Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The City's Oil

When I’m on them, trains never leave, and when waiting, they never arrive.

The subways are stuck in a gelatin of immobility.

At arm’s length I hold a oil from class, knowing full well that it takes days to dry and leaves an impenetrable stain when lightly brushed by clothing.

I attempt to share the knowledge with the other riders. I think first to tell them it’s fresh paint, so their concern to keep my glowing picture intact will make them keep their distance. But that thought soon vanishes from my mind. What I tell them instead, is what really concerns them. That the paint in question will destroy their designer handbags, skinny jeans, vintage T-shirts, and supple suede in less time than it took for said shoppers to slap down the plastic to buy it.

They keep their distance.

When the train finally chugs into the station nearest my apartment, I step off in a rush, to breathe a bit less-stale air, to bound up the stairs, and to bring my painting home, where after dry and after scrutiny, I’ll toss it under my bed because it’s not good enough.

The doors open and I jump out, clunky and weighed down from my box of colors, my portfolio bag digging deep into my shoulder, inhaling low, only to remember. This is the spot, the exact spot, where no matter what time on what day it is, it reeks of heavy, acidic urine.

I stop inhaling. I hold my breath, shuffle up the stairs as I’m swept in the crowd, and try to keep the painting away from everyone’s outfits, though a pusher in a hurry, elbows several people before getting to me, and slams his way past, smearing his hand on the picture.

Because of the crowd, it’s tilted again, this time smearing me, my skinny jeans, my vintage T. I cringe. I left my smock in the classroom because it was too wet and too big, and far too unfashionable to ride home in. As if anyone would have cared.

Watercolors were meant for New York, for the subway. Pencils, pastels, ink. Recycled sketch pads. Quick drying, easy to move, fast, fast, fast.

Not oil. Oil is slow, slow, slow.

Oil was meant for the landscapes of Chile and Scotland, the portraits of royalty and their pearled lace collars, plump fruit and flowers bunched loosely on a starched tablecloth, figures swathed in cotton or bathing in green waters and sunshine.

Oil was not meant for me, not for the subway, and not for New York.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Subways just make it so hard to carry anything, let alone something wet.

pookalu said...

i hate it when you plan your time to miss a bunch of trains, and all the trains arrive and get you there early, or the reverse happens.

ah commuting.

not good for oils.

Ali said...

despite the stale air of the subway, this post was a breath of fresh air for my stagnant day... thank you for the literary kindness

Jeannie said...

why can't you use acrylics? They look and act a lot like oil but dry really fast. Or you need some type of portfolio to carry your work in that will keep it and everyone else safe.

D.T. said...

Oh no! That totally sucks. But I guess when you live in a fast-paced city like New York, you yourself have to be fast-paced. Still...maybe it can be saved? Not the designer jeans of course, but the painting...

K said...

I would have loved to use acrylics in the class but they won't allow it... (Hopefully next class I'll use them)

But it's okay, the painting and the jeans aren't worth crying over--particularly the painting :)

Oob said...

How frustrating. But it sounds like you're taking the artistic detachment lesson from a few posts ago to heart!

Cheetarah1980 said...

K, K, K!!!! The subway is NOT the place for a wet oil painting. Especially not the New York City subway. I feel bad for your painting and for your clothes. But damn, girl...why?

Grant said...

I guess for student work you don't get hard covers for your paintings? Then again, it would be something extra you'd have to carry...

I have to say that I dislike the jostling that happens when you get off the subway or train. If I have no where important to go, I would wait until they've all fought it out and saunter up after them. Maybe loo-- I mean check the ID's on the bodies of the trampled ones. ;)

Further on up the road said...

Heard a great quote that relates to the crush and rush off the train the other day.

"Everyone rushing to get somewhere to do nothing and then rush off to the next somewhere to do nothing again".

Must be bad to have the painting damaged though. I'm no artist but isn't that like someone stepping on your soul?

GeminiWisdom said...

Too bad that guy didn't get it all over HIM. But aren't New Yorkers a pushy lot by trade? It's like, genetic or something, isn't it? LOL.