by Bobbi Lurie
(Marcel Duchamp Reviews “Girls”)
I ran out of the café … slipping on ice … searching for Marcel … I caught sight of him … like a miracle … like light –
The snow was falling hard.
I saw the image of him walk into an Italian restaurant on West Fourteenth Street.
Had I understood Marcel Duchamp years before, I never would have worked so hard.
I misunderstood the most obvious facts. I wanted to go back and tell my younger self that only the seer, the reader, is real.
I didn’t care that my life had been a waste. Time and space were inexplicable. And yet, I knew if I kept writing and making things, after this cataclysmic encounter, I was no better than a heroin addict or a factory worker paid slave wages for the sin of repetition.
But I was perplexed.
Marcel Duchamp didn’t order a thing to eat at the café. I assumed it was because he was dead, requiring nothing in the way of sustenance from this earthly realm.
But the man behind the cracked glass of the restaurant, the same Marcel Duchamp I knew from before, was eating eagerly… between puffs on his cigar….
No one in America is allowed to smoke indoors.
Was I dreaming?
The Shamans say the surest way to know if we are dreaming is to look at our hands, see if the hands change shape under conscious scrutiny. But my hands stayed the same.
This wasn’t a dream.
The blizzard was gaining strength. I was freezing. But I didn’t want to be seen as the type of woman who follows dead men through blizzards.
I justified my stalking by pledging to finally leave the art world. If Marcel Duchamp could do it, I could do it too. I would give up art. Leave the scene. Without a trace.
For what it’s worth, Marcel already diagnosed my patterns of artistic reverie as being “nothing but an addiction.”
I lived a life lost in imaginary phantasms.
Everything deleteable… needing air – simply to breathe – I needed to see him …
At the rate he was going, I figured it would take Marcel less than fifteen minutes to finish his dinner.
I managed to take a photo of him with my flip phone.
Photographing Marcel, smoking freely in the restaurant, made me long for a cigarette. I bought a pack at The Korean Market next door. I lit match after match, longing for a smoke … but the wind was too strong.
A waiter walked out. He offered me a light from his whatever it was that faked a fire. He asked me what I was doing out in the blizzard. “I’m waiting for that guy,” I said, pointing to my hero.
“Come in,” he said, grabbing my arm, saving me from slipping on the ice.
I crushed the cigarette butt into the pavement, then picked it up and deposited it in the trashcan. I felt the waiter’s impatience; he was pulling on my arm …
Duchamp saw me straightaway, waved me to his table. He was smoking and drinking red wine …
I was mesmerized in his presence. I stood there, amazed to be gazing at his hands, his face …
I looked down at his food: plain spaghetti with a pat of butter, grated Parmesan cheese over the pasta, a small glass of red wine … espresso after.
When the espresso came, Marcel Duchamp pointed to the coffee. And yes, I did agree with him: everything is tautology except black coffee.
When he was finished with his espresso, he lit a new cigar and motioned me to sit.
If this is a lucid dream, I told myself, I’ll direct myself to Paris, the Paris I could never find in Paris. I’ll take Marcel with me.
I looked at my hands. They had not changed. This was not a dream.
Marcel Duchamp blew smoke in my face, bringing my focus back to him.
He stood up slowly and started to walk ahead of me.
I was afraid I’d never see him again. Thinking quickly, I asked him if he’d like to go with me to The Museum Of Modern Art for an opening that night.
“I have a horror of openings. Exhibitions are frightful … “
I stared into his green-striped, pink shirt.
After some moments of silence, he asked me if I’d like to see his apartment.
I didn’t say a word; he knew I would …
Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, Marcel Duchamp, 1912
I followed Marcel up five flights of dusty stairs. When we got to the landing, Marcel turned to me and said, “my intention was always to get away from myself …”
He unlocked the door of his apartment, held the door open wide, and motioned me in.
Marcel Duchamp’s apartment was a mess. Clothes were spilling out of open drawers, onto the floor, a floor covered in dust which seemed to be inches thick, shoes and pillows were strewn across the room …
And yet …
A shiny porcelain urinal was hung over the doorway. Marcel Duchamp’s snow shovel, suspended from the ceiling. His coat rack in the middle of the room, nailed to the floor.
I wanted to see more.
But a knock came to the door. The knock was insistent. It was his neighbor, a French lady with a powerful temper. Only later did I learn her name was Giselle.
Giselle’s presence gave me a chance to take some moments to observe the disaster of Marcel’s apartment. There was nothing which seemed congruent to my previous art historical exuberance. In any event, it was far more interesting watching Marcel and Giselle gesticulate in French.
Marcel Duchamp turned to me, and apologized. He needed to go upstairs with Giselle.
He asked me to follow.
I followed Marcel and Giselle up another two flights of stairs. The door of Giselle’s apartment was open. Water was seeping out, into the hallway, reaching to the stairs… Giselle motioned us in … I stepped into water … up to my ankles …. uncomfortable in my own skin … the television set was on. Marcel Duchamp pointed excitedly to Lena Dunham having awkward sex with Adam Driver.
“Amusing,” said Duchamp.
He stared into the screen, seemingly mesmerized. He laughed.
Girls reminded Marcel Duchamp of his painting, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. “My aim was static representation of movement,” he said, “… the idea of describing …movement of a nude … retaining static.”
“Yes,” I said, “most viewers seem to be fascinated by her nudity,” I wanted to say something more original so I added, “Lena Dunham has a unique way of showing friendships as hotbeds of betrayal.”
… Marcel Duchamp looked down at his hands …
When he finally looked up, he stared out into the distance.
His skin was a paler shade of gray. He turned to look at me, with new intensity.
“I’m tired … even of existing,” he said.
Then he looked away.
When he finally spoke again, he said, “Andre Breton … can’t be approached. He’s playing the great man too much … I don’t dare telephone him anymore, it’s ridiculous … I’m ten years older than he is. I think I have a right to expect to hear from him, a telephone call, something.”
Marcel Duchamp looked back at the television screen.
“… artists … are limited,” he said. “Masturbation is what it is.”
The water was rising.
Giselle walked up to Marcel, her face touching his.
Marcel Duchamp remained calm in spite of her fury. In fact, he looked happy.
He took my hands and excused himself with some words of courtesy; he explained that he had promised to fix Giselle’s toilet; he asked if I might come back another day.
I assume I must have nodded. I can’t remember.
“I’m very handy,” he said. “It’s fun to do things by hand.”
He bowed slightly.
“I’ll miss you,” I blurted out. “I may never see you again. I feel so alone.”
“We are always alone: everybody by himself, like a shipwreck,” he said. I grabbed his hands and held them in mine.
“See you soon,” he said
Every word uttered by Marcel Duchamp came from interviews, either written or on YouTube. Further details are available upon request.
About the Author:
Bobbi Lurie’s fourth poetry collection, the morphine poems, was recently published by Otoliths. Her other books are Grief Suite, Letter from the Lawn and The Book I Never Read (CW Books). Her television reviews for Berfrois can be found here.