Saturday, August 26, 2006

Face On A Train

From the uptown A train last Thursday, between 59th street and 125th . . .

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Street Seen

This morning, sitting at the intersection of Broadway and Columbus, looking South . . .

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Allison, I know I should have more to say about this, but none of it feels interesting. It's one thing to realize that getting what you want is a scary thing; it's another to talk about it in a way that doesn't sound like self-pity from the deeply un-pitiable.

This post reminds me of what Lorne Michaels said about why Saturday Night Live goes on the air when it's supposed to. He said, essentially, that Saturday Night Live doesn't go on because the show's ready, it goes on because it's Saturday Night, it's eleven-thirty and all the camera's are pointed at the cast. Those people are nuts and insecure and they've done the best they can and it's time to go be looked at. And no matter how good they are, they're gonna have to do it again next week.

But still, it's Saturday Night Live, for God's sake.

When I was finishing my dissertation, Michael Barnes told me, "dissertations are not finished; they're abandoned." And he was so right. I handed that thing in and I haven't been able to look at it again since, but they call me Doctor Arthur now.

Actually, they don't. But I am.

And when I finish a drawing, it's hopefully the best one I've ever done. And the minute it's signed and the ink is dry, I'd better be working on another, because the only thing that really matters is the next one.

Thanks for the kind words, but I have another drawing to make.

And, at my core, I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. Except myself that that's true.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Outside the Fall Cafe, last week . . .

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Not Enough Smiles

I handed the sketch book to Jeff. He looked it over for a while before handing it back and said, "not enough smiles."


After Mom died, I would sit and stare at an empty page and begin my drawing with an inked-in grin. Joy followed and a lot of the drawings one finds in my earliest New York sketchbooks feature people dancing with arms out-stretched and poems about the sad mystery of hope and happiness. That's how I got by that first year; that's how I cheered myself up.


Years ago in Austin, I was at a SXSW show whose bill featured Iris DeMent, Loudon Wainwright III and Billy Bragg. That was the year that Rufus Wainwright came from nowhere and took the place by storm and I sat and watched his Dad self-destruct in a fit of self-loathing jealousy that made everyone in the room uncomfortable. Iris DeMent went on next and proceeded to have a prolonged anxiety attack in front of several hundred hushed strangers who collectively willed her to survive with a group-kindness I hope never to need.

I've never in my life seen performers in a more vulnerable place. It aches to remember it. It took Ms. DeMent the entire half-hour set to cross into the same time zone as "Comfortable" and by the time she just about was, they were telling her to leave.

My favorite Iris DeMent song then, and the one most everyone in that crowd knew best and was there to hear, is called "Let The Mystery Be" and it goes:

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say once you're gone you're gone forever, and some say you're gonna come back.
Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour if in sinful ways you lack.
Some say that they're comin' back in a garden, bunch of carrots and little sweet peas.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say they're goin' to a place called Glory and I ain't saying it ain't a fact.
But I've heard that I'm on the road to purgatory and I don't like the sound of that.
Well, I believe in love and I live my life accordingly.
But I choose to let the mystery be.

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.
I think I'll just let the mystery be. . . .


That night, Iris Dement looked out at us and sighed, "sometimes singing Let The Mystery Be just doesn't cut it . . . "

Billy Bragg was great.


A couple of times this week I've thought about that night and wondered what Ms. DeMent was going through. This week I've seen some people come right up to the edge of their faith in letting the mystery be and I've been right there with them. Summer can be like that. We're all still here, slogging away at this thing, praying someone will notice. And somewhere out on a beach in the Hamptons, another vodka and lemonade's being poured and an overworked star is being wished upon by the only people who managed to get out of this city far enough to get a clear view of the sky.


"Fair enough," I said to Jeff. I took the sketch-book and tucked it into my side-bag and we went to a back room devoid of air-conditioning on a hundred-degree day and watched the monologue with the other folks who didn't leave the city.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

From the archives . . .

A couple of years ago I was backstage at City Center drawing a black-marker mural on the wall by the stage door. It's a tradition at City Center that, every once in a while, large companies get a little wall space on which they can paint their name and the entire company can sign it. The General Manager of the Martha Graham Company had asked me if I would do a drawing that the company could sign and I ended up doing this really ornate, complicated thing which took two days to complete; I make everything hard, seriously what is my problem?

So there I was, drawing on the wall during the performance.

At intermission, the stage door opened and Karl Lagerfeld appeared, looking like the guy the word "imperious" had been waiting to describe. He was there because his friend, Andre Leon Talley was performing with the company. Andre is the "editor at large" for Vogue magazine and not usually prone to treading the boards with dancers, but there he was, doing the narration for The Owl and the Pussycat and Mr. Lagerfeld was coming back to pay his respects during the break.

Lagerfeld was dressed in velvet and wore a cravat; he sported a stiff collar which might have had its own zip code. His hair was white and his glasses were dark and he was holding a drink close to his body. He briefly acknowledged me as we were introduced and continued on his way upstairs, trailing behind an entourage of hangers-ons who snaked their way through the stage door and up the stairs behind him. It was only an illusion, I am sure, but it seemed to me that Lagerfeld was making his way back down the stairs and to his seat before the tail of the entourage had finished going up the stairs. It might have been the only time the last guy in his group actually got to look him in the face, passing him as he headed back out . . .

It was an impressive sight and it made me wish I had been wearing something other than jeans and a sweatshirt, but I guess we all have our style . . .

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Regular

I don't know what we looked like when we walked into the coffee shop that morning, but I know that we looked different than I normally look because normally it's Just Me and Just Me ain't "we" and Chris and Mo, the folks at the Fall Cafe, are used to serving Just Me. They've been making Just Me coffee and tea and oatmeal in the morning for the last several years. I'm what you might call a regular.

I introduced her and we decided to split a bagel. Well, she wasn't really hungry, just wanted a bit. The only jam they had was apricot and I don't like apricot, but she said she wanted some, so I ordered it on the side.

We sat, sipped our coffees and tried to figure out how to share The Onion while they toasted the bagel. When Chris announced the bagel was ready, I left her at the table and went to pick it up.

"Hey," Chris said, gesturing for me to lean in and listen up. "A few years ago, we made an institutional decision that jelly served on the side would not be served in a cute little espresso cup." I looked down at the plate he had prepared for us and found a perfectly toasted bagel with a demi-tasse loaded with jelly sitting next to it. "We're only doing this to make you look good."

When I brought it to her, I told her what Chris had said; it seemed the thing to do--exceptions were being made and it felt important that she should know.

I believe she was suitably impressed. I even tried a little of the apricot jam.

I still don't like it, but I like it more than I used to.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Yesterday I was walking down the street on my way to the Guggenheim with that glazed, "Why-Am-I-Out-In-This-Heat" look, when my eyes met the same look in the face of a woman walking in the opposite direction. Consciousness kicked in, a personal connection was established and we both realized we were staring into each other's hell. And then arrived that moment when you worry that some intrusion is ensuing, that the person is annoyed that you're staring at them. Because heat makes a person irritable, and New Yorkers are irritable by nature.

But we also know how to roll with the punches.

Soon after I first moved to NYC, seven long years ago, there was a massive, biblical rain storm. Some impossible amount of water poured down over the city in a one hour period during morning rush hour, flooding the train tunnels and the highways. It was as if a lake had appeared above the city and gravity had called it down for a rules-of-the-universe correction.

I turned on the TV to see what the hell was going on and I heard a guy, using the full weight of his New York accent, being interviewed three blocks from my apartment say, "Yeah, I'm driving up the FDR and I look out and the river is coming up over the road and before I know what's what, it's all around my car. And I jump out and manage to get up higher and I look and see my car's going into the river; it's swallowed by the river. But whatareyagonnadoaboutit?It'sNewYork."

And I thought, "Is 'whatareyagonnadoaboutit?It'sNewYork' an actual word?"

I had only lived in the city for about a month and hadn't yet been through terrorist attacks and blackouts and inexplicable train-waits and gridlock and protests and presidential visits and cab-rides and blizzards that dump two feet in a day and then disappear as if they had never been and dreams daily dying as fast as they're born and a million-million other things that I never even imagined could present themselves as a challenge to everything I thought I knew.

New York will bring home a Dylan lyric like "I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now." He lived here when he wrote it.

And so, as the woman and I passed each other, in our eyes-locked game of chicken, we simultaneously pulled out our "whatareyagonnadoabout it?It'sNewYork" smiles and melted the heat with a little warmth and moved on.