I recently had an opportunity to sit and talk with a local artist whose name automatically is mentioned when the discussion turns to the fluxus movement, a genre, or perhaps over-arching theme encompassing a range of largely performance-based arts that continues to have a certain panache forty years hence. It was an easy conversation to have, we of a similar age, a shared love of themes in art-making, and a passion for poker. I discovered in our conversation that he had also been one of the more prolific arts writers for the area some thirty years ago.
With such a pedigree and our budding camaraderie, I asked him what exhibits he had seen this month that he found interesting. His response was “None.”
“None?” Not that I was that surprised; yet, even in the worst months, I manage to find at least one show with enough merit to write a thousand words, and I pressed him with specific artists who had work up.
“Didn’t see it.” And after I had gone through my list with the answer being the same time and again, he clarified, “I don’t go out much anymore. The crowd is just a little too young and hip for me these days.”
Again, we had found common ground, the difference being that despite the demographic that perpetuates the mutually congratulatory, trendy scene, I feel a need to view the art that mutely sits along the periphery. I am present in support of the lonely and try to ignore the fact that I am only one of two people in the room with gray hair.
Now, I recognize flaws in the position I take here, because, depending on whether it is a solo exhibit or group show, there is at least one other person in the room who has a vested interest in the art being shown; yet, for that day, the attention still is focused away from the art. Plus, I will admit a little distraction myself on opening nights, for the youngsters often manage their best to outshine the bride. It is with this in mind that I make a point to schedule a second visit after the hullabaloo subsides.
So, when DW reminded me in a very specific monotone that we had to be present as early as 1030h to see the unveiling of a new video by an up-and-comer, it was with mixed emotions I tersely responded that I needed no reminder. What I needed was a cup of coffee.
We had stayed overnight in the city, which we are wont to do when cultural events run late. And the coffee I required would have normally been for the ride home had we not run into the art star the night before. When asked after his well-being and what he was up to, he told us about the next morning. After taking note that the conversation was not in the least bit reciprocal, and without consultation, I said we would attend, for I had yet to find inspiration for the month’s essay. My punishment the next morning, if you will, was to get dressed early enough to go out onto the streets and find coffee, and bring it back to the hotel room.
I knew that area of downtown well, and had my choice of coffee shops and cafes. So, when I found the line of those in need extending past the entrance at my first choice, I had but to walk thirty feet to another establishment with suitable joe. The line, perpendicular to the service counter, was only three deep, making me the fourth. I grabbed a local weekly newspaper and took my place.
Although I was scanning the arts section for something I might have missed, I was aware enough to know when I was second in line and looked up. What I had missed with my head in the paper was the shifting of the queue from what it had been when I first arrived. It now ran alongside the counter and was ten deep, and I was standing somewhat awkwardly outside of the line.
What followed is a bit hazy, for I still lacked that certain acuity that coffee provides of a morning, but I do remember making overtures to the guy who ostensibly was third in line and getting no reaction. However, the first in line, ready to place his order, plus the barista were both engaged in the small commotion, and I could tell by the look on the server that he was not buying my lobby. The customer in front, a gentleman younger than I but still older than anyone else in the shop, said to the room at large, “It’s okay, he’s my lover. What do you want to drink, Honey?”
Clearly a ruse to all observers; and whether or not it was meant to expedite matters with a certain compassion or embarrass the old fellow who was clearly out of his element (I will let the reader’s own disposition choose), it nevertheless allowed me to place my order for both a large coffee with an extra shot and a medium soy latte. I handed the guy a ten, took my coffees, thanked him, went out the door, tripped over the leash of a dog tied to a parking meter, and, although saving myself from the same fate, both beverages fell to the sidewalk.
Well, a little surge of adrenalin will go a long way, and sufficiently stoked myself, I knew enough to not return to the hotel room empty-handed, nor stand in the line from which I had just come and that was now sixteen deep, so I moved down the street and around the corner to the café my wife and I like and frequented nearly every time we are in town.
The host greeted me with a smile that said he recognized me, and in his Italian English asked, “What can I do for you, my friend?”
Seeing they he was busy and perhaps beyond patience myself, “Latte. Soy.” was my sole response.
“Ah, I have one just made, but the customer left without it. Here it is. No charge.”
Need I bother to relate what happened to the top half of the foamy contents when I sneezed?
DW was only half-pleased as well, but since the gallery was in a neighborhood away from downtown, a promised refill before hitting the road for home soothed and we headed out the door.
Portland prides itself on being bicycle-friendly.
(To be continued.)