December 13th, 2002

The Precisionist


They took the subway station steps two at a time, then turned toward Houston Street. “Chuck throws me curve balls all the time,” Mary said. “Always last minute.” She flipped the pages of her notebook, looking for the address. Raymond kept his hand on his camera bag to keep it from bouncing as they moved past the slower walkers.

“Who in hell is Charles Sheeler?” she asked.
“An artist of the thirties,” Raymond replied.
“Chuck sends me because I don’t know one friggin’ thing about this stuff. Why does he DO this to me? Huh?”
“Don’t worry. Just take notes. You can look up Sheeler later.”

They headed down Wooster, past Café La Femme’s empty outdoor tables, and Spazio Italia’s steamed windows. “Oh, by the way,” Mary said. “I’m sorry to hear about you and Eve splitting up.”
The sound of his soon-to-be-ex wife’s name jolted him. He’d managed not to think of her for--what? Since early that morning.
“I’ve been dumped myself,” Mary said. “So I know what that pain’s like. But you’ll get over it.”
“Right,” Raymond said.

Joyce Carol Oates stood, alone, in the corner of the gallery near a large painting of a bleak, stylized steel mill. She was tall, slight and wide-eyed behind large thick-framed glasses. The slightest breeze might blow her away.

"Hi," Mary said. “We’re with Universal News. I'd like to ask you a few questions, and maybe we could get some pictures during your lecture?”
Oates looked at the floor. “Maybe you could take the pictures now, rather than while I speak,” she said softly. “There'll be a question and answer period afterward."
"Okay," Mary said.

Raymond surveyed the room. On the walls were two or three dozen paintings of steel mills, cityscapes, and sterile industrial scenes. "How about over there, by the front window?" he said.
Oates nodded.


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