Friday, July 20, 2012

Weird shit I don't see in Charlotte

In all the times I’ve been to New York City, I had never visited the Museum of Modern Art until this past week. I loved it. But then, I love weird shit, and MoMA has more weird shit in a concentrated area than any place I’ve ever seen. Of course, a big part of the fun is scratching your head and wondering, “What the ****?”

One work that particularly amused me was by a Belgian artist named Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976). Because it is a three-dimensional piece, it is displayed beneath a glass case that is mounted to the wall. It’s called, “General with Cigar” and that pretty much sums it up. There is a portrait of an unknown decorated general and he has a cigar sticking out of his mouth. When I say it was sticking out of his mouth, I mean that literally. The artist cut a little hole in the general’s mouth, and with a giant glob of glue, he stuck a half-smoked, old, nasty cigar in it. So, yes, the cigar is sticking straight out of the general’s mouth. It reminds me of the sort of thing my son Ben would have done. Back in elementary school.

So, here’s the thing that really grinds my butt about “General with Cigar” by Broodthaers. The artist didn’t even paint the portrait of the general. He picked it up somewhere at a flea market. Doggone it, he didn’t even make the cigar. All he did was glue it to the picture. And he called it art. Okay.

Now, I have no idea what Mr. Broodthaers was paid for this work, but since it’s featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where I had to pay $25 just to walk in the door, I figure he was paid well for it. Considering the fact that all he did was glue a cheap cigar to a cheap painting, I would guess that it may have taken him all of five minutes to complete this work of art. (Maybe longer, if you allow for the time it took the glue to dry.)

I wonder if Mr. Broodthaers did a little jig all the way to the bank as he went to cash the check he received for this brilliant masterpiece. Did he giggle himself to sleep every night for the rest of his life? No, I don’t know what he was paid, but I imagine it was a boatload of money. And, so far as I can see, no matter what he was paid, surely it was too much!

Before I left MoMA, I stopped in the gift shop and picked up a poster of Picasso’s “Three Musicians.” I put it in a cardboard shipping tube so I could mail it to Charlotte and it would be waiting for me when I returned home. This required a trip the next day to the U.S. Post Office in Bushwick (Brooklyn). My daughter’s boyfriend, Jon, had warned me about how this Post Office is frequented by crazy customers who fly into a rage for no apparent reason. I thought he was exaggerating. Turns out he understated the situation. In one relatively brief visit, I witnessed two out-of-control customer tirades that left me scratching my head and wondering “What the ****?” just as I had the day before at MoMA.

As I was walking into the Post Office, a woman was all hot and bothered about the cost of her stamp and how there was something wrong with her envelope, and it wasn’t her fault, and now she was going to have to change it, but she paid all this money for her stamp, goddam it, and she wasn’t going to waste it, and somehow it was all their fault at the U;S. Post Office and they were going to have to make it right, and she didn’t care if she had to take the case all the way to the ****ing Supreme ****ing Court, they were going to pay for treating her this way and she wasn’t going to leave until they did, and on and on it went.

I moved to the next window and received the help I needed from a woman who was kind, calm, and patient. Actually, all the people working there seemed to be that way.

As I was exiting the Post Office, another customer, an African American woman, was verbally abusing the Asian American postal worker on the other side of the glass. The customer cussed the postal worker out and berated her with a racial slur, yelling something about how in order to work at the United States Post Office you should be required to speak English, and it went downhill from there. I don’t know what the issue was exactly, but I can’t imagine any reason to speak that way to another human being unless maybe you just learned that they had boiled and eaten your firstborn child.

I’ve been living in the South for about fifteen years now, and I just don’t hear people talking to other people like this. Yeah, they are capable of being rude in the South, but this was beyond rude. It was brutal. And, so far as I could tell, pointless. Especially when you consider the fact that these customers were verbally abusing people they expected to help them. How do the postal workers tolerate it? How can they stand to be beaten up every day like punching bags by rage-a-holics who should be locked away somewhere in a padded room?

The women I saw working at the Bushwick Post Office are heroes, in my book. And, I don’t care what they’re being paid, it could never be enough. As I was mulling the indignity of it all, I thought again about Marcel Broodthaers. I think it’s safe to say that the postal workers in Brooklyn aren’t paid in one year what Mr. Broodthaers was paid for the five minutes it took him to glue a half-smoked cigar to a flea market painting.

I guess that's how the world works. We seldom compensate people in a way that is commensurate with their worth. For some, any amount of pay would be more than enough, and for others, no amount of pay would ever be enough. I don't know that it is as in-your-face anywhere as much as it is in New York City. Not just at an art museum in Manhattan and a Post Office in Brooklyn, of course. But the injustice of disparity between the classes can be seen on any street corner. I suspect there is a reason why this is where the Occupy movement began.


Audrey Godshall said...

Too many people.
Just like with labratory rats: if you stick too many into a space, they start eating each other and doing other weird shit.

Kathy said...

This gives new meaning to the expression"going postal".