The Flaming Artist Speaks to the World
The Amsterdam Trip—January, 2005
6:40 a.m. Thursday, January 27, 2004
The Hotel Winston is very interesting. It was recommended to us by Han Verhooven, based on our criteria that it be near Mister B’s and inexpensive. It’s very artistic—the Hotel version of one of those 70’s psuedo-beatnik coffee shops. Each room had been given to a different artist to design. Ours has four single beds, one being a bunk bed. There is no phone in the room and only one overhead light, over the bed that I claimed. (There’s only one public phone in the hotel, a coin-op pay phone next to the elevators, off the lobby.) There’s a tiny wall-mounted TV in the corner nearest to John’s bed, and no remote for it. The bathroom has no towel rack, nor much of a ledge over the sink to lay out one’s toiletries. I wonder how they expect people to manage it. Yesterday afternoon, after we checked in, I was profoundly miserable. I asked John if he thought we could exchange rooms. He said it was a bit late for that; we’d already unpacked, messed the sheets (the beds have only one cover, a thick pad inside a large white slipcover, not much bigger that the bed itself. Luckily the room’s temperature is just about perfect for my tastes—not too hot, just slightly cool.).
The hotel serves continental breakfast between 8 and 10 am, I think (but am not sure). There’s a bar/lounge/coffee shop in the lobby, behind the concierge’s desk.
Each floor seems to have a hand-painted (accompanied with a small card naming the artist) Twix candy bar dispensing machine. I guess someone here really likes Twix candy bars.
I wonder how old the candy bars are. I wonder if the machines actually work.
After we checked in, we went to Mister B’s, arriving at about 4:00 p.m.. Han Verhooven came down and greeted us. He said we would have to take the artwork to the frame shop, Exelijst. He called his contact there, (another) Han, asking whether the shop needed the artwork that evening or could wait until today. Today was fine. Han said I should come by Mister B’s today around 10:00 a.m. with the artwork, and we’d figure out how best to take it to Exelijst: tram, taxi, or a friend’s station wagon. We had the choice of leaving the artwork at Mister B’s or taking it back to our hotel. We decided on the latter, since the former would have meant dragging it up a narrow, steep circular staircase to one of the upper floors.
Mister B’s occupies all three floors of an ancient brick building. The bottom floor is the shop/gallery; the upper two are devoted to offices. The retail part is actually about 2 stories high, very tall ceilings.
About 10 feet from the entrance, there is a steep 4-foot-tall broad oak staircase that leads to the main part of the shop, where the clothing is. There’s another staircase on the left, just past the register, descending 4 or 5 feet to a small dungeon where all the sex toys are kept. All the magazines, porn videos and greeting cards are kept on the street level section at the front of the store. The artwork from the previous artist’s show is about to be removed in preparation for my show. It’s not to my taste… all small black and white drawings on leather/SM themes.
While I was standing around, I noticed the magazine section near the front window. I saw in it were most of the copies of True Adult Fantasy #1 that Han had brought from me when I visited the store back in September ’03. They were at the original price of $6.95, and, obviously, they hadn’t sold. In fact, they looked pretty dog-eared. I felt like a fool for dragging the 20 copies apiece of TAF #1 & #2 at the $12.95 and $14.95 prices. But how was I to know? I guess I could have asked how it was selling. Duh.
We returned to the hotel to crash before dinner. John realized, as he reviewed his portable pharmacy, that he’d taken the wrong bottle of pain meds. He wouldn’t have enough to last more than 4 days. Around midnight, he went downstairs, tried calling Josy to get her to ship his pills, then Ariana, finally setting on Stuart. I tried calling Bill to check up on the postcard thing. I got wrong numbers in Amsterdam and Germany before I gave up. Fuck it. If the postcards arrive, they arrive.
I was having problems of my own. I was feeling suicidally depressed. I felt like such a total fucking fool, that I was doing everything wrong. I was angry at John too. While we were stuck in Customs Hell, he was peppering me with annoyed questions: “Why did you do that?” “Why did you make that decision?” “Don’t tell them about that.” “Why did you price the artwork so high?” I didn’t feel adequate to the task of explaining the months of painstaking, grueling groping-in-the-dark research Bill and I had done on the Internet vis á vis Customs and shipping. In many cases, we had to make blind choices based on ambiguous, contradictory and incomplete information. “Why did I decide XYZ?” It made sense at the time.
Yesterday, John confessed that he’d been trying to figure out how to get out of accompanying me to Amsterdam. But my “Be Strong” speech last week had convinced him to go with me after all. He was now glad he had come. How would I have gotten through Customs without him? The irony was, while we were in Customs, I wanted to scream at him, “You’re being so unhelpful!” He’d been continually, gently, telling me to calm down. I was fighting the urge to tell him to calm down.
I woke John around 7:00 pm. He tried making his SOS phonecalls. Then we went out, ate at the same nearby Chinese restaurant we’d been at on our last trip. We were served by the same queenie, effusive Chinese headwaiter as last time. The food is pretty good, though not as good as Sun’s, our local Chinese restaurant in Highland Park.
At this moment, I’m in the bar behind the Main Desk. There’s still a bartender working at 7:45 a.m. I asked him if I could just sit here; it seems to be okay. A few minutes ago, he approached me, said something I didn’t quite understand about “bathroom.” It didn’t seem important. Right now, other than him, I’m alone in the bar.
The hotel’s business card mentions something about live music every night, but I see no sign of a bandstand.
8:51 p.m., Thursday, January 27, 2005
John, Han and I set out for the frame shop, Exeljist, at 10:00 a.m. Han decided the best way would be to walk and take the trolley. Neither John and I told Han of our podiatric difficulty. I carried the 40-lb box of art. We had to change trains twice on the way there and back, taking an hour or more altogether. We chatted along the way, John and Han doing most of it. I would prompt John with questions about his many adventures in Gay life. He grew up in Massachusetts before Stonewall, taught college in Appalachia, had gay adventures in Kuwait and Cuba. He formed one of the first rap bands in Los Angeles, “Age of Consent,” back in 1980. He could write a book.
We passed an antique shop with a lot of glassware in the window. Han insisted on pausing, window shopping, declaring that he collected Art Deco glass from the 20’s.
We arrived at Exeljist, where were introduced to the manager, Hans, and his assistant, a short, middle-aged woman who reminds me of the Costumer character in “The Incredibles.” We unpacked my artwork and set about figuring out what was to be done and how much it would cost me. Hans had given me a bid a couple of months ago totaling E420. After we were done this morning, the total price came out to €520; to save me money, Hans would use existing frames from previous exhibitions for Mister B's. My “Recycled Erotica” paintings would all have to be trimmed ¼″ on both long sides to fit the existing frames. Several of the drawings I’d matted myself (to save money) would have to be rematted or have my mattes trimmed. Eight entirely new frames would have to be built (I had brought 20 painting with me in total).
I’m somewhat annoyed. If I’d known, I would have mounted my artwork to fit the existing frames. I’d tried communicating this before hand, with no luck. I’d requested information about the existing frame sizes (no reply) , and sent Hans a list of the final matted sizes, with the question, “Is this okay?’ “Don’t worry about it,” was Han’s response.
On the other hand, given framing prices here in LA (where it would have cost $300 to frame one of my pieces), Exeljist was practically giving them to me, when all was said and done. So, I shouldn’t complain, I suppose.
We got back to Mister B’s around 1:00 p.m. John found a message taped to our key. (There is only one key per room. When one leaves, one has to drop it through a short round tube—the “key hole”— mounted in the front desk. The clerk gives it back upon one’s return.) It was from Stuart. He was informing John that it was illegal for him to ship the drugs, and that there was nothing he could do about it. This sent John into a tailspin. He decided his options were (A) to have Stuart try to ship the painmeds to our hotel in Paris, or (B) find a local doctor to prescribe them. We returned to Mister B’s, asked Han if he could recommend a doctor. Han spent 20 minutes on the internet and returned with 2 printouts and the address of a nearby office that will be doing walk-ins tomorrow starting at 8:00 a.m.
When we returned to our room, I was worn out and my feet were killing me. I decided to nap until the maid came (the desk clerk said our maid service would be between noon and 1:00-ish) but the maid never came and I slept until 4:00 p.m. I woke briefly at 2:30 p.m., and had absolutely no desire to do anything; John felt likewise. He went out around the time I gave up trying to sleep to buy a travel alarm. He needs to be sure we awake in time to do tomorrow’s walk-in. He returned at 5:30 p.m., hungry.
I was surprised by my own lassitude. After months of being driven, consumed with getting ready for this show, and all the other shit I’ve had to do, I felt like doing absolutely nothing. I wasn’t depressed, just lazy. Or was I? It occurred to me that I was being immobilized by fear. During our long trip to Exeljist, Han asked me why I’d assigned values to my artwork. If I’d just declared them as samples, I wouldn’t have had to pay anything. They have no value, in any case, until they’re sold. I had no good explanation other than that I was following the rules as I knew them.
The Hell of it was, upon reflection, I realized I did know about the sample scam. I’d been referred to ask advice of Axel Moeler (www.artbyaxel.com), another American gay erotic artist who had recently had a show at Mister B’s. Axel had told me, among other things, that he’d imported his artwork as samples.
Fuck! I feel like such a moron. Every time I think of it, I wince in agony. It is very difficult not to punish myself in some way. My semi-paralysis rises partially out of dread that I’ll commit another blunder that will be glaringly obvious as soon as I make it, but not one instant before—or worse, was foreseeable, but I’d ignored the signs.
Plus, my feet fucking hurt. They throbbed in waves of ache and pain as I lay on my cot, until I drifted in and out of sleep. Go to a museum? Take a casual walk around town? Go visit or revisit various possible venues for TAF? Knowing that my feet will soon be in pain? When we set out for dinner at 5:30 p.m., my feet were okay (John was now in pain), but I could still fell twinges in my ankle joints each time I stepped over uneven pavement (or cobblestones, a frequent occurrence in Amsterdam). On our previous trip to Amsterdam in September ’03, John’s physical maladies , chief among which was the neuropathy in his feet, greatly complicated our ability to play tourist. Now, a year and a half later, John has improved. His new pain management specialist has given him drugs that actually help. On the other hand, my feet and ankles have deteriorated to the point where he and I are pretty much on par.
For the first time found myself almost sympathizing with the Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson characters in the movie, “Lost in Translation.” Previously, I’d had contempt for their ennui while visiting Japan. “Poor babies… they’re stuck in one of the coolest places on Earth with nothing but time on their hands. How sad for them.” Yet now, I had no desire to move from my hotel room, unpleasant as it was. I await the moments when boredom, guilt or shame overcome my fear and inertia.
At dinner (Getto, a hip bistro recommended by Han), I confided in John of my mental state and my theory as to its cause. He upbraided me. In the postcards he’s writing, he’s been telling everyone how impressed he is at how smoothly everything is going and how proud he is of me for putting all this together. Here I am, he cajoled, focusing on one mistake I’d made. (But such a costly mistake.)
Maybe he’s right. Perhaps I fear the self-flagellation I’ll inflict as much as the mistakes themselves. Last week I’d been reading a special issue of Tricycle (a Buddhist magazine) on the theme of “Pain.” The Buddhist concept is that pain is separate from suffering. Suffering arises from our resistance to pain and the narrative we tell ourselves about it, the meaning we attach to it. The theory is, if one relaxes into pain and stops the story, the pain divorces from suffering and becomes tolerable. I suppose that same principal could apply to making mistakes.
During dinner, both John and I were amused at how we seemed to be switching our habitual roles: here I was negative and lazy, John upbeat and energetic.
Two more days of taking antibiotics, of no booze. Why is that a problem? I’m having difficulty staying awake, not falling asleep.
© 2005 Flaming Artist