Just Off Madison

A Sotheby's Auction

I came across these two well-dressed gentlemen several times during an evening of gallery hopping called “Just off Madison” (billed as an Open House of American Art at Private Art Dealers) on the Upper East Side.

 

Monday in New York

11:00 AM

I love New York!

Especially the subways. The train stations are so varied, some scary and filthy, others bright and white with beautiful mosaic work. And that distinct New York City station smell; the dormant, putrid concoction, intensified by excessive and oppressive heat. What is it? Piss, vomit, mold, rotting vermin corpses? But each trip on the train promises new people, new adventures, singers, panhandlers; who knows what awaits me today!  Nothing spectacular, just humanity, a connection in a way – superficial, of course, but so satisfying.  The rumble of the incoming train makes a plump rat scurry to safety amid the plastic bottles and wrappers.  I get on the train, a small part of this amazing crush of humanity.  I settle in for my ride…..   We’re still here…why aren’t we moving?

11:10 AM

Geez I hate this city.

The trains can be so challenging. My F train inexplicably turned into a G train.  F’ers get off and wait for the next train. When it arrives, we hurry in, cramming into each nook and cranny of the crowded train. We wait for the doors to close. It’s too long a wait…the doors are still open. I know that’s a bad sign. The conductor soon announces this train is suddenly going Express for reasons not shared with us.  My stop will be skipped.  We empty out, like a clown car, a hundred people piling out of the train. But these New Yorkers are not grumbling. It’s just the way it is. I’m from Minneapolis so I am grumbling (inwardly so no one suspects I’m not from here) and I decide to head outside to do who knows what. I just know I’m frustrated!!  Now it’s raining lightly, I’ve been at this station for 15 minutes. I stand outside in the rain. The day is dark, even though it’s late morning, and I’m annoyed. I’m talking to myself, gesturing and muttering. I will no longer judge those scary looking people in Union Square, mumbling and muttering aloud. They may be F train riders.  I soon realize that I have no options. I go back down (and pay another fare) and wait for another train.

11:29 AM

The F train arrives at last. It’s packed, but all is well..my ride into The City is quick, quiet and uneventful, normal. I arrive on 23rd and Sixth Avenue and it’s now raining steadily and seems even darker. Headlights are on, umbrellas up, heads down, braced against the blustery wind. It violently flips umbrellas inside out. (At least those poor, unfortunate souls with cheap, CVS umbrellas. Don’t ask me how I know this. ) I duck into a store, away from the wind, trying to salvage my umbrella.

1:40 PM

My errands completed, I walk to the train to head back to Brooklyn.  This trip would have taken 45 minutes in Minneapolis, back home in less than an hour, parking in my building’s climate-controlled garage.  Ahh, Minneapolis –  it’s so easy.  They should use that as the state motto.

One block to go, swapping my heavy bag from one shoulder to the other while trying to steady my umbrella, the rain is slowing to a spittle. The wind that once affronted now shoos the low hanging clouds quickly away. Brilliant sunlight emerges, blue sky, the rain refreshed the city. Umbrellas come down. Cabs begin to honk, headlights go off, we are all alive again, bustling here and there. It’s dazzling!  And that smell… that evocative, fresh, earthy rain on the pavement.

What a beautiful day. What a beautiful city!

A Little Extra Time

Working as a background extra in New York City is really glamorous.

Last week, for example, I had to get to midtown at 5 am to catch a charter bus to Long Island. It’s amazing how much activity is around at that hour of the morning. We will be shooting some scenes for a tv series.   

50 minutes later we are in a quiet, residential area with very large lawns and brick fences. We check in to the holding tent, get our wardrobe, report to hair and makeup, and then hang around in this  big, hot tent for the next 4 hours. (Bonus: tons of free food and drink!!)  After awhile some of us head to set, which today is the front lawn of a mansion.  The house sits back from the water and a huge lawn leads down to the bay. A few sailboats drift slowly by. It’s very picturesque, tho we are not allowed to take any photos. The morning is beautiful but already very hot. In the 80s and it’s only 10:00. A large white wedding tent is set up on the lawn. There are white tables with white tablecloths and ‘champagne’ flowing from little fountains. The Production Assistant eventually assigns our starting point, a makeup artist rushes to refresh hair, droopy in the 80 degree heat. The show’s stars are cooled with battery fans and protected by umbrellas so nary a sweat mark will be seen. We are all in our places, dressed for another era, a previous century where they wore powder blue polyester.

“Background! First positions,”  the P.A. calls.  My ‘husband’ and I stroll slowly, arm in arm, among the partygoers, silently greeting our guests. We walk to the other side of the tent, and head back to the beginning. “Cut! Ok..regroup at first position.”  We stroll, smiling, nodding, along our same path.  “Cut! Regroup at first position.”   We stroll, we smile, we wave, we raise our glasses.  “Cut!”….

I could go on, but you get the picture.

I’m wearing a polyester pantsuit and shoes with teeny heels that sink in the grass. I step and sink. I have to pick grass and dirt off the little heels. We are all very, very hot.  The temperature is now in the 90s and we are wearing clothes that stick to our skin. But we’re all happy to be here.

Many hours of strolling and smiling later, of hanging out and eating huge amounts of carbs, the light is quickly fading and we hear those three little words, “That’s a wrap!”  We head back to holding, our tent away from home. We’ve had a 10 hour day. We are all happy with the day, chatty and full of energy.  But mostly, we are so excited to put away [burn on a giant pyre] the polyester suits we’ve lived in for the past two days.

We wait in line to check out, get forms signed for our lavish paycheck, and return our clothes to Wardrobe. Street clothes on, our space cleaned up, (grab some last-minute snacks), we eventually get on the bus for a quiet evening ride back to the city. The chatter and gaiety of today behind us, we retreat back into the 21st century, our phones, into our own spaces. It’s dark outside and peaceful and quiet in the bus. Perhaps many of us will see each other again – maybe in some other era, some other century.

So what makes this worthwhile? The enormous minimum wage ‘background talent’ get for a 10+ hour day? Maybe it’s the remarkable allure of being a tiny part of ‘show business.’  I think what makes it worthwhile is what we all give to it.  We show up – sometimes at 5 am –  knowing we may be thoroughly bored for hours, the day might be long and tedious at times, but we will also meet interesting people and enjoy a day filled with fun, food and surprises. Most of all, we all have a great time. I gotta go now, I have to get up at 4 am to do it all over again.