“The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being embedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, then with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol. Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura.”
A man, a familiar man to be exact, stands atop a soap box in the middle of Times Square. He wears ripped blue jeans, weathered blue Chuck Taylors, and a torn, one-of-a-kind white t-shirt featuring a smiling Andy Warhol with a can of soup in one hand and the other giving a thumbs up á la Buddy Christ. “Screw It” is inscribed beneath Warhol’s bust. A foot above Warhol’s raised thumb hangs a “My Name is:” sticker reading “Chorus.”
Chorus’ sweat-beaded beard glistens in the sun’s prismatic glow that peers through those rare empty spaces between high rises that offer a glimpse of what was once the island’s blue-half-dome sky. The glory around Chorus’ steaming head matches the glory around the sun.
August on 42nd and Broadway. Fall is knocking on the doors of a typically muggy and baked Big Apple.
Dog days of summer. The reflection period for all the hot and thinly clad season’s follies, misadventures, and exploits, and the raptures evoked therefrom. Chorus takes a long bubbling sip of black coffee, brushes the droplets off his beard with his forearm, and pushes his long damp hair behind his ears.
He begins to speak, rather loudly:
“Brothers and sisters! Mothers and fathers! Mice and fowl! My name is Chorus Withersby, and I am here with ye all to tell all ye of the signs to which ye must adhere. The fragments of existence to which most never care to open thine eyes and ears, those crumbs which almost no one contemplates, are rapidly breaching our comfort zones! Ever-expanding due to our severe lust for The New, these shards of cloudy realities threaten our very essence – our very being. We must slow down this thrill ride we are currently on!”
Most people simply walk on by the archaic town crier, not paying him much attention. Many don’t even hear Chorus – headphones deep within ear canals burst cochlear-candy shrapnel into their sugar-toothed skulls, noise-canceling Chorus’ forlorn howls.
Chorus pays them little mind, mostly enthralled instead by his own wandering rapture. Every now and again, though, he sees a pair or more of thespians crash into one another with eyes firmly anchored to a mobile device of some kind or other – no captain working the helm. He nudges Warhol’s picture on his shirt and whisper “did you see that one?” then chuckles inwardly.
Other passersby take their headphones off momentarily with eyes trained on the ground to hear what the man is saying. Plenty of tourists take pictures of him, some take videos with the top-of-the-line, 80-percent-off video cameras that they just purchased and are simply dying to use. The only people looking at Chorus, in essence, are looking at Chorus through a lens or digital screen. Chorus doesn’t notice it, but Warhol most certainly does. This makes Warhol livid and pleasantly excited all at once – a very confusing emotional mixture for a t-shirt print indeed.
Chorus carries on, breaking sporadically between pandemonius sermons to either sip his coffee or talk to Warhol’s bust.
“Listen, oh sweet brethren and sisthren, listen! Hear me with thine eyes and see me with thine heart! I come baring the key to all of thine eternal and invisible locks! The quagmires of time and space must be discussed and examined! The more we shadow our perceptions with alienating tangibles, the more our very abilities to perceive will deteriorate…The dark forces with which we define and clutter our souls must be brought into the light of debate, of reason, of consciousness! I am here to tell all ye of real freedom, freedom that is found within and impossible to shackle; of the masters and slaves we blindly make of ourselves; of reason and reasonability; of the light of the sun’s tranquility and the destitution of the institutions…”
As the sun’s light slowly creeps up the skyscrapers, the evening’s dusk befalls the city. Crowds grow thicker in step with the humid, stagnant air. Chorus continues on for a short while longer, mostly because of the short touristy-dressed twenty-something-year-old girl kneeled down beside the soap box who records his strange parlance with that heroic perspective coming from the ground and looking up. Chorus remembers his strong jaw line, imagines he appears as a distinguished prophet on the other side of that lens – a respected seer from a more enlightened time – and subsequently pushes on as far as he can before needing a new coffee. Eventually he gestures a peace sign into the girl’s camera, picks up his milk crate, and submerges himself into vacant crowds.
Chorus goes to his local deli, then back to his small hostel room to sleep. The amateur auteur from before, Carol, goes to a coffee shop several hours after she had had the encounter with Chorus. She looks through her new camera and comes across the video of Chorus. Not having remembered it, she laughs with excitement at the video.
The show on the four-inch screen has Chorus soliloquizing for five minutes, methodically talking to his shirt’s Andy Warhol print. The jumbotron behind her subject runs through eclectic yet conformed and tawdry digitalized short video advertisements, some with coastal cowboys and glamorous women, others with famous paintings deformed into cheap pixelated irreverence. Carol decides to retire to her hotel room.
She proceeds to plug the camera into her computer. She edits the video of Chorus, consigning pieces of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, first movement, to the backdrop of Chorus’ cries. Carol has an especially fun time placing kitsch text bubbles with kitschier expressions over the video to illustrate and communicate her own reflections. She edits in expressions like “Wait for it…” just before Chorus will talk to the picture of Warhol, or “Which cult did this guy survive the punch-drinking ceremony of?” when Chorus’ eyes appear especially crazed. She giggles and continues on for an hour or so, tweaking the video to be just right, then posts it onto her video blogging account. She takes a couple of snacks from the locked cabinet, falls asleep with the television on.
Chorus wakes up the next morning to subtle rays bursting through the two inches of visible sky in his window, puts the Warhol shirt on, picks up his soap box, and heads to Times Square. Along the way he stops at his local deli to get a cup of coffee and a pastry.
The person behind the counter, Stella, who Chorus has seen on a daily basis for 10 years but has never gone further into a conversation with than “hello, how are you, I’ll take a small black coffee and a pastry,” looks at him just differently enough for him to notice. She even says “hope you have a good day” as he leaves, something she had never done before. Chorus thinks this is a bit strange but listens to Warhol when he tells him to not pay her odd behavior any mind.
Carol wakes up in her hotel room, orders room service, and takes a shower. While eating her highly American Belgian Waffles in bed she logs onto her video blogging account.
Chorus makes it to Times Square, places the soap box on the slightly less-weathered twelve-inch square of space that he uses every day, and climbs atop. As he opens his mouth to breathe his first expressions into plugged and hollow ears scattering about in the warm August morning, to his surprise, he hears his voice calling loudly from all around. Confused, he looks around erratically, sending tiny waves of coffee splashing onto the ground, until he finally sees himself on the jumbotron.
He waves his arms, thinking it is live footage, or maybe a hallucination, but his body on the gigantic screen doesn’t adhere to his own nervous system’s commands. Then he hears the unmistakable first movement of Beethoven’s Third Symphony in the backdrop of the sermon he had administered the day prior. Then he sees the little blurbs with the kitsch expressions. Then he drops his coffee on the ground.
He picks up his soap box and frantically tries to escape the scene, constantly bumping and running into people whose eyes are glued down to their phones while his own eyes are pinned up to the jumbotron.
Carol brings up the video she had filmed and edited the day prior. Her eyes light up as she sees the number of views it accrued overnight – an astounding five million. She jumps on her bed with excitement. She struck a goldmine. Carol had, without expecting to at all, created the latest hullabaloo. She jumps up and down on the bed, sending the various breakfast foods and juices splashing to the floor in celebration of her viral success.
Meanwhile, Chorus makes it back to his home, sits in a corner of the small room and curls up into a fetal position. Confused, in shock, over-exerted, he passes out to the calming sound of Warhol’s voice.
Chorus wakes up, not sure what day it is and how he got into his bed, and not sure if his recollection of the day prior had been real or a dream. He goes through his normal routine. Upon reaching the local deli he encounters a handful of cameramen, and scores of reporters. They all run up to him, asking him questions and telling him he is famous. Chorus stands confused in that merciless, downright evil haze between waking up and coursing caffeine through the veins. He loses it entirely and starts to rip through the reporters, knocking some of them down, bloodying one of their noses, and finally passing out on the ground under a sea of flashing lights.
Chorus awakes in a cell by himself – he wears a prison uniform and thus no longer has Warhol. His weary weeps and wallows echo down an empty hall. All he has is a pen and paper. He begins to write between sobs, sad saline droplets falling on the page every few seconds like clockwork.
Carol awakens to an invitation to appear on Good Morning World, and excitedly proceeds to Times Square where the hit show is filmed. Her chin and ego higher than they ever have been before, she shuffles through thoughts of what she will say about herself and her viral success on national television, but never even vaguely or subconsciously considers her subject, Chorus.
Chorus writes furiously in his cell, no idea as to how long he will be there, no thoughts as to where he might end up next, worried about Warhol. He feels so strange, having been completely torn away from his daily rituals and routines in Times Square, but finds sanctuary in the sound of his patois on paper – refuge resonating from his own thoughts as they safely vibrate through his own head.
“…Saviors hide themselves in the bodies of the commoner; fakes disguise themselves in the bodies of the seemingly intelligent and affluent. Significance is subjective, and healthy subjectivity is the premier function of an honest and true life. Not fade away! Not in the shadows of madness or lights of prosperity. Keep thine dignity through chosen austerity. Depression or enlightenment or the like, keep thine wits about thee and thee shall last through the night. Be loud! Be gracious! Be free! Triumph over the woes of the weak…”
Meanwhile, in Times Square, Carol delights the hit show’s hosts and the pedestrian fans surrounding the desk, discussing the video, drawing laughter and attention from the whole world, enjoying the warm August day. Carol feels fulfilled and the cast keeps an eye out for the next hullabaloo. Chorus receives jests, hysterics, foreboding applause from a distance. His ears ring in his empty cell, but he continues on writing all the same.
“…Capitalize off of the pulls of the sun and the moon in verses; surf the electromagnetic currents of the universes. Fickle, feeble, and ungracious entities frequent even the highest of grounds; while the meek, sturdy, and decorous entities seem perpetually out of bounds. My name is Chorus Withersby, and I will never go quietly into the night! I will rage, rage, rage against the dying of light! As Van Gogh once observed, ‘the fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.’ I, as the fishermen, will not run scared from the storm – I will weather it as it weathers me, and whatever shall come of me, shall be.”