The Frieze Art fair was cold. I had packed a jacket into my gym bag that I had received from an alumni event from my college, and though the sun was shining, the event was indoors and with air conditioning. Daichi informed me through text that he was still at his workplace (it was a Saturday) and if could I “plz” get a coffee or something while I wait (the plz was suspect for irony). I replied I would meet him at the Guggenheim and, miraculously, he was sitting on the concrete entrance among tourists when I arrived.
Daichi stood and with more confidence than usual (though still with the hedged calculation he has in every action), offered an embrace, a helping of assorted nuts he packed, and, finally, an inquiry into whether or not the varicose veins that stripe my right nostril were stitches (I had developed these, for one reason or another, a few years ago).
In my eyes, Daichi was still in essence the same as when I first got to know him, but he had changed drastically with subtle things I ascribed a weird importance to. Daichi was curiously reticent on family life in college; he now gratuitously offers views of his nephews on his phone. He similarly scrolled through his iPhone calendar and presented me a rare glimpse into how he makes what he does: short explanations of the work meetings he attends. His calendar was freckled with dots indicating an event for the day.
He had started to keep a tally of events with which he had “success”: and added, with the same wry look he always had when discussing intimate matters, that he had success yesterday. We prattled about jobs; Daichi, evidently enamored by southeast Asia, suggested I move there where English is highly valued and the cost of living is a fragment of it is elsewhere. We arrived after swinging around the bend to Randall’s Island and approached the white tent.
I had a certain relish walking closer to Daichi than other people: Daichi’s curious lack of physical cues enabled this, and the crowded public space allowed it. Men and women up and down the aisles looked at him, then me, then whoever else was next behind us, in the same assessment they have of art and networking opportunities. Daichi looked in the mirror we passed and after we both instinctually groomed our hair said his face looked very fat compared to mine.
Everything was peachy keen until for some reason my mood changed considerably and I saw a volunteer for the fair who was someone I had dated a few years ago. I felt I was losing my grip with reality that this person right in front of me was less real then their memory nearly two years ago. My heart was still pining from the loss but I kept the cell number with a dull hope that I might muster the courage to reenact the date with a different outcome.
I had the curious sense that life, society, and progress was speeding ahead of me while I stood still in the same joys and biases I had five years ago. Daichi one day posed a fateful question to me that left me speechless; the question of what have I learned from my experiences.
In truth I could not answer because I didn’t feel like I had learned anything. It seemed that learning simply shut off after college. I had been burned and burned twice and my life was slowly turning into a hellfire. I was too skittish to make it out and would rather abide by the flames than leap for my safety.
Two people I had run into from a former place of employment were there. The General Consul – a man extremely bright in intellect and disposition – approached me after I stood like a carved Indian with my hand outstretched in greeting. “Anthony, is that right?” I forgot the inconvenient fact that, again, life kept moving after my presence had faded and that we are doomed to be forgotten by those other than ourselves.
I had similarly forgotten his name.
“How’s it going?”
Nick, as it came to me in a curse of staircase wit, was similar to how I remembered him, in that he first drew attention to what was most important to him (his curly-haired daughter a few feet away observing some sculpture) and returned straightaway to the topic of work. “How do you like it? Are you happy there?” I hadn’t realized that this question was something that was so basic and yet out of place. I felt I had soiled my reputation in my past job through an increasingly surly countenance and a similarly declining contentment that so characterized my success at the onset. I simply had been left there too long, didn’t have an out, and felt unhappy, poor, and slowing down as if a mechanism had been overdue for a checkup.
I looked off onto the blank wall while answering in the affirmative, unaware of what I was even looking at. It’s a good fit, I’m so glad I’m there. Well, good seeing you, he said, in the same matter-of-fact way he had with greetings, and disappeared.
This wasn’t two strikes, but one “ball:” being struck by the pitch and missing the mound completely. I felt disoriented for the rest of the trip. I was suspicious of if his first glance across the room was feigned oblivion of my presence; similarly, I was unsure if this was the second time I was ignored.
In the end, near the entrance, Daichi’s friend, Gabrielus, a Lithuanian with a London accent who works in consulting, drew my attention to the shoddiness of the neon work in one of the pieces. “I simply can’t stand that,” he said; you need to have good craftmanship before we start talking about ideas. I had lobbed the suggestion of intention of poor construction and this was his thesis, sound, in details. That was the devil for him but mine was still roaming around in black by the entrance. I made sure to stand tall and look as carefree and successful as I managed in my Zara-print shirt: at last I turned around from the neon and no one was there for me to avoid.
We exited the the wrong way, and so we needed to walk around the entirety of the tent to reach the opposite end for our bags in the coat check. Gabrielus spoke about the reasoning for having it on Randall’s Island: Daichi brought up exclusivity, Gabrielus cited cost of ripping up and replanting lawn in Central Park: details I never would have considered. I walk back in the tent, rigid-backed and clench-fisted half from the cold and half from determination to look powerful. The devil is standing in black skinny jeans while I feign observation of an artwork. A teaching fellow from my old employment passes by and I smile at her: greeting her brightly, making to throw my voice so that it reaches to where the volunteers are standing; she reciprocates in kind. Good, I think; something successful. The date had ended in the worst possible way: a request that I leave out of what seemed boredom. I spent two hours wandering around outside, oblivious to my surroundings.
Daichi is still at the coat check and my heart, curiously, is pounding; with each movement I believe I will be seen, I turn my body nearly the other way. At last we have our bags and it is over. I am deflated in the evening coolness as we walk back to our buses.
On the bus Daichi asks to see my hand, not to kiss or to shake but to measure the length of my fingers and the ratio between ring and index. Satisfied with my results he loosens his grip and I withdraw to look out the window. The weeds pass as we approach the bridge and under the grey haze the skyline looks as if it might be that of a different city.