Standing ten feet away and looking up at the painting is Brady Bakersfield, better known as Professor Bulldog because before he had become a lecturer on military history at the university he’d played fourteen years at center for that New York football team his mother had dubbed The New York Non-Stops. “Winning so many Super Bowls just doesn’t seem fair to all the other boys.”
There you have it; his whole story in a nickname, Except nothing in all that explains how Brady came to be wasting a good Sunday afternoon in this fancied up wreck of a warehouse so he could stand around with a whole lot of folks and gawk at a black-and-blue picture of two unusually stupid men fighting on a ledge above a deep ravine between two mountains made of granite slabs, covered with words written in some illegible, double struck type.
He looks down at the serious little girl standing right next to him, “Hey, Beans, what do you think of it?” His stepdaughter takes her nose out of her book, looks at the picture quietly for several seconds, and then says very seriously, “I think it’s about reading too much.” They mirror soft grins and she goes back to her book.
If we stopped here we would have a moment but not the story. The choice is ours. We could let our eyes drift to another couple in the crowd. (Perhaps that twiggy pair. With green feathers in their pink hair.) Or we can stay with the only person in the room over six-feet-six. Reposition ourselves so we can look into those spoon-back gray eyes and see what he’s seeing–a wedding that took place when he was six or perhaps closer to eight. Cousin James was wearing a shiny black suit and dancing with a woman whose frilled up dress followed out behind her.
One of Brady’s uncles stood on either side of him and when he turned around his eyes were exactly at the level of the buckle on his father’s belt. When he looked up all he saw were the bottoms of their clean-shaved chins. Tall as he might be at school he was still small in his family.
The older men were exchanging words that Brady couldn’t fit together. “A right plum hen warm from the plucking!” “Who knows whose cuckoo’s in that nest!” “Damn fine blood line. Five all-stars.” “But more than one Twinkie.”
Behind him Brady heard the rustle of his grandmother’s fussy dress and then her give-me-none-of-that voice, “Go dance with your wives and quit this kind of talk in front of the boy.”
“Yes, mam,” the men said in unison and dispersed to do her bidding. Then he and his grandmother stood side-by-side and Brady worried that she would notice he’d unbuttoned his top shirt button. The one hidden by his stupid tie. “What were they saying, Grandmother? I couldn’t understand.”
“Just men complaining about eating cake and then being asked to pay to the baker.”
“Grandmother, don’t be silly. Tell me the truth.”
“It means what weddings always mean. When the baby’s born or comes to you half-grown you look into its eyes and make it one of yours. That there’s the truth. As it should be.”
Then Brady’s wife interrupts his reverie by asking, “What do you think of the painting?”
He’s dreaded this moment since he first heard they were coming here today. Prepared a half a dozen answers that merged the expected words “hegemony”, “deconstruction”, and “pluralism” into some illusion of a sentence but it’s hard to keep straight the verbs from the nouns.
Women’s talk. Men’s talk. Talk. Talk. Brady wonders now as he had way back then, What does it have to do with dancing? Finally he looks down at his stepdaughter who is silently rolling her eyes, takes a deep breath, reaches into his father’s playbook, pauses, and then answers his wife bravely, “It might match the walls in the living room.”
“Derrida Queries de Man” painted by Mark Tansey in 1994 at the Curt Marcus Gallery, New York, NY, USA