From: firstname.lastname@example.org (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: <email@example.com> 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 peeling." 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. Creak. Shuffle-shuffle. Pause. Shuffle-shuffle. Pause. Creak. Shuffle-shuffle. CLICK. 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: Nemeth. 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?" "I--" "--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 conversation. 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 complete." 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 aluminum. Annie -- sadly, all true.