Dinner plates

This is a fictionalized account of the circumstances of a photograph and the nature of an artist.

Used dishes at dinner parties: I surveyed the maze of plates covering the table. A junkyard of celebration, a memory of good times with little points of mess here and there from moments of tension. Like a lifetime marked in food. Like a sky filled with stars, or a forest of tracks. It was a black and white photograph.

How could one man have known he spilled the olive juice a little on the tablecloth while talking with the woman in possession of all the money he desired? And he was an artist no less, with a keen sense of wealth and prestige. But she felt comfortable enough with him, as she would most certainly end up feeling with most people; she was easily trusting, borne from a need for love and attention that she had never quite allowed herself to receive. So, in a deep-rooted though, fabricated adulation, she divulged her meager upbringings and her age-old desire to be married in the end. So ultimately, what more was there to do for him? He fancied being bound in marriage to a certain amount of money. Was there anything so sinful in that? But the confession caught him off guard nonetheless and there the olive juice fell on the table.

A brutal mess was more corporal in nature than the olive juice spill had been. This was a woman’s bump into another woman’s hip, like a check in power, and there the wine lay like the map of Japan on the table. And the women were doomed to see each other several more times that month. It was, truly a shame too, because if they met in other circumstances, they might otherwise have been great friends.

“That’s class, really,” said the man with a bowtie. He hadn’t spoken much, having been invited by a friend who was a friend of the hostess, and was not quite the kind of man who wore the same pants as the others, who donned a long handbag like the women. He was a wildcard, but ended up being the life of the party. He was the cause of several accidents, but was, himself, very composed. While his sexuality, and, now that it came to them, his gender, was questioned by all, it was doubted by none that he was the most attractive person there. Everyone was happy he came.

The nature of the dinner party would, in the end, be described by the photographer who stayed later because he was a little too drunk and into conversation. And finally, when all guests left, and the others were cleaning, he resigned himself to looking at the dishes. As he circled the table like a bird of prey, he took several pictures. Of nothing much, it would seem.

He was later found sitting in a chair regarding a book, which filled the hosts with anxiety, afraid that their friendly guest might never leave at all. Because now that he was alone, he had a strange slippery aura to him, like a dog who had accidentally found his way to the car mechanic some yards down the road and came back with a strange slickness on his fur.

And so, it was important, in the end, for him to stay and take a picture of the plates because it ended up in a picture in The Morgan Library more than 40 years later, in a show that was both quiet and beautiful, a show without much pretension or judgment of its subjects. Despite the hostess nearly pushing him out the door at the end of the night, trying to remind herself to never invite him to dinner parties in their home again for fear this night repeating itself, and that he was only a friend for going out for lunch, or maybe for tea, when he could stay much longer. And there should probably be no alcohol served.

You felt he may have been in love at the dinner party. And slyly marked his presence on the dishes with a magic light after the fact to remember his precious by. How beautiful they looked there – alive almost, dancing almost.

This was one picture of many.

He also took an erotic picture of a goose in Columbia County of all places. Which isn’t new in art (see Leda and the Swan).

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