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Thursday, July 2, 2009

I heart New York

There are 13 million people living in New York City and only one public bathroom. It's inside the Starbucks on Broadway and Canal. Just the one. It's really a problem. The line stretches out the door.
Balancing this but also contributing to the problem is the willingness of deli employees to add sugar and cream to a cup of coffee. Waitresses in the South, if you asked them to do that for you, would eye you as if you'd requested a backrub or asked them to cut your meat. Here, it is taken for granted.
After four cups of such coffee I find myself waiting in a long line at Starbucks, where I must purchase another cup of coffee in order to use their bathroom. I am used to my cream and sugar being added for me, and it annoys me to find out that although we are in New York, Starbucks refuses to do it.
As I wait in line, a man with one long dreadlock begins to get agitated behind me. His long mass of hair is matted like the substance a cat might puke up. It reminds me of when we cut open owl droppings in seventh grade, I imagine I can see tiny bits of mouse skeleton, although it's probably just bagel.

" You bitches can't cut in line!" he says suddenly.
" We've all been waiting."
" They're going to keep stealing from you until you're blind."
" I'm going to pee on the seat." I say.
" Lunatic."
I can say these thing because I am in New York.
He mutters something about cutting someone. I consider letting him go in front of me but I really have to pee.
We are walking to the Museum of Modern Art when we see an overturned cart covered in pigeons.
" Bagel massacre." Cece stops to take a picture. I wonder how many pigeons it would take to lift the cart into the air and fly away. I would like to see that.

No one looks up in New York, no one except the children. I try it once and I feel reverse vertigo, like the buildings will fall down into me. I do it a second time and a drop from someones air conditioner high above me falls directly into my eye.

We are in the MOMA,and my art history books have come alive. I see every painting, they are like old friends, in fact I don't remember anyone from art school like I do these paintings. I didn't come here then, I couldn't afford the ten dollar entrance fee.
There is an installation by Joseph Beuys, a German pilot shot down in world war two over Siberia. Villagers covered his burned body with fat and wrapped him in felt, healing him, then hiding him for two years. His work is made of wax and fats, odd substances next to things he fashioned out of handmade felt. Once, after the war was over, he locked himself into a glass room and held a dead hare, allowing people to come and look at him. This particular performance piece is the best metaphor for pain I can think of. Here, this is what's inside me.

Another time he was locked into a room with a feral wolf, when they were finally let out after a week they were great friends. Here, I will take this from the inside of me to the outside. Look.

There is Picasso's masterpiece Demoiselles of D'Avingnon, which was so shockingly pornographic a woman passed out at it's unveiling. Imagine what it would take to elicit that response now.

I saw the round, sexualised sculpture of Hans Bellmer, who escaped capture by the Nazi's by only a few minutes. Upon hearing the SS break the door down he jumped out of a second story window and ran, miraculously evading capture and winding up safe in America.

I see messy, welcoming assemblages by Robert Rauschenberg next to similar ones by Jasper Johns. One of my teachers told me they were lovers at one point. They lived in new York on 4 dollars a day, eating canned tuna until they got famous. Rauschenburg is known to order up crates of grapefruits, sending them to his friends, when he finds one he likes in a supermarket. You can see that generosity in his work and I like him for it.

Underneath everything we create is the longing for fertility or fear of death. Except the surrealists, God knows what they're trying to say.

We are staying with Cece's aunt and uncle in Brooklyn. Before we entered the house she told me that he used to work for the UN.
" He was friends with all those people who died in Rwanda. He's kind of traumatised. Don't take it personally if he doesn't talk." I promised not to, wishing I could be told his story but knowing it would never ever come up even if I stayed in their house for a hundred years.
In the morning over bagels cece asks her uncle what he is writing.
" Just a little piece on genocide." He whistles.
Oh, she says, we are going to buy fake purses in Chinatown.

When we emerge from the subway in Chinatown she buys a giant dragon's head and carries it on her back through the streets like her kill. It's meant for two men to parade through the streets underneath it on the Chinese New Year. I buy a smaller, hot pink version for Ruby. It's displayed next to a giant barrel of swimming frogs.
" Are those for eating?" I ask the tiny, ancient woman who runs the shop.
" Yes, very good with garlic. No credit cards."

We have Chinese food with a man I used to love, a long time ago, who I haven't seen in ten years. He is a famous director who always wore the same black turtleneck. He is wearing it for lunch. He tells me that he's made a film with some footage of me from a night long ago when we swam on the beach. I remember that night, the terrifying pull of the tide, the moonlight shining white on the blue water. I know that it will be beautiful.
" They're showing it at the MOMA next week" he says, his mouth full of chicken.
" Can you send me a copy?"
" No."
So I will have to imagine it.

I walk all the way around the reservoir in Central Park with my friend Josh. His current job is an illustration project for a woman writing a book of cat poetry. He draws the cats in overcoats beside the Eiffel Tower, as Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.
" A tabby in a fedora, huh?"
" It pays the bills."

Austin is sometimes stiflingly slow. It's called the retirement center for the young, and it does sometimes seem like no one ever really does anything but drink beer and swim in the creek. If it is a closed circuit here, New York City is thrillingly open. People stream in from all over the world. I saw a man in a full head dress. I saw a proud, stunning woman in African ceremonial garb, Indian women in saris, girls with Mohawks and gold teeth. Tall buildings where fortunes are made and lost, galleries full of art that will pierce you with it's beauty, immigrants singing in the subways, music echoing off the walls of underground caverns, trains speeding by them. Everyone going somewhere, on their way to do something. Anything goes.


  1. I love Joseph Beuys too! I love how that one event meant that practically everything he did for ever involved fat and felt...

    I like your writing style, it has a really nice pace and rather subtle comic timing. Nice xx

  2. I went to New York back in the 80s, visiting some of the same places, and I loved it, even though I found it a bit overwhelming. Jasper and Robert are two of my favorite artists, too.
    Glad you enjoyed your trip.

    btw, I love reading your post. Their always good for a good giggle when I've had a long, trying day.

  3. your essay was the highlight of my miserable today. thank you so much for sharing the view from your eyes. it's stunning.

  4. beautiful as always :) thanks for the read!