My friends and I often sit around drinking, lamenting the fact that we haven’t done more with our lives. By this I can only assume that we mean not that we wish we had pursued more noble ventures like charity or science, but that we wish we had more money. Not that we’re poor – none of us are home eating half a package of Raman Noodles every night, saving the other half for breakfast, crying ourselves to sleep through the huger pains. But on a New York scale of wealth, we rank somewhere between “Will Only Take A Cab Home If It’s Past 2:00 AM” and “Limit Of Take-Out Once A Week.”
What we did wrong was we “followed our dreams” or whatever crap it was wealthy motivational writers were spewing out in our influential teenage years. My friend John works in the theater, where you need approximately one bazillion dollars to make a few thousand; Matt is musician / music lover who has worked hard to stay in his low paying, high music-artist-meeting job; BJ teaches at a Catholic school where I think they pay him in “prestige” and “not getting stabbed by students”; and I wake up every morning, whimper in bed for half an hour at the prospect of coming to work, clean myself up and write this fucking hilarious blog.
(Side note: I’m listening to online radio and “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor just came on. Is this song about himself? It’s creepy.)
Ironically, then there’s my friend James (not Taylor) who is our resident starving artist. He goes to grad school for art and resides in a Brooklyn apartment that doubles as a wildlife preserve. He lives off student loans and a part time job IN HOBOKEN. That’s in New Jersey. The next state over.
James, for my money, has more balls than all of us put together. Whereas at least the rest of us are stable in our low paying jobs, James is throwing it all out there, taking a chance on being an artist which is as close as you can get to taking a chance on being a professional homeless person. He’s not necessarily finishing our leftovers at restaurants, but he has to take the G train home for Christ’s sake. (For anyone who doesn’t live in New York, the G train is a subway that supposedly runs through Brooklyn. I wouldn’t know though because I’ve never seen it, begging the question: “If the G train arrives in the station, but it’s in Brooklyn, is that any excuse to live in Brooklyn?”)
Well this past Friday was the figurative if not literal payoff for the life James has chosen. It was the one night a semester that his grad school hosts an Open Studio event where the general public comes in, wanders through the maze of studios and silently judges the work that these artists have poured their soul into for the past four months. I can only imagine this taking place in my office, a neatly dressed preppy couple stroll into my office looking around, then staring over my shoulder at my computer screen mumbling things like, “I find his desktop cluttered,” and “What’s that smell? It smells like pizza.”
I don’t know of a more nerve wracking, ego testing situation. But James, along with a little help from his friends and a little help from a few bottles of red wine, not only endured the night, but fucking nailed the night. Several people (all of whom looked old and rich) inquired about his work and at one point there was even a line of people waiting to circulate through his small studio. He even auctioned off a painting the size of a Nextel cell phone for $75. Pretty impressive indeed.
Unfortunately, he was upstaged by what I can only describe as “the greatest [art] show on earth.” I’ve never seen the Cirque du Soleil, but until I do, and they give me a lap dance, this still wins:
My friend Scott and I are drunkenly wandering through the studios, pretending we know something about art by getting up real close to paintings and saying things like:
Me: “I like this here, what he did with this line.”
Scott: “Yes, that’s the line right there.”
At one point we even walked into what might have been a large custodian’s closet and marveled at the “organized chaos” of the clutter and pondered serious artistic questions of where “the mess” ended and “the truth” began. In hindsight, I would pay $50 for a video of this interaction, complete with commentary provided by “America’s Funniest Home Video” with our segment entitled “Two Fools in a Storage Closet.”
Then on our way back to James’ studio, Scott veers off to the bathroom and I continue down the hall. Suddenly from the doorway up ahead, out come two completely naked girls holding hands. I mean not a single stitch of clothing on their body. They walk right past me and I’m repeating to myself almost audibly, “Don’t stare, don’t stare, don’t stare,” as I stare at them. Trying to avoid the construction worker-like head turn as they go by, I instead opt for the “I’m just making a phone call and waiting for my friend” maneuver and take my cell phone from my pocket while I turn around. In an alternate version of this story, I call God and say, “OK, you win. I believe in you.”
The girls then park themselves in an open doorway leading into a large room used for the silent auction. They stand approximately three feet apart facing each other, hands at their sides, neither speaking a word nor moving a muscle. The whole point of this exercise, it becomes apparent, is that in order for people to enter the room to the auction they would have to squeeze past these two naked girls.
Huh . . .
Now I’ll be the first to admit that, as much as I love art, I don’t necessarily “get” all art. For all my supposed artistic sophistication, I have the same delusions of “It’s paint specks, I could do that!” that mostly everyone else has when viewing some modern works. And try as I might to understand works like this
I still find myself saying, “No really, the whole thing’s blue. I can DO that. I’ve painted things blue before. I have PROOF I can DO that.”
And that was the same feeling I had watching uncomfortable conservative parents turn sideways and slide past these two naked girls. I didn’t GET what these girls were doing. Scott and I batted around a few ideas: “Maybe they’re trying to blur the line between being naked and being nude,” “Maybe they’re saying that there’s no difference between a nude statue and the nude body from which it is derived.” We finally decided that there would be no way we could understand their art unless we walked past them:
Scott: “OK, let’s do it.”
Me: “Let’s go.”
(Start walking down the hall. At about 20 feet away . . .)
Me: (through clenched teeth) “I can’t do it!”
Scott: “It’s too late, we can’t turn back now!”
Me: (helpless) “Scott . . .”
Scott: “Just look straight ahead?”
Me: “Do I say hello?”
And then Scott went through, and I followed, trying harder than I ever have to NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. One would have thought I was navigating an Indiana Jones type pitfall. And just like Indiana, in a way I was. I was navigating my way through my misunderstanding of abstract art. And just like Indiana, I would learn a life’s lesson in the end. Emerging on the other side of the doorway into the open room, I felt as though I saw the room in a whole new way, in a way unobscured by the embarrassment with which we were never meant to be born into the world. Society was still clothed, but by passing through the nudity my soul too was undressed. Also I had a little bit of a boner so that was there too.
So congratulations to James for an amazingly successful show, and congratulations to me for finally understanding art. And also for successfully restraining myself from walking up close to the naked girl, giving her a contemplative stare and then saying, “I like what you’ve done with the nipple here.” Because God knows I wanted to.