Pick a barn, suggested Gertrude Stein in Tender Buttons (1914), so that is exactly what I did, I picked a barn. The barn I picked was the eerie barn at Scroonhoonpooge Farmyard. It was an appropriate choice. Just as Tender Buttons has been hailed as a masterpiece of cubist prose, so there is something decidedly cubist about the eerie barn, which reveals, if not its secrets, then to some extent its eeriness, when viewed simultaneously from different angles. How one might go about viewing an indubiitably solid three-dimensional barn from different angles simultaneously is The Point That Is Moot. It is well to bear this mootage in mind.
The eerie barn at Scroonhoonpooge Farmyard has been the scene of many many enormities, some involving the lumbering walrus-moustached psychopath Babinsky, some involving buttons, and some both Babinsky and buttons. The barn has also witnessed, day in day out, the slaughter of an unconscionable number of farmyard animals, not least chickens. One of the buttons on Babinsky’s overcoat, incidentally, had a decorative bit of folderol depicting a Vanburgh chicken, but only one of the buttons. Why the overcoat bore an odd button is, again, The Point That Is Moot. That makes two points of mootage.
Having picked my barn, I was not sure what to do next, so I further consulted Gertrude Stein, who clearly knew about such matters. “Pick a barn, a whole barn,” she wrote, “and bend more slender accents than have ever been necessary, shine in the darkness necessarily.” So I did that, bend and shine, bend and shine, turn and turn about, in the whole eerie barn. It was cavernous. When I felt I had bent and shone sufficient unto the day, or rather the evening, for it was evening, I had an overwhelming sense of mootage. Did I sense, too, the phantom presence of Babinsky, his great hairy hands drenched with blood, his one odd chicken button gleaming in the necessary darkness? I did not, and that was a small mercy.
Having picked and bent and shone, and reassured myself that Babinsky was nowhere in the vicinity, I was at something of a loose end. Then I remembered that Gertrude Stein liked to write while out in the countryside, sitting on a camping-stool, looking at cows. I reasoned, rightly I think, that where there is a barn there will be cows, or at least one cow. All I need do was to arm myself with a notepad and pencil and camping-stool, then find a cow. My various mootages began to dissolve, like liver salts in cold water.
Gertrude Stein was driven to her countryside cow-observation-and-writing spots by Alice B. Toklas, but without car or driver I had to trudge through farmyard and fields, and puddle after puddle after puddle, in search of my wantings. Do you have any idea how difficult it can be to find a notepad and a pencil and a camping-stool in a rustic backwater? These things are not just lying about waiting to be gathered gratefully to the bosom of the scavenger. As night fell, black and inhuman, I was still wandering about like a nincompoop, without pencil or notepad or camping-stool. Nor did I encounter a single cow in my roamings. Perhaps they had all been done to death in the eerie barn at Scroonhoonpooge Farmyard.
Before I tumbled into a ditch to spend a night of unrest and terror, I found, floating in a puddle, a button. I clutched it tenderly. But then I noticed that it bore a decorative bit of folderol depicting a Vanburgh chicken. Was it the button of Babinsky? That the fiend might be close at hand, hunting desperately for his odd button, made me sick with fear. I flung the button away from me, as far as it could be flung, and toppled into my ditch. Tomorrow I would pick a different barn, less eerie, less cubist, and far, far from this accursed spot.