By Jen George, from “Instruction,” which appears in The Babysitter at Rest, a collection of her short fiction that will be published next month by Dorothy.
The Warehouse is a temporary structure with a mirrored exterior, built by admitted students before orientation, located on the infield of the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, off-season. Inside The Warehouse, various materials and tools: sheetrock; plywood; plexiglass; table saws; welders; cement mixers; glue; epoxy; caulk; a first-aid kit; a table on which to draw doodles or scratch names, butts, or penises in butts; old calendars defiled by butt and penis drawings; drywall; fiberglass; ropes; whips; hooks; horseshoes; shovels; latex gloves; etc.; and a thin-walled bathroom in which everyone knows when you are taking a shit.
At The Warehouse, the students must produce one painting, sculpture, piece of music, film, or proposal for a performance piece per week, a larger project in any discipline each month, and a final project at the end of the program. Students must attend interviews for menial jobs of their own choosing via Craigslist classified ads at the rate of four interviews per week. Students must do carpentry, maintenance work, and heavy manual labor to improve the Aqueduct field and stadium for the coming season: building and installing new spectator seats, painting Carvel and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs signs, replacing betting windows, repairing the roof, disposing of all losing tickets, oiling the horse turnstiles, repairing the stables, cleaning all bathrooms, landscaping, etc. Students are also required to bury the dead horses from the previous racing season at the center of the track’s infield, just outside The Warehouse, at the rate of one horse per week.
For five days we are to lie below the raised office in The Warehouse on black trash bags, without moving, without eating or drinking. Hunger goes easily. We are to piss and shit ourselves, get bedsores, the bedsores are to be infected by fecal matter. We are to become ill and vomit and let The Warehouse rats crawl upon us, allow the racehorse ghosts to haunt us. We are to realize the smallness of things, become desensitized to personal relationships, no longer care, regard one another with disgust, remember every awful sexual experience in vivid detail, remember every wrong that has been committed against us, recall every rejection and disappointment, feel all unrequited love, feel our unrealized possibility, we are to conjure all the waiting we have ever done, all the time that has passed. We are to feel the immense guilt of wasted time, we are to forget our families, we are to think of our parents dying if they haven’t already and if they have to remember our first knowledge of their death. We are to leave memory behind, we are to abandon sentimentality, we are to understand that the construct of the individual does not exist, that greatness exists only outside the self. We are to believe that the time beneath the office is eternity.
On the second day a guy called Rick gets up, says, “Fuck this,” walks out. Later the same day, a girl named Marlene gets up and stands below the middle of the office, says, “This is abusive. Or illegal. Let’s get out of here.” She waits for what seems like a very long time, then exits alone. Some people leave on the third day, they crawl out of The Warehouse laughing or in tears or as if they just woke up from a nap. They will not be allowed back.
At the end of the fifth day, The Teacher comes down the stairs from the office and calls time. Everyone gets up. No one speaks. I remain on the ground. Bill kicks me.
“The Teacher called time,” Bill says.
“What are you trying to do?” Alice asks.
I stay on the ground.
“You can all go. I’ll see you in the morning,” The Teacher says.
Everyone leaves. I stay on the ground. The Teacher stands over me for an hour. It may be longer, but I’ve lost any sense of time. “Now it is really time,” The Teacher says. “You may get up.”
“I can stay,” I say.
“I know,” The Teacher says. “But getting up is what’s required.”
origins of action
I was sexually attractive, which is highly valued in college and art circles as well as in other hierarchical scenes mimicking the structure of capitalism wherein older men with large hands finger younger women who read novels and possibly write or paint or play an instrument and make declarative statements such as, “If I had to work at an office in Midtown nine to five I’d jump off the George Washington Bridge” or “I’ve never been out of the country.”
The Teacher/Older Man with Large Hands lives for young women saying things like this. It reminds him of something long lost.
Students are assigned a reading list: the Craigs-list New York jobs page (to be read daily), Hegel (all), Schopenhauer (all), Kierkegaard (all), Weil (all). Additionally, the classics (all).
I paint Your Unceasing Fantasy Will Not Conjure the Desired into Being, a series of one hundred watercolors depicting women in various states of longing/desire/dreaming/despair with their eyes slightly crossed, mouths mostly open, vaginas reluctantly dry, in the first month at school. It’s hailed by The Teacher/Older Man with Large Hands as “sexy as hell while being totally amateur and bad.” I’ll admit that the praise went straight to my head.
Sitting at an Irish bar in Queens, the young woman drinks a second whiskey and makes an announcement to The Teacher/Older Man with Large Hands: “Maybe I’ll do my next project on the female orgasm as the resonating shock waves of asteroids colliding in space to form the universe. Residual ‘cosmic’ orgasms are attained when the exact frequency/energetic level of the initial cosmic collision and subsequent reverberation resulting in the world’s birth is reached; female orgasm as the genesis of worlds. Or one world, at least.”
The Teacher/Older Man with Large Hands has difficulty stifling laughter and buries his face in his work jacket. Tears come out of his eyes from the strain of trying not to laugh. He lets out a snort and then pretends to cough, drinks whiskey. “Ooh, my throat. This weather,” The Teacher says. “Welp, cool idea. Really neat.” He succeeds in stifling laughter.
“How about a shoulder massage?” The Teacher/Older Man with Large Hands commences shoulder massage on the young woman. The Teacher pulls out an envelope of photographs. “This is me as a baby. This is me and my aunt, the one I was in love with, at Coney Island. This is me at twelve, with my younger brother, in our shared room. This is me at sixteen with my friend Bud, who once gave me a handjob when we were drunk; he later killed two people in California. This is me in New Mexico with my ex-girlfriend, you remind me of her, but you are newer. This is me with my Teacher.” The young woman and The Teacher/Older Man with Large Hands continue to drink whiskey at the Irish bar in which a large-breasted woman with a shit stain on the ass of her yellowed dress weeps while watching Wheel of Fortune and eating french fries. It is winter.
the warehouse office
Stairs lead up to a large office structure located in the center of The Warehouse. The office contains an $8,000 espresso machine; a hardback first edition of the Combined Collected Works of Samuel Beckett and Bertolt Brecht with a 3-D cover made up of two enormous dueling phalli powered by a microscopic battery, worth $3.8 million; Fingers in Buttholes: A Visual History, by Guys into Buttholes; The Communist Manifesto printed with ink from a giant squid on gold-leaf pages, with a ruby-and-blood-diamond studded (blood intact for tone effect) cover; Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, 278th Edition (Signet); and The Collected Works of The Teacher/Older Man with Large Hands — essays, memoir, rants, fictions, videotaped performances, letters, business emails, imaginings, musings, manifestos, predictions, apologies, sexual fantasies, doodles, photo-booth pictures, photographs, sculptures, constructions, paintings.
A large computer printout of a digital picture of a real picture of The Teacher’s aunt acts as wallpaper.
At the north end sits The Teacher’s desk, at which conferences take place and one-on-one critiques and guidance are given (also considered the best place for in-Warehouse sex, under-the-table blowjobs specifically). On the desk sit pens, a notepad, a tabletop calendar with large red X’s through all the days of the following year, and a jar of all The Teacher’s nail clippings from the past thirty years. Behind the desk, a chalkboard on which nothing is ever written.
typical school day at the warehouse
Get to The Warehouse early so as to exhibit dedication and desire to work hard. Morning jokes among students. Someone goes to take a shit in the bathroom in which everyone knows when you are taking a shit. Collect tubes, wires, circuit boards, pliers, try to make the circuit board light up. Jokes about attending technical school. Someone’s brother attends technical school. Apologies. Work for three hours on required projects, then on stadium and vendor-stall maintenance for three hours, then begin/continue work on the week’s horse grave (a.k.a. digging) for four hours, then go back to The Warehouse for lecture/instruction for three hours. No one spends free time watching the television in the closet room.
For my final project I design an outdoor installation called Implosion. It’s a series of enormous, unified mirrors along the East River from Brooklyn to Queens, up to Rikers, down to Red Hook, the entire Jersey side of the Hudson visible from Manhattan, and spanning crosstown at 118th Street. The mirrors are high enough to allow Manhattan to look at itself while blocking the outer boroughs, New Jersey, and anything north of 118th Street from sight. We begin construction on the foundation and all the students at The Warehouse are put to work on the project. I think that they may resent me in some way. We work twenty hours a day digging, welding, cementing; no one sleeps. We take large quantities of pseudoephedrine. I’ve stopped eating. I weigh ninety-eight pounds. Giant cranes and several helicopters place the mirrors together once the foundation is in place. One student loses a leg when the glare of the sun on the mirror temporarily blinds the helicopter pilot (also a Warehouse student), causing the pilot/student to drop the mirror on the student’s leg, slicing it clean off. When Implosion is finished, the unified mirror reflects Manhattan all around itself, from north to south, east to west. Manhattan takes it as a compliment and sees it as a major cosmetic improvement; officials release a statement saying that the city has never looked better and that the city’s realization of itself is complete. In the outer boroughs people wait in the shadows of the mirror, listening, not knowing what it looks like from the other side. New Jersey is forgotten completely. After the opening at Queensbridge Park, before the sun comes up in the east, The Teacher and I fuck against the mirror. Everyone has either gone to bed, is fucking at some point along the mirror, or is looking at the mirror from some other place in the city. The Teacher tells me, “This is the best thing you will ever do.”