Of the Available Moustaches


“How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.”

Salvador Dali loved the Marx Brothers.  Dali wrote an outline for a surrealist film he hoped they might star in.  In Groucho, Stefan Kanfer reports that the outline went like this: “Groucho lets go of the arm and the scissors.  They go down to the street where Harpo is waiting in front of the car.  Chico says to them, ‘I have just installed indoor rain.’”

I had not thought through my modern art movements so clearly until I went to the Tate Modern.  They had three kinds of work separated clearly: absurdism, dada, surrealism.  Absurdism was cute, dada was sexy, but surrealism merely vulgar.  Dali, in his work and his person, I find icky.  Which is funny considering that one of my favorite (and quickly edited out) words in my paintbox is “melt.”

Kanler also tells the story of how the Marx brothers avoided the draft during World War I: they purchased a farm.  After failing to get up early and often enough to sustain the chickens who survived nightly rat pillaging, the family purchased a large number of guinea pigs.  Zeppo claimed that scientists were eager to buy guinea pigs for experiments.  He was wrong.  It was rabbits that the scientists wanted.  The Marxes released their guinea pigs in one late night act of liberation, flooding Illinois with guinea pigs carrying little knapsacks on sticks and whistling quietly.

How does, something, though, get in your pajamas?  For all the talk about the anarchic spirit of the Marx Brothers, they field tested gags with the patience and focus of scientists.  Working on a line, Groucho tried a wider variety of options:

Among other words tried out were obnoxious, revolting, disgusting, offensive, repulsive, disagreeable, and distasteful….  Nauseating really drew the roars.  [Publicist Teet Carle] asked Groucho why that was so.  “I don’t know.  I really don’t care.  I only know the audience told us it was funny.”

I don’t know.  I really don’t care.  That is not quite it.  I don’t know.  I am interested, curious, experimenting, but yes, now that you ask, I really don’t care.

The Museum of Modern Art has installed indoor rain, just this week.  According to their website, “A field of falling water that pauses wherever a human body is detected, Rain Room offers visitors the experience of controlling the rain.”  I am looking forward to not being rained on in the indoor rain this summer.  Bring a book, they say, the line is long, waiting to walk through the not rain.

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