Years ago, in Hollywood, Carpe and I were broke and considering any and all means of making dough: donating our precious bodily fluids, selling my immortal soul on eBay (Carpe’s was already wrapped up in a botched development deal), becoming “peace profiteers” by vending T-shirts at anti-war rallies.
Finally, two notions levitated to the top of our list:
Idea One: Don the penguin costumes we acquired while foraging props at our designer’s studio and sell ice at Venice Beach. Carpe was convinced that the sheer absurdity qua novelty factor would turn our financial blues to green. Yes, he was an idiot.
Idea Two: Make charcoal rubbings of celebrity gravesites and hawk them online.
Carpe thought we were fated to make millions because, on a map, he could mysteriously draw a triangle that incorporated our pad in Echo Park, Forest Lawn in Glendale and Hollywood Forever on Santa Monica Blvd. that, like much of Hollywood, had a lot of plots but no story. When I showed Carpe that a triangle could be drawn between any three points, he squealed that I was always knocking his ideas. When I reminded him that doing grave rubbings was actually my idea, he went online and registered PenguinsSellingIce.com in his name.
Admittedly, the concept of grave-rubbing would never have occurred to me were it not for a casual request from my friend and dandified colleague Christian Chensvold to make charcoal impression of poet Charles Baudelaire’s tomb when I was in Paris during what I will call “My Expat Week” a few years back.
I was game, but it turns out Baudelaire’s grave doesn’t lend itself well to the casual rub – first off there’s a dude molded onto the surface and the inscription (simply “BAUDELAIRE”) is filled with moss. I later learned that somewhere there is a cenotaph – a monument erected in honor of the dead whose remains are elsewhere – with a fair amount of worthy verbiage on it, but the fact was, I couldn’t find it. Turns out Baudelaire is not buried at tourist-friendly Pere LaChaise (where lay the likes of Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Moliere and – inexplicably – Jim Morrison in the “Poet’s Corner”) but in another cemetery entirely that I couldn’t be bothered to find given my slim itinerary of boozing in museum cafes.
For all my trouble trying to find his grave, ironically, Baudelaire – though his work is rife with the stench of death – only once makes specific reference to a tomb, in his banned volume Fleur du Mal (Flowers of Evil), a mod-looking edition of which I happen to own. It comes in one of the later stanzas of The Martyr, which is some sort of ode to a beheaded prostitute:
— Far from the sneering world, far from the impure crowd,
Far from curious magistrates,
Sleep in peace, sleep in peace, bizarre creature,
In your mysterious tomb;
Mysterious indeed. I should say that Carpe and I never went through with the grave-rubbing scheme. As I reminded him, a “grave-rubber” was a just vowel shy of something more insidious.
“A grove-rubber?” he asked incredulously.
I sighed and told him I would never arrive at his tomb with charcoal and butcher paper. But I might leave some evil flowers.