Saturday, January 13, 2024

Among the Throng

I was feeling guilty about not going to see my mother on a Friday afternoon.  WTF, right?  But what the hell.  I'd dicked around all day futzing with photos and didn't get out of the house until the afternoon.  No matter, really.  It wasn't the prettiest of days.  After the gym, I decided to go by my mother's house and chat for a bit.  When I got there, though, she was gone.  I have a hard time imagining my mother leaving the house, but she does.  She has a far more active social life than I do, in truth.  I called her.  She was at Costco.  

"O.K. old mom.  I was just thinking of you.  I won't be by later, so. . . ."

"Have fun tonight.  Love you."

I was the first one at the bar.  The train was minutes from arriving, but one of the others walked in and sat beside me in a few moments.  She was driving rather than railing.  It was my replacement twice removed, the new Factory Foreman.  Forewoman.  She claims Swedish heritage because of an genetic test.  So we call her The Swede.  She is from Chicago and. . . very, very Black.  I hired The Swede so very long ago when she was a youngster.  She came to the interview well dressed and wearing tennis shoes.  

"Oh, my. . . poor girl," I thought.  Maybe I said it later to the committee after the interview.  "She obviously watches The Today show and sees all those people wearing tennis shoes as they walk to work and thinks that is a fashion."

Later, I told her that was the reason I was hiring her.  She laughed hard.  

"I know why they wear tennis shoes walking to work, you nut.  I have to wear these because I just had an operation to remove a bunion."  

It became a meme for us.  But I was like that.  I hired another woman (who is now my bruja) who came to the interview in a dress with the hem falling out.  It was another "poor girl" moment and another meme.  She had caught her dress in the car door as she was getting out to come to the interview.  

Obviously, I favor the disadvantaged.  Both of these women have become lifelong friends.  

"Hey, bartender. . . I'll have a cranberry and soda. . . and keep 'em coming!"

She grinned.  

We chatted about my friend's promotion for a minute, but it was obvious she wasn't going to have my "leadership style" and wasn't looking for any advice.  I'd have to face up to the fact that nobody is anymore.  A real blow, really, as they all used to rely on me for so very much.  Well. . . at least they still liked me.  

Shortly, the rest of the crew showed up and bedlam ensued.  I had ensconced myself on the rounded corner of the bar.  I'd rather have had the chair against the wall, but there was a provocative looking woman already there, and with the rest of the bar fairly empty, I couldn't just walk over and sit by her (though I imagined she looked at me as if I could).  So, sitting in the middle of things, I was constantly turning my arthritic neck back and forth, left and right, over each shoulder.  The crew had been together since ten that morning and some were well-lit.  I was new meat.  

And so we chatted and laughed, but I felt left out of far more conversations than before.  I am just drifting into a distant past that doesn't seem to have much to do with their present or future as they talk about admin that I don't really know.  


My Favorite Lesbian was there, and we talked about the Burlesque shoot I was going to do.  

"Look, I think I can hook us up with some individual performers.  The friend I hooked you up with can be a real pain in the ass.  Have you ever heard of Blue?  They are a hardcore lesbian show that does some really weird shit.  I think I can hook you up with them.  You will be able to get more of the kind of pictures you want.  Think Andy Warhol on crank."

"Well shit yea," I nodded.  "That'd be great."

I ordered fried tofu and talked with a little impish woman sitting two stools down.  It was obvious she had taken the drinking part of the trip seriously.  

"Does she work at the factory?" I asked the woman between us.  

"No.  She's a bartender at Factory City Brewing.  She just came along."  

She was rather petite and loud with a crazed look that was probably from the hooch.  When we were introduced, she gripped me tightly with a strong but small hand for longer than usual.  She looked crookedly but intensely into one of my eyes.  She was nutty.  I liked her straight off.  I wanted to make pictures of her as is my wont.  She was, however, arm and arm with the factory gal next to me.  When my Favorite Lesbian mentioned her, I said, "Oh. . . I didn't want to. . . I thought maybe she was Magarine's girl."

"Oh, she might be pitching that.  She does from time to time." 

"Who is this guy?" I asked pointing my chin at a very out fellow.  

"That's Katherine's best gay friend."

"Oh, the guy up north?"

"No, this is her second best gay friend.  He lives here."

"Does he think he's first?"

"Oh. . . yea!"

Just then he came over to get a drink the bartender had brought him.  

"Do you mind if I lean over you a bit?" he asked.  

"No," I said.  

When he leaned over me, though, I started yelling.  

"Stop. . . stop it. . . what are you doing?"

Eyes popped.  This is my Woke crowd, by and large and I was surprising them as I like to do.  Earlier, Katherine had asked me if I wanted to go see a movie at the art theater.  

"What's it about?" 

"The usual.  A black writer who can't get published.  He's gay, of course. . . yada, yada, yada. . . ."

"Keep me informed," I told her.  

While eyes were popping, the very out man put both his arms around me and said, "I might have to sit in your lap," and then everyone felt safe to laugh.  And it was like a dam breaking with a flooding of tension.  I always love to run counter to the room.  It works for me.  

"Everyone get your cameras ready," I mugged.  It felt good to be hugged.  It's been a few minutes.  He was alright and smelled of fresh soap.  

The two hours passed and it was time for them to head back to the train.  A few who had driven were staying at the bar, but I had had enough fun for the night, so I walked back with them.  I was talking to another one of my former factory team who had also applied for my old position.  She's a soft spoken, unassuming hippie vegan who you would never suspect has lived a weirder, more dangerous life than imaginable.  She lived in New Orleans for years and once told me a story about a fellow dying at a party and how they got rid of the body.  WTF?  Oh, man, she has a million of them.  

"Whenever I come to this bar," she said, "there are always a lot of rich Russians."

"Really?  I know there are a lot of Russian hookers at the bar down the street."

"That must be it," she said.  "These women are always dressed to perfection in expensive clothes with expensive bags and shoes."

I mentioned that my friend said that almost all of Duval Street in Key West was owned by the Russian mob now.  

"My brother was a bartender in NYC.  He is a boxer and he used to fight for money.  He got mixed up with the Russian mob.  It is a wonder he didn't end up in the river.  He can tell you lots of stories about them,  When you come up to Grit City one day, we'll go where he is bartending now."

Now there's a reason for a trip to Grit City if I ever needed one.  As I say, she is a most surprising woman.  

When the train pulled in, it was on the other side of the tracks.  It didn't make sense.  The northbound train is ALWAYS on the side we were standing.  It took a second for everyone to realize what was happening, then there was a mad dash to get around to the other side.  As people were scrambling, the engineer was hanging out the window of the train waving his hand and shouting something we couldn't hear.  I assumed he was saying if you get on the tracks in front of the train, don't be surprised if you get run over.  That is not how the others interpreted him, though.  And so the train waited for everyone to come around and board.  I watched them through the train windows as they situated themselves for the ride to their last stop, the final bar of the evening.  

"Don't you want to come?"

Among the throng but no longer part of the throng, I stood in the darkness waving as the train pulled away.  The night was warm and damp as I headed to the parking lot to get my car.  

Back home, I thought about the evening.  The woman who barely asked me out was there.  Earlier in the day, she had sent me an urgent text to see if I was coming, but per usual, at the bar she barely spoke to me.  It's the oddest thing, probably all in my own head.  

Just the place for it.  

I had gotten a big, new, expensive monograph that afternoon of the color photographs of Garry Winogrand, one of the most important photographers of the sixties and seventies.  I poured out a Guinness "0", turned on a reading lamp, and sat down to give it a good perusal.  Damn.  I was looking at his photographs but thinking of my own.  I'd had a conversation with Q earlier in the day about people's knowledge of photography.  

"Most people are going to look at that photo of the woman and the umbrella shot out the taxi window (link) and wonder, 'Why in the hell does he think that picture is good?'  Most people like pretty portraits and landscapes of pretty places and pretty pictures of sunsets.  People ask to see my photography and I don't know what to do.  I know they are going to be like 'WTF?'."

"Yea.  If you attached some known artist's name to it, they'd like it." 

"Sure.  That's what I should do."

The photo at the top of the page is from "Winogrand Color."

No it's not.  


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