“The city” means only one place.
Bolt Bus can get me there for one dollar and two hours. I can afford both of those. I arrived at the Tick-Tock Diner at around eight and went directly underground.I go south to the financial district. The trains are crowded with people who appear to have jobs. It is noisy, loud and no one speaks. In my suit I appear like them, further legitimized by the two canvases under my arm; people in ties don’t carry paintings around at 8 am without being legit. Unless you are me.When I surface I am greeted by the growing Freedom Tower. It looks appropriately aspirational, just like me. But I check myself knowing it is growing from tragedy while I am simply striving to rise above mediocrity. Mediocrity is its own tragedy.
My official business this morning does not include the paintings I am carrying so I arrive a little early to place them out of the way. Business goes till noon and I am set free. I loiter outside a bit as crowds swarm around. Everyone has somewhere to go, even the tourists. All are rushing about with the real difference being locals look down and visitors look up. the visitors also sport comfortable, normally ugly, shoes. No one looks at each other while I stand in the crowd and look at them all.
I am in the heart of American progress and modernity with free time on my hands so I choose to walk south a little more to the Museum of the American Indian. Feels appropriate.
Here, in New York, tourists from the Dakotas can look at relics from the Sioux and Crow. But before too many jokes are made it must be said, the relics here are from Indians with names some modern Americans may actually know. A shirt taken from the back of Sitting Bull, a tomahawk from Tecumseh, and a pipe from Joseph Brandt. There is a sad pride and irony that these heroes, celebrated for the victories they won in their day, have left relics to later be displayed as testament of their ultimate defeat. The realization of this symbolism frightens me.
Being this deep in thought when your mind is not right, is not good. No place is better to live life on the surface than Soho. so I go.
In Soho you are pretty or over the top. Maybe just on the edge but none of these things are normal. I like it here. In the financial district chins are held high but the shoulders are aggressively forward. Here chins are high but the shoulders sag with arms swinging lazily. It is hard to act cool when you are carrying things, I look utilitarian. I’m fine with that. I am going somewhere up in the East Village.
“I look horrible,” Grahame says. “Grrrr. Do you want to buy a scooter from this aggressive looking man?” he mocks in his English accent. I try to convince him that everyone thinks the painting looks great but he is right. He is a man who perpetually smiles and the painting will always show a scowl. This is what happens when an illustrator depicts people who know what they are doing, while the artist does not.
John shows up and he smiles too. All three of us look at shoes and glasses and the two of them tell stories.
John is always telling stories, it is what he does. Most of the stories are both funny and dark. He tells them with an energy that urges you to listen, even if you don’t really know what he is talking about. I find I don’t need to recognize the names to enjoy the tales. If the name is the point, I ask, and he politely tells me.
My painting of him is not his favorite but he appreciates what I have done. He leaves the painting in the living room, grabs two caffeine free diet Cokes, and we head for the roof.
We look out over the city like it is a movie with perfect weather. We watch the characters as they lounge on a posh roof deck across the street or wave for cabs on the street below. We talk about all sorts of things, trivial or not. He is older than me, but like me, he has unrealized dreams that refuse to die. I like that about him. The two of us are very little alike but this we have in common. We were up there, two adult men up on top of the world, dreaming like twelve year old’s despite all the pragmatism learned from life’s let-downs.
I spent the night in a friend’s apartment while they were away in the Hamptons. It was a well decorated home on the upper east side the size of a janitorial closet. It consists of an eat in kitchen and a bedroom. At 11pm I realize all I have eaten that day is a kabob at noon and I am both exhausted and starving. With no bag or paintings to carry I wander off into the night. As I walk past one window I see a group of kids at a table full of empty Heineken bottles and one lady in front of a giant burger while holding a knife and fork at the ready. I go inside, order a bacon avocado goat cheese burger, eat it alone, then walk back to the closet and sleep.
In New York the city is your living room, the roof deck is your television, and as long as you stay there you can aspire.
In the early morning I catch the bus back home. I have to get back in time to take all the paintings off my wall.