The day was dragging. The opening of the exhibition at the Acwacca Gallery had been timed to coincide with an open studios tour in this former industrial area of Newark, New Jersey. Most of the buildings had been built for small industries, which still occupied about half of them. The other half had, during the past decade or so, been turned into artist studios and galleries. Our official opening, the one with the munchies and cheap wine, had occurred earlier in the week. Now we were just participating in the open studio weekend, which amounted to sitting along side our work and talking to the occasional person who wandered inside.
The gallery space was large and there were six of us in the show, which was the culmination of a workshop sponsored by the gallery that had run for several months. Many of the paintings that I had done during the workshop were ultimately unsatisfying failures. The woman who had been conducting the workshop finally pointed to a slide of one of my older paintings. She let it be known in no uncertain terms that that painting was the reason I had been accepted into the workshop and she was disappointed that I hadn’t done more like that. In my own defense I said that I was trying to push myself to go beyond what I had done in the past. She politely, or perhaps not so politely, pointed out that I was pushing in the wrong direction. With only a week or two left in the workshop there wasn’t much left to do but kick out a couple of paintings in the style of the one the facilitator had liked. Although I was unsatisfied with not having made more progress during the workshop itself, I was relieved to get a couple of paintings done in time so I could actually be in the show.
An artist who was taking a break from his own open studio wandered in. While we were hanging out chatting his daughter came looking for him. He invited me to go back with him to look at his work. It was only a block away in the basement of another former industrial building. The building seemed to have been turned into several live/work spaces for about four artists and their families who shared the edifice. While I was looking at his work, one of his building mates stopped by. I then went on to his space to view his work. I wish I could remember some of the details of their work so that I could describe it. All I can remember is that I was having a very good time and it was with a bit of regret that I had to excuse myself. I had entirely lost track of how much time had passed, but I knew that the director of the Acwacca Gallery would be irritated if I was gone too long.
The moment I reentered the Acwacca Gallery, my sister accosted me. “We’ve been looking all over for you.”
“I was just next door like I told everyone.”
“Well, I went over to get you and you weren’t there.”
“Oh. I’d gone upstairs to look at his neighbor’s work. I wasn’t gone that long. Why all the fuss?”
It turns out that someone had been waiting around to meet me. A tall, handsome man with an unusually toned physique visible beneath his dark blue knit polo shirt was standing near my paintings. The gallery director was visibly excited. “This is Cory Booker,” she exclaimed. “He’s going to be our first black president!” she predicted, incorrectly as it would turn out. I’m afraid Mr. Booker was born a decade too late. A football player at Stanford, a Rhodes Scholar, Yale Law, he seemed to be the sort of person of whom much has been expected since the day he was born.
Apparently, he had been taken by one of my paintings and was hoping to get a chance to speak to me. It was flattering that he had waited. Of course, he is a politician. A young woman who appeared to be some sort of supporter or assistant spoke up allowing Cory a modicum of modesty. “We’re more concerned about the upcoming election for mayor. I hope you’re all going to be voting for Cory!” Booker’s previous run for mayor became famously nasty. Three of the other six artists in the show were women and they soon joined the group surrounding Booker. With the assistant, the gallery director, my sister and the four artists, he was surrounded by a gaggle of gals. He turned the conversation back to the paintings.
As he and his companion exited the building, we all hung in the doorway like a bunch of starstruck teeny-boppers waving enthusiastically. “Sure, we’ll vote for you Cory!” one of us sang out.
After he was out of view we returned the main room of the gallery. “What party does he belong to?”
“I don’t know.”
“Does anyone know his positions on anything?”
“Gosh, no. I feel really silly now. He was just so charming.”
“Heck. I don’t even live in Newark.”
We had a pretty good laugh at ourselves.
(I remembered this episode after reading about how Cory Booker won the Democratic nomination for Senate.)