by Tony Wayne Brown
Artwork, “Vanity” by Susan Peters
Mark Nipple grew up in Brooklyn in the 1970s, where he was an aspiring musician in a punk rock band called “Napoleon & the Nipplettes. Actually, he was the leader and founder of the group, insisting that each of the members had to not only wear outlandish outfits that depicted famous French people, but had to speak English with a French accent.
He, quite naturally, was Napoleon, but his insistence on keeping his hand tucked into his tunic even while performing proved to be a great impediment to his otherwise already-lacking musical talent. The keyboard player, “Marquis de Sade,” was convinced, for obvious reasons, that Mark chose his persona because he wanted to be a dictator.
Even though Nipple’s guitar strings sounded like they were a chickens being plucked while he played, he insisted on telling each band member how to play their instruments, even when in the midst of a live performance. That did not go over well with any of the band members, and more than one bout of fisticuffs and instrument-smashing caused a great deal of discord, though, being a punk rock band, the audiences loved it more than their performance, and often joined in the mayhem, not having any idea that the group members were actually fighting. The resultant damage to the venues, not to mention various fractures and smashed-in faces, quickly shrank the list of nightclubs that would allow them through their doors, whether they were performing or not.
Mark had gotten his inspiration for the faux French bit from Paul Revere & the Raiders, whose Revolutionary War getups had done quite well by them. While the uniformed Raiders were a fixture in the Billboard charts of the 1970s, such, sadly for the ever-aspiring Nipple, was not the case for his musically-challenged band of battling misfits, who only finally were taken on by the tiny record label Misgender Wax Poetica, because it was mistakenly believed that the group’s outlandish outfits and screeching vocals might prove to have a novelty attraction such as Tiny Tim of “Tiptoe Thru the Tulips” and marrying Miss Vickie on The Tonight Show fame.
The often out-of-tune backup singers, The Nipplettes, were perfectly suited image-wise for a punk rock band, two of the three being transvestites who loved wearing lavish costumes and gigantic beehive wigs¾one silvery-white with gold sparkles, and the other one rainbow-colored, of course. Nipple Trois (Mark always introduced them as Une, Deux, and Trois) was actually a woman named Anita, though he insisted that she pretend to be a transvestite–a feat that she was not equipped for, seeing how her breasts were actually smaller than those of her fellow Nipplettes and she insisted on wearing her own hair twisted around her head like a coiled snake. Oddly enough, she was the least favorite of the sparse audiences of young men of undetermined orientation who frequented the group’s performances because she looked too much like a man.
While she was unattractive, to say the least, her father’s fortune gained from selling bogus male enhancement products through the bombardment of massive waves of spam transformed her ugliness into dollar signs, so Mark married her during the first year of the Clinton administration. Her father later claimed–though he never proffered any solid proof¾that “a former white-haired president” was a constant purchaser of his products–“through middlemen, of course.”
Even with the serious lack of talent the group possessed, the backing by Mark’s rich father-in-law kept their dreams of glory alive, but the acme of their career came as a one-time opening act for Nantucket, a North Carolina rock band that itself had served as the opening act for an AC/DC tour–during which they were loudly booed for having performed AC/DC’s own “It’s A Long Way to the Top,” even though their version was actally better than the original.
Mark’s musical career finally crashed and burned when his father-in-law got thrown into jail after a farmer videotaped him having sex with a sheep in western New York, which he had accomplished by wearing oversized boots and placing the poor animal’s rear legs in with his own feet, thusly preventing it from escaping his presumably unwanted advances.
Due to the circumstances, quite naturally, Mark’s father-in-law could not testify, and the fact that it was the farmer himself who had educated him on how to have sex with an ewe was never revealed. The lack of testimony by the father-in-law did him no good, however, as a federal investigation revealed that, in addition to his abuse of animals, that his products consisted of one hundred percent laxative.
The man’s claim that the huge poundage lost by his misled customers actually did enhance their love life did not “sit well” with the formerly-plump judge of the Brooklyn circuit, who then was a mere shadow of himself from having used the items in question, unbeknownst to his dissatisfied wife–or anyone else.
Due to the questionable circumstances, the judge kept his “inside” knowledge secret, but not his disdain for the man who had caused him to spend many an hour in the restroom with nothing to show for it except wrinkled rolls of skin where his fat used to be.
The resultant forty-year term the judge handed down was followed by a civil suit from the farmer for “inflicting severe emotional distress on my best milk-producing ewe.” The trial was a short one, and the very man who had instigated the ewe-abusing event wound up with most of the father-law’s ill-gotten gain.
That abruptly ended the financing of Napoleon and the Nipplettes. Soon, Mark Nipple was scratching out a living as a graphic artist working out of a decrepit basement apartment on 13th Avenue. Unfortunately, he was no better at his new profession than he was as a musician or band leader, but his very ineptness proved to be no hindrance to his success. An important patron of the Metropolitan Museum of the Arts decided that Mark’s work was of an “incredibly astounding experimental nature which simply had to be the next big wave,” and thus underwrote Mark’s entire operation in a run-down industrial area near the Brooklyn Bridge after he had moved there in order that he might experience the “completeness of brown in all its magnificent hues,” referring to the numerous rusty industrial plants in the area.
Though the scarcity of funds meant that the tiny row house he and his wife then were able to purchase was directly in the flight path of JFK International Airport, Mark was not fazed at all. The new cracks in the walls and ceiling that sprang to life as a result of the vibration became the inspiration for much of his work, which was touted by the foremost art critic of the Boston scene as, “the next great wave of man’s inhumanity to man depicted in all its glaring simplicity!”
The sale of one of Mark’s incomprehensible and nonsensical works at an incredibly inflated price provided him with an influx of cash that allowed him to purchase a Fender Stratocaster supposedly once owned by Tex-Mex singer Freddy Fender himself, according to the seller who’d approached him on 42nd Street, telling him that not only had Freddy played it, but had created the instrument himself.
“Why do you think they call it a ‘Fender Stratocaster?’” the man had said with a straight face. Hoping to inspire his son to achieve the musical success that had eluded himself, Mark gave it to his son Maestro, and told him of its “historical significance to the progress of music.” Maestro, who was named, oddly enough, after Johnny Maestro, vocalist of the modestly successful ‘60s band Brooklyn Bridge, was similarly an aspiring musician, but sadly for him, his teen years had come during his father’s punk rock days, so that he grew up thinking that was the way music was supposed to sound and be performed.
Maestro’s musical career ended in tragedy when he made a diving leap from a stage in the Harbor District and made his own history by being the first performer in the entire city of New York to impale himself on a steel pole at the end of an aisle after the small crowd–instead of catching him–parted like the Red Sea.
The horror of it all quite naturally shook the Nipple household, though not so much Anita, who hadn’t wanted her son to be in showbiz anyway, and didn’t mind staying home all day to feed Aubrey through his drip-tube if it meant he’d never set foot on a musical stage again. That was only the beginning of the family’s woes, however.
Aubrey’s sister, Samantha¾pretending to be a man named “Mantha” to try to avoid a debt collector working for a TV beauty supply infomercial company–had absconded to San Francisco, only to discover that she had an extreme fear of steep slopes and never left the one-room co-op apartment she lived in. She insisted to her father that long, silver-colored UFOs with writing on their sides were lurking about above the streets near the airport, full of little green aliens waiting to scoop her up at the bottom of a hill.
While conceding that there might be some short green-colored people living in San Francisco that might scoop her up, Mark scoffed at the very idea that any of them were aliens from UFOs, but resolved to settle her down by concentrating on his most-prized “lucky number” that he had not the slightest doubt would not only end his daughter’s fear of extra-terrestrial beings, but would solve her financial difficulties forever.
Since he believed that the number was only lucky if no one else knew of its existence, he never told his wife of his plan, creating a serious conflict between them because day after day after day she screamed at his indifference to his only daughter’s plight. Even though Mark knew that the secret lucky number he had hidden in a letter to Mantha (she had to unknowing have it in her possession for it to be effective, of course) would soon solve her problems, he could not tell Anita because that would take the luck away.
Tension between the two grew more heated on a daily basis while Mark waited for the inevitable result of the gift of his favorite lucky number, and Anita got angrier and angrier over his complete disregard for their daughter’s predicament.
“I’m leaving you, Mark Nipple, you unfeeling sack of horse manure!” she finally said on Halloween Eve. The sound of a plane, much louder and closer than usual, compelled her to shout her news again at the top of her lungs.
Having lived in the flight path so long, Mark recognized the type of aircraft it was and smiled, knowing that the time had come when all of their daughter’s problems would be solved, though he’d never have a chance to reveal what his plan was.
When the sound of clattering metal came to his ears just before the engines quit making noise at all, and the roar of the descending plane rushed ever closer to his house until he heard the sound of it smashing through the tall oak in their back yard, Mark Nipple nodded in satisfaction as he wondered what the amount of liability payments to his daughter might be from his lucky number 747.