“I’m not young enough to know everything.” –Oscar Wilde
Mickey Manley, the writer I met at the gay marriage benefit, invites me over to watch I Love You Phillip Morris. I arrive a little late and ring the doorbell.
Me: Holy shit, this house is incredible.
He: Do you want the tour?
He: Let’s go downstairs first, and I’ll show you around after the movie.
Me: Your house is seriously gorgeous.
He: Thank you. It was only half of this when I bought it. Everything took eight years.
Me: Seriously? What took so long?
He: Contractor and Designer got in a fight, it went to court, yadda yadda yadda. Half the rooms had one wall made of a plastic sheet.
Me: Were you still living here?
He: On and off. What would you like to drink? I’ve got white wine and vodka.
Me: I told you, I don’t drink hard liquor on school nights.
He: You were drinking at the benefit.
Me: One glass of white wine.
He: You were drinking something else when we met.
Me: Touché. Although in my defense, I had just walked into a window in front of hundreds of people.
He: Fair enough. How do you like the wine?
Me: I’m not a huge fan of white, but this is good.
He: I’m glad you like.
Me: So are we going to watch the movie? What’s it called again?
He: I Love You Phillip Morris. There’s no rush. Let’s talk for a bit.
Me: And what would you like to talk about, Mickey Manley?
He: Tell me about you.
Me: Why do you want to talk about me? I’m really rather dull.
He: I don’t believe that for a second.
Me: Alright, then ask me something.
He: Where did you go to school?
Me: New York.
He: Me too!
Me: What did you study?
He: Are you mocking me?
Me: I wouldn’t dream of it.
He: Well, as you know, I’m a writer now. And director. And DJ.
Me: Now that is something interesting. How did you go from acting to writing to DJing?
He: Well, I have all of these records–thousands. So one day I just decided to go buy some equipment and experiment. And now I collect all of these random records. Which reminds me…
Me: What’s that?
He: This is my rotating art instillation. Every time I have guests over, I have them recreate it.
There are three shelves on the wall. Below it sit a stack of tiny flower paintings and a stack of records.
Me: What do I do?
He: Just arrange the records and paintings as you envision.
Me: Where did you get these?
He: The records are a strange spoken word genre that was popular among women of color in the 1970s.
The album covers range from psychedelic to nature to bare faces.
Me: Is it set to a beat? Like is it rhythmic?
He: It’s spoken word on top of music, but it’s just stories, so it’s not like rapping. But it’s incredible. They wail about everything from rape and social oppression to struggling to put together dinner before their husbands get home and disciplining their children. It’s a whole original medium. Like a lost art.
Me: I wish the world still had context for that kind of expression.
He: These paintings I bought for $3 at an antique store. Can you believe that?
Me: Really? There must be 50 of them. Isn’t it strange how someone can put so much time and effort into something and in the end it counts for so little?
Pause. I examine each and every album and painting individually.
He: They’re a little kitschy, but the juxtaposition with the albums is dynamite.
Me: There’s something sentimental about each.
There’s a longer pause. I start to make piles.
He: How are you sorting those?
Me: You’ll see.
He: I’ve never seen someone take such inventory. Usually, my guests just pick the first thing they like and throw it up on the wall.
Me: Should I hurry along?
He: No. By all means, I want to see where this is going.
Another longer pause. It’s been about ten minutes now, and I’ve seen every image at least twice. I grit my teeth and squint, looking at some.
He: I’m trying to figure out what you’re doing.
He sits and ponders, eyes scanning the rows.
He: I suppose I’ll just have to wait until you’ve finished.
Me: Yes, you will.
I put up the middle row first. It’s an African American woman. The picture is sepia except for a red apple, which she holds in front of her. I set two pictures on each side of the album.
Next, I set another album, the cover of which has an old African American woman, on the top shelf, all the way to the right. I set two flower paintings next to it.
He: I honestly have no idea what you’re thinking.
Finally, I agonize over a final painting, but make my selection. I place a third album, this one with a young African American girl on the cover, all the way to the left and place three flower paintings next to it.
Me: What do you think?
He: I like it.
Me: Just like it?
He: It’s the best I’ve ever seen!
Me: Do you get it?
He: I guess so…
Me: No, you don’t. Let me explain. Starting in the middle: this woman offers up an apple like Eve offering Adam the fruit of knowledge. Life is full of knowledge and temptation. Surrounding her, I selected paintings with four different colored backgrounds—life is diversity and a series of seasons.
He: Wow, you really did think this through.
Me: Yes. I did.
I return to my “installation.”
Me: The top row: This woman is tired, but with her exhaustion comes a sense of accomplishment. She has lived. I selected flowers with red backgrounds for this row because we burn through our beauty.
He: So what’s the meaning of the final row? I would guess, but I don’t think I can keep up.
Me: The women are placed diagonally. Life moves in all directions. This young girl, eyes so wide, ready for the world. Raw. Beneath the rest, this is who she is. So full of potential and pure. I chose all paintings with blue backgrounds and white flowers to represent this. But deep inside of her, deep inside of them all, there is something else. Each of these flowers has a black pigmentation. In the center of their beautiful petals is a deep dark core. All of us has a deep dark core.
He: Is that so?
Me: Indeed it is.
He: Well, then. This is certainly the most profound version of the installation to date.
Me: I think you should keep it up forever.
He: Hopefully, the cleaning lady won’t change it around. She’s always moving stuff.
Me: Then she needs to go.
He: What? But she’s so good!
Me: It’s the way it is. Her or me.
He: I might have to go with her.
Me: I’m hurt.
He: But you can’t clean like she does.
Me: Says who?
He: Alright, but you’ll have to wear the uniform.
Me: I know of people in New York who are naked Read the rest of this entry »