Adam Ash

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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Serial Novel: All The People You Can Eat, Chapter 2: On the Dark Continent

Alfred came to fame with his hunger series. He’d photographed all the major eighties artists nude, had done portraits of all the Native American chiefs, all the sex workers in Washington and Hollywood, all the AIDS victims in New York, all the drag queens of Harlem, and all the midgets of Brooklyn, including a series of his mother’s double mastectomy and her subsequent death from Asian flu, but nothing had caused greater controversy than the hunger series. Milton Stummer called it “pornography of the soul.” Dieter Sheldull wrote that “Alfred Stereo confidently skirts the edge between pimp and parasite.” Musin Montag stigmatized it as “a puff of arriviste air from the bowels of post-modernism.” Arturo Dansca decried it as “the most compromised vision since Hitler’s watercolors.”

Domino immediately signed Alfred to an exclusive fashion contract, an unprecedented move on two counts. Number one, nobody had ever signed a photographer to an exclusive contract, and number two, Alfred wasn’t even a fashion photographer.

“Tell him we will educate her so she speaks English.”

Alfred, who’d once talked his way into the hospital room of a Newport heiress dying of anorexia, was having problems with Sokse’s father. Sokse was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He had already called Xavier about her.

“Her father says you can screw her here in the village. So why take her away across the water?” Alfred was sure the interpreter was twisting his words in translation, but what could he do?

“Tell him I don’t want to screw her, I want to photograph her.”

“He doesn’t understand.”

Alfred lifted his Nikon and clicked at the gigantic beauty. Her features broke his heart every time he pointed his lens at her.

“I want to do this with her.” Click, click.

“He doesn’t understand how you can screw in this way.”

“Tell him I don’t want to screw her, I’m a photographer.”

“He still doesn’t understand.”

Alfred sighed. “OK, tell him I want to screw her. And then tell him I want to screw her in New York because that’s where my bed is.”

The patriarch, surrounded by his four wives and twenty-seven children, smiled.

“Now he understands.”

“How much does he want?”

“He says the loss of his favorite daughter gives him a lot of pain that no money on earth can relieve.”

“Tell him I understand a father’s pain and in these circumstances money can be no compensation, but we have to start somewhere.”

“Two hundred dollars.”

“Two hundred dollars!”

“Hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Deal.” Ever after Alfred would be plagued with the thought of how low Mr. Ntsohluvubuhu was prepared to go. Fifty bucks? Five? A quarter?

As a man burdened by a social conscience, Alfred arranged for a borehole driller to visit the hamlet of Ukululu to sink a well under the big tree, and spare the women the six-mile walk to the river. He debated about ruining the village aesthetic –- the ladies looked so splendid with those calabashes on their heads –- but decided that in this case, charity beat out beauty.


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