Friday, October 9, 2009
#15 – GOING BACK
And it was as if I had been granted a chance to go back to where I had started out, in art as well as in the rest of life. A chance now to go beyond my finding the Impressionists in Paris at 16, Rembrandt in Holland at 17, Edward Hopper in Chicago at 22, and in my mid-twenties the Abstract Expressionists as seen while with this endearing girl Vannie who was herself an action painter.
In Chicago, beyond the Art Institute, there had been fully orchestrated music and dance places on the Negro (correct word then) South Side, and casually sensual bars on the Near North Side, and rows of wonderfully raunchy striptease bars, and a pre-Beat Beat place called The College of Complexes where anything could be spoken, and intensely avant guard jazz clubs, and the Second City comedy troupe. I kept returning to the inviting Art Institute, where, oddly, there were plaques honoring donors that had my grandmother’s maiden name on them, yet to me it was place in a universe unknown to family. I had relatives all over upper class Chicago, but I never looked any of them up.
Aside from bars and sex and music and comedy and I fastened onto this painter Hopper who was completely new to me. I turned a marble corner and there was his Night Hawks, which I did not know was famous. I did know that that stark and lonely late night diner scene captured the loneliness, and distant hope, of my life.
Would I forever be a young man walking the streets of new cities and longing to one day be part of stories I was making up about what was beyond the facades of buildings I passed?
And now here I am years later not in Chicago’s Art Institute but in Manhattan’s grand Metropolitan Museum, and I am not alone but rather with a new girlfriend, this tall eager child/woman named Jenny who I know from ACOA meetings. I am wearing a Walkman just like happy ordinary people of the sort who had so often seemed so inaccessible. And it is as if, at just past 50, I am starting out in life.
I am in New York but it is not the same New York I have always known. I am going to these meetings that are not so foreign as I think they are supposed to seem. And many of them are in the East Village, which did not have that name when I lived there, for then it was spoken of as part of the Lower East side, and now in 1986 there is at least talk of gentrification, which had seemed impossible when I first lived there. The old Polish and Ukrainian restaurants are still around. I cannot fine the place down near Houston where I took girls for heavy Hungarian meals with heavy wine and gypsy violinists. The big Phoenix Theater has in the years between become a rock concert place called the Fillmore East. But the off-Broadway theaters down on 4th Street, where I had seen plays by Jean Genet and Samuel Becket and Edward Albee and Leroy Jones, are still intact. There is no more Ukrainian National Home on Second where outside on the sidewalk old ladies spent summer days in steamer chairs. And on St. Mark’s, the name of a crucial stretch of Eighth Street between Third and Second, there had been the old Polish National Home, which had seemed forever in place, but in the late sixties had morphed into the a wild rock place called the Electric Circus. And it was now something else, a place, I had heard of, bought by a rich woman to offer classes to poor women who wanted to be carpenters and plasterers and plumbers. The small theaters were still there on 4th street, and some still on Second, and the cross streets had not changed. The tenements near Second, such as one I lived in, were still there. Also the building down on 4th Street where Vannie had lived.
And now I am in this part to town for these ACOA meetings, which was the last thing I would have predicted when I first came. I am back again, almost as if it is my first time around, back to see what it has become, and what I have become – back, maybe, with a graced second chance to get life right.