It was one of those increasingly rare “old school” NYC moments. Sitting on a stoop selling artwork sounded, in the present, like something that would only happen in Broad City as opposed to real life. But Renata needed money by any means necessary, and she was running out of ideas about how to get her hands on some in a way that could be deemed ethical. She was, in fact, cursing that she had taken so many ethics classes while majoring in Philosophy at Fordham. And also cursing that Lizzy Grant pursued the same major from the same school and had become Lana Del Rey while Renata had become poor and skeptical of the value in even bothering with having a passion.
After asking her friend, Ferdinand, if she could set up some of her paintings and collages in front of his building, a prime location on Bedford Avenue near North 6th Street, she mentioned her embarrassment about doing so to her friend, Zoey, a girl in her mid-twenties who she had met while Zoey was working as a clothing buyer at Buffalo Exchange. In keeping with Renata’s constant “get cash quick” schemes, she frequently sold clothes there to turn around a fast dollar. Zoey often enjoyed the unique pieces Renata would bring in, though, as their friendship developed, it was more about nepotism than anything else that Renata was always able to sell her items. They started hanging out socially when Zoey mentioned to Renata that she was planning to quit and get a “real job” in an office. “I gotta go corporate if I’m gonna fuck things up from the inside. Plus, I’m really tired of dressing like a 13-year-old who just discovered Hot Topic.”
Once the two had exchanged numbers, it was as though they had been friends for years, constantly texting back and forth about this new look or that new guy. Within six months, they were getting together at least twice a week to engage in street rat activities like sitting together on the waterfront or attending art galleries just for the, at minimum, one complimentary glass of wine. Renata was slightly older than Zoey, and had long ago lost the illusion that New York was the end all, be all of cities. She had believed it at eighteen, sure, when she had freshly moved from Bari to pursue her education in the city–an unheard of action to her Italian friends and family, people who didn’t understand why she would reject a free education from the state (like most European countries, Italy pays for its residents’ college studies). But to Renata, it made perfect and natural sense. For one, she was trying to get over her first love, Mauro, a boy who was two years older than her and had casually tossed her heart out into the mare like it was an unusable and antiquated lira. For another, she didn’t identify as Italian the way everyone around her did. She was more open-minded than the provincials that enveloped her like a vortex.
So to Fordham she went, acquiring a student visa and using her resolve to not go back to Italy as daily motivation to excel. At that time in her life, not going back to Italy was all she cared about. And now, it was all she wanted. Funny how life can pull this type of bait and switch on a person at any moment and after enough bad fortune and persistence in the thing they thought they wanted. Zoey, on the other hand, wasn’t as disillusioned, and still possessed a faint glimmer of enchantment. She also didn’t really nowhere else to go. Where does a person flee to in the U.S. if not New York? Isn’t that always the question? How can any other city ever provide one with the same level of constant stimulation and distraction. And yes, more than anything, Zoey sought distraction. She didn’t ever want to be able to pause long enough to think about her past, which was rife with familial trauma and neglect. Abandonment was the thing she sought to avoid most, which, in many respects, is what made it so ironic that she should desire to remain in New York, where the only thing more disposable than a person was an air conditioner.
Because Renata knew this about her, she was hesitant to be completely forthcoming about the motives behind her even more passionate than usual surge of interest in procuring money by any demeaning means necessary. The reason being, of course, that she had intuited it was time for her to leave, to return to the homeland. But she kept this to herself as she and Zoey sat on the stoop of Ferdinand’s apartment looking more homeless than artistic. Ferdinand was one of those eccentric old rich men who liked to house any twink that flashed him a smile. As such, he wasn’t at home to let Renata and Zoey in upon the occasion that one or both of them should need to urinate, or worse, take a shit. So they sat there, trying to look more nonchalant than pleading, and soon discovered they were not dressed as warmly as they ought to be for the random and sustained bursts of wind.
Renata sighed and turned to Zoey after the umpteenth self-involved asshole passed them by without so much as even glancing at the art. “No one cares about art.”
Zoey shrugged. “Maybe not in this neighborhood.”
“It doesn’t matter the neighborhood. Everyone’s either an artist themselves or not willing to spend the price I’m asking for. I’m not going to give my art away for fucking fifteen dollars when the time and effort I put into it is worth a hundred. Fifteen dollars isn’t going to change my life. Might as well keep a part of the soul that I gave up to put into the work.” Abruptly, Renata picked up one of her paintings and threw it at Ferdinand’s door. No one walking by seemed to be fazed by it. Zoey joked, “Are you turning this into a layered art show with performance too?”
Renata could barely muster the strength to smile at that. “No.” She pushed her glasses back up higher onto her nose and said, “Let’s go. This was an awful idea. Not what my self-esteem needed at all right now.”
Zoey, all too eager to leave so that she could finally relieve herself and get food, hopped to her feet and agreed, “Okay.”
It was as they were practically done packing up all of the art that Cyrus emerged from the building, presumably a resident, but maybe a guest. He was stocky and unassuming save for his fingers, bedazzled with the glare of his own handcrafted pieces. Zoey, always naturally miffed by the presence of strangers in her vicinity, tried to lead Renata in the direction of away before it was too late, but alas, Cyrus felt inclined to ask them for a light for his Newport. He was a Senegalese jeweler that specialized primarily in making custom brass knuckles and oversized gold-tone rings that he would hand mold and twist into various shapes himself.
As he watched Renata gently wrap the last of her canvases into a protective cloth (otherwise known as a Ferrari t-shirt), he abruptly snatched it from her and declared, “These are really beautiful pieces. They say so much.” In that instant, a tear formed in his eye, and Zoey couldn’t be sure if he was for real or simply trying to hit on Renata. Either way, it was uncomfortable. There’s always something rather earth-shattering about seeing a grown man cry. Like it just confirms that no one has their shit together, emotionally most of all. Yet both Zoey and Renata were all too aware that emotions were most often tied to finances in the city of New York. So maybe Cyrus was suffering from a low bank account as opposed to purely reacting to Renata’s art.
Whatever his true intentions, Cyrus was practically bawling about two minutes later, insisting that he had to have this piece of art and that he would trade her some of his jewelry–even custom create it based on her zodiac sign–if she would only let him take ownership of this image, a bird with a human body and the caption, “You can travel but you can’t get away.” Zoey persisted in attempting to get them to go back to Renata’s house by summoning a cab.
“We’ve really got to get a move on, Renata.”
Renata, still not immune to being sympathetic, consented to giving Cyrus the picture.
“I’ll repay you. What’s your number?”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve paid me back already in your own way.”
“I wanted to give up on being an artist about ten minutes ago. But all it takes is one person’s appreciation to reinvigorate the spirit.”
She waved to Cyrus, leaving him somewhat open-mouthed in response to her generosity. As she slid into the taxi next to Zoey, Zoey quipped, “Thought you weren’t giving away your art for free today.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m leaving the city anyway and I need to unload my shit. At least he saw something of value in it that no one else seemed to.”
Zoey stared back at her in shock. “You’re leaving?”
“Yes. Zoey. If I’m going to be an artist, I can’t do it in New York.”