On Overgrown Paths

"The Stone Breakers" by Gustave Courbet (destroyed in World War II)
I had a hair cut appointment at 5pm and took the Metra into Union Station. I watched the men and women thumbing at their devices and listening to the cords that ran into their ears. The subdivisions passed through the green window, then parking lots, then shopping centers and the Chicago River and the sky scrapers and I got off the train.

It was cold and blowing and I walked quickly to the Art Institute of Chicago and went to look at the Gauguin’s from Tahiti. I had recently become interested in this man. How had he come to give up a career as a Parisian banker to live in Tahiti? I looked at these colorful paintings, the tawny skinned women, their wonderful dark breasts and darker nipples and the oranges and deep reds and the blues and greens. How had a banker come to paint this?

"Why Are You Angry? No Te Aha Oe Riri" by Paul Gauguin
Then I went to look at the Millets. There was a husband and wife shearing a sheep. In another a man was chopping wood. Men worked in a field to gather hay. None of it had been made to be romantic. There were simply men working and it was wonderful. Nearby were some Courbets and they knocked me out. Courbet could really paint stone and earth, though Courbet could paint any damned thing, and when he painted a portrait it was something else. The one Courbet I have always wanted to see was destroyed by Allied bombs in the war.

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"A Philosopher (Beggar with Oysters)" by Manet
After the Courbets was Manet and he did not impress me this time around. I liked two simple portraits he had done of street people. He called them both beggars and philosophers in his titles. Since I had been meditating recently on the nomadic and homeless man as enemies of the State, I took a careful look at these paintings. Perhaps the proper philosopher must be without a home? It was something to consider.

"The Return from Parnassus, Part 1" by Cy Twombly
I finally ended in the contemporary wing where I had the good fortune of coming across two magnificent Cy Twomblys. “The Return from Parnassus” in two parts was a helluva knockout. It put the whole of the contemporary wing to shame and it was clear to me why they didn’t often bring these paintings out for display.

"Gray" by Jasper Johns
On the way out I took a quick look at a Jasper Johns and realized that here was a guy who could have been a shit philosopher probably on the order of Derrida. Instead he had decided to paint. What he paints is interesting and you can look at it. I stood in front of the big gray painting with the string necklace that I always see whenever I come and I realized that if only more of these bad philosophers had just tried to make paintings a lot of confusion might have been avoided.

Later I was sitting in a bar near the hair salon in a neighborhood called the Ukrainian Village. There was little evidence from what I saw of any Ukrainians. The bar had been labeled a hipster bar but there was a long list of very expensive exotic beers on a chalkboard. They call such beers “craft beers” these days. There was no happy hour the tattooed barman told me. I took a pint of the one label I knew, Sierra Nevada. When I was coming up in the world in New York a place labeled ‘hipster’ meant ‘cheap’ and to be a hipster was to be impoverished and to wear $1 t-shirts purchased in thrift stores. Verily, much had changed.

At the end of the bar a gringa with those thin glasses they wear now was speaking so loudly I heard everything she said to the young man beside her. I could not ignore it. She did not let him speak. Her voice was shrill and penetrating and it was clear that she liked to be listened to and agreed with and I began to feel I would weep for her and for him. How had it come to this? The whole scene began to unsettle me and I felt I would weep too for the tattooed barman who worked in a bar without a happy hour and for the passersby on the streets, the men pushing the strollers, the pierced young men and women, and I wanted to weep for them, for the whole city, this place they had come to with such expectation.

I wanted to tell them the truth of it all. That the city was a mistake. The city might be a sort of happiness to a few but to the many it could never be. But this I could not do. To tell that truth would be to be ignored. To show a path to that truth is to make some effect. And I did not know yet how to show them this path. There was nothing I had to show them. I did not know yet how to show the long path that I had taken to this truth. Perhaps I was still on the path and had not yet arrived at the truth. There was much I could not articulate and perhaps much I did not yet know.

So I began to weep for myself. I began to weep for joy. I was teary eyed in the hipster bar in the Ukrainian Village and weeping for joy that I had found an other path and rejected all of this. That I could sit in this place and be so joyful that this was not my life. Because it very might have been my life. It was very possible that I might have been that young man at the end of the bar during the happy hour that was not a happy hour, drinking expensive exotic beers and listening to a shrill gringa tell me the stories of her dating life and career and agreeing with her and playing the game and hoping and praying that I might get that thing I came to the city for.

Later I had my hair cut by Monica, the tattooed girl from Minneapolis who cut my hair more than a year before. They serve you cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the salon while your hair is cut and she did a good job again on my hair, cutting away much of it, straightening it with the chemical relaxer, and I had three cans of cold PBR in total and then I took the subway to the Metra. On the way home I watched the commuters thumbing their devices and I looked out the green window at the darkness and the lights and the passing subdivisions did not look so depressing in the darkness. I hoped that maybe there was some happiness somewhere in some of them, a happiness that resembled the happiness I knew everyday and carried with me and could draw upon when I needed it. I did not think there was that sort of happiness there, but I didn’t know. A city is a big place and you cannot know everyone.

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