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Fiction

The Last Super | Indian Summer in Poland


 

 

The Last Super

 

 
It was seven p.m., towards the end of July, and I was sitting in the restaurant ‘Fiorellos’ across from Lincoln Center, wondering how to improve my luck. I was sitting at one of twelve tables set up on the sidewalk, covered by twelve white and blue striped umbrellas, created by the famous French designer, Jean Marie Cottarde.

Hurricane Alan was loitering nearby and the air was thick from the heat. After my first double scotch, I contemplated moving inside, but after the third one I dismissed the idea. At around eight, the glass walls of the Metropolitan Opera darkened, and the flying creatures on Marc Chagall’s frescoes stopped shining through them.

Meanwhile the crowd on Broadway thickened. Glittering couples, wrapped in diamonds and pearls, rushed to the concert at the Metropolitan Opera pushed along the way by half-naked black boys on rollerblades. Japanese tourists hugged their cameras to their chests and slalomed around the prostitutes and transvestites, who, as usual, spilled out from the Irish bar on 61st street at seven o’clock sharp. A few feet away from me, a grizzled man wearing an Armani suit, Brooks Brothers shoes, and a Perry Ellis shirt was banging a phone booth with his fists and screaming into the receiver, but the swarm of honking cars drowned out his voice.

I ordered another scotch and, to finish off the night early, I topped it off with a Heineken. The grizzled man kicked the telephone booth for the last time, threw a crumpled copy of the July edition of People Magazine on a table next to me, and disappeared into the crowd. The face of John Jefferson Caine looked at me unenthusiastically from its cover. The entire magazine, just as every other one that week, was packed with articles, gossip, and memories of J.J.C., his astonishing life and shocking death.

For several years now, the greatest designer of our time, known as the Leonardo Da Vinci of our century, had withdrawn somewhat from the rest of the world. In the Texas desert he had built an enormous castle, put together fi sometimes bigger, some- times smaller pieces of famous buildings and monuments of architecture.

J.J.C moved in there only with his mother, his wife Sonia, several thousand servants, and a division of bodyguards.

And so, last Thursday, the entire world held its breath. Instead of the NY Knicks, LA Lakers game and ‘60 Minutes’ on the Russian mafia, every television station broadcast the sudden and unexpected death of a genius. The great designer was lying in his six-meter long canopy bed, which he had designed personally in June 2005, dressed for the occasion in his legendary Byzantine golden pajamas. Above his face, which had been prepared by the master of make-up, Salvador Bellini, who had been immediately flown in from Rome, hung hundreds of cameras and a forest of microphones.

Two billion people on five continents awaited the final words of a genius. Amid the intense silence, all that could be heard were the sobs of Steven Harrison, his long time chief bodyguard, who watched helplessly as J.J.C. tried six times with his trembling hand to bring a forkful of his favorite dish - Hungarian gulash - to his lips. At the sixth attempt, the hand of the great old man dropped and the round ball of red meat tumbled across the snowy white carpet, which was Caine’s invention and was a combination of pure silk, Afghani wool, and Moroccan cashmere. After that, his weakening lips whispered something that some understood as ‘fuck’ and others as ‘God bless America’, and the greatest genius of our time closed his eyes forever.

After the funeral ceremonies, which continued for several days, the cremating of the great man’s body and the scattering of his ashes - in accordance with his will - across the Texan desert, a series of unexplained catastrophes occurred. Caine’s jet airliners, in which the mourners were leaving the castle, exploded one after another. The perpetrators were never found. At first Islamic fundamentalists were suspected, but no groups admitted to the attacks. Colonel Gaddafi, deeply offended by the accusations, reminded reporters that all of his evening attire, just like Saddam Hussein’s uniform and Milosevic’s blue suit, had been designed by J.J.C.

Several thousand people died in the catastrophes. Among them were two supermodels, whose deaths - directly preceding the autumn shows - were mourned by millions of ordinary people around the world.

In the meantime, the street lamps on Broadway lit up, followed by the lights in Lincoln Center, and Chagall’s winged creatures once again whirled in the air.

I thought about the passing of glory, but only for a second. Because a man who sat down at the table to my right began, pretty insolently, to bore into me with his puffy blue eyes. He looked about thirty. His legs were short, his torso long, his neck red, his nose was snub, his hair ashy and brushed up in a wave, his cheeks also red and slightly sagging. At first glance he looked familiar, but something about him didn’t fit. His enormous red paws stuck out from the sleeves of his elegant jacket, and a diamond ring which shone just like the real thing was shoved on one short, hairy finger. A second later, a black-haired waiter wearing an earring hustled around me, and with one, smooth movement, unfolded a little table, and placed a mini bucket with a linen napkin and packed with ice and an oversized bottle of Chopin Vodka on it. My neighbor leaned right behind it and over the table.

- Judging by your face, I’d say you were a fellow Slav - he hazarded.

I nodded and he moaned with relief and dropped into the chair next to me.

- My name is Kuba, - he said. And he squeezed my hand much too hard. We sat in silence for a while, and then he jabbed the cover of the magazine with his finger.

- Have you heard of Caine’s lottery by any chance?

The question was absurd. For the last few months, every television station had been occupied with this lottery and nothing else. The whole world knew about it.
(...)

Translated by Zuza Glowacka

 


 

 

The artistic prototype of Janusz Glowacki’s latest novel, The Last Super, is the film Citizen Kane by Orson Welles. Glowacki’s protagonist is John Jefferson Caine, whose name is pronounced like the name of Welles’s hero. Just as in Welles, Caine is a media mogul. The action of Glowacki’s book is set almost a century later, so Caine can manipulate public opinion in a far more refined manner by staging events which his TV channels then broadcast.

Caine amassed an enormous fortune as a fashion designer; he became the most famous creator of cultural symbols and images. But his greatest success was the creation of a new design of men’s pants.

Welles’s reporter is replaced by Kuba, the last super, a Pole from Green-point. He is a classic Glowacki character, and he guides the reader through Caine’s mad world. Citizen Kane, framed by the death of its hero, is the story of one life. The beginning of The Last Super is similar but its ending is different. The night at a Broadway restaurant, where the author listens to Kuba’s story, changes into a natural disaster. We never know if this is a hurricane, an earthquake, the apocalypse or just the end of the western civilization.

Glowacki’s cruel symbolism shows Caine’s pants to be the dream of the masses. Buying them may bring luck: in each package there is a lottery ticket. The main prize is the right to permanent residency in America and the two-hundred-thousand-dollar job of a janitor in Caine’s castle. Fate grants this consumerist luck to Kuba.

It would be wrong, however, to reduce The Last Super to a set of bitter attacks against the vulgarity of omnipresent commercialisation, as the book shows how money has taken possession of man’s spirituality in the modern world, a region where art and culture had resided until now. It talks about the insatiable caste, ever desirous of fame and riches, created by the ubiquitous mass media, about the products of that caste, the consumption of which requires no effort, about new mechanisms forming patterns of human behavior and images accessible to everybody and available in every drugstore or supermarket.
 

(Henryk Dasko)
Translated by Wladyslaw Witalisz

 

© 2002-2005 Janusz Głowacki All rights reserved. 

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