
The business card was thick and white with an official air to it.
Nigel Worthington. Owner. Paystoke Galleries. London , UK .