By Matthew Wallenstein
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Stiff fingers, wet socks in my boots. I was cold. I blew into my hands. All the lights were yellow and so the snow around the water was the same. There were not many footprints in it. It felt good to be there. I liked the empty benches at the bus stop, I liked that yellow light filling the footprints.
I was walking around an area that was either a park or the lawn of the nearby office building. I was killing time waiting for the text telling me it was my turn to go into the art show. It featured work by Emily Roth and Faybriel Barrette (who creates work under the name Mute Hysteria).
Covid complicated everything. I had signed up online to get a text to let me know that my 30 minutes of viewing time had arrived. The text never came so I walked over. It was 15 or 20 minutes after I was supposed to go in. The address I had brought me to a large house in a residential neighborhood.
When I opened the door a man—the owner of the house—was standing in the mudroom. I explained the texting situation. He apologized, said I could go check it out anyway. He took my temperature, handed me nitrile gloves, handed me a flashlight, handed me a mask. It was thorough, I can’t say I could have put something like that together. The mask was sort of like a ski mask and I wasn’t sure if it was for effect or meant to be an extra precaution. I put everything on and headed up the stairs.
The room was dark and noise played through a speaker somewhere. Shining the flashlight on the walls I was able to see polaroid pictures.
I always liked polaroids. I was never good at taking them. Their hazy quality always left me with a feeling of sleeze the way old porn does. The quality of the film makes it seem raunchier somehow. The idea of there being only one copy builds on that too.
There was someone taking pictures of me as I looked at the pictures. It added a layer to the voyeurism.
The photos were sexual, some suggestive, some blatantly so. Oral sex, tits, lingerie, someone tied to a radiator, naked men, naked women, naked people, much spit, chains, gags.
For as long as art and sex have existed people have enjoyed blurring the line between them, here there was no line, it was both. If there is such a thing as classy sleaze, they’d made it.
After the show, I was invited to D’s house. I followed T and S there. The snow was really piling up. They parked in front of the house. I parked, got out, walked over.
D liked to paint Warhammer figurines. There were many of them in various states of completion on the dining room table and around the room.
Everyone went to the living room and sat down. There was a wheelchair. I sat in it and did wheelies around the room. I told them about the ones we had at my old house, how my old roommate and I would ride them down the stairs, crash into each other, do wheelies while we watched The X-Files.
We sat for a while and swapped stories.
S said, “One night — this was at my old apartment — I came home and this girl was sitting there. Outside on the step. There was blood all over her. I asked if she needed help or anything. She said ‘Can I use your phone?’ It turned out she cut her wrists because she had fought with her boyfriend and thought if she did that he would let her back in. She bled all over my apartment. They were always doing things like that. I have a lot of stories about that couple.”
Then D started, “My sister and her boyfriend have a kid together, they live together. One night she was there alone. There was a lot of noise coming from an upstairs apartment. This couple was fighting. It spilled out into the hall. They kept yelling. The guy throws his pregnant girlfriend down the stairs. And he comes down after her. She is laying down in front of this apartment where this nice old Hispanic couple lives. The door opens and the old man tries to help her up. He is trying to ask her if she is alright. The boyfriend punches him in the face. The old man, he must be in his 70s. He stumbles into the apartment. But then he is back with a machete. The old man cuts him twice with the machete. The boyfriend and the girlfriend keep fighting. They fall into my sister’s apartment. He is hitting her and bleeding all over the place. Bleeding from the machete cuts. There is blood everywhere: walls, floor, everywhere. The Hispanic man keeps yelling from downstairs. The cops show up, the guy ran away. My sister made baby formula for their kid.”
“They had another kid,” I said.
“Yeah, just a little baby. My sister kept the kid in her apartment while the cops did their thing.”
We sat there talking for a while longer about various things. I excused myself and went to the bathroom. When I came back down, I thanked them for hanging out and said that I should go.
I went out to my car, got in, started driving. The roads were not plowed. There were tire marks in the snow. I made it back to my hotel and pulled into a parking space.
I took off my clothes and got into the shower. It felt good. Hotel showers are always good. The two greatest things about hotels are the bathroom and the lighting in front of the mirrors.
After the shower, I was sitting on the corner of the bed. That lighting really was good. So I took some pictures of myself sitting there naked in the mirror. I was not an artist, they were not for an art show. I don’t have the ability to take a picture that isn’t lopsided.