By then, Blinky was deemed a heavy hitter in modern art circles. His latest creation, ‘I Ate An Eskimo Pie In The Green Zone And Survived,’ was plastered all over billboards in Times Square and Piccadilly Circus, thanks to an aggressive Haagen Dazs advertising campaign…”
by mike morgan
Blinky Palermo, formerly Peter Schwartze, although registered as Peter Heisterkamp, was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1943. Later on he was called Blinky Palermo, some say because he resembled the well-known American mafia man by the same name. Under the tutelage of Joseph Beuys at the Dusseldorf Kunstakademie, Blinky Palermo became a celebrated abstract artist. His work, described by one art critic as “often a mess, made from stretch material and scraps of timber” needed close examination, and it boggled many peoples’ minds. In 1977, at the age of thirty-three years, Blinky Palermo died under mysterious circumstances in the tropics, whilst vacationing on the Maldives Islands.
Rory Sabbatini, a professional golfer, was born in Durban, South Africa in 1976. He recently caused a flap in the world of that sport by stating, “Tiger Woods is more beatable than ever.” Tiger Woods has won fifty-seven PGA tournaments. Rory Sabbatini, the same age as Woods, has won three.
The Palamino clan never saw eye to eye with the Sabbatini family. There was usually some minor incident that further stoked the hostilities, like the stealing of a goat or the branding of Sabbatini chickens with the Palamino iron, which was an upside-down P, regularly confusing the other poultry farmers whose names began with the letter b. On those rare occasions of a lull in the fighting, the men of the Palamino family would sit around the table, drinking grappa laced with furniture-stain remover, and blame the Sabbatinis for everything imaginable: inclement weather; the rapid rise in petrol prices; the poxy performance of the village soccer team; failed crops; the lack of corruption in the government; all were attributable to the bad mojo of the Sabbatinis. Normally, a new generation might forget about their father’s and grandfather’s gripes, but not the Palaminos and the Sabbatinis. They made the Battle of Stalingrad seem like a harmless game of mahjong between bored housewives at a Tupperware club somewhere in suburban Ohio. That’s how things were in the town of Trapani, Sicily in the year of our lord, 1955.
Family planning wasn’t a strong point for either brood. If a son or a daughter was born to the Sabbatinis, intense pressure would be brought to bear on the Palamino major domos, Don & Pinci, to reproduce an equivalent. Thus, there was a steady supply of Palamino and Sabbatini rug rats and ankle-biters, all of whom inherited names of famous people gleaned from magazines sent home by the myriad of relatives who had hightailed it to the new world, America. Atop the list were the monikers of notorious gangsters, explaining Pretty Boy Floyd Sabbatini, Ma Barker Palamino, Richard Milhouse Sabbatini, and Leona Helmsley Palamino. Many of the offspring sought to emulate those they were named after. Often, their lives led an uncanny resemblance to their namesakes. For example, Elvis Aron Palamino, the Sicilian hip-swiveling merchant, who early on flirted with fame in the nightclubs and fleshpots of Messina, was later belittled by former fans as “Fatty” and died at the age of forty-seven in the public toilet of a Ragusa bus station from an overdose of Obex weight reduction pills. All of this occurred to poor Elvis after an atrocious acting career in the regional film industry, managed by none other than a retired Colonel in the Sicilian Carabinieri.
Nineteen seventy-two was a hallmark year for Sicily and its warring familias. “The Godfather” had hit the silver screen, forever deluding the Palaminos and Sabbatinis that their petty, spiteful struggle was righteous. Don Palamino, deciding to change his name after the largest island metropolis, became Don Palermo. From thereon in, all of the Palamino offspring were Palermos, including the runt of the family, Blinky. Blinky earned his title not only because it rhymed with Pinci, that of his mama, but also because the original Blinky Palermo had owned the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Sonny Liston, lock, stock, and punching bag. Liston won and threw major title fights at the behest of Blinky Palermo and Frankie Carbo, hardcore mobsters who ironically hailed from Philadelphia, PA, aka the City of Brotherly Love.
Round about then, Missus Sabbatini was heavy with yet another child. The Sabbatini household had recently inherited a television set that had fallen off the back of a Fiat truck. When they weren’t dreaming up nasty acts of revenge on the Palermos (nee Palaminos), they were glued to the telly, watching reruns of old American westerns translated into Italian, fascinated by the constant theme of feuding between ranchers and sod busters, the one-sidedness of battles between the cavalry and the Indians, and the ever dominant rivalry, mayhem, and violence which precipitated the final predictable settlement, whatever the original grievance was. One such B-movie that made an indelible impression on the Sabbatini lot was “Way of a Gaucho,” starring Rory Calhoun as an Argentinian Vaquero, imbued with a hefty dose of mistrust for the encroachment of the rule-of-law on the Pampas. So it came as no surprise after Ma Sabbatini popped out the next bambino, the new male offspring was christened Rory Sabbatini.
Both Blinky and Rory shunned the bellicose ways of their kin. Rather than picking up the lupara (a sawn-off Sicilian shotgun), Blinky took up the paint brush, canvas, palette, and easel instead. Rory, always considered by his older brothers and sisters to be bit of a fragipani (pansy), eschewed the garotte and stiletto and instead began to hang out around the grounds of “The League of Empire Loyalists Country Club” golf course. This was a crusty Englishmen-only run institution, despised by the locals for the sheer audacity and venality of the large sign posted at the entrance of the driveway to the estate. Exuding the same sensibilities of panache and decorum that apparently once made Britain great, the notice simply read, “No Wops Allowed!”
Blinky Palermo’s art, a reflection of himself, was strange indeed. He began by collecting an assortment of detriment, flotsam, and jetsam washed up on the seashore of Trapani. His first noted piece, entitled “Try Not To Lose Your Legs While Collecting Shells On The Beach,” consisted of an unexploded German Eighty-Eight artillery round, a relic left over from WWII, disguised as an ice-cream cone. Another, called “Guano Blues,” portrayed a bald-headed man sitting on the same beach in a deck chair with a gigantic splotch of bird shit on his pate. The man is shaking his fist at a lone gull circling above and is about to take a lick from his sno-cone, which in actual fact is the camouflaged ordnance referred to in the previous work of art. A third single-word-titled painting, “Bollocks,” is one of a gigantic hole in the sand and a bloody, oily smear where the man, the deck chair, and the ice cream used to be. Overhead, the erne has the words “Caw Caw” coming out of its beak. All of these works utilized the real magilla; Wehrmacht ammo, Ben & Jerry’s butter pecan flavor, pigeon droppings, AB-Negative plasma, and Castrol 10W-40. Blinky soon gained notoriety amongst other oddball artists and was invited to Germany, where he was a founder of the Koln Krakpot Kollektiev (the KKK). He was on the way up and out.
In his role as tea boy and pink-gin dot and carrier at the elite golfing club, Rory was rapidly becoming an avid student of the game. Unfortunately, he was also negatively influenced by the racist and snobbish traits of his bosses. One day, he espied a flyer on the members-only notice board. Published by “The Friends Of The Springboks’ Association,” the leaflet said, “Wanted! More white people to emigrate to South Africa. Help bolster a cause that is dear to our hearts. Free passage included. Automatic enrollment in the most exclusive country clubs guaranteed and gratis. Schwartzers need not apply.” And that’s how Rory Sabbatini became an ex-pat Sicilian Boer and a professional golfer to boot, Boksburg’s best.
Fast-forward a quarter of a century. By then, Blinky was deemed a heavy hitter in modern art circles. His latest creation, “I Ate An Eskimo Pie In The Green Zone And Survived,” was plastered all over billboards in Times Square and Piccadilly Circus, thanks to an aggressive Haagen Dazs advertising campaign. Rory drove and putted competitively with other golfing poohbahs on the international circuit, cluttering up his mantlepiece in Boksburg with gold and silver trophies, valuable metal miniatures of men with big sticks, clad in ludicrous pantaloons, whacking away.
Back in Sicily, an uneasy truce had been brokered between the Palermos and Sabbatinis. Hailed as the “Easter Sunday Trapani Accord,” the historic deal was sealed at a gathering of both families for brunch at the neighborhood feeding trough, Lenny’s Clam Bar. A doddering Don Palermo kissed and made up with an equally senile Don Sabbatini. In a speech reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s best, old man Palermo sounded the following warning: “We have an agreement to end the vendetta. But I’m a superstitious man. I have a son. He had to leave the island because of this Sabbatini business. He makes the funny paintings. What do you get if you cross my son’s art with a Sabbatini? An offering you can’t understand. If anything should happen to him, if he should be panned by a pompous art critic, if he should blow himself up on the beach searching for still-life objects, if a bolt of lightning should strike him, then I’m going to blame some of the men in this room.” And so did the Palermos and Sabbatinis find themselves waist deep in the foreign terrain of an awkward and fragile peace.
A wise man once said, “You don’t send a cat to dog school and expect it to come back a dog.” In other words, can a leopard ever shed its spots? Moreover, who can predict how a seemingly unrelated event in one part of the world can cause havoc and destruction in another? For example, supposedly the assassination of an Arch Duke in one country resulted in the slaughter of millions for the next four years in the trenches and battlefields far afield. But if one applies the axiom “What do you expect from a pig but a grunt,” then the surprise factor is drastically reduced. Therefore it was only a matter of time before the Palermos and Sabbatinis were ratcheting up their centuries-old grudge fest. What unburied the hatchet, though, didn’t take place in the dusty plains and hills of Sicily, but rather on a plush island resort in the Indian Ocean.
Blinky Palermo had been talked into the Maldives holiday by his art cronies and admirers. Convinced that the regularity of tsunamis created a variety of sought-after debris scattered all over the atolls, Blinky went on a foraging mission for new art props. Content in his own little universe, he wandered the shores and coral reefs, amassing a tidy pile of sea urchins, rusted Japanese mines, giant spider crab claws, Michelin and Dunlop tires, bluebottles, steel oil drums, dead Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish, loads of string, and pre-historic fish with legs. Unbeknownst to Blinky, at that very same time and in that very same location, Rory Sabbatini, who had an extremely exaggerated opinion of himself in the golfing establishment, had challenged God to a golf match. God had accepted. Headlined as a sudden-death playoff, the tabloid press called the contest “Alive or Dead in Club Med.” Naturally, the entire international community of organized religious types and fundamentalists of every persuasion were rooting for God, except for the white South Africans. Always nationalists at heart even though they prided themselves as God-fearing Herrenvolk, they were one hundred percent behind their boy, Rory.
God’s caddy was St. Peter. Rory Sabbatini’s was Stoffel Erasmus from Bloemfontein. Up until the seventeenth hole, the leader board was tied. God’s shot at the final tee was terrible. He shanked it badly, and the ball bounced off a palm tree into a rabbit warren. A doe appeared out of the burrow with the ball in its mouth and was immediately scooped up by an enormous swooping falcon. The predator seized the bunny in its talons, ball and all, and was directly above the flag on the eighteenth green, when it was struck by a thunderbolt. Both the rabbit and the bird plummeted from the heavens. The ball trickled out of the dead rabbit’s mouth into the hole. It was a hole-in-one. “Play fair you old fart!” screamed Rory, “It’s only a goddamned game.”
“Nobody takes my name in vain,” ranted God, “least of all a white South African paisano.” And for Rory Sabbatini’s heresy, the Supreme Being pointed his right arm at the sinner and a gaping sinkhole erupted, stretching all the way to the beach, into which waltzed an unwitting Blinky Palermo. Their bodies were never recovered.
Of course, the Palermos accused the Sabbatinis for the tragedy, and vice versa. Nobody had the guts to finger God, the ultimate culprit. Don Palermo’s prescience at foreseeing the cause of his son’s death from a flash in the sky put him on the fast track to sainthood, rubbing shoulders with others who mistook leaking plumbing and damp stains on mildewed walls for weeping Madonnas. It also put the kibosh on the cease-fire. So the rival gangs took to the mattresses for yet another go-around. They chased one another endlessly up and down the mountain roads of Sicily in their little two cylinder Citroen CV-6s (commonly known as douche bags), riddling each other’s autos with tommy-gun fire. It was Murder Incorporated. The citizens of Trapani breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was back to normal. The Palermos and Sabbatinis were at it again.
(collages: troy dockins)
A Brooklynite by way of Wales and South Africa, Mike Morgan is the founder of Burrow Magazine and serves as one of its Senior Editors and Contributors. In addition to these duties, he has been and continues to be at the heart of a thriving literary, art and music scene and is a regular at several neighborhood bars, where he can be found discussing global and local affairs, rock and roll, various New York sports teams, and whatever books he happens to be reading at the time. More from Mike Morgan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.