My first boyfriend, Julian, used to say, You either feel something or you don’t, but he was never taking me to MoMA or the Met (when we took the overnight bus to New York we skipped those entirely) or even the Cincinnati Art Museum; he was taking me to DIY galleries where artists would lie naked on the floor with their crotches tarred-and-feathered while recordings of audio from the P.F. Chang’s dining room played at full volume.
It was easier to “feel something” in those contexts. Embarrassment, revulsion, anxiety, amusement. There was so much you could feel from something that over-the-top, and the smallest details could tip you one way or another.
But most visual art doesn’t trigger a visceral reaction in me, and I’m never sure how long I’m supposed to stand in front of a painting, or what face I’m supposed to make, or how to know if I’ve chosen the dullest one from the lot and all the docents are silently judging me.
I’m fairly sure I’m not spending the appropriate amount of time gazing meaningfully at the art here, because I’m finished walking through in less than an hour. All I want to do is go back to the apartment, but not if Alex specifically wants me not to.
So I do a second lap. And then a third. This time I read all the placards. I pick up the literature at the front reception area and take it with me so I have something else to study intensely. A balding docent with paper-thin skin gives me the evil eye.
He probably thinks I’m casing the joint. For all the time I’ve spent in here, I might as well have been. Two birds, one stone, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Finally, I accept that I’ve worn out my welcome, and I head to Palm Canyon Drive, where there’s supposed to be some amazing antiques shopping.
And there is. Galleries and showrooms and antiques stores all lined up in a neat row, sprinkled with bright pops of midcentury modernist colors—robin’s-egg blues, brilliant oranges, and sour greens, vibrant mustardy yellow lamps that look almost illustrated and Sputnik-patterned couches and elaborate metal light fixtures with spokes sticking out in every direction.
It’s like I’m on vacation in the 1960s’ image of the future.
It’s enough to hold my interest for all of twenty minutes.
Then I finally bite the bullet and call Rachel.
“Helloooooooo,” she cries on the second ring.
“Are you drunk?” I ask, surprised.
“No?” she says. “Are you?”
“Uh-oh,” she says. “I thought you weren’t texting me back because you were having an amazing time!”
“I’m not texting you back because we’re staying in a four-foot shoebox that’s a trillion degrees and I have neither the space nor mental fortitude to send you a detailed message about how bad it’s going.”
“Oh, darling,” Rachel sighs. “Do you want to come home?”
“I can’t,” I say. “There’s a wedding at the end of this, remember?”
“You could,” she says. “I could have an ‘emergency.’”
“No, that’s okay,” I say. I don’t want to go home—I just want things to go better.
“Bet you’re wishing you were in Santorini right now,” she says.
“Mostly I just wish Alex weren’t laid up back in the room with a back spasm.”
“What?” Rachel says. “Young, fit, rockin’-bod Alex?”
“The very same. And he won’t let me do anything to help him, really. He kicked me out and I went to the art museum, like, four times already today.”
“Four . . . times?” she says.
“I mean,” I say, “I didn’t, like, leave and come back. I just feel like I took four full-length seventh-grade field trips in a row. Ask me anything about Edward Ruscha.”
“Oh!” Rachel says. “What was his pseudonym when he was working at Artforum magazine in layout?”
“Okay, don’t ask me anything,” I say. “Turns out I did not actually read the pamphlet I was staring at that whole time.”
“Eddie Russia,” Art School Rachel blurts out. “Don’t at all remember why. I mean, obviously it just sounds like his name, but why not use your real name in that case, you know?”
“Totally,” I agree, starting back to the car. There’s sweat gathering at my armpits and in the backs of my knees, and I feel like I’m getting a sunburn even standing under the awning of this coffee shop. “Should I start writing under the name Pop Right, without the W?”
“Or become a DJ in the nineties,” Rachel says flatly. “DJ Pop-Right.”
“Anyway,” I say. “How are you? How’s New York? How are the pooches?”
“Good,” she says, “hot, and okay. Otis had a minor surgery this morning. Tumor removal—benign, thank God. I’m on my way to pick him up now.”
“Give him kisses for me.”
“Obviously,” she says. “I’m almost to the vet, so I should go, but let me know if you need me to get injured or whatever so you can come home early.”
I sigh. “Thanks. And you let me know if you need any expensive mod furniture.”
We hang up, and I check the time. I’ve successfully made it to four thirty p.m. I think that means it’s appropriately late to pick up sandwiches and head back to the Desert Rose.
When I get inside, the balcony door is shut against the heat of the day, but the apartment is still nastily hot. Alex has put a gray T-shirt back on and is sitting up where I left him with his book open and two more sitting on the mattress beside him.
“Hey,” he says. “Have a good time?”