In Pursuit of Art: Drinking NyQuil at Pharmacies by David S. Atkinson

You can look down me as elitist if you like, but I really am a purist. Art does not have room for compromise. Compromise dilutes art, cheapens it. Cheapened art is garbage, worth nothing. My art? I’m a NyQuil swilling wino.

Sure, guzzling un-purchased NyQuil at random store pharmacies may not be as respected as oil painting or mime, but this isn’t the renaissance. Michelangelo was of another time. Contemporary society is synthesized in the display put on by hoboes snatching cough medicine and drinking whatever possible before being thrown out. That symbolizes the degeneracy of western civilization, everything in a nutshell.

We show you yourselves.

The basic elements of the form are pleasingly simple in their minimalism. Bums sneak in and snatch NyQuil from the store shelves. Then they drink it as they rowdily misbehave until tossed. But…that’s just the framework. The art is in the improvisation, the individual interpretation that each artist brings to the display. No two should be the same, even by the same artist.

Granted, performances aren’t required to be unique. The form is technically satisfied if cough medicine, not having been paid for, is chugged and ejection results. That’s all that has to happen…but that alone isn’t art.

As I said, I’m a purist. I have standards.

Though I steadfastly maintain that there is nothing for which to blame me in this, you really can’t blame me anyway. I studied under the legendary Zelkin, perhaps the greatest syrup-swiller of all time. Who else could get a Safeway quarantined by the CDC? After that sort of beginning, you really can’t expect that I wouldn’t be exacting.

Though, the art isn’t what it once was. These are not the days of Zelkin either. I work with Chuck these days, and I’ve fallen into a rut.

Mind you, Chuck is of the old school too. An artist. However, we just aren’t performing to the level we once did. Our work used to be a thing to behold, faxed warnings and legends detailed in poor quality faxes transmitted between pharmacies across the country. Awe.

These days, unfortunately, our routines look disturbingly similar. Chuck gets naked and I blow chunks.

As I said, this worked. Following this formula, Chuck and I have gotten hammered and thrown out of respectable pharmaceutical sections all over this great land. Dallas. Reno. Council Bluffs. Humptulips. We’re among the elect few, preserving a dying breed of cutting edge performance art.

However, was it even art anymore? We seemed more like a commentary on our own decline as opposed to anyone else’s.

Perhaps the change began when NyQuil brought out cherry. It was never regarded as a flavor, it just had a flavor. Black liquorish. It was just NyQuil.

But then there was cherry, and then there was no pseudoephedrine. Sure, you could still get premium behind the counter in some places…but how were you supposed to get that without paying first? Anyway, not enough places carried it. It didn’t work, and almost shut down the whole artistic community. We just had to make do with unleaded, altered as it was, that still sat on main shelves.

Of course, there’s still enough intoxicants in there to trip balls. Dextromethorphan hydrobromide and more booze than some fortified wines. Pseudoephedrine isn’t much to give up, particularly since I never have a cold.

But still…things aren’t what they were. Attitudes have changed as well. People didn’t look on us as artists anymore, more nuisances. No one appreciated a truly inspired performance.; they called the cops instead. It was as if they weren’t really seeing us, didn’t remember why we were there.

It’s hard to be inspired when no one is paying attention. Performers become lax, fall into a formula. Soon, they’re just going through the motions.

That’s where Chuck and I were, two guys drinking someone else’s cough syrup and getting naked or puking.

Speaking of that, Chuck runs by. I see him duck behind the Band-Aid and analgesics aisle. Predictably, he’s naked. His ragged clothes are clutched in his hand and his front is coated with red and green dribblings of the NyQuil he’s already drunk.

Oh, we’re in a Target pharmacy section right now. Somewhere in the greater Duluth area, I believe. We’re in the middle of a performance; I probably should have mentioned that earlier. I’m stained with NyQuil that didn’t quite make it down my throat too.

Seeing Chuck, even though he is just naked again, I’m reminded that this denigration of our art might be more me than him. I talk about purity of form a lot, but I fell into just vomiting all the time easier than Chuck started just going starkers. It was always naked and something else, brilliant things. He pared back after I’d pared back, and even still sometimes he works in flair like he’s trying to wake me up to old glories.

So far, it hasn’t worked.

Sure enough, just as I think that, Chuck rounds the corner. Or, rather, an elderly pharmacist rounds the corner. A nude Chuck is atop his shoulders, bare crotch pressed into the back of the suburbanite’s balding grey head. Chuck is chugging NyQuil and driving the little man like a tame pony.

“Jesus is lord!” Chuck screams, red and green-flecked spittle flying everywhere. “Jesus is lord!”

Chuck’s pharmacist mount cries out in panicked pain, but there’s no mistaking the force in Chuck’s eyes as he locks gaze with me. He’s delivering a mandate, urging me.

Come on! His eyes shout. It doesn’t have to be this way. Act! We remake the world in our image. There is still art if we can but remember it.

And, for the first time in however long it’s been, Chuck reaches my core. I feel the essence in the way I used to, the art. I charge, chasing after.

Well, actually, I duck around the other way. I’m chasing, but I’m heading the pharmacist off at the pass. As he runs down the feminine hygiene aisle, I barrel down at him from the other end. His eyes go even wider as we almost collide, stopping being beyond his control.

“The power of Christ compels you!” I scream just before unleashing my Technicolor spew. My momentum and the force of the gusher blast the old man like a fire hose. Splatter city, even Chuck gets drenched.

It’s a funny time to think about this, but red and green NyQuil don’t seem to quite mix for some reason. You’d think they would, but it always looks still red and green when it comes back up…particularly on a nice white pharmaceutical coat.

You’d also probably think that I wouldn’t get fucked up off the NyQuil since I just hurl it all, but you’d be wrong about that as well. Chuck and I are both flying high by the time we’re sitting in the back of the patrol car.

Yup…arrested instead of thrown out. Nobody appreciates true art anymore; no one can recognize a real artist.

Fucking philistines.

Oh well, this isn’t just for them anyway.

About David Atkinson

David S. Atkinson is the author of "Bones Buried in the Dirt" and "The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes" (EAB Publishing, spring 2014). His writing appears in "Bartleby Snopes," "Grey Sparrow Journal," "Interrobang?! Magazine," "Atticus Review," and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.