Ami and I go on living day to day in accordance with the conventions of couples shacking up for whatever reason they decide to, and I’m still not sure if either of us has established a clear reason. Ami, of course, has put up the most. It’s her place. Where we share our lives. Where we cook elaborate meals and drink a lot of wine. Where we sleep and screw. All the while we never talk much about our future or if we even have one. But I never sense a hint of discontent from her and I don’t give off any of that either.
Two nights later we walk over the Pulaski bridge to Long Island City to a gallery, a new gallery with a growing reputation where Ami has four photos in a show titled “Silences.” The gallery’s an apartment, it turns out, each of the three small rooms is dedicated to one photographer. Ami’s work hangs in the middle room with the table of drinks and snacks so there’s a lot of traffic coming in and out. They’re large prints, 24 by 36 inches each, set in thin silver frames, bright, sharp colors even if the subjects aren’t the most cheery: the trail of a child’s wet footprints going off the frame on the cement around a cerulean blue pool, taken in Delray Beach, Florida; two beer bottles sitting on a doorstep with a pillow and blanket spread out on the walkway next to them as if someone has just gotten up and walked away, taken in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; an enormous white plastic dog smeared with something black surrounded by piles of junk in a backyard, taken in North Adams, Massachusetts; an empty playground with foam blocks and mats and swings and skateboard ramps sparkling under a clear blue sky, taken in Bellows Falls, Vermont. They’re priced at two thousand dollars per and oddly it’s the beer bottles with the pillow and blanket that has a red dot next to it. Maybe the soft, seductive color of the green door and pastel yellow walls drew the buyer in? Whatever the reason, I’m happy for her. What do I know about art, or photography, except what I like and I’m not going to try to guess what someone else’s taste is and why it’s that way. It’s not my personal favorite, even if I didn’t mention it to Ami when she was showing me her final selections, though I remember her saying, “I want to have something from Brooklyn in it, and this is the one I’m choosing.”
Despite the gallery’s rather remote location a lot of people come in and out. A lot of them came to see Ami, and she’s happy with that. It’s all over her face, the glow in her eyes, the smile that doesn’t leave her lips. She chats and chats about her photos while I stand next to her with a plastic cup of red wine in my hand. Once in a while she touches my shoulder and introduces me to someone I haven’t met yet, and after the exchange of names and hellos and handshakes I step back and let them go on without interference. I’m the gym guy, I feel an unusual need to fill that detail in, though I wonder if they all know that anyway? A divorced forty something, even an early forty something, mining the YMCA’s Cardio Room for chicks isn’t good image management even if it was a play Ami had a co-starring role in.
She gets involved in a long talk with the gallery’s director and apartment resident, a Japanese woman named Kyoko who went to Barnard and is a painter herself, a confident and intelligent woman around Ami’s age. Their conversation doesn’t involve me, and it won’t, I know, and I go over to the table and refill my cup and then I go outside for a breather.
The weather’s warm, a soft, summer feel to it, and there’s a few smokers out there, one of them on the sidewalk leaning back against the rusting black iron fence, puffing away. I strike up a conversation with him and he wonders if I’m one of the outcasts looking for a place to light up? No, no, not me, I don’t do that. Taking a break is all. His name’s Andrew and he happens to be a friend of Kyoko’s, and he wonders how I know her, Ami, and when I tell him we’re companions he smiles and congratulates me as if I’d just beat him in a footrace. Then comes the question I always do my best to avoid in those situations: Am I photographer too? No, no, I double the negative again, I’m not one of those. Then what do I do? is his immediate follow up and there’s no other option but to give in and tell him. I’m writing something, I say, and I let that drift away without elaboration. It turns out he does some of that too. He has an art blog that isn’t just an art blog but includes articles and commentary about the neighborhood, important new books, and general news pieces about people. Cultural types, he adds. A stub of cigarette hangs between his lips as he reaches around, opens his wallet and picks out a business card he hands to me. It has his website’s address and some personal information and he says I should take a look at the site when I get home.
“I have a few advertisers so I’m always desperate for subscribers,” he’s direct about it.
“I’ll sign up, no problem there,” I assure him.
I admire the straightforward way he drives his point home. No doubt subscribing’s something I’d want to do. But that’s New York. Everyone with some dream they’re sure is important and have no qualms advocating for. His friend Kyoko, the apartment dweller and artist turned temporary gallery curator, is on to that dream too. You’re involved in your dream or you’re not. You’re doing something about it or you’re not. It’s yours and only yours to make something of, and the plans I have for these pages seem small compared to the unflinching ambitions of others. I should want all of it too. I should have mentioned this the moment I said writing was what I did. But reticent as I am, and I know that’s how I come off, it doesn’t stop Andrew from asking where I’ve published and what I’m working on? I name the few magazines I had something in years ago, and I follow that by describing my current undertaking as best I can. “An insider viewpoint of that mess,” I say in summary. I go on to tell him I’d been in the business until the crash and he doesn’t seem put off by it. In fact, he seems interested. What was that like? Why did I get out of it? It’s a bold and important topic, indeed, he says. Au courant. He’s enthusiastic, maybe more enthusiastic than I am, though I believe he takes that as my not wanting to go on about myself.
“Good luck with it, Peter,” he says as we turn through the gate and go up the steps and back into the gallery to join up with Ami and his friend Kyoko. “And be sure to register for me. I appreciate it a lot.”
The next evening I tell Ami I want to take her out as a congrats for the success of her show. I’m impressed with her and her work and the comfort she shows talking to people about it. I’m proud of her for selling a photo and double so for Kyoko calling to tell her there’s interest in another and the sale might go through tonight. The Bellows Falls piece, as Ami refers to it.
“Wherever you want to go, it’s on my dime,” I say.
“You’re between jobs working on your own project, right?” she says.
“I am that, but also independently wealthy,” I say.
“Well now I don’t think that’s true. But I’m all for pretending it’s so for one night.”
She dresses in black pants and a black shirt with a few buttons left undone at the collar. She looks sexy, dark skin, dark clothes. I can’t stop the thought from articulating itself in my head. After she ties her hair back we put our jackets on and walk up Bedford Ave. We turn right on Broadway and a little ways further on we go into Marlow & Sons. We get there early enough to get a table for two in the back corner. We sip red wine and pick at crusty French bread and green olives as the place fills up. We’re having a conversation that jumps from topic to topic without any logical flow when a couple of thirty-something’s come in and take a table over by the bar. The guy’s tall and slim with light hair and his girlfriend fits that description too. The moment they’re settled the guy glances over at Ami and smiles. Ami issues one of her own in return, a bright, full smile, and after that the guy goes back to his girlfriend or date or whatever she is to him.
“How do you know each other?” It’s a question I ask in a voice that’s intended not to sound intrusive.
“I don’t know him really. He just moved into a studio in 974 is all.”
“Oh, I see. And you have a studio there too, I know.” I dab at my lips with a napkin, itching to ask her what he does to see if she’s talked to him in that kind of detail, but I restrain myself.
Ami makes a face that’s hard to interpret. It might be expressing her frustration with my continuing doubt about my status with her, or that there isn’t any need to inquire into every little detail of her life. After that we stay silent, let the air clear. Then Ami asks if I like the wine and from there we move on to other subjects.