Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fuck you, Maxfield Parrish

I’ve had this book since, like, forever. I bought it at the Strand early in the 80s for a couple of bucks, and don’t ask me why. Because it was there, because it was a cheap hardcover, because I secretly, in the deep dark ashamed depths of my heart, love Maxfield Parrish.

Or rather, I hate Maxfield Parrish. It’s oddly easy to confuse the two.

This evening after work I am driving on the Henry Hudson. I would usually say either driving up the Henry Hudson or down it, for the sake of precision and bearings, but this happens to be a stretch of road that, although all signs tell me I’m going south, actually takes me north for the part I need to be on. It’s been hot for two days, that particular heavy punishing humidity tinged with green dampness that you get on the fringes of New York City. It’s merciless except for the excessive coldness of work eight hours a day, which doesn’t even count as real life as far as I’m concerned. Merciless except for this moment when I’m swinging in long loopy arcs on the leafy shaded highway, bare arm out the window, radio loud, and a decidedly low-rent but decidedly excellent breeze fills the car. It’s been a close and hazy couple of days – air quality alert days – and this bends and squeezes the early evening light into something both gold and green at the same time – Maxfield Parrish light, I think automatically. I’ve called it that since, like, forever.

And because it’s the kind of evening where I’m so pathetically grateful for the brief draft of cool air, and for the end of my workday and the fact that I’m halfway through the week, which are such sad and tiny things to be grateful for, I have to be pissed at something. So I say, out loud, over the radio, “FUCK YOU, MAXFIELD PARRISH.”

Really. Fuck you for wasting all that beautiful color and quivery misty East Coast atmosphere on fairies and nymphs. Fuck you for making me think of this woozy thing, or this, or – oh god help me there goes any credibility for taste I’ve ever had – this on certain kinds of vaporous summer evenings. It makes me feel cheap. It makes me feel like I kissed someone I didn’t really like just because he bought me drinks all night. It makes me feel kind of voluntarily used, but there’s nothing much I can do now about a book I bought so long ago.

I think about an old hippie I knew on Block Island who had little Maxfield Parrish stickers all over his house. Lee. The winged nymphets, the nubile girls on swings, stuck haphazardly on the woodwork as only a big bearded pothead pushing 40 would do. My friend Nina and I got stuck on the Island one summer with no money, the two of us 19 or 20, just joyriding around and visiting friends and not thinking too many steps ahead. We slept on the beach; we slept in someone’s car under parking lot sodium lights, we slept at Lee’s house. He liked Nina – she appealed to the kind of guy who would like nymphs on swings, whereas I was kind of spikey and sarcastic and ended up sleeping on his couch, which suited me just fine. But I coveted those stupid stickers. I asked him where he got them and he didn’t remember. So I stole a few, peeled them off the newel posts of his stairs while he was up in the bedroom with Nina, put them in my pants pocket, and at some point was so thankful to get to a laundromat that I forgot all about them. I still wonder where he got those damn stickers. Sometimes I wonder if I dreamed them.

But I didn’t dream this book. I’ve owned it over half my life, and it’s forever altered the shorthand with which I look at a certain set of atmospheric conditions. And not in a way I’m particularly impressed with. I can pretend to chalk it up to sentimentality but it’s not even that. Just a connection wired into my brain without my permission, stuck there until the day I die, daring me to be critical of it or just shut up already and enjoy the green/gold evening, tooling up/down the Henry Hudson with my arm out the window, on an evening that’s no particular evening at all.



Anonymous Miss T said...

Ah, but such wooziness has its place. (I think I have that book, too.) Great post!

10:09 AM  
Blogger Cara deBeer said...

I have similar negative and deeply entrenched associations with the pre-raphaelites. I think part of my hatred for them is because I bought into it for a while. I really wanted to be one of Rossetti's girls.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Heheh... would it be very cruel of me to point out that you would make an absolutely beautiful Rossetti girl? It wouldn't take more than a tiny bit of Photoshopping (or Gimping, for the rest of us plebes).

2:47 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

And thank you, Miss T!

2:47 PM  
Blogger nbm said...

we should go for drinks at the King Cole Bar! The Parrish murals have just been restored -- I think they're back, my friend Z was talking about it just this evening.

2:04 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Oooh yes, let's. I promise not to spew any Parrish-related profanity.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

In totally unrelated news - I often shout "Fuck you, Betsy Johnson !!" when I drive past one of her stores, because there is nothing in there over a size 6. Which is really a 4 in Betsey Johnson land. So cute and so tight ... I have taught my boyfriend to shout it, too. We are such freaks. I know that wasn't very literary but I thought you might find it funny anyway.

12:01 PM  

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