Thursday, November 11, 2010

New York, Part Five

Our hotel was wonderfully quiet. With one notable exception: the man in 720.

Each evening, some time between 7:00 and 10:00, could be heard a man shouting in room 720. Things like, “don’t touch me,” or “I’m not signing it.” We did not hear anyone else. Just him. Shouting, in a voice full of desperation and anguish, “get away from me,” “no I won’t.”

We speculated. Roberta suggested he might be an actor rehearsing his lines. I thought he was recently divorced, or about to be divorced, and had taken refuge in a hotel room until he found his bearings and a new place to live. We also thought of a third possibility, which is that he was psychotic, his wealthy parents in denial, renting him this room to prevent him from being institutionalized, or homeless, and who knows, maybe his parents owned the hotel, and had placed their psychotic son here, not knowing what else to do.

That was the only disturbance. We did not hear any street noise, people walking above our heads, people slamming doors in the hallway. The outbursts of the man in 720 were very short, and he was far enough down the hallway that his voice wasn’t that intrusive.

We were also impressed with the room’s cleanliness. There was no dust. Anywhere. Not on the molding, the TV, the curtain rod, the lamps, or the top edge of the doors. The décor was warm and tasteful. Even the artwork on the walls was good, not the usual clichés of touristy iconography. Each day the cleaning staff arrived and cleaned the room and made the bed timing their visits perfectly to our own erratic rhythms.

It rained heavily and persistently on our last day in New York. We went to a Bank of America automated teller on Broadway and West 79th. There were two machines in a locked room. Opening it required a swipe of a bank card, similar to the Metro subway turnstiles. Roberta’s card wouldn’t work. Fortunately, a woman happened by and let us in. I took out a sum of cash and as we left and were getting sorted out a man shouted at us from a magazine stand. I had dropped my driver’s license. I thanked the man, and put my driver’s license back in my wallet.

We took the subway to MOMA on 53rd street. We wanted to see the abstract expressionist show we had heard so much about. It was spectacular. The abstract expressionists had a tendency to do things on a grand scale; many of their canvases are huge. You need to be standing in front of one to really appreciate its magnitude. Same with the colors. They’re intense, and thick, and daubed on with great energy and physicality, qualities that do not come across in a book, or print.

I took notes, scribbling my impressions down hastily at the canvases that most impressed me, so that I might be able to find them later on the internet, or a book, and study them more closely.

The first that knocked me out was right off the elevator on the fourth floor where most of the paintings were on exhibit. This was The Vertigo Of Eros, by Roberto Matta. I took my little spiral notebook out of my breast pocket and scribbled: A meditative space of brown and black triangles spheres lines a pebble toward the center rings of water moving out as in a pond. The more one looks the more elusive and evocative the shapes become. A tangle of delicate little bones toward the bottom are encompassed by an overall sense of volume. Litter of bones as if in a cave with echoes of Cro-Magnon past. A sense of power and magic amid an existential vastness. A dark whose light is buried in corners, leaking through the canvas from some elusive source.

The She-Wolf, Jackson Pollock. Ferocity savage raw colors leaping circulating alive as if fed by veins of color.

Gladiators, Philip Guston. Vivid primary colors tension release curves of energy dramatized in color.

The Flame, Jackson Pollock. A red flame red heat crackling energy.

Shimmering Substance, Jackson Pollock. Just that: shimmering substance.

Slow Swirl At The Edge Of The Sea, Mark Rothko. Elegant fine shapes arabesques understated colors.

Summation, Arshile Gorky. Huge canvas of drawn bone-like shapes.

Personage With Yellow Ochre And White, Robert Motherwell. Bold hard shapes circle in black two lines beneath evoking a torso two sharp triangles to right and left a surface like a table with a single leg. Something like a head at the top of the circle triangle neck egg-shaped head with black shadow extending to the right. Helicopter blades at the very top representing a woman’s coiffure perhaps.

Tournament, Adolph Gottlieb. Warm colors dots spheres lines crisscrossed star at the center.

Painting, 1948, Willem de Kooning. Black and white a shape like my hat in the upper right corner.

One: Number 31, 1950, Jackson Pollock. Gigantic.

White Light, 1954, Jackson Pollock. Energy incarnate.

Purchase, 1953, Willem de Kooning. Angry demented demonic form slashes of paint violent and fast. “Flesh is the reason oil painting was invented.”

Photograph, Untitled, 1949, Robert Rauschenberg. Carriage with hole in the background that looks like a moon.

1951-T No. 3, 1951, Clifford Still. I love the black in the Still painting huge and majestic with jolts and runs of warm orange and light beige.

A Tree In Naples, 1960, Willem de Kooning. Electrifying blue powerful alive explosive.

We returned to our hotel room to rest before dinner. James Heller Levinson had invited us to dinner at a restaurant on East 67th Street near Lexington called L’Absinthe. We emerged from the subway at West 59th Street and got lost. Our plan was to catch an E train and go across town to 59th and Lexington and walk up 3rd Avenue to East 67th. But we could not find the E train. We tried catching a taxi. This proved howlingly unsuccessful. I would have had an easier time hitchhiking nude and carrying a sign that said “I love socialism President Obama and gay sex” in Greeneville, Alabama. We continued walking and eventually made our way to the restaurant, which proved to be an elegant place with art nouveau furnishings, tulip-shaped chandeliers and dark wood paneling.

James, who is by nature ebullient and outgoing, greeted us warmly. He and Roberta ordered some champagne and I ordered some cranberry juice. James seemed completely at home there. He told us a story.

He was dining alone at L’Absinthe, spending an hour or so writing and enjoying a cocktail before dinner. To his immediate right was another gentleman dining alone. James avoided conversation in order to concentrate on his writing, but then the man began to pay his bill and commented to James about how great the place was, except for the music, James felt a responsive cord. He fully agreed. He confessed his love of music and expressed his dismay at how most of the restaurants in New York had poor music emanating from their speakers.

A conversation began. The man said he was from Vermont. “I love Vermont,” said James. He loved the seasons there especially, and further elaborated that when he was living in Los Angeles he subscribed to Vermont Life and pinned the seasonal issues to his wall so that he could see the seasons change.

“Thank you,” the man replied, revealing himself as the publisher and head editor of Vermont Life.

“Only in New York,” said James, “does this sort of thing happen.”

For dinner, I ordered the choucroute royale à l’Alsacienne which came on a silver tureen: bacon, ham hock, bratwurst, knockwurst, and boneless pork loin on a generous mound of sauerkraut.

After dinner, James ordered some absinthe for he and Roberta. An apparatus arrived with little spigots and doodads. It was filled with a greenish liquid. Sugar cubes were places across their glasses and the liquid in the hookah-like bottle trickled over the sugar and into their glasses. James offered his glass for a sniff. It smelled like licorice.

Roberta, who is a very light drinker, commented that the flavor was superb, but that it actually had very little kick to it.

James helped us hail a cab, which are easier to get after seven or so, when the rush hour has dissipated. James opened the passenger door as Roberta and I clambered into the back and shouted directions to the driver. I found out later, when I went to pay the driver, that James had also paid our fare!

Thank you James!

The flight home was a tad smoother than our initial flight (there was less turbulence over Montana’s Bitterroot Range), though longer, since we faced headwinds rather than tailwinds this time.

Back home, I went to buy some cat food the following day. Everything seemed in slow motion. People walked differently than people in New York. Less hurriedly, less determinedly. The constant rush of people in New York, frantic to make a buck in order to hang onto their houses and be able to feed their kids and maybe one day send them to college, or just plain survive amid a merciless hustle and bustle, was conspicuous by its absence on the streets of upper Queen Anne in Seattle, where people strolled, ambled, moseyed.

Mosey. Such a western word. People do not mosey in Manhattan. People zoom. Zing. Streak. Whiz. They leave the moseying to us. Those of us west of Weehawken.


Steven Fama said...

Hi John,

I'm thinking on the man in 720. That is quite a mystery, and best of all it'll never be solved. How many times, for reasons I have no idea why, will I think about the man in 720?

The man in 720.

Maybe the phrase itself can now be sued to suggest the unexplainable.

John Olson said...

There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.

I was tempted to inquire at the desk, what's up with the guy in 720? but lacked the moxie. Next time we visit New York we will stay in the same hotel. Maybe he'll still be there. Until then, it remains pure speculation in the theatre of the mind.