Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Goodwill Hunting

One of my bad angels has been playing tricks on me.  Beside the trash can on my corner, she's been leaving small piles of books-- old books, from the 40's, 50's and 60's, the way I love them… Mayakovsky, Celine, Rebecca West-- Chomsky, lectures of Nabokov... some days it's Marx, Engels-- Freud, Jung.   I am compelled of course to bend down, sort through them, be observed by my neighbors as a trash-picker.  Sometimes I explain-- plead-- Take these orphaned treasures… someone!  They will be rained on, spat on, trampled, peed on by over-pampered and un-knowing dogs.  I already own nearly every single one; I pride myself on my home library-- this is my family, my furnishings, my confidants and mentors.  So far I've had one 'taker'… a woman from Boston,  wedding-dress shopping with her daughter, who took pity on The Letters of Virginia Woolf after I guaranteed it.

Moments like these, I realize how I am perceived and perhaps scorned by my neighbors--- or not.  I give it little thought, am inclined to keep the lowest possible profile in my old building anyway, where for me the most venerable tenants are the former fashion editor of the New York Times and her photographer husband, who, 60 years ago, were the red-carpet 'it-couple' of Manhattan.   They were surely omitted from the A and B list of last night's annual Costume Institute gala-- even though their knowledge of fashion history, art, photography, culture in general vastly overshadows that of our new celebrity stars.  How many of the red carpet walkers have actually been to the Museum to view the art, to investigate the sources of the classic designers?  I had a glimpse of Beyonce's typically disappearing dress.  Maybe I'm just old and bitter, but is this not the Emperor's New Clothes in all its finery?  She is essentially naked, with a few wisps of blingy fabric clinging to her.  Much like her performances-- sex and strippery-- with a very few references to actual dance and music.  And if you get close, she is 'lined' with a sort of gut-compressing body-stocking--- not even her actual skin.   And really, no matter how many trainers you have,  do we really want to see what her husband maybe doesn't even look at anymore?

A woman visiting from Paris mentioned to me the other day that New York women had lost their style. Guilty, I say, with great gusto.  Most of them, as far as she can see, are walking around in their gym clothes.  Paris women do not do this.  And then these underdressed women overcompensate at events… they over-dress, over-coif,  wear excessive make-up and jewelry.

For me, like the music culture and the myriads of art galleries, it's hard to keep up with fashion.  Quantity has certainly replaced quality as the statistic of choice.   Young designers have achieved status and success that used to be reserved for the very select few.  Old established firms have been re-branded and taken over by another generation of fashionistas; I wonder if their predecessors would approve.  It all seems to be symptomatic of the creeping epidemic of cheap blingy competitive greed culture eradicating the old Manhattan 'facade' of cool casual deco solidity and replacing it with cheap candy-coated money.

When I was in high school, I had a kind of style.  I wore capes and high-laced boots and extremely short leather and suede skirts.  I made clothes out of vintage material, and I re-processed ice skates and work boots.  For events, I had a couple of prototype Betsey Johnson slinky knits.  They were unique and had a presence.  These days,  at late middle age, I've been through many phases and have learned the value of living my life as I choose, and paying the price.  My friends have branded me a financial anorexic.  I buy nothing, live on $4 a day, mostly, and like Bukowski, I don't discard things until they are utterly unusable.  Bukowski had a kind of anti-style.  He hated shopping, as I do.  Stores embarrass me-- I feel sorry for the salespeople, and sorry for the buyers who pile merchandise in baskets with a kind of desperation.  Thrift shops are filled with things that have never been worn-- sad garments that have lost their appeal and never served a purpose.  I pity these things.  I also have an extremely small carbon footprint.  I don't drive; I only use public transportation.   I don't have air conditioning and I don't buy plastic water bottles.  I do buy art.  I starve for this.  Literally, sometimes.  I also starve for the possibility of creating something that might be considered 'art'.  I feel sorry for artists who are brilliant.  I feel less sorry for artists who are bad,  and think there should be some means of clearing the field, of eliminating the handicapped so the gifted can move forward with a little clarity and support.

The day before yesterday, I went to look at an art auction preview; there was really nothing absolutely compelling, and I switched gears and went to browse a Goodwill store.  As usual, there were the book hoarders, the nerds with iPhones price-checking to see if they could turn a profit on an old record or vintage turntable.  Then there were the smelly women shoppers--- the lonely, neglected and bitter husbandless breed who haunt these thrift shops desperate for a conversation, a chance meeting, an argument.   They criticize and malign not just the goods but their fellow shoppers.  One of these pongy women told me, after I declined to rat on someone who was tearing into an unpriced 'pile', that my apathy is exactly what Hitler wanted from me.  I fear these people sometimes; I have much more in common with them than with my rich neighbors who have contempt for the poor and badly dressed.  I fear their smell, and have to confess I find comfort sometimes in my old quilts and over-laundered sheets.  I tolerate the ghosts of lovers and the soft pliable pages of used books with old cracking bindings and inscriptions of people who are long-dead.

I prize soul over style-- can't imagine Otis Redding or Sam Cooke or Robert Johnson on a red carpet-- maybe an old wide-planked wood floor.  Old leather is comforting.  Old friends, old buildings.  I am soft and pliant like my books-- no longer shiny.  I also feel bad about the people that don't get to sit in with my band and wanted to, I feel guilty for the people who come out and buy more drinks than they can afford, I feel terrible that I failed to buy the Mexican kitchen staff their midnight Cinco de Mayo tequila shots last night,  and I am devastated that the Nigerian painter went to the wrong show and was not on the guest-list.  I feel embarrassed that people must buy my music and books, even when they spend the cost of 100 cds on ridiculous shoes that don't fit.   And I am so sorry to the kind man who keeps offering to take me for incredible meals--I no longer have enough spare gratitude for such things and a decent black coffee is really more than I can accept.

Who am I?  I am someone's mother, and used to be someone's daughter.  I am less prized than formerly as someone's lover.  I play other people's music in old clothes and other people's discarded shoes.  I ride home on the early morning subway with poems in my head and songs in my heart, some of which I will never be able to record.  I will never walk any red carpet, unless it is one stained with my own blood.  Last night a fellow musician told me that he'd listened to my album multiple times--- that it was unique and original and I had my own 'style' of writing.  He'll never know how that feels like an award, a trophy.  One listener.  It is enough. 


Ludovica said...

You have more than one listener. Every time you announce a new blog, it's like getting an actual handwritten letter, the excitement of clicking, the careful copying of the text into a file so I don't have to read white on black, and then reading aloud.. rolling the words around, feeling them; all of the textures of the text, the cadence, and the plot that often spirals and circles in on itself and out again like fingers forming clay on a wheel. Oh you certainly have more than one listener, Amy ♥

Billy said...

Hey, I'm listening...