Yesterday I stood on line with a lot of other people waiting to get into the Museum of Modern Art. It is in New York City. That’s where one stands “on” line. Most of the people standing with me were standing “in” line, so I knew they were from someplace else. One or two were even “queuing up.”
The museum opens at 10:30 a.m. I got there twenty minutes early. By then the line was already stretched halfway down 53rd Street. Time passed. The museum opened its doors. Nothing happened. Except the line got longer. Now it was curling around the block onto 6th Avenue. Imagine! That’s when it hit me: “Holy crap! I am an unwitting participant in some kind of installation piece cum ‘happening.’ I am just another piece of work!” I looked around to see if anybody else had wised up to the identity heist going on here, but they were all calm and speaking Italian. I left the line and headed north.
Soon I was in Central Park. It felt like a nature walk. I thought about going to visit the Museum of Natural History (a childhood favorite) but instead settled on a park bench and watched people go by. Some of them were pushing prams, others were cleaning up after their dogs. A copy of the Wall Street Journal had been left on the bench. I picked it up and started reading. I hadn’t held a newspaper in my hands in years. When I got up to leave, I saw a small sign taped to the bench. It read: “Wet Paint.” The sign was old and the paint was dry and peeling. Either this was a prank or a work of student art. Through the park trees I could see the Dakota. I went there and took the subway downtown.
I came back up from the underground around Union Square. Years ago starving artists would sell their paintings on the sidewalks around here. Not today. Instead a young woman called to me: “Hey, Big Man on Campus!” She was hawking credit card applications and wanted me to fill one out. If only she knew how I spend my days, wandering around, doing nothing, and writing up these heroic adventures.
Eventually I wound up in some dark old caffè. I ordered an espresso and jotted things down in my little field notebook. Across the street from the caffè was a redbrick duplex. A sign near the front door said that Louisa May Alcott once lived here. I wondered what she paid for rent. When she was young and living in Concord, she used to go on nature walks with Henry David Thoreau. Later she wrote Little Women. That all happened before there was any modern art.