On Friday, he clocked out and tucked in his shirt, yelling fast "good-byes" to various coworkers as he scurried out the store, heading for the car. He needed to be somewhere in a half an hour, and the drive would be at least that long. And, in addition, parking would be a huge obstacle to overcome once he got there, especially with the slush and snow and all.
In the parking lot, he lit a cigarette while the car warmed up and hoped for the best: light traffic and all green lights. Though not perfect, the drive went fast and smooth, having zig-zagged around Chicago's streets to avoid known clogged areas (Lincoln and the river bridge, for example). He even scored parking right next to the Dunkin Donuts by The Alley. And then his Doc Martens plunged into the snow up to his calf as he fed the meter. Wet!
That morning before work, he had pocketed an unsplit pill of Clonzapem without knowing why at the time, he hadn't needed it for some time now; but, now he knew why. Nervousness and the Blue-haired Demons had started to creep creep creep around the base of his stomach.
He inhaled deeply his last hit of his cigarette, quelling the Screaming Hordes, and exhaled loudly into the Clark Street traffic blowing the Blue-haired Demons into the steamy cold night. He entered The John Galt Gallery.
Bright lights! Warmth! People talking a murmermurmermurmer that hummed in his ears. He walked on shaking legs to the next room, scanning the crowd for people he knew and alighted on Justin and Complex Carrie. He in dark clothes with his cool necklace, and she in a black antique dress like a wide-eyed Flapper. He walked up to them and said hello, and they went through the typical "what time you get here?," "how'd you get here?," and "who else is here/coming?" small talk everyone goes through at first meeting as the snow melting off his shoes made a small muddy puddle on the light wood floor.
"Did you dye the ends of your hair red?" he asked Carrie.
And when she turned to face him, the color red disappeared from the ends of her black hair. He realized it was an illusion caused by the red and yellow bulb shining in a little black-metal framed lantern held by a skeleton statue in a bride's dress standing behind her/next to him.
They laughed and looked around. His eyes landed on a petite blonde in black slacks and blouse, looking professional and vigilant. She must work here. He followed her around the room with his eyes for a while: very cute. The type of woman that made him very aware of the scuff-marks on his boots, of all the wrinkles in his dark green button-down, and of the frays beginning at the hem of his brown pants.
He had been expecting/hoping tonight would be a scene out of this book/movie, but, alas, it was Chicago and twenty years too late. Instead of Bow Wow Wow or Tones on Tail grinding bumping pulsing through the speakers, he didn't recall hearing anything at all, but the background voice-noise. Though no Annabella Lwins were running around, there were indeed about four Sweet Betties walking around. Strangely, the two artsy Bucktown-types looked very similar to each other: medium length dirty blond hair, thin Euro-All-American-girl faces, big brown eyes, long tan-colored overcoats, and off-centered make-him-melt smiles tinged with an all-knowing smirk. One had a boyfriend, the other a small green Israeli Army purse.
Looking around reminded him of teenage dreams, of the Path he had envisioned himself walking forward on. He had wanted to drink and twirl with girls at The End of The World for four or five years; move into a crude walk-up on the L.E.S.; write for a living at music magazines; gallery and club hop throughout the week; and rub shoulders with artists, rockers, and models slumming it on Wednesdays at dive bars in the rain. But, through a series of choices, mistakes, fate, and fear, he ended up in Chicago. In Retail. And, he supposed, it wasn't all bad.
Ahead of him hung three sci-fi, D&D wet dreams. In another room, he saw a painting he really liked and would have bought, if not for the $875 price tag. On the other wall (also similarly priced) hung a few paintings of cityscapes, or rather, buildings viewed from an alley only in teals and hott pinks named (something like) "This Year's Blight." Even with the warm or flashy colors, the pictures held a mysterious element of danger or sadness or hidden evil. A tiny Asian hipster with a goatee, looking at a painting of a woman's face next to the hospital painting, kept telling his girlfriend, "this one's not bad, not bad..."
He returned to his friends who had been joined by Lauren.
"Where's Scott?" he asked her, mainly to remind himself she was married, to push aside all the naughty thoughts running through his head when she looked at him over her dark-rimmed glasses, or when she put a hand on her hip that jutted out just-so when she took a sip of her wine.
"He works late tonight." She said," Their reisling-styled one is very good, you should try some."
He finished the sweet red wine he had and took her advice and went to the bar for the reisling one. The August Hill Winery had donated bottles to the event and were holding a Wine Tasting this evening.
Conversation among the group swerved and flowed: Rehab, cars, how it's hard to talk about your own paintings, the wine, jobs, condos, and more: "...and then H. left a voicemail to call her back, so I did. She was on mushrooms, and she denied ever calling me. I'm worried about her, she's acting weird: You don't eat mushrooms at midnight when you're looking for a job!"
He briefly thought to ask her if H. could get him four grams of mushrooms, but thought this may not be the best time.
Ron, in Armani (that he pointedly and loudly pointed out), was saying "...I love her photo that has Bjork in the background." Which turned out to be a picture of Bjork in the background, not actually Bjork standing in the background. He told Ron he felt lied to.
And, suddenly, he was meeting a photographer named Candice. The three of them grouped in front of Candice's photo sets. She had long red hair, a black vest over some sort of concert t-shirt, and multiple piercings. She seemed seemed a lot younger than him.
"Which one's your favorite and why?' she asked. He pointed to Innocence and Seduction, but he wanted to switch the titles. All the photos held warm color (yellows, oranges and reds), but they turned out to be black and whites that had been developed with a filter. A woman posed in front of a yellowish garage door in Innocence. She had her hands up in her black hair and stood askew in a tight white Michael Jackson "Beat It" t-shirt, her eyes looking directly into the viewer's with a come hither look. In the darker photo, Seduction, the same model had been shot, a nude, with breasts and face only showing, shadowed. A line ran across her neck.
"Has she been strangled? Is that a rope burn?" He asked, pointing to the line.
"No, it's a collar."
"I want to switch the titles."
The look on her face in this one has more of a seductive woman, one that knows what she wants and gets it, whereas the side view of her look in this one, and maybe her nudity, brings to my mind a sense of purity or newness, more of an innocent quality. Her stance in the first one just screams 'let's get it on.'"
And that led to a brief conversation among him, Candice, Ron and John (Candice's boyfriend) about using or not using titles in art. Should a piece have a title displayed for the viewer? Does the addition of a title help or hinder the viewer's interpretation of the piece?
"I hate it when they use 'Untitled' as a title." Candice said. "That's just lazy." Then Ron started saying something about how in New York the wine is better at these gallery events.
Time to go.
Lauren was going out to a bar with Perry. No invitations, so he offered Justin and Complex Carrie a ride home.
He'd had a peek into a world he'd envisioned as a teen. He poured a double-finger of Rare Breed on the Rocks, sat on the too small couch, and dreamed of where he wanted to go in life.
And pretended he knew how to get there.