Tuesday, December 07, 2004

deKooning Wannabe

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Jacks or Better

Yesterday afternoon, after I checked the schedues and listings
of the 4-Euro-Tuesday-Movies being presented at the Sony
Center Theatre in Potsdamer Platz, I decided, instead, to do
something that I had not done since coming to Berlin three
and one half years ago. I entered SpielBank, the gambling
casino adjacent to Marlene-Dietrich-Platz.

I looked around on the ground floor. The automatic machines
seemed all to be of the type that operated on rote chance to
win: slots, bingo, and the like. I took the elevator to the second
floor where there were only ‘live’ croupiers and card dealers
-- no machines. Too serious. On the lower floor there were
more machines, but the kind that one is able to play against;
that is, where one can make some choices ... mainly,
variations on the game of poker. I felt around in my pocket and
found that I had one coin that was useable in the machine: a
50-cent euro piece. I dropped it into the slot and suddenly
realized that, although, I knew the rules of poker; I had no idea
how these foreign machines worked. They seemed more
complicated than any I had previously played ... and that was
quite a while ago.

The German words on the selection buttons, gave me only a
general idea about how to begin: which cards I could choose
to ‘hold’ or on which I could demand a ‘hit’. I proceeded slowly.

Card images appeared on the screen, I ‘held’ on two fours and
requested three replacement cards. I pressed the ‘hit’ button.
Suddenly, two sixes joined my two fours. I pressed the ‘enter’,
and two 50-cent coins dropped into the winner tray. I had
doubled my bet.

Beginner’s luck!

The idea that this good fortune, primed by just those two coins
would continue and bank-roll what could become my lucky
day was, I thought, stretching the laws of chance; so,
pocketing those two coins, I went to the cashier cage and
changed a 5-euro note for ten 50-cent pieces, which I decided
would be my limit.

I approached another machine and dropped in a coin. Nothing
happened after I pressed the 'deal' button. I pressed the
'return' button. My coin dropped into the tray. I decided to
move to another machine, repeating the initial process.
Five cards appeared on the screen: two fours again, along
with a jack, a three and a six. I ‘held’ the fours and the jack
and pressed the ‘enter’ button.

Before I realized what my replacement cards were, the
machine started, noisily, to dispense a steady stream of coins
into the winner’s tray. This went on for about one full minute
... until the tray was full. About the time that the last coin
dropped onto the pile, a young man with a street-wise
demeanor quickly approached me and said, “That is my

I looked up at him and said, “Ya, right. I’m sitting here,
playing this machine in which I dropped one of my coins
and you come up and say that the money in the tray is your
money. I don’t think so!”

He coolly replied that he was playing on two machines (this
and the one next to it) and left to tell the cashier that he had
won 200 coins; but could not retrieve them because the
machines can only dispense less than 200 coins at a time.
As he said this, he pointed to a number on the video screen
that now indicated that 191 had been paid-out.

Did he actually think that I should believe that he just walked
away from two machines on which he was playing, leaving
them unattended—just like that—because he had won on
one of them, but could not retrieve his money?

As I didn’t seem to be convinced, he signaled to a roving
employee to come over. She asked what the matter was.
He explained to her what had occurred. She said to me,
“Yes, then, that is his money.”

I said, “You’ve got to be kidding. If someone observed
me finding a 100-euro bill on the street and came over
and told me that it was his; was I supposed to believe him?"
She said, “That’s how we do it here, because the machines
will not discharge 200 coins without assistance from
a cashier.”

“He didn’t seem to have very much trouble calling you over
here just now,” I said to her, and turning to him, I continued,
“You could have asked her or someone else who works here
to either report your winnings to the cashier or to wait at
the machine until you came back.”

“You should have looked at the ‘credit’ notice in the window
before you dropped in your coin,” was the only explanation
I got from one of them ... I forgot which. “This would never
happen in Las Vegas,” I volunteered.

“Well, this is Berlin,” she shot back, stating that it was an
unwritten rule. My comment to that was, “Had it been noted
somewhere, I might have realized it was an unwritten rule.”
It was the only thing that I said that she seemed to mull for
a moment. Maybe it was too Zen of a concept—since she had
no immediate, pat retort.

I hate it when people, in their own chauvinistic conceit,
immediately counteract by alluding to The Ugly American
syndrome: about how, in the USA, it is always done better if
not bigger. I was only trying to point out what I thought
would be a universal truth: that gaming for money and the
honor system isn’t a combination one would ordinarily take
for granted as normal or even expected conduct; especially
in a gambling casino.

Other managerial personnel came over to find out what the
fuss was about ... and, they, too, all seemed to agree that this
was not my money. I was out-numbered.

To add insult to coïncidence; because I didn’t quite know
how the machines worked, I had, inadvertently and
automatically during that one and only play, bet and lost
ten of the 200 coins which were cached and being held in
the machine ... hence, the notice on the screen indicating 191
‘paid out‘ coins.

Therefore, as I turned to leave, I was asked by the
management to replace the 9 missing coins (all the
remaining coins in my hand from my changed 5-euro note,
as it happened) so that the official total of 200 coins could
be paid to the decided winner ... which he accepted without

The only thing worse than a poor loser is a winner with
no class.


Astro-Navigating Among Feather Merchants

Feeling self-satisfied with the way that I brought to a conclusion my short, unhappy employment with the brilliant, but tyrannical architectural renderer, Dennis deCarlo; I set out the following Tuesday nattily attired in freshly laundered and pressed linen trousers, an authentic ‘50s Hawaiian shirt and Italian sandals (all recent purchases from the GoodWill) to resume what seemed to be turning into a full-time career as a budget-flanêur—the last four weeks of gainful employment making it possible to extend this privileged status for, at least, another three months.

In a nonchalant mood, and inspired by an invitation that arrived in the previous day’s mail announcing an art exhibition opening the following week; I decided to make it an art gallery day and take a mid-afternoon coffee in Beverly Hills to check-up on what the conspicuously well-heeled were currently consuming.

I boarded the Los Angeles/320-Limited bus at Normandie, heading west on Wilshire. I got off at LaBrea and began a slow cultural immersion as I ambled north. At Melrose Avenue, I turned west and began acquiring an attitude-patina from the trendy atmosphere—I no longer felt like a boulevardier, but, with the warm breeze billowing the retro-rayon of my aloha shirt, I imagined I was on shore-leave in Honolulu just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I felt open to about anything that might happen From Here to (what was left of my) Eternity.

Wading ever deeper into this morass of collected, recycled and displayed kitsch, I crossed Fairfax into the realms of interior decoration and walked into the very gallery that had, by sending me their upcoming vernissage announcement, triggered this day’s odyssey. The current exhibition featured a group of deeply hued, giant-sized, monotone paintings illuminated by mega-wattage spotlights.

I felt calmed by the cool minimalism of the stark white gallery interior and soothed by the feeling of being enveloped in the lush colors of the canvases. However, as the lone viewer of the many canvases on exhibition, it slowly occurred to me that the amount of electricity needed to effect this high-style, theatrical ambience of zen-like traquility was being generated by atomic fission producing radio active, toxic, soon to be transported, waste. This lethal residue would endure thousands of years after the deconstruction of even the most meticulously gessoed and pigmented canvases on display here.

How many lives will eventually be affected by this exhibit? Do the advantages of heightening the aesthetic appreciation of pure color by strong, focused luminescence outweigh the degeneration of the quality of life through half-life radiation leakage—or, possible genetic mutation?

Was I suffering an instant attack of impending Kunst/Kulture Sarcoma with Weltschmerz side-affects?

My imagined ecological doomsday scenario was broken by a friendly, "Hello."

I turned and recognized the person who greeted me as someone with whom I had worked, a year ago, at the Apex Gallery down the street. "Do you work here now," I asked?

"I’m the director of this gallery," Richard said, ”... started about three months ago ... already talked two of the biggest New York artists away from that ass-hole at Apex.

"How did you do that?"

"Offered—actually, guaranteed—to pay them within thirty days after any sale ... also treat them; that is, their work better. Actually, I’m going to make this place into the Los Angeles showcase of blue-chip artists."

"Really!" was my lame response, distracted at that instant by the emergence of a middle aged man through a cleverly concealed door in the wall at the near end of the room. I recognized him as the owner of the gallery.

"Have you met Martin?" Richard asked.

"No," I said, extending my hand as he approached. "Hello, I’m Frank Royce."

"Interesting," he commented under his breath to himself, continuing aloud, "Nice to meet you," offering his hand. "Do you have a few minutes, now?" he added rather cryptically.

"Sure, why not?" I played along.

"Come into my office, then. I wasn’t expecting you today and I’m sorry, but, I have to leave shortly," he said by way of an obscure explanation.

I looked at Richard. He shrugged his shoulders pressing his lips into a smile and raising his eyebrows. I turned and followed Martin through the camouflaged hole in the wall.

Martin sat down behind his lacquer and chrome Bauhaus desk and pointed to a leather chair in front. “Sit down, please,” he offered. “Nice you could come so quickly. I just wrote your name down a day or two ago on my calendar.”

"Why," I asked?

Martin looked a bit confused, but replied, "Richard mentioned you last week as a person with whom he had worked at Apex—and, who he thought might fit-in, that is, be available to work here. Didn’t he call you about it?" continuing by automatically offering a possible excuse, "Maybe he didn’t get a chance with all that’s been going on."

"No," I answered, "I haven’t seen nor talked to Richard in months, at least not since he left Apex."

"Then, how come you're here today?" he asked with a sort of urgency.

"I just walked in to see the exhibit," I said, matter-of-factly.

"You mean this is just a coïncidence, then?" he gasped.

"I guess so," I reassured him.

"Oh, I love cosmological stuff like this. What sign are you?"

"Taurus," I divulged.

"Wonderful," he said, "that would make an Aries, a Capricorn and, if you join us, a Taurus. Ingrid is an Aquarius; but, that’s no problem; she’s leaving in a couple of weeks. The new bookkeeper is a Leo. It’ll be good combination. Well, what do you think—are you available?"

"Yes, since last week; but I’ve been taken a bit off guard," I admitted. "What is it that you would expect me to do?"

"Oversee the printing of monographs, invitations and collateral materials; keep the mailing list organized; write some letters; help Richard with managing the hanging of shows; talk to clients if Richard and I are both out of the gallery—stuff like that. Do you speak any foreign languages?"

"Well, I’m, conversant in German," I bragged, "but hardly fluent," I backed-off.

"Great, you can talk to the people that come in from Germany. There seems to be a lot more of them these day since the Euro has trumped the Almighty Dollar."

'Incredible', I thought to that part of myself that was viewing this entire situation with amused objectivity—but I held-off making a commitment.

His telephone rang. He answered and held the receiver to his chest and said, "Sorry, I have to take this ... so, anyway, think about it and call me later—in the next couple of days." We shook hands and I exited back into the gallery and spent some more time viewing the paintings, thinking about coincidence and mulling fissionable half-life. I was rounding a corner that led to the reception area when I caught Martin’s eye as he was about to exit the front door, overhearing him say to Richard and Ingrid that he would return in an hour.

I left within a minute or so after he did, lit a cigarette and, as I headed back down Melrose, I was surprised to see Martin turn and walk back towards me—I thought he had forgotten something at the gallery.

"Oh, there was one thing that I forgot to ask you," he said, as we approached each other.

"You forgot to ask me if I smoked," I volunteered a guess at what seemed his obvious disapproval.

"Yes, how did you know that?" he inquired incredulously.

'New-Age, California Logic', I thought to myself; but, answered ambiguously, "I do, and I don’t—it depends on the situation."

"Great," he said smiling, knowing he had made his point; then turned and headed, at a fast clip, in the direction in which had originally taken.