Saturday September 11, 2021
Day 15: When It Rains, Look for the Rainbow
At our gate at Dulles International Airport for the flight home, I saw a little girl wearing a T-shirt reading WHEN IT RAINS, LOOK FOR THE RAINBOW. It was like a special message for me.
I was happy to be heading home after two weeks amid the crowds in a worldwide pandemic, but I was in a piss-poor mood. My arms and ankles were covered in bug bites (my wife says I'm a cat whisperer but really I'm a mosquito whisperer, and I don't know how to turn it off); and while I'd been enjoying myself sipping a G&T and watching the Boston Red Sox slowly lose a 7-1 lead to the Tampa Bay Rays at the airport bar, the end of the bar we'd had to ourselves slowly filled with: 1) a fedora'ed dude saying a sentence every other minute to, I assume, someone at the other end of his Bluetooth; 2) a barfly who drunkenly tried to strike up a conversation about baseball but had trouble nailing the meaning of the word “pitcher”; and the final straw, 3) a hefty white dude sitting next to me, who apologized for knocking over my suitcase and immediately took off his mask before ordering anything, let alone eating/drinking anything. After that, I downed the rest of my drink and split to the gate, but it wasn't any better there. A row over, a young dude wearing sweatpants, flip-flops and a Seattle Kraken knit cap lounged unmasked with a proud, snarky look on his face—like he was stickin' it to the man. Then across from us: an older red-haired Scandinavian dude, same thing, sans the attitude.
And that's when the girl walked by with the secret message for me. I thought, “I'll try.”
So we boarded the plane and got ready to take off. And got ready. And got ready. And slowly I realized somethingn was wrong. We were all just sitting there, bunched together, breathing each other's air in the midst of a global pandemic. And eventually one of the flight attendants got on the intercom and said we were delayed. The reason? Vague. Later, when I tracked them down, the flight attendants said it wasn't just us, it was wide-ranging. Airport-wide? I asked. Beyond that, they said. All flights. All flights everywhere? I said. was envisioning a 9/11-type attack when they said they were just talking about United Airlines flights. Something about weight measurements? Basically something was off line. Here's how United described it in the texts they sent every half hour we waited:
- Flight UA326 from Washington to Seattle is delayed because we are resolving an unexpected operational issue. It now departs at 6:10pm on September 6.
- Flight UA326 from Washington to Seattle is delayed because we are resolving an unexpected operational issue. It now departs at 6:45pm on September 6.
Meanwhile, more and more people were removing their masks to eat this or drink that. I wanted to find that little girl. OK, where's the fucking rainbow?
I admit I felt old on this trip. I did the math and realized I'm older than my father was when he last went to Rehoboth Beach. I believe he last went in '87, with me, visiting Karen, who was working at Funland during her second college summer and who brought along a bunch of college friends to join her. Dad would've been 55 then; I'm 58 now. I also think of his father, Christian Hans, Bedstefar, visiting us at Rehoboth in either '70 or '73, when he would've been in his 70s. He never went down to the beach; he sat on the boardwalk benches in his suit and watched us. What's the fun in that? I thought. I was 7 or 10, loved Bedtefar, wanted him with us. But I'm getting it now.
There's a statue we saw at the Whitney that speaks to me. My interpretation is all wrong, apparently, but that seems increasingly the case. In the previous room at the Whitney, in the exhibit “Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019,” there's an installation by Liza Lou called “Kitchen,” which is just that: an ordinary American kitchen with tiled floors, a pie in the oven, dishes in the sink, and breakfast cereal like Cap'N Crunch and Frosted Flakes next to the folded newspaper on the small breakfast table. Except it dazzles; it sparkles. The entire thing. I immediately liked the inclusion of the consumerist portion of American life in American art—that's hard to do—and my initial thought was that it was a kind of paean to that life: that the ordinary life can still dazzle. Nope. According to the nearby descriptor, “the cheerfully branded products in Lou's Kitchen expose the contradictions that run throughout the marketing of American household goods, which promises the delights of homemaking while strategically ignoring the gender inequalilty of the traditional division of labor.”
Sure. Though anyone who thinks marketing cares a whit about any kind of inequality rather than simply selling a product is probably someone who makes a living with arts grants. Plus finding what's wrong in an ordinary, modern American life isn't exactly hard; looking for what's worthwhile in that life seems the tougher, worthier task.
Anyway, while I liked Kitchen, the artwork that spoke to was in the next room: Viola Frey's “Me Man.” I got that one wrong, too, apparently. From the Whitney's website:
Frey first built the clay figure and allowed it to dry. Once hardened, she sawed it apart to produce sections that would fit in the kiln. After each piece had been glazed and fired separately, Frey reassembled and painted the whole sculpture. Her process remains legible in the material itself, with horizontal seams especially visible across Me Man's torso. As was common for Frey's sculptures of men, this one wears a blue suit and gesticulates, as though in the middle of conversation. A representation of the American businessman, Me Man likewise recalls television characters from the 1950s, and evidences Frey's interest in the satiric depiction of the totems of everyday life: in this case, middle-class respectability.
Satirizing “middle-class respectability”? Doesn't the art world know the middle class is dying?
I empathized. Maybe I identified. There was something sad about this man stuffed into a suit and stuck in a corner and trying to articulate something that fell on a deaf world. I think the way he was created exacerbates this. He was literally cut up, hardened, and stuck back together again. Everything about him feels constrained and pieced together. He's not whole. Maybe he once was. He had certainly been soft and malleable, and he might have been anything, but now he's this, and it's too late to change. To be honest, I had a bit of a Cameron and “La Grande Jatte” at the Chicago Art Institute moment. Maybe that's rainbow enough.