Sunday, May 04, 2014

Durgs and The Shiney Apple: Two Big Tall Tales

Durgs and The Shiney Apple: Two Big Tall Tales
It was about one year, exactly eleven months, before Phil Durgan (Durgs was my name for him) would slip into The Good Light that I headed into Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea in the Shiney Apple to spend time in the retrospective of the work of Basquiat. It was March of 2013. Happily, I was with sketchbook, and my dirty assortment of pencils and the Gag was not crowded.

There was room to really float in front of the work unhindered by any jostling. There was an extreme extra troop of security guards in the gallery. Because I was there so long they began to come over to see my sketches – one guard called over her colleague to see the latest, smudgy drawing.

I sat on the floor before some of the fifty pieces, for some I stood – and made drawings for hours. At some point I posted that I was there and Durgs replied nearly immediately. Knowing how much he absolutely loved and revered the work of Basquiat I felt a sense of responsibility to not only pay better attention to the details, but to share the experience that I was now having for two.

Reportage on the pieces in the show, some of the highlights, small details of some of my drawings were shuttled off to Buffalo. Admittedly, I had a little guilt that Durgs was the bigger Basquiat fan, he would have, undoubtedly, enjoyed it even more than I. The show was unforgettable, I had seen another Basquiat round-up in Rome a dozen or so years ago but this one was more delicious: in my revered Shiney Apple in the wide open white space of the Gagosian, and sharing the visions with his ardent and inspired fan, Phil.

This past winter (so the end of the Basquiat-at-Gagosian year cited above) I happened to overlap time in the Shiney Apple when Durgs and his beloved Ev were there. I realized this as I was trolling the internet when I was there, we hadn’t discussed any traveling plans so this was a serendipitous finding.

As they were obviously on a honeymoon of sorts, the absolute Joy of being together in such an amazing city, I didn’t connect to them and try to rendezvous anywhere. I’ve got strong Shiney Apple needs and have an ongoing Love of that city where I’ve been going since I was nineteen: it’s where I learn, hear my thoughts better in my head, where I got my Masters degree, where I’ve loved, and mourned the passing of my mentor this Spring. It’s where I have touchstone experiences at places and visiting certain arts and public spaces. I did not want to impose any of that on the loving couple.

Instead, I enjoyed seeing what they were doing, looking at, and posting. There was, as with all that Phil expressed, reverence, humility, and happiness. I realized in his posts that we had different agendas for our trips: he was heading into some jazz clubs, I was spending most of my time just walking and thinking and drawing.

One afternoon I happened to be walking up Lafayette Street and they were pretty close in a casual pizza and beer restaurant. Durgs and Ev posted about that, and I thought I’d breeze by and surprise them if they were still in there. I arrived at the corner place and peered in: they were gone on to another adventure but I smiled thinking of them hugging and loving each other in that gleaming joint.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Two Tragedy Anniversaries: Film and then Digital

Yours Truly just returned from a jaunt for a quarter-day to Orangeville, Ontario and wended back on Highway 25 and at one point marveled at the proximity of ducks floating amid chunks of ice on a picturesque rivulet.
Also marvel-worthy was that on this entire trip WBFO, the Middling City's National Public Radio outpost was available: whereas most times it evaporates into the air once one rounds a bend in the lake, it hung strong in the air.

On Highway 25 on the return trip there were stories afoot/a-air about today being the anniversary of Crash 3407 five years ago in Clarence, New York, and then about it being the anniversary of the burning of Little Harlem Hotel which once stood at 494 Michigan Avenue in Buffalo, New York.
I was friends with the final owners of Little Harlem, The Trammel Family, and heard of the fire and grabbed my camera and ran back to the site watching the water cannons soaking, unsuccessfully, the grease fire in the center of the building.
There were rivers of water flowing out the front door and I stood next to one of the Trammels and we both had tears running down our cheeks: Little Harlem was an incredible place even when I went there to see music and to sip and to dance in the 80's and 90's, well past its epochal past. But what had remained of Little Harlem was that it was a rare place that bridged the eastern and western sides of the city, everyone was welcomed there. And now it was gone.
I was lucky to have owned a jacket that was previously owned by Diane Montgomery, the club's owner. I had been at the estate liquidation with a friend and bid on probably the least-desired items in the sale: two wooden coat racks (one of which I still own). There were a bunch of invaluable articles of clothing on the racks and they were part of the deal. Underneath a lot of polyester and old and yellowed dry cleaning bags was the jacket. The large inside satin pocket was embroidered with a large DM.
Yours Truly lost this jacket in the black hole of moving in one of my several moves in the 80's and 90's.
So Little Harlem was gone, a glorious building of good vibes and Art Deco class.

Today is also the anniversary of the crash of Flight 3407, an inconceivable tragedy due to pilot error.
The night of that crash Yours Truly was photographing Donna Brazile, former adviser to Bill Clinton and many other Democratic candidates. She is now a highly-respected analyst.
She was speaking at University at Buffalo as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series there: I was making images of her with select members of the U.B. community in the green room, and then during her talk.

In the green room she was still shaken by her flight that afternoon, commenting again and again about it. I was struck by this and thought that surely she's had other bad flights.
When I left U.B. that night it was almost at the time of the crash, which was probably about four miles away as the crow flies, as they say.
I wonder if I would have hear that crash from that distance. The night was cold and clear, I stopped that night as I walked alone to my car to look out over the small ridge where before me was the man-made frozen lake on the campus.
Later that night, or the next morning everyone – and Donna Brazile – would know about the horrific crash.
I have always wondered how she felt upon hearing about 3407, her shaken self that unforgettable.

Photographs: We make, we save, we share.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Insignificant and Iconic Item that Made Me and Bruce Kurland Laugh Laugh Laugh

I count the days since he died.
It was a Wednesday.
Every Wednesday now I have a ritual of barely sleeping, waking at about 5:00 a.m. and rushing to the suburban big box gym where I sweat, pushing myself through pain.
December 11, 2013 was a day of glossy hard function; I made it through the day before I could hurry back to him.
I used a lot of Rescue Remedy–that day and many since.
The first time I walked into the low Hospice building on Maple Street in Buffalo's Fruit Belt neighborhood I stopped midway on the walkway to the door and thought 'There will be a moment when it will be the final time that I leave this building.'
I did not know that that first time would be the first time of six trips entering or exiting: he was there for five days, and I visited for three. 
One of his doctors, who is a friend, and his ex-wife contacted me that Sunday to let me know that he was in Hospice, they did not know themselves until he had been there for a day or so.
I was one of his two health care proxies, a position that I took on with a sense of protectiveness. And when he tried to thank me from his hospital bed during his two month-long stays for this role I always said that he did not need to thank me, that I know that he would do the same for me. And he would have. And we both knew that.
I replay what happened that Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday–it is all so clear and I know that it will remain so.
It was the conversation and the ferocious ILOVEYOU's on the telephone, the visit with the two of us talking for hours and laughing and apologizing and laughing and more Love (his final lucid conversation), the actively dying day of holding onto his hand and having a breakdown and speaking privately with a Hospice nurse at a dining room table about what was happening to his body, and the last day of quiet and nearly-silent breathing and talking to the others in the room who came in for their goodbyes.
And my goodbye with touches and words of Love.
I thanked him, I told him how much I love him, I said that I hoped that he wasn't afraid.
The visit on his final lucid day he said that he wanted it to be over with: something I had to respect, but which felt like a knife being plunged into my heart. We had talked a few other times about him letting go, about how his final two years of his five years of cancer were not about living but surviving.
When it was time to say fare well before he drifted away into the good light, the dying part of what was happening seemed such a part of life. From my perspective. The release.
I nearly drowned amid swells of water in Lake Erie one teenaged summer and, after struggling and gasping for air amid an undertow, was ready to let go as I was exhausted. It was peaceful and quiet but I heard a voice say that it wasn't my time and then I did not die. Because of that moment I imagined him having that same Peace after that series of groundswells that they call active dying in the Hospice world.
His last lucid night he said to me "All you can hope for is to be happy."
He wanted to know if I was happy, I know that he was hoping that I was happy.
I told him that I am happy. He asked about different people in my family by name, he wanted to know that everyone was alright.
All the days and weeks and months that he had been in a hospital room those last two years he always asked about others, maintaining an interest in others, a voracious learning mind still connecting to Life: an eternal inspiration.
The night that he died I needed to cook, to find order in something, to focus my mind on something that was familiar as my heart turned to gelatin, set with bright red chunks of pain. I sliced vegetables, I don't even recall what I cooked or if I ate anything. I doubt that I ate. The night that Brucey died he came to my house, his energy engulfed me as he made his way to the good light.
I believe he lingered for a while.
He came to me and said "Live, Live, Live."
His voice sounded serious, it was an order.
The next morning I left for an already-planned and paid-for trip to the Shiney Apple to see a performance at Park Avenue Armory.
The timing was perfect, to leave for two days to be in the city that we both love, to get swallowed up by Art, to make Art.
I add here that that Monday night, Lucid Monday, I thought that I wanted to talk with him, share with him, thoughts about being fifty, thoughts about aging. Him dying and me aging (but also dying) and needing his wit, always, to understand Life better, to have a perspective about everything that is funny, and wise, and useful, and real, and kind, and Artful. That was the scenario. That will, in part, be the scenario.
He would have said something funny and helpful about being this age and I'm straining still to hear his words. 
Today as I was organizing things in an area of my home where I have mementos – and mementos mori – I came upon this object pictured above. I have realized that there are pieces of him all over my house and in my life.
This object was acquired by him at a truck stop and I think maybe it may have been where he trooped off to buy cartons of cigarettes every month or so.
This plastic object is a lighter in the dual shape of a pager of yore, and also a more classy lighter. When flipped open there were once ultra-bright chaser lights that, upon first flip, were quite shocking.
There was a clock on the side that stopped working long ago.
We loved the absurdity of this object.
I can hear his uproarious laugh that I will miss (and need) the rest of my life.