Ar t • Media • Culture • Politics
(The Elemental Issue)
Vol 1. Issue 1. October-December 2005
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(Ahead in This Issue)
The Front Matter
From the Editor 4
Surviving Lillian 6
Fiction by Chuck Dooley, about a crow
bar wielding nut and the man that
Designing the Future 11
Interview with visual artist Andy
Sommer about life, technique and why
he’ll design himself silly.
Audibly Speaking 15
Brian Moore reviews three recent albums
from Beck, Muse and Aqualung.
Return to the Cult 16
Brian Moore takes a look back at The Big
Lebowski, and how it became a cult
Challenging the Gallon 17
Nonﬁction by Chuck Dooley, about a night
spent with competitive milk drinkers,
and what we can learn (if anything).
Open Letter 23
Tyler Wyngarden writes a letter to his gym
and potentially foreﬁts his towel privleges.
Plain Speaking 24
T. Dalley Waterhaus examines the state of
politics today, and tries to ﬁnd where
the nation’s preference for dry toast came
Dumbing of America 26
Essay by Esther Alejo, about the position
of television in today’s society and how it
is turning our political brains to mush.
(From the Editor)
Hello and welcome to the first issue of Cesium
magazine! A long time in the making, we’re aiming to
bring a new perspective to a market already flooded with
magazines geared towards the general-interest market.
You know what I’m talking about, the magazines chock
full of reviews of tech gadgets you’ll never be able to
afford, trendy fashions you’ll never be able to pull off and
articles about sex positions and diets you’ll never want to
try. In other words, magazines that provide nothing that
you need, besides something to pass the time in surgical
So, the logical question remains, if that’s not what
Cesium is about, what exactly is it about?
Well, perhaps we should begin with a little bit of
what we believe about you. We know you’re an intelligent,
discriminating reader. If you’re anything like the people
who contribute to the making of Cesium, odds are you’re
also a bit of a smart-ass, someone who takes in the world
and never hesitates to question what is surrounding you.
Your leisure time is valuable, and you don’t care to fill
your mind with flavorless writing.
To rephrase, you’re the kind of person we’d
sit with while drinking a six pack of Boulevard and
discussing the differences between California and New
So we’ve put together Cesium, a magazine full
of irreverence, thoughtful writing and no shame to boot.
Look for both warped, yet human fiction and a quirky
look at collegiate anthropology from Chuck Dooley,
insightful music and film pieces by Brian Moore, a caustic
(and perhaps painful?) rant from Tyler Wyngarden.
We also have a short essay/editorial bemoaning the
‘dumbing’ of America from Ester Alejo and a leftist
survey of modern politics from T. Dalley Waterhaus. This
issue brings together an ecclectic mix, all in a heroic
attempt to make your mental wheels turn, and get in a few
laughs on occasion.
You also might be wondering, what’s with the
whole ‘elemental’ thing? Well, there’s a few reasons
behind the name. First, considering this is our first issue,
we wanted to show you what we’re elementally about,
what kind of writing and design forms our foundation.
Second, we wanted to emphasize the name. In chemistry,
cesium is powerful, both highly reactive and brilliantly
explosive. Hopefully, you’ll find that here too.
A quick look at the people who made this issue possible.
And the people that gave the editor frequent heartburn..
Brian Moore contributed to our album reviews and our look back at The
Big Lebowski. An avid audio/visual phile, he tries to keep abreast of the lat-
est media happenings, but paradoxically has a pessimistic view of the pos-
sibilities. “I think music will be the weapon of the future,” he says. “It will
destroy us all.” Look for his fiction in Skive online magazine.
Tyler Wyngarden, a confused 20-something currently living
in Los Angeles, contributed to our Open Letter section. “Ever
since moving to LA, I’ve shockingly discovered that image
is everything,” he says. Between workouts and crying, he
develops programming for Paradox Television.
Chuck Dooley is an freelance writer hailing from British
Columbia, Canada. He has decided to grace Cesium with both
fiction and non-fiction this month. Speaking of “Challenging the
Gallon”, he recounts, “It seemed very tribal, these kids puking
their guts out and then giving each other high-fives. It almost
made me want to join in, for both the cammraderie and the high
calcium content.” His novel, The Secret Life of Hot Dogs, is due out
T. Dalley Waterhaus contributed our piece on the current
bland trend running through modern politics today. “Once I
wrote it, I realized that I had neglected to include one of the
greatest modern orators in the political realm: H. Ross Perot.”
T. Dalley Waterhaus lives in Boston.
Esther Alejo (not pictured) wrote our piece on the dumbing
of America. A self-avowed “crusader for fairness”, she lives in
Cedar Rapids, Iowa with her three cats and reads. She hopes to
be published in Mother Jones someday.
Gene Parme (not pictured) wrote the rebuttal for our politics
piece. He is head of the College Republicans at Washington
Fiction by Chuck Dooley
vibrations through the car. I jerked back up in my seat.
Possible 594 with 417 on 9th and Oylmpic. Units respond.
594 and a 417. Vandalism while brandishing
a weapon. That was our exit cue, one I had long ago
learned to listen for.
I shot my head out the window.
“Let’s go!” I yelled above the din of a falling
“Hold on!” Lillian screamed back, her face still
full of that seemingly unfounded rage. The heavy iron
bar fell on the already shattered rear window, clearing
the few remaining fragments around the edge into the
leather back seat.
59 Williams responding, over.
“Now!” I screamed, popping open the passenger
door. It creaked, rusty and in need of some WD-40.
Lillian slid in, tossing the crowbar to the back, stained
with sparkling apple red paint flecks from a fresh kill.
She slapped me affectionately on the leg, and my Geo
Prism pulled wildly onto the street, away from the brutal
Jesus, it hurt to watch. beating.
The crowbar came down harder the second I looked to the rearview mirror as my car flexed
time, crunching through the safety glass of the Lexus. the little muscle it had. Flashing lights bounced off the
The headlights were soon gone, shattered into oblivion mix of tall buildings and hole-in-the-wall restuarants
and dents appeared in the glimmering finish. It had only comprising downtown L.A. as the police cruisers fast
a minute ago looked like a shining red apple, plucked approached. I returned my gaze to the road, quickly
straight from the tree. Now it just looked like a Lexus that accelerating, and another black and white Impala flew
had been assaulted by a crowbar. past us to the carnage.
She was screaming, certifiably insane, yelling “Hell, yes!” Lillian yelled, pumping the air with
Marxist profanities at the top of her lungs. Her face was her fists. She wiped the beads of sweat from her forehead.
bright red, flush with a combination of Russian blood and “That felt good, Rick!”
Italian anger. I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least “I sure hope so,” I said, hoping the stress wouldn’t
if her eyes rolled back into her head. send me spiraling into cardiac arrest.
“You bourgeois motherfucker!” she screamed, the
muscular arms bringing the iron rod down with another
sickening sound. The Lexus looked at me, begged me, I Control was a big thing for Lillian; it made
swear it did. Make her stop. But there was no way I was her come. Any situation where she wasn’t calling the
going out there, especially when the crowbar was still shots was a moment of waste in her life, a moment of
rising and falling under adrenaline-charged biceps. unfullfillment, where she wasn’t defending women and
By this point, the car had taken matters into the downtrodden proletariat everywhere. And hell if
its own hands. The brake lights flashed in the fading she’d stand for that.
daylight, blinking wildly, summoning for help. The horn That’s why she was on top. Always on top.
blared, almost drowning out Lillian’s shrieks. People were I laid in the bed, shrouded in sheets like the
starting to look our way, and I slid down in my seat so that mummies I had once seen on display at the Natural
only my eyes saw out above the dash. The police scanner History Museum of Los Angeles County. I imagined that I
in the back seat crackled, but nothing about Olympic felt just like they did; my blood pressure must have been
Boulevard yet. nearing three over one. My muscles lacked energy, and
“This is for all the people you exploited to get my eyes focused much too slowly. Lillian had vanished in
leather seats!” a prolonged orgasmic haze, but my neck was too dead to
Crunch. Glass sprinkled the street. turn and search the room. I just laid there, staring straight
Christ, she was on a roll this time. at the textured ceiling, afraid that once I came around,
Suddenly, the scanner came to life, sending
she’d be straddling the bed, the paint-stained crowbar consummate conspiracy theorist, always sniffing out
poised to strike. things that smelled fishy. In her world, I woke up bright
The door finally squeaked open, and she floated and early, braving the rush hour traffic all the way to the
in. I squinted, slowly rubbed my eyes. My contacts heart of Los Angeles herself. I pulled long hours at a
burned from the dry California air. small buy/sell publication, producing copy and selling
“Is that my robe?” I asked as moisture returned to ad space, a job that Lillian only approved of because it
my throat. I made sure the crowbar was nowhere near. bypassed the evils of Wal-Mart and the other corporate
“You weren’t using it,” she said, pulling the whores.
cigarette from her slender lips and turning it playfully But it was catching up with me, slowly taking
through her spidery fingers. She disappeared back into a toll. Bismarck could tell; hell, everyone could tell. I
the hallway bathroom. I heard her spit into something; was getting jumpy, too paranoid for my own good. And
hopefully it was the toilet, although she had been known I was growing more and more scared of Lillian’s often
to aim at the first thing that caught her eye. unpredictable temper. That damn crowbar that always
“Do you love me?” I heard echo around the seemed to show up unexpectedly anytime we passed a
porcelain. good-looking car. At first it was exciting, something to
I paused. It felt like a trap. make my pulse race, part of sticking it to the powerful.
“Yeah, of course. Why?” Now it was just nerve-racking.
“I just haven’t heard it for a while,” Lillian said. “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” Bismarck said, his mouth
She spit again. full of California roll.
“Lillian’s human, just like the rest of us. Even
though she hates all that corporate shit, she’s still greedy.
Bismarck and I sat in the open air café, watching What if you just told her about the wads of money you’ve
the BMW 745i’s and E Class Mercedes roll by. They got stashed all over L.A.? Maybe she’d just freak out, and
were just the kind of cars Lillian would love to find all want to go on a spending spree.”
alone on a dark evening, parked without supervision at “I think I’d come to work minus a testicle,
a municipal meter. I slouched in my chair, a trait I had Bismarck. She’d never do that.”
developed over the past year, deathly afraid someone “And I’m sure there was a point in your life when
would make a positive facial identification. Or Lillian you said you’d never date a militant radical leftist, but
would show up. Either one would be the end of my lunch here you are.”
hour, albeit one much more violently. “You’re making her sound crazy,” I said
“Jesus, you look like shit,” Bismarck said, sipping defensively and then trailing off. I didn’t know what to
his iced tea daintily. “And I think we both know why.” think anymore.
“Well, why don’t you tell me your take on it, and Bismarck rolled his eyes, and picked up the
I’ll tell you if you’re right,” I said. check. Without fail, it ended up in my hands.
“It’s Lillian. Christ, Richard, she’s gonna be the “Do you still love her?” he said finally, looking out
end of you. Especially when she finds out about this. And to the hills.
you know she will. Somehow.” “Of course I do,” I replied, pulling a twenty out
I gave a long and heavy sigh. Of course, Bismarck and dropping it on the table. “I mean, I think so.”
was right. He’d been right ever since I had started He sighed, and put his hands behind his head.
working as manager of the printing press at Cornerstone “Maybe you should think about it a little more, Rick.”
Press. He was in charge of the design section, and we
worked closely together. When I told him about Lillian, he
told me immediately what he had thought of it. “Smells
like a shit storm”, were his exact words, but I didn’t put The Prism idled gently, and I thought about just
too much stock in it, considering it was also his favorite putting it in reverse and driving away. Never looking
phrase. back. A part of me wanted to do it so badly, and it would
The problem was that Cornerstone Press dealt have made Bismarck proud, but I couldn’t bring myself
heavily in government contracts, printing everything to pull the shifter out of park. I turned the ignition off, and
from bilingual 1040’s to informational brochures on rested my head on the steering wheel.
anthrax exposure. We were knee-deep in bureaucracy, The apartment door eased open, and I stepped
and admittedly, bureaucracy was good for business. Fat inside, kicking off my ten- year-old sneakers at the door
bonuses were the norm for Bismarck and I every time like she always demanded. Lillian was sitting indian-style
production followed a semi-timely schedule. A bigger on the couch, Sexual Politics in hand. She was engrossed,
office. A bigger piece of the pie. flipping through the worn pages, curling the paperback
Only, I couldn’t tell Lillian about any of it. cover. Kate Millet had an mesmerizing effect on Lillian,
She hated the government, ‘the man’ as she so the way she described women as an oppressed class
affectionately called it, a throwback to the free-love era. of people, yearning to break free from man’s yoke. I
She volunteered during the day, stocking the shelves of assumed that I was included.
the Los Angeles Public Library with subversive literature, I fell into the recliner opposite Lillian and threw
from books on bomb construction to neo-nazi rantings. my feet up on the flea market coffee table. I knew what
Lillian was a staunch opponent of censorship, hated was next.
the Patriot Act, read Allen Ginsberg, and stood for the “Not on the table,” Lillian said, never altering her
things that I never had the guts to. I admired her sense gaze.
of struggle against the Leviathan known as Uncle Sam, “You’ve read that, like, what? Thirty times? Why
and hardly agreed with the anti-terrorism fight, but don’t you read something new?” I asked.
nevertheless, I was implicated, directly attached to the “First off, Rick, it’s only been six times. Secondly,
propoganda arm of the government. My lucrative job Millet is one of the greatest philosophers to deal with the
made the separation of personal politics and economics a subjugation of women, especially in the bedroom.”
necessity. “What are you talking about?” I asked, rubbing
I was actually proud of the level of secrecy that my temples. A dull ache approached. “You’re always on
I had been able to achieve with Lillian, who was the top. And we only have sex after you destroy a nice car.”
“Those cars aren’t nice,” she said, raising one eye ridden denims. It was like she didn’t need anyone, and
over the edge of the book to glare at me. “They are the that was exactly the reason I approached.
trappings of capitalist excess and bourgeois domination. Before I knew it, I was sitting behind the wheel
Oh, and for the record, I wanted to the other night, but of my Prism, knuckles white. Lillian was smashing in the
you said you were tired.” windows on a new Mercedes SLK convertible. My heart
She smiled briefly in my direction, enjoying the was racing, flying towards the physical limits of the body.
point before returning to her book. The mysterious girl in the tight camouflage t-shirt I had
“My apologies,” I said sarcastically, rolling my met only an hour earlier was unleashing a socialist fury.
eyes. She shrieked at the top of her lungs, punching my tire
I walked to the kitchen, hoping to find something iron through the passenger windows, sheering off the
ready to eat. But that would assume that Lillian had side view mirror.
actually cooked. She ate on a strictly subsistence diet, just When she dove back into the waiting car, and
enough to ensure survival. A banana here, a can of green motioned to drive like hell, my head was spinning. The
beans there. No meat, of course; just beans for protein. It adrenaline rush was unbelievable, sending the street
took a while to get used to the whole vegan thing, but I lights into a blur as the car accelerated recklessly, fueled
couldn’t deny that I had more energy in the mornings. by excitement and hard alcohol. She unbuttoned my shirt
“Hey, I have kind of a random question,” I asked as we rolled forward, her warm breath surrounding my
with a mouthful of organic peas. “I heard it on the radio neck.
on the way home.” Lillian was a dream, surreal and intoxicating.
“What’s that?” Lillian said, putting Millet down.
“What would you do, let’s say, if we won a bunch
of money. Just out of the blue?” She was in bed, fast asleep from a hard day of
“Like how much money?” revising an article she was writing about social control for
I had to crunch the numbers in my head. Just how Off Our Backs, a radical feminist journal she particularly
much was languishing in my savings account at the bank, enjoyed. I had tried to read it one time, after an article
accrued from Washington’s pocketbook? entitled “On Hating Men, On Dating Men” crossed
“Oh, say like 40 thousand dollars.” my eye, but ended up putting it down after the sexist
“That’s a lot of money.” diatribes became too much for my firmly heterosexual
“Yeah, I know.” mind.
“Well,” she said thinking intently. “How did we Sheets of paper littered the coffee table before
win it?” me, mostly production orders and specifications for the
I hadn’t thought this far ahead. My mind threw next government run we had coming up. I usually tried to
around possibilities while I chewed a single mouthful of keep work as far away from home as possible, but it was
peas over and over. She’d never go for the state lottery, times like these when the job necessitated that the stacks
and I wasn’t sure if Ed McMahon was still alive to award of paperwork intrude. I always had to wait until Lillian
us a Publishers Clearing House runner up prize. Not to passed out to begin my work, which was sometimes a
mention that I highly doubted that Publishers Clearing chore in itself, considering the vast amounts of chai tea
House offered the magazines on our coffee table, like that she drank. Even after she finally laid down for the
Socialist Appeal and El Militante. evening her habitually small bladder made work in the
“A raffle,” I said finally. living room, located next to the bathroom, a hazardous
“A raffle?” Lillian asked, a bewildered look on proposition.
her face. I think she knew I was up to something. A few From the look of the orders, it would be a busy
peas got stuck in my throat in the interim, and I pounded week at the office. The U.S. was stepping up its anti-
my chest with a closed fist to clear them through. terrorist efforts, and the bilingual pamphlets preaching
“Yeah. What would you do with it? 40 thousand readiness had to be ready in record time.
dollars,” I said, still hitting my ribs. My tired eyes made their way to the clock
“I suppose I’d give it to charity, or maybe help hanging in isolation on the wall. Three-twenty in the
support the Workers International League. You know, give morning, and I had to be up at seven.
it to someone who needs it.” I stacked the papers in my leather work folio and
“Really?” I asked, hoping to find some sliver of staggered into bed.
selfishness or self-concern. “You wouldn’t move into a
nicer place, maybe near the beach? Maybe some new
furniture?” Lillian loved the beach, and for a long time we
“No, I wouldn’t. Why the sudden interest?” Lillian spent our weekends exploring the California coastline,
asked, growing steadily suspicious. north to Gold Bluffs Beach with its giant dunes and all
“I was just curious, that’s all,” I said, walking back the way south to the La Jolla sands. We’d sit on the beach
into the kitchen with my organic peas. on ratty old towels she’d been using for years, thin
She picked up her Millet from the cheap table like paper and watch the tide roll in and pull the sand
and continued on, like the conversation had never taken backwards out into clear blue waters. She’d wear huge
place. sunglasses that made her look like Jackie O, and just
grinned as we watched the sun move through the sky,
bathing everyone in a breezy California warmth.
“Nature is inherently egalitarian,” Jackie O
It hadn’t been hard to hide the money at first, would say, her sandy elbows propped up on the towel,
simply because there wasn’t much. When I first met observing random children playing in the surf. “A level
Lillian, I was a peon at Cornerstone, working my ass off playing field.”
calibrating ink hungry machines for the never-ending Sometimes if she was feeling especially frisky
runs of government documents. She was sitting at the we’d run into the water, fast as we could until the waves at
end of the bar, reading a well-loved copy of Marx’s Das out feet pulled us down violently, splashing face first into
Kapital, polishing off a bottle of some dark no-name beer. the salt water. I’d come up gasping for breath, rubbing
She had an aura of independence around her, something the salt from my eyes and see Lillian pulling her hair back
exotic in that black shoulder length hair and the hole- and a smile a mile wide across her face. It was a gorgeous
sight, us floating along and the sun dropping into the was collapsing.
ocean inch by inch until it disappeared completely under “Come on. How long have you been the
the horizon. government’s lackey?” She choked up.
Those moments made it seem like we were made I looked at my shoes. It seemed the only point of
to be with each other, like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. refuge. My head was on fire with debate. Should I tell her
On the drives home, the oncoming headlights the truth, or play it off? Did it really matter at this point?
would shine like beacons in the distant night, coming “How long, Rick?” Lillian screamed, slamming her
closer as we traveled along the coastal highways. I would fist down on the desk. Bismarck jumped.
feel Lillian’s hand press into mine from the passenger “Three years! Since I met you, dammit!” I yelled
seat, the warm arch of her palm meeting mine as I back. It rushed out, exited my mouth independently of
directed the Geo around countless curves. my brain.
“Thank you for a wonderful day,” she’d say, her Without so much as a word, so much as an
eyes closed and her head firmly against the headrest, obscene declaration, Lillian rushed past Bismarck and
dreaming of something wonderfully egalitarian. I quickly, slamming the door behind her. I thought the
“I love you, Rick,” she’d say. glazed glass would shatter all over our shoes, just like I
Her hand would squeeze tighter, having made a figured my windshield was about to in the Cornerstone
human connection. I said nothing, just directed the car parking lot.
with my left and pressed back with my right. That was My knees felt weak, and I stumbled over to the
enough. oak desk for support. My elbows shook under the weight
I put on them.
“I told you,” Bismarck said, falling into my
Bismarck and I strolled into the press after an highback desk chair. “A shit storm.”
extended lunch break. He convinced me to stop after our
already Mexican lunch to try a hole-in-the-wall bar called
La Tormenta. He insisted that they had the best lime The lock clicked and I hesitantly pushed the
margaritas on the coast, but I had to disagree. I kept my door open. I half expected Lillian to jump out at me
loyalties with Reynaldo’s, an equally disgusting bar on the from the darkness. My feet stayed planted in the door
Redondo beachline. frame, letting the dim light from the hallway filter into the
The machines buzzed and clanked rhythmically apartment. There was no movement from inside.
as we walked by, surveying the progress of our latest My arm wrapped around the inside of the
run. I couldn’t help but grin as I watched the pallets of wall and flipped the light switch. The apartment was
completed pamphlets travel to the shipping dock on fast completely in order, the same way I had left it that
moving forklifts. The anti-terrorism kick was definitely a morning. The bookshelves stood stoically in the corner,
boon, even if I didn’t totally agree with the way Uncle Sam full of Lillian’s leftist literature, the furniture all unmoved.
went about it. It was a strange feeling, seeing my apartment still intact;
“We need to look at the layout for the new IRS I had expected to come home to a couch torn to pieces
order that came in,” I shouted to Bismarck, over the and holes deep in the plaster walls. Never had everything
continuing racket. being normal felt so strange.
“It should be in your office. I put it on the desk The bedroom door was cracked, and I pushed it
earlier,” he said. open, letting the hinges squeek as they pivoted towards
We rounded a stacker, a behemoth of a machine, the wall.
busy piling fresh pamphlets on top of each other. I threw Lillian was sitting on the end of the bed, a 4x6
open the door to my spacious office. glossy of us in her hand. It was from a day at the Playa
“Shit man, I just realized that next week we’ll have del Ray beach, a shot of me standing triumphantly in my
to –“ Bismarck started, then stopped short. brown trunks and arms flexing in a bodybuilder’s pose.
Lillian was sitting quietly in a plush chair tucked That day we had practiced body surfing for hours, long
into the corner. Her eyes were dark and menacing, after sun dipped into the ocean and left us in darkness,
glaring at the two idiots caught off-guard in the doorway. with the waves still crashing musically on the shore.
“What are you doing here?” I asked quickly. I She turned from the photo and our eyes met, hers
knew what the reason was, but it was all I could think to now distinctly puffy and a deep crimson shade. I stood in
say at that moment. Immediately after, my brain entered the doorway, surprised and unsure of what the next move
emergency shutdown, and I could feel my heart mingling would be.
in my intestines. “I couldn’t leave,” she said finally, sniffling. The
“I think you should answer that first,” she said, photo crumpled slightly in her grip.
eerily calm. I paused, trying to think of a proper response. I
Without waiting for any reply, she threw my hadn’t expected that.
leather folio onto the cluttered desk with a thud. My heart “Why didn’t you?”
dropped deeper still, and I expected it to soon appear at “Because I couldn’t,” she said.
the bottom of my khaki pant leg. And that’s when I sat next to her on the bed, on
“You forgot this at home. It was under the top of the homemade quilts and sheets washed in organic
coffee table.” She paused for a breath. I looked around soap. I slowly put my arm around her, my hand sliding
nervously for the crowbar. Bismarck’s pulse rang out his across her back and up to her shoulder. I pulled her close
ears. “I looked through it. The papers had Cornerstone and heard her cry, really cry, for the first time in three
Press stamped all over them. So, I called a cab and long years. cs
dropped by; in my stupidity, I figured they printed your
buy/sell rag. And instead I find an office with your name
all over the door. Your fucking office, with pamphlets
glorifying the Patriot Act.”
“Lillian, I was gonna tell you, I swear to –“
“Don’t bother, Rick. Just tell me, how long have
you been lying to me about this?”
The office was silent, just our breathing. My mind
a place for musicians, showcasing the
ﬁnest vintage and contemporary
Come connect and reﬂect
(Designing the Future)
An Interview with Andy Sommer
Andy Sommer, a young visual artist with an ever-
expanding file of work, has eclectic tastes when it comes
to his art. From photography to watercolor to digital
filtering, his artistic expression is not limited to any one
medium, and it all works to his benefit, allowing him
to mix and match, creating a unique portfolio of visual
pastiche. Music and text also play a huge part for Andy,
and provide him even more sources to draw from in his
art. As an example of his ‘no boundaries’ approach, his
latest piece is a combination of still frames from The Big
Lebowski and the actual cinematic soundtrack. All of this
practically ensures that he’ll be one to watch for in the
coming years of technologically-driven art.
Despite the unique approach and vision, Andy’s
art remains somewhat hard to find. Many of his pieces
remain on display in his cozy Iowa home, providing
conversation starters for guests. His latest work can be
seen in the North Gallery of the Kamerick Art Building,
located on the University of Northern Iowa campus,
A Part You Can’t Escape where he is currently a student. Cesium sat down with
Andy Sommer to discuss some of his better known
pieces, his views on the creative process, collaboration
and his personal goals as an artist.
Cesium: So, how long have you been involved with art?
Andy Sommer: I was pretty much anti-art all through
high school. I just wasn’t creative. I only took a class
in graphic design [in high school], but I enjoyed it.
That’s kind of where I got into it.
CS: What did you enjoy about graphic design?
A: The customization, the manipulation of your own
work. It wasn’t concrete like drawing or painting.
CS: But about the actual process of design? What drew
you into that?
A: I was a really big fan of layout, which probably
sounds rather lame, but I was a big fan of outlines. I
enjoy them, designing how things look on the page.
Design, as in grids, the margins. The way things
CS: Would you characterize your own art as regimented
Fringe of Perception
A: Definitely. It’s very precise and measured. Very
“for a reason”.
CS: Looking at the first piece, “A Part You Can’t Escape”,
what gave you the idea? Was it in response to anything?
A: Well, I dabbled a little bit in photography, and it
came from my eyes. People tend to think that I have
eyes that you can’t escape. People kind of know what
I’m thinking about when they look at my eyes. And
there are all these things that you can do to change
how you look; you can put on a fake smile, or change
your hairstyle, or whatever. But you can’t change your
eyes, it’s just the way that you don’t have control over was all about movement. I think people are getting
the way that those look. the Asian influence from the overlapping straight
lines, and, you know, I don’t think Americans are
CS: How’d the lack of color come about?
A: I was studying in a class used to straight lines. They’re
about the blending of the used to seeing solid figures,
figure with the ground, you and it seems they’re not open
know, the image with the to open space in artwork.
background, and I just wanted CS: So, were you influenced by
to experiment with just having “Nude Descending a Staircase”,
black made and shaped in or more abstractionist
such a way, so that it created representations?
the figure. Not the figure A: Yeah, I love that. Probably
creating the shadow. because I can’t draw at
all, and I can’t do realistic
CS: That seems at total odds with
paintings. I don’t have the
“Fringe of Perception”, a color-
proportions down, I guess.
laden piece. But are they related
Abstract painting gives the
in any way?
A: That was a piece that was artist freedom to let his
worked on and off between emotions and decisions to be
other pieces, and it really was seen on many drafts of one
an escape from other things. work. The artist sees where he
Going along with the theme started, and he sees where he
of the eye, it was supposed left something alone, but the
to represent your eyesight, viewers see a work as a whole.
because in the center it is very CS: Money shows up frequently
focused, very detailed. Then in your work. Discuss “Burning
Elipses Between Actions
you move to the peripheral Sky”, and how the money motif,
vision, and things tend to get and the hands, work with the
a little blurry. It was done with watercolors, on color background.
stock paper, and then I outlined the watercolor with A: That was a really experimental piece for me. I
an ink pen. was working on a composition with photography,
digital graphics and a ton of different filters. I’m a big
CS: “Fringe” has the perception of a tribal feeling,
believer that money can make or break a person, and
something a little on the wild side. Were you going for
I had been watching old cartoons, or something that
A: Yeah, when I approached day, and that cloud image, I had
that, I ruined a bamboo brush just learned to make that. I really
by just dabbing the edges of wanted an image to represent that
it, but that piece wasn’t really black cloud that comes over when
made with a tribal mindset. It someone overlays money and
was really more of a sketchy, power.
messy kind of look, because CS: Is that where the red comes
when you look at it, it’s not so from, as a stark contrast?
much a stamping, but more of A: It was a desire to have the
just where the brush tips press contour of the hand to come out,
down and out from the center. but I also wanted the details of
It’s just about feeling that the money to be embedded in the
randomness. hands. If you look at it closely,
you can see the rendering I’ve
CS: Your piece “Ellipses Between
done to it, where the money
Actions” has a distinct Asian feel,
follows the contours of the hands.
resembling Asian characters. How
are people responding to the piece? CS: Is that related to the embedding of money in our
A: Yeah, I’ve had a lot of people respond like that. culture?
That piece was actually done while I was working A: I definitely think money runs through people’s
on “Fringes”. It was a movement piece…I went on veins, whether or not they want to admit. I believe
this eye kick for a few weeks, but it was actually my that everything has a price on it, and people are so
professor moving around during class assembling a concerned with spending and getting, and some don’t
still life scene in the center. I wanted to use different understand that you spend money to make money,
colors, but I wanted to keep with the theme of basic that we get money just to spend it. I guess it’s not
shapes. You know, here’s the side of his head, and the end of the world if you’re broke for a few days.
here’s a line. Here’s his arm, but now it’s moving. It Everything will come around.
feel like he’s been a huge influence on me. I don’t
CS: Tell us about your piece “Redesigned Currency”,
particularly care for artwork done before the 1900’s; I
which is directly related to that money theme.
just don’t care for it. I prefer modernism, expressive,
A: That was a blast. We were given a project to
foot in your mouth artwork.
redesign the twenty-dollar bill with history in mind.
I went the cynical route by putting images of child- CS: What is it about the Bauhaus movement that you find
labor on it, from the 1900’s. It was fun to work with, influential?
A: For a school to be open for such a short time,
because people look at it and are like, “oh, that
less than ten years, and to still have an impact on
was a huge part of our economy, kids in mines and
factories”. I guess we have such a young country, and so many art aspects absolutely blows my mind. The
students that were there, and the professors, had
we’ve changed so much in these hundred years, that
such an influence on art,
I can’t even guess where our
and art education, that
values will be just 50 years
it established a standard
that is so perfect that you
CS: So it’s kind of a statement
can’t take it lightly. You
on the evolution of the
have to understand it.
A: Yeah, definitely. I guess CS: What are your goals
I was just doing it to see if with art?
A: That’s a good question
[laughs]. I want my stuff
seem to take money for
to be looked at. I want
granted, but people don’t
somebody to pick my stuff
think about where it’s
out of a pile and say, “this
coming from, what it takes
looks good”. I guess that’s
to get it.
about it, really.
CS: Perhaps a political
CS: Are you looking for
A: Of course. People are more design appreciation,
oblivious to the fact of where or a message appreciation?
A: I think they have to
their money comes from.
Redesigned Currency be equal. I mean, it has
They don’t care, as long as
to look good obviously.
they keep their wealth.
I want someone to say both “that’s a nice looking
CS: Talk for a minute about your creative method. What
poster” and “that’s what Andy Sommer has to say”.
There has to be that back and forth, they have to go
A: It’s a variety of things, a lot of little things. Right
hand-in-hand. I want name recognition.
now I have a list of sketches that I want to do; I want
to do a series of close-up shots of scrunched up CS: How does music work into your creation?
A: It’s a big part. I’m thinking about doing a piece
faces, absolutely awkward faces. That came from a
right now where I scan my thumbprint, and then in
Viennese sculptor that did a series of busts of people
each of the ridge lines I want to put lyrics, poems or
with extreme expressions. So I thought that would be
lines from books that have influenced me, or caught
cool. Just their eyes, noses and mouths. I also want to
my eye. I spend a lot of time with music, and there’s
do a series of light bulbs, just light bulbs in different
places. I’m really influenced by simplicity in objects. the way that certain lines just come up in music that
you want to make visual. I don’t think images alone
I don’t want to look at massive landscapes; I’d rather
can put a message across, and so I’m a huge advocate
look at a pot of boiling water on the stove.
of putting text in artwork; whether it’s a word, or three
CS: So you work mainly through photography?
words, or a paragraph, text can say more than having
A: Yeah, and that’s something I’d like to continue to
someone just assume what you’re trying to get across.
become stronger in. Right now, I’m just spending a
lot of time doing text and page layout, for posters and CS: What do you listen to while you create?
A: I don’t. I don’t listen to music, because I become
documents where there’s a lot of information that has
so much more involved in the music than I am in my
to be organized in an insightful way. But that’s what I
artwork. When I listen to music, I’m thinking about
13 other things that I want to do with the song that’s
CS: Are there specific artists or things that have
on, or the style it’s in, so I work in silence because it
keeps me focused on the project at hand.
A: Like you mentioned, “Nude Descending the
Staircase, No. 2” [by Duchamp], has been a huge CS: A lot of music is collaboration. Have you ever
influence, because it showed that abstract form with collaborated on your art?
A: I’ve never collaborated with my art. I guess I
an idea behind it can be economically successful.
haven’t just because I don’t share well. I don’t want to
A professor of mine, Roy Behrens, is a very
share my glory. I don’t think artwork is made 50-50; I
accomplished book designer and layout designer,
think it’s 100 percent your work. I’m not against it in
and was taught by a former Bauhaus student, and I
theory; I’ve had a lot of critiques from other people
that can help make your pieces better, but it’s all
Don’t let your mom
to be taken with a grain of salt, because in this line
of work, it’s so easy to just find someone else with
dress you anymore.
another idea. And at that point, I don’t if that person
is telling me something that they are doing, or if they
genuinely know my style.
CS: What’s your style?
A: The design aspect of things. Not necessarily
like graphic design, but design in general, like
architecture, and the design of paintings. The layout
of things. How they’re put together.
CS: If you could sum up all your work to date, how would
you do it?
A: It’s very visual and complex. I’d go from a 6x5
sheet of paper with pen squiggles all over the page, to
an 18x24 with my name written 600 times, to a picture
of my eyeball. It makes you want to look at it, and
figure out why it’s even there. It’s something you want
CS: Where would you like to be headed with all of this?
A: I’d like to be involved with book cover design, or
designing CD booklets. That’s more someone giving
me a block of information and maybe some images,
and saying, “hey, put this puzzle together and make
it visually appealing”. I’m not so into the creative
aspect, as in doing it 100 percent of the time. I don’t
have the stamina to create all the time and crank
through new ideas; I need something to correspond to
grid coordinates and color schemes every once in a
CS: How do you feel about general attitudes in art today?
A: I think art today is so incredibly open to everyone.
You see graffiti on walls, you see bumper stickers and
screen printed t-shirts, and you realize that anybody
with a few bucks can do whatever they want with art.
It’s becoming so mainstream, less exclusive than it
was 100 years ago. To really succeed, you have to be
good, but anyone can get in. I mean, I did. cs
Ted Baker London
MACANUDO London • New York • Cedar Falls
This issue, our resident music expert Brian Moore presents three albums that are sure to rock your
proverbial socks off. This month we look at some albums embracing the fine art of
the musical hodgepodge.
Guero • Beck
The latest album since 2002’s Sea Change, Guero is slightly more
upbeat, an eclectic combination of hip-hop, funk, rock, and Latin
influences. This alternative icon uses his roots from every culture to
create this musical concoction. With the first single, “e-pro”, be-
coming an electric guitar foot-stomper, and other songs like “Que
Onda Guero” combing sounds of the street with a Latin twist, it’s
certainly an addictive mix. If, for some odd reason, you’re not in the
mood for all this musical miscegenation, he adds in some down-
home Delta blues with “Go it alone”; “Missing” brings a laid back
tropical feel to the table. For fans of Beck’s early work (especially
Odelay), and those looking favorably upon unique genre mixing,
Guero won’t disappoint.
Absolution • Muse
Brit rockers Muse newest album, Absolution, gives the phrase over the
top a new meaning. Frontman Matthew Bellamy combines his classical
piano training with fluent hard rock guitar to make Muse a genre all
their own. With heavy-hitting singles like “Hysteria” and “Stockholm
Syndrome,” Muse has once again outdone themselves with the deploy-
ment of powerful lyrics and non-stop classical fusion. With synthesized
orchestras and classical piano hammering through the background,
tracks like “Blackout” and “Apocalypse Please” sound like Mozart
and Radiohead’s bastard child, giving an almost prog rock feel to the
proceedings. Consider the fact that there are only three members, and
you’ll be knocked even further out of your seat. Miss Absolution and
you’ll be looking for it from your religious leaders.
Strange and Beautiful • Aqualung
Harnessing the awesomely understated power of a baby grand, Matt
Hales, the mastermind behind Aqualung, brings an expansive take to pop
minimalism. Hales layers soft harmonies over his abstract piano work,
and in the process, hits it big with his American debut. “Brighter than
Sunshine,” the first single, rubs shoulders with groups like Coldplay and
Travis (without trying to be overly intellectual). “Strange and Beautiful” is
expected to be the next single, and is destined to be the make-out track
for the year. This child prodigy (he was writing songs at four) definitely
goes out of his way to present you with heart filled tracks such as “Can’t
Get You Out of My Mind”, crafting them with the precision of a skilled
surgeon. With so much potential and a pocketful of soulful piano licks, Sir
Paul might want to keep an eye over his shoulder.
(Return to the Cult)
In our monthly look back at cult cinema, Brian Moore turns his lens on The Big Lebowski, and
examines how it single-handedly re-introduced a generation to bowling,
White Russians and Nilhism.
The Big Lebowski (rated R, 117 minutes) is the fifth movie hailing
from the collective twisted minds of the Coen brothers. Our movie
centers around Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), an unem-
ployed stoner in LA who finds himself confused with a much richer
man with the same name and a sizeable debt to known pornogra-
phers. When rich Lebowski’s wife, Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid) is
kidnapped and the Dude’s rug urinated upon, he’s subsequently
thrown into a strange plot trying to get Bunny back. Along the way,
the Dude will use the help of his Vietnam-scarred friend Walter
(John Goodman) and the verbally-abused Donnie (Steve Buscemi)
to survive the “ins, outs, and what-have-yous”. Look for great per-
formances from Julianne Moore, John Turturo and Phillip Seymour
Hoffman as well.
What’s the big deal?
What exactly makes The Big Lebowski a cult classic? Other Coen
brothers movies haven’t achieved the same level of notoriety; Fargo
was good (even winning a few Oscars in the process), and Rais-
ing Arizona certainly had the quirks to make it stick in cult heads.
However, both of these movies have failed to reach the same heights
of Blockbuster rental stardom; considering that the entire movie
essentially revolves around an ill-soiled rug, the premise may just
be too bizarre for sober audiences to get a handle on. Besides that,
the Dude seems to play to today’s burgeoning youth countercul-
ture in a way that other movies don’t, giving us a stoner saving the
day, a thought that would be utterly unallowable for the conserva-
tive culture encroaching on society. Include the fact that this movie
is ridiculously quotable (webpages exist only to list off obscenely
memorable lines from the Dude and Walter), and you’ve got a cin-
ematic phenomenon, albeit a little late after release .
The cult legacy...
This movie was, at the time of its release (1998), not considered
much of a success, barely breaking even with the 15 million dollar
budget months later. However, as is the case with most cult classics,
the movie became a huge success when it was released for home
video, spreading through word-of-mouth like an advertiser’s wet
dream. Drinking games and crazy Lebowski trivia soon deluged the
internet, with people counting everything from the number of White
Russians imbibed (nine) to the number of times the word ‘fuck’ is
used (including variations, 281). As a testament to the film’s cult fol-
lowing, The Big Lebowski was recently re-released in two editions,
one with a collectible bowling towel and the other boxed with White
Russian drink mixes.
How should you watch it?
With a White Russian in hand and a fresh bowl in the other, of course.
Don’t forget to wear your jelly slippers either. cs
(Challenging the Gallon)
Nonfiction by Chuck Dooley
Anthropologists have long studied ritual among social symbol. It sounds complex, but in reality, a symbol can
groups. These rituals bring people together, and unite be anything that has a deep meaning to a group. In
them in a common event or situation. Specifically, rites Christianity, bread and wine operate as symbols for
of intensification are those which affirm one’s status Christ’s love and forgiveness. In the Jewish tradition,
in society, and reaffirm the society’s commitment to candles symbolize the light of the Sabbath. In addition,
maintaining a certain belief or value. These are events these symbols often carry a connection to nature,
that tell us who we are, and where we belong in a group. originating from a natural source, but that isn’t required.
They renew our connections with others, and point In essence, anything readily accessible and capable of
the group in a certain direction. Anthropological and carrying a meaning can become the center for a group’s
sociological theory tells us that all groups act in these ritual.
unifying rites, and that they are an integral part of our
Even among college students.
According to anthropologists, group events It is a typical Thursday night in Cedar Falls, Iowa,
designed to build solidarity, require six things to a town known simply for the school it provides a home
technically be classified as a ritual, or more specifically, a to, the University of Northern Iowa. Being Thursday night,
rite of intensification. the start of the collegiate weekend, it means the students
would be looking for fun, for something to do, anything
Requirement One but study. Most choose to head out to The Hill, a dense
organization of bars and clubs only a block off campus.
First and foremost, anthropological ritual needs a But for the freshmen, those too young to partake, they are
forced to look elsewhere for entertainment. the performing of an involved dance. Or it could be as
In room 220 of Noehren Hall, located on the simple as lighting a cigarette in an awkward situation. All
Northern Iowa quad, Nick Sievert and Andy Sommer are that matters is that this action is performed by the group,
suiting up for the cold November air waiting for them and that the group believes in the action’s efficacy.
outside, forty degrees and dropping. Stocking caps, mitts
and thick Columbia coats fly on. There are jugs of milk •••
sitting on top of their mini-refrigerator, looking strangely
out of place. At eight, the signal is given. All the waiting
I ask what they plan on doing with them. tension is unleashed, harnessed and converted into
Nick turns to me and smirks. Gallon challenge intestinal fortitude. They have one hour, until nine to drink
tonight, he explains. their gallon of milk, whatever it takes.
Andy chuckles in the background. The jugs of The dairy-minded dozen simultaneously raise
milk remain silent. their jugs to their lips and
begin with a gusto that
Pretty soon we’re would have shamed the
outside, and there’s over world’s greatest athletes.
a dozen of us, our breath Wild, boisterous talk is now
billowing into the air. replaced with the sole sound
Everyone is dressed in of open throats and fast
layers, but the chill still finds moving liquids. Milk dribbles
a way to creep through to the down the chins of some
skin, making it tough to stand trying hard to get an early
in one place. The assembled lead. It seems like cheating to
crew milled around me, wasting milk by allowing
nervously, resembling cattle it to drip off your chin into the
waiting for a truck, ironic grass below, but since no one
considering each holds a else seems to notice, I let the
plastic gallon of milk in their point go.
Nick says he’s After the initial rush
pleased with the turnout, surveying the crowd of people to drink has subsided slightly, I begin to ask the men
standing around the South entrance of Noehren Hall. what the plan of attack is. Like any competition, everyone
There’s a small open area of grass in front of where we brings their own unique strategy with them, honed over
stand, some men kicking around a soccer ball, apparently experience and reflection. But as I listen to the strategies
to keep warm before the competition begins. Nick points forwarded by the competitors, one can’t help but notice
to the grass, motioning with broad strokes. That’s where none of them seem grounded in fact. They seem to be
it’s going down. the product of mere hunches and superstitions gone
The rules are fuzzy, at best, making one wonder Some of them come with skim milk, arguing that
where they came from in the first place. It’s called the the extra fat of two-percenters will slow them down and
Gallon Challenge, and the general rule circulating fill the stomach. A few show up with two percent milk,
through the crowd is that you must drink a gallon of arguing that the extra fat will help the milk digest better,
milk (3.78 liters, for those preferring metric) in an hour, and advance a litany of medical reasons for it. Andy
without vomiting. However, if you were to ask everyone shows me his two half-gallon jugs, and explains that
standing huddled on the sidewalk, participant or splitting up the task will have the psychological benefit
bystander, you would get variations on the theme. You of helping him visualize the goal. None of the arguments
have to hold the milk down for an hour. You must drink sound convincing.
two percent milk or higher. But these are house rules,
and would not be acknowledged if there was a national It is at this point that I notice what some of them
governing body for the Gallon Challenge. have done, rather ingeniously; their milk is dyed varying
Tonight, simplicity is key. One gallon in one hour. shades with food coloring, a man named Sebastian
Anything else goes. tipping back neon green Vitamin D fortified, and another
named Brad guzzling a blue variety.
Requirement Two In between gulps, I ask why the coloring.
Sebastian explains, so we can tell who’s milk it is
There must be an action on behalf of the group members when it comes back up. He goes back to his gallon, fast
for an event to be considered a ritual. It could be as decreasing.
complex as a Mayan body modification ritual, involving That’s the first logical thing I’ve heard all night.
extended chanting, recitations of past experiences by
initiates, careful attention to the refinements of dress, and
need to know is that, indeed, it is possible.
A ritual must make use of a container. This is most usually However, there are some unique challenges
the human body itself, acting as a hospitable container presented to the stomach when milk is introduced. While
for spirits or emotions which are desired. Prayer brings milk is approximately 88 percent water, depending on
the Holy Spirit into the body. The body can also act as the amount of fat left, it also contains proteins, known
a container for physical things, such as the intake of as caseins. These caseins are complex amino acids,
communion. Likewise, the spirit may instead originate and coagulate when introduced to acids and heat, thus
from a container, such as the cigarette smoked by a making milk curdle. The human stomach is the ideal
nervous individual. The possibilities are endless. place for both of these, and thus, introducing milk into the
stomach causes curdling, and transformation of the liquid
••• into a more dense solid form, taking up precious room.
Also, compared to water, milk takes much longer
It’s 8:10, and there’s 50 minutes to go. Already the to process in the stomach, because of its various proteins.
initial rush to drink has subsided, and the competitors On an empty stomach, it takes the average human 90
transition to a more restrained style of drink. minutes to fully process a cup of skim milk.
The faces of some of the assembled are already Simply put, from a scientific standpoint, it can’t be
changing, morphing into an expression of pain, likely done.
caused by the rapid expansion of dairy in their stomachs.
These people exhibiting the digestive distress are those I mention these facts off-handedly to the
that began gulping their milk with the most gusto, and competitors, just to see if it makes them consider the
now it’s coming back to haunt them. validity of the event. They all shake it off, let it fall away
I look to Nick, who has lost the charismatic spark, from their consciousness as a needless worry. It’s been
now just looking like he wants to quit. Retire, and hang up done, they all contest. They know someone, who knows
his gallon for good. someone who has done it. Who has kept their milk
I ask him how he’s feeling for the first time down. When I press them for names, they defer. I don’t
tonight. remember his name, they say. But I know it’s possible.
“I feel like shit,” Nick says candidly, not looking at And that gleam of hope, that one of them will pull
me. It’s as if looking at me, acknowledging his statement, it off, stays firmly put in their eyes. After a few attempts
will give up his charade of toughness. to dissuade these milk-thletes, I give up, for varying
Wood is standing tall nearby, still smiling, reasons. Mainly because that glimmer of ambition is
confident. His brown Carhart stocking cap falls over his rather compelling.
eyes, trying to keep as much of his face warm as possible. Maybe science is wrong on this one, I hope.
I can’t feel my hands.
What’s the news, Wood? I ask.
He laughs and raises his gallon, generic skim, to
his face, as if posing for a dairy commercial. The fourth requirement for an event to become a
“If I can hold the milk like I hold my liquor, I’m in ritual, according to anthropologists is a balance of
good shape,” he says, upbeat, before tipping the jug back intention and surrender. The participants in a group
for a triumphant swig. Nick ignores us. must simultaneously desire an outcome or object and
surrender themselves to the forces that will make it
At this point, perhaps we should look at the happen. This surrender might be to nature, as seen
physiology involved with the gallon challenge, if only to in many tribal rituals, or simply to other forces which
help us understand the immensity of their task. remain beyond their direct control.
The human stomach is an amazing organ when
one looks closer at its construction and capability. It •••
can stretch and accommodate approximately a quart
of food and liquid, protect itself from a heavily acidic It’s 8:30. Halfway, and it is now obvious at this
environment, and absorb key nutrients from the churning point that the excitement, the bravado of a half-hour ago,
mess. However, medically, there are limits to the has vanished. The smiles have disappeared, leaving
stomach’s powers of digestion, and the gallon challenge frowns and worried looks. The competitors are huddling
will place it under the ultimate test. in the now officially frigid night air, reduced to taking
Let it be said that it is theoretically possible to only occasional sips from their stagnant milk. The crowd
drink a gallon of water in an hour. When water enters seems to hold steady at a half-gallon, lacking any real
the stomach, it is both absorbed by the stomach’s motivation to keep imbibing. most of them have lost track
lining and passed onto the small intestine for further of the time anyway.
absorption. This happens almost instantly, because The stars are out, a clear sky presiding overhead,
there are no complex molecules to be broken down in and I look up, wondering just how many other gallon
water. Of course, a person drinking a gallon of water challenges are going on at this exact moment. How many
in under an hour would approach the medical limits of college students, bored and only old enough to buy
hyperhydration, if not renal failure, but for now, all we mass quantities of milk, are standing outside their dorms,
taunting each other to drink? Andy and I look in amazement, curious as to what brought
They should really organize this thing, I think. about his sudden nausea.
Suddenly, the crowd grows restless. There’s Mixing milk, Nick says, through clenched teeth.
movement, increasing conversation. Taunts fly, and one Mixing foods, just makes me queasy.
young man emerges from the crowd and stands in the Kind of like eggs, Andy says with a laugh, and I
middle of the field, in front of everyone. His name, I hear Nick give a heave. He waves at Andy angrily to shut
gather from the now yelling crowd, is Greg, decked out in up. Andy continues, explaining that eggs, in any form,
matching black stocking cap and thin coat. He holds his make Nick nauseous. Just talking about them brings on
gallon, about half-finished in front of him, seeming to feed a terribly violent dry heave. Nick flicks us off and walks
off the growing frenzy in the group. away, making sure to carry his gallon with him, although
I run out to Greg to see what is going on. He is it appears that he has lost any interest in finishing it.
shaking his head, eyes closed. But he will, because he is not Ryan. The gallon
“I wanna puke,” he says over the taunting coming challenge is, above all, motivated by an immense
from the sidewalk. “My stomach hurts.” pride in its contestants, if not sheer stupidity. No one
It’s odd. People yell a combination of wants to be the person that quits simply because of the
encouragement, and chants for him to lose it all in the sheer discomfort occasioned by expanding milk in the
grass. They want him to finish, but at the same time, stomach. Ryan has become the night’s metaphor for a
want him to be the first sacrifice, the first to expose his lack of conviction, and no one wants to be associated
weakness in the form of regurgitated milk. with him. It becomes obvious that the stigma of quitting is
And then it comes, only a minute later, in fast immense, and everyone avoids it like the plague.
flowing streams. The competitors, and the slowly- Curiously, vomiting does not carry the same
assembled bystanders let out a collective cheer, stigma. Rather, in contrast, vomiting is expected, if not
comprised of both excitement and disgust. desired. It seems that after fifteen or twenty minutes, the
Greg wipes his nose, and kicks his gallon of milk competitors abandon hope of being that glorious being
over in obvious disappointment. The remaining milk that drinks a gallon flawlessly. Their goals turn towards
trickles into the grass shamefully. simply lasting as long as medically possible, before the
I walk back over to the sidewalk, where there is a gas, and the bloating are too much to overcome.
renewed vibrancy in the crowd. Challenges to chug milk
fly, the men testing each other’s threshold for a dare. The
vomit incident has seemingly emboldened them.
I ask Nick who will be the next to lose it. Despite A fifth requirement for ritual status is for a complete
his outward smile, I can tell he’s hurting. integration of body and mind, or human and nature.
“Me,” he says, straight-faced. “It’s me.” The group must balance their mental selves with their
And he says it like he really wants to, like that is physical selves during the rite to achieve the desired
now the desirable goal. effects. Substances may be used to help achieve this
balance, but it is primarily the task of the individual to
Among this general jocularity in the crowd, I hear calm the mind amidst pain or other stressors.
them mentioning a man named Ryan, and I realize we
haven’t seen him in a while. I ask some of the guys where •••
Ryan is. Someone known simply as Wood, overhearing
our conversation, jumps in, explaining he heard from And with 20 minutes left in the hour, Nick, Andy
Sebastian, that Ryan chugged half a gallon of milk in and Brad step proudly into the field, where Greg had just
something like 5 minutes, and now he’s sick, hanging lost his hopes of winning the gallon challenge. It’s unsure
shamefully over his dorm room sink. Someone says he of what they have in mind, whether the three are going
can’t even stand up. Someone else murmurs something to try and finish their gallons in a brave flash, or whether
derogatory about him. they plan on ending their chance now too.
He’d failed the Gallon Challenge horribly. He’d We can do this, they are saying to each other,
let down the group, and now it was getting personal. trying to bolster their confidence, to strengthen the
mental game, which is becoming increasingly important.
Andy has a sudden epiphany, if you could call it Mind over matter.
that. Up until now, he has been drinking fairly equally off As the shouts emerge from the sidewalk, they
both of his half-gallons, chocolate and straight up two- hoist their milk proudly, simultaneously up to those frozen
percent. He reports in chilled breaths, that the chocolate lips and open their throats, going for the glory.
has been going down a little easier than the plain milk, Almost immediately Andy and Nick drop their
and decides to mix his remaining milk. He steadies his jugs to the ground, and the milk comes back up, even
hands and liberally pours some of the chocolate into his harder than Greg. The crowd on the sidewalk cheers,
two-percent. The chocolate mixes quickly in swirls and as Brad joins them, and the tri-vomit continues brutally,
eventually both jugs are dark. unaffected by the crowd’s taunts.
Nick, watching on, suddenly gets queasy. He turns Someone takes them paper towels to wipe up.
around abruptly, covering his mouth and closing his eyes. Brad’s blue-enhanced milk mixes with Andy’s chocolate