(in yesterday's blog, I promised to post the essay I wrote about my photo project)
(so here it is)
(oh, and to be honest, I haven't really done much with the photo project for several years--i used to take several photos a week, but now it's more like a couple a year)
My Armpit, or Why I Owe Parker Posey An Apology
Ewan MacGregor and I did it. We did it together way back in 1998. I've done it with Roberto Benigni, and with Vincent Gallo, and with the guy who played Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and then this one time, in a drunken stupor, I did it with both members of Tenacious D, at the same time, one of them on either side of me.
Occasionally, I do get turned down. This one time, I met Forrest Whitaker at the Dresden Room, and when I propositioned him, he almost spat his drink in my face and then he told me: "Not even if we were the last two people on earth, not even if I knew no one else was ever gonna find out about it, not even if there was never going to be another chance for either one of us to ever have any physical connection with another human being ever again, never-ever-never would I smell your armpit."
Let me explain.
About ten years ago, I went to Disneyland with a group of friends. We had breakfast with Mickey, we took pictures; we rode the teacups, we took pictures; we watched the parade, we took pictures. Your typical day at Disneyland. But then when I got my roll of photos developed, I noticed that in one of the group pictures, my friend John had his nose in my armpit. Apparently, just as the rest of us were saying "cheese," John was smelling some. He must have leaned into my armpit to see if the offending odor was coming from me, and that's when the picture was taken and The Armpit Project was born.
The first photo was an accident. But I thought it was funny, so I started staging the photos, collecting them. And then, bit by bit, it became an obsession.
Most of my friends and family have done it. It's like my armpit is this great equalizer. It's a place where my divorced parents can get along. A place where my radical lesbian cousin and my conservative Christian aunt can see eye to eye. A place where there is no war, pestilence, or disease--only love and, okay, body odor.
As far as strangers go, the general rule of thumb is, if they're drunk, they'll do it, and if they're not drunk, they'll do it. They just might need a little coaxing. There's this woman, Anita, who I met at Zuma beach about seven years ago, and ever since she posed for the project I've run into her, like, a dozen times. And she never remembers me. I'm always like, "Hey, Anita!" And she's like, "who are you?" And then I'm like, "I'm the guy whose armpit you smelled that one time." And then she instantly remembers me and we get on like gangbusters. All we really have in common is my armpit, but it's enough.
Now, before I go any further, I want to clarify: the Armpit Project is in no way sexual. It's not about sex at all--if that's what you're thinking. It's what Toni Collette was thinking when I asked her to do it. "Is this one of those things?" she asked me. "One of what things?" "You know," she said, but I honestly didn't. She looked me straight in the eye and finally said the word: "Is this a, you know--a fetish?" "Oh, no," I told her. "That's too bad," Toni told me, "because I have a fetish, and if I go in there, I might not ever come out." Toni Collette actually said this to me. And then she smelled my armpit more hardcore than anyone has ever smelled my armpit. It was awesome.
Then, the day after Toni Collette smelled my armpit so righteously, I got cocky.
I was in New York City. I'd been there for about a week, and during that week, I had seen Parker Posey, randomly, on the street, a couple of times. I knew she was in a Broadway show. I hadn't seen the show, but I'd seen the billboard, and I love Parker Posey, and since I'd seen her on the street, a couple of times, I figured that must mean something, because you don't ever randomly see people on the street in New York City, so I decided to take it as a sign that Parker Posey was supposed to pose for my Project. Yes, I stalked Parker Posey, and I owe her an apology.
Here's what happened: I had randomly seen her on the street a few days earlier arriving at the theater, so I knew she got there about an hour before curtain.
Now it was Saturday, and there was a two o'clock matinee, so I got to the theater at noon, just to be safe. As I stood there, waiting, I noticed a paparazzi guy also standing near the stage door, but I didn't say hello to him, because paparazzi guys are scumbags who ambush people with their cameras and I'm an artist who asks people to pose for a photo project. There's a difference.
I wait for awhile, in front of the stage door, and then, suddenly, I see this woman roller-blading down the street and I realize it's her. It's Parker Posey. Whom we'll refer to as the artist I'm pursuing rather than the woman I'm stalking. She's roller-blading right at me. Okay, I'm ready. She's getting closer, barely slowing down, reaching out for the door handle, so she can go inside, uninterrupted, and, I don't know, maybe mentally prepare for the performance she's gonna give in an hour. She's barreling forward. But I'm standing between her and the stage door. I'm blocking her way. She skids to a stop and then she looks at me, like, what? I don't have much time. I ask her if she'll pose for a photo. With me. She says, "sure." Very nice, but obviously in a hurry. Then I ask her if she wouldn't mind smelling my armpit in the photo. Just like that, I just put it out there. Figuring it wouldn't faze her. She's Parker Posey. And then she looks at me like she's not sure if she heard me right. So I say it again: "would you smell my armpit?" And then her face turns white and her body tightens and she says, "no, no, no," fervently, adamantly, "no." And then I say, "oh, okay," not sure how to react. And then she looks at me with these big, frightened eyes, and she says: "You do not understand the things that people ask me to do--no, I'm sorry, but no."
And then I feel terrible. Because she's Parker Posey. The Party Girl. Who I love. And I suppose, because of the fuck-it-all attitude that she conveys on the screen, people feel comfortable approaching her and asking her to do a lot of really crazy shit. Like smell their armpit for a photo project.
But, see, the Armpit Project is supposed to be this funny, weird, care-free thing. That's all it's supposed to be. I could try to explain the psychology of it. I could try to find some meaning in it. But the truth is: I went to Disneyland this one time, I got some photos back, and my friend John was smelling my armpit in one of them. And I thought that was funny. And then it just became this thing. And the more people do it, the funnier I think it gets. The one thing it's not supposed to be is malicious. It's not supposed to hurt anyone.
But suddenly, standing out on the sidewalk in front of a stage door in New York City, I realized that I had hurt Parker Posey. "You do not understand the things that people ask me to do." It's such a horrible sentence because it really gives you a lot of room to imagine a lot of really horrible things.
I should have apologized right then and there. I should have just apologized to her and let her through the stage door. But I didn't want her to think I was some weirdo like the other people who've asked her to do creepy things. So I tried to salvage the situation. I kept going. I pushed. I persisted.
I suddenly remembered that Parker Posey was in a movie called Clockwatchers with Toni Collette, and just as Parker Posey was finally making her way past me, I blurt out: "Well, Toni Collette did it."
And she stops. And she looks at me like she has confirmation: I really am some weirdo freak. And then she says, as calmly as possible: "Well, I. Am not. Toni."
And I realize that there's no going back. I've made a mess of this moment. And then, maybe because I'm still standing in front of the door, blocking her way, Parker Posey asks me if I still want to take a picture with her, "but without the armpit smelling." I say yes. We take the photo. I step away from the door. She goes into the theater. And that's it. That was our whole encounter. But after she went inside, I realized that I never apologized to her, and I really should have.
So, if you're Parker Posey, and you're reading this, I want you to know that I may not understand the things that people ask you to do, but I do understand that I was one of those people asking you to do an un-understandable thing. And for that I truly am sorry.
Maybe if we'd had time to talk, I could have told you about that one time at Disneyland, or about how I now have more than 300 photos and I plan to exhibit them at a gallery when I'm 80, and about how I'm not really a stalker--I'm a man with a photo project. That involves armpits. And maybe you would have realized that even though I might be weird, I'm not a weirdo. There's a difference.
The photo we took: