“One Word” w/ Steven Cerio

“One Word- free associating with Steven CERIO”


by Thomas Scharff via email February- November 2005 for expressobeans.com



CERIO: Ever since I remember, every time I’ve walked long distances I’ve imagined my body was gone and I was reduced to a drifting, floating eyeball observing but not interacting with anything around me. When I lived in New York City I found myself walking much more than in my suburban muscle car teens and I would feel this sensation quite often. Walking in New York with a walkman stuffed with those cheap knock off Duracell’s and my pockets full of cassettes is still one of my favorite sensations.

When I was 10 or 12 I used to sneak out of bed in the middle of the night to watch “Night Flight”… a musical variety show…. I saw The Mole Show film by The Residents one night …. when I saw the giant eyeballs they wear on their heads, I immediately made associations to that sensation. That night my obsession with their music began, possibly because of that juncture …. it was very resonant.



CERIO:  Yeah, deep green.. I hate the fall … all of those bright colors wreck it for me and the woods begin to smell like a moldy towel.

I used to use bags of goldfish tank gravel to decorate the ground under a patch of poplar trees in the woods behind the house where I grew up. I used to climb those trees just as it got dark and pretend I was waiting to kill soldiers that walked below me … I could hear my mother call me for supper from up there. I used to pretend it was my forest. Thought I’d build a house there one day.

Once there was an ice-storm (no big surprise … I grew up outside of Syracuse) and the trees looked shiny and fake … each branch was covered in a half of an inch of ice. I could walk across the 2 ft of snow in our backyard like it was a skating pond. I sat on the ice and listened to the crackling of the trees when the wind blew … I still remember that sound …. then a large branch fell, knocking down a few others on it’s way down … cylindrical chunks of ice shaped like tootsie rolls with twigs in the center came sliding at me like hockey pucks … my mother screamed.


CERIO: I had been living in Brooklyn for about 10 years. The stress of the city and my irritating hipster douche-bag neighbors were getting to me. I took a trip up to … to stay with a friend for the weekend. Her brother lived in a former migrant workers hut. I borrowed his bike, put a Captain Beefheart tape in my walkman and went out for a ride in the apple orchard surrounding his apartment. The moon was bright enough to follow the trails by. I was smelling the apples and humming “ice cream for crow” as I rolled down a hill and came within inches of hitting a deer. I decided then that I would leave Brooklyn and get back to the fresh air and animals. I moved to a tiny town in the Catskill Mountains 3 weeks later.


CERIO: In their silly cars hurrying to their next television set in a beige room dressed in their shiny suit jackets with the terminator sunglasses on. I hear their car doors slam when they head off to work in the morning. They probably smell like cheap cologne and cheap pitchers.

They live the life that frat boys talk about during their senior year.


CERIO:  I waited on the corner of Glenwood and Birchwood for the school bus with Cindy Stevens. That’s the only corner I’ve ever had a relationship with besides the corner of Elizabeth and Houston on the Lower East side of NY. Once I waited for a light there with George Petros in his car…he was driving me home from a party…I told him how there was always a puddle on the street there. I laughed as a man was being continually splashed as he used a nearby phone…I finally noticed that it was George and that I was sitting alone.


CERIO:  That’s how people communicate in Central NY. I listen to the locals talk over their morning coffee at the B’Ville diner when I can’t sleep and head down there for eggs. They can have a 5 minute conversation just using antiquated euphemisms…”working hard or hardly workin’?”…”Cold as a witches teat”…”Can’t live with’em, can’t kill’em!!”…and then they laugh like they’ve never heard it told exactly like that before.


CERIO:  Philip Guston used the ugliest palette in the world….salmon chalk pink eeech!!! I love his stuff. He used white like stale cream cheese. I saw an egg tempera painting by Stuart Davis in a museum in Utica …very careful and beautiful. Franz Kline’s paintings look like they weigh more than an SUV when you see them in person. My friend gave me an oil painting of a desert by an inmate. It makes me sad.


CERIO:  Since my mother got sick, I’ve believed that there is a force acting against me. Since my mother died, I know I was right.

I dreamt I spilled red paint on new white shoes…I woke up and grabbed a wrapper Emily left on my drawing table, when I squeezed it, thawed cherry Popsicle dripped on my clean white socks.

I woke up one morning and I felt that something bad was going to happen, the phone rang and it was my brother-in-law telling me my sister was having emergency surgery.

I was telling a friend about these coincidences or premonitions and he asked me why they were always negative. He laughed when I said “Wow, imagine if I was the first person to truly see through the veil into the future and all I had to report were flat tires and toothaches?” Ever since then he often refers to me as The Psychic Douche. We have a routine that goes “hello, Psychic Douche?” I reply “say no more, you’re going to hit a kitten on your way to work today and your ear is going to get infected….now leave me, The Psychic Douche has spoken!”

Seriously though, I never foresee anything positive happening to me though it often does.


CERIO:  Wacom tablet. Best hundred dollars I ever did spend. Mice should be diced up and burnt. Roger DeMuth described a mouse as “a potato tied to a string.” The Wacom pen makes computer work as comfy as scribbling on a notepad. Honestly changed my life by giving me more time and helped my illustration and design work by facilitating my speed and coordination.


CERIO:  Elvin Jones died recently. That’s sad. I think music that you love truly makes your life better. John Coltrane, Soft Machine, The Residents, Captain Beefheart, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Terry Riley, Amon Duul 2 and Can have been making my life better.

I just got Pink Floyd “Umma Gumma” on cd. I’ve had it on LP since I was 13 but I don’t think I felt it fully until now and I think records that take that long have more resonance, like Captain Beefheart “Trout Mask Replica” for example.


CERIO:  Beefheart wrote a song called “Dirty Blue Gene” and sums up her evil ways by having her dump his ink down the sink. I love that! “She’s swingin’ a sponge on the end of a string, right on the brink. She spills the ink down the sink. She’s not bad, she’s just genetically mean.”

Ink is so precious when you get the right brand. My brand just got VERY expensive…Higgins Black Magic….I made a contact with a chemist that works for Speedball…I’m hoping I can glean a chemical or pigment that can have me magically transform crappy ink into thick, black, oily, luscious ink.

I feel much more strongly about ink than paint…I think it’s the absorption. I got a set of technical pens in the 6th grade and didn’t put them down for years…I did my homework with them.

I obsessively gather empty Sheaffer SKRIP ink bottles. I put my own ink mixture in them. They have a great ridge inside the bottle to sharpen my brush on. I’ve never broken one but I gather them in case some madman runs amok in my studio with a bb gun!


CERIO:  I had a Kmart down the street from me as a kid. I got 3 frozen bags of cauliflower on sale for $3 last week at Wegman’s. I sold two drawings this week.


CERIO:  My mom bought eggos when I was a kid. The berry ones were tasty! I never eat breakfast food anymore. I did have eggs with homemade salsa in Arizona 2 weeks ago though. I was thinking about those this afternoon.

I used to get sore fingers from my Leggo sets….sometimes pinch my fingers between a couple of them and get a blood blister. Nothing hurt like erector sets though, what with all of those blisters and cuts from tightening the bolts by hand.


CERIO:  I saw William Parker play bass with Dave Burrell last week…’twas amazing! I think William Parker is our greatest living jazz musician. I’ve seen some amazing rock shows too: The Butthole Surfers and The Jesus Lizard. The Residents put on the best show out there in my opinion.

I just took down my show at Fuse Gallery in NYC. The opening was a lot of fun…had a really extra friendly unguarded vibe which was great…a lot of smiling. If it was because of my art I would be really really happy about that!!!!


CERIO:  I love crowds in NYC but nowhere else.  10,000 New Yorkers can get off of two trains simultaneously without one scuffle and without one person not being able to board. They have no time for petty passive aggression or vindictiveness. In other smaller cities and ‘villes, I believe the boredom offers a lot of time for those things.  Crowds can’t handle themselves with any coordination anywhere else.


CERIO:  “The Holy Mountain” by Jodorowsky is one of my favorite films.

I watched a short film about mountain climbers the other day. They had a grotesque jock attitude. It was about conquering and winning. That’s repulsive and absurd to me in so many ways. People die trying to “defeat” nature. You only defeat nature and odds by being born, not by gasping your way to a lichen covered rock. That adrenalin adventure stuff like bridge jumping, and bull riding cracks me up. Does your world have to conform to a car commercial or an action movie? You really bought into that?

Hunting is probably the ugliest though. I’m convinced that most hunters don’t really want to kill. They’ll admit to you on occasion that they find waiting for the animals in the forest very relaxing. I had one hunter admit he wrote poetry out there. I think they can’t go for a hike or sit on a rock because it’s not “manly” enough. You want “manly”?…go kill a bear with your two hands then, instead of climbing up onto your deer stand and shooting it with your Sears and Roebuck twelve gauge you silly redneck! America wasn’t “carved out of the wilderness” by pick-up truck owners with Metallica bumper stickers. I’m almost completely sure of that.

I had a redneck mock me for saving a thirty pound snapping turtle this past summer. I carried the turtle towards him him first and he took off pretty fast. Either he was scared of the snapper or he had to get home to watch NASCAR.


CERIO:  I loved New York City. I lived there for ten years and enjoyed almost every minute. I only moved back here to take care of my Mom. I’ve never been to another city that I liked for longer than a day. The NYC subways are by far the best form of transportation. I wish I didn’t own a car.

I decided that my cats and I had to have fresh air, bees and lawnmowers but I didn’t think it would be so hard to find entertainment out of the city. I entertain myself with work now. New York was too entertaining sometimes, you always sense you’re missing something and you always are. I love the bombardment of image, sound and smell that it had before Giuliani. The infinite variation and action was addictive, Chinatown and the East Village were better than a good movie. I didn’t own a television for nine years. It was wonderful! Was.


CERIO:  I remember standing at the 72nd street station on the 7 train in Queens, listening to Firehose and the Minutemen on my walkman in 89 staring down the subway tracks outside thinking of how beautiful it was. That moment still occurs to me every couple of days ….I don’t know what triggers it.


CERIO:  I always think that the word gross should rhyme with moss. The only association I have with this one is Moon Zappa’s lyrics in her dad’s tune “Valley Girl.”


CERIO:  I’ve always fetishized blank paper and printed paper. I’ve collected books since I was nine. I got a forty pound edition of the Random House dictionary for my birthday that year ( I was in love with the illustrations and there were thousands!) I’ve drawn seriously since I was seven I think. I fell in love with lines and drawing early on because I was forbidden coloring books to encourage just that reaction. It seems that a large part of my life is paper, drawing on it, writing on it, buying books and pads of it and putting them on shelves and in flat files, arranging them, selling them.


CERIO:  I never once saw that show. I don’t know how but I didn’t. Is there a character in it called Gargomel? I know that from watching Donnie Darko.

I never liked elves or any other tree dwelling shorties, even Lord of the Rings bored me for that reason. It’s strange now that I thought of that. I don’t have any problems with short people or anything like that. I just hate elf culture I guess, the mead drinking, tree populating, cookie baking and long pipes never appealed to me. I find it a bit too quaint, but coming from a Hello Kitty fan that might not hold much water with you!


CERIO:  I had a family but my parents and grandparents have all passed away. My mother was my last true family, what I mean is she was my last unconditional love. Everything else goes away. Whoppeee, I’m lots of fun!!!


CERIO:  I don’t drink. I do like sweet pickles though…the little gherkins. I haven’t had them in years…maybe I’ll get some today. I hate when I get pickle juice on my deli sandwiches. It soaks into the bread and makes it green and awful. My friend Mike gets sick when he smells vinegar and he’s Italian, it must be difficult.


CERIO:  Leopard frogs hatched from the red haired English couple’s unkempt pool next door to me as a child. Tons of bees flew over their fence too. Looked like they were weaving through. Crunchy wings reminded me of the cellophane wrappers on my parent’s cigarettes…fat bellies full of what?? Pollen, Kool-Aid, pine sap… everything probably.

In the suburbs you always expected the honey bees in the grass. Always a surprise and a treat to see a bumbler though. Never soaring or graceful. ..like fat yellow sheep ….Find them in lemonade and Kool-Aid glasses….do they try to drink?…bathe?….lay eggs like mosquitoes? I don’t believe that I’ve ever been stung by a bumble-bee….but a honey bee will sting you right on the bottom of your foot.

I was realizing last year that I have drawn a bee almost every month since I was five. Now I’m I draw a couple dozen a week. Is it exponential? Wonder how many I’ll be drawing when I’m sixty?


CERIO:  I just got back from Arizona. I shot eighteen hundred photos of mostly plant life. No landscape is more beautiful than South Western Arizona in my opinion.You wouldn’t believe the size of the organ pipe or saguaro cacti out there. The skin is hard and waxy, when I imagined them to be soft.

I have a couple shelves of succulents and cacti. I’ve accidentally broken off pads and sprouts. When left in the dark for a week without water they sprout roots and you can plant them. I read that if you cut an opuntia (variety with beaver tail like pad) pad into one hundred pieces each fragment can sprout roots and mature into a full plant. Talk about hearty!

I bought a pack of saguaro seeds in New Mexico eight years ago. Thirty or so sprouted and two survived. The package said the probability of any growing taller than four inches was next to none but each of mine are nine to ten inches. They are an endangered species so I’ve been researching a park or botanical garden in Arizona that would adopt them from me. That way I can do my part and what kind’a life would they have in New York anyway?


CERIO:  I self published once, it was a collection called “Mother Shovel”. It was’89 or so and I was working with Jacaeber Kastor at his gallery “Psychedelic Solution”. Sixties poster artist great Randy Tuten was in the back room while I was whining over the three hours of paper cutting I had left to do for the cover image on Jacaeber’s paper cutter. I remember fretting over the already long eight hour day of gallery work and the additional labor. Randy and Jacaeber laughed at me and agreed that if I was to become a successful full time artist twelve hour days would be a short day. They told me that all-nighters would become a way of life for me. Boy, were they right! They didn’t tell me how much I would love it though. I’m an adjunct teacher at Syracuse University and one morning this past year a student told me he was exhausted after spending three hours that week on the assignment I gave. Guess what lecture I gave him?


CERIO:  I have a friend that pronounces it “brefiss” and another that says ” brefkass.” I rarely eat breakfast food. I like the idea of going to get waffles at 6 or 7am before I go to bed but I never do. I used to get egg and bacon sandwiches from a Greek deli in Brooklyn but I haven’t had one since.

I enjoy taking my time in the cereal aisle in the grocery stores, always did. Cap’n Crunch, Quake, Quisp and Frankenberry were my favorites, still are. I rarely eat cereal anymore though, but when I do get a box I finish it in twenty four hours. I’ll eat at it until it’s gone, get a stomach ache and swear it off like a bad habit.

Scott Bruce did a picture books of cereal packaging and prizes from the fifties and sixties, I look at the sixties volume compulsively. It’s so happy! If any American product has sugar in it you can be sure that the packaging is happy. They’re selling joy, bliss and sugar highs, how can you beat that? That book got me accumulating cereal boxes and that got me accumulating ice cream paraphernalia for the same reasons.


CERIO:  After just recently considering a move back to NYC I decided to travel more instead. It really makes me sad… there used to be life there. You could afford to rehearse a band and hang out with artists, you could see music for five bucks. Now it’s run by trust fun kids. There’s no where to play jazz except for Zorn’s new club and I hear that you’re not allowed to use the restroom during a show or have a beer. I guess it’s some fantasy of the past that never existed. I spoke to Jemeel Moondoc last week and he told me he has to play out of town. That’s the kind of mentality that thrives there now. After the investors and kid’s living off mommy and daddy’s money get bored after they push the life out and realize they’ve created the world’s largest outdoor mall they’ll flock like little overdressed locusts to a new field. Where I couldn’t guess, there’s even less going on everywhere else.

I decided to use that extra two grand a month to travel with.


CERIO:  I dreamt I could see all of the atoms of walnut shells but everything else looked the same. Oppenheimer, the one that invented the atomic bomb was there and tried to explain it to me and I asked why he would invent something like that and he got all arrogant and wise assy with me until I stabbed him in the arm with a pencil.

In actuality Oppenheimer thought that the first atomic explosion might set a chain reaction that might destroy the entire universe but he did it anyway!!! Can you imagine a bigger fame seeking jack off than that??? I can’t. I should’ve asked him about that while I had the chance. That’s like cartoon villain moustache twisting behavior , uglier even!!


CERIO: I’ve been to Arizona a half dozen times and hiked probably 200 miles and never ever saw or heard a snake or scorpion. Now I understand how dumb this is…believe me, I really do….but on my last trip I sought them both out by tipping rocks and wading through grass…no scorpions sadly but I came across a small rattle snake sunning herself on a rock near the Gila cliff dwellings. Then I continued to move closer snapping photos the whole time. I know, believe me….


CERIO: I call it “the bad news machine.” Something about a phone ringing or an unexpected someone knocking at my door that makes my stomach turn. I wish it didn’t. Funny, but when I do get on the thing I don’t shut up. When I moved here I realized I had to spend more time on the phone than usual so I could feel like a part of the civilized world. Tons of long distance calls to friends in bigger cities or smaller towns even. It made my life feel bigger because it felt so small here. It was an irritating illusion.


CERIO:  John Coltrane with the Classic Quartet. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders. I used to hate all brass instruments until I heard “A Love Supreme.”

I’ve always liked the shape of a tenor sax, the curve is nice. I tried to play one once, it takes a lot of air to get the smallest peep. Dizzy was a trumpet player but I can imagine how he stretched his cheeks like that after blowing into that tenor.


CERIO:  That word is way too loaded. I have two cats, Elephant Monster and Eggplant mobile.I used to be a dog person now I walk around with a cat on my shoulders at home and refer to Eggplant as my “cat wife”. I’ll probably be a cat lady when I get older.

William Borroughs wrote a pro cat book. He theorizes that dogs have picked up all of the worst qualities of mankind including treachery. A cat purrs when you wake it, a dog is angered or startled. Cats don’t know “human” right from wrong yet they do no truly vicious deeds. A dog understands right from wrong but will cross the line. A dog once killed a baby in its owner’s home and immediately hid under a bed where they found it some time later. I’m not a dog hater I just thought that was interesting.


CERIO:  I don’t eat much sugary food but I collect dessert cookbooks, cereal boxes, older ice cream cartons. Well, I don’t collect, I accumulate.


CERIO:  I heard the euphemism ” consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds” when I was a kid and it still resonates with me. I still believe that the ability to transform and to be fully accepting of that transformation is a sign of intelligence in people.

I had a fever most of this week and I watched a lot of television because my head was too foggy to work. Talk about ‘consistency”? Bragging music, whining music, changing your wardrobe, violence, pick up truck commercials, adventure hippy bullshit….depressing. What happened? The last time the television spoke directly to me I was four.


CERIO:I read a story about a guy who met Pablo Picasso on a beach. Picasso drew in the sand with a stick and the man frantically tried to figure a way to capture it and own it before the tide came in. He failed.


CERIO: I like to talk with people when they’re high on any drug…even coke, but drunks are boring.


CERIO: I always wondered why blood was supposed to scare me.