This is Howard Kleger.
This man is a walking, talking, sweating tension between an infinite will and an absolute lack of Western instrumental reason. Less of a lack perhaps, than a total aesthetic refusal to be, in his words, “turned into a slice. A two-dimensional plane.” Howard Kleger remains the longest distance between any two points; the world’s greatest living foe of expediency.
From observing his habits, I can only conjecture that he is simply working with a surplus of meaning, trying
to navigate his way through a cloud of hypermeaning as best as he can. This is a layer of the world which is nearly invisible to the rest of the normal viewing public. But, around or via Howard, this layer
becomes much, much, much easier to see. A day in his life reveals meanings ricocheting this way and that, connecting disparate items, wrapping around otherwise unassuming people, places, and things.
Ultimately, the best primer approach to Howard is through anecdote. Once you start trading tales about Howard, it is difficult, if not impossible, to stop. The stories just keep flowing. No matter how many you tell, no one really understands until they meet him. Once they do, they understand all too well. Howard is
like a lens that warps the space-time around him, sheerly on the strength of his sensibilities. This often trips
the tempers of all the clerks, concierges, pedestrians, officers, associates, and stock characters that populate his world. It truly is unbelievable the amount of static he generates.
From the very moment he opens a door, some people will bristle like housecats and eye him warily. True, he looks like a roving mad scientist, and is more often than not dragging a large, broken piece of office equipment, but I would find this endearing. I have trouble understanding all the bristling, suspicion, and reluctance, right from the start.
My first impressions were a total joy. He was donning a labcoat, sweating, and dragging a bin of intriguing junk collected from a nearby hospital. He asked me for assistance in transporting the treasure back to his apartment. Innocent enough, I thought at the time. His request turned into a hourlong detour through Howardland, but once we finally reached his place, in the semicushy Locust Arts Tower, I could not have been more impressed with what I saw.
It looked like a goddamned spaceship had crashed through the ceiling. A quasi-scientific Merzbau, wrought from the shit in an architecture gradschool dumpster. That little efficiency was pretty well packed with broken and backwards-engineered electronics, diagrams, drawings, shards, mixed-media furniture, trash sculptures, inventions, and noticeably few articles of domestic living. In the middle, like a paperweight sat Tiger the housecat, peering about calmly and Sphinxlike, lending some semblance of order to the whole swirl. It was tremendously appealing, aesthetically and otherwise.
So I started to spend considerably more time with Howard, and found myself often caught between private delight and public complaint.
I took him to see a Usaisamonster basement show, in West Philadelphia across the street from
Marie’s Panther Bar. We hung upstairs for a while, listening the thumps and bass rumbling from below. Chatting.
Howard gets up on a kitchen chair and starts unscrewing all the lightbulbs, but only halfway, until they were on
the flickering threshold between off and on. The whole house strobed as Tom and Colin thundered on below.
It was a masterstroke. Really transformative.
The summer was sweltering that night; so Howard tried plugging in a boxfan.
“It doesn’t work,” Howard said.
He kept fiddling with the thing, wrestling with knobs.
“I’m going to catch some of the show. I’ll be back in a second,” I said.
“Okay, I’ll fix the fan.” With an invisible whatever-shrug, I shuffled down into the basement to see the band.
When I came back, sure enough, Howard had fixed it. He had stripped the boxfan down
to its smallest possible constituent parts and laid them out in a grid on the living room floor.
Such is Howard’s romance and struggle with the world of inanimate objects. When Howard spent the night, he would sometimes greet me in the morning, eager to show off his night’s work. Everything in our parlor— every Sprite bottle, broomhandle,
crumpled receipt, and coffee mug— was positioned to reflect its role in the previous night’s epic drama, in the same way
kids arrange their GI Joes to map an entire battle frozen in time.
“See this? She’s jealous of these two because, together, they can overpower her station. But those four over there.
They’re her force. Thye’ve created a protective barrier to this half of the room”…or something to this effect.
If you followed him, it made sense. A few glitters of paranoia here and there, but overall it made sense.
Nothing was without its role, and the story beautifully unfolded like a chessgame.
Squinting sense was his forte. His thoughts and observations always straddled the limits of metaphor,
the same boundaries between sense and nonsense that’s traced by the comedic. Remember waking for school with a headful of dream remnants? Churning them over in the shower, wishing you had pen and paper.
By the time you toweled yourself dry, the thoughts had evapaorated like morning dew, leaving only the softest impression of their world-historical brilliance.
Howard is without this regret. These brilliant little patents are just as vivid and accessible in his waking life. Clear as the noonday day, and coming out of his mouth, a-mile-a-minute. Microphone microscopes. Ladybug backpack 8-track mixers. Audiosnakes. Concept sculptures. A periodic table of energies. Midgets dressed up like children serving drinks from behind a screen. A bottomless reservoir
of dopaminic ideas that Howard is hellbent on seeing realized.
He sweeps and solicits the neighborhoods, displaying prototypes and scouting for venture capital. His ladybug mixer prototypes were endless— bulks of wire, cloth, tape, knows, and styrofoam cut to bugform with gasoline— but it was his adventures in carpentry that really took the prize. He would find a patron– his aunt, or a stranger from another county— and promise to build them a new coffee table or bookshelf for their homes. Tragically yet predictably, the customers rarely saw the virtues of his craftmanship. The coffee table, for his aunt, looked like a large, blue, mechanical shark. It had no flat surfaces whatsoever, and as Tim Alvero pointed out, was the spitting image of Deleuze and Guattari’s prediction of a “schizophrenic’s table.”
He later invited me over to see the bookshelf completed, which had been a long time coming. He had worked really hard on it.
When I came into his apartment, there was a giant clippership-like object in the center of his floor, with
ropes and wheels and pulleys.
“You put the book in here.”
Howard dropped a book in somewhere near the top. With a few turns of a handle, it descended down an Ewok series
of rope bridges and landed comfortably at the bottom.
“Then you can keep the book open with this.” He placed a wooden weight down on top of the page,
partially obscuring the words.
I couldn’t believe it: Howard had built a 200 pound bookshelf that held only one book!!
It was the ENIAC of the Gutenberg Age.
The methodology was staggering in its refusal of efficiency, but I could never tell if this refusal was fully on purpose.
Little errands, it seemed, always blew up into epics with Howard. Mailing a letter. Borrowing a set of headphones. Longer ago,
while we were too busy organizing for a house in West Philadelphia, Howard started pestering us and everybody about an antique
beige printer— probably from 1981— that he saw sitting on the curb, in the trash. It was bleeding ink down the side, and almost certainly
kaput, but he wouldn’t drop it. He went from stranger to stranger, asking for help lugging the thing home. Growing frustrated, he returned
to his apartment and built a homemade handtruck. This consisted of a vacuum cleaner with his laundry hamper strapped to it.
We spotted him hours later, on his mission, crossing Rittenhouse Square. The printer must have been twice the size of the hamper.
Once he discovered this, Howard threw his handtruck off of a bridge.
He eventually found a lady that would transport the thing in her car for forty dollars. So he had it towed to our apartment. He left it
on the steps of our summer sublet, with letters torn out of paper spelling trash not. There it sat for two weeks, in the rain, until
Howard found some other method of wheeling it home. I can’t recall how. But, point being, you see how this could have been handled more straightforwardly.
These anecdotes, these daily problems elevated into real transformation, are his truest medium. The audio and visual—
though both brilliant— are just the residues, leftovers, and artifacts. Action, unfortunately, is still not recognized as a cultural form, so
Howard is not receiving the critical attention he deserve.
A walk to Seven Eleven with Howard offers ten times more possibilities than a week in any gallery or exhibition. I can even purchase my
coffee and candy, and walk outside to enjoy the scenario through the store window. The clerks watching Howard reconstruct new papercup prototypes and
weird irrigation systems with plastic straws and discarded half-and-half containers. Howard’s perceptions are not
clipped and cropped by others’ limited sense of use-value. A coffee cup emanates irrigation…
drink holders… kings and queens… police cars… cannons… and a whole rainbow of new meanings
that Howard is loathe to ignore. It just barely means coffee, I’d say.
The reason I’ve created this little internet corner for Howard is to catch some of this run-off, either from
first-personal experience or Howard’s phonographic recollection. Maybe, possibly, hopefully, Howard will
indulge me with a diary and daily hypomnemata of his experiences.