At the American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, USA.
Try to ignore the issues with verb tense–these reflect unresolved narrative decisons in the longer form version and are not meant to imply that Olya exists on three different but simultaneous temporal planes, although now that I think on it….
Wake up at noon, legs trembling, back muscles slip-knotted, drawing tighter with every slight movement, something like arthritis in my elbows, arms weak. Cotton mouth—carefully, artfully extract my limbs from Olya’s—she’s sprawled like a squid across the mattress, a long-legged, mad, booth-tanned bleach blonde Czechoslovakian squid with maroon nail polish. But by the gods, if squids had legs like that the sea would be clogged with fishermen.
I should write that down, but I’m parched and bloated at the once, bloated and parched–parched to the point I’m not tempted to bury my face in her thigh and bite her awake—nearly tempted, I say. To the bathroom—mold and cobwebs, no heat, a garden hose duct-taped to the faucet, the shower curtain stapled to the ceiling in a gross approximation of those classy suspension showers that hang inside a vintage clawfoot tub.
I piss a gallon, bend down to suck cold, crisp water right from the tap. There’s no cup, but no problem: this is it, the ticket, the cure; it tastes like rust and chlorine, as good city water is supposed to taste. I pull back the window shade, let a shaft of daylight blaze into shadows, burn through my retina, skewer my brain. I see gray spires, yellow bridges, green heights.
That’s right: Pittsburgh.
Is that the dim future, waking each morning to hose down the fuselage and change fluids, hazily wondering where the hell yesterday left off?
Last night was the opening of the Andy Warhol Museum. We’d come out of the woods, drove three hours, gorged on goi cuon and mind-bending pho served up by a brusque, one-armed guy in a dismal Vietnamese joint across town, half expecting him to run us out of there two steps ahead of a waving cleaver, then drank ourselves silly at the Rosa Villa, last bulwark of the Genovese family, where the bartender kept passing out free rounds while shady guys filed in and out of a back room. Olya slides around on her bar stool like she’s Rita Hayward, crossing and recrossing those legs, blouse dropped down to there.
Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin on the juke box.
It’s almost too much. I feel like I ought to be in a suit, wingtips, a brazen necktie.
Each time Olya proclaims she was done drinking, the tender lays down another Rolling Rock, looks down her shirt, and she’d sigh, Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in! And take a long pull off the cold, green bottle.
At some point, we wandered outside and took our place near the front of a thousands-faced throng that backed at least two blocks down the street, possibly all the way to the horizon, where we lingered until the doors opened. Brand Knight found us shortly after, trolling the line like a Rocky Horror cast0ff, vintage black mod suit—narrow lapels, tapered pant legs, and a bright red bow tie.
He’s got wingtips, I notice, black and white patent leather tuxedo shoes polished to mirror-like reflectivity, mutton-chop sideburns neatly trimmed, long autumn straw hair pulled into a pony tail.
“Hello, loves!” He grabbed us by the elbows and pulled us out of line. “You hardly look like farmers at all.”
“Thanks, I suppose.” What to do but laugh? Olya in the black dress. Yep, that black dress, 4” heels, the stockings with seams down the back. I’ve gone with the blue-black sharkskin jacket and skinny black tie, both circa 1967, inherited from Uncle George but, luckily enough, presently on a fashion rebound.
Brand led us in through the back door, armed us with pilfered press passes, and pointed us to the freight elevator.
We were there until five in the morning, most of it a haze of soap boxes and mad Marilyn canvases, Giant Mao leering from the wall—communist maximus, the last grand Caesar–
In the room of Silver Clouds, white walls with a sky of bobbing chrome-like mylar balloons, Brand was telling us how the same artist made these balloons who had made the original peices for Warhol. I didn’t listen much, intent on trying to feel something from the images of the floating silver pillows. Max wandered by, muttering “art ou fromage” and Olya was carefully pushing on of a handful of the balloons which hovered below the ceiling, some chest high, some near the floor. Brand explained that they were still working on the best mixture of helium to oxygen, that all the balloons should be hovering around the ceiling.
A pack of feral adolescents giggled through, kicking and punching the clouds with fierce determination. Olya kicked the loudest of the bunch in the shin, hard, and hissed a stage whisper that drew every eye within earshot.
“Uciekaj! Pieprzony sączące infekcje psów świnia!”
The whole bunch of them skittered away.
“One of the balloons,” Brand continued, “floated out of the room, down the hall, and somehow ended up in one of the elevators. When the elevator was called down to the lobby, it’s doors opened and out floated the balloon.”
“The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” Max chanted, but quiet so that only I could hear him within the din of the opening night crowd.
An exhausting home-swim meet day on Saturday–six hours on my feet pimping hot dogs and haluski in the concessions stand when I should have been dozing off in the bleachers, snoring into a paperback novel. At least the night was tempered by an invitation to share dinner with some friends–sandwiches, beer, crinkle-cut french fries and left-over Christmas cookies–and enjoying their company and the company of their adorable young children…almost enough to make me consider…ah, no. Two is good, and the empty nest is still the better part of three years distant.
That’s the grace of small-town living–simple pleasures, easy friendships. Best of all, we woke up this morning and we decided to hit the road and run down to Pittsburgh–a 70 minute run from driveway to parking garage–for a visit to the Carnegie Museum, one of the many reasons
that I am so damned in love with this city. Afterwards, we made our usual stop at Lulu’s Noodles because it’s close to the museum, because it’s delicious, and because it’s cheap as hell and still fun.
It’s getting harder and harder to settle into those old favorites, however. Pittsburgh is exploding with young, creative people and the selection of bars and restaurants is expanding, seemingly exponentially. I’m not surprised, of course, I’ve loved going to the city since I was a kid, and I fell in love with it while living there for several years in the mid-90’s, but it’s rewarding to see that people are noticing. They’re a little late, of course–
it seems that a month hasn’t passed in several years without an article popping up here or there in which the author is fascinated, confused, and almost ashamed by his or her unexpected by emphatic adoration for a city they expected to find wreathed in industrial smoke and coated in rust covered by a thick coating of coal dust.