Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Life of an Artist


Just Say No
Nancy Reagan

I believed in God, Satan, evil, good, angels, ghosts, love and hate. I was sure that Jason and I had met in a previous life. I thought that I could heal with my touch, that I was telepathic, an Empath, that I had visions of the future and could get over my past and that Jesus was an alien dude who impregnated a cave chick and gave birth to evolution of mankind.

I also believed in happy endings but it wasn’t a mother fucking fairytale, there was no cure, nobody cared, people were dying, died, good people, kind people, innocent people, you were lucky to be alive, to be in love, lucky to survive.

Jason and I began socializing a little more with Becky and Patrick, through him I would slowly meet other artists, all straight, mostly from New Orleans, the Cajun Mafia, as they were known. I began painting figurative images, some sex but only suggestive, never pornographic. I started using a projector, something cheap that we found at one of the sidewalk vendors, a low-end model. While I could spend money on art supplies, run down to Pearl Paint and get what I needed, it was the least of our budget.      

Jason and I were still going to the bars, dancing at the Pyramid club till two in the morning, going to theater, dragging him to the museums, the Russian Constructivist and Mondrian exhibitions at the MOMA greatly inspired me. I continued with my precisionist architectural paintings as well.

Walter came back into the picture, he was a flight attendant working for TWA, he would pop over during his time in the city and would always bring coke to share. Walter was a light-skinned black guy, not very tall, not terribly good looking, but he was very entertaining. Emile hung out with us for a while, we’d do coke and blather on with what seemed like the wittiest repartee there ever was, but Emile grew tired of it, was not very fond of cocaine, then it was Walter, Jason and myself. We’d do coke, play scrabble, talk non-stop, laugh, enjoy ourselves, never venturing out, then Walter would leave and Jason and I would need to come down.

We always had a fully stocked bar, holiday presents that Jason would receive from business people, we never drank much at home, but when we were crashing a couple of shots of some liqueur helped us get to sleep. Walter became our third wheel, I got this idea that we’d always offer our home to any friend who happened to be passing through, that our place was safe from the plague, the homophobia, the ignorance, that we could create an environment where everyone was welcome to come, to enjoy themselves to forget and have a reliable support system. Jason wasn’t terribly keen on the idea but he followed direction well, mine that is.

He had a job to do, he always had a job to do, he needed to work, his passion. I was pouring my heart out in the studio, writing daily in my journals, experiencing the chaos of life as it was, I am an artist and I must understand, still I was only a voyeur in a sense being that I spent so much time alone. People began accusing me of becoming a shut-in, actually I was extremely dedicated to my studio work and sure that I would one day be able to paint something great, please god let me do something good, better, get my work into museums where there would be a trace of me after my death, my legacy.

One night while painting late I noticed one of the neighbors that lived across the backyard. He would turn his lights on, play his guitar in his underwear, you could hear him as I turned off the studio lights and readied for bed. He was on the ground floor, surely he knew that I was awake, I would watch him in the dark of our kitchen as he stroked his instrument, singing my song softly with his words.

I would flip the lights off and on, open the fridge, stand there for a minute in my underwear, dozens of any neighbors seeing me including the musician. Then he would look through some titty magazine, begin stroking himself, my erection demanding the same, abruptly he would turn the lights out. I stood there during this scenario for hours masturbating, I couldn’t come until he did. Then one night he left the lights on till he came, I shot on the wall, Jason happened to wake, came down from the loft bed, asked what I was doing, nothing, I was just coming to bed.

The skin on my dick became chafed, surely it must be AIDS. We went to see Cheryl’s dad, the doctor, his money that she would inherit, the funds that would keep Moses in line. The doctor looked 90 years old, sat behind a cluttered mahogany desk in his home office on Long Island, saw Jason and I separately, he asked me to pull my pants down then sat in his chair poking at my cock with a pen, hmm, have you been masturbating a lot, well yeah, maybe you need to cool it for a while and try some lubrication. Jason got the test, it was negative, we decided that since he wasn’t positive that there was no way that I could be.

Walter’s coke dealer lived a few blocks up 1st Avenue, he preferred not to introduce us, so he became our middle man once we started buying splitting an eight ball, it was always good stuff, fine with us, we’d sit and play Scrabble while chain smoking menthol cigarettes. I begged Jason to get cable, just basic cable, nothing fancy, that so when we did coke on Friday nights we could watch the Robyn Bird show followed by that half hour program that played clips from gay porn. You never saw any actual sex, it wasn’t allowed, the clips ran for three minutes then were followed by commercials for sexy Asian hookers that were waiting for your call. Phone sex was the big deal then.

Even with the onslaught of the plague the sex industry managed to stay afloat. On Saturday mornings there was a program that I’d watch as Jason was going to sleep, the show was about homoeroticism in mainstream films.

Movies were terrible, there was always derogatory anti gay jokes, a lot of them, if a male gay character was included he was usually going to end up killing people, if there was a lesbian portrayal, which was rare, she was just more fodder for jokes about how all that she needed was a good man to change her mind. Movies influenced my work, I wanted to create cinematic vistas, storyboards where the action was unfolding, theater sets inspired me to think of how to contain the narrative. Architecture inspired me, people’s faces inspired me, porn inspired me, I think the only time when I wasn’t thinking about painting was when I read or had sex with Jason.

After sleeping off a binge Jason and I would head to Teresa’s for dinner, the Polish diner on 1st  Ave, we’d cross the street bleary eyed, get a table in the smoking section, basically a few tables where anyone sitting near would complain and order the veal goulash. On Sunday morning it was back to Odessa, latkes, kielbasa, eggs, the newspaper, the wild young crowd assembled in what was once just a decaying diner.

After Odessa we’d meet Emile at the flea market in Chelsea where we’d see Andy Warhol, he was very nice, always said hello. We began collecting phones, unusual salt and pepper shakers, vintage Hawaiian shirts, vinyl records, watches. We’d find treasures that I had always wanted as a kid, little by little I had everything that I had never had but it only made me want more.

Through Patrick I met Phoenix, that was his chosen name, he was not trained, was always sullen, a painter, had as many grandiose ideas as any of us, Patrick thought that he and I would get along. I got along with everyone, was kind, easygoing, loved to listen to the stories of other people’s lives, Phoenix, wasn’t going to NYU, wasn’t overwhelmed by academia, spoke from his gut. One day He took me to the place where he was crashing, a squat on 10th Street.

No windows, no doors, boarded up, no heat in the winter, people assuming ownership of vacant buildings, that law that simply stated if a home is empty and you make the most of it, it is yours, there were a number of vacant brownstones where this occurred. The place was filled with young artists and musicians, there was graffiti on the walls, sometimes there was running water, it was fabulous. Phoenix would push me, make me think about my work, he inspired me, I would offer him our bathroom where he’d shower and clean up.

The cat lady’s house was soon filled with squatters too, they weren’t friendly rambunctious young artists living life on the edge, they were insane druggies, low life dealers who had a very bad concept of neighborliness. Jason and I were on a binge, Walter had delivered the toot then had to split, a long flight that we’d hear about later, he was doing the NYC to Paris route.

So there we were doing our drugs when I heard some noise in the kitchen, what the hell, I went back and saw one of the squatter’s pushing the kitchen window down, the original windows were replaced by Ken and Julie after Jason nearly sliced off his hand while shutting the front panes that were from the 1940s, the kitchen windows were originally put in during the 1970s as part of the addition, they were lovely once, impractical suddenly, that being since Hurricane Gloria when of course Jason went to work and I furiously made x’s with tape across them to prevent the glass from crashing inwards.

But that night, the shadowy hand reaching in, me wired, hey what the fuck are you doing! The hand disappeared, Jason called Becky, she said call the police, we did. The cops showed up, Jason and I explained what happened, yeah, the cops said, we know those guys are living there, as they questioned Jason I excused myself to go to the restroom, did a couple of lines, then came out to hear the men in blue say that there was nothing that they could do, they couldn’t bust the neighbors because it was too dangerous in there. They left, Becky came, I did more lines in the bathroom, she split Jason and I did coke and watched the soft core cable while we played Scrabble.  

Jason received an invitation to attend a wedding of an old high school girlfriend who lived in Nashville. We hosted her and her fiancée during a brief stay of theirs in NYC, Marla and her sugar daddy, they were nice enough, She and Jason had many fond memories, Hollywood, L.A., the 70s when they were both glam rockers. The trip would be fun, a long weekend, a new place to visit.

Whenever we went away we always requested a queen size bed, checking into the hotels became a ritual of confusion for the receptionist, wouldn’t you rather have two single beds? No, we requested a queen, but two men in one queen sized bed, wouldn’t you be more comfortable in two single beds. Jason was never pleased, would lose his temper, we always ended up with a queen.

Neither of us had driver’s licenses, it had only been recently that I got a state ID, that being because the police were harassing young Hispanic men in the city, a taste of racial profiling that terrified Jason. We did not have credit cards, Jason couldn’t get one due to the bankruptcy that he had declared when his business in L.A. tanked, I had no credit history, so everything was paid for in cash. The hotel, a former train depot, the hot new place, was located in walking distance from the attractions.   

The wedding was fun enough, it was awkward though being the only gay guys in the room in a place where people asked if we were brothers, where walking around strangers would offer us free bibles, no thanks, I’ve already read it, not my favorite book. We were invited for brunch at the newlywed’s home the following day, our last in Nashville. Arriving on time as told at their remote house, hungry and Jason eager to spend more time with his old friend, we rang the bell only to find that our hosts were walking out of the door, change of plans, have the cleaning lady call you a car, gotta go bye.

Jason and Marla were never close after that episode. It was time to go home, back to our warm and welcoming apartment, our landlords who left us in charge of the place when they went to the summer house, my kitty that Emile would take care of while we were away, my studio that was going full throttle, our circle of friends who accepted us as we were, Walter, cocaine, the galleries, Jason’s job where he was slowly gaining Blass’ complete trust as far as fabrics were concerned, the neighborhood that was growing more decadent, home, free to love each other openly and get back to work.