One More Layer Of Paint

Hello Everybody,

Sunset Park - Working class view of Manhattan.

Sunset Park – Working class view of Manhattan.

The other day, I was waiting for the R-train at the 36th Street stop in Brooklyn. The public schools had just let out, so the train platform was packed with kids. They would most certainly be getting off on the 45th, 53rd and 59th Street stops – I’ve witnessed this scholastic migration before. They are the children of the Latino-Asian neighborhood of Sunset Park. Many were 1st generation Americans – and many were a mix of both Chinese and Mexican ethnicity – two peoples, very far away in distance and cultural ideology, but somehow the union of the two seems to make perfect sense within the skin of one person.

But I will not refer to these kids as Chinese-Mexican Americans. I shall refer to them as Americans. It’s simpler. Besides, they were all wearing the skinny yet sagging jeans, wearing the Nike Air Jordans that are for some reason popular again. Hollister. Lucky Brand, etc. In fact, you can hardly see the Mexican and Chinese under all the American brands they were wearing, which were pobably made – ironically – in China or Mexico (To be fair, Hollister is made in Taiwan, but Luck Brand is, indeed, made in Mexico). Of course, each kid had an iphone plugged into their head. And just like other herds of afterschool kids all over the country, they were straight up hormone-frenzied and loud. Their voices echoed off the tunnel walls and into my ears. It’d been a long day and I was tired, so I stared off across the tunnel and tried to go somewhere far off in my mind.

As I attempted to escape, I noticed – across the tracks – what appeared to be many thick shards of broken pottery. At first, I thought someone had thrown a pot or vase across the tunnel. But then I looked up to see exposed concrete on the tower ceiling. Turns out a huge section of paint had peeled off and fallen to the tracks. The ceiling had been painted over so many times that the peelings were almost an inch thick. One layer after another was added to the ceiling. I thought, Gee, the ideal thing to do would’ve been to strip the ceiling, then add another layer. But that would be an undertaking too large to attempt in the subway tunnels of a city that never sleeps. Slap a coat on and move it down the line. New York City moves much too fast to stop and strip.

Teenage mating game, many layers of paint back.

Teenage mating game, many layers of paint back. Like, all the way back to the ’90s.

Behind me, one of the boys on the platform said something to one of the girls, causing her pack of bff’s to shreek loud enough to crack glass. I stared harder into the paint shards – pretended I could see each layer of paint. One layer, then another layer. One era, then another. Soon I was surrounded by Irish, Norwegian and Italian teenagers that were not just Irish, Italian, or Norwegian, but a mix of the three. Great Scott! I’d gone back in time, to when it was the kids of the Irish, Italian and Norwegian immigrants (working in the shipyards back in the early 20th century, when business was booming on Brooklyn’s side of New York Harbor) who played the New York subterranean afterschool mating game. Of course, it was only my imagination, so when the R-train arrived, I entered it completely sane and with the new horny American teenagers of Sunset park. Different era, different ethinic mix, but the same America – the boys will always say something to make the girls scream in Sunset Park.

I got home to my apartment in Bay Ridge – the neighborhood just south of Sunset Park. I picked up my guitar but ended up staring at the wall. My apartment is over 100 years old. It was one of the many apartment buildings built to house those Italian, Irish and Norwegian shipbuilders and their families.

My door, painted with years.

My door, painted with years.

It’s a great apartment, though the doorways lean one way, the floors lean another, sloppy plaster jobs are everywhere and if you poured a bottle of drano down the sink you’d probably annoint your downstairs neighbor with rusty water, destroying their confidence to ever drink from the faucet again. And, of course, layer upon layer of paint has been applied to the cielings and the walls. I thought, Gee, why don’t the owners just sand the apartments down at some point – take the time and do it right, so they don’t have to keep painting over it? Because, I answered myself – in a slightly castigating tone – this is New York. Time is money. When one goes out, another goes in. Truth was, when an owner takes the time and strips and renovates an apartment, the owner is doing so as to rent it out at market value. When that happens, it’s not as if one working class demographic moves out and another moves in. It’s more like the working class moves out to make room for the young white professional class. That is the only kind of renovation New York slows down for.

Gossamer and Bugs in sharing a rare, civil moment.

Gossamer and Bugs sharing a rare, civil moment.

I continued to stare at my wall with a kind of ex-ray vision – through the many layers of paint. Suddenly, I sat up and thought, again, Gee, is everything – the wall, the ceiling, you, me, Planet Earth, made of paint? Wait, was everything always only made paint? At that point, two things came to mind. One, was Gossamer, the hair monster in the old Looney Tunes cartoons. In one cartoon – after chasing Bugs Bunny around relentlessly – Bugs tricks Gossamer into getting a hair cut. After cutting and cutting and more cutting, all that remains of Gossamer are his white shoes. He was only hair to begin with. The second thought was of the Doobie Brothers. The Doobies started out cool, playing that slow-and-easy-on-the-8-track-get-in-the-back-seat-of-my-Dodge-Charger-and-love-the-one-you’re-with kind of blues. But a few short years go by and one day some half gray, half black haired dude is crooning – while fingering out a melody that he must’ve stolen from Captain and Tenille, on an electric organ – something about takin’ it to the streets?!?! It sounds nothing like them, but the dj says it’s the Doobie Brothers. Can that be? I guess so. The Doobie’s kept adding layer over layer to their sound, so many over a period of time that no one even noticed – until the metal hair bands came along and shinier, glitzier rockers wheeled the Doobies to the classic rock station. Just like the Doobies, New York changed. Like Gossamer, some of New York has disappeared. But when, exactly, did it go down? Just like anything else: It took a long time and then happened over night.

The Doobie Brothers. Typical, like all American mysteries - baffling at first, only realizing later that we saw it coming all along.

The Doobie Brothers. Typical, like all American mysteries – baffling at first, only realizing later that we saw it coming all along.

On Friday, I did some repair work to the bathroom of my dear friends’ – Janet and Chris – studio apartment in the East Village. Janet and Chris lived in the one room studio together for 20 years. Janet lived there for 10 years before that. They moved to a bigger place a few years ago, but they keep renewing the lease to the studio because it’s so cheap. They lend it to people now and then – they let me use it for a couple of weeks two years ago, when I needed a place. Every other apartment in the building has been renovated and rented at a much higher price to the 21st Century Work-From Home Or From A Hipster Cafe-Force. When Janet lets the lease go to her apartment, it will follow the same fate. But for now, they just needed a quick fix to make way for a fellow who will be visiting from Germany soon.

It was an easy gig, I just had to re-caulk around the bath tub, then slap a hot mix of plaster onto the ceiling. On one part of the ceiling, the paint had begun to peel, and there I was again, staring at more layers of paint. I cut away the peeled portion of the paint from the ceiling, and continued to look at it as I held it. I was holding decades of America in my hand – the two decades Chris and Janet lived there, then there was the layers of the tenants before them, during the 70’s, when the East Village was a herion infested and crime ridden dark shadow of Manhattan.

We, The People...

We, The People…

Then I looked up at the ceiling. It was so old I could easily press my hand through it, and reach into the time of the hippies who smoked mary-jane while they painted day-glo signs for whatever there was to protest. I could reach further back to the beatniks who played the bongos and took long drags off hop cigarettes, man, and and hid their reddening eyes behind cool black sunglasses, daddy-o. I could even – I was certain – go so far back and see a tired working man looking out the window with his daugher. He would be speaking Yiddish or Russian or German or Polish or wait, is it Ukranian?…to his little daughter who was crying, pointing out the window. The father smiled as he consoled her, and said, Oh no, my little malyshka, that is called an auto-mobile. I promise you it is not a dragon. Me? Oh no, I take the subway.

I felt as if I could pull the entire ceiling down – strip America down to its studs – with my bare hands. Then I could see where it was sagging, and shift things around a little so every part of the structure had equal support. Then I’d knock out all those internal walls we hide behind far too often and too easily and the only doors I’d install would be swinging doors. I’d give it a higher ceiling. It’d be an airy structure, with lots of room, lots of windows and sunlight. But if I did all that, I would then be a renovator, not a simple handy man.  That would mean I would have to buy insurance, which would mean I would have to incorporate myself as a company, which would mean the taxman would come knockin’ for more. All that red tape would take time and my plaster was hardening fast.  So I just spread it on the ceiling and let it dry. Then after sanding it, I – you guessed it – slapped a coat of paint on it, added yet another layer. There just wasn’t any time to fix it all.

Painted, strong.

Painted, strong.

Be well…

We Used To Swing, Really. Come On, I’ll Show Ya!

Hello Everyone,

Super Mario version of myself.

Super Mario version of myself.

The huge glob of white paint got bigger and bigger.  For a handful of nanoseconds, my entire world – excepting the glob of paint – stopped.  I might as well have been constructed of marble.  I couldn’t move.  Closer and closer, fell the huge glob of white paint.  I watched, unblinking.

Then…splat!  The huge glob of white paint landed square in my left eye.  My first thought was, OMG I’ve been blinded!  Well, it’s been a good run, seeing with two eyes.  I’ll get used to an eyepatch in time.

I dropped the paint roller and ran to the restroom.  All I could see out of the eye was white nothingness – no shapes, anything.  But as I nervously, frenetically washed out my eye, I realized I was not in any pain.  That calmed me a little and after a few washes I could make out shapes.  Like I was swimming in milk.  A few more washes later, I exited the bathroom with no more than a reddened eye.  Vision clear.  Back to work.

I’d been painting the ceiling of the storage room in my friend’s office.  But I wasn’t thinking of painting while I was painting.  I was thinking of curtains.  Huge white curtains, waving in the air rising and falling, peaceful like…and reminding me of…um…what?

Over the weekend, I attended Ann Hamilton’s “event of a thread” (purposely lower-cased) at The Armory in New York City.  The Armory is, well, an old armory that has been revitalized and specializes on presenting works of art on a grand scale.  “event of a thread” was – it closed on January 6th – definitely grand.  For $12, a body walked in to the sprawling space to find a huge white curtain rising and falling in the center of it.  At the top of the curtain, one could see a complex system of chains – running through pulleys and connected to each other by wire – connected other chains from which forty-two wooden swings hung.  Couples, pals, loners, but mostly children swung on the oversized swings, laughing, arguing, coughing, spreading the super flu.


View from the floor.

All the while, the curtain rose and fell, for the movement of the swings controlled the movement of the huge white curtain.  Under the curtain, lay an assorted group of paying customers.  My girlfriend and I watched them lay about under the curtain, waiting for our turn.  Then, as we lay there watching the curtain flow – amidst the rattle of pulleys, chains and voices – a type of peaceful, outdoor, drowsy peace fell over us.  At least, for a handful of nanoseconds.  After those nanoseconds, we were quite aware we were in a large room in a large city with many humans and a terrible overpopulation of pigeons.  Oh, and part of the exhibit featured caged homing pigeons that were to be released toward the end of the time your $12 afforded you to be there – shortly after a female opera singer sang an aria from a balcony high above.  There were a few other pieces to the exhibit, such as performers – dressed in a type of woolen robe – who said nothing but wrote on parchment incessantly as a mirror above them moved also to the rhythm of the swinging customers.  Paper bags lay about the floor, from which a random vocal recording played.  I could see how some might think the whole shebang was an act of genius – a work of art created by it’s audience to remind them of who they are and who they are with.  Not a bad experience for $12.  But since the audience did all the work, I am a little confused over the fact that “event of a thread” cost over a million dollars to put up (I did my research online, so forgive me if I am wrong on the number, though I did read that it cost as much as three million).  I also confess that I had a tough time reconciling the theatrical additions (robed scribes, opera singer, pigeons) to the practical function (swinging and curtain) of the exhibit, which left me feeling a bit out of the loop.

But I tried to be in that loop.  As I lay under the huge white curtain I thought, Oh, this exhibit reminds us of what it was like to swing on a swingset in a park – to laze about under the clothesline on the green green grass in the afternoon of a deliciously innocent childhood day.  I remember now, when we used to swing free and feel safe.  And, you – laying next to me -don’t you remember what it was like to be just plain happy to be alive?  To inherently know one is forever connected to the world, its wind and the movement of fellow humans? Before we had our head’s stuck in smartphones?  I had one foot in the loop, and was happy to have found footing – to be a part of the whole shebang.  Then we get up off the floor.  I took a look at the others still basking under the curtain.  Smartphones, smartphones, smartphones.  Eyes on the hand robots, fingers a tappin’ away, sending sweet nothings to their bff’s.  Of course, some were recording the curtain.  A keepsake, to remind them always of the curtain they filmed, while laying under it, next to other people who filmed it.

We then walked up and through the balcony.  Smartphones.  Texting.  Faces lit up by the antiseptic glow of the interworld that can’t reach out and harm you on a real street – a world that doesn’t offer you the pain of love, just the miserable safety from it.  I took a look below.  People of all ages swung, one hand holding the swing, the other a smartphone.  I drank it all in and started judging.  Then, of course, felt the urge to pull out my own smartphone.  And guess what, I did.  But I managed to put it away right after I saw there were no new noticications on my Facebook page.

We left the exhibit before the opera singer sang and the pigeons were released.  Believe me, I like opera, and I also believe pigeons have the right to exist.  I just had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to hear the singer amidst the idle chatter…and, whether a pigeon is trained to fly into a coupe at the other end of an armory or not, a pigeon still has to shit.


There are no accidents.

After cleaning my eye, I went back in and finished painting the ceiling.  Then I moved to the walls, which were to be painted gray – which reminded me of pigeons.  The wall paint was acryllic instead of latex, and if I got it in my eye chances are I would not be blogging right now.  I would probably be trying on eye-patches.  I needed to pay close attention this time around.  However, I was daydreaming again in no time.  I couldn’t tell you at all what I was daydreaming about, for I was dizzy as hell and seeing tracers due to the fumes of the paint.  But I forged on and finished the job.  That’s what an adult does.  And I did a good job, because if I don’t, I may not get another job.  You know how it goes.  You also know what it’s like to not have those responsibilities, even if only for the few seconds of childhood you can remember – those few seconds of wind and sun and purity.  That’s what “event of a thread” did for me – it reminded me of things I should always remember.

But the dizzy high soon gave way to intense anger.  My arms were tired, my neck was burned with soreness, I had a headache.  But I wasn’t mad at any of that.  I was mad at the Art world for supporting million dollar projects where an audiences members pay for to masturbate in front of each other.  I was mad because million dollar Art projects only lead to other million dollar Art projects for once the ceiling has been raised you have to keep  it raised or else the big money funding doesn’t come around next year.  I was mad because so much money gets wasted on a handful of “geniuses” while more and more artists -singers, dancers, painters, actors, musicians, chainsaw sculptors and glass blowers who just want the chance to do their thing, to make themselves known to others as artists – will remain in the shadows of the wall built around the world of artistic opportunity, constructed of capital and built by elitists.  I was mad because Art absolutely cannot cost 1 to 3 million dollars.  Art is not Wall Street, Art is not Capitalism.  Art is not the survival of the fittest.  Art – for the love of god – is a search, where we get up on our tippy toes, reach outside of our base human nature with hope and faith of touching on the divine.  Every now and then one of us does that, and he or she propels our species foward, closer to Love and Freedom and a little futher away from the Law of the Jungle.  Money does not do that.  Money keeps us in the Jungle.


Symphony of anger brough about by acryllic fume hallucination.

Damn, was I mad, so mad I had to take a break from painting.  During my break, I noticed a few thin areas on the wall, and realized getting mad on the clock leads to bad results which may factor in my getting the next job or not.  I stuck a sock in my brainmouth and went back to work.

I should take this time to tell you that my friend and his partner – whose storage space I was painting – run a gay porn production company.  They don’t make Art and they know it – just gay porn.  But gay porn is an honest business,  It denies not its direct relationship to capitalism and adheres to the dictates of it:  do whatever you gotta do to make a lot.  The business is booming.  And…

“It’s gotta be More and it’s gotta be Now,” my friend told me.  “The business moves so fast.  We have to keep topping what we’ve done, and it has to be up to date.  A movie that is a few years old is a dinosaur.”

I have to say I don’t know how the gay porn industry can top itself right now.  I’ve seen things.  Things I can’t explain – seen the body do things.  And I’ve only glanced at the covers.  I haven’t slid a dvd into the welcoming slot of a dvd player, found the play button which reveals the magic of the union.  I may never get the chance, because…


Successful business model in the Law of the Jungle.

“Of course,” friend continued, “the peep theatres and smut stores are closing down, one after the other.  Everything’s going online.  Most of our business comes from our website.  Pretty soon we won’t even bother with dvd’s.

What?!  Not hard copies of gay porn?!  Or, even straight porn, for that matter?!  Pretty soon we can only get it on the interweb?!  Hell, with the way it’s goin’, pretty soon we won’t even be having sex, the gays or the straights!  Well, maybe that makes sense.   Afterall, we have to be reminded of what it’s like to swing on an afternoon.  Humans are becoming a less active species, living more in a world in our head, accessed via our fingertips.  We may very well have to be reminded of what sex used to be like.  Sex – the ultimate act of pleasure.  Without it, no life, no ceilings to paint.

Hey, I didn't say I didn't enjoy it.  Come on, I'll show ya' how it's done.

Come on, I’ll show ya’ how it’s done.

But hey, I’m not self-righteous, I promise you I’m not.  I am a Capitalist, as much as I hate to admit it.  I am a Capitalist, simply by living in a Capitalist state.  Give me a million bucks and I’ll show you what sex used to be like.  Beats breaking my back painting ceilings.  Hell, for three million bucks and I’ll do it with a smile on my face.  Don’t worry, I’m harmless.  You won’t even have to come near me.  Just stream it on your smartphone.

To my fellow pornographic Capitalists reaching beyond his or her humanity for just the slightest possibility of touching the divine…be well.