On a sunny morning in the early spring of this crucial year I ride my bicycle up to the Modern Art Museum on 53rd. I stop just west of the museum.
As I am chaining the bike to a “No Standing” sign post I hear, from behind me, a voice that feels sweet. Sweet even though with careful British-seeming overtones:
“What a neat bike, Fred.”
It is this girl, Gillian. She knows my name and more already, for she has been present at the meetings to hear my careful, and clever, rants. Rants as I trace my life. My popular rants. Now here she is in real life. She is seated in a canvas chair on the sidewalk in front of a shuttered brownstone down from the museum.
She is smiling, and she stretches like a cat. Her clothes, which I think are thrift store clothes, drape her body and follow the body’s lines the way her long hair did the other night. Like the drapery in drawings that follows what is underneath. And like in the meetings, she is playing with the long strands of this light hair in the touching, awkward manner of a girl as young as she looks. Though from her few words at the meetings, I know she has to be older than that.
In front of her is a sign, drawn in a girlish hand, that says:
“OUT OF AFRICA.
On a bed sheet in front of the sign is a row of probably mass produced wooden West African fetish figures. She is selling these figures.
Before I go in the museum we chat. She says she thinks we have so much in common, each of us being so much more widely traveled than other people. She wonders if I am a member of MOMA. I am not, though I think I should be, I come here so often in this time of exploration.
Inside the museum I head straight to the Matisse room, which is where I often go these days. I stand before a big painting called Piano Lesson. I go so deep inside it that I become the stunned boy Matisse portrayed beneath a cruel gray task mistress. There is that witch in the picture, but also someone else. In the boy’s line of sight Matisse had painted one of those warm bronze nude-girl figurines that he himself created.
When I turn from the painting, I look at the actual bronze nudes in the Matisse room. My mind and groin are with the draped flesh and blood figure, the real life version I have just encountered on the sidewalk.
After Matisse I go quickly to familiar places – de Chirico, de Kooning, Deibenkorn, Gorky, Magritte. Then back to Matisse, and this time the naked bronze girl in the painting seems to come alive. I see her stretch.
Before I leave the museum I write a check for membership.
Outside Gillian is yawning on the canvas chair behind the fetish display. She is raising her arms. She is luxuriating in the sun.
We give each other our phone numbers. And she stands up and we do a quick, noncommittal hug before I unlock my bicycle.
Soon I start taking Gillian to old places I had haunted 25 years back with girls who were as young then as this woman or girl Gillian looks now in 1986.