THE TEMPTATION OF SAINT ANTHONY

“You don’t think much of Mary Alice Miller?” she said. “Well we don’t think much of your painting. I’ve seen better pictures done by a five year old.”

Karabekian slid off his barstool so he could face all those enemies standing up. He certainly surprised me. I expected him to retreat in a hail of olives, maraschino cherries and lemon rinds. But he was majestic up there.

“Listen-” he said so calmly, “I have read the editorial against my painting in your wonderful newspaper. I have read every word of the hate mail you have been thoughtful enough to send to New York.”

This embarrassed some.

“The painting did not exist until I made it,” Karabekian went on. “Now that it does exist, nothing would make me happier than to have it reproduced again and again, and vastly improved upon, by all the five-year-olds in town. I would love for your children to find pleasantly and playfully what it took me many angry years to find.

“I now give you my word of honor,” he went on, “that the picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal – the “I am” to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us – in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light. If a cockroach were near him, the picture would show two such bands of light. Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.

“I have just heard from this cocktail waitress here, this vertical band of light, a story about her husband and an idiot who was to be executed at Shepherdstown. Very well – let a five-year-old paint a sacred interpretation of that encounter. Let that five-year-old strip away the idiocy, the bars, the waiting electric chair, the uniform of the guard, the gun of the guard, the bones and meat of the guard. What is that perfect picture which any five-year-old can paint? Two unwavering bands of light.”

Ecstasy bloomed on the barbaric face of Rabo Karabekian.

“Citizens of Midland City, I salute you,” he said. You have given home to a masterpiece!”

Dwayne Hoover, incidently, wasn’t taking any of this in. He was still hypnotized, turned inward. He was thinking about moving fingers writing and moving on, and so forth. He had bats in his bell tower. He was off his rocker. He wasn’t playing with a full deck of cards.

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One Response to “THE TEMPTATION OF SAINT ANTHONY”

  1. I read this Kurt Vonnegut passage 30 years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. So much so that I “googled” it tonight and happened upon your blog. Mr. Vonnegut is pure treasure for us all.

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