I’m at the opening of Least Wanted, a collection of mugshots, many of them enlarged, from the 1930’s through the early 70’s. The young and the bad are beautifully indignant in black and white, and I could stare for hours at the badass mug of a 17 year old boy caught rioting on the streets of Denver. His hair splays across his forehead and he seems to be about ready to burst from the picture, perhaps spit right through the gap in his front teeth. Snap snap, I imagine the camera’s eye opening, primly absorbing the light of each arrestee’s fury, dismay or indifference.
“Hold my bag, would you,” I say to my poor friend Chris, who I drag along with me to art openings each Thursday. The bag is full of library books and has been throwing off my back for the past two days. “Great, I was looking for something to make me look gayer,” said Chris, and I’m surprised that he’s willing to say that in such a crowded Chelsea setting, given his overall shyness. Then I start counting back to how many drinks he’s had and never get to zero.
Each mugshot is accompanied by a description of the person and his alleged crime. One man’s crime is listed as “Communist (drunk)”. Any physical irregularities and vices—i.e. tobacco use, bad temperament—are also listed, and a woman with a quaint British haircut turns to ask me what a carbuncle is.
I go up to the free bar and there’s a complex array of dyed syrups, juice, vodka and twists. I don’t see a drink list so I just wait and ask for what the lady before me had.
“Are you sure?” the bartender starts, grinning at me. He begins making the drink, which involves pouring orange juice and vodka and some red dyed substance back and forth between two plastic cups. “This drink has arsenic in it, you know,” he says, still grinning.
My mind boggles at the fact that he’s treating me like a three year old and sort of coming on to me at the same time. I mumble something meant to make him awkward but he doesn’t stop.
“That’s what you get for blindly following,” he says, handing me the drink. He made it extra strong with plenty of warm vodka so that it tastes something like goose’s vomit.
I circle around the rest of the exhibit slowly. Mugshots are easier to appreciate than other forms of art because they aren’t really based on a certain technique or viewpoint—each one invites its own narrative. I look around for Chris but he isn’t in the room. I call him on my cell. “Hey, what’s going on?”
“Oh, I’m across the street getting arrested.”
“Drinking in public?”
I’m zipping down the stairs and I open the heavy metal door, stepping into one of the last hot breaths of September night. The sun has already gone down and I see the cruiser first, then the red tufts of Chris’ bad haircut, then a fatass female police officer leaning onto the trunk and writing Chris a summons.
I step across the street. There are at least three people within a ten foot radius gulping down PBRs on the sidewalk. I think to myself how noticeable Chris is in everything he does. He tries to do things when people aren’t looking but spends so long looking around suspiciously that by the time he gets around to doing whatever it is everyone’s ready to pounce. It’s like that time I convinced him to run out on the bill of this shitty Mexican restaurant we were at. He spent so long debating on how to do it—should we leave at the same time or one after another—that the waiter caught up to us easily.
“Where I come from, in upstate New York…” Chris was intoning.
“Well this is New York City, and if you don’t like it here, you can get the hell out. You know, I can just put you in the car and take you down to the station.”
“Yeah,” Chris said, “I guess you could arrest me for about anything you wanted. I found that out at the Republican National Convention.” They started mouthing off to each other about George W. and who made the laws and who enforced them.
“You better watch it, or I’ll be throwing you right over the roof of this car, I’ll be showing you how liberal I really am,” the cop said. The woman writing the summons looked up, bored, her eyes half-lidded like a cow’s. “Don’t you get him started,” she said to Chris.
“Yeah, come on Chris, this is the most obvious place to get caught drinking,” I said. “We saw the cruisers all around.”
Chris looked straight forward and said nothing, doing the stoic drunken hipster bit. I sort of wanted to kick his ass but I restrained myself until later when the cops weren’t there.