Turpentine Encounter

by

01/03/2003

Ludlow St & Stanton St, New York, NY 10002

Neighborhood: Lower East Side

He is a pop artist of modest fame. I know he once designed a Barneys window display, and I think he paints murals for Unicef. Beyond that, I know very little about him. Aside from what he looks like naked.

It began innocently enough: I was stumbling home in an uncomfortable pair of shoes when he approached me from behind, asking if I needed a little treat to cheer me up. Too tired to put up a fight—or turn around, for that matter—I simply stuck out my left arm with an open hand. And that’s when he slapped something, hard, into my palm.

“Ouch,” I said.

“Meeeeeooooow,” he said.

It was a sticker of a smiling orange cat.

“Where’re you headed?” he then asked.

I was trying to find one of the city’s few late-night hardware stores, I explained, because I was going Lisbon the next morning, and I needed to make a spare set of keys for my cat-sitter, and I still had to deliver those keys to the cat-sitter, and so, and then, and how, and meow, and his hand was already on my shoulder, pointing me in the direction of Delancey Street, telling me he would take me there.

And he did.

But I didn’t have any money once it was time to pay for the keys. “I’ll take care of it,” he said. “You just owe me a drink for my troubles.” I suggested we go and have some kir at Le Pere Pinard.

And we did.

We were on my sofa in our skivvies an hour after that. And then, an hour after that, we were still having sex. He likened his endurance to that of the Energizer Bunny, which I pretended not to hear. When it was (finally) over, we lay on the floor and said very stupid things.

“Wow,” he said.

“Wow indeed,” I said.

Still, I looked forward to seeing him when I returned from vacation. I arrived at JFK International at three in the afternoon and appeared at his studio at five.

“Where did you go again?” he asked.

“Lisbon,” I said.

“Right,” he said. “That’s in Spain, right?”

He grabbed me at the waist, started spinning me around.

“I love salsa,” he added.

The rest is hard to recall. He dragged me into a room that was ripe with paint fumes and covered in sawdust. I was already feeling queasy from the jet lag and now: turpentine. My eyes watered. My nose ran. I wanted out. But who was I to refuse the advances of an artist known to many as The Next Keith Haring? Clearly a man with such a vision . . . must have seen something special in me?

We were shoved up against a ladder. He peeled off my shirt. I sneezed into his chest. He was pulling out his, um, paintbrush, and the next thing I knew I was sprawled out on the floor having dirty water thrown at my face. I felt heavy. Dark. Frightened.

“Who are you?” I think I asked.

He was kind, then, rubbing his colorful hands all over my forehead. Asking me if I knew my name (did he even know it?), where I lived, who was President. He lay down beside me, stroking my hair, whispering my name. Is this real? I remember thinking. Is this . . . love?

And then, once I came to, came my embarrassment. And the apologies. And the thanks. I told him he was free to send me an invoice for his services; he said my telephone number would be payment enough. But he never called. And now, every time I see his work around town, I remind myself that love, like art, is often a product of one’s imagination.

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