Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Consolation of Culture

     Yesterday, being one of the hardest days yet in a struggle to be an integrated human being in spite of what is going on in one's personal life, holding in what I would have to objectively characterize as 'rage,' sauced with confusion, I tried to return a Waterpik to the drugstore where I had bought it the night before, my old one having failed me, as serenity seemed to be doing. Waterpik, the mechanical flosser that had been my one constant besides friends who were trying to help me from slipping over the edge at horrendous goings-on both in my country and family life, had a customer service that instructed me on how to fix the old Waterpik, so I did.  Your whole history might be swirling down the drain, but you can't neglect your gums.
    So I went to drop off my bio to a friend who wants to get my musical on-- my biggest and constant fantasy, the reason I moved back to New York, as irrational a dream as Congress getting it together and the NRA losing its influence,-- and on the way, return the new Waterpik.  The woman behind the counter advised me that the box was not exactly how it had been when i bought it the day before, so said sh would not take it back, and I would have to mail it myself back to the company, when everyone knows the post offices are becoming inaccessible along with memories of its founder, Ben Franklin, and gave me a number of papers to fill out.  At that point I believe I shrieked into the stillness of the vitamin section; "I'M TRYING NOT TO HAVE A FUCKING BREAKDOWN HERE!"  So she proceeded to agree to send it herself, after what I believe was a brief round of stunned.
    All of life, I believe, is a struggle to keep things in balance, which of course in that moment I had lost.  Trekking through the Manhattan frigid, trying to restore myself, I saw a line of hundreds, ringing the entire block around the Museum of Modern Art, and asked what they were waiting for.  The answer, Free night.  Having recently renewed my membership, I went inside to see if a swing through creativity might not heal me. 
     My good friend Matisse had a few pieces that made me feel better, as they always do, Wyeth had a soother, and I said to a little girl of about eight who was studying her Iphone. that that she could carry with her always, but these paintings were only there for her eyes right now.  Her father translated what I had said into whatever language it was, so she put her toy down and looked at what hung on the walls. A teacher from Maine, Rebecca, thanked me, admiring the action but adding that some there might not have approved.  Like you care, when you're in a pitched battle to reaffirm that the world is a good place.
    Then I made it up to the big draw, Munch's THE SCREAM, which, as we all know even if we no longer subscribe to Time Magazine but cannot avoid seeing its cover, has become the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.  One hopes Van Gogh, who never sold a painting in his life, and his buddies if he really had any, have not heard about that in the Afterlife, if there is one.  The painting is framed in what appears to be a chintzy kind of wood, mostly for protection I would guess, with a shield that perhaps protects it from the flashes of people taking pictures.  The colors are bright, but not brilliant, as the painting, pained and agonized as is the expression of its subject, which I assume was not unlike mine in the drugstore, is not so moving as to make me wish I owned it, something I always feel with a Matisse.  
   But the one I really liked was the small black and white drawing of the same thing, on a wall in the corner.  And this one is labeled, I believe in the artist's own handwriting, 'GESCHREI.'   I cannot explain how much more powerful that word made it for me.  Centuries of my forebears calling out in anger, grief, disappointment, all the things that make up the human condition when it isn't about happiness.
    Then I sat in the museum's empty garden for a while, identifying with the man whose brass face half-buried lies in profile in the grass.  Finally becalmed, I made my way out, saluting the huge statue by Rodin of Balzac, who drank three hundred cups of coffee a day, which apparently made him smell, and probably accounts for his output.
     Remembering I hadn't eaten all day, except for my own insides, I went into a little restaurant on the sidestreet and ordered Thai, since theirs is the nature and nation that never allows for showing anger, no matter what is going on with your children, no matter how old they are.  Then I bought some roses, left one for the lady in the drugstore, and went home.