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On the Way to the Art Show (Excerpt from Office Girl)

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The following is an excerpt from Office Girl, Joe Meno's latest novel.

Odile announces that what they're really missing is a manifesto.

"A what?" he asks, pedaling briskly to try to keep up.

Odile slows down, riding beside him. "A manifesto. Like the Surrealists. Or the Situationists. Or the Theatre of the Absurd, you know?"

"Not really."

"We need something to hand to people and say, This is what we stand for."

"I don't stand for anything."

"I know. Me neither. But that's why we should do it."

And they ride further south along Milwaukee Avenue, passing the expressway, the bread factory, the bombed-out-looking apartment buildings.

"The other day I found out my stepdad's getting surgery," Jack shouts.

"What?"

"My stepdad. I had lunch with him. Yesterday. He said he's getting surgery and then he gave me all of his favorite records."

"Wow. That's really nice of him."

"It is. But it's also kind of scary."

"Why?"

"Because it makes me worried that he's going to die. And I don't know. I'm almost twenty-six, and I think what a disappointment I must be to him. To my parents. I mean, what do I have going for me? Nothing. I think he was already finishing his degree and probably opening his own practice at my age and everything. And I don't have anything to show for myself. Except the fact that I'm already divorced. I don't know. I feel bad. I feel like I need to do something important instead of screwing around."

"You're not screwing around."

"I'm not?"

"No. You just haven't figured it out yet," she says. "I think it takes a long time."

"Really?"

"Really. I'm still trying to figure things out too. All I know is a couple of very unimportant things."

"Me too," he says, but not loud enough for her to hear. "What I care about no one else seems to even notice."

"Like what?"

And he thinks about telling her all about the tapes, the recordings he has made, the city of sound he has been trying to finish. "I really don't know," he says.

"I think this should all be part of our secret society. The art movement."

"What should?"

"Like being in favor of unimportant things. Insignificant stuff. Things that get ignored. Things nobody else cares about. Like Post-it notes. Or push-pins. Or paperclips. I mean, have you ever really looked at a paperclip? It's pretty amazing. I was looking at one the other day and they still look like they're from the future or something. I think we should be for the small stuff, the stuff no one even thinks of as art. Like fire hydrants. Or gym shoes. Stuff like that. And we should be against anything popular, anything that's made for mass consumption, like movies, or TV, or songs on the radio. We should only be interested in the things that aren't really interesting. Broken things. Incomplete things. Things that don't last. Like lame fireworks. Or snow drifts. Anything insubstantial. Anything that isn't art. Personally, I'm against anything by Jim Dine. Or Roy Lichtenstein. Or Andy Warhol. The only good thing he ever did was help get the Velvet Underground started. But I'm against all his other stuff. Anything that references pop culture. Because the only really interesting things, the only really lovely things, are things that don't last, things that nobody else knows about."

"You should write all this down," Jack says, "it could be your manifesto," and Odile nods and then, up ahead, along an unmarked side street, is the art gallery.

Before they are off their bikes, Odile has taken out her silver paint pen and has written,
ALPHONSE F. DESPISES THIS PLACE, with a small arrow pointing right toward the gallery. And then, after some shuffling of their feet, the two of them go in.