Crush Me

"Crush," ink and watercolor on paper, Stephanie Lee Jackson, 2002

Crazy how it feels tonight
Crazy how you make it all alright, love
You crush me with the things you do
I do for you anything too

I ve been driving around playing this Dave Matthews song at top volume, lately, through the rain and the snow and the bitter freezing weather for which my wardrobe is utterly inadequate. I have never before lived in a climate where one cannot even check the mail without donning boots, gloves, sweaters, scarf, hat and big heavy coat. I don t have a big heavy coat, except the antique one I got at Urban Outfitters four years ago, with the real fur collar and sleeves slightly too short. It seems too formal for daily wear, though, so I ve been going around in this blue Old Navy thing with fake fur trim on the hood, which makes me look partly like a Husky and partly like Owen Meany as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, scuttling around with my view obstructed. It was purchased in San Francisco and is thus purely aesthetic and not warm enough. But I am still technically unemployed, as in working very hard but not actually earning money, so I eke out my clothes with KMart long johns at $5 per, and turtlenecks, and attitude.

Sitting, smoking, feeling high
And in this moment
It feels so right
Lovely lady
I am at your feet
God I want you so badly
I wonder this
Could tomorrow be so wondrous
As you there sleeping

I m starting to hate Dave Matthews for writing this song. It beautiful--romantic, chivalrous, passionate--and guys can t stand it. I put it on a compliation tape for a lover and he didn t listen for longer than fifteen seconds. I ve played it at parties and it clears the dance floor. Speaking for myself and all the other lovely ladies out there, what gives, Dave? Are you teasing us? Is this just a nasty marketing ploy, a cruel joke, getting us to think that one day some darkly saturnine fellow will come along, perceive deeply our shining innermost selves, kiss our chapped, broken hands and sweep us into a passionate embrace? And still be around the next morning?

It's crazy, I m thinking,
Just knowing that the world is round
Here, I m dancing on the ground
Am I right side up or upside down
Is this real
Or am I dreaming?

During October I had to come to terms with the fact that employment was not happening any time soon, maybe not this month, next month or forever. The economy just sucks, and the NYS massage licensing board wasn t helping either. They screwed around and screwed around, while Dr. Green office got paranoid and hired somebody else, and then finally sent me a letter saying that my education was lacking 435 hours of miscellaneous credits, and that I had to find a program, IF ANY (their words) to make up these hours or just forget it. So did I want a partial refund of my fees, or what? Well, the refund won t pay the rent, but maybe will pay for a big bag of beans, so yes, please.

When I was unemployed in August I spent my days sending résumés far and wide, making phone calls, posting flyers, and lying on the floor in a fetal position, weeping in terror and despair. By October I had adjusted my consciousness, the way I did when backpacking one summer in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, and one day the sun came out and hatched four billion mosquitoes, which all descended upon me and my companion, hell-bent upon sucking us dry. After seven hours of running, I mean running, full tilt with 45 lbs of backpack upon our womanly hips, through mountains and meadows and rocky outcrops, leaping creeks with a single bound, trying to get somewhere, anywhere, without twelve mosquitoes per cubic centimeter of air, we had to stop and re-arbitrate parameters; the world was simply a place with billions of mosquitoes in it. And we could stop fighting, stop fleeing, just be.

So I am. I am an artist, fancy that. I put a lot of art supplies on my credit card, bought a folding table off of craigslist, and went to Soho on weekends with a pile of erotic drawings and my friend Julio Mendossa, a Cuban painter with no credit card and a great deal of charm. Julio is a trip. I probably wouldn t have gone back a second day if it weren t for him, babbling in unintelligible Cuban, swallowing his consonants, making stupid jokes and pestering the passersby. He gets away with things that by rights ought to get him swatted. Hey lady, lady, wanna buy? Erotica, ooh, yes, hey lady, how much? And the ladies giggle and come over, instead of hunkering down and hurrying past like we re a construction site.

Lovely lady, let me drink you, please
I ll won't spill a drop now, I promise you
Lying under this spell you cast on me
Each moment
The more I love you
Crush me

The first morning in Soho we learned a lot of handy information, like t set up in front of Beau Brummel because the owner will call the cops, get your table out to stake your space before 8 AM but then stay warm in the café for a couple of hours before putting your stuff out, because nobody comes by before 11 anyway, don t block doorways, try not to set up next to the Chinese guys selling kitsch or the dog portrait lady, because they scare away your market. There s little more depressing than freezing on the sidewalk, trying to appear contented and nonchalant behind your pile of Great Art priced to move, listening to passersby calling Hey, Bertie! Look at this, doggie portraits, how cuuuute! Let get her to paint Fluffy!

(Actually, the dog portrait lady was the one the owner of Beau Brummell called the cops on--after she d been setting up in front of his store for a year!--she told me, indignantly. He didn t bother the folks selling elegant bronze-patina sculptures. I was inclined to sympathize with the Beau. His aesthetics were ever impeccable, and, like me, he doesn suffer fools gladly, or indeed, at all.)

After the very first morning of getting up at 5 A.M. and hauling a little folding cart with folding table and chair and box of drawings strapped to it onto a subway full of sleeping Asian and Hispanic souls, and sitting upon a dark empty street alone for two and a half hours before Julio arrived to spell me while I defrosted in the café, I found that if you get to Soho before 9 on weekends, there is parking! Street parking! Free and lots of it! So Julio got busy making us big heavy display racks to put in the truck, and we re-adjusted our set-up every weekend until it was looking pretty damn professional. The only problem was that we should not have been sharing a display at all. Julio s work is like himself--brazen, shameless, impossible to ignore. Mine is elegant, feminine, subtle. It didn t mix. People would be drawn over by Julio s splashy use of color, get sucked into my expressive line quality, look confused, waver, and wander off. It was a conflict of energies. Julio didn t see it--just thought I was being a cranky, envious female when I told him to move that big pornographic nude out of the middle of the rack, already.

"Rain," ink and watercolor on paper, 2002

But there seemed to be no correlation whatsoever between sales and display quality. On the second day--before I d come to terms with the fact that if I were to compete with a noisy street in Soho and next-door neighbors who did not know the meaning of composition or color sensitivity, I was going to have to get a lot more aggressive with my color technique, use a black backdrop and a vertical display format--a lady suddenly came over, told her kids to go play in traffic, debated for 15 minutes, and bought five of the feminine erotica series. Five! I gave her a bulk discount. She asked her preteen daughters, Do you know what that is? Good, she knows, she s embarrassed. What a great mom.

Lovely lady, I will treat you sweetly
Adore you
I mean
You crush me
It's times like these
When my faith I feel
And I know how I love you

Not content with being my street clown, somewhat ineffective marketing agent, and display engineer, Julio also dragged me around town to galleries, openings, and every possible schmoozing opportunity that could advance either one of our careers. Many of them were inappropriate; he hauled me into a place on the lower East Side that specialized in garish Afro-Cuban art and forced me to show my portfolio to the owner, a very nice African Studies professor with utterly no interest in the art of white chicks from Fort Worth. We also went to an opening in the upper West Side, which turned out to be a vanity gallery in somebody s basement, showing the work of a hip-looking guy from Burma who painted the way a MacPaint program circa 1988 might, if instructed to generate modern art. The artist had randomly dripped black plastic in loops onto his canvases, and laboriously filled in the spaces with flat complementary colors and mechanical patterning. Julio s contact, a middle-aged lady from the Cuban center, said, It must have some merit, being from Burma and all. We didn t really hit it off.

In fact, one drawback of hanging out with Julio is that the vast majority of his friends and acquaintances are women of all ages, who squeal Julio! m so glad to see you! give him a big hug and a kiss, and look narrowly at me like I m a snake in the underbrush. I want to tell them, Look, s not me, it s Julio, has he made you feel like the center of the universe? Join the club. Julio has lived in Russia and France and New York without ever learning much Russian or French or English; his meal ticket has always been his ability to charm the pants off women of all ages. This is because, simply, he appreciates them. All of them. Which, once they catch on, eventually pisses them off.

Julio told me that once, when he had an opening at a small gallery in Guanajuato, he invited all five of his girlfriends, because he didn t want any of them to find out about it later and get their feelings hurt. When one of these girlfriends noticed just how many other women were casually grinding up against him as they walked by, she got upset and threw a glass of red wine all over the exhibit. Julio said, I made a mistake, I shouldn t have invited them all. Meanwhile, he has a very lovely common-law spouse, a brilliant engineer named Hilda, who has been with him for nine years and worships the ground he treads. When they are in public together he clowns around with random women as her facial expression gets grimmer and grimmer.

Crazy, I m thinking, just as long as you re around
I ll be here, I m dancing on the ground
Am I right side up or upside down
To each other we'll be facing
By love we'll beat back the pain we've found

It got cold, of course. For awhile I got out my ski clothes, drank tea until my intestines dissolved, jumped around on the pavement, determined to support my art in the face of all weather and the indifference of the public. Another artist, Chris Evans, who I greatly admire, told me that sales tend to peak during the winter, particularly in January and February. She thinks it may be because people didn t get what they wanted for Christmas, except perhaps money with which to buy Great Art. But the economy, as mentioned earlier, sucks. Nobody was selling anything. People would stop, admire, catch my eye, and skulk away, frightened even to ask for prices. People do not appreciate art if it is too cheap, and they do not buy if it s priced to be appreciated. And then the gale-force winds and the rain and the snow arrived, and I was doing delicate ink-and-watercolors, which were getting shopworn. So I decided to pack up, go indoors and paint big, bright oil paintings of sun and birds and flowers until spring.

A dear friend of mine recently told me, ve changed a whole lot since you ve moved to New York. You used to be uncertain, indecisive, say you were blocked. Now you re a successful artist even if you never make a penny. This could be true. Art is now my full-time job. Lately I had a vision, after drinking three glasses of wine and waiting around for an ex-lover to call me; I saw my retrospective at the SF MOMA, in 2030 or whenever, which is odd in itself, because the SF art scene and the MOMA in particular usually ignored me and my work, even though I was on a first-name basis with curator Janet Bishop. But I SAW it. It was on the fourth floor and took up as much space as the Calder retrospective in 98. I spent about forty-five minutes taking notes on titles, colors, compositions, ideas. Now I just have to manifest the paintings, which isn t fast or easy, but is moving right along. I sleep in my studio, which means that I get out of bed every morning in order to fix the mistakes I made last night, when it was too dark to see clearly; I do yoga and self-choreographed aerobics in the living room, shower, make a self-indulgent breakfast, paint till I can no longer see, meditate in the evenings, and do it again the next day.

On the same day I got the nasty letter from the licensing board, along with several bills and a letter from a collection agency on behalf of my defaulted Verizon account (Verizon is just evil, they might as well be Mafia, and MCI gave me free long distance, so I figure Verizon can wait awhile for their unjustifiable fee) I got something else that made up for everything. It was the first annual Sandy and Pat Hayashi Intriguing Person Award, grant for $99 enclosed. Pat Hayashi, an educational analyst for U.C. Berkeley and a former client of mine, thinks I m a better writer than Dave Eggers, that I will have that retrospective at MOMA in 2030 and will win a Pulitzer even sooner. Meanwhile he wanted me to get something luxurious, like a cashmere scarf or a bottle of decent wine, during my years of obscurity. Bless you, Sandy and Pat! I have fans, and friends who call long-distance and send picture books about paper-bag princesses, and come to visit me and sleep on my uncomfortable couch without complaint. So I m not suffering, or anything.

I mean to tell you all the things I ve been thinking deep inside
My friend
With each moment the more I love you...
So much you have given love
That I would give you back again and again
Meaning I'll hold you
And please, please
Let me always

Recently I met a guy who seemed sort of neat, more so than the stream of inadequate buffoons who write me misspelled mash notes, accost me on street corners, call at 11:45 when I ve clearly told them that I don accept phone calls after 10, and show up late and clueless for blind dates during which they complain and complain until I run away. He was balanced, bright, well-informed, generally liked, did the dishes, fixed tires in the rain, that sort of thing. Hmmm, I thought, dancing around. During a three-hour conversation with him one evening I noticed that he interrupted nearly every sentence out of my mouth, contradicted what he thought I was going to say before I said it, made offensive generalizations on aspects of my character about which he knew nothing, and capped off the evening with a passionate diatribe against all forms of spiritual practice. As I walked, unescorted, to my car at two in the morning and turned the key, Dave blasted out at me once again. All at once the chasm between romance and reality yawned, unimaginably vast and ludicrous. All I could do was laugh, and keep on dancing.

"Dancers," ink and watercolor on paper, 2002

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