Shambolic Review
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Shambolic Review


Photo by DJ Paine on Unsplash

Jenny knew that art was dead. Her paintings of high praise were reduced to speculative assets, which were used in money laundering schemes and investment portfolios, and nobody actually cared about the paintings themselves. It was her name that turned $200 worth of art supplies into a $20,000 painting, not the craft and care that went into its creation.

Her sister, Cara, thought she was crazy. “You sell one of those paint smears and it’s 1/4 of my annual salary as a prosecutor,” she said on the phone from Fort Worth.

Jenny, living in The Castro District in San Francisco, said, “It’s not about the money. It’s about whence the money comes.”

Cara said, “You can wince at money all you want, but that shit still spends. Quit whining.”

Jenny looked out the window and saw a man in a banana hammock rollerskating down the street. It was Easter and there were big happenings in Dolores Park that day. She said, “I don’t think you’re being very supportive here, Cara.”

Cara scoffed, “I’m being very supportive. Do you know how many people would give a tit for your position? Hell, I’d give both tits to sit and play with paints all day. I’d walk down the street and people would call me Titless Cara and I wouldn’t care.”

“You can be a real asshole sometimes.”

“I may be an asshole, but at least I’m real.”


She walked five blocks to Dolores Park where they were having a sexy Jesus competition to see who was the sexiest Jesus in the Castro. A cohort of male models in cloth diapers and crowns of thorns were on the stage.

Jenny guessed there were nearly 1,000 people at the park, each one with their own idiosyncratic activities. Families populated the top of the hill where the playground was. Crustpunks to the west, hippies to the east, and queer folks throughout, with a view of the whole city that even the most jaded fuck had to admit was a stunning vista.

She didn’t recognize anyone in the crowd and she found this comforting. Unlike Fort Worth where everybody knows each other, in San Francisco everyone is anonymous. Even celebrities blend with the modern throngs, among the Victorian assets.

And so she moved through, nameless, among everything that her parents warned about San Francisco.


She walked past a traveling hippie straight out of central casting. With his beard and long hair, he could easily be a sexy Jesus. He had a cardboard sign up that read “TAROT.” All his concentration was on rolling a blunt.

Jenny approached him. “How much for a reading?”

He smiled an unburdened smile. “Three cards for ten bucks.”

She said, “I’ll give you $40 if you throw in the blunt.”

“I don’t want to rip you off.” He had genuine care in his eyes.

“It’s part of my tithing.”


“Never mind.” She fished the money out of her linen pants. “Here you go.”

He finished rolling the blunt and said, “Here you go.” He shuffled up the cards and had her shuffle them too. “Just shuffle until it feels like you’re done shuffling. Focus your energy on the cards.”

She did as she was instructed and handed the deck back. He laid out three cards. They were the Hanged Man, Death, and the Art Card — in that order. Jenny lit the blunt.

“Okay, this is pretty simple,” he began. “You’re stuck and you need to cut some bullshit from your life to make true art.”

She took a big hit. “What’s true art?”

“True art,” he said, “is when you can manipulate the alchemy of reality itself. It has nothing to do with the things you make.”


Jenny wandered lonely as a cloud of weed smoke, seeing the sights, smiling at people. A Jesus was crowned sexiest. He was indeed a sexy Jesus.

Her head swam through the card reading because she was stuck, and there was something preventing authentic expression. The hippie’s diagnosis of bullshit being the culprit definitely rang true.

She thought about her sister, Cara, the smug cop who thought that she and she alone had a handle on what was right.

Jenny walked to the pedestrian bridge and took the steps down to the tracks. She was delighted to find three street kids who were tagging up the base of the bridge. She walked over and admired their work. They tagged the symbol for anarchy all over the place. Perhaps a bit derivative, but it came from an authentic place, she thought. Initially, they paid her no mind.

“Do y’all want to hit this?” She held the blunt aloft.

The three young men, no older than 23, smiled when they saw there was still half a blunt waiting to be smoked.

“Hell yeah,” one of them said. They all wore the same uniform: black denim jackets with punk patches all over, black shorts past the knee, tattoos that probably had stories nobody wanted to hear, Doc Martins.

“Mind if I paint?” Jenny asked.

One of the kids said, “Knock yourself out.”

Jenny picked up a can of blue spray paint and found an empty stretch of wall. She shook the can and heard the satisfying clack of whatever it was inside the can that made that noise. Jenny imagined it was a magic eight ball die, deciding her fate.

She began to spray the wall. She had never focused on spray paint as a medium before, so this was somewhat new territory. The blue came out in a satisfying line. She didn’t have a plan, she just wanted to experience the art of the paint and the wall. Cut out all the bullshit justifications she learned in art school and just be with the blue, leave a mark on this city that forgets so much.

Before she knew it she was done. She had made a series of shapes that didn’t amount to much. The boys appraised her work. One of them said, “Don’t quit your day job, lady. Art isn’t your thing.”

“Thank you,” she said, and meant it.

If you haven’t picked up your copy of my book, you can do that here.



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Marty Shambles

Marty Shambles


Pushcart nominated author of short fiction. Words in: Class Collective Magazine, Hearth & Coffin, The Sparrow’s Trombone.