Starry starry starry night
Tonight, when I was walking around the park, I saw a falling star. I was walking up Alhambra, and it was just over the truncated spires of the Greek Orthodox Church across the street. I’d been eating soup at a Chinese restaurant, all alone — yes, ladies, the lone diner strikes again — except for the help there, who were conversing in Chinese, and there was a large television set with an English-language version of a Chinese cable-news channel bringing tidings of flooding on the Yangtze and disaster everywhere in the Middle Kingdom. So I needed to walk the jinky off, and what better place than McKinley Park on a cool Tuesday evening?
Seeing that falling star immediately took me back to the mid-1990s, when I was living in Midtown Sacramento on I Street and driving a stripped-down Dodge Dakota pickup. Sometime during midsummer through the dog days, I’d hit Interstate 5 going north — again, all by my lonesome — on a restless night when the Leonids or Perseids would be raining, crank a little Pavement on the deck, something along the lines of the sweet stoner jams of Wowee Zowee, and a few hours later I’d be winding along the Everett Highway from the town of Mount Shasta up the south face of the mountain to the treeline at around 8,000 feet, where I’d park in the lot above Panther Meadows. I’d make sure my windshield was facing the mountain, and then I’d climb in the back and wrap myself with a sleeping bag on an old futon mattress and watch the stars shooting around the sky like breaking billiard balls all night and drink Mountain Dew and smoke cigarettes. It was like seeing a Vincent Van Gogh painting come to life.
Years later, like about four years ago, I was in New York City on business, right around when my marriage was coming off its rails for the final time. I’d managed to find enough work to merit stretching a couple day’s worth of perusing old rhythm and blues contracts in the eighth-floor loft offices of a hip-hop label on 49th Street right near the Brill Building through the weekend and into the next week. On Saturday I walked all the way up Central Park West to Harlem, then back down around the park on the Fifth Avenue side. I was going to spend all day at Central Park on Sunday, but the weather turned ugly, and so other plans needed to be made.
I figured out that the Museum of Modern Art was right around the corner, or a couple blocks over and four blocks up, on 53rd Street, so that’s where I went. I managed to hit every floor. Entire rooms filled with Picassos. Lots or Warhols and Lichtensteins and Rothkos and tons of other great stuff. Round a corner, and there was Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” in all its glory. In one room, away from a brilliant Toulouse-Lautrec that depicted the exquisitely bored sneers of the entitled, there was a crowd gathered along a wall, where a small painting was hanging: Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Yes, it was beautiful, but like Bruce Springsteen, in my mind it loomed gigantic; in real life, not so much. In fact, not much at all. The only thing as shocking to me was a tiny Salvador Dali painting, “The Persistence of Memory.”
Or so I remember. Everything that day was eclipsed by one art piece. I’d walked into this room, and the wall was completely covered with a Jackson Pollock painting, or more accurately a radioactive jizz explosion of copper and other hues. I stood in front of the piece and got baked from the inside, and had one of those “suddenly I understand” moments that I still can’t explain, except that the starry starry starry starry starry night wasn’t on the wall or in some static and small painting in another room, but inside me waiting to burst like shredded notes from a saxophone whose embouchure was being aeolusly and righteously fired up and worked like a master.
Anyway, so much for starry nights. It’s bedtime. Hope sleep will come. Pleasant dreams, too. —Jackson Griffith