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Raphael Montañez Ortiz: 'De-Struction Ritual, Henny-Penny-Piano-Sacrifice-Concert', 1967, performance
" … a true craftsman, self-improving my self-destructing, almost machine, marvelously more human."

I never feel closer to The Villa Vatta Schmaltz then I do when I'm Destructing something here. Our painter Curt and I pulled out a couple of double hung windows and I felt like I really owned this place. Removing doors empowers me, but cutting away wall-to-wall carpeting and pulling up the underlying tack strip, that work liberated me. There will be no reinstalling that carpeting I cut, no attempt to put any Humpty Dumpty back together again. I could have and might have just uninstalled that carpet except I wanted to keep a soft-padded walkway during as long of the repainting effort as possible, so I just cut back a few inches of the edges, enough to gain access for prepping and painting trim. The flooring contractor has not yet been by to advise, anyway, so I hold my ultimate Destructing skills at bay for now. For now, but not forever. I so carefully preserve so much here, but given half a chance to utterly destroy something, I feel even more the successful steward. Maybe homes, like fruit trees, need steady pruning, removing some portion of whatever's accumulating on some regular basis. Scorch a corner of this earth and it seems to become more alive, to thrive, an apparent paradox of HomeMaking.

Weeding the garden carries a similar remit.
I get to become Attila The Hun for a day. I search and destroy. I throw away all I collect. I feel as though I'm defending the garden's honor, beating back an invasive hoard. I become pitiless. "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." And by bringing death, I encourage life. Those floors, long smothered beneath that horrid carpeting, seem as though they're enjoying seeing light after forty years of twilight darkness, smothering beneath dusty fabric. Melted crayon linoleum still intact beneath, it seems as though I'm looking back into this place's past, when the front hallway and stairs were painted a dusty green and layers of inept remodeling had not yet come to dominate every surface. I am recovering a few of the original lines. I am relegating sins to the old ash bin of history, finally. I do not hope to recover this house's past glory, however modest, but just to make it honest again, without mid-century embellishment tackily tacked atop early century artistry. That carpeting I cut always struck me as inappropriate, fashion intended for youth draped over a timeless body, demeaning in a way.

There's also something reassuring about seeing something smashed to bits. Whatever rage or jealousy or self-destructive inner urges I might carry within, find a ready outlet when I'm Destructing. I feel as though I'm cleansing something grown filthy. I securely pack the resulting trash tightly into plastic bags before totting them out to the curb for later removal. An exorcism occurs. An expulsion of evil spirits. A cleansing. A purge. Those urges I usually hold in check find purchase. I find that I'm out of practice. I've been too careful too long and I need some loosening up, some playfully creative destruction in my diet. There are no instruction manuals to guide true Destructing. Each instant seems unique enough to demand a creative spirit to invent the method for achieving this apparent madness. I pull with the BIG f-ing pliers, separating a corner from the skewering tack strip before really letting it rip. The carpeting separates as if from a death grip, exposing its burlap backside, which I slash with extreme indifference, with a swift and terrible blade. I cut through decades of dust, permanently imbedded within that rug. We might just as well have been walking on dirt stairs all those years. The tack strip bloodies my finger in defense. I take a crowbar to it in response. Make no mistake, this is a struggle to the death, an insistence upon renewing life, not acquiescence.

Hours later, I awaken from the trance. The floor is littered with little nails, staples, and fluffs of nap. The vacuum strains beneath my expectations that it might recover a surface safe to walk barefoot upon again. So far so good. My hands, after hours of gripping and tugging, sense an encroaching stiffness. Even the knight who wins the battle nurses a few wounds and bruises after. The sense of progress might set back a bit the destructing angel. He might take respite in an early bed without his supper again, for he's filled himself with a ridiculous sense of righteousness. As if he'd righted a long-standing wrong when he just tore up some carpet. His work's not nearly done. Destructing produces at best a short-lived interim product, soon gone and little remembered. It's just a step in a much longer process, but still, enormously satisfying, an evening of some score, a temporary settlement. I seemed to have scored a BIG one for the home team, though my HomeMaking's hardly over.

Destructing's not the end of anything, but a preliminary piece of a much more infinite game, one played not to win or to lose, but to ever improve the manner of play. It was my fate that by the end of the day I would master a process in which I might never again engage. I taught myself technique, improving as I proceeded up the stairs and perfected on the landings. By the time I'd finished, I had very clearly mastered something. I could properly anticipate just where to place the crowbar and much better understood how to leverage the blade to accomplish without expending much effort. I fancied myself a joy to watch, a true craftsman, self-improving my self-destructing, almost machine, marvelously more human.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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