I texted Max on Sunday and told him I was meeting with Punch. He already knew, of course and he took the opportunity to remind me that he’s on top of this.
Don’t let him bait you, he types.
Don’t even think about pranking him. Play nice. WE want him on board, right?
On board. Yes.
We have agreed to meet at the Whitney. Which is cool. I like the Whitney.
Really. I like to get a weenie from the cart outside, like to hang around out there, checking out the sidewalk art, listening to people’s conversations, peeping into the gift shop.
I like to step in and burp up my cola and line up behind some guy who’s got an umbrella just in case, and his coat belt dragging. I like the strange boxy air of the place, its stalwart dinginess.
Coming from academia, myself, I can appreciate dusting off the canon, reading the hand-me-down tropes on the museum fliers. It’s a comforting familiarity without the sour breath of my fellow professors, few of whom I miss.
Punch is in the gift shop, swallowing the last bite of the weenie he shouldn’t have brought in. I interrupt his book larnin’ as he stands, ogling the latest Malnick essays.
He grins when he sees me.
—Nice, eh? Guy who signed your “Young Bacchus” with a boot.
— Yeah. That wasn’t very well thought out. Whatzisface is still paying for it: in more ways than one.
— Hell. Malnick was only taking your smart-set advice: shit on other’s work and name it some grand antiartestablishment ‘gesture.’
— Max did say that you were good with words.
— Not like Malnick who’s better with gestures.
— Too bad he’s no good with art anymore.
— He had his day. (Winking at me. Am I supposed to melt in the warmth of his gaze?)
I pick up a Keith Haring key chain
— Hmmm: I heard you were courting another lawsuit yourself these days.
— Mm: you mean Max’s fear that DIA will sue me for copyright on the phrases I’ve clipped from their pamphlets. Perhaps Max is not the savviest source on legal matters.
— Nah: I heard it from Mary.
PUNCH looks surprised. RAises an eyebrow: Perhaps Mary is just jealous that I quit her for Max. What are you doing talking to her?
We stand in front of a display board covered with Lichtenstein buttons, I’ve got a Ken Scharf refrigerator magnet in my hand. Punch shrugs, puts down his copy of Wittgenstein’s Notes on Color (one of the very few classy items in here except there seems to be an Albers on the cover and it’s a new edition edited by some gasbag I knew from philosophy circles).
— Not. She sent me an e-mail. Just to say hi; she wants me. These days they all do: but most are afraid of Max so they just pine away…
Punch picks up a Mondrian desk toy, colored boxes, a marble… he sighs: Shall we?
— Yeah: let’s do this thing. Then we can go out and play.
We are to see the latest Sol LeWitt retrospective. PUNCH says I will find it very educational. By that, I’m thinking he means I’m a dumbass and this is smart stuff that only he and MAX and all the insiders can understand.
We show an acned young man our sticker things and pass through the turnstile. I put mine in my jacket pocket. Punch puts his on his belt. Goes to show who has all the class.
A man, obviously irritated, turns to his wife in the elevator: Whatsit? Three whole floors of this stuff?
She looks hurt: That wasn’t the show in the lobby. That was just one picture.
— Picture! The man rocks toe to heel and whistles, coat belt still dragging.
And AHHHH! When the doors open! The power! The majesty! The relief:
—Close in there. The man is now wiping his brow with a rumpled bandana.
She turns back slightly, not to be harried by his petulance:
—So next time we take the stairs: how ‘bout that?
I turn to Punch: How ‘bout that?
He laughs again: Read the walls?
— Thought not.
— No: I saw the movie.
— Saw that too: you just didn’t know what he’d fail to say next.
— A stutter-fest.
We stop in front of some wall drawings in pencil.
Or, I should say, Punch stops: I think this one’s funny.
— Yeah, funny for a straight man.
— Downright homophobic: instructions never to touch!
We snicker together.
— You know, Max actually DID tell me about your “Review.” Sounds really good to me. Great concept. Look at this.
Punch leans in: — Obsessive or dogged?
— Not minimal.
— No: positively indulgent. How did you put it? Much ado about nothing? Quite good. You could be a critic.
— I’m not boring enough.
We stand now, before a wall of colored geometrical shapes.
— Oh, Punch: that’s not what MAX says. According to him, you are boring enough. Lately. That is, since he’s found me.
I am aware that I’m baiting him and just as Max predicted, PUNCH tumbles right into it.
— Jesus Christ!
— Hey, but I think he’s being unfair to say the least. You’ve made a name. I looked you up. You’ve made a name so big that this “Review” can actually work. That alone speaks volumes.
— Looked me up. Jesus.
I’ve put him in a mood!
The guy with the funny coat is standing next to a huge complex of cubes. He bats his leg with that compact umbrella, rocks on his marshmallow shoes, lips compressed. Now he moves around the thing, still batting at his leg. The umbrella is red; a small loop of lightweight rope hangs off the plastic handle and swings about as he taps with the stunted nose of it against his beige trousers. His wife is in the next doorway, digging in her vinyl bag for a Juicy Fruit or a Tic-Tac, or a tissue…
Meanwhile, Punch, damn him. He’s examining another wall drawing. I’m rubbing my weary eyes: I’m getting a headache.
— You’ve got to look away every fifteen minutes, enjoy the VIEW…
He’s motioning toward the couple, now joined. The beige man is trying to fit the umbrella into her bag and she’s looking about impatiently, embarrassed: It won’t. Go. In there! I told you outSIDE!
I roll my eyes: That’s what she said.
Punch shakes his head: The artist quips.
Goes to show all right. Who has all the class. Still, he’s ready now: feeling a tad dark. Time for me to tuck in.
— Anyway, I’m thinking: if Max wants to meddle with your stuff, we can make him think he is. Make him think we’ve got this great moneymaking TITANIC collaboration going on. Meantime we think of a way to let the dogs out.
— And, that, I take it, is the part you don’t have planned. The plan part.
He looks at another wall: Yeah.
— Don’t LOOK at that. Goddam Medusa. Let’s just go.
— No. You’re supposed to care about what your predessesors got up to— I mean, look at you! You didn’t even know who I was!
— I’m mending my ways over here, aren’t I? Meeting with my predecessor?
But LOOK at this. Look, here: Fucking textbooks. The Ubiquity of the Edge, The Elements of Style, Quidam ex Nihilo...Look at this: Three cubes, Sixteen colors. I’m telling you. This isn’t art; it’s homework.
— Okay. Where should we go?
The guy sitting at the turnstile looks up at Punch as I pass by and through, whispers to a guard who has come up beside him: That’s Punch.
Punch sighs: Let’s get to a bar, don’t ya think?
— No lunch?
— I might as well admit; I’d forgotten. What with the weenie and all.
— Yeah. Fuck food. Let’s get some some booze.