Feeling an urgent need to share this “revelation” with others, I decided that even at the cost of knocking at the door of every art gallery in the country, I would not rest until I would get the exhibition. After all, I was not talking about some more or less successful pictures, but about important universal principles.
Northern Italy was considered to be more business-like than its southern counterpart, so I thought it best to start my search in Milan.
So much for it! No one even wanted to glance at my work.
I was staying at a place of a friend who as a young man belonged to the extreme left wing party called "The Fight Goes On!” In truth, the fight had ended long time ago - he and all his friends had settled down and forgotten about their youthful pranks. But now he felt like re-living the good old times.
He muttered, "I cannot see any more you trotting from gallery to gallery with that heavy folder stuffed with collages! Basta cosi !!! These works must be sold. I'll open an art gallery for you." And so he did.
LONG LIVE THE MONEY!
And so the fight went on- I awaited visitors with bated breath, eager to share with them universal principles of creative re-arrangement of leftovers. Alas, people who wandered into the art gallery rather reminded characters from Woody Allen's films; they themselves deserved to be exhibited as one-of-a-kind types.
An English mathematician idolized a plump woman who claimed to be an Indian Goddess; he followed her around the world and now was stuck in Milan, waiting for his Divinity's audience. A former drug addict, was so afraid of dirt, that he recognized only white color, dressed entirely in white and lived in an apartment where even the floor was painted white. An activist from the Red Brigades believed that the bourgeois society had destroyed sensuality on purpose; he was planning to revive it by publishing an experimental erotic magazine. Visitors of the gallery did not care about art in general, even less so were they interested in my collages.
Hoping that the article in the newspaper would attract people who loved art, I phoned every art critic in the city. At first, only one, the most famous, agreed to meet with me. He hastened to explain me the basics of art business, "Critics and gallery owners are interested only in earning big easy money. But you're in luck. You struck me here and here", he pointed to his pants and to his forehead. I flew out as a bullet from the room, unfortunately without saying a word. It all happened in the office of Milan’s main newspaper.
Similar scenes would repeat themselves with other art critics. Going to other meetings, I did not wash my hair, dressed in worn out, unfashionable clothes which hung on me like a bag, and did everything to make myself look as bad as possible so as not to distract attention from my collages. But it did not help.
In the end, I realized that all of it had nothing to do with me. The market was created by art critics and gallery owners, while the artist had to pay them in cash, or kind.Taking into consideration the unwritten rules of the game, it is amazing that eventually I did get some articles about my work.
Returning home, to Rome, I decided to give up money, comfort and respectability which were offered by art galleries, and opted to exhibit on the street. However, it turned out that one needed permission even to make the exhibition on the street at one's own risk. Nonetheless, one Sicilian friend miraculously procured me a show during a demonstration dedicated to the memory of the murdered Judge Falcone.
AND HERE IT WAS: A BREAK THROUGH!!!
In the middle of the empty square, where a few years ago Mafia blew up the incorruptible judge, stood my ten meter long mural-collage. Around it were parked trucks belonging to various television stations. People who came to the demonstration, looked with interest at the collage, and inquired why I exhibited on the street. Many spoke of their attempts to do something outside the system, discussed how to fight the bureaucracy, which hid behind the local mafia. Everything was very sincere, some people passionately argued, others listened with interest, everyone communicated heartily, it was so unlike the chit-chat of the art gallery crowd.
None of the TV staff were curious to know what the crowd was discussing, and why there was a huge painting in the square. Some of them were sleeping, some lazily drove away flies, some were flipping through fashion magazines.
I asked one journalist why the press ignored my installation. He showed me a plan where it was written what they should film. My name was not in the plan. Instead, when a politician - who was in the plan – arrived, journalists jumped up, surrounded him with a ring, jostling to get closer. Everything looked as dramatic as in the anti-Mafia movies. To the establishment, my show was a mistake, so it was politely ignored by the media.
I continued to exhibit my art work in the street whenever possible, unrolled my ten meter-long collage on the ground, and nailed it to the panel under the burning sun. The collage was fading from the sunlight, while I passionately explained the passersby's that they should not pollute their environment, and that they should make everything from leftovers - pictures, children's toys and costumes for the holidays. Smiling at my exaltation, they proceeded to the beach. There were bigger problems which they chose to ignore. Everyone knew that the only factory of the city, where many people worked, dumped radioactive garbage into the sea. To most of them, a good salary was by far more important than an unpolluted environment.
Crap was floating on the coastal strip, but that too did not seem to bother anyone. People knew that someone in the city government stole the money allocated for the sewer-pipe, so they had to be made shorter. No one did anything to change something. They were right to giggle at me- why was I fuming about the cleanliness of their sea, their town, their beach? …
When I was about to leave for Rome, suddenly I found a manager, Sicilian fellow nicknamed the "Brush". He was a hilariously funny little man, who came up to my knees. He had a huge, intimidating black mustache and a Napoleonic complex. “Brush” was an independently wealthy recently divorced man with nothing to do in life. My idea to teach children in the square, using as a background a huge collage, appeared to him as manna from Heaven.
He got busy. “Brush” and bureaucrats at the City Hall winked at each other, patted each other on the shoulder and chuckled; as a result out of nowhere, appeared both the money and all the necessary permissions for the exhibition and the art school on the square.
EVERYONE SEEMED HAPPY. Children enthusiastically made collages from plastic bags, as I taught them. We even arranged for their work to be exhibited on the boats of fishermen, their fathers and grandfathers. Now the fishermen's boats swam away with collages sparkling from sprays of seawater. The fishing fleet of the town suddenly acquired a childish doodle for a flag.
Showing off like a rooster, “Brush” started to enlighten tourist blondes on how the local authorities lost sleep worrying over the environment. Politically-correct northern maidens listened attentively to his stories about southerners' gigantic leaps in ecological thinking. Parents were happy to see their kids painting cardboard boxes. Usually, the children had amused themselves by cutting off cats’ tails, or by puncturing car tires.
This time my name was part of the plan; every five minutes, local radio and television broadcasted news about my environmental school in the square. They were now overly enthusiastic; it sounded like an alarm warning that foreign troops had invaded the country.
The idea of the ecological school in the street was appreciated even by the mayors of the neighboring towns. Rather than to install a costly water purifier, it was much cheaper to put a foreign girl in the square, surround her by happy children, and place a huge colorful collage as a backdrop. It was a great publicity stunt.
Invitations to exhibit rained down from all sides, and so did the money. But I began to realize that my "environmental art" was an adornment of a mega dump, hovering over a poisoned sea. In fact I was being used by the local Mafia. To be an air freshener in their John was not my aspiration. But it could not be the same everywhere. All people could not be like this!
Unfortunately, soon I was to be proven wrong. I realized it after I was invited to work as an artistic director for a Carnival in the nearby town. Initially, it looked like I finally got a possibility to realize my most fantastic ideas. However, once I signed the contract, I was informed that all the money allocated to the Carnival had already been used and all the sculptures had already been made. Instead, I was advised to relax, take a walk by the sea, visit the local museum ... This proposition was followed by incomprehensible hints and strange winks."Brush" was not around to translate it for me into comprehensible language.
A local artist, whom I befriended, explained to me afterwards that the Assessor for Culture, together with the town’s local TV station, had pocketed most of the budget allocated to create the Carnival. The meager remains were split up between the Best Sculpture award and the salary for the Carnival’s Artistic Director-me. Every year, old sculptures were repainted and passed off as new. Changes to this would upset virtually everyone . The time of Carnival was in reality a bitter squabble over the crumbs from their master's table. The rulers of the town, along with people's silent consent, stole their own town feast year after year.And again, nobody did anything to change things.
I had to face it-the true problem was not with which materials to make art, or where to exhibit paintings, but the general atmosphere of greed.
All of a sudden an invitation arrived from the business-like North to exhibit my works (the bigger, the better), so finally I could unite all forty square meters in one panel. I was offered the show on the premises where even administrators moved on bikes, it was that huge. The Director liked the video film about my work, and offered me half a pavilion during the industrial exhibition of paper products.
Usually spaces at the industrial exhibitions are rented for huge sums of money. But since their business was stalling,administration grabbed the magic wand: Art. Artists were given a free pavilion, the space was drowned in darkness; spotlights placed here and there, created in the pavilion an intimate atmosphere.
This was the first time I could put together all my collages into one gigantic mural. Even though I had made them in a small room, intuitively, everything blended perfectly together into one picture, forty meters long and four meters high in size. My collage looked like a picture of civilization which had fallen apart, and out of its chaotic remains, someone had hastily created a new world.
At that exhibition there were owners of factories and entire industries. I was showered with compliments, and the most incredible offers; I was offered just about anything except what every artist needs- money for one's work and new exhibitions.
The owner of the factory which produced luxurious watercolor paper, wanted me to become an artist representing their firm, to travel all over Europe, and teach children watercolor painting while advertising expensive paper produced by his factory. I never liked watercolor technique, was mediocre in using it, and all my work was a proof that expensive materials were not needed to make art.How did even occur to him to choose me for similar task?
An American mogul, the owner of many factories, wanted to buy my work, cut it into pieces, glue them on squares of wood for strength, and use it as a backdrop for a sculpture-fountain, which he had just purchased. But how could I agree-the fragility of the work was part of the message!
A local aristocrat-poet asked me to administer his castles and villas he had inherited from his father. He had decided that since I traveled a lot,and knew many people, I could help him sell the properties.
The Director of the Exhibition space drove me at breakneck speed around a huge ring, built on the roof of the building to test race cars, and showered me during the intervals with business proposals such as, "Bring all your printed illustrations, and we'll sell them as designs for glazed tiles in bathrooms. Rich people love to decorate bathrooms with uncommon designs. There is a huge market out there!"
The people at the show looked at my art as if it was a puzzling object which they wanted somehow to adapt to their needs. Naturally, no matter how much they tried, it remained a non-functional thing, which always characterised art.
No one understood that to me old magazines were but a tattered dress, Art was a Cinderella, while I was an aspiring fairy helping her get to the ball.
Such was the sticky past from which I was trying to wriggle out...
The sun and sky rocketed up as our plane plunged into the rain-swollen dark gray clouds. Finally, we were approaching New York. The descent was long, the airplane was shaking. At times it seemed that we entered a free fall, and were about to crash. Whenever we fell into an air pocket, my neighbor would clutch the rail seat and scream loudly, drowning out the roar of the engine. Nonetheless, we landed safely.
My guiding star, Rolando, was waiting at the airport. He warmly embraced me, and gave the key to his loft on the Lower East Side; his silent gesture was more eloquent than any greeting speech.
We became friends on the Internet, while plotting a revolution in art. He introduced himself as the Pope of Trash, and explained that he was trying to start up a religion of clowns, worshipers of Used Packages; he shared good news that "The Bible Of Trash" was ready, humorous ceremonies for all cases of life and death, too.
Rolando prophesized that soon theater performances would turn into street rituals. Personally, he was going to sacrifice the cars in the public places.
Like the severe priests of olden times, who accepted only most beautiful maidens, Rolando set the bar high. He was looking for the luxury cars in perfect conditions; the place of sacrifice was to be the Times Square in Manhattan.
At last I had found a true friend among the seven billion people of our overpopulated planet! It could not be otherwise,like attracts like, we were so similar!
I had just written a Manifesto of the Laughing Revolution, which explained how to turn everything around. Cars had to be turned into bushes on wheels. This way, the freeways at rush hour would look like softly creeping forests. Supermarkets would not sell new clothes anymore; they would compete with each other in convincing users to reutilize old clothes. Advertisements would claim that everything new was out of fashion. An unaltered dress would now be considered indecent. A suit without a patch would be seen as a total disgrace.
Religions would be merged with sports. People prayed in the air, flying on delta planes, while confessing at breakneck speeds. Cemeteries would become joyful places, with ephemeral tombs, while funeral mourners improvised fun funeral rites.
My Revolution needed only a few loyal companions and a headquarter. I was not joking. Moreover, I had no doubt that someone would gladly give me space and money to carry it out.
Unlike me, Rolando was surrounded by like-minded hordes of eccentrics, and they were all just waiting for a whistle to act. With delight, I read his descriptions of preacher Billy, who from the 70s of the last century till today, despite frequent arrests, was still singing his choir psalms "Stop Shopping!” in local shopping malls. Rolando eloquently described crazy Jimmy, who pasted over all the power poles of the East Village mosaic compositions from broken plates. Jimmy worked so quickly that Con Edison workers were unable to scrap off his mosaics, and eventually surrendered under his relentless pressure. Another one of Rolando's friends was an agricultural experimentalist Adam "Purple", who transported tons of earth and horse manure on his bike from Central Park to the abandoned yard of a burned-down building on the Lower East Side. On it Adam managed to grow his own Garden of Eden. This garden would later become an East Village legend .
This was just a small sample of Rolando's astonishing friends. In conclusion, His Garbage Holiness announced, "You're one of us, you must live among us. Come to New York! "
I felt that there was safety in numbers: my fantasies were going sour in my Italian isolation. That's why I decided to try my luck in America. Rolando proposed hospitality and even paid for the ticket; he had just received a large inheritance.
That's how I ended in New York.
It appered that I was in luck. I had a goal, a local friend, a comfortable accommodation in the East Village, and some pocket money. However, I stumbled upon an unexpected problem:
HIS HOLINESS THE TRASH POPE DID NOT COINCIDE WITH HIS INTERNET SELF-PORTRAIT!!!
For days he would lie on the couch with his arms stretched along his body, staring at the ceiling, as if he was a tomb statue of a Roman Catholic Church Cardinal. Once he woke up, Rolando corresponded with someone on the INTERNET.
We would drink tea and chat nicely together. Then he would inquire with curiosity about my adventures. Sometimes, he would make a flower from an aluminum tin, after which he would go to sleep again. The grandiose ideas which we had been discussing on the INTERNET, seemed to be parked in some unknown garage next to the imaginary luxury cars.
After a thousand and one tea drinking ceremonies, all of a sudden Rolando decided to read the burial of Christmas trees.
It appeared that Manhattan has been hit by a hurricane which left piles of timber on the sidewalk. The trees laid there like a silent reproach to capricious consumers, the residents of Manhattan.
It was decided that the clowns would pick up a discarded Christmas tree, carry it down the street with a farewell song, hoist a sapling on the garbage bin, decorate it with toys made from trash, and then stand under the tree to wail about its short-term demise. Rolando himself was going to don the garb of the Pope of Trash and with pathos tell passersby about the tragic fate of the tree.
He was militant. But then came the question: "Where to get the clowns?"
I had a red nose because of the flu (I had been rubbing it too hard while blowing my nose). Rolando looked at me attentively and decided that I would suit his needs. That's how was found one clown. After that, Rolando phoned all his friends and invited them to participate in the procession. As a result of long animated negotiations we were joined by one elderly woman all dressed in gray. She was as plain as a table salt; she did not even have a red nose like me.
We must have looked weird and suspicious. Three adults were dragging a Christmas tree along the street, for some reason hoisted it on top of a garbage bin, hung over it scraps of dirty serpentine and then circled aimlessly around, glancing into the eyes of passersby, as if hoping that someone would ask “What's up?”. Passersby looked away and hurried by. Rolando nervously telephoned his friends, and persistently invited them to join us. They preferred to stay in the warmth at home.
After this "action", I realized that even though Rolando was a big dreamer, to implement his ideas he needed a talented director and a practical manager.
I needed another Pope. But where would I get him?
The exuberantly creative world of Manhattan had also been a product of Rolando's vivid imagination.
Father Billy's calls to stop buying things no longer shocked anyone. "Purple" Adam did nothing; when asked about the Garden of Eden, his face darkened, and he answered, "The City destroyed my garden with bulldozers, it would have been better if they had rolled me into asphalt instead." Crazy Jimmy for months "restored" the same pole-fruit of his former passion. He bummed at the Astor place with his dog Jane, colorfully laying out tools around the cup with the inscription "alms."
My first impression of New York's "alternative" art scene was that of a withered, tired atmosphere created by priviledged people who lost all touch with reality.It was not new for me-Italian art scene was more or less the same.Much more interesting was an encounter with the broken social scene of Manhattan.
Rolando lived in a squat. Until then, all I knew about the illegally occupied homes in the United States had come from the left press, which described them as "last refuges of dreamers and losers." However, where lived Rolando, no one was poor, some residents had good wages; others had inherited a lot of money. Apart from Rolando, no one suffered from attacks of compassion. Probably many squats are home to poor artists, but in Manhattan it was a total fake.
Many years ago in this "squat “there was an exhibition entitled "My home is your home." Doors were opened to the "public." Artists of the entire neighborhood were invited to take part in the exhibition for free. Now the former manager, our neighbor, was selling catalogs of the exhibition for a lot of money, and gentlemen "squatters" were discussing how to turn the first floor into an art gallery, lease it, and take four thousand dollars in two weeks. Anticipating easy money, no one was worried about what to exhibit, not to even mention the poor. How all this reminded me of Italy! Was it worth to run away so far as to find the same thing in New York?
Not knowing where to go, I began to search for Laughing Revolutionaries in the “lair of the enemy”, in the Fine Arts galleries, and at parties in Soho’s luxury homes. Such places were the same all over: people would hit each other quickly like billiard balls, after which they would fly away at high speeds.
I ended completely alone in a great city.
Money quickly melted away, I had to earn something somewhere as soon as possible. A piece of paper in the laundry room in a clumsy handwriting announced that an artist needed an assistant. I immediately called him and made an appointment. Looking at me thoughtfully, my future "boss", Peter muttered, "Work here will not be hard, do not worry."
As a parody of my search to getting in contact with the right people, my "job" was to wait for work.
Peter would wander for hours through his huge loft looking for the right tools never finding what he was looking for. At the same time he would tell me funny stories from his life. The artist did not need help, not even a viewer. He needed a listener. Peter was so lonely that he was prepared to pay for it. A psychiatrist would have cost more anyhow.
I liked one of his stories. It was about a homosexual man who had rented Peter's loft for a month. The man had leaned Peter’s canvases upon each other, thus turning them into the walls of tents, placing beds inside, and renting it out to homosexual couples. When Peter returned from Paris, he disbanded the merry company, and even now he was shaking with rage at the thought of the adventurous loafers.
"But it's great!" - I protested. "He made your loft into a temporary artistic hotel, and invented a new way to exhibit paintings inside out! You could sell the "walls" to make a lot of money, and everyone would be happy! "
That was the end of my work, my comments had made me "overqualified".
Rolando once invited me to visit his studio: "You have to see this! There are twenty-four windows. My studio is located in the area where all of today’s creative people live. “Apartments in Manhattan are way too expensive for them.” he explained. I accepted Rolando's invitation with pleasure, hoping to finally meet with some of the"true ones".
It seemed as if the end of the world had happened there a few decades ago, and nothing had come in its turn. Everything was gloomy, gray and dirty. Piles of uncollected garbage lay on the streets. An elevated subway train, built a hundred years ago, flew over our head, shaking the air with a terrible noise.
The huge loft, where Rolando rented a corner, was divided into ten cells. They obviously did not belong to real artists. It was the first time I had met with the phenomenon of slamming. Seeking inspiration in the dramatic life of their penniless brothers, wealthy people rented studios in run-down areas. This lead to sharp increases in price, forcing "real" artists to move elsewhere.
Looking back, I thought, "So that's what New York is like now ... The art galleries exhibit garbage. Rich people patch themselves as artists. Homes spit out excess of food on the streets ... Is this all that there is here?"
The response poetically enigmatic, that's how Heaven usually speaks.
We came out of the studio. On a pile of old furniture and broken doors, stacked near the entrance, I noticed a toy angel with gold wings. Probably it had been thrown out from the local Spanish church. It had a pink face, a dress made of dark gold cloth, and bright gold wings. This lovely antique statue, contrasted with the concrete environment and grim asphalt.
I was glad to take it with me. "Not every day do you get the honor to welcome a homeless beautiful angel", I thought.
Seeing how lovingly I decorated a corner for my angel guest, Rolando grinned, coming as it seemed to me with a dubious conclusion:
- “Now that you have everything, you lack only a boyfriend.”
- “Why would I need him?” I asked with surprise - "Now I have a protector and friend!"
- “You'll see, said Rolando.”
Rolando was right, he appeared very soon. We met on the street, where else?
On the way to the next party, I asked the tall fellow with glasses who looked like an intellectual, how to find the necessary address. He was carrying a heavy bag of cycling postman on his shoulder, and in his hand was a guitar in a rough foam cover. He was named after St. Christopher, protector of all travelers.
“It's not far, but its better I'll take you there.” He said, instead of pointing the way.
Chatting on the way, Chris told me that he played in the evenings on the subway, and added as if by chance, that he slept on the Q train at night. I wanted to invite him to the party: the owner of the loft was writing the script for homeless musicians. But something told me that it was unlikely he would be received kindly. It’s one thing to interview a homeless musician in the cafe, with vicarious pleasure to describe his hard life, and make good money selling a scenario; it was another matter to invite a bum home.
Before parting, we stood at the door for nearly an hour, talking about the importance of human dignity and the absence of such all around us. The accusatory note with which began our duet continued throughout our novel, only its vector had changed with time.
Saying goodbye, Chris invited me to hear him play in the subway, and explained where to find him.
At the station, where he played, there were three lines. Every few minutes, the music was drowned out by the noise of the train, but then again it could be heard in between the clatter of the wheels. It looked like a man reading poetry, but his mouth would shut every couple of minutes.
I was impressed by his passion. He played ecstatically as if it was his last chance in life.
Instead of applause, I asked Chris:
“How can I help you?”
He thought about it, and then said: “I need a quiet place to reconstruct in memory my songs and to practice singing a couple of hours a day without interruption, and you should come and listen to me. I'm tired of playing for the wall. It's all I really need.”
“Is it not better if you ask for it yourself?”
“No”, he said, grinning. “I'm not a magician.”
Well, I have been a clown and the organizer of the revolution, now came the time to enroll into the wizards. I thought that one of the churches would give a fallen angel who is trying to get up, do some singing in a free room. Far from it!
The priests looked at me in surprise when I explained what a modest request seemed to me. However, after ten unsuccessful visits, one church had allowed us to train for two hours a day for a several weeks. Usually, they, like all the other churches, rented a room. But now there were no customers. Also now it was the Christmas season, and who knows, maybe the pastor was not sure that there was no God.
We got a room from 8 am to 10 am. It was a room adjacent to a kitchen stinking of sauerkraut. However, the order had been served; the room was quiet and warm. Nearby, behind a glass door, a fat cook cooked in a huge cauldron for the Church’s free soup kitchen. Often in the window one could see a flattened nose of a hungry bum waiting for his breakfast.
Chris came to rehearsals always on time, in any weather, in spite of snow and mud, chilled to the bone after spending a night on the train, with the precision of a Swiss clock. He kept his treasure, a handful of songs, wrapped in plastic, hermetically sealed with cellophane paper in a cycling postman’s bag, which was always with him.
He had long girly eyelashes; they tickled his lens glasses as he squinted trying to make out a hastily written stanza. With a weak voice that trembled like a candle flame in the wind, every morning, the Proletarian poet sang his songs for me. They were not the usual protest songs, which often covered literary inability by outrage. With haunting metaphors, Chris very clearly expressed the essence of the matter.
The songs were great, no doubt. But more importantly, his beautiful soul showed through his poetry! Chris lived for the people who lost all hope. He felt the pain of the disadvantaged deeper than his own, and maybe deeper than they did. He was ready to sacrifice everything for his girlfriend, despite her madness. He urged a friend not to give up to the routine of life, to throw all the amenities to risk and seek the unknown, the unusual. Chris was also a severe judge and warned the rich who had bought up everything, even the tears of his friends. He told them would have to come face to face with those people they had robbed.
In short, he loved Cinderella and her rags, as I did.
So finally I met with real creativity, but where and how!
After the rehearsal, we wandered through Manhattan and fantasized about the future. Chris was not only a musician but also an inventor. He told me he wanted to fix a tent on wheels, attach it to the bicycle, and use it to replace heavy trailers, which were used by millions of Americans today.
The house-tent, of which he dreamed of, was to be heated by solar panels, and its bike would be moved with help of wind or electric batteries. It could travel all over the world; it was going to be equally comfortable to live in cold and hot States. "I'll show you America, I'll steer, and you're just going to sit and watch!" Chris added, waving his hands and beaming with joy.
For the time being, the cycling postman's bag was his mobile home. There he kept all the necessary change of clothes for a week- socks, a couple of shirts, a thermos of water, thread, scissors, toothbrush, towel, and woolen mittens, which he was given by his mother. That's all that Chris had. But he did not want to have anything other than absolute necessities.
I found it touching that a homeless poet did not just dream of a comfortable home, but wanted to invent his own house.
We both came to New York in search of "a happy opportunity," but it turned out that we were it for each other. When Chris and I kissed under my broken umbrella in the pouring rain, I felt completely happy in the middle of huge city where everyone was in a hurry pursuing something. Having found what I was looking for unknowingly, I had nowhere to hurry. Then I would notice with surprise that my dreams, and our poverty, were completely irrelevant. Everything felt perfect.
"Now we are both are in a free fall, and there is no one to hold on to but each other," Chris said, laughing. Now I wanted to go on falling together into the abyss.
Rolando's smile melted when I told him that he had been right. I had gotten a boyfriend, and he was a homeless musician. First Rolando tried to laugh out the situation.
"Manhattan is full of creative singles, most of them are rich, you are not going to remain here a maiden for long, why such an odd choice?" Then he added seriously, "I see you in a couple with a famous artist of your age which will introduce you to collectors and critics. You always act extravagantly, but be careful: usually something is wrong if a person is homeless!", he warned me.
Despite this, I invited Chris to have a cup of tea to show him my "find", hoping to convince Rolando. It seemed to me that a couple of Chris's songs would make them best friends.
Pulling a guitar and bag, which emphasized his homelessness, Chris seemed awkward in a huge void loft, filled with fine china tea cups decorated with delicate patterns. Not trying to hide the hunger, he gulped down the cake, without paying attention to the ironic look of the host.
The conversation revolved around the lives of the homeless. Rolando asked Chris about the details, as if it was an interesting secular theme. After Rolando sighed and said: "I would like to live like this! Not to pay the rent, not to worry about money. All the time is yours ... Really, Manhattan today is a Mecca for the homeless. All is free: food, clothing, night shelters. It definitely is a carefree life, which has many advantages."
Chris said quietly, "Yes, but New York law prohibits to lie down on a bench or in a train station on a seat, even in the park on the grass. Consider how you would feel, if at any time you are tired and trying to lie down, someone would commanded you to “stand up!".
Chris said this at a time when Rolando was going to sprawl comfortably on the couch. The owner of the loft involuntarily froze when he heard the harsh decree of his guest. Chris looked at him in silence. Rolando looked stunned. He paused, calmed down, smiled faintly, and looking straight into the eyes of Chris, sprawled comfortably on the sofa, as if to confirm his superiority.
I could not understand what was happening. In the past Rolando often helped creative people, many of whom had even had mental problems.What happened this time? Rolando did not bother to explain. I did not bother to question him.
It was easy to make a choice between my two friends. In my eyes Chris was a suffering poet, who had donated all his comforts to bring his songs to the people. Rolando was rich and self-centered. Hurrying to severely condemn him, I forgot that this is the only person who was interested in my art. Now I did not have a guiding star ... but I had Chris.
While still in Italy, I asked one acquaintance, whether she considered me a friend. Of course, I was hoping to hear a simple "Yes."
“You're a character from a fairy tale, you're not real!”, she laughed.
“What do I have to do to become ‘real’?”
“All the inhabitants of the earth have shadows. You have to find a shadow for your stature.”
New York's gift was my shadow.
On that cold, rainy and windy autumn day it was the anniversary of the death of Rolando's mother. He had to travel to another city for a funeral. This was the first time Chris and I could be alone, so far we had met in noisy, brightly lit rooms or outdoors.
The loft was barely illuminated by the dim light from the window. When Chris came in, wet and shivering, I took a business tone, proposed him to take a hot shower and change his clothes for jeans and T-shirt I have prepared in advance.
He readily complied. Chris looked well-groomed; he washed every day in parts of the Public Library toilet. But for long, a shower had been an unattainable luxury for him. There was nobody to hurry him, so this took a lot of time.
Coming out of the shower, Chris exploded in an inspired dance, making strange, complicated pirouettes in the air. "I did not know that you could dance so well, this could be a great street performance", I exclaimed.
"No," he said, smiling shyly. "This is just for you! For you alone, don't you understand?"
When Chris undressed, I recoiled. He was superbly built; also he had been doing sports all his life. But now his whole body was covered with huge stains, obvious signs of homelessness, which looked like bruises or blows.
"This is the first time I can lie down since I came to Manhattan. Today marks exactly nine months," explained Chris. He slid down on the mattress slowly, cautiously, and, moaning, he was trying to find a position, which would cause the least amount of pain.
This love night somewhat resembled El Greco's painting "Descent from the Cross of Christ."
The next evening I was invited to an opening ceremony by Bernardo, a comely young man of uncertain employment. He always dressed stylishly and was often present at all the "cool" parties. When we met, I asked him what he was doing; Bernardo murmured: "All that has nothing to do with money."
"The same thing can be said about me," I laughed.
Bernardo was always hurrying to an opening of a new art exhibition, but he took the time to find out how I was doing. When I ran out of money, Bernardo began to bring me fruit as if by chance, or casually poke $ 20, explaining it this way: "If you are interested in something, go and see it, do not think about money. Remember, you are in New York; this city is full of possibilities. You cannot afford to miss your chance just because you did not have the money to buy a ticket."
I would have declined Bernardo's invitation to the opening of the exhibition. I had attended too many similar gatherings since my arrival in Manhattan. But I wanted Chris to taste "chic", have a glass of wine with the "cool" sandwich, dance and rub shoulders with the stylish crowd. When Bernardo saw me with a strange man, he did not have time to hide his surprise, but when I introduced Chris: "This is my friend," he smiled warmly, "Oh, good! Great that you brought him with you!”
As we walked to the subway after the party, Bernardo confessed to us that he slept in an office in exchange for administrative work, and invited us to visit him the next day after work, so I could call abroad to my parents free of charge.
Such an unusual "flat" could be in a normal business office. At the head was a well-known activist who devoted his life to the fight against one of the most powerful corporations in America; his "business" was to destroy their business.
A small desk lamp illuminated the room. The never-ending stream of car lights stretched across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was cozy and quiet. Chris curled in a ring directly on the carpet, like a kitten, and fell asleep. I and Bernardo fell silent, sadly and helplessly looking at him.
As if waking from a slumber, Bernardo whispered, "Of course, we must be careful that no one finds out that he is here. I'll let him in every night, that's all I can do."
It was a big step forward in the daily routine of Chris. He woke up to the good news: the end of nights embracing his guitar in the subway. The chain of Chris's homelessness was broken. His first aid had been offered by a fellow whose life situation was just as uncertain as his.
Soon they became friends. If Chris was found, Bernardo would also lose his home.
However, a break of homelessness for Chris did not last long. Bernardo came from a provincial town in search of an "opportunity". Very soon he started dating a woman who owned several design furniture shops. Bernardo informed me briefly on the INTERNET. "Excuse me for a good turn of events for me, but I will not sleep in the office today or in the near future. Try to find another place for Chris. Someone somewhere will help him!"
It is one thing to take a chance with temporary dwelling; it is another to risk moving up the social ladder. Such is New York friendship.
One again, Chris ended on the street.
Putting aside his usual politeness, Rolando categorically forbade me to bring anyone to his home. We could meet with Chris at the ground floor of the squat for a couple of hours in the "Gallery" - a large, empty space without heating. It was Christmas Eve, everything was closed. Nearby, on the facade of the "artistic" Hotel Chelsea there was hanging a sign between two balconies saying: "Bring back the bards to New York". It seemed a mockery to us.
On the way to our date, Chris got caught in the rain. He was shivering from the cold, and there was no place to warm up. Putting together a couple of chairs, I built a bed, he fell into my lap, and immediately fell into a deep sleep. It was very cold, but I tried not to stir so as not to wake him up.
It occurred to me that we resemble the "Pietà" by Michelangelo. I admired that statue many times in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, but I did not know how helpless and hopeless one could feel, holding in one's lap, the emaciated body of the one you love.
The next day, I called all fellow artists and activists I knew, trying to find a place for Chris at least for the Christmas holidays, and as a result realized that Bernardo's "someone" was me.
Half of the houses where Rolando lived were empty. The basement was full of old junk, and on the first floor, next to the gallery, there was a room where residents were keeping bicycles. It was dirty and cold, but the floor space was enough to leave Chris for the night. Just as Bernardo, I risked my housing arrangement if Chris was found out. I decided to hide him anyhow.
Ten days later, Chris was found by a squatter who was looking for something late at night in the room.
Well, we were in free fall.
"It seemed that the three of us will end up homeless," I whispered to my golden angel. "Do something, if you can, please!", and I put it in his hands of a tiny little doll with a guitar as a representative of my friend, I also found it on the street.
A ‘lucky’ break came through Jimmy, a mosaic artist. To survive the winter, he found a small room in Brooklyn. The owner of the house agreed to meet with me the same day. He did not ask for a report from a bank or a letter of recommendation from work, and we immediately made a deal.
Our new home was located in an area where the “real artists lived. The house was located around the corner from Rolando's studio. It was a tiny room with a double bed. Nothing else could fit there.
When I met Chris, I handed him the keys to our new home. He was amazed, but not happy. Seeing his reaction, the ridiculous idea flashed through my mind, that he would prefer to see me homeless as well. Trying to wake him up from stupor, I began to shake him: "You are no longer homeless! Are you not glad? "Chris hugged me, hiding his face and muttered, "Sweetie, I need to get used to it. Give me time."
Contrary to my expectations, life in Brooklyn with a talented poet was like a melody,jammed at the turn of a scratched record, while poverty was replayed for us with the same rough cuts every morning. There were fences, which were twined with barbed wire and dirty American flags, vomit of our drunken neighbor on the floor in the bathroom, mice crawling in the hallway, naked Jimmy, waving his hammer and threatening to kill everyone if he would not be treated respectfully....
When the house was heated, the battery roasted so that the room turned into a hot sauna, even the scourge of New York City- cockroaches and bugs could not stand it. In our kennel one could stay only with an open window. But the window was broken, so it either had to be closed or be left wide open. Normal room temperature was a luxury, so we slept in winter clothes in front of an open window, from which came an ice cold wind. I did not know how to fix windows and batteries, while my "inventor" did not want to do it.
I did not insist on him doing something against his will. It seemed to me that any person would need some time to recover from the long-term homelessness. But as time went on, Chris was doing less and less. It's as if by discharging a potentially explosive situation, I had dulled the halo of a martyr over his head. It appeared that homelessness was his true muse. Without it, Chris played guitar reluctantly and irregularly. He needed a free fall to dream, to love, to do anything.
I was baffled by what was happening. To achieve something in these conditions was like swimming with a heavy cobblestone tied to the legs.
In spite of this, I sometimes managed to get something. In those cases Chris froze with amazement which would turn into fussy excitement about a "lucky chance", after which he would spoil everything. It was hard to say what was worse, his total lack of faith in me or his ridiculous behavior when something was cooking. Here is one of such cases.
In the ‘70s, entire neighborhoods in New York City were burned down, and many "squats “came into existence. There were extensive free-land grabbing smart guys, who did not miss the opportunity to call these areas "public gardens". They would register the land in their name, surround it by fences, and hang big locks on the gates. Keys were only issued to friends.
In the best of cases, the owners dug up a few beds and grew flowers there, but most of the land remained unused. Owners spend all their efforts to ensure they legally held land, combined with communities, frequently gave interviews to the press, to collectively engage in demagoguery.
Quite by chance, I met with Angela, the owner of one of one such “gardens” in Harlem. It was nothing special: a patch of land with trampled grass, stunted tree and a small hut under it. All of it was fenced off by a high fence and barbed wire.
This scrap of unpaved land was not far from the Museum of Modern Art, that's why the place was priceless. One "big shot" began to think, how to "smoke out” the current owners and make space for paid parking. Angela had to simulate some activity so as to retain the garden. It had been too late to plant flowers, so she decided to hold an exhibition of paintings. This, too, was hardly enough to fend off the capitalist shark. So, I came up with a proposal to create the headquarters of the Laughing Revolution on this patch.
Angela obviously did not understand a word of my manifesto, but she liked me. She immediately proposed me to become the Artistic Director of the “garden”, allowing me to live in a hut. She was already handing me the key, but I asked her to give me time to discuss everything with Chris.
Chris was used to being driven from everywhere; to give up a patch of land in Manhattan seemed to him insane.
Choking with enthusiasm, he described to me how to install shields to reduce the noise of the street, where to the build stage, how to hook up the light and where he would sing in the evenings.
I listened to him dubiously and thought of our broken window and heater. Besides, I did not see where I could make a show of my collages, and to Chris it never occurred I might also need something. But most importantly, I did not want to cover up lies of an activist from Harlem. I had been through this with the Mafia in southern Italy.
While I hesitated "to be or not to be?", Angela called to ask for me to meet a local artist. He wanted to discuss participation in a future exhibition and wanted me to meet him at the corner of 120th Street and Broadway, where he was selling his art works. Absent-mindedly, I said that for now the picture could only be hung on the barbed wire fence, so there was no real hurry for us to meet. Angela immediately retreated, but Chris began to convince me that we should immediately go visit that local artist. He explained to me that the black residents of Harlem suffered from centuries of racism which is why white people always had to take the first step towards them to strongly emphasize their predisposition. I began to doubt whether he did not suck up to Angela, just in case, for fear of losing the place, but Chris insisted so strongly that I gave in to his requests, and we trudged to120th and Broadway.
At the specified corner, stood a huge fellow with the face of a gangster. He was selling lighters made in Taiwan. I introduced myself in a friendly manner, but he growled, "We do not need whites. We'll manage without you. I'll tear to pieces myself any stranger who tries to get into our garden. It belongs to the people of Harlem! "
Here was an opportunity for Chris to show tolerance towards the centuries of black suffering. But Chris did not want to lose ‘community garden’. Instead, he clenched his fist and got ready to fight. I had the two snarling men apart.
How did it happen that I had deviated so dramatically from my goal?
Unlike Rolando, who supported my most incredible ideas, Chris never really paid attention to what I did or wanted to do. My attempts to find a free space and create a true cultural center seemed a delirium to him. "In New York, every inch belongs to someone and is worth a lot of money. Why would anyone give you room to fool around?"
When I tried to discuss the manifesto of the Laughing Revolution, he interrupted me angrily, "Stop talking figuratively! If you want people to do something, you must say to them, "Here's the place, that's the length, that's the width. Dig a hole here, drive in the post there. Instead, you always explain yourself with poetic, complex, often incomprehensible images. "
Not to speak figuratively? A strange request, especially when it comes from the poet.
I would have fought, scratched and screamed, defending to death my right and ability to speak figuratively. But then, looking at everything through the distorting lens of compassion, I gave up without a fight.
Now we roamed Manhattan separately.
Rolando was right, this place had many weirdoes. But all of them, like the visitors of my first exhibition in Milan, were obsessed with their quirks. They were not suited to become my accomplices.
It was the height of fashion to take a bicycle taxi, a convertible carriage hitched to a heavy bike. I had a fancy to drive that cumbersome structure myself and persuaded a taxi driver to let me give him a ride around Manhattan. On his way, he told me with a sigh that he sleeps at night in a carriage taxi because he cannot afford to pay for two apartments.
“What's in the apartment, which you pay for and where is it located?”
“Sixty cats. The apartment costs me two thousand dollars a month, plus I pay a trustee for the care of the cats. My apartment is located in the capital, Washington. I used to live there, but lost my job and moved to New York. So my apartment is in one city and my work in another.”
Touched by the self-sacrificial love of a taxi driver, I suggested:
“Why not bring animals here and rent an apartment for instance, in Queens?"
“It is obvious that you do not have pets. "Grinned the taxi driver, cats have their habits, they know how to enter and exit a building. They will not be happy anywhere else!”
Changing the subject, which was too emotional for him, he inquired, what brought me to New York. I recited the Manifesto of the Laughing Revolution, and the taxi driver agreed that without something like that New York is doomed. While parting, he added, "Whenever you need a taxi, call me, I'll drive you with pleasure for free." After winning support of the masses, now I could count on an environmental free tour of the city …
Another eccentric, Shirley, was known throughout the city as an activist who protected century old trees in George Washington Park. For some reason, city government had decided they need to be cut them down. We met at a meeting in a progressive church, where people were unanimously protesting against the city government's decision. At the end, Shirley invited me to dinner:
“I live nearby, just around the corner.”
We climbed the steps of the old creaky stair, on the landing outside the door, Shirley said, "Wait for me here. My apartment is so packed with things that I can barely walk through it myself. "
Indeed, when Shirley opened the door, I saw boots, bags, cabinets, kitchen utensils; all of this was piled haphazardly on top of each other and resembled a surreal installation.
Instead, it was a real, though impenetrable, entry to human habitation.
Shirley quickly pulled out a couple of suitcases, and quickly began to shift and rearrange items. Free space was so small that she had no choice but to put things behind her, as if sealing herself within the chaos of her unhealthy attachment to objects.
After about half an hour, when I was already tired of waiting and was ready to leave, Shirley came with two plates of soup. The soup was excellent; she served it in unusually shaped elegant white plates. While we were eating, she described in detail the scene of social protest in New York.
It appeared that most protesters were rich idlers who got stuck with a certain topic. It was considered good taste to have a social hobby, where on a narrowly-defined topic one could dispose of neurasthenia. Someone defended cats, someone worried about the trees, someone had lost sleep over the rights of gays, and someone worried about melting glaciers.
Despite the unpromising beginning, we remained pleased with each other. The strangeness of dinners landing in front of the apartment without entrance appealed to my love of the bizarre. Shirley was also happy to find someone who was tolerant of her, to put it mildly, unusual serving of food. Later, she repeated her invitation to dinner a few times and I was always happy to join her. I was hoping that in the end she would invite me to dig in together into her mysterious space. This did not happen.
And here's another "gem" which I found. As I was walking down the street, a very tall, handsome black man in a fashionable gym suit approached me and asked for a dollar. I laughed:
“Watch out! I might come here, compete with you, and steal your work: I am running out of money myself.”
Beggar gallantly presented himself and pointed at the elegant bar:
“I usually eat here. Right now it is dinner time; let's eat together, my treat.”
“It looks insanely expensive. I thought you had no money?" I asked, bewildered by an unexpected turn of the conversation.
“Do not worry about the money; I'm the best panhandler in Manhattan! On a happy day I can earn up to $700,” he replied proudly, making me curious.
During the dinner, he explained that the key to "raising money" – is a dynamic look. "New Yorkers are always hurrying; they relate better to a man who looks like one of them. I remind them of their neighbor, a well fit guy who takes care of his health. They can relate to it, that’s why they are happy to give me money." He also talked about his dream to become a model, and explained that he came to New York on foot from the State of Louisiana, from the south, and could not find a job. So he had to beg.
While sharing the secrets of mastery and gossiping about the "stars" of New York beggars, my new friend claimed he was unanimously considered not just a rising star, but the brightest luminary in their constellation. In future, inviting me to the next trendy restaurant, he enthusiastically lectured about importance of a healthy diet for maintaining a dynamic lifestyle and proper body function.
I saw our dinners, as delicious anecdotes with a surreal flavor, until my friend showed me his refuge.
He slept in an INTERNET café in Chinatown. Inside were several rows of soft leather chairs set in front of computers, all the space was lit with subdued light. A lot of people slept there, while the owner pretended not to notice it. I realized in what poverty my "restaurant guide" was living in, he was a homeless man. He did not even have a kennel, as I had with Chris. Finally I understood that his invitation to dinner was a desperate attempt to restore his sense of dignity.
I felt deep shame. I was not much different from the visitors of galleries and luxurious parties. Like them, I looked at everything around me with curiosity, but did not feel the pain of others as my own. For the first time since my arrival in New York, I looked around attentively, and like Alice, crossed the forbidden line. I did not end up in Wonderland, but in a city, below the poverty line.
Exhausted people were sleeping in the subway trains. Its train posters suggested to citizens not to give money to the poor, but rather to donate to organizations which “really helped the poor."
Advertisements placed in every subway car, commanded: "If you see something wrong, tell us." I often noticed how police ordered haggard men to stand up for merely daring to stretch their legs off their seats. Citizens of the greatest democracy in the world watched in silence or looked away.
As predicted Rolando, the street "happenings" were everywhere. Often one could see well-dressed, obviously newly homeless men lying on the ground, without previous respectability, in a kaleidoscope of blood and saliva.
Garbage Pope showed me where I could get great free bread. By law, at the end of the day, the bakery had to throw away any unsold bread. One bakery left it on the sidelines in transparent plastic bags. This allowed poor people, slowly, stealthily, to grab a loaf of bread before it would be appropriated by charities. Passersby walking past this scene often scolded them as if they were thieves.
The more I saw how the poor people were being "helped", the more I realized that helping the poor was actually a profitable and thriving business. Money, food and clothes, were never given directly to those in need, they were always distributed by rich intermediaries. Corruption was dictated by the process of donation. To get the things meant to throw away excess food. It was necessary to create a non-profit corporation, rent an office, and hire a staff of highly educated administrators. All of these were very expensive toys. The law obliged the professionals of the Bleeding Heart to pay generously for themselves, their employees, and only in the end, it were they allowed to remember the poor.
Trying to understand what was going on, I met with various activists. These people proclaimed interest in ecology, social justice and social changes. I noticed that all of them copied the same formula: to formulate the problem, write a grant proposal, get it, create a group to manage the grant, and then look for new ideas for other grants.
Corruption flourished thanks to general indifference to each other. "Ordinary people" who lived behind the closed doors of Manhattan apartment buildings, pretended not to notice that charity had become a mockery of that word. The rich were heartless with this "style". In the most exclusive areas of Manhattan, garbage was locked behind iron bars, elegant and bright brass locks on the garbage cans twice defended it against possible theft. This was understandable, the view of poverty upset owners of the mansions.
Alas, the homeless themselves often did not miss possibility to benefit from the suffering of their own kind.
I realized it through acquaintance with the “President of the homeless”. Colorful character, a former drug addict, he organized the poor in the legal team of beggars. Large inscription "donations" on the huge empty plastic bottle could be mistaken for a minimalist installation, arranged by Chelsea art gallery, if the person sitting behind the table, did not plead: "Help the homeless! Every penny is important! Change something!" From time to time, hurrying past, some passersby would throw 25 cents in a jar. Such inscriptions belonged to the "union of the homeless" and could be seen throughout Manhattan. They provided tables and bottles for begging in prominent places, and the poor as the "attorney of his organization" were not touched by the police.
With time, I learned that these "begging stations" were not free. At the end of the shift, every beggar had to hand over $15 to the bank of the organization, or risk being replaced by another the next day. But the "day" was in fact only a third of the day, called "turn". Three people had to use the jar every day by donating $45 to the organization, no matter how much or how little change had been collected that day.
"Penny for the homeless! A penny for the homeless, please! Even one penny is important!" could one often hear walking down the street. If you would count those pennies, really, they had quite a value. 300 tables, each with 3 shifts, brought together $45 dollars a day from each table, or 13,500 dollars a day from all tables, or $94,500 a week, and all this was not taxed and all went to the "union of the Organization of the Homeless."
They did not need my Laughing Revolution, and Chris was not interested in it either. Now he spent his time in search of a marijuana cigarette butts, they could be found in abundance in front of luxury hotels. It was his daily puff of happiness. Every second day he was playing guitar in the subway. He proudly came home with 15 dollars, laid out coins on the bed like a cat, emphasizing his hard work, placing a half-dead mouse at the feet of his master.
At night, we cuddled for warmth, often changing places near the broken window from which the icy wind was blowing.
Chris stared for hours in front of himself into the darkness. When I asked anxiously, "What happened?" He explained cryptically: "It seems that the wind whispers to me:" Remember, remember, remember...” Rather than join the wind's suggestion, knocked down by compassion, I did my best to make him forget about recent homelessness. Looking at me with a condescending smile, Chris would say, "You think you saved me from a life on the street? No, you saved me from a life without love.”
I felt stuck somewhere under the "E Minor”, while life sounds "sharp" and "flat".
"It's time to get out from the dead end of the impoverished bohemian life, otherwise how would you do something worthwhile?" said my old friend Tom, and invited me to join him on his farm.
Tom was famous for his books predicting the failure of industrial agriculture. When Tom earned a lot of money, he bought a huge plot of land, with several houses, barns, and a church in which he settled. Tom and his son had hoped to turn the land into an exemplary ecological farm.
The failure was guaranteed from the start: the son was talking to his father with contempt, and Tom almost fawned over him. Probably it was because Tom separated from his wife when his son was a toddler. The kid grew up without a father, and never forgave Tom for it.
Two years after the signing of the contract father and son could come to only one agreement - surrender their weapons to the neighbor so as not to shoot each other.
My arrival with Chris happened just after the break.
In spite of social inequality, it seemed to me that Chris and Tom were remarkably similar: both were from a "middle class” family, both grew up in a comfortable bourgeois suburb of Detroit, both traveled a lot, both were amazingly well-read and were extremely intolerant of social injustice.
Liberty, equality, human rights, dignity, were the main theme of their works. As for the rights of women, handicapped and minorities, Chris and Tom were ready to protect them indefinitely, foaming at the mouth.
It seemed to me that from now on the leading theme of the farm would be "building a wonderful ecological future."
We conveniently scattered throughout the spacious unconsecrated church that Tom used as a home. At my request, Tom gave Chris a huge room with an intricately carved ceiling and lancet windows, where he could sing and work on designs of his home set on a bicycle.
I chose a small room without windows, where there was only a table for the computer and started writing, putting earplugs next to me, so that nothing would distract me from work. The owner of the house was working in the spacious lobby at the ground floor; he was in a hurry to finish an article condemning the practice of Monsanto to sell castrated seeds to farmers. As I already mentioned, Tom was a progressive journalist and writer, in his work he was distinguished by extraordinary courage.
Everything was very comfortable. The three of us ate together, I cooked and cleaned. In the morning, Tom and I were planting seeds in the newly plowed earth in the garden. At noon, Tom got drunk alone. Chris spent all his free time on the INTERNET. There was no ping-ping of ideas, or long walks in the woods, or traveling. I was living with my best friend, my lover was beside me, but it was so sad that I wanted to howl like a wolf from loneliness.
The story that I was writing finished, but it remained lying on the table as an unnecessary piece of paper for a few weeks. In the evening, the two of them watched old movies, at night the two of us slept together. But now the former tenderness was replaced by neurotic sex, a vain attempt to restore peace after another quarrel.
Love died out like an aircraft engine. It was a free fall again, but now I had no one to hold on to.
A beautiful stranger, rural spring, offered me to make friends. But I felt bricked up alive in a stone church, where we lived.
When Tom worked as an editor, at the slightest opportunity he offered me a job for his magazine illustrations, which were always paid very well. Then, I lived in prosperity, but now I did not have a penny. Now, with a wink, my old friend explained that he had always believed in "biological diversity": to give work to beautiful women so as to enjoy their company. Continuing to develop the theme, he voluptuously described my amazing figure when I was younger. My sensitive lyricist and passionate advocate of honor in the songs, listened in silence to Tom’s “memories", lowering his eyes, like a nun.
In the past, Tom gladly invited me to the dinner, encouragingly saying: "Pile up, pile up, pile up!" and generously shared everything during my previous visits. Now, he suddenly announced that in order to save hot water, and not to wear down the pump, we should not take showers. To wipe one’s body with a wet towel soaked with water, was enough, in his opinion.
Chris followed the wealthy owner of the house everywhere, taking his side in every disagreement between us. To get close to Tom even more, he would get drunk in the evenings to the point of fainting. He had never drank before.
The worst thing was to find out that Chris had excellent reflexes; he wasted no time switching from a less profitable to a more profitable owner. I was wrong, suspecting that: "Alas, he is not looking for happiness ..."(Lermontov)- Chris loved Tom's house. The poor chap was turning inside out to keep the "happy opportunity" and finally settle down well. My reflexes were slow - I was still thinking about me and Chris as "we”...
It was clear that our "landing" on the farm will end in a terrible disaster.
The break came when I tried to organize a departure from the farm. It was not easy, Tom's house was located deep in the forest away from the road and, besides, and we did not have money to rent an apartment somewhere. I had to contact my relatives and explain the sudden arrival. I have told about my plans to Chris, warning him that he should not speak to Tom for the time being: our friend was behaving more and more obnoxiously. We were risking that he would get drunk, and simply throw us out from the house.
“I am not going to go anywhere, I'm happy here. If you have a complaint, discuss it with our Tom.”
“God be with you, what is there to discuss. Tom is not himself and it's going to end very badly if we do not say goodbye politely and as quickly as possible.”
“If you are dissatisfied with life here, get out immediately!”
After that, Chris ran to Tom, who was already drunk, and as a child telling his mother that his younger sister had eaten the jam; he told him, word for word, everything that I asked to be kept a secret. Tom seethed with rage.
“Are you unhappy here? Whose food do you eat? Whose house do you live in?”
“I was going to leave from here tomorrow morning. Or do you, like Chris, want me to go into the night?”
“Yeah, you go to Hell ...,” grunted Tom, and went to sleep.
Chris would not leave me alone. Following me around the house, he rumbled like a machine gun, and with bulging eyes, yelled that if I still had at least a modicum of honor, I would leave Tom's house immediately. Now he openly ridiculed all I had tried to do so far.
“Well, find a room for a fabulous idea, now it will come in handy! You are a princess who has run away from the castle. Did you think that poverty is a toy? I'd like to look at you, when you taste homeless!”
I tried to defend him:
“Now, we are equal, neither one of us has anywhere to go. But I do not suck up for a bowl of soup and a roof over my head. What's happening with you?”
Chris spat in my face.
The unrecognized homeless poet would not give up the privilege of severely judging the world around him, even a word of unpleasant truth about himself was unbearable to his ears.
Now, I would not stay until the morning even at a gunpoint. It was not about Chris or Tom. Free fall was over. I hit reality and was crushed by it. The location of the accident was covered only by question marks.
I grabbed my bike and rode into the night.
Where could I go, but back to Manhattan? According to Rolando that's where all dreamers and eccentrics met, according to Chris, all the outcasts. So I went back, both as a dreamer and an outcast.
For a while I was walking ahead by inertia.It was much more than a personal love story went sour, all my values were in question.
Since early childhood I have been taught to admire and fascilitate freedom foghters. But a close look at them in private life showed that there was little to admire. I could not help but ask myself if it was simply my unfortunate experience, or if freedom fighters in general are people who did not have a minute of honesty in their life and prefer to get upset with some "issue" rather than face their own shortcomings? Now I was inclined to think so.
As I was musing about philosophical questions and walking ahead aimlessly, I was approached by a young man, who asked me to make a donation to an association, which took care of a homeless shelter in the area. "Thank you! Today I am homeless myself. Where is your refuge?” I laughed, surprising both of us (I myself would not have thought to go to a shelter.). Since I did not get lost on the way to a party, but asked how to get to the shelter for the homeless, he did not accompany me, merely explained how to get there.
In front of the shelter’s entrance there were already about fifty people lined up. One man was only wearing pants; he was bare-chested, while the night was cold. Leaving my place in line, I ran to the guard who was blocking the entrance and demanded to find immediately a coat or a blanket for the naked man. Without lifting an eyebrow, the security guard contemptuously answered through his teeth, that it is not a policy of their organization to distribute clothing.
During our dispute, I looked inside the shelter. It was a huge room, brightly lit by the cold neon light. In the middle, there were rows of aluminum benches, similar to those used in airports. Along the walls, in the poses of SS officers - as portrayed in the Soviet cinema - were standing guards with tough criminal faces and bulging muscles.
Meanwhile, the line of exhausted people waiting in the rain increased. This gloomy scene took place in a square surrounded by skyscrapers full of luxurious condominiums. Clenching my fists, I exclaimed: "Is it possible that people who live in these homes, do not notice all this?"
"Of course, they do, but they are too busy trying to survive, they do not have time to deal with the problems of others. I myself live there."- Said a passerby quietly. Then he asked: "And what actually happened? I saw from a distance that you were arguing with the gatekeeper. "
I pointed to a half-naked man who had already turned blue, but did not leave his place in line, and explained to the passerby the problem. "I see," he said and vanished.
In less than five minutes, he returned with a warm sweater, gave it to the undressed chap. Again, he came up to me and asked, "Excuse my curiosity, what are you doing here?”
I calmed down and explained him that I was passing through, and wanted to spend the night somewhere inside before continuing my journey. He smiled understandingly and suggested: "Around the corner is a very good tea parlour, it is open twenty four hours a day, and there are huge sofas. To be honest, I cannot sleep, and since we met, let's spend the night somewhere talking."
Before, I would not have paid attention to such a man. He clearly did not keep 60 cats in Washington. He certainly had not slept in the subway train embracing a guitar for nine months, nor did he appear to be planning to sacrifice luxury cars. There was nothing extravagant about him. He was a well-dressed man with good manners, that's all. But now I did not have any plans, so I accepted his invitation for having nothing else to do.
A few minutes later, as if by magic, the environment had changed. Now, I was reclining on the soft velvet sofa, in a pose of a feasting Roman patrician; the muted light of a green vintage lampshade created coziness.
My new acquaintance sat across the table. When he took off his coat, I saw that he was wearing very rich and tasteful clothing. A stylish cell phone, a gold fountain pen, an elegant leather wallet and a notebook in a deluxe hardcover, in a well-rehearsed chorus announced that money was not his problem.
He obviously was not a fan of Father Billy and his psalms, "Stop Shopping"-inviting me to order whatever I wanted, he began to talk to someone on the phone, checking if everything was ready for an important event scheduled for tomorrow. Later, he explained to me that he owned a successful banquet business.
"It is ridiculous; I rent a tiny apartment in Manhattan, although I have a huge building in Queens, where I keep tables for banquets. I'm sick with a chronic lack of time; I cannot even leave Manhattan for half a day. But enough about me tell me what happened to you? "- he asked.
Omitting my love story, I told him how I tried to find a free space to create the headquarters of The Happy Revolution. Then I jumped up from the couch, and more to remind myself than him, I loudly and confidently recited the Manifesto of the Laughing Revolution, which explained how to reform everything.
The absence of Chris made itself felt, I was speaking again of my dreams in metaphors.
The businessman did not complain about the complex language of the Manifesto, nor did he wonder where to dig a hole and drive in posts, he simply took the key out, scribbled a few lines on a sheet of paper, and said casually, "This is the address of my warehouse in Queens. You will see, it's a huge space suitable for social events. You can also live there. There is a kitchen, a shower, and furniture. Do whatever you want. Unfortunately, I cannot accompany you. Night is almost over and in a couple of hours I have to be at work. I'll see you again someday, but it will not be soon. However, I am sure you will figure out everything perfectly without me. "
Oddly, when I stopped searching I got what I had been dreaming about without the slightest effort.
Now I could turn a huge warehouse into the headquarters of the Laughing Revolution, set up a studio there, exhibit my collages, provide the homeless and creative people of Manhattan with a place where to live, give leftist art a stage...
But reaching the goal, I realized that all this was not necessary, because the treasures are meaningless if there are no people with whom you want to share them.
"Let's talk again in metaphors, like before! It does not matter that it is complicated and sometimes unclear. The main thing, stay by me ..." I asked Heaven.
It listened to me in silence, its eyes stared Love, thoughtfully stirring something in my soul, pulling funny lips,it was cooling long before taking a sip.
A few years later...
Rolando developed the frenzied activity and organized a women's co-op in India for production of toys designed by him. He was helped to make a dent in Indian bureaucracy by the local chapter of the Communist Party, while he raised money to create a cooperative hanging out at parties in Manhattan.
Crazy Jimmy got a subsidized apartment in Manhattan, and still lives in it with his dog. University students made him a website, and now he earns well. No need to collect alms.
Bernardo's love affair with a rich lady artist soon ended, he found a crash pad in a different office. This time out the window of his “home”, in the yard, one could see a mental hospital. He told me, that it felt as if he personally went to hell. Poverty did him well, he again began to help the homeless.
Tom kicked Chris out from the house the next day after my departure. Many years later, he called me as if nothing had happened, and said that now he frequented a society called, "Alcoholics Anonymous" and had stopped drinking. It did not occur to him to apologize. He still continues to fight for organic vegetables and fruits, regularly writing devastating articles against Monsanto, and often giving interviews about the struggle of farmers with the bureaucracy, all while living alone in his church.
Chris became a star during Occupy. His flickering voice was strengthened by loudspeakers, and his accusatory songs were applauded by the crowds. He is now a respected activist who denounces wherever possible, the infamy of the American government. On his Facebook page, he has posted a Delacroix painting"Liberty leading the people", depicting a woman with a red banner on the barricade, calling for the poor to rebel.
I came back to myself to do what I have been doing from childhood: Art.