“Mr. Marsh will see you now,” said the pink-haired secretary.
I stood first. Hudson took his time, looking particularly hippie-ish amidst all the Texas décor, his tie-dye shirt loose over his belt, long hair over his shoulders. Chip looked ok—a little spaced out from the joint we’d blown in the parking lot, but about as normal as he could manage. I had my hair pulled back in a ponytail to look more or less straight-laced, at least from the front.
Chip carried the folder with the concept sketches, hours of work cutting Cadillacs from magazines and pasting them in.
Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas, U.S. It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquezand Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm. It consists of what were (when originally installed during 1974) either older running used or junk Cadillac automobiles, representing a number of evolutions of the car line (most notably the birth and death of the defining feature of mid twentieth century Cadillacs; the tailfins) from 1949 to 1963, half-buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt
Located just west of Amarillo on the south side of Interstate 40, Cadillac Ranch originally wasn’t planned as an everlasting tribute to the tail fin. When the 10 vintage Cadillacs were entombed in concrete – nose first at the same angle as Egypt’s Great Pyramid – Marsh envisioned a temporary gag of sorts.
“I thought I would take them out at the end of the summer. I had promised the family that owns ranch where they are that I wouldn’t leave them there just to junk things up. I thought it would be fun,” said Chip Lord, one of the creators. “Suddenly, it was just extravagantly popular. Everybody liked it … If I knew how to do it again I would do it.”
The Mayor and the town manager waved as their next victim approached. It was old Elke Svørtsenbørg, and she had her teeth in. She munched on their improbable whiteness while she made her way to the cake table.
The Mayor smiled his best. “Our next victim,” he said in the unctuous tones familiar to all who ever attended a Council meeting. “Only our finest,” he said, waving at the long tables laid out with Kranscake, Julekage and Limpa. Sherman’s Danes had gone to battle with its Swedes over the Best Baker title and the tables almost groaned with competitive bounty.
Old Elke made a sour face, the deep creases in her lips flattened to scars as they stretched over the unaccustomed dentures. She stuck a talon-like finger into the dark brown Kladdkaka, pulled it back and licked at it in a disgusting way.
“Too much sugar” she said dismissively.
The town manager was nervous. This was his first Jul, and his reluctant wife’s grudging contribution was a plate of store-bought blueberry muffins arranged on a cheap china platter she didn’t mind losing. Sure enough, the crone spotted it. She pointed in triumph, as though discovering a witch in church.
“When I started this operation, I had a secondhand Cadillac limo and a phone number. Over the years, I have been able to grow it into what you see today—and in a tough business environment.”
The squat old man made his way along the row of cars, gesturing with his cigar. “Two Rolls Royces, three Bentleys, six each of stretch Caddies and Continentals, a couple classic Essex Terraplanes for theme weddings and of course the Town Car fleet. Each one perfectly maintained to be like new.”
He paused, drew on the cigar, exhaled. “And before you ask, yes we do stock a bottle of Grey Poupon in the glove boxes of the Rolls.”
As they listened to the old man run through his obviously well-rehearsed spiel, Jimmy kept glancing over at Martin. Martin, paying more than close attention, wore what Jimmy recognized as his “church face”—pious and a little superior. It was the way he held his mouth. Jimmy’s annoyance increased as the old man bragged about plans for a stretch Hummer and even a helicopter service. Martin looked like he was hearing Jesus himself sing the Gospel.
Stranger Danger was all he could remember. What was the rest of it? It was like some kind of secret code, something about when it was okay to ask a stranger for help. He wasn’t about to start crying again like some little kid. He would be brave this time.
He stood on a bench, tried to find her in the crowd. When he walked around all he saw was a forest of legs. He couldn’t even remember what she was wearing. And what was her name? Her last was the same as his, but what was the other one?
He sat in the big armchair, staring at the body. So strange to think it would never move again, at least on its own. For some reason this last was hilarious. His face twisted into a smirk the way it had when he was in school and someone had passed him an amusing note about the teacher’s ass. It was all he could do to burst out laughing.
It was tension, he knew, a terrible tension since he found out about the affair, from the moment he had confirmation. And now that was over and a new tension had taken its place, a quiet methodical tension of what to do next.
From where he was sitting it did not look like much blood was on the floor. The hole was so small. He hadn’t thought a .22 would do more than wound him. A lesson, no more. The shot sounded like a book dropped on tile. The asshole had clawed his chest and collapsed like a towel slipping off a rack.
Time to think. The sun was going down. No way to drag the body to his car down the street.
But the balcony offered possibilities. Yes. The balcony would do.
“At first, it looked like an ordinary marble, but it was far from it.”
He looked around the table, that familiar drunken glee in his eyes. I was sick of it.
“Jesus, Ned. Just tell them already.” I had heard this particular gross-out story at least ten times. He always told it after five or six drinks, especially if his audience was female.
“I know,” said the brunette. I bet she sat right up front in his class. One of those who might write him a sonnet that was a barely veiled come-on. One semester I found a poem in his briefcase in a girl’s balloon handwriting about a writhing snake entwining her legs. Jesus.
This brunette put her finger in her mouth in a way she probably thought was sexy, stared at him.
He sipped his whiskey, leering. “Do you now?”
She nodded. She really was very pretty, but much too young. “It was a glass eye. From the motorcyclist. It popped out when the truck hit him.”
He pointed at her, smiled hugely. “A+ for Britt! That’s exactly what it was!”
He seemed sad. He gazed through the limousine window as we wended through the impossibly green countryside.
“You know, baby,” he said, his voice so soft I almost couldn’t hear it. “When I lived in London, my mind was always blown by this thing and that thing. One time I saw this cat in Kensington Gardens, this old dude wearing a derby hat. Total Englishman, like out of a movie. Anyway, he was staring at me, you know?”
I laughed. “Jimi, people always do that to you. Tell the truth. You like it.”
“Well, what were you wearing?”
“I dunno. My Royal Veterinarian coat, probably. The one the cops took. The red one with all the gold lace on it. But this old cat, I walked up to him. I’ll never forget. I asked him, hey man, what would make you happy? And he said, no hesitation, that he wanted to go to the Isle of Wight someday.”
He was quiet for a long time. The traffic started to get heavy. There were rumored to be a half million people here to see him play. It looked like more.
“I was just thinking, you know, it was his life’s dream. And here I am. That’s all.”
In August of 1970, Jimi Hendrix returned to England to play what would be his last concert. The Isle of Wight Festival drew more than 600,000 people, the largest musical event of its time. Less than a month later, Hendrix died of asphyxiation.