Thursday, April 9, 2015


The guy had the swagger of a young Basquiat as he slid to a halt on an imaginary skateboard in front of a painting by Howardena Pindell. With the ease of a professional driver he parallel parked between two women completely unaware of his presence. His hat, for the brief moment he stood there, appeared as a piece of graffiti spray-painted on Pindell's piece. It splattered a momentary exclamation point to the end of Pindell's artistic sentence.
It was the interaction of this boy with his hat and Pindell's artwork that took me on a momentary detour to my normal touring track at MOMA, New York's Museum of Modern Art. I walked from room to exhibition room many times before with my eye trying to pierce the meaning of the art on the walls. This time I stumbled on a new way of traveling through the museum.  It wasn't the beauty of the paintings, it was the way I saw how others appeared to connect with the art. They became my inspiration for the day. They gave me the ability to transport my imagination to places I'd never been to before, creating my own narratives on the people in front of the art.

He had moved away from the two women who mattered most to him as they met each other unexpectedly. He had come with his wife on a whim after Sunday brunch. The other woman had come to meet a friend. She had bought tickets to the Bjork exhibit. She had a fascination with the absurd and swans. His wife had known the other women from yoga class. Neither woman had yet known the man in their lives was one and the same. He knew nothing of yoga. The two women greeted each other as faces they had seen in class but not as friends. He had no idea how long their conversation would go until either they decided to each go her separate way or one of them would innocently acknowledge him. He kept his back to them his mind a jumble of fear and flight. Like a deer in headlights he looked at Boccioni's fleeing man wondering how to make his escape.

Their parents had arranged for their daughters to make a cultural visit to New York. It was to be two weeks of museums, history, and American culture, a rite of passage for three girls from Japan. There had been promises of the Met, the opera and the ballet. They had been shown maps with stars by the Guggenheim and BAM. The girls promised to come back enriched and wiser having experienced the capital of culture and forever grateful for the experience. This they said with their fingers crossed and hidden behind their backs. With Daddy's credit card in hand this was going to be a shopping trip to beat all. One week into their exercise in shopping gluttony had every day finding them either drooling at Bergdorf's windows, stepping through the glass doors of the brand designers on Madison Avenue, or slumming at the chic shops now lining the streets of the lower eastside. Their first New York Sunday afternoon found them ready to stop and stock up on essentials at the UNIQLO on Fifth Avenue. Naoko had pulled out her map with all the stars. It was then it dawned on her they were around the corner from the Modern.  To appease their Tokyo parents she suggested that maybe they should take in one cultural event, and maybe it was best to do it before they were too laden with bags imprinted with names like Saks Fifth Avenue, Armani, and Versace. The trip into MOMA hadn't been planned. They hadn't known about Nervous System's 4-D printable dress when they entered the product exhibit down the hall on the second level just beyond the suspended Bell-47D1 helicopter. They had only come to honor the promise they had made to their parents. They had not expected to find themselves, jaws reaching for the floor, in awe of fashion posing as art. Aimi turned to Naoko, "Do they take American Express?"

She could have walked in blind-folded to the wall where Jackson Pollack's One: Number 31, 1950 hung. It was her Sunday go-to-church routine, a routine she had on her calendar for almost as long as she could remember. She'd rise around ten in her third floor loft on Mercer between Grand and Canal. Her bed sat dead center on the wooden floor, a mess of Frette linen. A size two dress form wearing her Sunday uniform stood in front of an open rack of clothes. Her black cashmere sweater clung to the form under the blood red wool three-quarter coat she bought on a trip to Paris over a decade ago. Her black tam set cocked on top of the headless form. Her black leggings were neatly folded on top of her high-top leather boots, the ones with the heels that made her five-six rather than five-three. That morning she stretched out her arms with the slow-motion elegance of a ballet dancer, Jackson already splattering his magic on the canvas of her mind. She could see him in her morning coffee as she played with the swirling lines of cream she poured into her cup. In another hour she'd be standing where she stood every Sunday transfixed waiting for him to show up.

She had curves he'd never seen in real life. Once his parents had moved to the next exhibition hall he snuck back to look once more at the Rousseau. Without his parents in tow he didn't care who saw him push his face into Rousseau's jungle. If the guard hadn't been standing nearby he would have shoved his nose right into her crotch to draw in its scent. He'd dreamt Rousseau's Dream night after night since he first saw a reproduction of the painting in an art history book tucked between an autographed copy of The O'Reilly Factor and a bound set of the first four years of Garden&Gun magazine on a shelf in the family library. Some high school boys left their fantasies up to Playboy or Internet porn sites using the "clear history" prompt after the fantasy was done. He had taken to calling her Cosette after Victor Hugo's little urchin in Les Miserables. She was both tragic and innocent. She possessed his vulnerability. It made his imaginary relationship a bit incestuous but that made it exciting as well.  His eyes closed, a small drop of saliva slipped out of the corner of his mouth as he uncontrollably leaned even further in. The security guard's stern reprimand startled him out of his reverie. He jerked back with a shutter that looked more like a convulsion. Then he turned with one boyhood sigh and retraced his steps in search of his parents.

The color splattered on the wall would be no match for the blood waiting to be splattered on the floor. Nine works on paper, each the same size, each spaced out with identical borders on a flat black wall. She had just texted Mark letting him know she was at the museum. She'd meet him later that evening at Montmartre for an early dinner. She was so focused on trying to one-hand text she didn't see the woman in black. She didn't notice the woman assuming the position of Degas' Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans. She didn't see the woman's over-sized white sneakers stuck in that perpendicular stance only a young ballerina can attempt. She was draped in the cloak of mourning even before anyone was aware that mourning might be an option. Her hood hid a shaved head, a mark of devotion and subjugation to a fanaticism few could understand. The explosive in her oversized black bag had been undetectable to the metal detectors at the museum's entrance.
It had been two hours since her last text. Mark waited twenty minutes at Montmartre before he tried to text back, "Where are you?"

The Indignant Woman, 1948
Robert Doisneau, photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise, New York City

Emmy was not the kind of kid who wanted everything she saw. She wasn't seduced by Saturday morning commercials advertising Tickle-Me-Elmo or Barbie's Playhouse. When we took her to sit on Santa's lap the only thing she ever told him once she found the courage to speak to the man with big white beard was a puppy. We thought we could hold out until she was old enough to take care of a dog on her own. In New York that would mean around eighteen or twenty but at five we gave in. On the morning of her fifth Christmas, there under the tree, in a tiny antique carrier was a little yelping ball of Cock-a-poo fluff. We let her name him while girding our nerve in fear that she might come up with a name like Princess or Queenie. She named him, Buddy. He would be the sibling she'd never have. She didn't walk him, she didn't always feed him but she taught him to wrestle and to pull her hair and how to play hide-n-seek. There wasn't a day she didn't come home from school and play with him until she was finally too tired to do one more round of chase me. Buddy's devotion to her was boundless. For thirteen years Buddy never gave up.

1 comment:

  1. Buddy was also my sweet companion and friend while waiting for Emmy to get out of school. I remember my daily walks with him at noon...he was small but pulled me hard to get to his destination of choice on the sidewalk. I will never forget the days when he came back from his hair-cuts in summer...oh! Buddy! What did they do to you?!!! But soon he would regain his beautiful furry state, the way we all liked it! My heart goes to Emmy and her parents for the lost of our dear and unique loving Buddy. My "cosa preciosa", as I always called him in Spanish, would be in my heart as part of one of my best memories with the family Shaver-Melahn. Love you Buddy, Angelina.