Thursday, June 10, 2021

Sometimes You Just Can't Quit


I got out yesterday for a bit. An old colleague asked me to meet her at the art museum, and I said sure. I haven't bee to the museum for a long, long time. There are reasons beyond the pandemic for this. The shows are usually. . . well, they are not designed with me in mind. I used to date a fabulously wealthy woman whose mother had an art gallery and was on the Board of Directors of the museum. She did not like figurative art at all, and, to my mind, the museum suffered greatly. Wealth and privilege may bring much, but it doesn't bestow a great knowledge of art. To wit: I have avoided many of the shows over the years.  

But what the hell.  I hadn't been out much and hadn't seen my friend for a long time, and the show was presenting the winners of their contemporary art awards. . . so, sure.  

But I was having a bad reaction prior to going.  I mean, breaking routine is difficult.  What routine, you might wonder?  Oh, you know, doing nothing.  Doing something after doing nothing seemed overwhelming.  I sweated while trying to figure out what to wear.  I've only been in my outrageous homeboy peddle pushers and t-shirts for a year and a half.  I didn't want to wear pants or anything constricting.  I worked for an hour to repair a pair of decent looking shorts so that I could look somewhat presentable in public.  I had to move quickly.  It was time to go.  I was getting more nervous and doubtful by the second.  I couldn't help myself.  I poured a big whiskey to go as a bracer.  I was out the door. 

I got to the museum a bit early.  My friend was taking the train in from the factory town and texted she would be there soon.  Before I left the house, I had a call from another old colleague who had been regretfully been unemployed throughout the pandemic.  This is the same friend I suspected gave me Covid as soon as it was available, something I will never know for certain.  He has now secured a job at an American university in one of the wealthy middle-eastern countries and is leaving next week.  He wanted to get together before he left.  As I waited, I returned his call.  

"Sure, if you want to meet up with a weirder, darker version of me, we can get together for dinner."

"That's hard to imagine.  You were already dark and weird."

We set a date for Saturday.  I also had a text from my California mountain buddy.  He and his family are in town.  I will be meeting with them at some point, too.  The walls, I felt, were crumbling, the sea wall cracking.  I would be swept into the world once again. 

My friend arrived with a smile and a hug, and we made our way into the museum.  

"Two," she said to the lady selling tickets.  

"That will be thirty dollars."

"Uh-uh," I smiled.  "One adult and one senior."

The pretty young woman looked at me for a moment with smiling eyes.  "Sixty-five and over," she queried.

"Uh. . . yea," I said with an exaggerated wave of my arms.  

Oh, that young woman was lovely.  "Well, you certainly don't look it," she said.  

"Did you hear that?" I asked my friend.  "That is what you need to remember when relaying the events of this day to our friends!"

Later, in retelling the story, I would self-depreciate by adding the word "grandpa" to the end of the sentence.  That is part of my very expansive charm. 

Having not engaged in much social contact for so long, and having sunk ever deeper into paranoid anxiety and depression, I didn't know if I would be able to hold up my end of any conversation.  I felt like one of those people who never look at you, who stare at the ground when they speak.  I think, however, that the pretty young woman who sold the tickets had turned my life around.  She was just the therapy I had been needing.  And so. . . I became a chatterbox.  I don't believe I ever shut up.  It was as if I had amped up on Benzedrine.  I was a running commentary.  I explained everything to my unsuspecting friend, gave background info on the artists, explained photographic processes, talked about other works by the same or similar artists, and, of course, expounded on Hockney's camera obscura theories.  I told the astonishing tale of my own discovery of American modernism after a long run with only the European variety, and I held forth my own theory of why American painting had often been so primitive and so odd.  When we came to a portrait by John Singer Sargent, a couple who had been near us asked me what I thought of this painting.  OMG!  Did I go on about it.  I retold the camera obscura theory and said that I believed that is why American painting until the 19th century was as it was--they didn't know to use the camera obscura!  

I looked around for my friend, but she was long gone.  

I'd forgotten how many rooms the expanded museum had, and on this day, I was not disappointed by any of them.  There was a hundred foot long and twenty foot high mural that amazed me, constructed of 3'x3' panels that had been glazed.  It would have taken the rest of the afternoon to really "read" the tale told there, but with my friend, after a few minutes of me rattling on about the wonderful Diego Rivera murals in the hallway of the Detroit Museum of Art--"Have you been?  Have you seen those?  Oh, my. . . you must. . ."--we moved on.  Not without me explaining, however, the business of art and who would buy such a large piece and why Chelsea Galleries had to sell large pieces to keep their doors open, etc.  

The last two rooms were large 3D installations.  I'm not usually enticed by such things, but this day, I was fascinated by the lights.  

"We should eat some acid and come sit in the center of the room," I kidded.  "We could get sucked up into the vortex, you know. . . E.T. and beam me up Scottie and all of that. . . . "  

It had taken us a couple of hours to get through the exhibits and now came the decision: was I going to go to dinner?  What the hell, I thought, sure.  It was a Prix Fixe $30 meal deal that was going on all over my own little hometown during the month of June with many of the better restaurants, a sort of welcome back from Covid thing.  Of course, we ate at the bar.  

When we walked in, the bartender greeted us before we were seated.  

"What's happening, brother?" 

I hadn't been in all that often, but it was nice to be remembered.  Even what I drank.  My friend smiled.  Yes, I said smugly, that's the way it is.  

We sat at a corner of the wrap around bar so we needn't turn to see one another but didn't need to look at each other, either.  A bar corner is ideal.  Down the bar, a pretty young woman sat with what I assumed was her mother.  Across from me was an older fellow with another pretty young woman.  And before our drinks arrived, a mother and her pretty young daughter we had seen at the museum walked in behind us.  

"Don't you find it weird when things like that happen?" asked my friend.  

"What, when pretty women follow me all over town.  No, I've gotten used to it."  

As our drinks arrived, two extremely attractive young women, one with very strong legs and arms that were well revealed, sat beside my friend.  You may notice that I have commented distastefully on the women's appearance, but please remember, I haven't seen women for a very long time.  It was as if I had just gotten off the Island of Doom where I was quarantined with other broken toys.  After having no immediate reactions to anything for so long, I was quite in shock and awe.  

However, I am a shy man who doesn't speak to strangers, and I know better than to look.  Old men stare.  There are practical reasons for that, I am finding, basically that it is difficult to see through exhausted old eyes, but I know that is not the only reason, and I am damned if I am going to be one of those laser beam old geeks.  Nope.  Not me.  

But can I tell you that heads kept turning?  My friend noticed it, so it had to be obvious.  

"They must think I'm creepy," I said.  "But I swear, I'm not doing anything."  And I hadn't.  I had kept my gaze steadfastly on my friend and our food and the now rotating bartenders who were all quite friendly.  

"Maybe it is just the potential creepiness," she said with a giggle.  

"Yes, there's that," I half agreed, but in my heart of hearts, I knew the unspeakable truth, and I was gladdened in the old Biblical way, and juiced with liquor and food and recognition, I was off to the races again.  Oh, man, was I having fun!

After we had finished our dinner, and after I had dropped her off at the train station and had made my way home, sitting outside with the cat as she ate her dinner, a scotch and a cheroot in hand, I began to crash.  Holy smokes, the fatigue simply engulfed me.  I had emptied the tank.  I was done.  

Later, though, curled up on the couch reading Houellebecq's "Submission," I thought about what I had feared and what had transpired and about what a wonderful day it had been.  And though I could not move, I, somehow, was happy.  

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