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Manfred's Other Cheek

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

A satiric flash fiction piece about the foibles of a pretentious artist.


ManFred gave a victory hoot as he watched the crawl at the bottom of the screen. Subway riders to drop pants in global event. There it was on CNN. Next Friday at noon, the world would see the largest display of anatomical posteriority in history, thanks to him. He updated his Facebook status to describe the coming event as “a flash mob bigger than the What Would Elvis Do dance party in Vatican Square and even bigger than the Hokey-Pokethon in lower Manhattan.” Yes, ManFred would show everyone, especially his arch-rival, what he could do.

Even as a child, ManFred, né Freddie Finsterman, had grandiose artistic ambitions. For a fifth grade art project, he sprinkled glitter on three of his friends and glued them together. At thirteen Freddie changed his name to ManFred in emulation of the single-name artists he so admired: Cher, Picasso, Bono, Coco, and his future mentor-turned-tormentor, CaCa.

CaCa (ne Carlos Caramillio) was an experimental artist best known for his Bodily Fluids exhibit, which was proclaimed a masterpiece by The New York Times and praised for its innovative use of excrement by Time Magazine. When he saw ManFred’s sculpture of a three-hundred pound woman carved out of hamburger buns at the New School, CaCa pulled him aside.

“You’re quite talented. How would you like to team up?” He placed a fatherly hand on the young man’s shoulder. CaCa would later admit that he knew he was way more talented than ManFred, but figured partnering with a rising star could only help his career.

“I’d be honored,” ManFred answered with the deference of an acolyte. ManFred would later admit that he knew he was way more talented than CaCa, but figured partnering with an established artist could only help his career.

Their first collaboration was an exhibition pairing the bun lady with a wagonload of McDonalds hamburgers. The Empty Calories, Big Buns exhibit at MOMA was a huge success, and a legendary partnership was born. Inspired by conceptual artist Christo, the two wrapped the state of Wyoming in aluminum foil. The art world was dazzled, so when the Whitney Biennial rejected their Pain Schmain project, CaCa was stunned.

“How could they nix a live appendectomy — the heart of the exhibition?”

“They’re heartless. Let’s put it on YouTube.”

So it was that ManFred introduced his mentor to social media — a decision that would prove fateful for the young artist.

#

In the eyes of the world, the two artists were getting along smashingly, though each had secretly hired his own agent. Then came the opening of the Kitty Litter exhibit at the Guggenheim; each artist insisted his name be listed first.

My work.”

My idea.”

“Derivative.”

“Insipid.”

Insults flew like paintballs and they parted company, each vowing to publically humiliate and outdo the other.

CaCa hired his ten-year-old nephew Timmy to brief him on social media. Timmy set him up on Twitter and Facebook, and within days, @CaCaTheArtist had a million and a half followers and #ManFredSucks was trending.

ManFred advertised his upcoming event on billboards across the country: Get ready! It’s coming Friday, July 12. Visit ManFred.com. He appeared on all the late-night talk shows, and got laughs on Letterman with his tagline: CaCa — his name says it all. Most comfortable with old-school media, ManFred didn’t log onto Facebook and Twitter very often. He was too busy with his own projects to pay attention to his rival’s online activities, and missed CaCa’s tweets announcing the launch of something hot hot hot.

#

On the day of the event, ManFred staked out a spot in Times Square. At eleven fifty-nine he loosened his belt and pulled down his pants. But at the appointed hour, ManFred was shocked to see everyone reach for their Smartphones instead of their pants.

“What’s going on?” ManFred asked a nearby woman who was tapping a keyboard tattoo with her thumbs.

“It’s the Sex Drive. Everybody has one.” And that’s when ManFred learned that CaCa had upstaged him by partnering with a rogue Microsoft programmer. As ManFred pulled up his pants, the woman explained how the two had developed a revolutionary new technology — multi-sensory online pornography — which they’d delivered to millions of people via flash drives, and which launched at noon. The exact nature of the technology had been kept deliberately vague, but the promotional campaign had promised it would give new meaning to the term “touch screen.” Millions had laughed at his clever online advertising featuring spokes-dolls Animated Barbie (“Still anatomically impossible and proud of it”) and the new, improved Ken (“Now with genitalia!”).

ManFred staggered into a Starbucks just as his cell phone sounded the urgent-message ringtone. He opened the message, downloaded the attachment, and dropped the phone when an image of CaCa’s bare butt filled the screen.

Devastated by his adversary’s public victory, ManFred picked up a can of spray paint and went underground. His latest work appears on the walls and ceilings of subway stops up and down the Sixth Avenue Line. But ManFred is determined to rise again. He tags his work Still-the-ManFred, and he’s working on a project he promises will wipe out his rival. He won’t reveal much, except to say he’ll be using a lot of Charmin.


Published in Every Day Fiction, bite-sized stories for a busy world.

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