With no more of a plan than meeting friends for a 6pm dinner at Freemans (highly recommended, btw. The food was the best I’ve had this trip.), I chose to head downtown and slowly meander my way from West Village to East Village, taking in the sites along the way.
Still having a couple of hours to kill before dinner, I decided to check out the New Museum, especially keen to explore their brand new building on Bowery and their much discussed new show “Unmonumental“. The building was beautiful from the outside and serviceable from the inside, but the show was pretty much dreck to my eyes. It was the visual and cultural equivalent of a stretched out one line joke.
As I was surveying objet d’art number 20 and wondering if I really could spend another hour in this place, I noticed a fairly handsome man looking at me. He approached and started asking me what I thought about the various pieces and we pretended to discuss them for a few minutes over the subtext of “shall we take this outside to coffee and perhaps a walk to your place later?” We made our introductions and continued onto a few more sculptures, making wisecracks about the artists’ intent or lack thereof. My new friend John became aware of the presence of another nice looking guy who seemed to be hanging on our conversation and laughing at some of our jokes about the art.
“Is he looking at you or me or both of us?” John asked, more to the room than to me.
The guy then approached and sort of introduced himself, and the three of us struck up a conversation. At this point I had no idea where this was all headed, but I knew I had a dinner to attend in about 50 minutes’ time around the corner. We all continued our blather about the lackluster art, but at some point I realized that I was having a hard time making out the words of our new friend. It wasn’t that he wasn’t speaking clearly, but that the meter of his sentences would change rather quickly and it seemed somewhat difficult to process without paying very close attention.
Still, we came to understand that he was a library science major from somewhere in the Midwest. He was also a pretty handsome guy and I have to admit to feeling a little unsure whether John was flirting with him or me or both. Then again, I was unsure of the same about myself. For some reason the conversation came to a rather odd pause, with the three of us just smiling and standing there for a few awkward moments. John then suggested we move on to the next piece, which we did.
And that is when it happened. As we crossed the gallery floor, I heard a loud “HONK!”
I turned around, unsure of what had happened or where it had come from. I turned back to continue another few steps when I heard another, equally loud HONK (although now, thinking back on it, it was really more of a SQUAWK). I then noticed our new friend kind of turning and bobbing a little, as if to avoid eye contact. And then I heard another SQUAWK. I realized with a slight horror that the noises were coming from our new friend. This clearly also made John uncomfortable, who wished the guy a nice day and then hurried us along to another part of the exhibit, muttering something about having sexually aroused the guy leading to his squawking.
As we walked away, I was feeling a little odd about the whole thing. We continued to hear loud squawks in the distance. I mean, this was a gallery type space, with people quietly milling about looking at and discussing the art in hushed tones, punctuated by these loud outbursts. I suddenly realized what was happening and although this entire sequence of events had transpired in little more than a few minutes, it should have occurred to me by the second or third squawk that our new friend had Tourette’s syndrome. I had in fact read about it in a book by Oliver Sacks just a few months ago.
John and I shared a brief tea in the downstairs coffee shop, exchanged numbers and said our goodbyes. I stayed on in the cafe and moments later I bumped into the guy again and we chatted for a few minutes. He started to apologize and explain and I waved my hand, telling him I understood what it was and said I was sorry if I seemed a little taken aback at first. He was a pretty handsome guy and I told him so. He returned the compliment and asked for my number, so I gave it to him. He then let out an especially loud SQUAWK, said goodbye and left. It is somewhat unlikely that we will see each other again, as both he and I are visitors to the city and leaving in a couple of days, but who knows? Life is full of strange serendipity.