Thursday, October 16, 2008

A polar bear fell on me

Initially, this was going to be a long post about how my relationship with movies has been waning. What’s probably one of my best and worst habits when it comes to writing is my tendency to over-contextualize. Even as I write this, I feel myself falling into a hole. Basically, the end game to the whole piece was going to be that Rambo was awesome and that The Dark Knight sucked. I was going to tie that to something I saw the other day, but that was going to be the payoff to the whole piece.

Somewhere along the line, I decided that it was not going to be a terribly satisfying payoff, so I cut that one short. Still, in abandoning it, I cannot abandon the post’s message, so let me say it again for good measure: Rambo was awesome. The Dark Knight sucked.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here’s something related, but different.


A couple years ago, I was at an art opening for a painter I know. In the interest of people’s feelings and in the faint possibility that this artist has been directed to this web log, I’m going to be a little vague with regard to this artist’s identity.

(Note: My use of the pronoun ‘he’ does not necessarily reflect the artist’s gender; it reflects my desire to not use the crude ‘s/he’ or the distractingly plural ‘they.’)

Anyway, I was at this gallery in the city. A painter I know sort of casually, had a solo show. I remember it being kind of hot, so it must have been either late spring or early fall (I guess that’s a clue for all of you painters out there, did you have a show in the late spring or early fall a few years back???). To put it mildly, I was underwhelmed. The work was well executed, but impressively and unintentionally superficial.

I guess it’s important to say that I don’t really like openings. They’re cramped; packed with people you don’t know or, a lot of times, wish you didn’t know. In the end, they’re parties that are less about art and more about networking. People blow a lot smoke up people’s asses. There’s usually free booze though, so…

Depending on the type of mood you’re in, they can be a pretty good time or they can be a claustrophobic nightmare. I remember it being hot, and I think it’s important that it was hot because it helps to explain my reaction to the whole event. I wasn’t there for long. The whole process took maybe ten minutes, and for most of that time, I was outside the gallery which (another hint!!!) was at street level.

It was crowded, and it was hot. I did a quick and quiet scan of the space. I did the respectful thing you do even when you know the work is terrible: I looked at every painting, and tried to think of some moment somewhere in one of the paintings to compliment when I talked to the artist. I couldn’t come up with anything, so I decided to do the next best thing: I listened to see if the people around me were saying anything that I could steal as my own.
A fool’s errand. While there was no mistaking their reaction to the work—they were spellbound—none of them offered the most remote or helpful reason to like the work. It was all “It looks just like a photo!” or “So beautiful!” or some other meaningless platitude that I wasn’t going to get caught stealing to save my life, let alone blow smoke up a person’s ass whom I barely knew and who was unlikely to help me in the future.

It’s important for me to say that I don’t like most art. I don’t go to shows expecting to like the work. Good art is a wonderful surprise, but I don’t let bad art piss me off or affect me in any visceral way. I’m genuinely happy for an artist when he is given the opportunity to show, and while I didn’t know this artist particularly well, I went into the show knowing exactly what to expect, and was absolutely prepared to be supportive of his lifeless art. But somewhere, somehow, and for some reason, something inside me changed.

I don’t know whether it was the heat, or the work, or the people’s reaction to the work, but I began to feel myself losing control. I was angry. I was angry at the work. I was angry at the people. I was angry at my friends for not being there to calm me down. I was angry at myself for not making marketable work, and for living in New York, and for coming to shows where I would be forced to talk to bad painters living off of their rich girlfriends, worse painters living off of their bad art.

I guess I was having an anxiety attack. I would see a friend of mine talking to somebody else, and would go up to them and sit, speechless. All the time thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? I hate these people. Why isn’t anybody asking me what’s wrong? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with them? Mother fuckers.”

Now, I’m not an angry drunk, but I wasn’t even drinking.

Anyway, the whole spectacle lasted no more than twenty minutes and I was gone. I was still in control enough that I knew when the evening was unsalvageable, and that no after-party was going to pull me back from the abyss. So I left. I breached etiquette and didn’t say hello to the artist, didn’t congratulate him on a job well done, didn’t sign the guestbook. I left.

But it didn’t end there. I walked to the subway; waited at the platform; took the train; transferred at 14th street; and headed back to Brooklyn, and the entire time, I was flipping out. Gone. Like I was Superman looking for some missile destruct device in a lead box full of Kryptonite; only I wasn’t looking for a missile destruct device. I was just looking for a free glass of wine.

When I got home, I wasn’t much better. Sarah was there. She had expected me to be gone until late, and it was barely dark yet. I still couldn’t bring myself to talk more than a few syllables. I walked past Sarah and into the bedroom. I expected to just fall asleep, but I turned on the television instead. Sometimes you make the best decisions when you’re not even trying.

The channel: TNT.

The Scene: A bar with rowdy clientele and a stage on which a rhythm and blues band plays behind a chain link fence. The singer, a white boy with the soul of a black man. He’s blind, but you get the feeling that he sees life a little clearer than anyone else. He plays a slide guitar, and sings Little Richard numbers while beer bottles break against the steel cage around the stage. The bouncer is Terry Funk! Keith David keeps the place stocked with whiskey. It’s a violent place to be sure, but the kind of place you feel could get cleaned up if they could only find somebody with the right attitude and experience (even if that experience involved ripping a man’s throat out in “self-defense.”)

The place is a powder keg ready to explode, and in he walks. “The name is Dalton.”

It was like coming up for air. No, it was like a polar bear fell on me, in a good way. Literally, everything I had been feeling fell away. Sometimes, in life, you’re going to feel a little pain, but in the end, pain don’t hurt. And Nobody ever wins a fight.

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