NEW YORK CITY: Art Ho in the City

Day dawned, and with it came the horrible revelation that the blizzard had arrived. Lenor was wrong and the city was coated in a layer of white, fluffy, satanic snow. I am completely opposed to this meteorological phenomenon. Clearly there’s nothing I can do about it but move to Egypt or somewhere similar, still anytime the stuff makes an appearance in my life, it makes a bad impression. I’ve never met a snowstorm that I liked. I’ve only wanted snow on about two occasions in my life, and I regretted both times. Instead of the heavy slush that accumulates in Iowa, the snow in New York City seemed lighter and almost sandy. I can’t really describe it adequately because I had no desire to waste my time in the frigid conditions studying ice crystals.

The blizzard was not nearly as severe as all the weather forecasters had predicted, but the fact that I had to suffer in this insufferable way was simply too much for me. Forlornly, I made my way to the little cafe in the lobby of the Jane Hotel. I glowered at the freshly painted walls, signed wistfully at the memory of the Café Gitane’s lost nearness, scowled when I was told that they didn’t have an espresso machine, haughtily accepted drip coffee, and took a seat beside the windows whilst waiting for overpriced avocado toast to arrive. I was insufferable. The toast was actually great. I love a seedy bread.

I sat for some time, staring out the window at the snow that still slowly fell and jumping with fright when a gust of wind knocked loose a monstrous chunk of snow from the tops of the apartment buildings and skyscrapers and gave the cozy streets of Chelsea another inch of snow to scoop away. I ordered another mediocre coffee, texted my friend about our meeting at MOMA, and finally worked up the courage to hit the streets.

But before I hit the town, whilst wrapping my chilled flesh in a cashmere scarf, I recalled something that the very wise Ru Paul André Charles mentioned on his fantastic podcast. If you don’t subscribe to What’s the Tee? you are doing yourself a tremendous disservice. Each week, Ru and his best friend, Michelle Visage, chat uproariously for an hour about nothing. It’s that great conversation you have with a real friend. That’s not the point of this little advertisement, though. Ru and Michelle talk constantly about an app called Today Tix. Download it. I will wait. Do you have it? It’s free. Go get it. Do you have it now? Really? Good. Today Tix is fabulous. You choose the city where you want to see a play, scroll through the listing, make your selection, and pay. Then thirty minutes before the doors open, a kindly person in a red coat will be waiting for you with the ticket. You sign for it, take your ticket, and live your best life. It’s fabulous. You needn’t struggle with calling the box office, waiting in line at a resellers, or wasting your ink by printing you own.

So, after giving up on my hat and throwing it to the side, I remembered the app and fired it up. Scrolling through, I was taken by a painting of two women that reminded me of Karl Lagerfeld’s fashion sketches. It looked as if it had been drawn with makeup, and it was beautiful, so I opened it up. Then I screamed. I scream a lot. It was a play in previews called War Paint starring the divine and inimitable Patti LuPone.

“Take all my money!” I giggled and secured a ticket for that night. I could NOT wait. Patti is one of my favorite voices in the theater. Now that I write that, I realize that she is my very favorite voice in the theater. I always prefer a cast recording with Ms. LuPone. She is the greatest Evita, the perfect Norma Desmond, and my preferred Mrs. Lovett. The fact that I would be seeing her that night warmed me up enough to propel me into the streets.

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It was damn cold.

And the snow was deeper than I had every imagined. I also had never imagined the impact of melting snow on expensive suede boots. What a fool I had been to wear them, but then I rallied. If I hadn’t worn them, the people of New York City wouldn’t have been able to see me in my fashionable glory. And that would have been a real shame. I’m a giver, you know, reader? I do what I can for society. I can’t yet be president, but I have no qualms about saying I’d do a better job than that horrible thing is doing right now. Let’s not go there, though. My suede boots began to darken from the toe back to the heel. I was worried, and I knew that it wasn’t good, but I wasn’t conscious of how big a deal it was yet at that innocent time.

After climbing through mountains of shoveled snow, dodging taxicabs, and getting unexpectedly lost in the newly white landscape, I found the subway. None of it made any sense. I hate that thing. But I found that the Maps app on the iPhone works tremendously well for public transportation. It literally tells you every single step to take. I was ecstatic.

In no time I was back in the big city and steps away from the Museum of Modern Art. I’ve never bothered going to this particular location in New York, since modern art makes me want to punch and jump out of a window, but I recently became aware that there is a hearty number of important impressionistic works housed at the museum. So I was down for a wander.

Apparently everybody in New York City had the exact same idea. The line snaked throughout the lobby, but blissfully it didn’t take long. In no time I was upstairs and in two seconds I was reunited with my bakery hoe, Sole-Daddy. Such fun to see her in such an unexpected spot. We had a riotous good time looking at the paintings.

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I learned something about my personal artistic appreciation that day. Whilst I loathe modern art from the depths of my heart, I quite appreciate the origins. Impressionism and Cubism and all that was rather fantastic.

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Once we get to nonsense like Pollack and Kunitz (SPELLING), though, consider me done. I have no interest in looking at a pile of styrofoam cups. I don’t care about mobiles with dangling pieces of cotton. I thought one of the pieces was actual garbage. I don’t like it when lumpy tubes hang from the walls, looking alarmingly like intestines. It’s just not for me. I don’t understand the art. I can appreciate my lack of depth. This is one of the few things in this world that I don’t mind not knowing. I have no interest in broadening my horizons, either. I am just fine and dandy appreciating the paintings in the Metropolitan instead. Suits me right down to the ground.

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I was quite enamored of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” We’ve all seen it a million times. When I was in elementary school, I did my own version of it with crayons. Turned out quite the artistic triumph for second grade. I still have that somewhere, I think. This painting deserves more acclaim than “Mona Lisa.” I’m not going to bore you with my tirade. I just don’t much care for that one. It’s beyond overrated. It’s the definition of overrated. I’ll leave it at that. I really was captivated with the way Van Gogh worked with oils in this painting, and it’s captivating to look at the brushstrokes. This is pretentious. I never thought I’d say something like that in my life. But Impressionism does things to me. I thought these paintings were just fabulous and I enjoyed them tremendously. Freda Kalo and her fantastic eyebrows glowered at me. It was great.

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I was thrilled to find “The Duo” by Giorgio de Chirico. He did some fabulous paintings of Turin, my beloved Italian city.

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“The Piano Lesson” by Henri Matisse. Made me homesick for Paris. 

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“American People Series #20: Die” by Faith Ringgold.

And it was fun to hang out with my old hoe Soledad. I don’t know why we call each other hoes. She was visiting the city on her spring break, and it was a grand time meeting her friends and laughing. I have never felt like such an old man, though. They are young and fresh and new and don’t need serums to look as young as they do. I envied their youthful glows. We had delicious coffees, walked about in the snow, nearly froze to death, and then went our separate ways. I had a play to get to!

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YOUNG and FRESH and NEW.

I hated myself for ruining my suede boots on the lengthy walk to Broadway. They looked dreadful as they supple fabric loaded itself down with water. They darkened and blackened and my feet began to freeze, and I was miserable. But I had the hopes and dreams of a warm theater, so I forged nobly on and then fell on my ass. That damn blizzard covered the streets in snow and sludge and ice I discovered on one of the busiest streets in the city. That was fabulous… Now I had soaked shoes, an aching hip, and a bruised ego.

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Still, I nobly soldiered forward and made it to the theatre. I was delighted by the Today Tix process. A kindly lady in a red coat was standing by the box office with a pile of envelopes. All you have to do is walk up, say your name, sign your name, and then you take your ticket. It could not be simpler. I was obsessed immediately.

The theater was blissfully warm, and I could have melted into a happy puddle. Then I saw that there was a bar with overpriced cocktails, so I scurried over. Alcohol is warming, reader, remember the Titanic and everybody nipping at brandy before the ship goes down? I was drinking for my health. I had some fabulous gin based drink and they put it into what was essentially a “sippy cup” for grownups. I enjoyed this thoroughly.

My seats were the absolute cheapest available, which I didn’t mind at all. I was way up in the sky with an entire row behind me. I could easily see the stage, though, so it was just fine. It wasn’t long until my seat mates arrived. They had a cocktail, too, so we were immediately old friends.

“Can you believe we are about to see PATTI LUPONE, Benjamin?” The wonderful woman beside me said. She spoke in capital letters with each consonant crisply formed. Her New York accent was delicious. “She is such a STAR! So FABULOUS! Are you married, Benjamin?”

I loved her.

Soon the theater was full and the orchestra began to warm up. The curtains were fabulously beautiful and I was on pins and needles. I honestly couldn’t believe that I was truly about to see Patti. She is such a legend. How lucky I was!

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And then the show began, and I was — as usual — madly in love with the entire thing from the onset. The play is about Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, two powerful women in the cosmetic industry. They ran very successful companies with very different marketing beliefs. Arden was all about soft pink and luxury and traditional femininity. Rubinstein was more focused on scientific breakthroughs in anti-aging compounds in addition to more customary makeups. The play focuses on their rivalry and showcases their many similarities. Both were lonely in their role, both of them struggling with their power in a masculine world, both of them just wanted to be loved, and neither of them would back down. They were both titans. Fabulous creations. I have been researching them ever since with great interest. I even have some Elizabeth Arden face cream!

“There SHE is! LOOK, Benjamin,” my neighbor said, thrusting a pair of binoculars into my hand. I took them with a chuckle and focused in on the inimitable visage of the queen of the theater, Patti LuPone. She looks as she ever did, sounded as she ever did, and was as fabulous as she ever was. We passed the binoculars back and forth all evening. The show was an absolute sensation.

My favorite moment was when Elizabeth Arden sings the most tragic ballad about what her mark on the world will be. She tried so hard to improve life for women, for the men away at war, and for the lives of those left behind, and yet all she will be remembered for is her signature trademark color: pink. It sounds rather minor when it’s written down here on my blog, but to see this performance in person was transformative. I might have cried a little. I cry a lot now. I wonder what that’s about? Is it one of those peculiar quirks of old age? Maybe so.

The play came to a blissful conclusion, and we all leapt to our feet to applaud. If the show ever tours near you or you have any possible chance to see it, you must. And if you never can, because I know the agony of missing a show, the original cast recording is available. I have listened to it a hundred times. If it were a record instead of a digital file on my iPhone, it would be worn smooth.

I walked to the subway and rode down to Greenwich Village where the Jane Hotel is. It was a still night, the snow had ceased to fall, and the cacophony of cars and people were muted by the piles of snow. I wouldn’t call it beautiful, but it was peaceful.

Walking the few blocks back to the hotel, I saw a restaurant called Cafe Istanbul, so of course I went and ordered a veritable feast of my favorite Middle Eastern delicacies. There was tabbouleh and pita and feta and fatoush and lentil soup and falafel. I ordered everything to go and happily devoured the many takeout containers in bed whilst I sat back and reflected on the wonders of the day, the fabulous experience I had just had, and the promise of tomorrow — for tomorrow, after many years of impatience, I would finally see Sunset Boulevard.

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