A place that knew your hand on the handrail of the stairs, and your face in its mirrors, can easily lose you. On the nights of openings, I used to sneak up to use the bathroom. The mongrel hordes through the gallery, I could pee upstairs in peace.
No one lives there anymore who would know, oh, that’s where she’s going, those high, uneven stairs, sometimes the light showing through them from below, don’t know me. I didn’t even see them this time.
A friend of mine, his art collection was being auctioned off in the gallery, so I went by to see it.
It wasn’t mostly his work, it was mostly other people’s stuff he owned.
He died young and unexpectedly.
Here is what he was to me, though, we were not close friends: lots of times I was at parties and I felt like the only working artist, or the only person who knew and cared about religion, no, more than that, who didn’t scoff at it. It wasn’t like we were close, but I always felt a little less lonely knowing he was a working artist, not a person who drinks a lot and smokes a lot and talks about art, someone who makes it, and he was someone who cared and knew the saints, and other legends, as I did, do. He painted and painted, I wrote and wrote.
The women sitting at a folding table in the gallery were saying, “Who was this guy, again?”
“An artist in town. I helped clean out his stuff, this is only a small part of it,” and she said what she thought was his address, and I thought, is that the house I went to, for parties, or not?
It had been a long time. I would get invited to these music-exchange parties. I would burn these CDs of music as banal as my taste is, Stevie Wonder and Stephen Sondheim, and most of the others would hand me playlists that had not a single word on them I understood. I felt awkward about this. Maybe I shouldn’t have, I suppose that meant I was being invited for my looks or personality.
He used to be at the parties upstairs with the open windows and the big table and the filthy wooden floors and the American flag shower curtain, he knew all that stuff. He had gone up those stairs, too. He knew which apartment.
In my twenties, I was on the outskirts of people five or ten years older than me who ran arts stuff and ran around, I always felt behind and a little outside, being younger and not an art student or punk rock, instead Audrey Hepburn, Stevie Wonder, Emily Dickinson. Now when I’m back I am from time gone, punk rock. Art kids are different, they really are kids to me, and I’ve run art stuff myself, I bought the boxes of wine, I had the money for that, and I did, and other people drank it, I encouraged and begged them to as needed.
So much of being a young artist is authenticity, I wasn’t sure where to get it, not taking my dad’s money, drinking the right stuff, going barefoot until my feet were blackish.
I left most of those CDs in my Kansas City place, when I moved out, someone else came in and threw them out. No one knew they were mine. The tracks I wanted I had.
Image: Stair riser, Dionysian scene with Musicians and Dancers, Pakistan, Metropolitan Museum of Art