A Week in Culture: Joe Ollmann, Part 2


The Culture Diaries

This is the second installment of Ollmann’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


Of late, everything in my life seems to be done in fifteen-minute increments, as if I am in my personal life digging up the powdered-wigged corpse of Andy Warhol’s too-oft-quoted chestnut, minus the fame.

I’ve become fat, so I run for fifteen minutes every day (pathetic, I know, but I will return to this). My only reading time is during my fifteen-minute commute each morning. I meet with my wife after a night of work, and we watch part of a movie, sometimes as little as fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes: EVERYWHERE!

Andy’s prediction about fame in this Internet and reality-TV age may be completely accurate, but I grew sick of the phrase decades ago when “squares” would latch onto counterculture phrases like that to show they were cool, like spouting off Einstein’s relativity theorem also showed you were totally smart.

Are there even “squares” anymore? Everyone seems to be so goddamn cool these days. Toddlers dress cooler than I do. Old people are inappropriately sexy and cool. What do the cool kids do these days to stay on top? They would need something more punk than punk. I’ve played at being a grumpy old man so long, now that I am actually fast becoming one I thought it would fit better. But shit, I really don’t understand the attraction of Facebook. And Twitter? I’ve been in bar fights, I’ve fathered three children, I could honestly NEVER say that I had “tweeted” something.

Anyway, back to Warhol. I also have a bone to pick with him over the state of modern tagging or graffiti. It seems a simple path to trace the crop of modern street artists back to Warhol’s approach and aesthetic. No one seems content to rail against the bastards anymore. Every graffito seems designed to draw me to a Web site initially and commerce eventually. Everyone wants to be Banksy or Meester Brainwash, I suppose.

Anyway, I’m a philistine, a cartoonist, a failed artist AND a failed writer. I also secretly wish Schnabel would stop making films, break some crockery, and start painting again.

Perhaps I digress.

I have a busy life, but I am getting fat. I had to choose between getting creative work done after my kid goes to sleep or exercising. Well, I chose both. I run on a treadmill for fifteen minutes ALMOST every night. I get sexier in fifteen-minute increments. I also take a lot of mockery from people who actually exercise.

The thing is, that while fifteen minutes may seem a pathetically short time to exercise, it is in actuality an INTERMINABLE lifetime in some lesser circle of Dante’s hell when you are actually on a goddamn treadmill. So I listen to audiobooks.

Some good and some trash. Lately, I have been listening to Twilight Zone radio shows. I loved these TV shows as a kid. Every story I wrote had an ironic ending thanks to Rod Serling’s influence. That guy had more irony than any modern teenager ever did. Jesus, always with the ironic endings; guy loves books, but has no time to read, the A-bomb drops while he’s in a library vault, he crushes his glasses and can’t read! Oh, the humanity. The themes that overwhelm in these old Twilight Zone scripts is a drooling lust for nostalgia. Everyone wants to go back to their old home town of Rubesville and ride the carousel and escape their sordid lives as 1960s advertising men, a fate I would gladly escape to, incidentally. Oh, they’re fun and they break nicely into two acts of fifteen minutes (incidentally, fifteen minutes again, if you doubted earlier that I had a theme going here).

I was listening to a lot of Cormac McCarthy for a while, but I thought that running was making me taciturn and way more depressed about humanity than it should.

A general aside to male audiobook readers: if you are reading a woman’s dialogue, it is not necessary to read it in a “lady voice”; you only ever end up sounding like Norman Bates being mother.


I belong to a secret society of men who draw together known inscrutably as the Man Drawing Salon. The Man Drawing Salon is a venerable artistic society that meets semiregularly and makes some serious magic. Seared in their collective consciousness of the Quebequois people, there is Riopelle, there is Celine Dion, and there is the loving brand of the Man Drawing Salon. Though offers/bribes/threats have been made to gain membership, the roster remains limited to the three founding members: Todd Stewart, Vasilios (Billy) Mavreas, and me.

Todd is one of Montreal’s premier silkscreen artists, and Billy is a cartoonist–fine artist of great renown. Me, I’m a cartoonist and jackass whom you’ve previously met.
Man Drawing Salon is what might have occurred if, say, Victor Hugo, St. Augustine of Hippo, and Cecil B. DeMille periodically got together, drank a ton of beer, ate a lot of in-the-shell peanuts, and collaboratively drew monster heads, or monstrous heads (nuances—truly, God is so very much in the details, non?). When the logistics of geography and history made that collaboration impossible, we recreated it as best we could under laboratory conditions.

We draw in Monastiraki, the beloved art gallery–curiosity shop run by Billy and Emilie Obrien in Mordecai Richler’s old neighborhood of Mile End.

The evening began early for me, as I was anxious to see the new show of drawings at Monastiraki before we got down to making our own art. The latest show is incidentally a series of drawings by Billy. This normally would present a conflict of interest, but here there is no conflict, only interest.

In the past, the Man Drawing Salon tended to be an artistic bacchanalia. We’ve sowed some wild oats in the past (a mild, euphemistic phrase that, I confess, much like deleted expletives in comics—@%#!!!—always summons up WAY worse images in my perverse mind). Anyway, we’ve sowed some of those wild oats, but we’re more mature artists now, and the latest session was incredibly civilized by the addition of vodka and fruit juices in place of beer. Which I’m pretty sure was how the Renaissance occurred and how Van Lewenhoek discovered the microscope. Vodka plus fruit juice, minus beer, equals advances in society. Frat boys take note.

Man Drawing Salon fueled by girl drinks was elegant, sophisticated, refined, and completed at the incredibly early hour of eleven-thirty. No search for cheap pizza slices ensued, and beautiful, lasting works of art were created. Just another night in Mile End, Montréal.

On the way home, however, the bus I boarded seemed to be bound for an American Apparel ad photo shoot. Young, overly-sexed people, all too-thin, heroin-cheeked, spandex-sleazy hipsters. And I am reminded again why I hate living in a big city in general and Montréal in particular.

Joe Ollmann is the author, most recently, of Mid-Life. Check back tomorrow for the last installment of his culture diary.