Jeffrey came to Yale in November of last year, to give a talk at the School of Art. The poster they made for him had little dancing Pac-Mans around his name, and was printed out and tacked around the school and on their website. I didn’t know why they chose to crowd him with a garland of Pac-Mans, but that seems to be what the graphic design program does, i.e. whatever the hell they want.
Because I didn’t have a Yale ID I waited by the Edgewood entrance for someone to come in or out of the building, and after a few minutes someone finally did. I gallivant up the steps just to meet another code-locked door. Jeffrey’s talk started at 1:30 and it was already 1:25, and I was sweaty because I had biked there in a large denim jacket despite it being one of those deceptively warm, cusp-of-winter days. So I stood in door purgatory and knocked—at first lightly, then increasingly harder—before a well-dressed woman with blonde hair tucked into a bun finally opened it from the other side. She smiled, and I smiled, and then I walked into the room and found a chair to collapse in.
Jeffrey was pronounced; he wore a gray suit and his signature round glasses, and he sat next to the podium with a look that was neither eager nor apathetic. He was just there, as if he had appeared without transport to that exact spot, and would disappear the moment he was done speaking. I tried to find in him the characteristics that make someone successful in the art world; I squinted at his socks, his shirt, the way his hair parted. I looked at the eager MFA students sitting in the front row, trying to make eye contact with him, and I compared their looks with his to no avail. Like all celebrities, he was simple in real life; he had arms and legs and hands that folded and unfolded his reading material. He had just found success in the art market, and he was here to talk about it.
Jeffrey started off with Art in the Streets, at MOCA in L.A. in 2011. He showed slides of Coney Island, and of City as Studio. As he spoke, I touched the pockets of my jeans—a never-ending habit of mine—and felt them to be flat. I had brought my wallet but it wasn’t where I thought it would be. I tried to casually lift the sides of my jacket to reach inside (empty) and dug into the breast pocket (empty) before turning around in my chair to do a thorough scan. The room was silent and engrossed in Jeffrey with a type of special, academic silence—a silence that judges all noise, that performs excellence and diligence through listening. I was desperately trying to be sly; I would’ve hate to draw attention to myself, in case Jeffrey were to see me fumbling through my wear and peg me as ill-mannered, and remember my face, so that if I were to see him at a fair years later he would point and say ‘there’s the girl who was more interested in pulling tissues out of her coat than listening to me, ban her from it all.’
But it was certain: my wallet was gone. I turned around and looked at Jeffrey’s mouth make words, but I couldn’t hear him; I could only see the numbers of my debit card dancing around his head. Leaving would mean I couldn’t approach Jeffrey afterwards with a witty comment; staying meant accepting undetermined financial loss. I finally lurked out of the room, red and embarrassed.
At the Edgewood entrance I walked circles around my parked bike and moved outward until I ran into two men cutting a tree close to a utility pole. I asked them if they had seen a wallet. One of them asked for my name, and when I told him, he lowered himself from the boom lift and opened the door of his tractor, grabbing my wallet from the console. How many white girls with brown hair and brown eyes, I wondered, have lost wallets around here? Was the frantic look on my face not convincing enough that the thing was mine?
We stood there for a few moments, me and these men. Not many students were around, so the thought of trying to get back through both Edgewood entrances seemed daunting, not to mention the temerity of walking back into the talk. I looked at the guys and they looked at me. I wondered if they expected cash, but if they had seen my wallet they knew I didn’t have any. How are you? I finally asked. One of the guys nodded and raised himself on the boom lift again, machete in hand, staring at the leftover branches.
I looked back at the school’s entrance and then dragged my feet back to my bike, unlocking it slowly, unsure what to do with myself. It felt like I was literally on the outs of something big happening, that the building had reluctantly swallowed me and then spat me back out.
I unlocked my bike and put on my helmet. I stood, straddling the seat, before biking away slowly. On the ride home I thought about how Jeffrey—behind panels of thick glass and wall—was more than an art savant. He was a Polaris of success in New York’s market and I was like a runaway star veering through. The journey ahead would be long. As I biked, I wondered what the hell Jeffrey was discussing, and how surely, someday, I’ll hear it again.