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The Autobiography of Jim Drain

Jim Drain and P. Scott Cunningham

Jim Drain was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1975. At the Rhode Island School Design, he was a member of Forcefield, a collective of artists and musicians who were later featured in the 2002 Whitney Biennial. One of two recipients of the 2005 Bâloise Prize, Drain is represented by Greene Naftali Gallery in New York. His work is in the permanent collection of MoMA. He currently lives and works in Miami.

We huddled around. Ann was told not to touch the wing. We did not cry. Mindy was there. Mindy has white lamb hair and so does Cammy, her sister.

Coco is my dog. She has brown lamb hair and can kill rabbits like that. I have one dog, two cats, two sisters and one baby brother,
Patrick. He cries. He is a baby. A man left our house with a pile of dead foxes in the back of his pickup truck last week.

Neely cried. I don’t know why she cried. Tears fell down her face and she was in so much pain but I don’t know why she cried. She
really did not need to cry. Her mom agreed.

I don’t cry anymore. The last time I cried I was in the department store. Mom said I did not need to cry so hard, “I am right here.” Nancy Clay works there. She was with Nancy Clay. She ‘could care less’ and sings ‘James James Morrison Morrison’ to me.

Mom cries. She said that we will have a baby sister soon. She does not know where she is going to go.

She cried when we ran out of gas. She also cried when there were flowers piled between buildings. People on t.v. were crying. A man
had died. He had a beard and looked like my uncle, Bill. The dead man is not my uncle.

Bill’s wife is Barbara and my cousin’s name is Jessie. Jessie is fat and six.

Grandpa asked Barbara if she had any more plans to throw bags of blood onto buildings. It was funny. Patrick began crying. Aunt
Barbara left the table and went outside to smoke.

My sister just got out of the shower. It is summer, and I am walking down the driveway. The driveway is gravel, and there is a pile of dirt at the end. The pile of dirt is fresh with bike tire tracks running up the center. The bike lays somewhere on its side in the middle of the lawn. I am looking for my brother and notice that the station wagon is gone. No one is around. Everyone is probably gone.

Through the window, I see my grandmother making coffee. She goes to answer the phone. She sits and fusses her hair. She does not
see me. I walk into the field. Clumps of grass have died and fallen, making clumps of seasons.

A deer bolts and I walk in that direction.

It is getting dark so early.

I am excited. Mike called. We are going out and basically you can’t say no because he has been going to Stoner’s Beach with Dan the past three weekends straight. We’re going to I don’t know where he said. Swimmin’ in the Caribbean. Mike was kicked out of prep school for cheating and has a dark blue 1992 four-door Cadillac sedan that can take the Chagrin Valley Hills like you are fucking floating. His best friend from Hawken is Aaron Gracious, who is pretty much guaranteed to get into Columbia and become the next Jack Kerouac so basically he is the next American Buddha. Mike likes to blast White Light White Heat driving 80 miles per hour with the windows down even in the dead of winter.

I couldn’t hit it sideways, Jim, he sang to me or to the fireflies or to Lou Reed himself.

Mom said it is asinine that your Dad would park at the end of the driveway for an hour just to look at the cherry trees bloom. She has to take off work and go in for an MRI on Monday. Her leg did not work when she tried to get out of the car last week. She is pissed about it. Her face looked worried but said it is probably nothing and I should not worry about it.

I would basically fuck/make love/have sex/have intercourse with about three different people. Also, I think by the end of the season I can reach 80 miles per hour on my fastball.

Arjun is thinking about not playing next season. I told him that that would be a mistake; he’s the best shortstop in the class. The coach is just a Tom Buchanan still fixated on being a phone call away from the majors, I told him. Yeah, he agreed.

Two out of my three friends are clueless about the Pixies so that leaves only Kate who still has a pile of empty whippet canisters stuffed in her glove compartment and whose tape deck is stuck with DEVO inside. You can pretty much listen to the radio or DEVO so it is just whip-it good nonstop—which she finds hilarious—and snork-laughs when she talks about it, which makes her curl up and say don’t make fun of me, which is a deadpan impression of Beaker in a Catholic school uniform.

Anyway, I have like one clean shirt to wear to work next week and fuck, I need Mom to fix my pants button that popped yesterday and are really too short already. She thought Uncle Peter was my Dad’s new girlfriend, Annie from A.A. We went to Put-in-Bay with Annie and her two sons over the summer. Annie has names for her two cars and an emergency cigarette that hovers at her forehead when she drives. Just in case, ha ha ha. Annie’s son Jake swears he is going to break the glass and smoke it one day.

Mom was about to say something to Annie and Uncle Peter and Thank God is now glad that she didn’t. His hair was beyond his shoulders and he sat there and said nothing, she said. Again, she thanked fucking God. Uncle Peter is nearly dead from leukemia and all my aunts and uncles are in town to visit. Kareem takes up half his hospital wall with a halo of get wells. He likes to say, Hello, James when he sees me.

Andy came in to work on his sculpture. Andy’s hair is nonstop bright orange and the orange bursts in every direction. He said I looked sick and I told him I’m not so bad but I could not really move from where I am still laying now. He chipped away at the clump of 2×4’s he’s glued together and now that chipped clump is painted bright orange and is drying. Now I am sweating and I cannot move and everything hurts. Andy left to go get dinner. He did not ask if I wanted anything but I don’t think I could lift myself to get my wallet from my side pocket if he had. There is exactly no money in it anyway.

Andy’s corner is a pile of debris shoved into a messy tower reaching to the ceiling: traffic cones, dirty conduit pointing in all directions, a scatter of crumpled Taco Bell bags, leather buckskin boots that could pass as roadkill. Somehow it fits into the ‘Andy zone’ without spilling into the other designated studio spaces in the room. My feet are partly over my neighbor’s tape line spilling into ‘Melissa zone’ but they are both never here and I cannot move anyway.

I should mention that I am basically wearing my bedding: three sweaters, long johns, three pairs of socks and a winter hat. I am only missing the foam egg crate and the cotton sheet that served as a film projection screen last Friday night. The sheet did nothing to help with the cold and stank of cigarette smoke. I lie watching my breathe as it spins away from my face and into the chipped paint that hangs from the ceiling and thinking that I have built myself a coffin and a ffffffffffffffffucking freezing one at that. Maybe it is a self-portrait. I have to ask Andy this when he gets back. He left a pile of kiln-dried 2×4 chips everywhere. He must be coming back to at least clean that up.

I could be a lot of other places right now but I decided the studio was the warmest place I could think of. It’s also the only place that I also have 24-hour key access to. I need to take off my sweaters. It’s crazy hot right now. I can’t move. Everything hurts.

I could be in Susanna’s bed right now. I could be in her bed right now and I would not be sick because I wouldn’t have slept here last night.

Susanna’s dad is a neurosurgeon with a thread count fetish. He actually told her when they were shopping for bedding that anything below 900 is only good for a picnic tablecloth. Honest to God. I have never slept in a more comfortable bed in my life: hillsides of down pillows, a down mattress pad, gazillion-count everything, a down comforter decorated with a long row of giant abalone buttons, and an alpaca blanket she bought directly off the loom in Peru, topped with a cashmere throw knitted by her grandmother. She would say let’s go out but I would usually just want to fall into bed immediately, and she took this as me wanting to fuck all the time.

The day before Thanksgiving I told her that I was not in love with her and I really could not imagine ever marrying her. It was the most idiotic thing I have ever said and I knew it immediately when the words left my mouth. Her face contorted and then she started laughing. Do you know what your nickname is? she said. Amy and I call you, ‘Jimmy Cum Quickly.’

-Susanna, are you going to the Cable Car with Jimmy Cum Quickly?
-Your hair looks so nice. I hope Jimmy Cum Quickly notices.
-It sure is getting late. Jimmy Cum Quickly better get here soon.

I did not know what to say. I was cold, and I probably looked helpless so she took me home and we fucked.

Tiananmen? She pauses and waits looking at me. (An actual English word might have been more offensive.) Instead, I provide the geographical-location-and-a-shoulder-shrug-while-pointing–to-my-map trick. She could be French. There is something in her brown wool coat that cuts that way. She sits on the museum steps next to a fierce stone lion reading something that spills characters from the pages of her lap. Quebecois? I am not lost. Which way to Tiananmen square? I finally say. It is an offensive syntax but I am impatient. She puts down her paper, rolls her eyes, and points. It is evening now, and cold. I put on my scarf.

This morning I slept in to listen to the Dutch guy abuse his Hong Kong girlfriend. She squealed an unhappy song that he plugged silent with his palm. Hush. That fucking American hufter is sick and will make us both fucking sick if we stay here any longer. Shut the fuck up. Flicking goedkope teringslet, he slurred into the ceiling fan. She cried into her hands making the sounds a tiny monkey makes while getting bathed in the sink. We are going to Hefei tonight. She disagreed, and the row continued.

I can smell the DDT being sprayed outside our room. I am a dead didelphimorphia, don’t move. Let the Dutch asshole leave first, I say to myself.

Tiananmen opens up its grey stone hands to me. I am a mouse sniffing a clean, new mouse trap. Andy Warhol stood here once. There is a picture of him standing with Mao peering over his shoulder. The day is a grey void. Nixon was here once.

We noticed you walking by here many times, are you lost? I tell them I am looking for a pharmacy. Medicine? I say. I tighten my scarf and point to my throat. We can take you to our teacher, they say. He is a painter. Would you like to see his work?

My throat is sore but I am happy to be talking with the two students.  They are friendly and we walk together. I am an artist, too, I tell them. They look at each other confused. This has happened repeatedly. To be an American in China, I must do something with computers.

Our teacher is a painter.

No thank you, I need pharmacy. I feel too weak to say, I do not want to see your teacher’s paintings. I need a pharmacy.

You are sick?



Yes! Sick! I answer. I am sick. Medicine!

Come with us. Medicine. Then you will meet our teacher.

Inside the pharmacy there’s a window. Inside the window is a bald man marking off a sheet very quickly before turning the page and marking that page. He is not happy to see the three of us. When the two students tell him I am from the Olympics, the man looks at me sideways and says something that makes the students laugh nervously. I hand him a stack of bills, and he hands me a slip that I take to the center island of glass cases. A man in a lab coat studies the sheet and opens one of the cases, reaches in, and pulls out a small burgundy box. Shay-shay, I say. He walks away. I need to sit.

This is the oldest pharmacy in Beijing, the female student says.

What did the man say that made you laugh? I ask. The two students have a mug of tea for me.

Now you will meet our teacher.

Cool, I tell them. I’ll look at anything to not have to move from this spot. It’s warm in here, and the chair could not be more comfortable.

Here is your medicine. Inside the burgundy box are three large balls that look like engorged milk duds.

He said that your scarf was strange for an Olympic official. Scarves are worn by women.

I swallow the milk dud, and it slides down my throat and settles in my stomach like goo falling into the bottom of a lava lamp.

This was painted by our teacher.

I look up and see the students standing on either side of a drawing of a horse looking sideways with two legs kicking the air, like it’s jumping from a diving board into a wading pool. Nice horse. The teacher sits smoking and talking to another man, who is also squatting. They have been here the entire time. His skin is green under the florescent lighting, and his hair is thinning. The other man is wearing a burgundy sweater vest the color of his nose. He murmurs something low and laughs. They both glance at me. The teacher is anxious.

No, thank you. It is a beautiful horse. You have helped me so much but I cannot afford to buy your painting. I stand, a little dizzy. The teacher turns his back to me. I am sorry. He is a very good painter, I say. Excellent draftsmanship. Now he is reprimanding the students, his two fingers pointing with the cigarette. They must have known this was coming; they saw my wallet covered in duct tape. We don’t want to be artists, they’d said in the square.

Stevie Wonder. Remember, you’ll like his music, I say to them. You have my email address. They nod and smile strained smiles as I make my way out of the room, now completely full of cigarette smoke. I feel amazingly better.

We were at the gate but we slept the boarding announcement, we tell Denise. She still looks worried. The crate sits unopened in the booth. Denise is the crate guardian. I tell Naomi I’m going to take a stroll before we get to work

Kathleen went to Harvard and you can faintly hear, I went to Harvard I went to Harvard I went to Harvard from between her gritted teeth. Wade is setting up large frames that are like windows sandwiching magazine pages. Nate has hung paintings made from enlarged bullet hole stickers on all three walls. Red ones, pink ones, white ones. Kroner paintings are being hung. They are big and festive with clean blues plopped next to figures wearing orange triangles. Andrew Kreps is pacing and unshaven. He is wearing tweed with a striped polo underneath. I scan his Andrew Kreps booth. He wipes his face with a full palm, sees me and gives me thumbs up. All around there are teams of men and women in tight, white cargo pants pushing crates down a maze of hallways.  It is noisy with the sound of Swiss-German being articulated into beeping walky-talkies.

Back in the booth, a tall woman stands with three men in blue sport coats. As she talks, the men look like they are watching very serious ducks fly by. She has long blond hair, classic red heels and a t-shirt that reads I slept with Richard Prince. We met a few months ago, but I can’t remember her name. She had asked me who I show with. Carol, I told her before her attention turned away. I wave to her but she looks through me and continues talking to the huddle.

Maybe you should open your crate now, Carol says to me. She’s wearing a white blouse and skirt. She wants me to do well and keeps telling me, You are going to do great, Jim. It helps me get through the jet lag. I still have a lot to do.

I open the crate and it’s like seeing a puzzle of Pawtucket lying in pieces, but I get to work.

A few days later I am standing next to Ryan Gander, who says he’s putting his prize money into a Swiss bank account. You can do that? He says typically it takes more money to open an account but the President of UBS told him he would deposit it personally. They were all very helpful and brilliant, he says. Brilliant, I say.

On the train, I ask Naomi and Hernan if there is a Missoni store in Venice. Naomi looks up from her notebook and chuckles. Hernan opens one eye and smiles back into a slouch. We are moving faster from Basel. Basel Basel. Actual Basel. The Real Basel. It is our running joke.

I will miss the muesli, I think to myself. I will miss the berry that is red and small. I don’t know what to call it. Grey Basel. Sausage and Mustard Basel. Beer Belly Basel.

Naomi turns the notebook around. It’s a portrait of me. I am an unshaven Bernini’s St. Teresa. I want to get some socks, I tell her, looking out the window. Trees blur by. There are no more red barns perfectly perched on hillsides. Awnings perch in diagonals onto lake-scapes; a plate of spaghetti-and-meatballs impersonates housing.

Elderberries, that’s what they’re called.

She is holding my hand.  He looks a little jaundiced, she says. I am completely offended. My hand looks, if anything, late-Ingres, I want to joke, but the words don’t make it to my tongue. I am just glad I am not sweating anymore. Last night my temperature was 104.

Naomi is allergic to her parent’s dog, Dora, so we are staying in a La Quinta Inn for the week, tucked into the hillside of a non-descript shopping center in Bellingham, Washington. There is a Goodwill nearby that could outfit a lumberjack with a different plaid shirt everyday for a year. It is amazing. I buy a mug that frowns at me. Otherwise, the center is a waste land of Sizzlers, Payless shoe stores and a Hollywood Video bleeding its final pound of DVDs.

I am wheeled into an elevator. Naomi holds her phone to me. This one, she says. It is a tray of vials filled with clear liquid. Ha, I say, and smile. There is sediment inside of me, like fine, soft pieces of concrete that are falling down, down, slowly down. I am a long snow globe. Nice CSF collection, the nurse says. The hallway is darkened, and I cannot tell how many people are here, behind their respective doors and curtains. My cubile is spacious and calm, and once the curtains are closed, the IV is placed into my arm. By now I have grown familiar with the feeling of pain slipping away.

I don’t think I should have slept under the Haida Mortuary Pole, I said. That must have been it. Naomi looks at me dubiously. She could say, Yes that and maybe the all-nighter you pulled before getting on a seven-hour plane trip, but she doesn’t. The soreness at the deep part of my back is fading. She tucks me in. I thank her and fall deeper into the linen. A kiss falls onto my head.