I ran after the damn train, yelling, hey mister, can’t you see me? It was a hopeless endeavor, as no engineer or conductor is even going to slow down for a 60 something geezer who got to the station a couple of minutes late. If they only knew how important that day, that train ride was to me. I was on my way to an interview for what could have been the opportunity of a lifetime. I threw both my hat and my art case down in frustration. No use crying over missed connections.
I sat down on the nearest bench, mopping my elderly brow, and breathing heavily. I would have to wait an hour for the next train, and by then my appointment with the gallery owner in SoHo would have given up on me. Perhaps it was for the best. It was, after all, the first time in 40 years anyone had shown such an interest in my art. Maybe once the gallery owner had seen my complete portfolio, he would have changed his mind about offering me space on his walls.
The disappointment that I would never have the chance to try echoed in my soul, despite my attempts to make the best of it. I pulled out my ancient cell phone (why replace it, no one ever called me) and dialed the number of the gallery. I was hoping to get an interview on a different day, knowing all the while it was probably useless. Pierre Gianni was the owner of the most prestigious gallery in New York City. Why would he want to give a rare second chance to an elderly nobody when he had the pick of the newest, hippest, coolest young artists to choose from?
Come to think of it, perhaps these insecurities were the very reason I had never been offered a show before. I was too timid to try, I came up with innumerable excuses not to offer my work up to be seen, and perhaps found wanting by the critics, the public, or both. I told myself it would hurt too much if I failed, but the truth was that I had never tried.
The appointment I had missed that day was the chance result of my niece mentioning my art to that very gallery owner at a party. She had none of my insecurities, and she bragged about my talent so much that curiosity had gotten him to come to me. He saw a photo she had taken on her cell phone of the painting my niece kept on her mantel. It had been a birthday gift. That was what I did with most of my earlier pieces. They were given as gifts to family members on various occasions. It was all I thought my paintings were worthy of, until recently.
His call on me at my home in New Jersey had been a surprise, and his offer a shock. Now I would never find out if the public would like them, if my long-held dream of a showing in a prestigious Gallery could have lifted me from obscurity. Damn it! Damn the red lights, damn my alarm for waking me up too late, damn the dozen things that had brought me to this moment. The worst part was the wondering, the mental ‘what ifs’ that kept me preoccupied.
I tried to dial the owner, Pierre Gianni, but my antique cell had no service in this area. It was spotty reception in most of the town, why should this crisis make it magically begin to be reliable? Damn, Damn, Damn! Another reason to think fate was against me. My frustration erupted into a blizzard of the kind of creative cussing you only hear from drunks and parents who don’t want their children to learn bad habits. I threw out every near obscenity I had ever thought of, and then made up a few new ones. Some of the other commuters threw strange looks in my direction, and a few even detoured around me, as if I was one of those homeless people you see on a corner having a very loud argument with nobody.
I didn’t care about the second glances or about the fact that some of them thought I was deranged. At that point I felt about two more seconds from becoming what they thought I was already. So what if this had been the first recognition I had ever had? So what if I never got another chance to show what I could do? I wouldn’t be the first great artist who never had success in his lifetime. I guess I would have to wait for the afterlife and see if the fame I never got would come posthumously.
I picked up my hat and my art case, dusted myself off, and attempted to calm my temper. It was too late to get on that train, and maybe too late for my career as well. I had a ‘real job’ when my children were young and worked on my art weekends in my garage. I only had the time to devote to art after my retirement. I was a widower, and my children had scattered to other states after college. New Jersey was for sewage and chemical plants, factories, and working-class families. No famed artistes had ever been found among its citizens.
I wouldn’t be a pioneer, after all. Just another working joe with an unfulfilled dream. The next in an endless line, stretching from the loser who nick-named it the ‘Garden State’ (had to be an outsider, the residents would have called it the ‘future cancer patient state’) to the current governor of Newark, who tried to convince voters that his Uncle’s Ponzi Scheme was a ‘mere error in book-keeping’. Then there were the other shmoes like me, who worked the nine-to-five and had more wishes than horses.
I straightened my tie, swallowed the futile backtracking, and began the 4 blocks walk to my home. Just another day, just another lost dream. It would have brought a tear to my eyes if I hadn’t had years of practice in self-denial. Now all I felt was a touch of heartburn. Sure, I was mad at the world, my usual lack of planning, (I could have set my alarm earlier) and most of all, I was mad at the Damn train being on time for once. It was always 20 minutes late! Of all the days for the commuter trains to get their acts together!
When I arrived at my house, I was so preoccupied that I almost missed seeing the Benz in my driveway. With my usual lack of self-confidence, I assumed a visitor of one of my neighbors had accidentally parked there, perhaps because all the houses looked alike. Some fifties architect had originated the concept of cookie-cutter subdivisions and made a fortune. Looks like I will be a nobody all my life, I thought to myself.
To my surprise, a man in an Armani suit got out of the Mercedes and walked in my direction, holding out his hand for an introductory shake. I still thought it was a case of mistaken residential identity, until he spoke. “Peter Woods, I presume?” I nodded. “When you didn’t show up for our interview today, I was concerned for your health and decided to come to see you instead. It would be a pity to miss out on the next Picasso because of mild angina, wouldn’t it?”
Dumbfounded, I shook his hand, while my innards quaked like jelly. Could it be that my age had worked in my favor after all? I couldn’t run fast enough to catch a train, but a total stranger had assumed my no-show was due to my health. I looked at my watch and realized I had been beating myself up for nearly an hour. Still in shock, I shook his hand and invited him inside. After the usual chit-chat, he asked me to open my portfolio. This was the moment I had dreaded for so long, and at the same time it could be the fulfillment of a dream I had thought was dead.
Six Months Later, in a Gallery in Soho
Excited patrons filled the hall, waiting to see the work of the much-touted new exhibit of Peter Woods. The man himself stuffed his face with lobster canapes and guzzled Dom Perignon like Dr. Pepper. Still nervous and insecure, even at his own show. As the well-dressed elite of New York began to walk past the velvet rope, he swallowed the last appetizer on the tray, straightened the bow tie on his very first tuxedo, and thought to himself, “Sure am glad I missed that train.”