by Brian Kerstetter
I am a natural talent when it comes to acting—or so says the international press. “The poor man’s Borat” (the Guardian), “a global jackass … you just want to slap” (the New Yorker), “the wannabe Fatty Arbuckle of the twenty-first century” (Der Spiegel).
I do not believe a word of it. Not because it is not true—simply because I do not believe in acting as a profession. Like most things in life, you either have it or you don’t. And I have it. My diction resembles the crisp snapping of a spring carrot; my carriage flows like honey dripping from a eucalyptus leaf. But even God’s most harmonious gifts can house a hairline fracture, an invisible patch of black ice that sends “the chosen one” sliding tragically under the bus. Mine is white wine.
The pale grape, you see, runs like a malediction through my family, and has done so for centuries. It first took hold of flesh and bone in the form of my great-great-great-grandmother, Clementine Augustus Pullman, in Bavaria. After a jar of Gewürztraminer, she marched into her husband’s study, chopped him into pieces, and, using her Napoleon-era meat slicer, minced him into Bratwurst. Sounds terrible, even improbable, but an article in the Suddeutsche Zeitung from October 12, 1849, documents the fait divers. “The wife, surnamed Pullman, with chicken knife, enraged and smelling of the sour grape, sent her husband into the next life, bit by bit, not
of a piece.” The article goes on to cite University of Tübingen
Professor Werner Kirkenheim, who first labeled the affliction Crapula Inhonestus, or the White Wine Uglies.
Initially, I thought I had escaped the disease, but on my sixteenth birthday, the curse latched on to my soul, never to surrender. Today, a few droplets of Asti and I am like Mount Vesuvius erupting over the doomed city of Pompeii. O. can testify that a splash of the stuff transforms me into a raging bull rushing through a Ghanaian market, drives me into battle with the mud-men of Papua New Guinea, and compels me to head-butt defenseless llamas in Machu Picchu.
My doctor conducted a battery of tests in my adolescence, confiding to my father, “Your son must never, and I mean never, consume le blanc. It is his curse, a curse he shall carry to the grave.” So I heeded his advice through my twenties and well into my thirties—until I met O.
“I wanna see, I wanna see!” O. shouted, clapping his hands like a kid on Christmas morning when I mentioned the curse in passing. Little did I know how he would “put to use” this black stain on my soul …
Last summer we filmed a turbulent scene on a farm in Appenzell, Switzerland, with two actors dressed in the local paysan tradition—yellow pants, red vest, and white socks. O. poured me a shot of Rhine white and stepped back, as though lighting a stick of dynamite.
“Show me the Devil! Show me the Devil!” He screamed, pressing the record button.
No sooner had a bead of the sweet nectar trickled past my tonsils than I spread my fingers wide open on a wooden milk crate and began ramming the blade of a Swiss Army knife down between them, Russian roulette style.
O. filmed as the blood welled up from my middle finger. He captured
the horror on the actors’ faces. I had plunged the knife clean through until it was sticking in the wood crate below. The blood flowed down the crate and onto a block of Gruyère cheese, filling the holes, one by one, with pools of warm blood. O. snapped a photo of this—the yellow cheese dotted with craters of red demon’s blood (and several months later Nils Stærk, his Copenhagen gallerist, sold the photo to an eccentric Latvian physician turned artisanal cheesemonger for $95,000, the highest price ever paid for an O. photograph). As I went into shock, O. removed his left sock and fashioned a tourniquet to stem the bleeding. I did not feel a thing, only the evil effects of the Crapula Inhonestus racing through my veins.
At the hospital, I greeted the doctor with my raised “f… you” finger wrapped in O.’s smelly sock. His mouth fell open when he removed the sock, muttering in German.
“Says it looks like a bloated albino walrus,” O. translated.
“Is that the medical term?” I asked cheerfully.
“Your finger’s dying,” the doctor added. “No blood. Who tied this … is this a sock?”
I pointed at O.. Shocked by the amount of blood, O. had tied off my middle finger like he was closing off a ruptured aorta.
“You have two options,” the doctor continued, holding my finger like a soggy phallus. “I stitch it, needle through fingernail, excruciating pain, or …”
He hesitated, looked at O., and said something in German.
“Or he’ll chop it off,” O. translated matter-of-factly.
“Lop it off,” I said, the White Wine Uglies still pummeling my brain. “I’m serious, Doc. Amputate. Off with it. Chop-Chop!”
Not amused, the doctor removed his gloves and stepped out to the hall with O.. Eventually a burly nurse with tinted hair came to sterilize the wound and wrap it in gauze. Before waddling away, she gave the bandages a painful tug, compliments of the doctor.
To this day, when I catch sight of my disfigured middle finger, I think, “What a shame this appendage isn’t more beautiful,” as it is key to the gesture I reserve especially for O. when he pours me a drink and makes me do stupid things, so many stupid things, and calls it art.