Nothing Dies – Part 2 – k

“Hi Art. Can you hang out awhile? I have some calls to make.”

A young Latino man I have never seen before offers me a Coke.

I relax into the soft leather couch.

The studio is geared for mass production on Keith’s hand-made scale. Everything is within arm’s reach – markers, brushes, paint, paper, vinyl, rags, and buckets of water. There are more than a dozen painted vases on the shelf. Some are covered with subtle geometric characters, tightly locked into repetitive patterns. Others are festooned with bright strokes of calligraphy. The ambiguous shapes form symbols that look like combinations of inscrutable letters, numbers and figures.

Beside a little red maquette for a sculpture ready to be sent to Lippincott for fabrication, a pile of shiny prints forms a foot-high stack on the floor. The walls are alive with rows of brilliant red, yellow, blue and green paintings.

I consider how far he has come in a few short years. His Broome Street studio was dark and cluttered. This new place on Broadway is spectacular in every way – from the plush furniture to the glassed-in offices and entranceway.

After a few minutes he hangs up for the last time. Then he tells two assistants he doesn’t want to be disturbed and joins me on the couch.

“I’m too busy.”

This is how he starts most conversations these days.

“You’re in charge of that, you know.”

“Yeah. It’s just that all these projects right now are important. I know they’re getting in the way of our meetings and I’m sorry about that, but…”

“It’s OK, Keith. The project is…up there in the air somewhere. It’s a mental connection. It goes on. Have you noticed that?”

“I’ve been thinking about when you said you stopped believing in the real world. I talked to Timothy Leary about it. He remembers you.”

“Yeah. In college, I was writing to Richard Alpert – Baba Ram Dass. He worked with Leary at Harvard and then Millbrook. Anyway, through Alpert, I got in touch with Leary and eventually got him to visit Gettysburg College. He gave a talk and debated another professor. We were this group of beatniks and hippies gathered around in front. After the lecture, he came outside and joined us on the lawn. People were tripping – it was a beautiful day. The other students acted like a flying saucer had landed. After that, I saw him again in San Francisco – Golden Gate Park during the Summer of Love.”

“Cool. I think you’re right about the real world.”

“Yeah. You have to live in it but there’s no reason to believe in it. It’s the last religion. Even atheists believe in the real world.”

“It always seemed to me that we make up our own reality as we go. Nobody notices.”

“Until it gets strange or you’re dreaming…or dying.”

“When I died it was unreal. Then I thought…but it’s natural.”

I am looking into his eyes, yet he is no longer here.

A Jamaican street kid who’s been blowing smoke rings into the ceiling fan looks over and smiles.

“See a ghost, mon?”

Gold encircling his neck and a glint in his eye are my last memories.

An eternity later, a young Latino man offers me a Coke.

I relax into the soft leather couch.

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