Dmitry Samarov's Blog, page 3
November 1, 2013
October 31, 2013
I had another cab dream last night. I have them a lot. Twelve years behind the wheel will do that. In this one, I had taken or stolen some guy’s cab and was driving around. It was a Blue Ribbon, one of the smaller cab companies in town. I pulled into a hotel driveway and a drunk staggered my way, waving a fistful of bills. He wanted a ride but refused to say where he was going, so I maneuvered around him and started driving away. He screamed after me that he had my cab number and that he was gonna report me.
I remember feeling so happy that it didn’t matter what he did because it wasn’t my cab and no one would ever know.
October 28, 2013
Béla Tarr, The Time After
by Jacques Rancière
Translated by Erik Beranek
Someone famous once said that talking about music is like dancing about architecture, meaning that, describing one art form by means of another is ultimately futile. Yet, over and over again, writers attempt to do just that very thing. There are many reasons why one might want to write about someone else's creative work: it may be a way of explaining it to oneself; a way to explain it to others; a way to advance or buttress one's own ideas on the back of theirs; or countless other reasons.
I found these two sketches yesterday while digging through old papers. They’re from Boston in the mid-90s, when I first started driving a cab. Most of my sketchbooks from that time were sold, lost, or thrown away. I have no memory of drawing these cabs in Logan Airport but find it oddly reassuring to realize that I would return to these kind of drawings a decade later in Chicago. The ones I did there are better than these but these were the first.
October 27, 2013
I gave Lou Reed a cab ride. It wasn’t a random street hail, Tony Fitzpatrick asked me to come to his studio on Damen Avenue in Bucktown and take Lou to his hotel downtown. This was in 2008 or 2009 and he was in town to play Lollapalooza. I was driving Tony pretty much every day at the time and whenever a friend came in from out of town, Tony would call and have me take them wherever they needed to go. He knew a lot of well-known people but this was different. This was Lou-fuckin’-Reed!
His music’s been a part of my life since my friend’s dad gave me a home-dubbed cassette tape with VELVET UNDERGROUND in his sure block lettering on the spine, sometime around 6th or 7th grade. I translated their song, “The Gift”, in high school and read it out loud to my French class. I don’t remember a time when one of his songs wasn’t part of the soundtrack of my life since I first heard them as a kid.
I idled outside Tony’s studio, looking at a group of people talking inside. They were mostly artists, Tony’s crowd, and Lou Reed was in the middle of it, the obvious focal point. A few minutes later, Tony walked him out to the cab and they said their goodbyes. Tony told me to take him to the Trump Hotel downtown on Wabash.
He was wearing a maroon Member’s Only type jacket, skinny jeans, and those loudly-colored retro sneakers that likely cost a lot more than they had any business costing. Mostly I was struck by how small he was and how old he looked. The ride passed in silence. I get tongue-tied around those I know so having nothing to say to a legend was no big surprise. I racked my brains for something to say to him though. I have no doubt he was just happy to have a little peace and quiet. At least I hope so.
As he was getting out in the Trump Hotel’s drive, he asked how much he owed me. I answered that it was taken care of, then blurted something like, “Thanks for all the music.” He murmured something positive-sounding and walked away.
R.I.P. Lou Reed
October 26, 2013
I was late to the internet. Like so many other things in my life I fought tooth and nail against it but once I tried it, I dove in to the deep end. It was the same with driving. I used to rail against the evils of automobiles, then, at twenty-one, I was forced to learn how in order to drive my paintings across the country for a grad school interview. A couple years later I was driving a cab. With computers, my argument was that paintings could never be accurately reproduced on a screen, so why bother with the whole thing. I had no ambition to write or to share anything but artwork, which, I was convinced could only truly be experienced in person. In 2003, I married a computer programmer, and half a year later I had my own website. The marriage didn’t last but the website’s still going.
In the early days I’d spend whole nights wrecking the thing over and over again until finally figuring out, more or less, how the thing worked. Dealing with a computer is a bit like dealing with an autistic child. There are things that they’re brilliant at, but leave one comma or quotation mark out of place and it’s reduced to a catatonic mess. Making peace with the thing forced me to exercise parts of my brain that were rarely needed for painting. There’s nothing at all intuitive in the simple coding required to maintain a website. Eventually though, I grew to get a bit of satisfaction from making it do what I wanted it to. It scratched an itch I didn’t know needed scratching.
Along with maintaining a website, I learned about a bunch of tangential things that came along with it. Search engines, stat counters, and social networks endlessly compete for our attention and dollars. It’s difficult not to take part in this quantifying of everything that you put out there. I installed a code on each of the html pages of my website that would send a signal each time someone looks at it. Monitoring these numbers became a regular part of my day. A compulsive checking, and rechecking, and rechecking. It went on for years until yesterday, when I decided to make it stop.
I understand why companies and countries want to keep count of what we’re all doing on the internet. They want to control our behavior and sell us things, but why was I compiling all this data? Sure, I want people to buy my paintings so I can stop working in the service industry but I don’t have a lick of marketing savvy. What’s more, I hate advertising and can’t really do it myself without irony and ambivalence. So what did all these numbers tell me? Of course it’s interesting to learn which of the things you put out there strike a chord with people but I’ll never alter what I’m making to take advantage of it because if I do I may as well be making widgets. Art is a conversation with one’s world, not a response to market demands.
I cancelled the stat counter thing on my website because I’ve come to think of the compulsive checking as a really unhealthy activity. It’s only been a day or so but I find myself reaching for my phone, only to realize I no longer have anything to check up on there. It’s quieter without the numbers. I figure I’ll just let people tell me if they like something I’ve done from now on. We’ll see how it goes.
October 25, 2013
When it came time to leave I ran away.They had to come find me at the playground by my grandparents’ apartment building. They told me we were just going on vacation, that we’d come back. We never came back.
They tell me we went to the museum to look at the Breugels. I don’t remember that but I’ve got three tattoos of his pictures on my body now.
We stayed at a pensione full of Russian emigres waiting to be allowed into Israel and America. A fat Italian woman would holler, “ACUSHA!” in her best pidgin-Russian down the hallway when it was time to eat. There were amusement-park rides my parents couldn’t afford to let me ride on all day like I wanted and endless wanderings all over the city to take in every last ruin, mosaic, and grotto that we could stand. We were on vacation after all.
I remember running as fast as I could back to the pensione, needing to take a shit in the worst way, and not making it. Upstairs I locked myself in the bathroom, took off my soiled underwear, and threw it out the fourth floor window onto the street. They never found out and that was the only thing that made the shame of it bearable.
Over the Atlantic
On the plane to I pestered the stewardess for complimentary Coca Colas every half hour. I chain-drank them all the way across the Atlantic. My father’s older brother picked us up from Kennedy Airport in his behemoth of a Chrysler station wagon. En route to Brookline we stopped at a gas station for more Coca Colas. The idea of stopping at a gas station for drinks was the most foreign idea any of us had ever heard of.
They stuck me in 2nd grade instead of 3rd because I didn’t know English. My ESL tutor—a girl of twelve or thirteen—accused me of plagiarism for using the word satirical in a homework assignment and I couldn’t convince her otherwise—an uncle who was staying with us at the time told me what that word meant. By 3rd Grade I knew every curse word there was and used them freely to the detriment of my report cards. Students and teachers kept asking me to say things in Russian. It was a trick they never tired of but it grew old for me fast.
We had no money so I turned to stealing. Twenty dollar bills from a friend’s house would miraculously appear in the bushes by Devotion School, allowing me to treat my friends to hours of Spy Hunter and slices of pizza. The wallets of house-guests were lightened and other kids’ piggy banks were emptied (if they made the mistake of having me over). When confronted and asked about my conscience, I learned to cry convincingly enough to be left alone to steal more.
The place never felt like home but what was there in Moscow to go back to? My parents and their fellow-emigres would gather around the kitchen table on Babcock Street and rail against the horrors of the old country. Most of what I knew of my life back there was what they’d tell me. I remember sitting in 1st grade in my blue uniform with the epaulets, taking off my Lenin Soviet star pin and doodling with a ballpoint pen all over it. I didn’t even knew who Lenin was.
Mrs. Beattie, the 5th grade teacher, took our class to the school’s parking lot to show off her new car. Seeing a blemish on its gleaming hood, I spit-shined it away and got a look like I’d smeared the whole hood with dogshit from the others for my trouble. This was no place for me.
By the time I was old enough to decide where to live the place I was from was gone. The Soviet Union became Russia and I wasn’t from Russia so there was no place to go back to. I ended up in Chicago.
I went to the college for doodlers but kept stealing at every job I ever had. It culminated at the art supply store, where hauling supplies out of the loading dock out back became a whole job in and of itself.
The stealing stopped when I started driving a cab. Probably because there was nothing there to steal aside from people’s time. It’s a perfect job for someone who’s from nowhere. A cabdriver doesn’t worry about where he’s from because he’s not going anywhere in particular. He’s just going. Every other cabdriver I met was from somewhere else as well and there was a comfort in that.
There’s nowhere to go back to but I finally feel like here’s better than nowhere.
October 21, 2013
October 20, 2013
The Handsome Family at Millennium Park, July 22, 2013
Bill Callahan playing at Alhambra Palace, October 14, 2013
Haskell Wexler speaking at Columbia College, October 17, 2013