I got my final (covid) exam in Bilbao and passed with flying color. I retraced my steps back through airports in Madrid then Lisbon on my way to New York City. After a late arrival, I chose to stay at the ultra swank TWA Hotel about 100 feet from JFK’s baggage claim. The hotel was absolutely posh and super comfortable. An overbearing retro 60’s jet set vibe permeated everything, but felt very welcoming. The next morning, after leisurely wandering through the halls, lounges and checking out TWA exhibits throughout, I headed across town to get to my place in the West Village for the rest of my stay.
An older man on the subway sat across from me – he wore a ‘NYC Vaccine Champion’ baseball cap that matched his bag. The bag was one of those plastic drawstring backpack things that is usually given away at corporate events or by beer companies outside sporting events, but always covered in corporate logos. He had on some thick pants, textured like his tortoise shell glasses. This NYC Vaccine Champion apparently had the utmost of confidence in the cleanliness and covid free environment of the subway as he sat there reading his Gore Vidal book with his legs crossed, not a care in the world.
New York’s my favorite city out there. After being on the road for the past few weeks, it felt even more relaxing to just chill out here. I did visit the big museums just to cap off the whole trip – Whitney, MOMA, the Met and the Guggenheim.
The Whitney had a small women in abstraction show that paled compared to Bilbao’s larger show. It also featured a big monotonous Jasper Johns show that is so big the other half of the show is in Philly. I last saw MOMA’s permanent collection when Halliburton somehow found some extra cash to pay for transportation and insurance to Houston while the Museum was being renovated. The expanded and expanded museum no longer follows the literal textbook walk through history, making things a bit more interesting in its hanging, and the museum itself is a huge labyrinth that feels much larger than I ever remembered.
The Met was fun and empty – it’s amazing how covid restrictions limits the amount of people in each gallery. The Guggenheim was an absolute dud. Kandinsky (not my favorite) filled the top spiraling floors. An arab woman painter who idolized Kandisnsky occupied the lower rooms. The building seemed quaint and dated when compared to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and the rest of the space was ‘Gillian Wearing Masks’ which wasn’ about covid masks, but a six floor exhibition of ‘masks we all wear everyday’. Spoiler alert, it started with photographs of people on the street and ended with her face photoshopped over all of their faces in a weird, off putting way.
With a thick touch of Yiddish corrupting his English syllables, the salesman exhorted the older couple sharing the sidewalk with him. “You are a gift to me. You are my neighbors, I am your neighbors. For you – a gift – normally $300, but for you – my neighbors – $150” I walked past before I found out if the couple bought the Christmas tree or not.
I’ve missed socializing and going out nights a lot during this trip. At one point in Bilbao I remember seeing a garrulous, larger sized business man (think Guttman from Maltese Falcon). He wasn’t wearing a mask, and strolled down the sidewalk. Nobody cared. He was holding court with friends or coworkers, telling stories and laughing with a beaming smile. I forgot how weird its been not seeing those interactions, especially overseas. Omicron has spread, seemingly one step behind all my travels. I’ve eaten outside more and more, or just got take out and hid away at night. I caught up on local tv where ever I was (Spain has some crazy shit).
But eventually, you just gotta go out. Unbothered by flights and customs and covid tests and quarantines, I walked over to the Comedy Cellar. I finally saw some live comedy for the first time in way too long. It was the most normal night out I’ve had in two years. I got in to the show after catching a break in the standby line. Five fantastic comedians tried out some new material and it was great and funny and everything was alive again. After the show I grabbed a couple of slices. Exhausted and buzzed and overjoyed, I headed back to my hotel room, thrilled by all the prospects of life.
A homeless man built an encampment under a tree on the edge of the sidewalk. He was hunched over, busily scuffling his way from the tree to his ‘camp’. It was hard not to be drawn in to the scene before me. I realized he was pouring out bird seed from a comically oversized 15-20 lb bag. He left behind a consistent 8” path with two hard right angles. This trail led a giant pack of hungry pigeons to his makeshift camp, namely, near an equally makeshift BBQ area? The real life Wile E. Coyote theatrics made me giggle. It was clear he has done this before.
While wandering through the city today, I was a good capitalist. I bought a new pair of Vans (golden orange!) on Fifth Avenue. Later on I stumbled into a pigment shop in midtown. I ended up buying a few colors to experiment with. Limited more by my at-this-point overfilled bags than limited by my imagination or desire, I grabbed a card for online orders. I even found an iridescent ‘magic’ pigment for some recent drawings to recreate those gasoline rainbows in oil slicks.
I’ve been masked up 12-14 hours a day for about four full weeks now. I got covid tested again this afternoon outside the Met in a tent on the sidewalk. Somehow I got my hands on a self-test kit from Chelsea Apothecary in case I don’t get my results soon. I’m leaving New York tomorrow so I can head north and visit my family for Christmas. I fully expect to destroy my shoulder throwing footballs to my nephews while there. I’ll head back to Kansas City just before the New Year. Enjoy all the holidays and I’ll catch up with everybody later!
Enjoy the holidays and stay healthy!