"Sex, carnage, electric chairs," screamed the ad looking for someone to drive around in a 35-year-old hearse to promote the Andy Warhol exhibit now showing at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
"Dressing up as Andy Warhol," it continued, "you will attend a variety of events in Toronto and hand out promotional buttons. You are outgoing and confident, with a great sense of fun." Okay, that sounded like me: getting paid to drive a pimped-up ride decked out in pink and black. Ultra-cool, electra-glide cool. I applied.
"Andy Warhol here. I'm over 25. My driving record is spotless. I live downtown, Queen and Bathurst, so I know the 'hood. I'm a showman. I'm an artist. But I have a question: is the hearse empty?" I got the job.
Warhol's show is entitled Supernova: Stars, Deaths And Disasters, 1962-1964. It's the death and disasters part that starts to bug me when I finally get to slip into my ride.
"Pump the gas pedal two or three times," advises the rep from the PR firm handling the file. "It's got a carburetor." So I fire it up. It throbs and pulses like a big Fat-Boy Harley Davidson motorcycle.
I'm told, "Keep the window rolled down for fresh air." Okay. A few more preliminaries and I put on the Warhol wig and rumble out of the parking lot.
What a pig. I feel like I'm driving a battleship - a powerful, deadly, crushing death machine.
Heads turn in my direction as I cruise down the 401 and into downtown. This is going to be fun.
I'm scheduled to park at the Funhaus for a while, a goth club, then I can split and hang out at the Drake, the Gladstone, cruise up and down Queen and just be visible. But I'm getting fumes from the exhaust that can kill brain cells big time. The windows are rolled down all the way, but I'm getting dizzy. Intoxicated.
Stars, Deaths And Disasters. Hmm. David Cronenberg is curating the Warhol show. And he did make a movie called Crash. Wouldn't it be fabulously smashing to have the Andy Warhol publicity hearse crash and burn in a blazing firestorm? Wreckage, blistering white heat, gasoline, death. Maybe it's all part of a stunt. Deaths, disasters, car crashes. Now, that sounds cool.
My girlfriend tells me I reek of gasoline when I get home.
Dana James of Titan Worldwide, the Mississauga outfit handling publicity for the AGO show, and Mary Ann Stockdale, the woman from the temp agency hired to find me, ask via e-mail for a rundown of my first night out as Andy Warhol.
"It was a gas! I did the Funhaus, the Drake and the Gladstone. Queen Street too.... Handed out dozens and dozens of brochures and buttons. Big, positive response from the public! People yelling out, "Hey Andy" as I drive by. Big excitement!"
Then I bring up the fumes - and the fact that they made me physically sick. I also mention that the speedometer doesn't work.
"In terms of exhaust, there is not an exhaust leak or anything to be concerned about," I am told. The car was certified a few short weeks ago.
Me, I'm suspicious. So I ask, "Who certified the hearse?"
No answers. [A follow up call by NOW to James at Titan Worldwide is referred to another person, who declines to give his full name. He tells NOW the car "is safe or else it wouldn't be on the road." But he declines to say who certified the vehicle or to reveal the last time it underwent an emissions test. "I'm not in a court of law here."]
I'm told in another e-mail from the temp agency that a mechanic has looked at the hearse again and the exhaust is okay. He's closed the air vents and suggests this will help alleviate the problem.
Okay, fine. I'll try it again. Friday night I take it out. Nothing's changed. The hearse is still knocking me out and the speedometer is still broken.
I quit the job. Deaths, disasters, car crashes. The clock is ticking....