I wouldn’t call it a museum, but that’s what it called itself. One word. Museum. It was more of a gallery. It sold artwork, didn’t just showcase it, but it was infamous for being a little more provocative. For taking on art that other galleries, even other more well-known museums would pass up for fear of major donors turning their backs.
For Museum, it had a kind of reverse effect. They were actually doing very well. With everyone, even well-dressed one percent-ers, who took a fascination with the sights and sounds that were considered taboo in other, more appropriate places. I saw them myself, dressed far more opulently than Museum’s East Village neighbors, the hipsters from Brooklyn, the queers from all over the city that also frequented the gallery events, openings, performance pieces. The first night, the grand opening, you could tell who they were instantly. They were the deep blue cocktail dresses, the plunging necklines, the ties that could buy my groceries for a month, the glittering (but tasteful) diamond studs in ears and on cuffs. And they had flushed, red faces. Smiles straight out of print ads. I could almost feel their heart rates in my own chest–they funded this place, the place with the bondage photographs, the study of clits in various fine art mediums, because here they got something that no where else provided for them. Among the women in dandy button downs and top hats, the men in corsets and heels, those in between wearing thick glasses and converse sneakers, they were alive. And simultaneously they felt better than everyone else. Everyone likes to feel superior, but only to a point. After that, everyone just wants to fit in.
I got to see the slow evolution. The cocktail dresses changed to cuffed men’s shirts, belted at the waste with wide bands of distressed fabric paid for at premium price. The suits changed to sport coats and the occasional eyeliner to match. Nice jeans became ripped jeans, the kind you buy pre-done and call designer. I could still tell the difference, though. In the quality of the clothing. In the wear of it. And in the extreme play acting of it all, the confidence on the part of one percent-ers that they fit in with just the slightest hint behind the eyes that they knew they were playing dress up.
I was at Museum a lot in the beginning. Not as a patron, but as an art piece. Not the artist, but the art. At first I was allowed to just watch. Mostly because the tall, fashionable butch in charge of the place wanted to see how it would be received, first. They had picked their artists based on nepotism and talent alike. And A. knew a lot of talented artists. That’s what they called themselves. A. And A. was best friends with Gail Provokovitch. And Gail Provokovitch lived above the place where I sold coffee. And that’s how I wound up sleeping with her. Just once. We were drunk.
But after that, I knew her, she knew me, and I was accessible being that she spent a lot of time with her sketch book or her camera or what not in the cafe. So I became one of her models. If you had been at Museum on opening night, you may have seen a shot of the Wall Street Bull inserted into a shot of my vagina hanging up on the wall as you walked in the door. The piece sold to a young couple who paid Gail’s rent that August. It was decided on that night that Gail would go through with it. Everyone raved to A. about her and A. gave her the go ahead, tilting their glasses up on their nose like Father Christmas delivering good news to a small child who has walked the line between naughty and nice for quite some time. It was scheduled. October. Halloween. A. knew this was the piece Gail really wanted to do, but since you couldn’t sell it and it was such a public relations risk, there was a lot of waiting to be done about it. In September, the glossy postcards came out. They were sleek, minimalist, the same color white as Museum’s walls. And they read:
A sexually explicit performance piece by Gail Provokovitch.
Halloween evening, 11 pm.
This piece is intended for mature audiences only. Must be over 18 years of age to attend. Masquerade is required. Not for the easily offended.
There were no pictures, not even of Gail. But that didn’t stop people from knowing instantly who she was. A. had made the right decision. Mystery. “Not for the easily offended.” Everyone buzzed and chattered and Gail became sought out on our evenings scoping out the crowd, the space. I blended into the background, camouflaging myself against a picture of–myself. In a backbend. Naked. No one actually noticed that I was the person in the photo.
I watched as they built my pedestal. A. did not bother to hide the construction during the early bits of October. And everyone knew what it was for. They kept trying to juice details out of Gail, squeezing her, twisting her, trying to vice her into spilling some secret so that they could be the ones to know, to tell. But she smiled her thin smile and said, “You will see, you will see.” And she tossed her long curtain of ink black hair and I knew she was satisfied. She liked withholding.
The speculation was that Gail was going to get on the pedestal and fuck herself. The list of rumored implements with which she was to do this was fantastic. My personal favorite was a series of vegetables, and then the rumor got started that a salad would be served after the piece. There was a tingling in the weeks before Halloween. Like sweat and kissing before fucking. Like all the patrons from all walks of life were flirting with each other, courting each other. I could see nipples tighten under tee shirts when the piece was even discussed. A shifting in posture. A resettling to make sure the seams of pants were touching genitalia.
And then it was time. My round, white pedestal was finished and it was eleven and everyone that had been filing in was in the most splendid masks, dresses, costumes around me. They looked confused to see me naked, knees to my chest. They had expected Gail. Pretty, skinny, dark haired Gail. What they got was me. I am tall, muscular, and I get my haircut at a men’s barber shop.
They formed a circle, staring at me, the only person not wearing a mask. Gail entered. Naked, strapped on, carrying a box. The idea was that she’d bring everything and use whatever she felt like. I was to go with it as honestly as possible. Behind me there sat a series of white boards with index cards. Everyone was invited to write their reactions, whatever they were, and put them up. Gail loved an interactive piece. This was the part I was most nervous about. Getting sexed up in front of people? No problem. I’m enough of an exhibitionist to make that work. Having direct access to everything the audience thought about it? About me? I couldn’t really think of it without hyperventilating a little. So I didn’t. Think about it, I mean.
Gail started behind me. I still sat with my knees to my chest, I hadn’t moved anywhere. I felt her hands slide over me like I was sitting under warm water. From my shoulders, down my arms. And that relaxed feeling you get under a tub faucet came with them. My knees dropped a little, then more when I felt her lips on my neck. They were wet. I couldn’t believe it. I had thought she’d be just as nervous as I was, but clearly I had underestimated Gail Provokovitch. Her kisses left warm circles on my collar bones and I sighed. It was okay. Really, if this were poorly received, it would be her neck stuck out, not mine.
My knees dropped all the way and my feet touched the floor. Gail circled me until she was facing me and I got to clearly see her choice of cock. She had picked the largest one she owned. I smiled. Leave it to Gail. If she was going to be seen naked, she wanted to have the biggest dick in the room. I also opened. I owned the same cock. It felt like skin on skin and it spread my hips wide. I fucked myself with that cock on a very regular basis. I felt a tug between my legs and that familiar opening ache as the blood rushed down. My hips spread in anticipation. I shifted my seat and felt the bones in my ass solidly on the wood, my clit pressing against the rest of me as it swelled. Everyone behind Gail shifted to see my face, my reaction. A few seemed surprised. I tried to puzzle this out while Gail knelt down in front of my pedestal and kissed my jawline. Did they expect me not to like it? Why?
Gail kissed me on the mouth and the room exploded before me. I had forgotten how much I liked the way she kissed. She pulled so you felt like you were falling into her mouth, falling into her body. And she bit to remind you that you had your own mouth, your own body to worry about. She bit hard enough to make a scream push itself from my lips in surprise, but never hard enough to draw blood.
I grabbed her and wrapped my hands around her back, nails biting her as her teeth bit me. When my legs wrapped around her, I felt the reminder. She was hard against me. I pulled her toward me and she stumbled, giggled. Her hands started at my face. She traced the lines of my eyebrows, the freckles, the crows feet I have from smiling. She held my cheeks in her palms for just a second, then kept moving. I could tell from how long she spent there that she liked how her hands covered my neck, almost like she could snap it if she wanted. Her eyes squinted and the corner of her mouth turned up. Her chin jutted out. Her entire palm engulfed my neck just once, and then she kept moving. Flat palms against my chest so that my nipples stood at attention for her, stood to welcome her to their area of my body. I squealed. My legs kept pulling as she pinched each erect soldier until they were red and smarting. I moaned and she pushed me down, my back flat against the pedestal now, head hanging off the edge so that my audience turned upside down.
Gail pumped lube into her hand and I started writhing. “Please,” I said, and it was only then I realized how silent everything had been. I spoke it into the still gallery and I felt the word splatter on the white walls like ink. Or maybe like come. And the people seemed to stare at the word as it left my mouth. Some looked at the walls where it stuck, or the floor. Those people avoided looking at me. Almost as if speaking were a reminder to them that I was real and they were watching one of the most intimate moments a person experiences. I was a real person. Others were hungry and looking right at my mouth, right at the word’s point of origin. These people were licking their lips. Some had bulges in their pants. They looked greedy. I had a lot more respect for these people. They understood that I was real and they were devouring my experience. Not devouring me. But devouring the word I’d given to them. Devouring the poison apple red of my nipples, devouring the strange linked energy between all of us. They understood the thick feeling in the air, the feeling of the possibility of us all starting to fuck on the floor of this art gallery. They were not afraid of this.
Still. I suppose I should throw everyone a bone. They were watching a two girls have sex in an art gallery. And they were probably going to buy exorbitant amounts of artwork after. Pretty progressive crowd.
There was a slick filling. My legs twitched. I gasped. It was low and from a place just under my belly button. I felt Gail slide into me and I heard the audience around me roar silently. Still my word was the only thing on the wall, but there was a crackle of energy and everyone leaned in and breathed deep. She put her thumb on my clit and my vision frayed, the rope tying me to these people succumbed a little bit and for a while I was only sex. Only the steady in and out, only the fireworks in my chest, the electricity in my thighs, the breathing of everyone together as they got faster and faster. As it became more and more possible that everyone could melt into each other. That everyone could gasp and say please.
When I saw the first card go up, the rope snapped back into place, in perfect condition, and I was back. I was connected with my over-thinking brain. Tied back into reality. It was a woman in a black dress that looked like it had been sprayed on to her body, her black and silver mask so elaborate that I couldn’t see her face. She had heels that looked like stilts and she teetered a tiny bit in them. She posted her card up. I melted with relief. It simply said, This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
After that, the cards flooded up. There was just about a stampede to participate. There is nothing more interesting than being fucked and watching other people’s thoughts about it at the same time. I had been scared of it before I started. But it’s almost like a weird out of body experience. Detached and at the same time deeply personal. I was having these bursts, twitches, welling, flooding moments of pleasure and watching reactions to it. Upside down, yes, but I could still read them. Most were wonderful, like the black-dressed woman. One card read, This has dampened any fear I had of gay women. Another said,This makes me realize that all connection between all people is the same. These were the cards that made me wetter and made me realize just how much I loved New Yorkers. Even the one percent-ers.
Then there were the douche canoes. The terrible people. There were only really two cards I remembered being entirely without merit, compassion, and comprehension of the artwork. One was a fat, greasy man who put up, This girl must be a whore if she’s doing this. A real slut. The second was a stately gentleman with salt and pepper at his temples. He wrote, This girl must be straight because she likes this penis so much. I resolved to spill drinks on both offenders after I was done getting thoroughly fucked. I stopped looking at the cards though. As I read those two, my movements became more stilted, more plastic, and I began to close and hide. Gail grabbed my hips and pierced into me. She knew what was happening. That was her telling me to ignore those guys. I let my head drop back and my eyes focus to the left of the boards. The cards multiplied and covered the board like feathers but I no longer read the words because something else caught my eye.
There was a small woman in a teal dress standing at the very, very back of the crowd, almost behind the boards. She was so skinny and pale it was as if she were part of the wall, or perhaps partially see-through. Her hair was a distinct non-shade of brick brown and she looked a whole lot like everyone else. Her mask was elegant–definitely a one percent-er. Black wire only so I could still see her face. It was her eyes that let me know she wasn’t a ghost or my imagination. She belonged to the second of the two kinds of audience members and her eyes were drinking in each thrust. They were greedy about the way my head draped over the pedestal. She was touching herself through the silk she was wearing. Her lips parted and I could feel the air between them, the soft slight moan that she wanted to let lose into the air, to join my please on the wall, but she couldn’t. People would turn around and look at her. She watched me and I watched her hand. Her face. It transformed and flushed, two doll-red dots, one on each cheek. Her hair seemed to lift into the air like she was generating static. Everyone blurred around her. She was more real than any of them. I looked away. I didn’t want to ruin it. I didn’t want her to feel like art. But I thought she was. She was way more striking than I was, the way she peered around the corner. The way she had a secret.
I came so hard I felt like my body turned inside out, that everyone could see all the organs I had inside me. It had nothing to do with Gail and everything to do with the secret woman. I had wondered before this how we were going to know when to stop. Gail is lovely and all, but she can’t get me off. She’s wonderful in bed and she’s a wonderful artist and this was probably the best idea ever, but I knew as much as I enjoyed myself that we’d probably go for hours and I’d never light on fire the way she was hoping I would. She knew it too, I think, even as she’d asked me to do it. We are not for each other. And the risk, the idea it may not work the way she wanted, I think that’s what gets Gail Provokovitch off about performing. Thank goodness for the secret woman. I dripped down the white-finished wood and I thought, this is it. Everyone is going to turn on each other and rip clothes off. People will bite into each other’s flesh and scream and come. And as Gail pulled out, it deflated. It hung there for maybe thirty seconds, everyone looking at us, at each other. Gail looking triumphantly at me, smiling, knowing something had acted on me. Me sinking into her eyes and rolling around in being a piece of art. Then the Museum became the Museum again. People did not applaud, but the buzz of talking began. It was a quiet hum and people stepped forward to examine the cards. The secret woman disappeared behind the board. Gail whispered to me, “Let’s go clean up.”
I did not wear a dress for the second part of the evening. I was in a button down and tie, short hair spiked away from my face. And I couldn’t vanish into the walls any more. People came up and talked to me, congratulated me. “I’m not the artist,” I would say. “Go tell Gail.”
With a glass of champagne in my hand (free champagne. I am still pretty confident that A. is going to give me free drinks for life) I mustered up the courage to look at the cards without the distraction from their content that I’d had before. There was one, the author of which had traced over each word ten times or more to make it bold. It was my favorite. It read, “I want to fuck everyone!” Silk brushed my arm and I looked away from it, still smiling. It was the secret woman but she didn’t see me. She was on a mission. She found what she was looking for and then dug through her shiny black clutch. She came up for air with a red pen. The card that said I was a slut, that’s what she’d found. She popped the red pen and wrote in loopy, large letters right over the fat man’s sentences.
You’re a dick. She wrote. I snorted into my champagne and spat a little bit back into the glass. She heard and turned, the doll-rouge splotches appeared again and her freckles stood out. Her eyes had lost none of the intensity they’d had while she’d been touching herself. But as soon as they’d found mine, she pointed them to the ground.
“I’d really wanted to put up what was on the first one,” she said. It was soft and retreating. “But someone else beat me to it. So I figured I’d just do this.”
“Gail would say you’re defacing the artwork.”
She jutted her chin out, no more retreating. “The rules were real, honest reactions. That was my real honest reaction to that guy. To that card.”
“But that was his real honest reaction too,” I replied. Then I smiled. “But he is a dick.” She returned my smile.
I paused. “Did you enjoy yourself?” I think maybe it was the way I asked it. I didn’t say, “did you enjoy the performance.” And maybe I raised my eyebrows a little too high. The secret woman looked mortified. Her mouth fell open in an oh, a very different one than I’d seen before. And it wasn’t just her cheeks that were red, but her whole face and her neck too. I’d stepped my foot neatly in my mouth.
“You saw,” she stammered, and she made to turn and flee.
I caught her hand. “Do you want to go grab a drink? Like, with me?”
Her eyes stuck to the floor. I dropped her hand like a hot stone. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. We both looked at the ground for a while. I had to try to take my foot from my mouth. “I’d have put what was on the first card up too, you know, about you. Um.” I was probably as red as she was. She didn’t speak and I chanced raising my eyes from the ground. Her attention was still focused there, but she was smiling fiercely.
“Let’s go,” she said, without looking up. And we left through the front door with everyone watching into the sharp air and the East Village bustle. Her eyes were intense like the city street.