Cory McAbee is one of my favorite artists. I mistakenly discovered his work when I watched Stingray Sam on Netflix thinking it was a 50s western. It was not. His story is incredible. His work is weird and wild and free. So I\’m really very excited that he\’s bringing his latest show, The Small Star Seminar, to Atlanta on March 2. It\’s the story of a traveling salesman/motivational speaker who motivates people to stop improving themselves in the name of science. Each city will be filmed and edited together to create a documentary of the event.
I got to thinking about the story of this speaker and what might have motivated him to begin his travels and this is what came out. I hope it is in keeping with the spirit of the performance.
Before the door opened he composed himself. The smile, seemingly painted on, stretched almost literally from ear to ear. The suit, while a little shabby, fit like a dream. Nevermind the bit of dust on his shoulders. The stance, if not off-putting, was solid. Two feet on the ground, knees bent, hips turned. It was a solid looking pose. The kind of pose a man wore when he was about to make the sale of his life. The door opened.
\”May I help–\”
\”Hello, ma\’am. I\’m here today representing Minuscule Moon Visual Enhancements and I have singularly the most important purchase of your year with me here this very day.\”
From seemingly nowhere he presented a red telescope, held in both hands, as evidence. His grin never wavered, somehow remaining in place even while he was speaking. The pitch continued as the door creaked on its hinges, beginning its slow closing journey. It took a turn then, the pitch, and as he sang the door stopped its closing. She kept it open. Only an inch, but it was still open.
\”Have you ever sat in your yard and wondered,
or even blundered,
in your mind for the wonder of all of this?\”
To make his point the salesman gestured towards the sky in lax fashion, his smile only outdone by the twinkle of faint stars in waning daylight.
\”With a little help from me
you can simply see
that all those spots are sawdust flying by.
Telescopic visions for you
allow your eyes to see true
all those beautiful and wonderful stars inside your sky!\”
The door didn\’t budge. She wasn\’t sure if she should clap or not. It seemed a good song but, really, she just needed to get back to dinner.
He continued the pitch, now without song. \”All this for on $49.95, or two payments of $24.95. Or, we have a family pack for all the many Minuscule Moon mariners in your house. If you\’ll–\”
It was unclear if the sounds he heard were echoes or if she was, very quietly and politely, saying something about how she needed to return to her meal and her family. In any case the door shut with a whooshing sound and he stood perfectly still, red telescope still in his hands. A dog barked from inside. Dusk was quiet then, painfully so, and he wished for nothing more than to try his pitch at another home where they would receive the gifts he brought with tremendous praise. \”Oh, thank you!\” they\’d say. \”You can\’t imagine how often we\’d wondered at the wonder of the night sky, curious as to how we might ever unlock its visual splendor. You are truly here in the nick of time!\”
Alas, it was half past six and they were eating chicken and watching the news.
And so he walked for a time, brogues clacking nobly on the sidewalk, and he entered the first door his shape darkened. The suitcase that held his telescopes and a second black suit, identical to the one currently on his person, fit snugly between the bar and the stool. There was gratitude, somewhere in his subconscious, for the sturdy seat. He couldn\’t stand wobbly stools. They drove him mad.
The little bar was quiet and dim. He liked the steady murmur of voices and the moan of the cowboy on the radio, the little hills and valleys they produced in his mind. When the bartender finally stood before him he asked for a glass of red wine and wondered why the tall, thin person reminded him of a rabbit. Must have been the pronounced front teeth and deep, tired eyes.
Halfway through the cheap glass something caught his eye. It broke through the ceaseless thought-stream of starscapes and tunes and empty checkbooks. It was a newspaper. Well, it wasn\’t the newspaper but an image printed on the newspaper. That of a star, bright white against black ink. It shone with a light of its own, seemingly, and he sent his hand to snatch it off the bar.
Neither heads nor tails could be made of the ad (he assumed it was an advertisement because there was an address at the bottom), but on it were fascinating line drawings, figures of humans exploring some branch of the omniverse with hope. Written on it were exciting words like \”astroneurology\” and \”neurostronomer\”, as in \”Are you a neurostronomer? Would you like to be?\”
Yes, he thought, yes I would!
The glass was left unattended, still half full, with a five dollar bill nestled underfoot (the wine was listed as $6 on the menu but he probably hadn\’t read it). His shoes clacked harder this time as he walked with purpose, hoping to reach the place before it closed. Surely it had already but there was always a chance, the smallest of chances, that they (whoever they might be) were there waiting for him. It surprised him to realize that the storefront was a scant five blocks away, which he covered in a matter of minutes. He didn\’t mind the sweat; his undershirt already smelled a little bit but his deodorant masked it well. His heart skipped when he thought he\’d passed it but he hadn\’t. Turning to his right put a door before him, black and smooth. A star was mounted over the door, the very same star that had been printed on what he had presumed and hoped to be a hiring ad.
There were no lights, no windows for the lights to shine through, no \’Open\’ or \’Closed\’ sign. But he tried the door and it opened.
Inside the door was darkness like pitch. \”Hello?\” he shouted, but the sound fell flat as if crashing into a soft mattress. He wasn\’t afraid. He checked but there wasn\’t any fear, just anticipation, so he stepped in.
Instantaneously, when his foot hit the tile, white lights flicked on in a line on the floor. The little rays led him to a second doorway, dark as the rest of the odd space but with a faint glow coming from the wall. It was a screen casting dead black. Slowly, resolutely, gentle music began to pipe in from unseen speakers. On the screen appeared another star with a shape below it, that of a skeleton mermaid forming a crescent. The image faded away to neon purples and and greens and when those faded away words appeared on the screen matching those sung by a disembodied voice.
\”Out of the mud grows the lotus.
Be the mud and let the future shine!
It will never be your time.\”
He smiled and sat on the floor. The lovely voice continued.
\”Pressure creates the diamond.
Be free of the pressure in your mind!
It will never be your time.\”
I like this song, he thought.
\”Be free of possibility.
You\’ll see that everything is fine!
It will never be your time.\”
Heeding the suggestion of the song he felt himself drift away. With him went expectation and station, position and wealth. Before he could go away completely, swimming out of the music, a voice spoke up as the screen yet again shifted images. Now were more purples and greens in spectrographic lines that followed the new voice.
\”Welcome to the Small Star Corporation!\” said the voice. It could not be described as anything but restful. It was neither masculine nor feminine, gentle nor harsh. It was rest given speech. \”We are so pleased to see you. Thank you for responding to our inquiry.\”
\”You\’re welcome,\” he said.
\”Here at the Small Star Corporation, we don\’t believe in reaching for the stars. What are stars anyway? Has anyone ever even reached those things? We doubt it. And why does anybody really care about that shit? Success. Authority. It\’s a lot of work for a lot of trouble. Think about it.\”
\”I will,\” he said.
\”Here at the Small Star Corporation we are much more interested in reaching for the stars…in your mind. Everything you need is right there within the magical synapses and pathways and cells and electromagnetism that is your brain. It\’s science. No more looking for anomalous acceptances and praise out there in the cold, heartless world. It\’s all up there. What\’s more, we believe in extending this belief to others and we are looking for a gifted few who will take the message to the masses.\”
After that came an explanation, more information than he needed for he was sold from the get-go. No benefits package was needed, no per diem required. It didn\’t matter that he hadn\’t met an actual person. The important thing was the message. He would recall every word, and he did. He began the next day by walking to the airport and leaving his old life behind. No longer would he peddle telescopes and false dreams of astronomical flimflam. He didn\’t bother informing Minuscule Moon Visual Enhancements of his decision. From now on, he was selling hope for the Small Star Corporation.