Revenge by Proxy is Still Revenge

by Jim Knipfel

There’s a movie playing in the theaters now. I don’t pay too close attention to such things, but nobody seems to be caring too much about it, regardless of the fact that it stars the esteemed Dustin Hoffman and that charming John Travolta character.

I haven’t seen Mad City, nor do I plan to. It sounds interesting, to me at least, but it’s just not something I’m going to take the time to do. My friend Linda saw it—but Linda lives in Florida, and is desperate for any kind of entertainment she can find. She liked the movie for one central reason.

"The main character—the John Travolta character," she told me, "is a museum security guard who gets fired, then comes back and takes over the museum."

Linda’s an ex-Guggenheim security guard. We worked there together for far too long, and it’s interesting. I’ve discovered that any sort of terrorist action against any museum—the Guggenheim in particular, for obvious reasons—just seems to fill the hearts of any ex-employee with a warm and joyous glee. The fact that the movie takes place in the Natural History Museum was a little disappointing, as was the fact that Mr. Travolta’s character was trying to get his job back.

"That doesn’t make any sense," I told her. "Why the hell would he want a job like that back?"

"Wife and kids to feed, or something like that."

"Oh. Does he at least blow up the museum?"


"Oh. So I guess I won’t go see it, then."

Last summer, August, I believe it was, I was at Buffa’s, having lunch with two former Guggenheimers. The week before, some fellow had just strolled into the Guggenheim Soho with a damned shotgun, walked upstairs, and robbed the Dean & Deluca’s on the second floor. The three of us found this terribly funny.

"So he just walked by whatever guards were working there, carrying a shotgun?"

"Well what would you’ve done?"

John thought about this for just a second. "I guess I would’ve tried to help him, somehow."


I have never left a job which has left such a bitter taste in my mouth before, such a deep ache for revenge, whatever form it takes.

That’s why I was amazed and delighted when John gave me a tiny news clipping from the New York Times last week. Just a paragraph from a larger story which ran sometime in the middle of October. A story I had heard nothing about in any other context, and I’m not sure why. And I didn’t receive it until last week because John had only clipped this paragraph and left it sitting on his desk, forgetting about it himself until he stumbled across it one night.

It seems the Guggenheim just opened up their latest franchise in Bilbao, Spain. That makes at least four Guggenheims now—Italy, Spain and the two here in town. Pretty soon, within the next couple years, I’m pretty sure anybody who wants to will be able to go to a franchise fair at a Holiday Inn in Edgewater, NJ and get a Guggenheim of their very own.

They’d been working on the Bilbao franchise for some time—at least since I was working the uptown branch—at the time, if I remember correctly, it was actually planned for Barcelona, or some other Spanish city people actually cared about. But that’s neither here nor there.

So anyway, on the morning of the Guggenheim Bilbao’s grand opening, three men showed up in a van, claiming to be gardeners. There, I imagine, to do any last minute pruning or edging just to make things look pretty for the big party.

Well, they weren’t gardeners, it turns out, but terrorists. Terrorists with a delightful plan.

The centerpiece of the opening exhibit was a big sculpture entitled "Puppy" by that annoying Jeff Koons fellow. Apparently what this was was a big, well, puppy sculpted out of flowers. And what the terrorists were planning to do was to hide, according to the Times, "12 remote-controlled rocket propelled grenades" within the sculpture. That night, while the party was in what they call "full swing," they were going to punch a few buttons and send these 12 grenades flying this way and that through the crowd.

Mayhem and merriment ensue.

Unfortunately, one of the guards who happened to be working the front of the museum that day got a little nosy, and noticed that the license plates on the "gardening" van were fakes. As he tried to summon help, he was shot. One of the terrorists was captured, but the other two escaped.

(My information, unfortunately, is a few weeks old—and given that there’s been no other coverage of this, apparently, in any English-speaking newspaper, I know of no further developments. What do you take me for, some kind of journalist?)

As a result of Mr. Snoopy-Pants, the plot was uncovered, and there were no fireworks at the opening of the Guggenheim Bilbao.

"Big disappointment," John said.

"That goddamn guard. What, was it his first day on the job?"

"Apparently so."

"See what over-enthusiasm gets you? Gets you shot. By terrorists. Terrorists who were just doing their job, trying to brighten things up for the rest of us."

"Damn straight."

Most all the Guggenheimers I know have gone on to other crummy, low-paying jobs—they’ve become art handlers, house painters, anthropologists. Some took other security jobs. John has moved around a lot between architectural firms, working for one insane boss after another. But like World War II vets will never fully trust a German, or Vietnam vets will never fully trust Southeast Asians, we all came out of our stint there, after standing on those ramps for 10 hours a day, wanting to do something big and bad to that institution.

One former guard, Sue, went back a year after leaving the Gugg and organized a security guard union. That really cheesed ‘em off. But still, 12 rocket-launched grenades erupting from inside a Koons sculpture in the middle of a black-tie party. It just don’t get any slicker than that.

Any you have to wonder—well, I do at least—what, exactly, was the motive? What did they hope to achieve? What were they protesting? Modern art? Good a reason as any, I suppose, and better than most.

And what, exactly, did these three gentlemen think when they first walked into the museum to scope the place out only to see a big puppy made out of flowers? Granted, it sounds like the kind of thing that any rational person would just want to blow up, but did one of them say to the other two, "You know, comrades, I may not know much about decadent capitalist art, but I sure know where I’d like to hide my rocket launchers"?

It makes you wonder.

What’s more, it gets a person thinking about what other plots might be brewing right now in the fetid, smoky rooms occupied by small terrorist sects all around the globe. Another federal building, another World Trade Center, another Flight 007 or 800.

That’s something else I’ve wondered about. Wondered about since I was a kid, actually. I never liked the James Bond movies because I was always too enamored of his villains—and I always knew that Mr. Bond would foil their evil schemes at the last minute. I always wanted to see what would happen if Dr. No or Goldfinger really did take over the world. I mean, once they had it, what would they do with it?

So that’s always had me wondering—what if there really are evil geniuses out there, plotting elaborate, insane schemes to take over the world? Are they always foiled at the last minute by "good" secret agents, leaving us, the general public, completely in the dark about this elaborate and frightening skullduggery?

The occasional bomb—be it on an airplane, or in Oklahoma, or Paris or Belfast, is nothing. We panic for a day or two, then get on with our lives. But rocket-launched grenades in a bad sculpture—now that’s class. And I keep waiting for someone to pull it off properly—or better yet, for someone to "hold the whole world hostage."

Things are bad in this world, yes. Ugly, smelly, nasty—a world full of stupidity and starvation and disease—but things never really get as bad as they should.

Copyright Jim Knipfel. Published originally in the NYPress. Illustration by Bob Hires. All rights reserved.

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