Salvador Dali walks into a bar and slithers his mustache into the stool next to me. I let the beer warm in my mouth before I swallow. He waves his finger at the bartender like an aristocrat. ‘One Salvador Dali, please. Double,’ he says, hooking up the long stones of his Spaniard eyebrows. In a moment, his drink in hand, a vodka martini with a garden snail instead of an olive, and my bottle tipped up to the last swig, he swivels to face me. The snail’s eyes crust and retract in the clouded pool of the glass. He seems lost in the spectacle of invertebrate death, the soft, wet silence of it.
‘You know,’ he says, ‘if you keep coming to this place, they’re bound to name something after you.’
He’s been following me for a few days now. A face-glint in a passing car, his small, fetal smile aimed at me through the tinted womb of a speeding Lincoln. Seven heads back on a crowded sidewalk, someone yells out, ‘I’m not a madman! I’m the hero of the Twentieth Century!’
I’ll turn and see his self-portrait, ‘Self-Portrait of Salvador Dali’ – 1954, his wide eyes and needle-haired lip, before he sucks like smoke into the open doors of peoples’ faces. Then again, sometimes he’ll be ahead of me, a dark void in the bodies, an imp in the scattering sunlight.
‘I’m not a madman!’
I’ll push through the people, the crowd of shoulders, getting closer. He has a mirror in the back of his head. I will see my hand reaching out to touch his arm,
a piece of his jacket. When he walks, he moves like the black-and-white photograph that he is. Just as before, when I grab him and turn him around, he’ll be gone. He’ll blow away, off the tips of my fingers, and flutter into the face of a confused Asian man with my hand on his elbow.
I order another beer, foreign, and whatever the surrealist wants. We don’t talk much— strange, chased by or chasing him for days, and now, we just don’t know what to say. A Credence cover band begins testing their instruments in the corner.
‘Did you hear about that guy in Harlem who raised a full-grown tiger in his apartment?’ I say, topically. He swirls his finger around the drowned snail in his drink.
‘And a crocodile. Everybody knows that one,’ he says.
‘They think he was raising them to fight each other. But the tiger ate him.’
‘The crocodile got a piece too. He took an arm or leg or some such. Sort of a ‘Cat and Lizard Eating at the Table of Their Master’-type thing.’
He knows me. We go on like this for a while. Someone in the band strokes the first few bars of ‘Bad Moon Rising’. Dali tosses the snail into his mouth, bites down with a sound like a light bulb evaporating. Reaching out to touch his face, I know that he’ll be flat and smooth, a photograph, a moving picture with snailwater
dribbling off the curve of his mustache.
Outside, I plunk a few quarters into a homeless man’s red plastic cup. Salvador leans over to smell the man’s hair. ‘Gastro-Economic Pearls Thrown into the Abyss of a Plastic Cup,’ he spouts.
‘My Sex Life Projected in the Form of a Bum Against a Wall,’ I reply.
‘Touche`! Old Age Through an Absinthe Telescope.’
‘Touche`. . .’
We go on like this for a while, walking down the night street. He leads the way, and I see myself in the mirror of his head.
Photo by Voorhorst