I go down to the Blue Butterfly by cab. Francois is in the back with me, the driver in the front along with a puppy, a creamy-colored Pug. The dog is trying frantically to jump up and see both of us in the back, but it’s too small to reach the top of the front seat. We can hear it jump, then whine. I lean forward and look down. It’s the funniest thing. It has big bulging eyes almost on the sides of it’s head, just about looking in different directions. Francois does not lean forward, sitting back instead, looking out the window. The cab is stopped at red lights. We’re on the corner of Waverly Place and Broadway, heading downtown. Out the window to the right is a Soup 'n' Burger diner and a liquor store next door. Outside the liquor store is a bum with one leg, asleep on the sidewalk.
“He looks like he’s part of the street, doesn’t he?” Francois asks.
“I suppose so. Look at the way that people walk around him, without even noticing him.” I reply. People walk in both directions along the sidewalk, walk around the bum, not looking down.
“Haven’t you read that book The Box Man, by Kobo Abe?” he asks me.
“Well it’s just like that book. A man in the box walking around and everyone ignores him. But they see him alright. Of course they see him. Just like everyone can see that bum. If they didn’t, then they would fall over him. They are choosing not to look down, that’s all. I guess it must be a kind of social disconnect. Keep him there by not looking at him, keep him apart from everything else.” Francois lifts his camera, an old Pentax still camera, winds down the window and takes a picture of the sleeping bum, waiting for a gap in people, capturing him with people walking either side, a kind of juxtaposition or social commentary perhaps.
“Why do you use that camera? Haven’t you got a digital?” I ask.
“Absolutely. But there is something about this camera. These are pictures for me, and this camera takes those sorts of pictures.” he says. “The digital is for work.” he adds.
I nod, look down at the Pug. It’s gone to sleep. The lights change to green and the cab pulls away. It’s only eight more streets down to the gallery. I sit back and take Francois’ camera from him. It feels heavy. “Can I take a picture?” I ask him.
“If you want.”
I lift the camera and point it at him. “I like what you’re wearing today.” I say, pulling his image into focus, turning the dial on the lens round, adjusting the focal length. He looks like John Malkovich today, dressed in a three piece chocolate brown suit: pants, jacket and a waistcoat over a white shirt buttoned right to the top, no tie. He’s grown a beard as well. Grey with dark-brown patches. “You look like John Malkovich,” I tell him, “or perhaps a mormon or something.”
“Is that a compliment?”
“Perhaps.” I press the trigger and take a picture. Kerr-click. What a nice sound. The taxi stops on the opposite side of the street to Pearl River Mart. We’re at the Blue Butterfly. I pay the driver and we get out. Walking across the sidewalk I turn around, the Pug dog in the side window of the cab, sad bulging eyes looking out at me, a wet, pinkish tongue poking out it’s mouth. I smile.
Francois rings the bell. The door opens. Tracey stands there, dressed in a light-green vest top and dark-blue sports shorts, both covered in paint. She beams a toothy grin, waves her hand for us to come in. We go inside, I shut the door and we all proceed down a brick walled corridor, feet sliding over a polished wood floor, out to the back and into her gallery.
The Blue Butterfly is a single room, white painted concrete walls on three sides, the end wall is a full width sliding glass door that opens out to a concrete yard. I look outside. The yard is only about three meters square and closed in on all sides by high-rising buildings. Inside, in the centre of the space, a long white work table, probably about a meter and a bit high. High enough for Tracey. She is American-Chinese, slender, short, small tits, very good looking. Music is playing from a stereo and speakers on the ground beneath the table. It’s a band, quite fast paced, sounds like bubblegum:
Keep yoooouur heeeee-ead,
Keep yoooouur heeeee-ead,
Keep yoooouur heeeee-ead,
Keep yoooouur heeeee-ead
“Who’s this?” I ask.
“The Ting Tings.” Tracey replies. She goes back to the table, picks up a paintbrush and starts painting on a canvas laid flat.
Francois starts taking photos. Of Tracey, of the gallery, of the yard, of the stereo, of his feet. I think he’s taking photos of her tits, I can see the camera pointed that way and he’s zooming in.
“Do you mind if I take pictures of your tits?” he asks.
“Go ahead. I’m not getting undressed though.” she says.
He clicks away. I look around the gallery. Stacked on the floor, leaning against the wall, lots of paintings. Colourful paintings. Lots of red, green, purple and yellow. Paintings that look kind of like music posters, posters for gigs, paintings that could be CD covers. I walk over to the worktable. There are actually two canvasses. One with a large square of black and a rectangle of red above it, the other canvas with a large square of red and a rectangle of black. She’s working on the one with the large square of red. She’s got outlines of people jumping traced onto what looks like greaseproof paper, laying them down on the canvasses. It’s interesting to watch her. Despite Francois taking pictures and me standing here watching her, she’s absolutely focussed on the paintings, her eyes pinned to the canvas, her body moving and twisting around to facilitate the position of her hands. Without looking up, she says something to me and it takes me by surprise, not only because of what she says, but also because I thought she was too focussed to say anything.
“I heard about the thing going down at the magazine,” she says, “with you and Marcel.”
“Shit.” I reply. “It’s really getting around, isn’t it? Who told you?”
“The one at Only Model. He’s a booker I think.”
“You know Frankie?”
“Sure. He knows one of my girlfriends. We’ve had drinks together. He told me about it the other night. He also said not to say anything to you.”
“Hmm.” I notice that Francois is taking pictures of me. I turn to him. He lifts his eye and looks over the top of the camera, waits for me to give him the okay to continue. I don’t change my expression, which I guess is pretty straight. He lowers his eye and continues. No action equals a reaction. “Do you know who I feel like?” I ask.
“Who?” Tracey asks.
“Really? Wow, I’d like to feel like her. Why do you say that?”
“I was on the phone to her the other day...”
“Really? You speak to Kate Moss?”
“Of course, I’m the Senior Editor of Fad. I know everyone. And I was speaking to Kate Moss the other day and she was telling me how she’s being criticized for having wrinkles."
“Kate Moss has wrinkles?”
“That’s what they say. She is thirty five. Everyone gets wrinkles. But you know what? She said that even though she is thirty five and she’s being criticized for having wrinkles, and how all through her career she’s been criticized for this and that, being too thin, smoking too much, taking this and that, even after all that she still doesn’t care. She says she doesn’t give a fuck.”
“Who’s been criticizing her?”
“That’s the whole thing, isn’t it? It’s like this, with me and Marcel. I mean, we’ve sat down and talked about it, but it’s all behind closed doors. But still, everyone knows. So who knows who’s talking? I guess everyone is talking and everyone is criticizing. So what can you do about it? Be like Kate Moss, that’s what. Don’t give a fuck.”
“So you’re going to let them kick you out?”
“If it comes to that. Maybe I’ll start my own magazine.” I turn to Francois. “Francois.” He’s loading another film into his camera. He looks up. “What do you say we start another magazine?”
He shrugs his shoulders. “It’d be like that bum in the street. Nobody would look. They’d see it, but they wouldn’t look.”
“How do you make them look?” I ask him.
“Wake up the bum.” he replies, then starts to laugh. “I mean, you can’t ignore someone if they’re up and talking. That’d just be crazy.’
Tracey puts down her brush, grabs a packet of cigarettes, walks toward the sliding glass door at the end of the space. “Do you want one?” she asks.
“Sure. Do you have any wine?”
“I have red. I don’t have a fridge so I can’t keep white.”
“Red will be just fine.” I say. As I follow her over to the sliding door, I think about what would have happened if I’d got out the cab earlier on and walked over to that bum; if I’d woken him up. He’d probably have stunk of piss. Still, you have to start somewhere, even if it’s with something totally dirty and reeking of piss.