The return of the rhizome

Earlier this week I received an invitation to a gallery opening from an artist I hadn’t heard from in many years – and whom I hadn’t seen since our one and only date about ten years ago.

I met her when I worked at an art gallery in Harlem. It was rare to get visitors outside of the opening reception; usually the only people who dropped by during the run of the show were a local drug dealer, who would spend a lot of time looking at the art and leave without ever saying a word, and the landlord, demanding to see the owner because we were invariably late paying the rent. It was a very special day when a cute girl walked in, and near-miraculous if she would come to the back office, which this one did.

She asked if I was Giovanni. “Why yes,” I said, stroking my imaginary mustache. She said she was an artist. A mutual friend had recommended she drop by. Crestfallen, I assumed she was going to pull out a sheet of slides from her purse and ask if we would consider giving her a show. Instead, she said our friend had told her that my paintings had a lot in common with her sculpture. Cute girl coming to see me and talk about my art? What else could I ask for? Sex on my desk, I guess, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen. (It didn’t.)

We pulled up each other’s websites to see what our work had in common. Despite the different media, there was definitely a family resemblance: our work was abstract, biomorphic, and had vague – and slightly grotesque – references to the human body. Our sense of composition was also fairly arbitrary and decidedly asymmetrical. She asked how I came up with my compositions.

“Have you ever read Dune?” I asked. The brief moment it took me to form those five words was more than long enough for me to fill with bitter regret.


“Er, yes. A science-fiction novel. Um.”

“What about it?”

“Well, in it there are these… giant worms that live under the desert…” I suddenly felt like crying. “And in order to get across the desert you have to learn how to walk without rhythm…” My throat dried up and I could feel my tongue thickening. “Otherwise the worms would realize you were there… and eat you.” By the time this came out of my mouth I was ready to ask her to please leave the gallery and never come back.

“Oh, you mean like Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of the rhizome?” She asked.

“Duh, wha?”

“You know, a rhizome is the underground stem of a plant from which shoots come out. Deleuze and Guattari used it to describe concepts that favor a nomadic system of growth and propagation without pattern.”

“Uh, yes.”

I was so embarrassed I sort of blacked out, but evidently one of us asked the other out for dinner.

Two days later we met at a restaurant in Chelsea she had suggested. As soon as I walked in I knew I was in trouble; the place was a designer’s dream come true – the furniture looked like original Danish Modern, or equally expensive contemporary knock-offs.

She arrived about twenty minutes late, long enough for my insecurity to have started to metastasize into annoyance. “Don’t you love this place?” She beamed. “The food is really not that great, but I just love eating here because of the ambience.” That’s when I decided we were going to split the check.

A waiter came by to take our drink order. “I don’t drink,” she said to me and the decidedly uninterested waiter. “I don’t need to,” she added.

“I’ll have a vodka martini,” I said. I need it, I thought.

I don’t remember the details of dinner, other than that it was spent with her alternating between dropping names and asking me whom I knew in the art world. An hour later, after having listed every group show and residency program she had ever been in, we asked for the check. By this point on a date with an attractive girl I would ordinarily be fretting about how to extend the evening. Instead I wondered if any of my friends were around to meet up. We paid and walked out into Chelsea.

“Should we go to a bar?” She asked.

“I thought you didn’t drink.”

“I don’t, I just thought you might want another drink and I could have some water. If we could kill an hour or two we could then go to this party a curator friend of mine is throwing in SoHo. He’s got an amazing loft!”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I really have to go home.” We hugged briefly and then I headed to the train station, taking care to walk without rhythm, just in case.

Watch out for the sandworm!
Five minutes after leaving Chelsea

5 thoughts on “The return of the rhizome

  1. What was in the mass email? Has she joined Amway? What a dweeb. I hope a floating corpulent rhizome rips out her Dutch Modern heart and eats it. I hope she passes sand worms in the toilet. I hope she gets into knife fight with Sting

  2. I’m trying to price together a joke about not having to use the non rhythm method, but I am a natural dancer and can’t stop the rhythm. Nicely done.

  3. I wish I could share stories like that but my fear is that everyone would know who I am talking about. -tim h

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