there was a little low couch against one of the walls and she went and sat down on it.
i had too much white cake with chocolate frosting, she thought. betty was addicted to sugar, and despite the deep shame she felt about it, was often unable to resist temptation, especially when stressed.
but i really had no excuse this time, she thought, i am only visiting a museum…
betty closed her eyes….
when she opened them, she saw that m d foster’s photographs had disappeared and a new exhibit had taken its place.
a video, with some kind of musical soundtrack of what betty thought was a hip hop beat, was being projected on one of the walls.
a group of 9 or 10 schoolchildren - about 11 or 12 years old, accompanied by a tall young woman who betty assumed was a teacher, was standing in front of the wall.
another young woman wearing a white blouse with a photo i d badge pinned to it was addressing the schoolchildren with an enthusiastic air and many gestures. betty picked up the word “prizes” in her speech.
a table stood beside the speaking woman, and a chimpanzee was seated at the table.
a place card on the table identified the chimp as “carla”, and carla had a pink bow on her head to emphasize that she was a girl chimp and not a boy chimp.
the video and the music stopped. betty could now hear what the young woman giving the demonstration was saying.
“who would like to challenge carla and win a prize?”
“what’s the prize?” asked a solidly built young man.
“the prize is a copy of one of the museum’s series of novels - novel #!, novel#2, and so forth.”
the young man had his back to betty but his body language did not express enthusiasm. but before he could speak, a small girl raised her hand and said she would like to win a prize.
“thank you, “ the young woman smiled. “what is your name?”
“reba - what a pretty name. now - here is what we are going to do. the video - which was created by c c cuthbert, by the way - has already played a couple of times as we stood here, so if you were paying attention - ha ha - you should remember some of it. now when i start it again, watch carefully -
26 images are going to flash on the screen in 13 seconds in a random order and when it is over i am going to ask you to play back the sequence. as you see on the table here we have a keypad with the 26 images on it and you can use it sequence the images in the order you remember. does that make sense?”
“i guess,” reba answered. the children were now crowding a little more densely behind reba, looking at the keyboard on the table.
“now, when you do this, carla will also watch the video, and she has her own keyboard in front of her to play the sequence back, and then we will see who did better and then if you do better than carla, you win the prize. one more thing - this is not about speed, just accuracy, so you can take as much time as you want. ready?”
“this is bullshit,” a small boy behind reba announced. “i call bullshit on this whole thing. the monkey’s keyboard is fixed, can’t you sheeple see that -“
the young woman smiled sweetly and ignored him. “are you ready, reba?”
“no, this is bullshit,” the boy repeated, “and what’s it supposed to prove? - that we are all really monkeys? -“
“dylan, shut up,” the teacher said, with more asperity than betty would have expected from a 21st-century custodian of children.
“and she’s a chimp, not a monkey, you troll,” another girl spoke.
the video started, with its music. betty tried to watch it, but it went by too fast.
images flashed of a pyramid, a raccoon, a turtle, and an apple -
followed by a dinosaur, a flamingo, a coca-cola sign, katy perry, donald trump, a white kitten, the american flag, a cheeseburger, abraham lincoln, albert einstein, a can of red bull, mount rushmore, a black kitten, miley cyrus, a black-and-white kitten, henry kissinger, judy garland as dorothy, a jar of peanut butter, a red-and-white campbell’s soup can, chairman mao, a blue and green beachball, and a german shepherd,
all in thirteen seconds.
betty thought she remembered the pyramid first, but after that…
the children and the two young woman were crowding around reba, who was told again by the young woman giving the presentation to “take her time.”
finally reba said, “all right, that’s the best i can do.”
“let’s see - you got a score of seven! wow, that is great, reba, tremendous - one of the best scores ever! and your eighth was only two off!”
“yeah, right,” the young man addressed as dylan muttered.
“now, let’s see what carla can do. ready, carla?”
betty vaguely remembered reading about something like this before, probably in the new york times, so she was not surprised when the chimp played the 26 images back almost as quickly as they had been played to begin with.
the children gave the chimp a big round of applause, except for the unrepentant dylan -
“this is bullshit. this is why civilization is fucked.”
the children and the teacher left, and betty was left alone with the young woman giving the presentation, and the chimp.
the young woman noticed betty. “hi,” she said, “i am c c cuthbert. would you like to challenge carla? win a prize?”
the next room betty went into was labelled “m d foster - photographs”. it was a large room , larger than any she had entered previously, and there were quite a few people in it, looking at m d foster’s photographs.
betty dd not see any brochures or information about either m d foster or the photographs.
she passed a couple of women having a conversation.
“ii just want to know if m d foster is a man or a woman,” said one of the women.
“what difference does it make?” the other one replied.
“it makes all the difference.”
“maybe m d foster is a robot. or a group of both men and women.”
the photographs were of various sizes. some were small polaroids. one covered an entire wall.
but they all seemed to be of the same thing. black and white images of huge amounts of clams and oysters on a beach. no people or birds, just the masses of bivalves.
betty looked at the picture covering the wall. she wondered if it were possible to count the clams in the pictures, and decided that it was not.
novel #2 was 1,000 pages long. the first page consisted of the word “fuck” endlessly repeated with no punctuation or paragraphing.
flipping through a few more pages, and then randomly checking others of the 1,000 pages, it seemed to betty that they too seemed to consist of the word “fuck” endlessly repeated with no punctuation or paragraphing.
was the whole book like that? was the last page like that?
with bated breath betty turned to the last page.
she heard a bell ring.
she looked around and realized the ringing was coming from an old-fashioned landline phone on the wall, which she had either not noticed or which had just popped out from the wall.
putting down novel #2, betty went over to the phone and answered it.
“your break is over,” a metallic voice announced.
“thank you,” betty replied.
a man appeared. he had a little mustache and looked like a maitre’d in a new yorker cartoon.
“you can return to your post in flora’s installation,” he told betty with a smile. “or, since we have found another volunteer to take your place, you may quit the installation if you like, and proceed on your way, either to further investigate the exhibits currently on display, or to depart the museum altogether, if that is your preference.”
“thank you,” betty replied. “i think i shall, as you so graciously suggest. look at some of the other exhibits, unless the rain has stopped, in which case i will be on my way.”
“as you wish,” the maitre’d answered with another smile, “i believe the rain has not stopped, but you can, of course, investigate that matter yourself.”
he then stood aside to let betty pass, and she found herself once more in the highly polished corridors of the museum.
the maitre’d picked up the copy of novel #2 which betty had left on the arm of the comfortable chair she had been sitting in, and returned it to the bookcase.
as he did so, a slip of paper, which betty had not noticed, fell out of the book and drifted to the floor.
the slip stated that the word “you” appeared on one of the pages, randomly inserted into the 999,999 repetitions of the word “fuck” .
he got up in the morning and went to work five days a week.
he occasionally got a holiday, such as the fourth of july or thanksgiving or christmas day.
his hours were from eight a m to four p m every day, with a 45 minute break for lunch.
when bob got up in the morning he usually had a cup of coffee, a glass of orange juice, and a toasted bran muffin for breakfast.
then he dressed and went to work. there was no dress code at his job, so he wore the same thing almost every day - black pants, and a blue short sleeved shirt. he never wore a tie, although he did own a red one and a yellow one. occasionally he wore a white shirt instead of a blue one.
it should be mentioned that bob lived and worked in a metropolitan area that did not have much divergence in the weather throughout the year. occasionally bob would have to wear a jacket or a sweater when he went out outdoors. he owned a blue jacket and a red sweater and a green sweater.
he took a bus to work, the bus ride took approximately forty-five minutes - the same length of time , as it happened, that he had for lunch.
bob worked for a company that produced advertising brochures for small and medium sized businesses.
bob worked in the editorial content department (the department changed its name every six months or so). his title was editorial technician (this title also changed every six or eight months).
bob’s job was to produce the words that went into the brochures. the brochures were not written from scratch - there were sets of templates that were used, and into which the particulate attributes of the customer’s business were inserted.
a single template rarely sufficed, so they had to be combined in some way.
the hardest part of the job was avoiding mistakes in describing the customer’s businesses. this involved researching the jobs on google or other information sites.
the other hard part of the job, for bob, was prioritizing the different assignments he was given. different “producers” - the sales and marketing reps who obtained the jobs from the customers - would give him assignments and each wanted their own given priority, so keeping them all happy was a problem.
in addition, bob had to deal with the “product department” - which oversaw the final determination of each brochure’s combined visual and verbal content. the verbal content was considered secondary to the visual, so the “editorial technicians” like bob felt they were treated like inconsequential drones who were always slowing things down.
on bob’s forty-five minute lunch break, he almost always had two slices of plain pizza and a diet dr pepper at a hole in the wall place across the street from the office building. to venture any further away involved risking being late getting back.
although no one ever made a big deal if he was a few minutes, or even five or ten minutes late…
betty could not read any more . besides being totally boring, it sounded exactly like her own job. she put down “novel #1” and picked up “novel #2”.
betty found a cafeteria and purchased a cup of coffee and an orange scone, for a price she considered exorbitant.
she wished she had a strawberry ice cream cone, stared into space, and …
suddenly she found herself in an installation in the museum, and people came and looked at her as she consumed endless cups of tea and coffee and slices of white cake with chocolate frosting.
a little girl in a blue dress with wide stiff skirts and with a yellow bow in her hair, whom betty recognized as her great-grandmother, approached her and told her she could take a break.
betty followed the little girl-great-grandmother to a little room. there were a few chairs and small tables and a small bookcase in it.
“this is the break room,” the little girl announced.
“how long is my break?” betty asked.
“my name is caroline,” the girl said, but betty already knew that. “there are some books over there if you would like to read them.”
“thank you,” betty replied.
“as you consume large quantities of white cake with chocolate frosting in the installation, you might not need any sustenance,” the little girl continued. “but if you suddenly crave some more solid fare, such as roast beef with mashed potatoes and summer squash, or a roast oxen, there is a button on the wall above the bookcase. press it, and a chef will appear.”
“thank you,” betty repeated.
the little girl-great-grandmother disappeared, without having answered betty’s question as to how long her break would be.
betty wondered if any other employees or people in the installations would join her.
but after a few minutes none did, and she went over to the bookcase.
there were only a few books in it.
most of them were catalogues of previous exhibits in the museum. the others had plain white covers with the museum’s name as publisher.
they were labelled novel #1, novel #2, novel #3, etc.
betty was disappointed. she would have much preferred novels by jodi picoult or jennifer weiner or wally lamb. but she took novel #1 and novel #2 with her over to the most comfortable looking chair.
there was a curious metal object beside the chair which betty had not really registered on betty’s consciousness before.
it had a heavy looking round base about five inches in diameter supporting a shaft about three feet tall which was topped by a half sphere which had what looked like a pair of flaps in its flat surface.
betty could not make out what it was for. would the flaps open to catch flying insects like wasps?
surely there were no wasps or other flying insects in the museum? unless, betty thought, they were part of an installation and might go astray?
betty decided not to touch the curious object and sat down and opened novel #1.
there was no author identified on the book, and no blurbs or other descriptive matter on the cover.
"the ultimate minimalism of nestor sakato” took up the next room betty entered.
nestor sakato’s canvases were each one solid color and were numbered “composition #1, composition #2,” etc.
composition #1 was red, #2 was pink, #3 was yellow, and so forth.
betty did not spend much time looking at them, although other people were staring at them intently.
but she had seen them. there was no way, except by closing her eyes, that she could not have seen them.
the next room betty went into had an exhibition of the paintings by john 53, otherwise not identified.
john’s paintings were simple cartoon like renditions of small humans who might or might not have been intended to represent children, most of them accompanied by small creatures who were probably intended to be cats or dogs? monkeys? chimpanzees? betty could not really tell.
there were no other visitors in the room, but there was a chair.
was the chair a work of art? there was no sign indicating that it was, so betty took a chance that it was not and took a break and sat down on it.
betty stared for a while at john 53’s paintings. suddenly she had a craving for an ice cream cone.
there was probably no place in the museum where she could buy an ice cream cone, though you never knew.
but there was surely a cafeteria where she could get a cup a coffee and a croissant or a scone, if not a cupcake or slice of chocolate torte.
betty consulted the little folder which she had picked up on entering the museum.
if she read the floor plan in it correctly, “the uncompromising feminist art of daphne edwards-soraya” was in a room just ahead and to her left.
she entered the room.
a young woman and a young man were just leaving the room.
there were no other people in the room.
the first thing betty saw was a canvas about four feet wide extending almost from floor to ceiling. the canvas was white with lettering of various bright colors.
the words on the canvas were:
alle mense is roes
bütün kişilər köpük var
gizon gaizto guztiak dira
svi muškarci su ološ
tots els homes són escòria
tanan nga mga tawo mao ang taya
anthu onse mukhale chopondapo
tutti omi sò ball
svi ljudi su šljam
všichni muži jsou spodina
lle mænd er udskud
alle mensen zijn uitschot
ĉiuj homoj estas sedimento
kõik mehed on saast
ahat ng tao ay mga hamak na tao
kaikki miehet ovat roskaväkeä
tous les hommes sont l'écume
alle minsken binne smoargens
todos os homes son desagradables
alle Männer sind Abschaum
tout moun yo kras
dukan mutane masu kumfa
na kanaka a pau, he pelapela
tag nrho cov txiv neej yog pom tej kev phem
minden férfi söpredék
Allir menn eru óhroða
mmadụ nile nādighi ọcha
semua orang adalah sampah
Tá gach fir olc
tutti gli uomini sono feccia
kabeh wong sing uwuh
todos los hombres son escoria
a small table and chair had been placed beside the canvas. an opened laptop was on the table, along with a little card.
betty picked up the card. it explained that the laptop was opened to google translate. betty had already noticed that herself.
the card encouraged the patron to translate the phrases on the canvas into other languages.
betty did not know any language except english, although she could recognize a few other languages, like french and spanish, as themselves, when she saw them.
she began translating the phrases on the canvas into english, and quickly got the message.
they were all translations of “all men are scum” into various languages.
betty found this mildly amusing but not particularly informative.
there were other canvases and a few etchings on the walls of the room, which betty supposed were also the “uncompromising feminist art of daphne edwards-soraya”. some were abstracts, others were writing in languages betty did not understand, and some were in scripts she could not read even phonetically.
betty decided not to try to translate any of the writing on the wall with google translate, but to leave the room and look at some other exhibits.
as she was leaving the room a severe looking young woman with thick glasses was entering it, carrying a spiral notebook with loose papers and what might have been drawings sticking out of it.
betty wondered if the young woman was daphne edwards-soraya.
betty was waiting for her friend janey but janey did not show up.
it started to rain.
betty decided to go indoors.
the nearest building was the museum, which betty had not visited for some time.
betty paid the reasonable entrance fee and went into the museum.
there were some posters on the wall describing some of the exhibits.
one said “the ultimate minimalism of nestor sakato”. betty did not think it sounded too promising, but then, she had only come into the museum to get out of the rain.
another, larger poster promised “the uncompromising feminist art of daphne edwards-soraya”. this was altogether more to betty’s taste. betty gloried in the name of feminist, and took every opportunity to proclaim herself one.
a third, smaller and barely legible poster that betty almost missed advertised “manuscriptism - new works of b b bashevski ”. this did not sound the least bit interesting.
picking up a little folder that contained a map of the museum, betty proceeded on her way.
This one was a rough ride. I don't want to get into the details but this time i had to deal with so many submissions that were inadequate to the magazine's concept I thought somebody was joking on me. That was downright discouraging. That's why this time I relied more on curated content than incoming submissions. It made a better issue.
I'm glad to present you the works of the following: