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Sunday, February 15, 2015
Drunk At the Art Museum
from People Who Don’t Matter
Series 4: Drunk At the Art Museum
Here at the art museum, the nice lady at Drop-In and Draw says, “It’s called negative space -- but it’s not negative!!!” Seriously. Is this kind of disclaimer necessary in other countries, or only in America?
You know, it might be nice to not be quite so broke. For one thing I could buy better whiskey. Whiskey that is actual whiskey and not this stuff in a plastic bottle that’s actually 80% grain alcohol with whiskey flavoring. I poured some in a trial size Scope bottle. For when I need to take the edge off public transportation. And evidently I forgot to rinse the bottle. So that the whiskey-flavored rotgut is now Scope-flavored. And it is no worse this way than it was to begin with.
I don’t pretend. I understand this won’t turn out well. I get that. I’ll be 57 or 64 or 42 and I’ll be sick or broken-down or drunk or desperate and I’ll have no _____ and no ______ and no _____ and no _____. Folks will hear news of me and they will say it is too bad and secretly they will be pleased, not so secretly, because it will mean that they were right all along to work and save, to stay home, to behave. God likes nothing so much as to beat upon the Divine Providence crowd. My wandering hippie poet friends are homeless drunks now; my sparkling hustler pals are dead. Yes, your acquaintance Patricia is following her bliss in the painting studio but -- her husband is a lawyer, right, and now he gets to have affairs and that is the bargain. In the future I will be the illustration for a lesson about morality -- who would dream of interfering with that?
This is not a generic exhaustion; this is a very specific kind. Even though I slept last night on someone’s sofa, this is the exhaustion of traveling all night on the bus, on an all night Indian video coach with a jacket for a pillow and the most persistent and useless boner of all time. Now I am off the bus but I’ve still got further to go: do I have everything, is this the right terminal, where is the gate, I have to rest, I have to remain alert, when exactly is whatever’s coming next?
A college boy scribbling in a notebook is adorable. Especially if the young man is bearded and the notebook is spiral-bound. Even in his thirties that man is still seen as commendable, well-rounded, engaged. But a middle-aged man who endlessly scribbles is assumed to be homeless, drunk, crazy. It is a perpetual source of frustration to me that no credit is awarded for being half-drunk, half-crazy, semi-homeless. It’s a shame that, in this day and age, being semi-functional isn’t seen as more laudable. I’m only half-crazy! Can’t I get a fellowship for that? As a young man, one of my primary goals was never to appear pathetic. It never occurred to me that this would get harder all the time... Someone recently stood over me in the coffee shop and asked, “Are you writing something? Or are you just writing?” What was I supposed to say? I note the profusion, the procession, the symptoms. Diagnosis is another department, down the hall.
If, instead of having almost no money at all, I suddenly had enormous amounts of it, I know just what I’d do. (Let no one say that I am not a pragmatic person prepared for all eventualities.) I’d check myself into a luxury hotel room way up in a skyscraper, one in which luxury is expressed in a monastic aesthetic. For days I would sit in a hard chair with arms, just staring out. When I became antsy I would obliterate the debts of my friends and arrange for all of us to receive celebrity dental care. I would pay lavishly for translators to publish work by writers I adore who still have not been fully or adequately translated. A lot of money would go to ecological concerns. I would cry and cry and cry. I admit I might have several elective procedures. Certain people would receive money to just go on being themselves. The farm where I was a child would be preserved. I would go to elaborate lunches with the best wines and my favorite homeless people. Most of the time however, I would just sit in silence, staring out.
Some weirdnesses can be traced back. However I also find within myself some peculiarities for which I can offer no explanation. For example, I know that Hsing-Hsing, a panda at the National Zoo, was a great buddha who came to benefit the world by sitting all day in a cage near Washington, DC. This is not one of my spiritual beliefs. It’s something I know. Also, I am overwhelmingly emotionally affected by Juan Gris. Who gets emotional about cubists? One is supposed to swoon over Matisse or Chagall. Even my mania for Miro is more explainable. Still, I can’t look at a painting by Juan Gris without feeling that someone powerful who loves me has called me up out of the blue just to say something encouraging. It is evident somehow amid the geometry. Beige and black, hunter and pea green. Heavy ruled or wavy lines. The overlap. The liberation of perspective. I feel as though I am in the presence of my vastly gracious forefather, benevolent patron of the heroic notecard.
About these, my illuminated sausages. I seek something danceably humble. Something that people interested in progress and achievement will come across and say, “It’s just pages journal pages from a notebook really.” Or: “Sounds like that guy has some problems.” I seek something that won’t matter to those who matter, to those who consider themselves to matter. I seek something the important will find nonsensical. What I am looking for is almost beneath notice. Those for whom it is intended will recognize it.
One thing I have learned how to do well is how to be moderately poor. Other people learn to be successful, efficient, dynamic. I developed skill in poverty. Here are a few pointers I’d like to share with other non-winners. When you have a little money, buy a 25 pound bag of rice. Not the worst rice. You are going to have to eat and eat it. Not basmati either. A diet of only basmati may result in impotence. Learned that years ago at the ashram. Then buy a variety of beans. Now you know for sure that you are not going to starve. The heart relaxes. The very lowest grade of canned tuna way at first provoke you to vomit, but I promise you it’s much more tolerable if you meow ecstatically while cranking open the can. Then, the next time a little money shows up, you buy a membership at the nearest art museum. I am completely not kidding you. Those will be the best 45 bucks you ever spent. Because you’ve got to keep the heart alive and not be ground to bits. Not to have your nose rubbed every minute in what a poor loser you are. So you become a museum patron. An officially fancy person. And then whenever you need to you can you flood yourself with beauty, you can keep from being crushed to nothing, you can survive.
Here is something extremely important I haven’t heard anyone mention. You must get drunk at the art museum. I mean it. You have not been drunk until you have been drunk at an art museum. You must not miss out. There is no place on earth better to be moderately drunk than an art museum. I do not mean so drunk that you are a danger to statuary. Obviously. If you investigate the lives of super-rich people, you will discover that they spend inordinate amounts of time at special events, events which are, more often than not, simply opportunities to be drunk at the art museum. The rich may sip champagne from crystal. The rest of us will have to make do with sips off a flask in the john. Just the same, this may still be one of very the best things that ever happened to you. Drunk at the art museum, the space is itself ecstatic. (Don’t you, too, go to a museum as much for the space around the art as for the art itself?) You are free to stare and stare, to gaze in raptured contemplation. Three gins in, you’re on just the right wavelength, slowed down some, detached from your own specific catastrophe, awake to colors, noting that many artists did masterful work at the age that you are now, imagine that, maybe it’s not too late, even now, even for you.