July 30, 2003

Baby, Winky, and Van Gogh's Ear

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

Baby kissed me on the cheek, sat down on the couch, and sipped my Margarita.

“How was work?”

“Great. Do you know Van Gogh?” she said as she lit up a menthol cigarette.

I was caught off guard. The only famous painter she ever talked about was her Uncle Earl. He owned the largest apartment painting company in Northwest Alabama. Unfortunately he lost his business after he neglected to pay taxes for nearly a decade. The IRS seized everything; his house, his above ground pool, his truck, his Harley, even his favorite painter’s cap that he wore everywhere. After his wife divorced him, she took his kids and moved to Florala. A desperate, depressed, and despondent Uncle Earl went on a drunken frenzy and robbing spree. He stuck up over a dozen Denny’s restaurants in Missouri and Ohio. He had a routine. After he finished a French Slam breakfast special, he took a shit, slowly walked back from the bathroom then robbed the cash register. Uncle Earl caused panic and fear in heart of the Midwest. It’s one thing to have a guy with a ski mask run into Denny’s waving a gun and demanding cash. It’s another to have to guess what customer was going to be the one who robbed the joint. Instantly every male who entered Denny’s and ordered a French Slam was a suspect. No one wanted to eat at Denny’s anymore. Waitresses quit by the hordes and tried to get jobs at Crackle Barrel and Waffle House. Uncle Earl’s infamous French Slam Bandit story appeared on America’s Most Wanted for no less than seven minutes before he was caught on the outskirts of Tulsa after he ordered a Big Mac with no special sauce and foolishly waited the extra ten minutes for it to be made specifically to his tastes, unknown that his image was splashed over America’s airwaves. As the local sheriff’s department surrounded the McDonald’s on Highway 34, he calmly ate his entire meal before he shot himself in the left foot. Uncle Earl bled to death on route to the hospital.

“Do I know Van Gogh? Not personally,” I quipped back.

She laughed. “You’re a wise ass sometimes, Winky, Jr.! Do you know who he is? Did he really cut off his ear and mail it to Picasso’s girlfriend?”

“Where the fuck did you hear that? What was in those drinks you were pouring today at the bowling alley?”

“The TV was on and some customers watched that Jeopardy show and one of the questions was about Van Gogh cutting his ear off. Did he really do that?”

“Sort of.”

Baby’s attention grew keener after she did a line of cocaine. She slid closer to me.

“Tell me the story,” she pled with her blue, sappy, coked up eyes.

“First of all it wasn’t Picasso’s girlfriend. It was a prostitute.”

“A hooker? He cut his ear off for a hooker?”

“And it was not his entire ear, just a part of it, here on the lobe,” as I grabbed her left ear to demonstrate, she squealed and jumped back.

“Here’s the deal. Van Gogh was studying to be a priest and got this vision about God or something like that and he didn’t like what he saw, but all the experts thought he was just going crazy at that time because he eventually died undiscovered, broke and lying in his own piss in an insane asylum. His brother Theo owned a gallery in Paris and sent him money every month to paint. Van Gogh bought art supplies first before he got food. Sometimes he spent his leftover money on Absinthe and hookers. Van Gogh frequented one whorehouse in particular and fell in love with a woman who worked there. Sometimes she posed for him as he sketched or painted.”

“Was she the one he cut of his ear for?”

“Yeah. She was also banging Gauguin.”

“Who’s that?”

“Another painter. Van Gogh and Gauguin shared a studio together in southern France. Gauguin was kind of a pretty boy. You know, a rich, well educated, snooty guy. He could have had any woman in Europe but he was jealous of the talent that Van Gogh possessed. He decided to fuck with him. Maybe he really dug Van Gogh’s hooker, I dunno, but they feuded all the time. Van Gogh was nuts and Gauguin was jealous. The bottom line: Van Gogh was horribly crushed and mortified that Gauguin stole his woman. He spliced off some of his ear and sent it to his lady friend at the brothel. The guy was crazy.”

Baby sighed. “Sounds like he was just in love. Did I ever tell you about the time my Great Grandma cut off three of my Great Granddaddy’s toes after she caught him having sex with one of her nieces?”

“And did she do that because she was in love?”

“Nope, she was just plain crazy. Don’t fuck with Alabama women after they’ve been drinking moonshine for three straight days.”

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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