Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cigarettes In Chelsea

I was spending the day in Chelsea. It was late spring of last year and it was a warm Saturday. There wasn’t much to see, but an old friend of mine had a show up, and it was the last weekend to see it so I made the trek from Brooklyn. It was very quiet that Saturday, maybe it was the heat, or the end of the season for art shows, but it was nice as I was pretty much alone on the streets. As I was about to go into the exhibition, I noticed across the street a woman sitting outside a gallery on a folding chair smoking a cigarette and looking despondent. I slowly recognized her. It was an artist who I vaguely knew but I didn’t like her or her work so I really wasn’t much interested in taking the easy walk across the street to see what she had been up to. She sat there as if she was the proprietor of some long lost little neighborhood store, maybe she sold fabrics or owned a candy store where she sold penny candies to the neighborhood children in a long lost lower eastside or my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. These old ladies and men would sit outside their little meager stores taking in some sun and air until a customer would walk past them entering into their cool dusty spaces to buy something. That’s what she reminded me of as I silently stood there with the sun glaring down on me watching her smoke her cigarettes. When someone came along and went into the gallery she would toss her cigarette down on the sidewalk and step on it as if in disgust with her dirty habit and follow the person in. I stood there fascinated. When the person would leave she would once again take her place on the chair light up another smoke and just stare. If she saw me watching her she didn’t show any signs of being watched. She was not a very good artist, her ability to get shows now and again came about because she was married to a minor but successful artist who I had a falling out with many years earlier. Because of our falling out, he kept me from getting some grants, prizes and residences and I knew that I would never get these grants, prizes and residences as long as he sat on the panels. I would have to wait until he either left the panels or dropped dead. She had no chin, and I often thought that her overweight husband who had several might give her one, talent he couldn’t share with her, because he had very little of his own to pass around. A couple went into the gallery and once again she took the cigarette from her mouth and tossed it on the sidewalk (there was quite a pile of these butts surrounding the chair) and followed them inside. I couldn’t understand why on this lovely Saturday afternoon she wasn’t in the Hamptons at their big house that his commissions had paid for instead of sitting out in the hot sun glaring and smoking, smoking and glaring. Her name had a stupid rhyme to it, and she had no chin, she was also somewhat overweight a matching pair, this husband and wife, like cheap salt and pepper shakers.  “Oh you should see their house in the Hampton’s” my friend Beverly told me one day as we sat eating sandwiches in Washington Square Park. I turned to her with a look of disgust on my face, which told her what I felt for this art world couple, and that she should drop the subject right away. After looking at my friends work my curiosity got the best of me, and I crossed the street and saw her looking at me, as if she knew who I was, but couldn’t place my face, which was fine with me. The gallery (which by the way is no longer there) was dim and the walls were hung with these lousy little drawings and paintings by her, all of them miserably uninteresting but I looked anyway, and soon I knew she was in the room with me, because of the stench of the cigarettes. I hate that smell especially since I gave up smoking nearly 20 years ago.  When I turned around there she was looking sad and despondent, and even more unattractive up close reeking of cigarettes. I didn’t even sign the guest book, I felt like I shouldn’t even be there, and felt her glaring eyes following me, so finally I had enough and left. The light and sun felt nice after the dark gallery and as I walked back down to 9th avenue I turned to look back and there she was sitting on her wooden chair smoking her cigarette and waiting for the next customer to enter her little shop.    


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