His head is freshly shaven so his beard bleeds right into his sideburns. I have never seen him so tidey.
I have a glass of white wine sitting in front of me, and I’m finishing the last of the Chinese green beans. A typical Vancouver evening: it’s raining outside. The street lights reflect off the puddles on the concrete, and when I squint my eyes I feel like I’m living in an impressionist’s masterpiece. We’ve become a staple here at the Shanghai Bistro over the past few years. I’ve learned about Shakespeare, good wine, sexual innuendos…and now, art.
Thanks to him, I have a list of “divine places not to be missed,” in my journal. Before him, I’d never heard anyone use the word divine. It’s now my favorite word.
I want to be like him when I grow up. Decadent, curious, eternally youthful, yet wise. My mentor, my friend, John Glover.
The Glove of Love is his name on the set of the show we both work on, but I like to call him Big Daddy. He subtly puts me in my place when my head is too big to fit through the door, and he shows me the beauty in all things dirty, messy and downright unkempt.
He once revealed to me that the secret to good acting is that all characters are looking to get laid.
“That’s what every human being wants: to feel good… connection, ya know?”
A true gentleman, he always opens my door and puts his napkin in his lap; but then he launches into conversations that unlock the raw, gritty and spinning humility I’ve been so afraid of exploring.
Both sides of the same coin.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” — Walt Whitman
He says the most embarrassing things in the most wonderful way, and the natural reddening of my cheeks in his presence has become a reflex. He likes the smell of sweat and his life lessons make me cringe.
Tonight, he is teaching me about art: Egon Schiele, and I would soon discover, a side of myself I never knew existed.
We split the bill, and I go home to pack my bag. I try to picture what it would’ve been like when John was living in his loft in TriBeca, just after the height of the civil rights movement and long before the AIDS crisis. Manhattan was filled with bohemians, bums, and artists. I picture parties, brawls and free love; Woodstock 24/7… at least in my head. I see my Big Daddy hosting dinner parties and rehearsing Brecht. I wish I was there with him now, flowers in my hair, dresses to the floor, hairy legs, bare feet and sun-kissed shoulders.
Finished packing, I take the list scribbled on the back of my Shanghai Bistro napkin, fold it into my journal and slip the whole package carefully into my purse to carry on a Jet Blue red-eye. This is precious cargo.
Wheels touch down as the sun comes up. I arrive just in time.
I jump into an infamous New York City yellow cab and direct the driver to The Gramercy Hotel. The hotel is swankey to say the least. I feel like a little girl in my mom’s high heels. It’s more than I can take in. I need to caffeinate and find a smaller, more enclosed space to wash my face, brush my teeth and prepare myself for the three days I have here. I will see the city a la John and report back. I hope I do a good job.
Once I finish ingesting the most caramely cup of coffee from 71 Irving, I begin my walk.
I walk from 18th and Park South to 86th and 5th Ave. It’s half the island, three and a half miles, and the bottom of my feet feel like they’ve been burned with a branding iron. I refuse to take a taxi or a subway. I want to stay above ground and feel the whole thing. I am getting New York City stamped into my soul.
When I approach the Neue Galerie — “Noy-ah!, like Goy-ah!” — I am taken aback by the size.
It’s so small.
Once I walk in I see there’s a plaque explaining the collector’s obsession with all things Viennese circa 1890-1910. The whole museum is dedicated to three things: Viennese culture in the turn of the century, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.
I’d heard of Klimt before and his work was always inspiring. So when I found Schiele in a little room tucked away from the oversize Klimts, I was shocked by the wave of emotion I felt.
Schiele has all the bold lines and porcelain skin of Klimt, but more soul, grit and pain than Klimt could ever share or capture. Schiele’s art had a peculiar freedom due to his poverty. Because he had no dignitaries telling him what he could and couldn’t do or portray, he had no boundaries and no rules. He painted as he saw, he painted what he felt, he just painted.
And in that moment, standing in the center of the small room that is considered an off-shoot of the real museum, I embrace the bitter, dirty, sexy and sloppy parts of me. I see beauty in the murky, and I finally understand why John has been pushing me to admit when I am horny or hairy. He, like Schiele, loves the rawness of human beings. I didn’t know what he meant by the “appeal of an untweezed eyebrow” until I was standing in a room of the most gruesome and yet striking portraits of the underbelly of Vienna. Through each canvas I see more of me… I let myself go.