It's in the Holiday Mail

Originally Published: December 18, 2004

So there I was, crouched low over the rug, dismembering a body with a hacksaw.

That’s not a line one gets to write very often in non-fiction. I can’t even remember the last time I got to write such a colorful sentence. You really have to know the right people to get to write something like that.

But the truth is, before you earn the writing of such a sentence, you’re faced with the actual dismembering itself. I like to find something to help take my mind off the sheer drudgery of the task. For me, audiobooks are the answer. Listening to Al Franken read his, “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” made the hacking and sawing more enjoyable – not that it wasn’t already. Hearing the transparent anti-truths of the pundits and politicians Al lambastes, gave me a soothing, almost transcendental rage that helped the hacksaw move very smartly through the dense material at hand. By the time the kids got home from school, my tricep was exhausted and the room was strewn with body parts. I was almost done, except for the especially troubling thorax, so I left the midsection propped in a corner with the saw in its sternum. Man, was that floor a mess!

The interesting part, of course, will be mailing these bits and pieces – ten in all – to the people on my holiday list. This is likely to be fairly expensive. The body as a whole was no featherweight, and the exploded diagram version certainly adds up to the sum of its parts – minus a few less attractive scraps and oddments that I already disposed of.  Then, I’ll have to rustle up sturdy boxes for each piece, not to mention the Ziploc Double-Guard gallon-sized plastic bags (The best for freezing meat! Actually says so on the box!). As with any fun but messy project, it’s the sorting out and cleaning-up that’s the real pain in the neck. 

You’re wondering why I did it. Truth be told, I just never liked him. He was stiff and awkward, and, well, to be blunt, ugly. Plus he didn’t photograph well, which really bothered me. His penis was so small that people actually pointed and laughed. I know they did. I heard them. But it was true. And when I finally made the length-wise cut through the torso, the little thing actually just detached – came right off in my hand!

So with a little nip and tuck, I turned him into a woman, and I like her so much better now! When I mail her out to those people next week, they won’t have any reason to laugh. Not anymore.

Did I mention all the blood and viscera? Ok, obviously there was no blood and no viscera, this body having been made out of papier maché - although frankly, it didn’t make sawing through it any less disturbing – it might as well have been actual flesh and bone. I made the sculpture in late 2001, the inadequate body proportions perhaps reflecting my feelings for the newly installed squatter administration. But reflection or not, it was a terrible piece, and it deserved to be drawn and quartered – or in this case, tenthed, as the parts are destined to be mailed to 10 other lonely hearts artists like me. They in turn will mail me back one body part each - like some sort of sociopath’s chain letter. Then, after the holidays, each of us is to stitch together his or her own Frankenstein to share with the others in a collective kill-and-tell session.  This project is the brainchild of my friend Linda Corbett, an artist and teacher in California. The participants, all unknown to me, are her life-drawing students. As far as I know, I’m the only one mailing three-dimensionally. I do like to stand out in a crowd.

One week later

After dumpster-diving for flattened boxes behind a small but upscale McLean strip mall, I scored and folded and sliced with my standard-issue box-cutter until I had ten boxes the right size for each of the body parts. They ranged from about 10” square to 12” x 18”, depending on whether there were limbs involved and how much had remained intact after the hacksaw faze. I’d been hoarding packing material for some time in my basement, and so had plenty with which to cushion the stumps and protuberances.  In a little paper insert I mailed with each box, I told the recipients, 

“This body part is made of papier maché, and so can easily be drilled, cut with a saw, painted, gouged or altered in any way quite easily. Have fun!”

I loaded the ten boxes into my hatchback yesterday morning. The small Arlington post office was packed with holiday customers, most clutching a single package, or a stack of Christmas cards needing festive holiday stamps. When I began to unload the boxes into the post office lobby, a series of cheery, polite people opened the door for me with each armload I brought across the parking lot. When I next had to move the huge pile into the room where the line formed, a young, smiling woman held the door open for the entire load. I stacked the large boxes in a corner before getting behind her in line.  I had caused a bit of a stir in the cramped room, but I accepted the grins and nods with good humor. It was clear from their jovial faces that these people thought I was full to over flowing with the spirit of Christmas. All those big packages! She must have so many loved ones! Such generosity! Guess nothing’s too good for her family ‘cause that’s gonna set her back a pretty penny!

 And it did – around $67.00 total for parcel post, no tracking, no insurance. But in the grand scheme of things, I consider it money well spent. Compared to what a lot of people in my situation go through, I disposed of the body pretty easily - and I’d thought that disproportioned little millstone would be hanging around my neck forever! 

I like to think that by dismembering him and scattering his parts I have not only removed a source of irritation to me, but have encouraged him (her!) to find new beginnings, to do in pieces what was never accomplished as a whole. I admit, too that I like the thought of the recipients faces as they open the boxes right before the holidays... 

As I waited in line, a jolly older gentleman passed by who had just finished his transaction at the counter. He smiled as he passed me, and glanced at my many boxes. 

 “That’s quite a Christmas someone’s gonna have!” he said with a wink.

I smiled warmly back at him. Mister, you have no idea.   

In this holiday season, it’s so nice to know that I can put cheer in someone’s heart, even if they’re making false assumptions about me. It’s the thought that counts.

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