Thursday, September 29, 2005

Step, Step, Turn

When you have lived in New York City long enough, you learn how to walk down a street. In the beginning I often took part in that crazy tourist dance where you blush and lurch to the left and then to the right and then to the left again with an unwitting and pissed off partner who tries desperately to ditch you in the pedestrian traffic. But without your noticing, that awkward dance will one day leave your body, along with the superfluous thank-you’s and a constantly dropped-jaw. With time, you begin to feel the route in advance, in your body, in your feet. Without looking at an approaching person’s face I now know which way to step and turn myself so that we slide by each other without touching. The opposing twist you can do with a stranger where you move your torsos sideways in harmony as you pass, face to face, eyes cast down, touches me in a way that leads me to believe that the person I have just passed is good. No dance-card filled, but our hearts were in such proximity. After a turn like that I walk, relieved that nothing happened--no faulty stepping on my part—on to the next step, step, turn.
How can so many people in such proximity achieve so little touching?
This morning, my friend Brett coaxed me out to Café Regular on 11th Street. (Or is it Café Normal?) This café is his haunt and it is so lovely, small, and dark. Lively with good neighbors, the cafe sits in a New York-typical contrast next to an old-school beauty parlor hung with posters of hairstyles unlikely to be achieved. I sat with Brett’s neighbors and their many dogs outside on some steps with our coffees and breads. We talked about art. We laughed at Brett. I looked through a sculptor’s catalogue of his work. The sculptor seemed like an artist in the way that I like to mock because he is what they base television roles on with his unabashed staring and funny beard-do and connection with his feelings.
When a hearse pulled up to the beauty salon and weeping Puerto Ricans dressed in black and heaped high with brightly dyed flowers spilled onto the street in front of us, I panicked and asked Brett if we could leave.
The artist said, just stay and feel this. Can you feel the vibration? I could mock him here and now, and for the rest of our possible acquaintance, but I did feel it and I had to put my sweater on. The clouds were gathering and I had caught the chill coming up off of a fresh murder/suicide in the beauty salon. These killings were committed in passion or because of passion, or something about that emotion, passion. Whatever it was, their weeping rattled me, made me want to run with my eyes closed, but, because I couldn’t really run while another artist stood so solidly, I made myself stand. I breathed and watched the moaning relatives with their pomades and precise curls, the children in new clothing, laying down crayoned notes upon the sidewalk, the old ladies lighting those useless candles.
I let my raisin roll drop.
How dangerous it feels to be touched.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Effin' A

Elizabeth Royte, my critically admired friend who wrote, Garbage Land: On The Secret Trail of Trash had the charity of heart to get me out of my Chuck Taylors and up to Fifth Avenue for a publicity event for her book last Tuesday.
I'm sure she didn't think about how a 24th floor view of the Park strikes a girl accustomed to blinding white salt-flats, but all I could think of was, broccoli florettes. It was like that, out-of-towners. When you go to the supermarket next time, make an, "O" with your fingers, close one eye and narrow in on the broccoli bin. That's what I saw, but with mist and such a slight variation in green that you know that Olmstead and Vaux are residing on Posthumous Genius Row for their mortal tree-selection for Central Park.
A man who will be played by Ralph Feinnes here approached quietly as I ate up my broccoli view. He waited a good measured minute and then uttered, "It is endlessly beautiful, isn't it?"
I thought he must be making funny. I've never heard an actual person speak Merchant-Ivorese in real life. Regrettably, I laughed and whipped my head around to share his joke. No joke, though. Had he muttered a western, "Effin' A," in the typical reverent voice reserved for vistas, I certainly could have responded well. I am not an adaptable animal. Better that he moved on to a real New Yorker for that high talk.

And the curator from the museum contacted me again.

Effin' A.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

In Gratitude

I'm goofy with glee over my most recent purchase. Not only goofing on the purchase, but the purveyor and the purchasing experience.

After pricing out birthday cupcakes for twenty-one expectant Brooklyn third-graders at the Little Red Hens Bakery ($57.00 U.S.) I said, no. Emmie who was with me had the good third-grade sense to wistfully say no, and shuffle out the door with me. She's a frugal Utahn yet and is not about to shell out in that fashion to an establishment that poses as a down-home neighborhood bakery. Like we're dum? Second option; make the cupcakes myself. I said, no. Emmie graciously understood this because she is a smart third-grader who realizes that although her mama can create an entire based-on-reality-as-I-feel-it painted community, she cannot actually create a based-on-your-fantasies-or-even-lowest-expectations real cupcake. Also, we don't own the pans I've seen people on television use to make the cupcakes. And using cups isn't really done I've been told.

So the nearest and best option I could come up with? Donuts Luncheonette on Seventh Avenue. Americans, do you realize that donuts can be displayed like they are a special treasure and not a bad habit? I was in Thiebaud (see painting) heaven. This is what people who mow down old buildings to build chain restaurants are trying to emulate, except in their sad case, it's usually a rumor of this they are basing their plans upon.

A trophy case of filled, sprinkled, frosted, pastries, a group of apron-clad, hatted, shouting men, a stack of white boxes with the store logo stamped on them, a weighted dispenser hanging over the register dispensing red and white striped string, a counter where one can dine and watch oneself in the mirror, speckled Formica, a window you can order from while standing on the sidewalk, sickening green and white backlit photos of egg offerings lining one wall, and customers. Plenty of Brooklyners don't give a second-thought to that Little Red Hens it would seem.

The guy who called me Hon punched a flat white box into 3-D and filled it up with a ravishing variety, totally confident when I asked him to choose on his own. Tied up in string like that, I can barely let myself deliver these donuts to the third grade. I want to hold my donuts a little while longer.

Oh, and they were $7.00 U.S. Take that, Hens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I wonder what it would be like to be stepping onto Afghanistan today.
I wonder what novel you would read during a flight to Afghanistan.
I wonder what kind of special things you would gather up for a trip to Afghanistan.
I could have asked my youngest sister the third question for the months that have led up to her being required to go that wrecked desert. I could have asked her the second question yesterday. I could ask the first today.
I haven't asked her much at all, though, lately and I guess maybe I won't until she's back safe at her new Arizona house next spring, poring over paint chips and studying an Ikea catalogue with me. I bluster around with my other siblings about her deployment but keep my mouth closed with Air Force Christy. Part of this silence could be confrontation-cowardice. The other part just might be me holding my breath.
These questions are not so tough really. I gave them a lot more blog real estate than they require. They could have been reduced to one query; how is it for you to go to Afghanistan, Christy? But all I've ever really gotten out from behind these teeth was a vow to her that come springtime, I'll fly across country to help her decorate. This wispy promise becomes more real to me than the recognition of that which she will be doing in the months preceding her return. I focus on the Vlack shelves vs. the Bjorgstjyl shelves. The Celestial Robin's Egg Blue or Storm Drain Grey paint? Will Ikea have a new catalogue out when she gets home? Silly small questions, these are everything that I hang my hope on. If we decorate her new house next spring, it will mean she is ok.
So then will I be brave enough to ask her what she saw at war with terror in Afghanistan?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

How It Works

There are four old-fashioned but transparent cogs devoted to each human and some of the animals clomping around Planet Earth.
Hovering in clanging dis-concert above the head or at times around the feet, these cogs grind, spitting grease and grit. They are all wired up with a split Romex line jacked into the base of the skull and into the chest, causing us to lurch in this direction and that. Each gear can represent Family, Work, Romance, or (Alternate) and rarely work well all at once. At least one cog will languor in rusty, guilty neglect or else spin in oily overuse leading in either case to complete mechanical seizure. Said cog is then ejected only to rest and rotate unevenly about the ankles.
Sometimes, however a very precious sometimes, the machinery all trips into place with a thunk and an echo and a hot arch of sparks.
To wit: you get an email from a curator at the Whitney Museum saying she is interested in your work and would like to make a studio visit. The eff-word, made holy in this instance, is jubilantly and liberally released and the Romance cog thuds into place with a single phone call, setting free more eff-word, and now the Family cog gets its varied tiny notches in place with much dancing and to-do and amidst those flying sparks, real happiness is ground out.

Then a week passes with no word from that curator. Then a few more days. You reluctantly realize that Planet Earth is still Planet Earth and there are floods and temper tantrums to be weathered and twenty or more undone paintings to be resolved and nothing but curling Smart Dogs in the fridge.
And so. Cogs reset and jam and fall. And the work grinds on.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Grand Town

I have returned to and am walking around this house I own in Salt Lake City and find that it is so sizeable that I cannot find myself. This average American home is too much, really. I chase winged shoes, balls, PowerRangers, LeapPads, Build-a-Bears, books, etc. around the house and finally just let it all get away because, housepersons of America, I would not paint or hold conversations with people or even blog to you if I got this place under control (luckily my ambitious caretaker sister has taken over the chase.)
Big, big, big.
Utah is big. The grandeur is no delusion. You can take dry, big, rattling breaths here and feel the panic rise as you wonder how you will traverse the valley six times this day as you shuttle the unlicensed and underaged to far-flung playdates. Ah, the big Sport Ute. Ut? (Apropos.) We pig out on gasoline here to fuel our work on a large scale.
But, oh those beautiful mountains, flexed reassurances that we are God's chosen kids after all, living out our lives in His rocky embrace. And would this beauty and golden light be wasted on the wicked? Pave, pave, ye saints. Make the streets wide because our cars are wide and we are wide and He loves us dearly. Accept more nuclear waste and bury it in His wide desert. Crush good historic buildings in favor of foam-filled, wide, California/Seattle-derived architecture. Those sharp stars at night can mean only one thing: approval.
We deserve much here, and by God, we're going to take it.