Thursday, June 10 2004
Yesterday's freakish heat wave was followed by a cold snap today, with temperatures never rising out of the 60s. After Spanish class Gretchen's childhood friend Dina arrived. Dina is the person we stayed with in South Africa during our honeymoon. Now she's living in Isræl, although she's been here on the east coast in recent days visiting friends and family. Last night she'd stayed with her cousin Yosh at his place over across the Hudson River somewhere in Dutchess County. He was the one who delivered her to our place today. He seemed like a fun guy, computeraphilic like me, but also similarly obsessed with household construction projects (he and his wife are building their own house). Unfortunately, he couldn't stay long.
In the evening Dina, Gretchen, and I went to Uptown Kingston to eat dinner at Stella's, our favorite Uptown Italian restaurant (our fondness is based mostly on their salad). Right there on Front Street we ran across Mark, Gretchen's heterosexual hairdresser. Mark was with his best friend in the entire world, a muralist who works out of a loft studio around the corner. So the five of us all went into Stella's and sat together in a booth. Kingston is such a small town that "Stella" (or whatever the name of the woman who runs the place with her Irish husband) just happens to be Mark's first cousin once removed. Mark ordered a martini "as dirty as your gym shorts." Gretchen ordered a cosmopolitan. Muralist Dude and I each ordered red wine, and Dina ordered a cranberry juice. While we waited for our drinks, Mark futzed with Gretchen's hair across the table, zhuzhing it here, fluffing it there, and reorienting a wad of it from one side of her forehead to the other. He'd had a vision for her hair when he'd originally cut it, but she wasn't keeping it the way he'd intended. I have to say, I was impressed with the results of his freebie maintenance. Before he did that, it had a certain unglamourous familiarity to it. But now all of a sudden it was somehow resonating perfectly with her face. It even found the beauty in the gaps between her teeth and played them to maximum effect. This was when I realized I was sitting with a hair virtuoso. For her part, Gretchen wasn't really buying it. She said the hair across her forehead (which she referred to as "bangs") felt awkward to her. Dina and I assured her that she should stick with Mark's vision, that no matter how weird it felt it was definitely the right look for her.
Later in the conversation Mark kept talking about how much Gretchen reminded him of Robert D0wney Jr's sister (whom he'd been infatuated with for many years). His instant rapport with Gretchen couldn't really be explained any other way. Some people are such striking doppelgangers for long lost friends that it's pschologically effortless to seize them as immediate (if sometimes bewildered) replacements.
Later we went to Muralist Dude's loft apartment to see his art, meet his cat, and look at the tiny clay sculptures made by his girlfriend. There was so much unusual stuff to see!
First of all, the cat was a runty little female named Tori with a color pattern something like our own Clarence. She was so small and her head so round that she looked like a kitten, but she was actually nine years old. Her eyes actually bugged out a little and she had a tendency to drool, which (Mark told us) caused some people to wonder whether or not she might actually suffer from the feline form of Down's Syndrome (if such a thing exists). Tori was incredibly cuddly and liked nothing better than rubbing her whole body against our feet with her unusually silky fur. Both Gretchen and I noticed that Tori was suffering from some sort of inflamation around her eyes, and Gretchen, ever the animal advocate, made Muralist Dude promise repeatedly to take her to a vet.
The sculptures made by Muralist Dude's girlfriend included a series of 18-inch statuary resembling pre-Christian Roman works. But there were many other tiny sculptural works, including an exquisite pair of feet only an inch and a half long and several things that could only be described as man-made seashells and diatoms. They had a obsessive regularity about them that led Mark to observe, "She has trouble interacting with other people sometimes."
Muralist Dude's murals were actually done on some sort of fabric which he'd first primed with gesso and carefully textured so as to resemble an old plaster wall. His paintings borrowed from several traditions, the most obvious being primitive, although there were also flavors of Marc Chagall and Hieronymus Bosch. The actual paintings were somewhat subsumed in the technique, which was a deliberate effort to make the murals appear to be ancient relics. The layers of tinted shellac and washes conspired to make the colorful monochrome and reduced even the brightest highlights to the color of cappuccino. Gretchen and Dina loved the murals, and I guess Dina said the right things because she somehow persuaded Muralist Dude to give her one of his smaller abstract paintings, which was about the size of cereal box. Gretchen's resulting jealousy was completely justified.
Muralist dude and his girlfriend actually had two separate floors of the building. The lower floor was their household space amd the upper floor, which had an identical floor plan but looked as if it had only been partially restored after decades of abandonment, served as a studio. The two spaces were like two adjacent three dimensional cross-sections through a four-dimensional hyperspace whose fourth dimension was entropy.
By now we'd been joined by Mark's girlfriend Mark and her had left to go to the Thursday open mike event next door (the same one we'd been to last week). But the rest of us stayed behind as Muralist Dude kept showing us his various treasures. One of these was a fabulous limited-edition "art book" (the sort that costs tens of thousands of dollars) which he had somehow obtained. Flipping to a random page, we saw there was a plate about the infamous delicacy known as durian, a delicious fruit that smells exactly like shit. Gretchen observed, as she always does whenever the subject of durian comes up, "They've started making durian-flavored condoms in Singapore."
I was genuinely impressed by the subtle technique Gretchen was using to acknowledge that she knew what durian was.
My brain's ability to suppress the speaking of the first thing that pops into it was in something of a weakened state, so I blurted out, "I love how Gretchen signifies she knows what durian is." Gretchen immediately shot me a hostile look and proceeded to berate me for saying such a thing. I knew I'd said the wrong thing, but what could I do about it now?
Though embarrassed at my accidental impertinence, I couldn't help but marvel at how Gretchen undid the damage I'd just inflicted. Several times over the next few minutes she'd draw attention to something she'd just said and say, as a sidebar, "I'm saying that because I'm signifying that I know what ... is." She looked really cute with her hair doing what Mark thought it should.
Eventually we found our way to the open mike event. It was much the same as it had been last week, except there didn't seem to be quite the same level of drama. There were no washed-up divas, no would-be stage hogs, and not even any jam bands, at least not by the time we arrived. I also noticed a fair number of hoodlumish-looking young folks, both black and white. That's a race-neutral type common in Kingston (but much more common in scarier places like Newburgh and Poughkeepsie). I get the feeling that the hoodlum scene in the Hudson Valley is a counterbalancing force to artist/gay gentrification. Support for this feeling is perhaps best exemplified by the dress code of the new hipster bar called Forum, which is attempting to gentrify the edge of the notorious Broadway gangsta district. Forum's dress code forbids such attire as Do Rags, baseball caps, and a variety of other items (the particulars were evidently chosen so as to not to seem targeted at any one racial group).
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