Thursday, February 27, 2014

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Did you ever notice how cities each have their own distinct smell?  I mean, you could air-drop me blindfolded into a random street… and I might not be able to ID it straight off, but I could at least tell you where I am not.  

We are all so totally sick of the arctic freeze, but the silver lining for me is this cold starry smell of New York winter nights, especially when there is no wind and no humidity-- like a clean black dog under UV light.  Although I am definitely missing the distinct molecules of Philip Seymour Hoffman's exhaled brilliance.  The city air will never be the same--no matter how many babies shriek their first sweet breath into the black sky, no matter how many genius cold brass tenor solos there are for us to inhale…

Smart people need to have a reason for everything… an analysis-- like black being the absence of light, or someone dies because their girlfriend told them she would never, ever again lie down in their bed… and black for them is the absence of her.  So many of us stay (or stray) because we are afraid of the dark--because the night, as opposed to a sunny day--- can feel endless and terrifying.   So many people use because they need to understand the dark-- -to befriend it-- and when you go just one step too far, and lie down with it--- you may have crossed over.

At night things poke me like needles.  Thoughts.  Obsessions.  Desire.  People steal more in the dark.  Years back, someone broke into my flat and took everything.  My underwear.  My sewing machine.  Vitamins.  They left books.  I was obsessed with deciphering the mystery of it.  I had just had a brief affair with a published but reputedly bi-polar writer. I met him at the Figaro one night and took him home-- just like that, the way things happened in those days.  The way you knew when you went in for a coffee that you were going to have an adventure.  It went on for a bit, but I met a musician the next week.  The writer was getting out of control and I dumped him.  It had to be him--a crime of passion, revenge… maybe he would return and slit my throat, cut off a lock of hair.  At night the phone would ring---and ring… I refused to answer.   It felt so Edgar Allen Poe.

I finally realized: Having someone steal from you is sort of a gift.  You learn to live without it-- they didn't get your soul, and you probably should have given it to them, anyway, without a fight-- -without regret--- because so much of possession is tinted with greed and that taints the object, takes away its grace.

Here is a little Winter Tale:  Years back, maybe just after 9/11 when New York was in a sort of massive depression… one of my old friends from the Palladium days called me.  She had an eviction notice--- was strung out, sick.
I went over, loaned her $50.  She got high.  She looked like hell.  The place stank of vomit and old whiskey and breath.  So she had this great chalk drawing on black paper that Keith Haring had done for her, back in the day.  Sell it, she said.  It was worth at least $20,000, even in the dumpster market of post-9/11.  He had signed it to her--- he never signed things like that.  It was great--- with naked people jumping all over and space ships, and stars, in a black sky. You could smell the wild chill--  the Bacchanalian thing.
Give me a few days, I said… I'll raise some cash for you.  But I failed.  I was always a few bucks short of rent and playing in the subway was non-lucrative and I had a child to feed.  So I brought over this hipster wannabe collector who had this fixation with the 1980's because he had sort of missed it somehow.  He saw the Keith and said to her--- my formerly beautiful friend with the pale lips and stringy hair in her unwashed camisole-dress… I'll give you $3,000.  Not a penny more.  No, no, NO!!! I screamed with my eyes… and tried to pull her into the untidy bathroom… but he was counting out the money and she was sweating… and he rolled it up and off it went, like a swaddled baby being torn from its poor desperate mother.  The greedy bastard.  He actually thought I'd go out with him--- like I'd be impressed with his MO.  I told him the Haring had already decreased in value by 80% because it belonged to him and hung up.

My friend suicided 6 years ago, from a window on the LES.  Last week I saw the picture had sold at a London auction for $172,000 as 'the property of a Swiss collector'.  The bastard.  First he loaned it to some high-profile show so it had a pedigree and it was white-washed the way these sleazy rich dealers do it these days.  But I know how he stole it… and I know how she processed it and just let it go, the way Keith in his pure days just let things go...and I think of her in these black starry freezing nights shivering in her nightdress with the yellow crust on her mouth-- one of my unwashed angels. Or maybe she is up there in the freezing star-smell getting high with Jim Carroll and Philip Seymour Hoffman, teaching him how not to be afraid of the dark-- teaching me to not just lie down with the night but to let things go, to give people the chance to steal, if that is what it takes… like a winking angel.

1 comment:

Ludovica said...

I work "voluntarily" in a charity shop that sells donated items, and nowhere else in my life have I ever seen the stark contrast between what a wealthy person values and what a person like me values. I'd say over 50% of donated items go straight into the rag bag, to be pulped for whatever industries use pulped clothing.
Books... brand new, marred only by a loving handwritten inscription likewise go for pulp. No matter that some person cherished that papery bundle of words maybe for only as long as it took to read, but there are older ones too, cherished for maybe 80 years, or 100 or more, lovingly handing it on from parent to child like a great jewel.
"This was the book your Grandmother got as a Sunday School prize in 1907"
and the artifact is handled reverently and kept from the reach of small less discerning fingers. Looking forward, this household god will one day arrive in the hand of one of my ruthless, sentiment free colleagues
“Nobody will buy that”
“But they will!! It’s worth at least £15” I protest. They look at me pityingly.
“Not here it isn’t. This isn’t an antiquarian book fair. We can only sell books that are in perfect, as new condition” and I am silenced. They are right, there is nowhere for that book but the bin. It breaks my heart. Book collectors do not frequent the shop. There is nowhere to store books that stay unsold for more than a week. Books are not what people buy any more apparently. Cassettes and video tapes too go into the bin without even a cursory glance. Who knows what rare historical moment or missing band demo is now lost forever?

The whole charity shop sector had a style makeover a few years ago and they now don’t pitch the second hand image, but prefer to pretend they are some sort of eclectic boutique of designer stuff at what they believe is “affordable prices” Nothing has more than a two week slot on the shelf. They throw away all the kinds of clothes I would wear if I could afford them. I want to rescue everything and take it home. I just don’t have space, plus, it’d be stealing.
Things I find ugly and superfluous get pride of place because the women who run the place have never been cold or had wet feet. Things that are warm, functional, interesting or off the wall go straight in the bin. I asked for them to keep any large size jogging pants for me instead of throwing them away, but jogging pants don’t fit their image. They wont keep them.
I think of the people who donated those things, of the mothers and grandmothers, lately deceased who loved and valued those things as they get tossed into the bin.

I cannot afford to buy the things I sell, I cannot take the things that are being thrown away, even if they are better than the things I already own. I am not a player in this.
Supply and demand, market forces, Capitalism has a cold hard face, and as usual it has me breathing in and breathing out the blues in that cold black starry night . Sic Transit Gloria Mundi