Justice Minotaur has a cousin named Ivanhoe Half-Abram who works as a shirt folder for Lysander & Duck, the near-bankrupt clothing outlet specializing in plaid and gossamer. As a young man Half-Abram left a promising apprenticeship as a hayward so that he could instead take a “stress-free” job that allowed his mind to roam and compose stories as he worked. Occasionally over the years he has had one of his compositions delivered by homing pigeon to Minotaur. The first time this happened, Minotaur felled the messenger with grape shot, and both pigeon and (we must imagine) story were eaten for dinner (covered with a festive prune sauce, if Mr. Cornwall’s memory has not turned Benedict Arnold on him).
This morning, the pigeon dropped his parcel in a pond where the sheep were getting their wool shampooed by the redder (this is only required once a year, but the redder is overzealous and does this twice a week). The redder salvaged the moistened document and, though as illiterate as a rusty anchor, evidently attempted to read it. Interpreting the message as a command from God to slaughter the herd, he, weaponless, set about drowning the sheep one by one. Minotaur happened to look on the scene as he was riding by on a donkey. Initially he thought the redder was baptizing the animals for salvific purposes and congratulated the redder. Then, realizing what was really happening, he questioned the redder and then slew him with a scythe. The three martyred sheep have been butchered and the meat frozen (Minotaur is also planning to erect a plaque to their memory). The redder’s corpse was launched out of a catapult in the general direction of the north-northeast. Half-Abram’s story follows.
THE HOUSE OF E. TUILERIE GEWITZ
The world of haute couture is a world of high-priced names—Yves Saint Laurent, Miuccia Prada, Alexander McQueen, E. Tuilerie Gewitz . . . That my name is found among this list of immortals is no surprise to you now, but it may interest you to learn of my beginnings in this glamorous industry.
The son of a French farmer, fashion was as foreign to me as store-bought vegetables or regular dental work. Indeed, my father’s idea of a good outfit was anything that could keep hay out of his underwear. Still, daytime television with its stylishly dressed divas and American tourists with their casual baseball caps triggered in me a desire to design elegant yet comfortable clothing, and I began dabbling in textures and patterns in my early teenage years. I spent one summer studying the spots on our cattle, and when fall came, I tried to bleach matching spots on our horse. Old Voisin resisted the bleaching, leaving me with a surgically repaired stomach that prevents me from ingesting more than a teaspoon of brandy in one sitting. I never repeated the experiment.
The following summer, prisoner to a surge of creative juices, I smeared lotion on our sheep to see if I could improve their look. Their shimmering fur quickly became the envy of the other animals. I would later design an evening gown that very much approximated the look of our furry models. Ironic that humans, the most intelligent of creatures, would dress themselves as animals! As hard as I have tried, however, I have never been able to imitate the look of our rooster. He had a very smart set of feathers. Feathers have always been my favorite texture both because their beauty binds the tongue and wets the eyes, and because I have always been an early riser and feel an affinity for my two-legged fowl friends whose beaks are as angelic bugles to the sluggish farm quadrupeds.
Eventually, I was spending all of my time with the animals, learning their tongue, their culture, their fashion secrets—and they had so much to offer! The kitten, with its silky coat and slinky walk; the dairy cow all proud, round, and timid; the billy goat with his sleek jaw and rebellious mystique—all supermodels in their own right. My father interpreted my heavy involvement with the animals as perversion rather than art and banished me from the farm in my seventeenth year. My art, a perversion! Like telling Napoleon not to conquer! I left the farm dejected and took my few possessions and patterns to the bus station. Boarding a bus to the city, I deposited the required ten-Franc piece and cried out, “To the eighth arrondissement, à la rue Faubourg St-Honoré!” It was now or never. Like Hugo’s Valjean, there were but two choices, forward or backward, angel or devil, haute couture or nothing.
My idealism soon gave way to guarded optimism when one door after another shut in my face. Christian Dior was not impressed with my portfolio of egg sketches, and Nina Ricci’s place had a “No Coveralls” sign posted on the front entrance. Simply put, no one would give a farm boy the benefit of the doubt.
During this spell of bad luck, I spied a passerby who was distributing announcements to an upcoming fashion show. I do not often accept charity, but my father once told me to welcome anything that is free. Is charity free or does it indebt us morally to the giver? While contemplating this paradox, I took an announcement.
AMATEUR FASHION SHOW
Time: 19h00, next Wednesday
Place: Centre Georges Pompidou
Just as a sailor’s hunches tell him where to cast his net and when to curse at his first mate and when to cast a mutinous comrade overboard, my hunches told me that the amateur fashion show would be my big break. For the next four days, I neither slept nor ate, save it were scraps of a dress or wrap or pantsuit or cummerbund that I was designing. I had only four days to do what other designers must have started months before. But I had started years ago on the farm, yes, that summer when my proverbial wick was doused in gasoline and set ablaze.
Finally, Wednesday arrived, and finally it was my turn to show my wares. The principal pieces in my lineup were cowhides shaped into capes and dyed in the four majestic hues of printing—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—to honor my uncle, who spent the better part of his life running a sheet-fed press in Lyon and whose headstone bears the name Gutenberg despite his given name of DuMouton. The capes, most agreed, were a brilliant and forward-looking idea, hinting toward space travel while recalling superheroes.
However, the House of Gewitz logo that appeared on the capes was not well received at first, although it has since become more recognizable than even McDonald’s glorious golden arches. The actual design of the logo was inspired by a Thanksgiving dinner that my family enjoyed during a visit to the States. My aunt Monique and her husband Withersby, a botany professor at Amherst, invited our family to their home to give thanks for what they called “football,” a sport in which eleven men wage tactical warfare on eleven others, using a series of ploys, blocks, throws, and runs to move a leather oval into a rectangular box known as the “end zone.” That Americans would gather each year to give thanks for this event is a testimony of America’s greatness—they can take a day off and still have the highest GNP of any nation. Our hearts full of gratitude for a sport that enables men to touch each other without sexual implications, we sat down for dinner so as not to return to France hungry. I remember the meal vividly and swore then that if I ever became famous I would pay it tribute.
The Gewitz logo is in fact a mirror image of my plate at the beginning of that fine feast. In the twelve o’clock position of the plate were the mashed potatoes topped with a delicious, viscous gravy. Directly underneath, on top of, and to the right of the potatoes were the pickled asparagus niblets, which lay dangerously close to the Hawaiian salad, positioned at three o’clock. Because of these aspargo-Hawaiian tensions, two sticks of peanut-butter-topped celery had carefully been inserted. But all the caution in the world could not prevent the Hawaiian salad from infecting the adjacent ham with its sweet flavor. The turkey was stacked on top of the ham, but not so directly on top of the ham as to prevent the ham from being seen, and therefore eaten. Continuing to nine o’clock, the three-bean salad formed a type of intercontinental divide between the turkey and the biscuit. The biscuit had been treated with a thin layer of butter, a thick layer of jelly, and a slice of cranberry, of which the juice had soaked through the bread and stained the mashed potatoes with a hint of crimson.
Such was the meal that I ate that Thanksgiving, such was my logo, to scale, centered in the middle on the exterior of the cape for all to see. To emphasize the gravy, the model also wore a pair of tall brown boots that been marinated in a beef bullion broth. The remainder of the outfit was immaterial inasmuch as caped persons are generally seen from behind. Although, as I said, the Gewitz logo is now standard, it was admittedly a little ahead of its time, and the audience was not prepared to accept it. I don’t recall if it was the model or I that got belted with tomatoes first, but it doesn’t matter now—I’m famous.