I have no intention of getting on a plane ever again but a $300 credit from 2020 is about to expire so I book a flight to New York. I’d read in the Times about some Polish guy in Greenpoint running a video store/micro cinema and want to see it for myself.
I look up the schedule and pick a day when the little movie theater has a screening. Then I write to Steve at Quimby’s NYC to see if he needs a restock of my books and write Gil to see if he wants to meet up. MOMA has a little show centering around Matisse’s Red Studio painting.
New York doesn’t hold any huge significance for me anymore. It did when I was young because it might still have been the center of art and culture then. But that moment—when New York, or any other city—was a center of anything is long gone. Now it’s a place with some good museums, stores, and restaurants that I can be ready to leave within a day or two. It would be different if I’d logged more than six months as a resident, but I’m just a tourist there, and that’s a state that gets old fast.
The flight from Chicago is entirely unremarkable. I don’t miss being on a plane. Same wedged-in feeling as I remember from before the plague. LaGuardia’s fancied-up though. Looks like a contemporary shopping mall rather than a crappy construction site now. Bonkers to me that there’s still no train line to get there. But if there were, I’d miss one of my favorite parts of the commute, which is arriving at the Jackson Heights train station. Here is one of the few places where New York still feels like a real city rather than gourmet Disneyworld. Some day I’ll come here and just wander around. Skip Manhattan and Brooklyn altogether. But not this time. I have an itinerary.
The surprise of the Matisse show is that one of my all-time favorite paintings is there. I’ve probably spent as much time trying to make my pictures have illusionistic space and acknowledge their flatness at the same time, the way he does, as any other technical/compositional problem. But it’s not just the formal thing that attracts me. It may be corny or gauche now, but to be a guy sharing a small room with an unclothed woman, a large window overlooking the city, is as close to an ideal as I can come up with.
It’s sweltering when I reach the little video store on a residential corner in Greenpoint. There are no other customers but the guy behind the counter does little but grunt a greeting when I come in. I browse through his collection of obscure foreign cinema and extreme horror. When I ask about the movie screening at seven, he says, in as few words as possible, that he knows nothing about it. He’s rented out the theater to some kids. Ask them. I buy a box set of Penelope Spheeris’s Decline and Fall of Western Civilization and wait.
A couple sweaty randomly dressed people come in carrying boxes. They sell me a ticket, then nothing happens for a while. Eventually more young people filter in. They all know each other. It’s a celebration to premiere their movie. Bad Summer is a grubby low-budget story of aimless friends back in their home town for the summer, working shitty jobs and doing a bunch of drugs. One of them may or may not be a murderer. I loved it. Afterwards, I bought a cassette of the soundtrack and wandered out into the soupy night.
I spend Thursday morning at the Whitney. I sit in the café and check email, then spend some time drawing Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning—another all-time favorite. This one for the way it conveys both stillness and motion. An old man sits down next to me. He says something nice about my sketch but I tell him the point of it is just to slow me down, to stay and really look, rather than scanning and saving while walking by, as people mostly do in museums (and everywhere else).
I meet Mick at his record store and we go to Union Square on his lunch break. We talk about maybe collaborating on something: his writing, my drawing. I hope that happens. My afternoon flight has been canceled so I still have hours to kill. I walk downtown to the Angelika and see an interminable artsy dystopian fantasy, then go to Katz’s for a pastrami sandwich. I keep getting texts from the airline about delays.
By the time I get to LaGuarda around 9pm, the departure time is past 1am. We don’t take off till 2:30. I had no idea a flight could leave at that hour. The gate agent says they got a special dispensation from the Port Authority. I read the back half of a book I’m reviewing while I wait to get home. The cabbie at Midway pretends not to know where Archer Avenue is. I enlighten him.
Might be another three years till I get on a plane again. Might be never.