Thursday, October 29, 2009
#26 – A NEEDED LANGUAGE
A few days later I am back again on the Upper East Side, this part of town that I hardly ever visit, not counting that brief time less than a year back when I was more or less living at Jacqueline’s one room place with its indoor Greek columns up near the Carlyle. Now I am walking uptown from a dentist’s office on 57th Street. The dentist is a friend of a guy I knew from Time-Life days who was a master at getting paid writing jobs and loved to carry them out, whatever the silly slant, whatever the trivial subject.
The dentist, Steve, does some pro bono work at an old clinic just off Sheridan Square that in another life I had passed several times a day. He has a bright and glamorous dental hygienist who, my free lancer friend told me, had been reprimanded for the downer of telling a patient he needed better personal hygiene.
At another time she had told me she met the new cardinal and found him cold. The last time I had been there she told me she was studying hypnotism, and that hypnotists would soon be replacing therapists. She is so pretty I become as shy as a child in her presence. She had sent me articles about hypnotism as the new therapy. She planned to go into it as a business, and wondered if I, as a writer, could help. Nothing here that seems very real, except my awareness of her scent as she leans in close to my open mouth.
While Steve is filling a cavity there is an interruption in a WQXR program being piped through the dental office’s music system. The space shuttle has just exploded – the space shuttle that carried not just dumb jocks but an appealing woman who was really a schoolteacher. In of all places New Hampshire.
Nonetheless I feel serene as I walk uptown in the early evening on Madison. Nearing 75th street I see the Whitney has its own building, and has probably had it since some point in the sixties, though I had last seen it in its much smaller old home, which you entered from the Museum of Modern Art. Now it has this big but layered reddish building that for some reason is new to me though it has already been here a number of years. Had I been asleep in those years?
I go in, walk up a flight, and am suddenly listening to a short, ebullient old man who says he is a retired banker and is here as a volunteer docent. I follow him, though I have spent most of my life traveling and have always managed to avoid tour guides.
He said he had loved art since he was a young man in the city and had gotten to know an artist named Sheeler, who was apparently famous but was new to me. I now saw Charles Sheeler’s surprisingly sleek and respectful treatments of industrial scenes. And then I came upon Hoppers like those I had sought in vain at the Met on my recent trip there with Jenny when I had become horribly aware of how limited my range in art had become.
And after the Sheelers, I am looking at a deKooning, heavy on yellow, which of course reminds me of early days with my artist girlfriend Vannie going from Abstract Expressionist viewing to Abstract Expressionist viewing, with many stops in between at their alcoholic home, the Cedar Street Bar on University Place.
Now I an standing in front of Arshile Gorky’s portrait of himself as a small child with his mother in Armenia shortly before the mother starved to death in the Turk-led genocide. And then I am looking at an abstract Gorky called “Betrothal II," which seems to be knife-edge horror and mainly about betrayal – and is more literal than abstract to me. More literal than the figurative portrayal of Gorky and his mother.
And by god I am connected visually again. And could it be I am back in life again? I am stepping right into these pictures.