The Avanti Luxury Van started up. Hearing its engine was sweet music to my ears. I loved going for excursions – especially when I was having a good hair day, like today. My coiffed bob had this nice Marilyn Monroe side swoop that I immortilized in a cloud of Aqua Net hairspray. I felt frisky – like a tiny dog who had just come back from the groomer. Wes, who sat beside me, was wearing new khakis, sneakers and too much of a new cologne. I held my tongue. See, his grandaughter had recently bought the cologne for him and he was so proud to wear it so I didn’t want to make a stink about it. I was already doing so well on my New Year’s resolution to be less bitchy. But I digress…
It was the first month of the new year and Avanti had a new entertainment program for us to try out. It was called ArtFeel – apparently, a curious kind of smash up word – Art + feel. ArtFeel. I read it was an arts appreciation project run by our local Arts Council. Every month, a volunteer from the Arts Council was to accompany us in the Avanti Van to see a piece of outdoor public art and facilitate a discussion on how the art made us feel – our personal Artfeel. This sounded fun and different so we all signed up.
Curly Sue sat with Gwendolyn in the last row. Lillian sat in the middle seats with Sam. And Wes and I had the second row. Oh, and Nurse Sarah and the Art Council volunteer, Miss Amy, who was a small, but mighty woman with a wonderfully loud voice that demanded your attention – they sat in the first row. I’m not sure if Miss Amy thought we all were deaf and was actually yelling or if she was simply a “loud talker“, but it worked for me. I liked that I could make out everything she was saying perfectly well. Sometimes, truth be told, I can’t hear all the words people say to me and I just kind of nod and laugh to fill in the gaps; I’m too vain to wear my hearing aid. Every morning after Nurse Sarah puts my hearing aid in my ear, the moment she turns away, I take it off and put it in my purse in my makeup bag. If I really want to hear something I’ll put it on.
The Avanti Van stopped at a nearby public park. Nurse Sarah opened the sliding van door and we all gasped at the view. It was like we were stepping out into a painting. There were beautiful water fountains shooting high up in the air from concrete park sprayers and a large tiered grassy area shaped into a semi-circular theater was flanked by three blocks worth of shops and restaurants that led your eyes toward a large spherical sculpture at the end of the retail strip.
Miss Amy pointed to the sculpture, “Meet Wind Waves by Mexican artist Yvonne Domenge!“
This art piece was a giant, approximately 20 foot red steel ball, that looked like it had been woven together like a basket with openings with a wavy shape to them. Behind it, there was a small pond providing the perfect backdrop. This sculpture was very dramatic. Immediatetly, I loved it. We all did.
Wes was lowered down first in his wheelchair and the rest of us, one by one, got off the van. Sam was using his new Lark Scooter which was lowered from the back carrier of the van onto street level. Together, we walked or rode about two blocks closer to the sculpture where Nurse Sarah and Miss Amy had arranged for us to sit at an Italian restaurant’s outdoor patio table that faced the art work so we could have lunch and talk about the piece together.
Before the waitress even arrived, Miss Amy was asking us to concentrate, dampen the internal chatter, and really take a good look at the sculpture and try to focus on whatever image or thought popped into our head and speak these images or thoughts aloud to the group.
“Those red hot lips-shaped telephones from the 1980s,“ I blurted out.
That’s the image that came to my mind. The color of the piece – that reckless, outrageous red color. The kind of color that just can’t be ignored. As a former interior designer I know how powerful color is to one’s mood. It brought me right back to a memory of this wacky phone I once owned over 40 years ago.
Miss Amy smiled and nodded approvingly, “Yes!“
Curly Sue opened her eyes, “Mercury. The planet.“
Everyone cheered. This was fun!
Sam cleared his throat,“I know this is going to sound weird, but I immediately thought of my red Corvette I had during my mid-life crisis.“
“And how did driving that car make you feel, Sam?“
Sam raised an eyebrow and moved his hands like a magician clearing the space, “Sexy!“
Nurse Sarah about fell out of her chair she was laughing so hard. We all were.
“Terrific Sam. You are saying what you feel. What the art is evoking in you. Perfect!“
Gwendolyn was quiet. Too quiet. Like she was plotting. Before I could harass her, Lillian chimed in.
“Cozy. I feel cozy when I look at the sculpture. Like a big, red ball of yarn is being unspooled by my cat, “Piroline,“ she said.
Lillian pulled out her wallet and showed us a photo of the dearly departed Piroline and we all pretended to be interested, but we were really interested in what Gwendolyn was being so darn quiet about.
Gwendolyn was in her own world. You could see her thinking. Her face was making little movements as if she was telling herself a secret. Periodically, a tiny smile peeked out from the sides of her mouth. She was taking tiny sips of water as if to cool herself off and then she’d let out a deep yoga-like breath like we would do together in our Shape class at Avanti on Tuesdays.
Miss Amy turned to Wes. It was his turn.
“I’m a simple man, people. I’m led by my stomach and I’m hungry. I think of a giant meatball covered in marinara sauce when I look at the piece,“ Wes smiled. “I know what I’m ordering for lunch,“ he chuckled.
Miss Amy explained Wes might be what she liked to call “a slow ArtFeel burner“. Meaning –after lunch and after looking at the piece longer on his own, something might come to him from his past that he was least expecting and then, perhaps, he’d share it with us.
I loved ArtFeel. It was time travel by simply engaging with a piece of art. And you learned things about others you didn’t know before that would encourage new conversation.
“Tiss, tiss, tiss“ we heard Gwendolyn giggle quietly to herself.
Miss Amy apologized, “I’m so sorry, Gwendolyn, I forgot to ask you. Would you like to share how this art makes you feel?“
“Yes, please do,“ I raised my eyebrows up and down suggestivley at Gwendolyn.
“Do it! Do it! Do it!“ we all cheered like we were partaking in a fraternity drinking game.
The pressure got to her, and soon Gwendolyn, between giggles, tried to compose herself. She was blushing. She would seem to be just about to speak, but then would burst into a spell of laughter that she would immediately quell. However, this bubbling feeling could not be contained and soon she would erupt into another fit of laughter.
We all leaned in with great curiosity.
There was a giant, awkward pause. Wes started to snicker. Curly Sue batted him with her napkin to stop.
Gwendolyn took another drink of water. All eyes were on her and she felt it. She grabbed my hand and Nurse Sarah’s hand as we were the closest to her – sitting on each side of her.
I gave her hand a squeeze to give her courage. She pumped me back a thank you squeeze. She looked at each of us, smiled and then finally spoke.
“Wind Waves reminds me of the red nail polish Belinda had on the night she first kissed me on the mouth in my kitchen, while our husbands were in the next room playing cards,“ she said before she burst into a confident, delicious laugh.
“Wait. A woman kissed you?“ Lillian was shocked. (We all were).
“Yes, and I kissed her back,“ said Gwendolyn.
Everyone’s eyes went wide. You could hear a pin drop. Faster than a New York minute, I fished my hearing aid out from my purse, snapped it in and turned it up. Way up. When the waitress came to take our order we shooed her away, because Gwendolyn was telling us a story that clearly she had never told anyone ever before and her story was far juicier than the most juicy meatball we would later order with our spaghetti dishes.