Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Fuck and Goddamn This AIDS shit
I've updated the links to my AIDS doodles-collages that were posted on Rock Heals, an on line literary journal in August and September. You can now view all of them at these archive links.
Monday, September 25, 2006
“His macaroni and cheese” would make me swoon” my friend Linda said over lunch the other day at Eisenbergs luncheonette. “And what about his lamb, Swiss potato casserole?” I said between bites of my egg salad sandwich which was pretty damn good in itself. We were talking about our friend Tom who was a great cook and who pretty much wined and dined his friends up to his very last days on this planet. Tom lived in a tiny little dirt-cheap apartment on the Lower East Side in the days when it was still rough and not so ready, but certainly more interesting than it is now. His apartment was in one of those sometimes well kept and clean tenements that lined the lower streets and like most everyone I knew back then he lived on the top floor of a 6 floor walk-up. When visiting you would have to call him up on the phone on the corner or yell up in your loudest voice that you had arrived and down would come the key that would open the front door in a well worn leather glove with fur lining. Sometimes one of the hot young Puerto Rican boys hanging out in front of the building would unlatch the front door for you, but most of the time, you would wait patiently as the glove slowly made its journey down to meet you and up you would climb. Tom would be waiting to greet you outside his door, as smokers and non-smokers would make the climb huffy and puffy. But the climb was worth it, as you would be greeted not only by Tom, but also by the most wonderful cooking smells imaginable. His tiny kitchen was in full swing, with many pots and pans taking up space on and in his small stove, his tattered and food stained Julia Child cook book propped up on the counter. This tiny cluttered but neat apartment was Tom’s world. His everything, his social center. He had very few interests outside of cooking and entertaining his many and varied friends that most New Yorkers collect after a lifetime of living in this complex and sometimes crazy city. He didn’t own a television, which was beyond my comprehension. “How could you not have a TV.” I would ask. “Easy” he would reply. He also had no interest in movies, which is of course one of my great passions. I think I went to one movie with Tom in all the years we knew each other. He would spend his evenings reading, cooking and entertaining his friends and writing letters in his unique hand (he would write with a straight edge under his hand, so that the lines of his letters were straight and perfectly lined up) to old friends who lived in other parts of the country and around the world. I thought I knew him well, but not really. I did know that he adored me, but I also knew that I could try his patience especially when it came to my eating and cooking habits. Our few and far between arguments were generally about cooking and food. When he came to visit me for several weeks in San Diego where I was teaching he was appalled that my apartment was practically empty. I had a fold up futon, a borrowed big wooden table and chair and a few pots and dishes that I had bought at the local thrift shops and that was it. I just didn’t see the point in getting all new things when I would only be living in the place for 6 months. Tom thought otherwise and when I casually asked if he would like to cook a meal for us, he flew into a rage. “How the fuck should I do that.” “What would you have me cook on Ira Joel?” That ended that. There was in San Diego at that time a chain of restaurants called something like California Pot Pies, and although the food tasted like cafeteria food with a touch of hospital cuisine thrown in, I sometimes chowed down there because it was cheap, campy and I could walk there from my apartment in Hillcrest. I took Tom there one night because I thought he would find it fun. We ate in silence as the surly waiter dropped the food in front of us. On the way home, Tom said, “I have never been so depressed in all my life” and went to bed immediately sleeping through the night and most of the next day. So much for kitsch and Tom. Being invited to his house for dinner was an event and even though he was poor and lived like a church mouse he never pinched pennies when it came to ingredients for his suppers as he would call them. He required perfect etiquette and manners from his guests. Wonderful conversation would have to be supplied and it definitely helped if you were talented, gifted in some way and attractive. I worked my way sexually through his many male gay friends that I met at his suppers like Sherman’s march through Atlanta, and when I asked him about any new male friends he might know to invite to his dinner parties he gave me that look of his and said “Oh Ira Joel I’ve run out of friends for you to sleep with.” One of the most important things for Tom was to be properly thanked for having supper at his house. You could either call the next day to thank him for the lovely dinner (not hard to do) or you could drop him a note in the mail. In any event woe to the person if they failed to thank him properly because they would never be asked back. I sometimes would wonder what he would do if I failed to call to thank him. Would he banish one of his best friends from ever eating his Cape Cod Lobster stew or his Pear William Bavarian Crème again? In 1981 after he had painted his kitchen he decided to have eighteen intimate celebration suppers for his friends, two at a time. This “celebration” would last from Sept 1981 to Jan. 1982 and he sent out invitations to all 36 invitees, which listed the other person who you were going to be having dinner with along with the menu. I was simply amazed by this undertaking and asked him if I could come to all 18 dinners. He laughed loudly and said “Ira Joel of course you can’t.” No one said my name as sexy or sweet as he did.
The painting used in this post is titled "Friends" and was done by me in 1968.
The painting used in this post is titled "Friends" and was done by me in 1968.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Complex Sculpture 1983-2001
Thursday, September 21, 2006
6 Drawings, 1 Collage & Another Drawing
The very attractive on line literary magazine Barfing Frog as added six of my california drawings to their gallery. You can view them at this link.
Also the equally goodlooking on line literary magazine Melancholia's Temulous Dreadlocks has posted one of my collages as it's "cover" and you can view it at this link.
And just today the also goodlooking on line literary magazine Winamop has posted one of my landscape drawings and you can see it here.
Also the equally goodlooking on line literary magazine Melancholia's Temulous Dreadlocks has posted one of my collages as it's "cover" and you can view it at this link.
And just today the also goodlooking on line literary magazine Winamop has posted one of my landscape drawings and you can see it here.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
After 5 years of living together Freddy and Clara decided it was time to get hitched. They had met in high school and dated for a while, but after graduation they lost touch with each other. Clara became a social worker and Freddy became a teacher in the New York City Public school system. They met again because Clara was doing part time counseling for troubled students in Freddy’s school and they literally bumped into each other one day during a class change. Clara was a nice person, a bit on the plump side, but Freddy was into pump or even heavy women. He had just gone through a rather messy divorce and had custody of his 8-year-old son Noah. Clara was also married once, and was also divorced. Her ex-husband had left her for a man and Clara was so distraught over this that she had to go into therapy. They started dating. Clara lived in Queens in a small non-descript house, the kind that you never notice when driving by in a car. She had ordinary taste, knew nothing about art, movies or literature and was the kind of person who knew what she liked, and in her case it was bad landscape paintings that she would buy at those tacky art fairs that would be held around the tri-state area in malls and motels. Her house was full of them. She also adored the Greenwich Village outdoor art show and would make a point of going to them every year. Once she asked Freddy to go along with her, and he shrugged his shoulders and went. Her taste in reading material ran to self-help books like those awful chicken soup books that she would sometimes pass on to me. I promptly filed them in my garbage can and books by those best selling women romance novelists. Ugh. Freddy knew about art because of his friendship with me. Occasionally we would go to museums, especially the Met and the Museum of Modern Art, and he would absorb the beautiful paintings like a vacuum cleaner loads up on the dust from rugs. We had been doing the museum thing for years, and Freddy had developed quite a grasp of modern art, and would be able to talk about what he liked and why with tender intelligence. Clara on the other hand could not understand modern anything and the few times she had come with us to the museums had been a disaster. As we ran from gallery to gallery Clara would need to rest and would plop down on the nearest bench, “Pick me up on your way back” she would say, as she lowered her rather large behind onto the cushy couch or bench that stood lonely in the vast galleries of the Met or the MOMA. Afterwards over dinner Freddy and me would talk animatedly about what we saw and liked and disliked while Clara sat quietly and looked on with a sad almost imbecilic look on her chubby face. She was of course not stupid, she just lacked curiosity. Sad. I kind of liked her though, as she could sometimes be generous (she did buy one of my sculptures) and helpful with day to day problems that we all come up against. She had a grown son from her first marriage, a rich brother who was in real estate and an elderly mother who lived in Brooklyn in the house where Clara grew up. Sometimes Me Freddy and Clara would go to the theatre, but more times than not Clara would cancel out at the last minute usually because she was not feeling well and Freddy would stand outside the theatre and try to sell the extra ticket. I really didn’t see what Freddy saw in her, but it was not my place to say anything. I saw Freddy quite a bit, and his relationship with Clara did not interfere with our friendship. Clara understood this, and one time she even said “That she would never come between my friendship with Freddy.” I said that “Nothing could ever come between our friendship” which I think took her aback, as I think she thought I would thank her or something for allowing our friendship to continue especially since Freddy was now living with her in her house in Queens. Freddy was a pretty passive sort of guy, he took after his father Henry in this way, and when I would get exasperated or annoyed with him over his passivity I would tell him “Don’t be a Henry.” He would giggle but Clara would get annoyed with me, and once even asked Freddy “Doesn’t it bother you when Ira Joel calls you Henry?” “No Freddy said”. You see Clara didn’t understand our secret language, which went back to our childhood, and my use of “Henry” was part of that secret language. It just went right over her head. Clara and me started to have issue problems, and I would see her less and less. My regard for her really took a nosedive when a terrible girl in one of his classes accused Freddy of “touching her breast”. Now I knew that this charge was ludicrous, and Freddy would never do such a crass and illegal thing, but the story took hold and was believed by the higher ups in his high school. Happily the girl could not prove this lie was true and nothing came of the charge, but Freddy decided to take an early retirement and get out of the dreadful situation. Clara was freaked out and worried that her private clients would get wind of it and not use her anymore. “What if it gets in the papers?” “I could lose my practice, my friends.” She suggested that he might have to move out. When Freddy told me this I was appalled by her lack of moral courage and forthrightness and my opinion of her hit a low. For better or worse Freddy stayed on in that dismal little house in Queens, and then shortly after that incident they decided to get married. I bought a new suit and went to the wedding even though I thought that their getting married was a bad idea. I hoped for the best and wished them lots of luck at the nice reception that was held in a restaurant that was situated in a park in Queens. I assumed that their marriage was ok, but trouble was brewing big time. One of the big problems between them was Clara’s use of the air conditioner. From early April till Late September the machine was turned on full blast and on high cold. This was very uncomfortable for Freddy who didn’t like air conditioning at all, but he was helpless to do anything because Clara would not budge on the subject. She was always hot, maybe it was because of her being overweight or maybe it was menopause setting in. In any case nightly arguments would ensue, with Freddy usually sleeping in the guestroom with the ac turned off and just a small fan blowing in the summer heat. When he told me about this I suggested he put on a sweatshirt or warmer pajamas, but Freddy would not budge so their relationship got worse and worse. One night after we had been to a movie and was having dinner he told me that Clara had left him a two page letter complaining about some of the things that he did that bothered her. Among them was his sloppiness, which I had to agree with as Freddy was a total slob, and his inability to make cole slaw the way Clara thought it should be done. Now this I thought was nuts and told him so. “And you know what else she did?” “I rented Fanny and Alexander the other night and in the middle of it, she got up said it was boring and left the room.” “That is definitely grounds for divorce,” I jokingly said. “Yes it is Freddy said.” And he was serious about it. The thing that Clara did not understand about Freddy was that he loved to do things. He used Manhattan like his private playground, he would always be on the go from museums to puppet shows, it didn’t matter, Freddy had a great interest and curiosity about anything and everything He would go to off-Broadway musicals about Ezra Pound, the Joffrey, opera, Paul Taylor, exhibitions at all the museums, bookstores, the botanical gardens, movies. You name it and he would want to go. But Clara could not care less about all the great cultural offerings New York had for us in the palm of her lovely hand. Freddy would say “But I want to share these things with my wife.” I would agree with him, but when on Saturdays or Sundays when Freddy would say to Clara, “let’s get tickets for Martha Graham” Clara would respond with “But why would I want to do that.” And that was her stock answer. Why would I want to do that or go there or see that. She would much rather stay at home all day with the three televisions going all at once and knit or cook or eat. This was finally getting to Freddy who would moan and groan to me every time I saw him. “You’ll put up with this until your unhappiness is so great that you just can’t take any more” I told him. “Yes you’re right.” And then finally after 2 years of an unhappy marriage Freddy and Clara agreed to get divorced. I don’t know if Clara is happier, but I do know that Freddy is.
Friday, September 15, 2006
In 1956 when I was 9 and my sister was 15 she started to have bad teeth problems. Her teeth started to rot and a terrible stench would emit from her mouth which fitted her personality perfectly. It was as if her festering, rotting teeth and smell was an outward sign of her inner self. She would be up all night screaming in pain, her chubby face swollen and streaked with tears. My mother would apply ice packs and shove aspirin down her throat, but I shed no tears for her. My mother’s much married cousin Ruthie, a pretty blonde blue eyed kleptomaniac and notorious shoplifter was once married to a dentist, a dapper man named Lou who it was whispered about in the family had ties to gangsters. Lou had his practice in the old Claridge Hotel on 44th st. in Times Square. The hotel had as a tenant for many years the huge Camel cigarette smoking man billboard which hung brightly on the side of the building that faced Times Square. So on most Saturdays during the spring and summer of 1956 we would get up early and me, my mother and mean girl would take the elevated subway near our apartment in Borough Park to the hotel where dapper Lou would yank, pull and somehow try to fix my sister’s lousy teeth. The Claridge Hotel like much of Times Square in the mid 50’s had seen better days, but for me it was exciting to enter a New York City Hotel, with its smells and busy bellboys and maids running here and there. Lou’s office was pretty high up and from one of the windows I could look down at the colorful teeming square and all those wonderful signs and movie theatres and although I couldn’t see the Camel man, I could see the smoke rings rising in the air. My mother and me would wait patiently in the waiting room, me looking at magazines, my mother smoking her Raleigh cigarettes and chatting up anyone who happened to be in the room with us. Since Lou’s practice was in Times Square many of his patients were in show biz. Now I use that term loosely, as most of them were down on their luck vaudevillians, 2nd rate bananas, aging showgirls and Joe Franklin regulars. In they would come with their stories about the good old days of The Ziegfeld Follies, Al Jolson and Major Bowles. I was transfixed. After the teeth my mother would take us to lunch usually to Hector’s Cafeteria which was around the corner. It was a spiffy 50’s looking place all Formica and marble with a long long gleaming aluminum counter to slide your trays on as you went down the line and picked out what you wanted to eat from the vast choices that were offered up. I used to love it when the man at the front of the restaurant would push something and out would fly a ticket with little prices all over it, which the server would punch when you made your food choices. They also had a free seltzer dispenser, which I thought was so great and much better than just plain water. My sister couldn’t eat much and better yet couldn’t talk much because of her teeth, but my mother and me sure digged in. Another restaurant I loved was the Maisel chain of eateries that were named after States. There were three located around Times Sq. and we would sometimes have lunch at the Californian or the Floridian. Each one was decorated with large sepia photo murals depicting cliché scenes of the state, and the menu of course featured food with cute names such as the Beverly Hills Berger, or the Floridian tuna salad. My favorite was their bacon and eggs that they served right in the frying pan, hot hot hot as it was brought to the table. My mom would light up a Raleigh and smile bright with pleasure seeing the happiness in my eyes as the waitress placed the steaming pan before me. This was a smile that I would see many times over the years, the smile that said “you are my favorite child, my beautiful boy.” I loved Times Square back then and I would walk from The Paramount to The Capitol dragging my mother and sometimes my sister along with me as I checked out all the theatres and what was showing. I loved the garish displays and wonderful signs & photos that were used to promote all the different films. I would love to see what would be the next attraction at the theatres as much as what was the current attraction and would register joy or disappointment if a coming film was not to my liking. By 1956 I had already seen several films in the movie palaces that lined the square, mostly with my uncle Natie. He took me to Radio City Music Hall for the first time where we saw “Friendly Persuasion” and to the Paramount to see “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” The biggest sign in Times Square was the one over the Astor and Victoria theatres and I couldn’t wait to see what the sign painters had come up with. I would stop and stare up at these huge pre pop art paintings with my eyes and mouth wide open. The place was teeming with movement and people and all the colorful lights and signs dazzled me, and undoubtly in some maybe obscure way influenced my art. Sometimes we would go to a movie. The movie tickets were usually freebees that someone had passed on to Lou who in turn passed them on to my mother. These were mostly for movies that I had no interest in seeing such as “Sign of The Pagan” which was playing at the Palace with 8 terrible acts of vaudeville. I wanted to go to Radio City or The Capitol to see Written On The Wind or “Baby Doll” at the Victoria which had a lurid big billboard painting that loomed over the theatre marquees and the square, but my mother wouldn’t pay the $2.00 ticket price these theatres wanted so we would wind up at the Palace. That these were “adult” movies never came into play with what my mother would allow me to see, as it was she who took me to see “The Bad Seed”, “I Want To Live”, “Anatomy Of A Murder” “Psycho” and many other so called “mature” movies. Howard could not believe that my mother would even let me see these films, let alone take me to see them as he was forbidden from even mentioning these movies in his house when his grandmother Molly was around, which was all the time, since she lived with them. We would then usually stop in at Woolworths or a Whelan’s where my mother would buy all sorts of junk mostly cosmetics and sometimes a souvenir for me to take back to Brooklyn. She would have to buy something for my sister also, because if she didn’t mean girl would throw a horrible temper tantrum on the subway going home, embarrassing my mother and me. These were usually fun days for me, but I knew the feeling would not last as I returned home to my tension filled childhood life.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Art World Aliens
In the early 70’s I became quite friendly with a married art couple. By art couple I mean they were involved in the arts and were involved in the New York art world. I first met Betty at a Gotham Book Mart publication party for a collection of poetry by The New York School of Poets. The New York School was a rather elastic group of young and old poets who because they lived and wrote in New York were generally arranged under this title. Anyway Betty came up to me and introduced herself. Short petite and somewhat attractive Betty was working at the time at The Museum of Modern Art back when it was an intimate and lovely place to look at great art, and not the shopping mall that it has become. Betty chatted me up, and I liked her right off the bat. She was a native New Yorker, and that alone endeared her to me. She spoke kindly about my sculpture and told me how much she liked the few pieces she had seen, and asked if she could come by my studio some time to see more. “Of course” I happily and rapidly replied. It wasn’t too often that someone would actually volunteer to visit my studio, and it usually took many phone calls and letters to get a gallery director to walk up the 3 flights of stairs to look at my stuff. Betty had just married a painter, it was her 2nd marriage and Billy’s 3rd. Billy was a 2nd generation abstract expressionist painter who had as the saying goes “missed the boat” because when Pop popped, all these young and not so young painters went down the toilet. They still painted and showed but the flash had gone out of their flashlights, and all they were left with were some candles that were quickly melting down. That’s the nature of art and certainly of the fickle New York art world. Both Betty and Billy were outgoing intelligent people and they had a nice townhouse in a very unfashionable part of town. Filled with art and books, Billy’s studio was on a floor by itself and it was said by some that Billy was on a floor by himself. Where Betty was assured and demure, Billy was hyper and insecure. He rarely would talk about his paintings and would rarely shown his work to visitors. Instead he talked non-stop about stuff and nonsense, and told the most inane jokes that made nobody laugh and caused Betty to look up to the ceiling with an exasperated look on her face. He stopped showing his paintings. Dinner parties at their house were always fun mainly because of the wide and sometimes wild mixture of guests. It was at one of their dinners that I met Donald Barthelme, Barney Newman & Irene Worth. All three was marvelous and I was so high from their company and conversation that I had trouble falling to sleep that night. I would always check out Betty & Billy’s impressive art collection whenever I would be at their place. It was not a large collection in scope or size, but there were some marvelous pieces nevertheless. All the pieces were drawings or small paintings, most, of which Billy had gotten by trade. There was a small Franz Kline drawing, a lovely little Cézanne sketch and works by Demuth, Hartley and Hopper. So you could imagine my delight when Billy asked if I would like to trade works. Of course I said yes, I picked out a small collage of his and gave him a pastel drawing of mine that he hung next to the Hartley. They also collected erotic art. This collection was in their bedroom, and stored in drawers in Billy’s studio. Sometimes they would let me look. It was also whispered that they were into threesomes and sometimes group sex. Once or twice Betty hinted that I would be more than welcomed to join in one of their “parties” but all I could do was blush and thank her kindly. They were both very sweet and kind to me and for my 30th birthday threw me a large party. There were lots of artists and presents but I had just broken up with “M” and was feeling a little blue. I invited “M” and he arrived sloshed, and immediately took center stage, which was ok with me, because by then I was bored with the whole thing, and decided to leave. The party was still going strong when I left and walked myself back home feeling sorry for myself. The next day I went back to their house to collect my loot and help clean up. One memorable Thanksgiving Betty and Billy invited me, “M”, “G” and Regina Dunk who was one of the drama critics for The Village Voice to share in the festive day with them. All was fine until Regina after a few glasses of wine started in about “how theatre in New York was controlled by the gay mafia.” Well let me just say that the fur started to fly and what we gave to Ms. Regina was not pretty. The irony of it all was that soon after Regina ran out of the closet and took up with a woman poet and the last anyone heard was that she was happily grounded in a brownstone in Park Slope with her amour and their daughter that Regina gave birth to with sperm donated from a safe and healthy gay male surrogate. Anyway the dinner was a disaster, and Billy got so angry that he left the table and stormed out into the night. We went on with the turkey but the night was ruined and we soon left. A few days later Betty called me rather worried because Billy had not returned home and she was more than out of her mind with fear and anger. “How could he do this to me.” “Did you check the hospitals? Did you call the police, what about his other friends & family?” I asked. Now I was getting worried. Days passed and then weeks. Suddenly Billy was gone for over a month, then 3 months went by and the police had no idea what had happened, as there was no body and no foul play that they could see. “He’s dead and that’s that” Betty screamed at me over the phone one night. “How else can you explain this disappearance” “Well maybe he’s hiding out someplace” I weakly offered.” Oh Ira Joel why would he go someplace to hide out” “I blame that bitch Regina” I said. “She freaked him out so bad that he ran away.” Betty cried a lot that month. Betty found out that she was pregnant. Then in April and out of the blue Billy reappeared. He showed up one night at their house looking, according to Betty a little tired. His hair had turned completely white and he had an odd rash on his face but otherwise he seemed fine. “Ok? Well where the fuck was he?” I asked. “Are you sitting down?” Betty said using that tired old cliché from way back when. “Yes I’m sitting down.” I really wasn’t but said I was. “Well here’s what Billy told me.” Betty said. “He was walking on the Brooklyn Bridge Thanksgiving night he just had to be alone for awhile when suddenly there was a bright flashing light and a large space ship or something like one was over his head, and then boom a loud noise and he was gone.” “What” “Come on Betty, give me a break,” “No No Ira Joel that’s what he told me, and I don’t know but I kinda believe him.” “Betty if you’re not careful you’re both going to be carted off to the funny farm.” Billy went on insisting that aliens from outer space had abducted him and they had done all sorts of weird tests on him. Quite a story I thought but I just couldn’t buy it. He stopped making art altogether and spent all his time and energy writing a book about his adventures with the aliens. He got it published and was on all the talk shows. Shortly after Betty and Billy got divorced and Betty gave birth to a cute baby girl.
The two wonderful drawings on this post were done by a street artist by the name of Joseph.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Oh Normandy Theatre Of My Youth
My father owned a luncheonette on New Utrecht Avenue in Borough Park Brooklyn that was located directly under the elevated subway. This long ugly avenue was and still is a dark and gloomy sort of street and not a ray of sunlight ever falls on it due to the noisy ugly dirty elevated train that hovers large over the street and blocks the days light. In the early 50’s there was a 2nd rate movie theatre called the Normandy that was across the street from my father’s store and the owner and manager a Mr. Harry Green would take his midday meal almost every day at the luncheonette. I recall him as a friendly kind man, but as a 4-year-old I didn’t quite take to him. I didn’t like the cologne that he used way too liberally and I found him to be scary even though he was a friendly kind man. The Normandy was a run down neighborhood movie theatre that showed mostly B & C movies and was no where as grand as the Loew’s 46th street that was a few blocks south on New Utrecht avenue or the less grand Boro Park that was a few blocks further south. But The Normandy was where my mother would deposit me when a babysitter was needed. The matronly matrons with their big flashlights would watch over me with nursemaid concern. With a bag of popcorn to eat and a favorite toy to hold I was a content little binkie more than happy to watch the strange shadows that talked and loomed large in front of my infant eyes. No doubt my love of films began here in the run down Normandy. The two films that stand out in my memory are “A Streetcar Named Desire” with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh and “Anna” that starred the beautiful Italian actress Silvana Mangano. I have a memory of having sat through “Streetcar” many many times, not because I wanted to, but that’s what was showing when my mother parked me in one of the normandy's shabby seats so she could work at the luncheonette. For many years I could not bare to watch this film. To my young mind the film was odd and strange. I mean who were these violent loud people and what were they doing in that gray dingy world that looked like nothing I had ever seen before in my very young life. The other film, Anna had a scene where Magnano sang (or was she dubbed) the title song, a song that I grew to love. My mother bought me the record, which I played over and over on my little green plastic record player. Many years later this scene turned up in Cinema Paradiso as one of the clips that the young boy sees in the Cinema named Paradiso. It was an intense sweet moment for me to see this musical number again, but when I mentioned it to my mother she had no memory of the film or the song that Mangano performed and I was disappointed that she forgot this seminal memory from my childhood. Later on Mr. Green sold the Normandy and it was turned into a factory that made some kind of leather goods, and it was at this time that I saw my first Puerto Ricans. They would bound down the el’s stairway every morning, the men were young and good looking, and the women were lovely and sweet. They seemed so happy to me, not at all what one would expect from workers on their way to an 8-hour shift in a leather goods factory. Come lunch hour they would pour out of the factory and jam into my father’s restaurant for their lunch. My father would pile the food high on their plates and the vapors from the steam tables would fill the air with nice food smells. It was crowded and noisy with their fast Spanish and loud laughter and as a young child I loved these Puerto Rican people. It was at this point in my young life that I became attracted to young good looking Puerto Rican men. My father was nice to them, even though he hated minorities including Jews, and they would kid and joke with him, which I think he enjoyed. He would come off gruff as usual, but these Puerto Ricans were so sweet and charming that even he was seduced by them. I had my favorites and to this day I can still conjure up their faces. One rainy day when I was about 11 I was introduced to my first glimpse of pornography by a young handsome Puerto Rican man who was sitting next to me at the counter. As I ate my yummy sandwich with one ear pointed in his direction to try to hear what he and a friend were talking about, he suddenly pulled out a small photo from his shirt pocket and in broken English asked if I wanted to see “something nice.” “Sure” I said and took a gander at the photo, which showed a woman spread out on a bed with a guy fucking her. I was shocked by the rawness and turned a beet red but I was also turned on by the sexy young Puerto Rican man sitting next to me and by the photo. I was still too young to masturbate, but that did not stop me of fantasizing about kissing the sexy young Puerto Rican man who sat next to me one rainy day in my father’s luncheonette.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
A few months ago I attended the 30th anniversary party for the rooms show that was the inguarual exhibition at P.S. 1, a renovated public school in Long Island city that is one of the premiere art spaces in the city. I was a bit hesitate about attending because I would be seeing artists and old friends that I haven’t seen if not in 30 years then close to it. For moral support I asked Howard to come with me, and being one who never says no to any invite to a social event, he of course readily agreed to come along. Alanna Heiss who was and still is the force behind P.S.1 organized the original exhibition and she was the first person I ran into upon arriving. Nice and warm if a little heavier than she was 30 years ago (who isn’t) she was the 1st to sign my catalog from the original show that I brought along so I could have some of the artists sign it. She wrote “All my love + you are just as good-looking.” Well that was a nice start I thought. The rooms show was comprised of unique installations using the various raw and unfinished spaces around the school by 78 artists. This was the group show of 1976. and if invited to be in it you were indeed part of a very select group. I have no idea how the choices were made, and indeed another whole show using a different group of 78 artists could easily have been made. My contribution was an installation comprising two of my sculptures in a small storage closed that had the door removed so people could look in. The walls and floor were painted white with many coats applied and I left the peeling green paint that ran around the top of the room alone as a nice contrast to the bright white of the walls and the floor. It was also very brightly lit. It took me over a week to do this piece and I was damn proud of it. The fun of taking part in the show was being around all the other artists and the nice camaraderie that was in the air. That in it self was unusual as a large group of artists in one place can be very ugly. At the reunion I saw some old friends and I was struck by how everyone had aged. I thought most of the women had aged very nicely with grace and dignity and many of the women who were good-looking 30 years ago were still beautiful to me. However that all changed when out of the corner of my eye I saw a very strange and somewhat scary looking woman walking around attracting a lot of attention. Thin and gaunt, her face had been lifted too many times and looked like a melting candle dripping over a piece of coffeecake. Her hair was bleached blonde, long and wavy. Way too blonde, long and wavy for a woman of her age which I thought to be around 70+ and her lips were so full of botox that they were practically down to her belly button. A horrible sight. I suddenly realized that this woman was Babs Modar, an artist who was at one time a rather close friend of mine. I finally found my voice and tried to be as friendly as possible, considering the fact that I hadn’t seen her in over 25 or so years and that our final meeting was less than friendly. Still nothing prepared me for the creature that stood before me. Clutching a book on her art in her bony hands, she showed it to me, and I thought that it was a vanity job, as one of the authors is a known hack who will write about any artist who pays him, and I just could not imagine any publisher wanting to do a book on the art of Babs Modar. I had first met her in 1969 when I moved in with “M” in his tiny apartment on Jane Street in Greenwich Village. “M’ decided to give a little gathering to introduce me to some of his more “interesting” friends and to show off his new 20 year old lover. Babs was there, all showy and blowzy trying as usual to be the center of attention Her mouth and sexual appetite was a big as the big sky country of Montana where she originally came from and she still she had a touch of the old Montana accent that would come out when she was drunk, which was most of the time. Sometimes she would get rigged up in cowgirl drag and pose for pictures to use on her art gallery show announcements. She looked ridiculous. Babs had been known as a pop artist (a poop artist is more like it) and had a bit of success with her campy kitschy 3-D painting sculptures of drum majorettes and athletes posed in very sexual situations. I never cared for them, and was amazed that any gallery would even show these horrors, but they did, and the critics usually bombed the work. When out in public and drinking she would be loud and vulgar and every so often at Max’s or St. Adrian’s when she had too much booze she would bound up on a table knocking over drinks and plates of food a cigarette dangling out of her bright red lipsticked lips, and scream that she was the greatest fucking artist in all of New York. Sometimes she would rip off her blouse and stand there on the tabletop only in her bra. A major embarrassment was Babs Modar. She was stridently anti-feminist, would lie about her age and would never list her date of birth on her resume. “I’m not political” she would proudly boast, but of course by saying she “wasn’t political” Babs was making a political statement. This was way too subtle a point for her small mind to comprehend. I just couldn’t understand “M”s attraction to this woman. I always found her work to be lazy, lousy and dumb. And as the years went on it got lousier, lazier and dumber. She would sleep with any male that could help her career and many that couldn’t thus she was nicknamed easy modar. She also adored younger men and she would sometimes turn up at art world functions with guys who looked like they were her sons. Did I mention that she was a major embarrassment? Her work in the early 70’s consisted of this ugly sponge like material that she started to use after she saw a show of Lannie Martin’s who was using the material in a much more interesting and exciting way. Lannie’s use of the material was visually splendid and smart. She had great ideas and was intelligent about art and could be very interesting when talking about her own work. Babs on the other hand was an idiot. She could barely put two sentences together and when she did they made no sense at all. She had no idea what her work was about or why she was using this very specialized material that Lannie had made her own. Where Lannie would use the material in new and unexpected ways, Babs would take the material and stuff it on in and around her rather pedestrian academic unexciting stiff drawings and then sit back all smug & cozy and think how great the work was. I thought it crap but didn’t say anything because she was close to “M” and she was helping him in his career as a performance artist. She was close friends with a crazy female poet who was unstable and who wound up one day sitting in her kitchen sink playing with her own feces. Babs had to have her committed to Bellevue. Another one of her close friends was this tiny nasty bitchy queen who started out as an art critic and somehow convinced the world that he was really an artist. A terrible person, I despised him right up to the day he died of AIDS. Once at an opening at the conservative Architectural League, Babs, “M” the crazy lady poet and the tiny nasty bitchy queen got so drunk that they took off all their clothes and got up on a table (These drunks loved their tables) and did a little nude dance. I was so appalled and embarrassed that I ran out of the place. Some years later Babs confessed to me that she never liked me and was only nice to me because of “M”.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Sunday, September 03, 2006
When I was in my sophomore year at New Utrecht High School I began taking art classes and it was there that I met Miriam Gold. She was tall and vivious. Outgoing and funny. Smart and attractive, but not beautiful. 1 year older than me, Miriam was to my 15-year-old vision of the world sophisticated and sexy. She smoked cigarettes and it was said among some that she also smoked something stronger than her Marlboro brand of smokes. She was also dating a college guy. I would sometimes visit her at the apartment she shared with her mother. Her father had run off with a teacher who taught at another high school in Brooklyn and had left them high and dry. Her bedroom was a collage. The walls were completely covered with images taken from magazines, newspapers her drawings, junk whatever. I loved it, but funny & odd when years later I mentioned the walls to her she had no idea what I was talking about. I used to tease her that my name was embedded in her name, just remove the extra “i” I would tell her. Her talent although minimal was determined and unwavering. She became the art editor of the yearbook, designed the senior button and was voted female artist of her graduating class. She was in a word unstoppable. And the only time that she was stopped dead in her tracks was when she went out for the cheerleading squad. She desperately wanted to be included in this very select group of Jewish Princesses and Mafia Madonna’s but simply put, she just wasn’t pretty enough. Sure she had spirit and enthusiasm and a great personality, but her nose which in later years she had fixed was too big, her legs too thin and she had no tits to speak of plus she looked terrible in short skirts. Hell I had a better chance of getting on the squad then she did, and sure enough she didn’t even make it past the first round of voting. I really hated most of those girls anyway, and thought Miriam was so much better then any of them. But even years later she would still bring up her abject humiliation and rejection at the hands of those girls. She never really got over it. The Pratt Institute was offering scholarships for their Saturday morning high school art program and it seemed that every art student in the city was going out for it including Miriam and me. Since I couldn’t afford a real portfolio my father in his impeccable incapable way made one for me out of two large pieces of cardboard that looked like shit but I took it anyway and filled it up with my best work and off I went to try out for the program. We both got in, and every Saturday morning we would meet sleepy eyed but excited on the platform of the el and make our way to the beautiful Pratt Institute campus. We both took commercial art courses, me for the practicality of it, her for the handsome student instructor who taught it. I still have some of the work I did there. We had to pick a letter and do interesting graphic interpretations using whatever letter we chose. I used the letter E. After class we would head down to Juniors where I would always order the two little burgers on onion rolls with fries and of course a Coke. Miriam ate light. These Saturdays were so important to me because they made me feel like an adult and it was really the first time that I had been told that I was talented and deserved some recognition and encouragement. Never mind the fact that I got out of my house for a few hours. I would have loved to go to Pratt after high school, but my grades were not good enough, it was going to be a junior college for me. After high school Miriam and me lost track of each other which is always the case isn’t it. But 10 or so years later I received a letter from her letting me know that she was in South Africa and had picked up an old Artforum and had seen a review of one of my exhibitions and how proud and pleased she was about my success as an artist. Then one day in the early 80’s I was attending the yearly College Art Association job placement zoo, and was taking a break on a chair outside one of the conference rooms, when suddenly I heard a familiar voice. It was Miriam and she greeted me as if we had just parted ways after our class at Pratt those many Saturday afternoons ago. She was there on business conducting interviews on behalf of the small college she taught at in New England. We promised to stay in touch and indeed we did for a while. I was amazed at how little she had changed with the exception of the new nose. Our talks over dinner always came back to sex, and she had no hesitation at all about discussing with me her most intimate sexual secrets and hang-ups told in the most vivid and explicit language that inevitably would bring a blush to my face. She had been married once for a short time, but now was divorced and making her way in the world of education and art. A few years later she was appointed the director of a small midwestern art institute and curated a large retrospective of my art in their unrestored 19th Century galleries. She later would appear in my life off and on, sending birthday cards, postcards and letters. Funny that although we now live not far from each other, we never get together, but she still sends me cards on my birthday.