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Scootie’s building had one of those old-style freight elevators, and one side of the shaft had windows looking out toward Central Park. When the inside window met up with a shaft window, it created a strobe effect, like a silent-era film. The feature that day was a maple at the edge of the park, going absolutely berserk with scarlets, pumpkins, siennas and mustards. (Scootie was having a distinct effect on my color-vocabulary.)
When I got out, I heard a sound like a reverse heartbeat, like trochaic verse: thump-thump, thump-thump, On the shores of Gitchigoomy. Making my way down the hall, I realized it was coming from Scootie’s loft, and opened the door to find him tossing a violet spheroid against the wall.
“Wednesday Thursday Friday!” I shouted.
“Hi,” he said, barely missing a beat. “What did you say?”
“What the fuck!”
“Right! Here: I demonstrate.”
He took a tube of pink acrylic, squeezed a teaspoon onto the tennis ball and fired away. The ball struck the canvas with a splat and bounced on the dropclothed floor. Scootie scooped it up nicely and fired again, then caught it and set it in a dogbowl at his feet. He rose from his stool and stalked my way with gloppy rainbow hands. “Give me a hug!”
“Not on your life, Van Gogh!”
“You love me, you love my art, bebe.” He held his hands behind his back and gave me a schoolboy kiss.
“It’s like dating a fucking paint monster.” I retreated to a clean-looking table, ten feet away. “Okay, mojo man. Give me the game plan.”
He stood and made a game-show sweep toward the canvas. “First, I covered the surface with black gesso. Then I took one of my coaster creatures and lined it out in masking tape. Now I’m playing paintball until I get a nice thick coating of rainbow splats and circles. Once it dries, I remove the masking tape, with some assistance from my X-Acto knife, and ba-boom! An eerie black figure, staring out from a Jackson Pollock-Bjorn Borg carnaval.”
I followed the tape-strip drowning in tennis strokes and clucked my tongue. “You’re a marvel. I don’t know five people combined who have as much creative juice as you.”
Scootie surveyed his cloud of splats, and I knew exactly what was going on behind those obsidian irises. He was forecasting that perfect moment, that split second when the work took its form, and it was time to set the creature free. But I didn’t want him drifting too far, because I intended to steal him away from Mother Art, at least for the evening.
“Hey, boybee – snap to it. Ruby needs a feedin’.”
The battle was almost too easy. He took a final snapshot and smiled. “I’ll go wash up. Try some of that wine.”
He headed for the bathroom as I located the uncorked bottle atop his cabinet. His wines were all obscure and eccentric – I never saw any of them in the stores, and in New York that’s saying something. The same quality applied to his curios, books and glassware – all of them looking much more indigenous than anything you would find in an import shop. The wine was an Argentinean Shiraz that fired my tastebuds in a pleasing fashion.
Of course, Scootie was rather exotic and inexplicable himself. I was so pleased with the way that our puzzle pieces fit together (and the way his eternal creativity extended to the bedroom) that I didn’t want to spoil it by probing the vagaries. After a year, we still met only once or twice a week, and had never discussed the exact nature of our relationship. He had also talked me into some adventurous moves regarding my career, and I was feeling a little hung out to dry.
The image of him returning from the bathroom, newly domesticated, slipping into a leather jacket, dashed all of this aside like so many violet tennis balls, and soon we were strolling through chilly twilight to a Malaysian restaurant on Broadway. I dipped my hand over the collar of his jacket to grab a hank of his thick, still-damp hair.
“Yes. The Malaysian iced coffee, some roti canai and the mango chicken. Thanks.”
The waiter walked away, and Scootie scoped me with those ebony searchlights, the same way he looked at his paintings. Did I, too, contain a moment of release?
“So what’s the matter?” he said.
I rolled my fingers on the table, four beats, pinkie to index.
“Auditions. Mother fucking auditions.”
“Hilarious! No – Sweet Charity. A revival with Molly Ringwald. Big-time stuff.”
“But I didn’t even feel like I existed. That brutally cordial ‘Thank you’ from some guy you can’t see. Imagine someone slapping duct tape all over your person, and then ripping it off, all at once. God, Scootie! What is it about me that doesn’t fit? Am I completely delusional? I mean, I’m good, right?”
“Are you nuts?” he said. “You’re fucking incredible.”
“Not just saying that? Not just the penis talking?”
“No way. Not when it’s art.”
“So when it’s not art, you might lie to me.”
“Don’t be silly. Of course I would lie to you.”
He was being all cute and funny again, but I was determined to plow on.
“I’m not putting this on you, Scootie…”
“Put it on me if you like. I was only telling you what you really wanted for yourself.”
“I know. Now shut up a second, wouldja?”
“Yes ma’am.” I enjoyed this about Scootie. I could be a little rough with him, and he with me. It wasn’t personal.
“Okay. So I’m just looking at what I had before at Greenstreet, and I know it was big fish, small pond, but the pond was in Manhattan. Am I overplaying my hand? Am I screwing myself?”
Our waiter returned with the roti. Scootie tore off a piece, dipped it in peanut sauce and aimed it at me like an instructional pointer.
“Let’s get back to the basic question. Where’s the heat? What do you really want?”
I sighed. “To sing and dance in a musical. Broadway or something close.”
“And at Greenstreet?”
“Edgy, fringe-theater drama. No singing, no dancing. Ironically, a gay director named Giuseppe Verdi hates musicals.”
“Any realistic career footbridge from one to the other?”
He took a bite out of his pointer. “So the auditions are bad, and you’re suffering. But you’re suffering in the right direction. You’re suffering for the right reasons.”
I tore off a piece and chewed like a recalcitrant cow. “God. You make it sound like childbirth.”
He didn’t give me much choice. Scootie was one big raging package of artistic integrity. He had taken this wacky idiosyncratic work of his and broken into an art world more full of shit than the stables at Churchhill Downs. And once he landed on the other side, the collectors loved him for his personality, his willingness to actually say something on the canvas. And his fearless sense of humor. Still, it wasn’t easy. I could hear the hiss of my deflating ego, the leak that got louder with each anonymous Thank you.
When we got back, I couldn’t help myself. I took off my clothes, set them at a safe distance, then moussed a tennis ball with kelly green and gave it a toss. It smacked the canvas with a gooey Medusa’s head and came back fast, crawling up my arms and leaving a green circle on my abdomen. I caught a grip and fired it back.
Never one to be surprised, Scootie returned from the kitchen, saw what I was doing and immediately stripped off. Then he unrolled a large canvas, squished out a manicolored delta of acrylics and invited me to lie down.
Just before entry, I told him, “If this sells, I expect forty percent.”
Photo by MJV