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Revenge: What Does It Teach?

Does revenge have a didactic potential?

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Revenge served cold
thanx girltripped

The saying itself is chilly. Shiver. Who said it? I’ve heard it attributed to the Italians: specifically to the Sicilians. (Do Italians regard Sicilians to be Italian? Do Sicilians? They sure didn’t used to.) But I bet similar sentiments could be found in more than one culture.

I’ll tell a story and goof off it in several ways, at my leisure, developing this scrapbook style.

PK Fine Arts was on West Broadway just below Spring Street: the Times Square of SoHo. Diversified Editions was on the corner. I was jawing with the new president of Diversified about the ex-president of Diversified: Ted. The real purpose of our gossip was that we were each trying to sell stuff to the other: rots of ruck. I was broke; he was a lot broker than he was used to: Ted had made off with like $30,000 of his cash, not to mention bulks of editions by Vassareli, Calder … Even Ted’s spurned Mrs. Ted (my once upon a time girl friend) had been secreting cash to Swiss numbered accounts before the hammer came down. Word was that Ted stole from every partner, from every shareholder … When the sheriff padlocked the door, Ted hack-sawed the shank and made off with whatever he could carry. His presidency was legal till midnight, so they couldn’t arrest him: for that.

What lawyer knows the law as well as the crook? Certainly no cop: and not many judges.

Then again Ted was always supposed to be about-to-be-arrested. Word at the WashArt festival [1975 or so] had been that the FBI was laying for him: forgery of Miros. But a day into the Expo, there was Ted, wandering around, looking very much himself.

“It’s a good thing he didn’t screw anybody important,” said Artie, my most troublesome, my most interesting customer, a day or so after I’d learned new horror stories at Diversified. “Not important?!” I spummed. Rod says he made off with …”
“Don’t ch’a hear that he’s in California? Walking around? Still has his arms and legs?

He didn’t screw anybody important.”

Artie was a case. Artie wasn’t Sicilian: but if there’s more than one Mafia, Artie was Mafia. Jewish Mafia. Arab-Jewish Mafia. Except that Artie himself was Ashkenazim, married into the Sephardim. The clan had dozens of galleries around town: garbage galleries in major traffic areas. Artie personally had galleries from the Village to way-downtown: almost Wall Street. Artie lived in one of those huge compounds in Jersey, had race horses … I almost puked when his wife flirted with me (before robbing me):

I’m a party girl: And that’s no bullshit.

The first half-dozen times Artie had tried to buy from me, I refused to sell to him. He wanted discounts: big discounts, in exchange for big promises. I hadn’t learned the norms of the business: I stuck, at first, to the foolish scales I’d wrongly thought were normal. (If you’re buying wholesale, you pay 50%; not 25%, not 20%.) So Artie punished me once I yielded, and kept punishing me, till I finally refused to sell to him once again. Artie was a Jew but Artie was a chichi Nazi. Artie would reach under the counter and pull out a Luger, stick it against my adams apple. “See what I got for the n-words (Bowdlerizing K. 2016 07 31) who want to steal my mon-ney?”

Having decided to put up with him — I really needed some money, I just stood there and took it: not blinking. Then he pulls out the Nazi bayonets. Since I hadn’t flinched for the Luger, he just showed me the bayonets: as though I were interested.

Then we did business. “Four of that … four of that … four of that …” Artie bought in fours. I deliver the goods, I deliver the bill. I knocked off all the percentages he demanded. Still the net came to a few grand. But at payment time Artie throws a tantrum for freebies. But Artie settled for a promise of “maybe next time.”

Now: Artie made all his demands amid promises of green. And indeed, out came a wad of cash.

Actually, it was more like a ball of cash, a snarl: bound with greasy rubber bands. That time the ball was all hundreds. A horse couldn’t have choked on it because a horse couldn’t have gotten it in his mouth. Other times all denominations were mixed: tens tangled with singles: some presidents up, some down, some sideways. And Artie would elaborately rearrange the mess as he counted.

You know about linear versus chaotic? how patterns graph? whether you can graph points on just one axis? Artie’s order was an eccentric chaos. He’d lay out so many hundreds face up, then some other number face down. Then he’s switch one from dark green showing to light green showing. Then he’d restart using different values. The roll would go back into his pocket, then come out again, and the counting would restart. I learned to put myself in limbo and wait. Finally there would be a stack he’d be satisfied with and I could start to count it myself.

Finally I brought him a freebie. “Where’s my coffee?” he demanded. Then he wanted the freebie signed: dedicated to him by the artist.

Last detail: Things had settled to a norm. No more lugers; but a steady $1,200, $1,400 net a month. And Artie wants to give me a check. “Check, green … it’s all cash,” he whined. Oh, alright. And then the eighth, ninth … check bounces. And bounces again. I did get cash after the second bounce: including my bank fees: from Artie’s mother. Artie wouldn’t face me? I didn’t care to see him either. And I finally stopped going in, ignored phoned requests. Till I was really broke. But by that time the market had changed, drastically. Artie was buying his art from behind a hot dog stand. He still had all the galleries … “People always gotta eat,” Artie said. “Want a hot dog.” I declined: so I don’t know if he was giving it to me.

They’re jerks, but they pay.
Red Dragon

OK. That’s the story, the kickoff, a couple of stories. What do they have to do with my title?

Artie was right: Ted was still walking around with his arms and legs still attached, still functioning. So, according to Artie’s reckoning, he hadn’t pissed off anybody important.

You don’t need stories from pk to know of cases going differently. And injuries don’t have to be real. In the movie The Duellists that Ridley Scott made of Conrad’s story, one of Napoleon’s officers is sent to arrest another officer for dueling: and gets challenged for his trouble: and challenged again: and again. The two gentlemen try to kill each other for the rest of their lives. The one guy was just doing his “duty”; but once challenged, he can’t back down, can’t reason, can’t get out of it … ever: or not till middle age: old and full of wounds: only some of them from the other officer.

People are always imagining that we’ve fallen from some golden age. Me too to some extent: we can’t help it, even if we know better. But be glad you didn’t live in feudal times: unless you yourself were the Achilles, the Alexander. The landed went armed: and the male heirs of the landed: and were quick to take offense at slights, real or imagined: and took offense instantly, with steel.

So hot heads like Conrad’s duelist don’t know the Sicilian pleasures mentioned above.

Cold revenge? Think of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronichus: guy gets pissed, time passes. He invites his enemies to a feast, has some new deal excuse. They attend, feast. And then the enemies are told that they’ve just eaten their children. And so they have. Now that’s cold: whether the dish was warm or not. That’s Medea gone male: and cannibalistic.

Anyway, there are all sorts of revenges: and, if pk ever stops writing modules and so forth, decides instead to concentrate on revenge, then there may be some new ones under the sun: ones even the Persians didn’t think of.

2013 10 05 It’s a cute idea. Playing with it, for the zillionth time, out loud, is what got me arrested! But, as my letters of 2006 made clear, it didn’t matter what I imagined, it didn’t matter what I theoretically might have been willing to do; I was too broke to go twenty miles, let alone 1,200. Crazy Horse, in a non-money culture, can’t raid Washington DC, no matter the provocation. The Lakota could raid till the next meal, then they had to stop, go home. Or they could hunt and starve for a week, but not a month, not a year, not a decade.

But I have to wonder this: is any of it didactic? Is the victim of the revenge intended to learn anything by getting stabbed? or poisoned? or eating his children?

If someone steps on your foot and you punch him immediately in the chitterlings, he can make a connection: be careful where you step.

If you follow your superior’s orders, and arrest an officer for dueling, and then you have to duel yourself … what should you learn? Not to follow orders? Not to arrest that particular officer? Next time to ask you superior if you can’t shoot him first and then arrest him?

If humans domesticate all animals, raise them in some huge chicken barracks, slaughter them in some huge abattoir …

uh, you see I’m about the widen the track. but later. I’ve got errands to run.
When did I write that? put it at @ K.? dunno. well before 2006, before my arrest.


Well, one place this was going that may not be apparent to anyone who hasn’t read all of pk was to the “moral” of my third novel: if God punishes sin with hell, but Judgment doesn’t come for centuries, millennia … if you’re punished only after you’re already dead, can’t modify your behavior, then damnation is the stupidest deterrent ever invented.
It’s not a deterrent; the punishment is dumb.


I learned the business for Gail Bruce‘s sake in 1974: I phoned Eleanor Ettinger, asked her how retail prices were determined. She said calculate cost, then multiply by eight. In other words, if the print costs $1 to print, including the artist’s signature — printing costs plus royalty, then try to imagine if the public will pay $8 for it.
Naturally what you then need is a bunch of such editions, sell lots at $8, $80, $8,000, wholesaling for $4, $40 … and gross sales ought to pay the rent, the phone, the secretary, and you.
What I didn’t understand until I’d already harmed the business was that the x8 formula is calculated to allow you to sell retail, $8, and wholesale, $4, and distributors discount, $2, and still be doubling your money!
If a distributor wants to buy volume, say 100 prints from your edition of 200, well, hell, sell to him for an extra 20%: 50/50/20. Let him sell that edition, you make another edition.

What Artie did though was wholesale my wholesale stuff to other garbage galleries! I’d wanted class, clean profit; what I got was a muddied market.

All artists I knew were on the side of the clean profit; all businessmen I knew were happy if they could double their money in one stroke. And even happier if they could unload the whole edition for not quite double the cost.
Artie wanted my $8 print for $2 then $1.60. He never tried to buy what had cost me $1 for less than $1. I should have seen the sense.
But it’s really Gail Bruce’s fault for getting giddy at all those imaginary numbers. If she had let me make a living, as she had promised, I wouldn’t have had to scramble around so, in ignorant inexperience.
But that’s all too complicated to cover in this PS.

Social Survival


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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