From: (Annie)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: When you have decided to come in, then ring the bell
Date: 1 Dec 1997 11:04:23 -0500
Organization: canetoad communications
Lines: 190
Message-ID: <65un67$>
Summary: revisited, literally
X-Newsposter: trn 4.0-test55 (26 Feb 97)

"Museum of Colored Glass and Light." 

I was out walking in the SoHo district, in the heat and damp of 
Manhattan's summer, when I saw the first sign. It was wooden, 
white lettering on red, swinging from a rusty pole above the 
entrance. The door was old and hung crooked on its hinges, typical 
of the warehouse facades that populate this area of the city. One 
push sent it creaking inward. A bare bulb hanging on a cord 
illuminated the staircase--a slanted, sagging affair pushing up 
between chipped plaster walls.

The second sign, just inside the door, had been hand-printed on a 
3x5 index card. "Museum This Way." With an arrow pointing up 
the stairs.

The third sign, halfway up the stairs, (also an index card displaying 
shaky penmanship), read, "Do not lean on the wall. It's (sic) paint is 

Two more cards adorned the green wooden door at the top of the 
landing. "Admission: $1.00" and "When You Have Decided To 
Come In, Then Ring The Bell."

I rang the bell. It was an ancient aluminum model, with a little black 
button in the center and twists of wire running up and over the door 
frame. The bell sounded hoarse and tired, ringing in the filmy 
depths beyond the door.


The door opened and I beheld a man surely born before that bell had 
even been patented, born before this century was patented. On this 
hot-awful day, he was dressed in a dark wool suit, a tie and black 
leather shoes. The clothes hung from his withered frame. Even his 
feet seemed shrunken under the laces and tongues of his shoes. I 
pressed a dollar into his deeply seamed palm and stepped inside.

The darkness engulfed me, and then the light came dancing in to 
dispel the gloom. Light of all colors bounced off my glasses, off my 
wristwatch, off the silver frizz atop the old man's head. He turned 
then, and walked back to his chair in the corner to sit with that great, 
slow care of the very elderly. No more light bounced off him; he 
absorbed it, which was only right. Though I did not know it just 
then, he had created every wondrous piece in the museum.

And this is what I saw.

I saw glass of all colors, some fused in a kiln, some layered for 
effects of shadow and light, all lit from behind and hanging against 
black cloth backdrops. Kennedy and Nixon and religious motifs, 
carnivals and abstracts and cityscapes fading to fog. Sunbursts and 
mindbursts and clear glass that had been simply painted upon. And 
in the lower right corner of each shimmering dream, the name: 

I asked if I might take pictures.

The old man let out a dry laugh and folded his face into a smile. 
"You cannot photograph light," he said. Then he gave me that day 
not a physics lesson on the nature of light, but a spiritual lesson on 
the nature of being. In the end, yes, he allowed me to take my 
pictures, but he warned me, one shaking arm rising and falling in 
time with his voice, that I would never capture the deep beauty and 
meaning on film. All of this I learned, shouting back and forth in the 
dusk and glow of his work; he was quite deaf, with an accent that 
put me in mind of Vienna.

As I look now at these flat, blurred images here in my hand, I think 
that the old man knew his business; I should have left my camera in 
its case.
I engaged him in talk, and he rose up out of his chair and took the 
time to explain his trials and his errors and successes. He reached 
out a hand and lovingly patted each piece as he spoke. 

"This one, ah. It was a mystery to solve." A small, framed piece 
hung on the wall just above eye level. It was composed of little glass 
flowers, bright pansies I imagined, with the glass layered so that 
each petal looked ready to curl and drop to the floor. In front of the 
flowers--jarring and yet correct--two old-fashioned Coca Cola bottles, 
melted and shrunken. 

"You know" he said, "working with a kiln, you can never know 
what will come out. I worked with all different kinds of glass. All 
different compositions and impurities, different melting points. 
Seven times I put this piece in the kiln and fired it. Six times I 
cleaned up the mess with a broom. Ha! This one, here, is number 
seven." He gave another wrinkled smile and made a clucking noise.

"People thought I was crazy to work this way. To work with glass 
at all."

"But this is all so beautiful," I said. I had meant to say "moving;" 
his art was more than beautiful.

"You see the end result. When I was a young man, no one worked 
in glass. I had one colleague, one mentor, in the south of Italy. Even 
he gave up after some time. I traveled and studied through all of 
Europe. People painting. People sculpting."

He turned and stared directly at me. "But what is the essence of 
visual art? We look at a work, what do we see?"


"--We see color! We see light!" He took a step back to compose 
himself. I think he did not receive too many visitors these days, and 
even fewer who might seek the pleasure of listening to ninety-plus 
years of human experience. "But painting and sculpture," he 
continued more quietly, "are reflections, are only a part of the 
whole. The light, it bounces off these things. My work," and here 
he paused and made a fist in the air, "my work /is/ light and 
color, and I truly believe that this is a completely unexplored 
method of artistic expression. I am a painter and a sculptor, 
and something else besides."

Then he paused again, his hand opened and his shoulders fell slightly.

"But I am not a musician. I have not yet found music to accompany 
my work. I thought, a few years ago, I might have found a 
composer. I heard a composition on the radio. I called the station.
But no, I am still looking." 

"Music?" I had been thinking that his work needed nothing more. For
me, it was enough to have it shining on us in the dark, coloring our

He explained that he wanted music to merge with his work, to flow 
in and out of the light, as the light flowed through his work, 
to lift up the spirit. He wanted music that was not music, but 
a transforming force, making his glass not glass and the light not 
light and the sound not sound. Together, with the mind and soul of 
the viewer, these things would combine into some new experience, 
some new level of existence. "My art," said Mr. Nemeth, "it is not 

And then he was finished speaking. With no preamble, he turned 
and walked back to his corner, his chair. His chin sank to his 
breastbone, and in just a few minutes I believe, he was asleep.

I lingered awhile, photographed a few of the more striking pieces, 
before returning to the over-bright, sun-hot street. Before I could 
go, the bell rang again. He stood up, blinking, and shuffled to the 
door, leaning on the knob as he opened it. A startled young couple 
stared at him and then over his shoulder at the darkness beyond. 
They looked at each other, laughed nervously and turned to go.

"Wait. Come in," I said softly. "You should come in."

They demurred and turned away. Mr. Nemeth's face puckered 
momentarily, and I thought I understood.

How many times each day did he go to the door, only to be met by 
some weak-hearted soul curious enough to disturb his rest, yet faint 
enough--or rude enough--to turn away?

"When You Have Decided to Come In, Then Ring the Bell." And 
not a moment before. Perhaps that was the final secret of the 
Museum of Colored Glass and Light.

    			*	*	*	*

I saw him just once more, in the winter before he died. Ambling 
along Wooster Street, swinging a cane, wearing a dark gray trench 
coat and gentleman's hat against the elements. Shortly after, a new 
sign on the door read, "Closed Due to Illness." And then later, 
"Closed Due to Death." And now there are no signs at all.

I walked by there today, walked up the stairs. The green wooden 
door is still there. The paint is still peeling and presumably not 
to be leaned upon. The buzzer is still tacked on, next to the door 
frame. I pressed the button, but only heard my nail scraping on the 

sadly, all true.