I send a bunch of postcards out inviting friends to my Rainbo show. I don’t expect most of them to come. After decades of doing this thing, I know to temper expectations. Whenever anyone shows up or even responds, it’s a happy surprise.
Lucy writes that she’ll come to mine if I come to hers. There’s a flyer attached to the email for something called the Deep Water Literary Festival in a town called Narrowsburg. After a couple more messages back and forth, I’ve talked myself into a weekend roadtrip.
The festival is dedicated to George Orwell and Lucy’s on a panel about city life with Down and Out in Paris and London as a nominal starting point. A local gallery is hosting a show of Lucy’s collages. Seems like enough reason for a twelve-hour drive. I borrow the audio version of Franzen’s latest epic of American family unhappiness, Crossroads, to ride shotgun.
I get to my motel before 9pm but by the time I settle in the only dinner option is McDonald’s. My next-door neighbor greets me on the second-floor landing with his cigarette hand. He’s got a lawn chair and overflowing ashtray by his door. He clearly lives here. My door doesn’t have a number. The clerk downstairs showed me the plastic and wood number sign that had fallen off during a recent repainting. Inside the room, the carpet is frankensteined from remainders and the bathroom light switch is covered with black electrical tape. The bargain rate I paid is well-deserved.
Early the next morning I drive the twelve miles to Narrowsburg. It’s a quaint two-street town on a dramatic drop to the Delaware River. There are boutiques, galleries, bistros, a coffeeshop, and a bookstore crammed ass to elbow on the little main street. At the end of the block is a granary Ernst and Hilla Becher might’ve designed. It’s all postcard-perfect and a lot unreal.
The coffeeshop where I eat breakfast wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyn or Wicker Park or Berlin or any other place where cultural appreciators gather. The view of the high-hung bridge into town from the patio is majestic.
My phone’s not getting any reception so I email Lucy to meet me at the gallery but spot her vaping on a bench halfway down the street. She’s unhappy not to’ve met any girls here and doesn’t feel confident she will. We catch up on what each is working on. Her book comes out in February and she’s bracing for an extensive promo campaign; I talk about the three consecutive art shows that start next week.
At the gallery—which is an old house just past the Becher granary—we look at her collages and talk about the challenges of framing. The rest of the walls are covered in naive and self-taught art, bric-a-brac, and the occasional contemporary picture. I wonder to myself whether it’s possible to make a living with such a place or if it’s a hobby to pass the time. The young man who opened it has only been here a year. He has plans and enthusiasm. I wish him luck.
The talk is a lot about COVID-time New York, as another of the panelists has just published a book about his experience of the city then. Beforehand, there’s a screening of a Jem Cohen short with Lucy narrating Orwell’s essay, “The Moon Under Water”, about the perfect but imaginary city tavern.
Lucy says she’s driving home after the artists’ dinner that evening and I decide there’s no reason for me to stay another night at my no-star motel. I load up on salami, cheese, mustard, and apple strudel at an old-fashioned German deli and hit the road back west.
Franzen’s suburban Chicago preacher and his miserable clan are just getting warmed up tormenting one another. They keep me company all the way home.
Mallory interviewed me about paint-by-numbers for her non-horror-movie podcast.
Go watch Ben Kingsley ham it up as Salvador Dalí.