TRAVEL PORTRAIT 61: April 30, 2017

Out of the Wilderness [listen]
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"Frank! I'm so glad you called. I've been running late all morning: first the gym, then errands. What time is it? Where are you?"

"I'm at the diner a couple blocks from your place." Frank read the name of the diner off the menu cover.

"Great. I'll be there shortly. Have you ordered yet?"

"No, I was about to," grumbled Frank.

"Don't. Wait for me to get there. My treat since you've come all this way. You must have been wondering if I was going to stand you up," chuckled Brian.

"Well, not really." Frank tried not to sound embarrassed. "You don't have to buy me lunch," he said apologetically.

"Look. In this town, if someone offers you a free meal," warned Brian.

"Okay. No problem," accepted Frank graciously.

"I'm on my way."


Frank was seated in a small booth facing the entrance. His arms rested on the table. Sooner than later, Brian walked into the diner. Frank nodded to Brian, who did the same. Frank pointed his left index-finger at the ceiling, lifting his arm slightly off the table and flicking his wrist upwards. Brian acknowledged with a thumbs up across his midriff. Frank lowered his eyes as Brian scooted into the booth flush-faced. As he spoke, he offered a handshake.

"You may remember when we talked on the phone, I thought my schedule was open for the weekend...."

Frank started to become disillusioned after shaking Brian's hand. Not only was the palm clammy, but his attire was less than expected. Brian's appearance, even if he had been working out, was tatty; he wore a faded old softball team t-shirt that had seen better days. The faded shirt had a cracked iron-on logo; the lettering could barely be made out. The words designed into logo read, 'The Prime-Timers'.

"Like the shirt," asked Brian. "Too bad you can't relive your thirties." He gave Frank the once over and sneered. Brian suddenly realized that Frank's ensemble was taken strait from the catalog he recently threw into the recycle bin.

Frank winced and continued to take stock of Brian's fashion statement. His grey cotton sweatpants looked fairly new; however, his canvas sneakers were in need of replacement. Somehow, Brian's distressed leather slim-fit motorcycle jacket no longer smelled like cowhide--nor like motor oil. Frank wished the table between them was a bit more wide.

"Seems like there's a good breeze today," said Frank, moving off the conversation topic, away from talking about old age.

"Yeah, the buildings around here can cast a long shadow, making the slightest breeze feel like an arctic gust," responded Brian. Not breaking from his original train of thought, he continued. "Like I was saying, about my schedule. My godchild, she told me that she had a couple of tickets to a show at Carnegie Hall. Her girlfriend flaked-out, and she asked me if I could go."


"Yeah, my widowed sister-in-law's daughter. My older brother married young. He died of natural causes."

Brian muffled his voice when he mentioned his brother's death, but he did not appear saddened. His voice became more natural when he spoke about his godchild, but his tone quickly turned bitter.

"Her name is Celia. She's my niece. I hate the word 'uncle'. My brother liked to bully me--to make me tougher. He would twist my arm and make me say, 'Uncle!'"

Brian's attitude became more light.

"As a result, I like thinking of Celia as my child--even though she's a twenty-something." Parenting now, at this age, is better than when she was in her tweens; she understands the ethical consequences of her actions, which is, I don't have to bail her out."

Brian's countenance was that of parental concern.

"Celia hates her step-father. Because of that, she's lost confidence in her mother. So, I'm her surrogate parent. As a result, I promised I would be her 'Go-to Guy'."


Frank's shoulders hunched and his face drooped. Frank wondered why Brian was talking so personally and not as inquisitive as when they first met at the gallery. What did Brian really want--obviously not an assistant. Frank thought this meeting in the diner would be the extent of his relationship with his New York Art Scene mentor. Why else would Brian offer to pay for the meal? Frank prepared himself to be let go or take the hint and leave by his own accord.

"I would have called to reschedule the weekend, but I didn't have your phone number. What is it by the way?

Encouraged, Frank started telling his area code. Brian cut him off.

"Look, here's the long and short."

Brian took a several seconds to study Frank's physiognomic expression and body language before explaining. He wanted to dominate the conversation--and this neophyte.

"I got you a ticket. That way you can join us. The seat is in the balcony, so we won't be sitting together. By the time I got to the box office, the show was practically sold out. I was going to tell Celia to..., She should count herself lucky."

Brian paused. He noticed Frank studying him.

"Anyhow," said Brian cautiously, "let's order something. I need to shut up."

Embarrassed, Frank wondered if he should offer to pay for the ticket, but then he remembered Brian's warning about turning down a free lunch. Was he being tested? Frank was beginning to realize how crafty Brian could be.

"Okay. Great! Thanks."

Frank had no idea where this day was headed. He was determined to go with the flow. He asked the waiter for a turkey club with American cheese, a side of mayo, an order of fries, and "to drink, I'll have an iced tea."

Brian wanted a cheeseburger and fries (cheddar, lettuce and tomato [yes], onions [no])--a cola with plenty of ice. When the food arrived, he asked for a jar of dijon.


Once they both got some instant gratification from their meal, Frank began to offer his opinion on the 'Young Artist-Curators with Potential' show, to remind his mentor of the assignment he was given when last they met.

Instinctively, Brian placed his clenched right-hand in front of his mouth, gagged, coughed--gasped for air.

"Don't mention that show," admonished Brian through gnashed teeth as he reached for a napkin from the dispenser. He finished chewing what was in his mouth, then took a long sip of cola to wash down the mashed debris, then inadvertently slammed the red plastic tumbler onto the table. The crushed ice jumped in reaction as did Brian's guest tremble slightly. To gather himself, Brian snatched up the bottle of ketchup sitting on the table, gently placed the bottle back, then rotated the container in quarter turns. After the brief calm-down to compose himself, he continued with a hushed voice.

"Do you know what happened?! The gallery closed the Monday after the opening. Unbelievable! The artists were told to pick up their work before Saturday. I found out by an artist-friend, who unfriended me. I have never been so embarrassed. I promoted the show to my client list, highlighting the artists of interest in a crib sheet. Fortunately, I told them not to show up at the opening, but wait until the following weekend. I scheduled walkthroughs. My hope was to have my clients discretely snarf up a couple of 'winners'."

"When I finally caught up with the gallerist, he told me that the lease was revoked because of a broken agreement with the property manager. After some kind of BS zoning investigation, they came up with a bogus allegation that the gallerist was living there in the space."

Brian gulped the last of the soda in the tumbler to wash down the frothy saliva that was collecting in his mouth. He wiped his lips sloppily with a napkin. "I 'found out' that wasn't the real reason at all. The conspiracy theory is that the building owner wanted to covert the space into a coffee shop."

Empathized Frank, "That's messed up!"


Again, Brian reached for the ketchup. This time he removed the cap, anticipated the pour, then dipped some fries. As he chewed them [munch, munch], he began to settle down. He took a sip, not realizing that there was nothing left to drink.

"When you called me last month, those were the residual fires I was putting out. However, after the abrupt closing, I was in full crisis mode. I had to contact my clients and deal with their disappointment. Some saw the wisdom in not having them attend the opening. As a matter of fact, only one client showed up the day we met; the couple already knew one of the artists. If I hadn't included the words 'With Potential' to the show's name, I would not of been able to put a positive spin on the failed outcome. You can convince people either way (positively or negatively) with a sight-unseen description."

"That's why I wanted to get your opinion a month later: to find out if you could describe a work of art relying solely on the piece's resonance, after a period of time. I wanted to go back to the gallery and walk through--after you had shared your thoughts, of course. However, since the show has closed prematurely, there's no point in the exercise. "

Frank huffed. He grabbed a knife off the table, scooped some mayonnaise out of the paper soufflé cup and spread the condiment on an edge of the quartered turkey club. He took a bite, then while holding the sandwich, he repositioned the toothpick to keep the layers aligned. Frank placed the remaining section onto the plate, drank some iced tea.

"Never mind," said Brian sarcastically. Embittered, he rant-rambled some more.

"You know, the gallery's closing was no reflection on the show itself. You were there opening night. The place was packed! Actually, the problem with the gallery closing had nothing to do with the success of the show. The problem had to do with one thing."

Brian shook some crushed ice into his mouth. Chewing the ice, cooled his temper. Noticing his cheeseburger, he took a chomp. A waiter stopped by the table. Brian pointed and looked up puppy-eyed. The waiter snatched the tumbler off the table without looking at Frank. Seconds later, he returned with a new cola. Brian smiled with gratitude, dismissing the server who said, "Oh, you're quite welcome" with a casual flippancy while sashaying away, back to his station. Brian snickered, acknowledging the inside joke.

"And that thing is real estate," asked Frank.

"Ah, you're familiar with the saying, 'the key to a successful business is location, location, location'. Well, seems now, at least in Manhattan, they key for a successful arts business is sponsors, sponsors, sponsors. If either the gallerist or I had a sponsor, I mean a really good one, backing the show, we would of had enough clout to hold an 'Everything Must Go' close-out sale--and we could have made some commissions, and the artists would have made some money as well as earned some visibility."

Upon hearing that, Frank took a huge and final bite out of the last quarter of his sandwich to prevent himself from expressing verbally his lividness. He twiddled the toothpick before clumsily placing the shard of wood onto his plate. Frank stared at his plate while his chin waged. He steadied himself by sitting back into the cushioned booth, feigning satisfaction with his meal. He could not believe that he wasted his time trying to come up with insightful comments for what he thought was mediocre artworks. A good thing Brian did not ask him for his opinion; he thought he would have come off as a pompous ass. Frank could not fathom, nor muster any vicarious desire from this conversation. He found himself thinking, "was Brian a smooth talker?"

Lost in his own train of thought, Brian, neglected to ask Frank about his interests in subtextual comprehension in relation to the arts. Instead, he droned on, adding the aphorism that "order from volatility, not chaos, is the primary driver for the creative class. From a known disruption, from a shift in society, from a pivot in perspective comes, no, forces change. This precipitates the need, the opportunity to quell querulousness--and in our case, we quell through Art, through artworks. These are the most creative times!"

Suddenly, looking off into space, Brian stopped, what seemed to Frank to be, blathering. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nostrils, then opened his lids. Looking very disagreeable, Brian snarled, "I can't wait to go to the show tonight."

Frank, figuring best not to ask, sighed to himself, "Oh brother, where's the check."

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Copyright © 2017 by Edward K. Brown II, All Rights Reserved.