so last night i’m hanging out with the artist/activist richard bell, who loves to casually announce in the most arbitrary moments imaginable that he’s the luckiest man in all of north america. he’s an aborigine from australia, by the way. we’re in an aussie bar called 8 mile creek in soho, surrounded by his ex-pat buddies and a few negroes who’ve shown up to say good-bye to him. sadly, his artist’s residency has come to an end. he leaves on friday.
suddenly, beautiful beaming lovely elaine – a printmaker from melbourne who’s been in the city for a month or so – breezes in, looking sunkissed and relaxed. she’s spent the day at the beach, and she looks it. she’s got a stack of books that she says she “found” in a bag on the sidewalk on the way there, just a few doors down. they are beautiful blank books, some of them moleskin, a few filled with sketches. and then she reaches into her bag and pulls out a handful of rubberbanded pencils and pens that she can barely get her hand around. she holds it up like it’s a torch, a beacon in the night. you should go see, she nearly squeals. it’s amazing stuff. and then, as if to prove it to me, she gives me a blank book. it’s red. and it’s lovely. i decide to call the book elaine and tell her that i’ll use it to write lyrics for my songs. i’ll do a gig later and i’ll say, this came from the elaine book and only she would know what i meant. she laughed and gave me that rubberbanded clutch of pens to pick through. something to write lyrics with. kismet, beautiful kismet. and that was that.
still and all, i sat there, chewing on my sausage roll in disbelief. (had to try some aussie food—and frankly, it’s a little too english for me. but more on that later.) but my curiousity got the better of me, so out i went and sure enough, there were not one but 4 bags full of art supplies, cushions, you name it. i was bent over one of the bags so completely, it looked like i was about to tip over and take a nosedive. much of the stuff had not been used. yikes, i thought. someone will see me out here and think that i’m trying to steal something and call the cops on me. after all i am black. i pulled two pristine beige soft cover blank books out with a quickness, shoved them under my arm and and headed back with my find.
we marvelled over all the books as we sat at the table, decided that the person who wrote and sketched these things was a woman and wondered why such nice things were on the sidewalk. when we saw some guy at the bar walk in with one of the bags, that did it. overwhelmed by curiousity (and yes, disbelief), elaine (my new bff) and ralph (the coolest guy ever) went back out there to see what was left and if anything else had been added to the pile.
sure enough, there was more stuff.
as we stood there, looking over the clothes (italian merino wool?) the heavier stuff (a scanner?!) and books (ginsburg’s howl?!), a blonde woman appeared in the doorway with a box, harried and completely out of breath. as it turns out, she had to leave the country the next day because of visa constrictions. she was canadian and had lived in the building for 7 years. now she was being forced to leave – or eventually face deportation. she had an apartment full of stuff that she couldn’t sell on craigslist because she simply didn’t have time. she tipped the door open with one weary arm and sighed. did we want to see any of it?
did we ever.
we marched up five flights of stairs to this cute little place. she had bagged what she could – friends were coming the next day to help her move that stuff – but the rest was up for grabs. and it was a LOT.
we picked through some amazing stuff. what did i get in my free-for-all? a pinhole camera. a beautiful elegant large umbrella. a wooden bath mat. a white 70s looking lomo colorsplash camera. a handful of beautiful ink pens. more blank books. a stunningly beautiful and well-tailored man’s italian overcoat. a woolen scarf. a woolen wrap. probably more stuff than that, actually. i’m still too groggy and out of it to inventory all of it.
we were like a bunch of little kids, all of us. she seemed genuinely relieved that her things were going to good use and that weren’t going to end up in the garbage. exhausted but relieved.
as we drifted through the rooms of her cute little place, chatty and upbeat and full of wonder, looking at all the cool stuff, taking in her fun downtown new york city life, feeling her melancholy, giddy with excitement over everything we found, and even more excited when she said we could have it, i felt such a rush.
i’m still not exactly sure what that rush was made of. the presence of the divine, perhaps.
we kept reassuring her. she kept begging us to take more stuff. there were some things that were so nice, we insisted that she keep them. what about our friends at the bar, she asked. was there anyone else who would want any of this stuff? just tell them to ring her buzzer, or come back in the morning, even.
you should have seen the reaction we got when we went back to the bar. priceless.