Scientists and Experts—and Mathematicians—have determined that if you have 30 people in a room, there’s a very good chance that two of them will have the same birthday. (With 23 people, there’s a 50.73% chance that two will have the same birthday, and the probability goes up as you add more people from there.) I think all 30 of ‘em have had a birthday in the past couple weeks: First there was DJ Miss Amanda, then Sluggo, then our friend Punchy, then me (and Mozart and C. Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematician himself), then Neil, then Lisa P., then one famous WFMU DJ that I think I’m not allowed to say, and then Listener Smartski, and Station Manager Ken, and my old friends Elaine and Harriet, and Dr. Colby’s birthday is coming up fast. Okay, that’s only 14, but it seems like more when you’re whipping around to 3 or 4 parties every weekend.
To celebrate Sluggo’s birthday, I took time off from my dayjob and we went to see the Egon Schiele show at the Neue Galerie. We’d never been there before because it costs $15 to get in and they don’t have any “pay-what-you-want” hours. It’s kind of a funny museum because it was started by a couple of rich guys (Ronald Lauder and Serge Sabarsky) who happened to have big collections of Austrian and German art and absolutely no idea of how poor people live. For example, an individual Neue Galerie membership costs $275, but don’t despair—student memberships are just $75! What kind of students can afford that? Rich ones, I guess. But the Galerie is very nice, and I enjoyed it. It’s housed in a gorgeous old mansion on Fifth Avenue, across from the Metropolitan Museum. It reminded me of when the International Center of Photography used to be in that old brownstone on Fifth up in the 90s—I really liked that building, and was sorry when ICP moved to Midtown, though I’m sure their new facility is more convenient and practical.
I guess the Schiele show was made up of work from Lauder’s and Sabarsky’s collections; there was some interesting personal ephemera—including a portrait head modeled in bread by Schiele when he was in jail for corrupting a minor—along with a few paintings, but it was mostly drawings, which was interesting because you could really see Schiele working out some artistic problems in them. My favorite thing in the whole show was in a room on the third floor, where a drawing of a seated woman from 1908 was hung next to a drawing of a seated woman from 1909. The 1908 drawing looked like a competent student work, and the 1909 drawing looked like an Egon Schiele. It looked to me like whatever it was that happened that made Egon Schiele an artist happened between 1908 and 1909. While I was standing there a docent came through with a tour of well-dressed blonde ladies, and one of them asked, “What about the common affluent people of the time? Were they repressed?” The common affluent people ... I thought about that question for a second. It really ticked me off, but I couldn’t figure out why, so I moved on to the next room where there were some relatively wacky fashion drawings from 1910 or 1911. I couldn’t tell if they were fashion designs or fashion illustrations, and I couldn’t find any more information about them anywhere, either in the museum or online. Maybe they were from some freelance project ES did after he started to blow up in Vienna. The other things I learned were that Schiele’s wife, Edith, had a very nice Border-Collie-looking dog named Lord, and everybody died in the big influenza pandemic of 1918.
After spending a couple of hours with the Schiele show, Sluggo and I decided to shoot the moon and have lunch at the Café Fledermaus, in the Neue Galerie basement. It serves the same menu as the Café Sabarsky, upstairs, but is nowhere near as crowded with the common affluent people. Both cafes are operated by Kurt Guttenbrunner, of the restaurant Wallse, and the food is Viennese and very good—spaetzle und bratwurst, strudel und kaffee mit schlag. Yum! It’s also really effin’ expensive. Expect to pay about $30 per person for a bitty little lunch, but it’s worth it, and I can’t think of many places where I think that’s true.
Café Fledermaus reminded me of AQ Café in Scandinavia House, a cafeteria run by Marcus Samuelsson, the same guy who has the restaurant Aquavit. The food is also very good, and is inexpensive compared to Café Fledermaus. Upstairs from AQ Café there’s a small gallery that right now is featuring a Munch exhibit, so I guess I know where my next art-and-lunch date is going to be.
That thing about 2 out of 23 people in a room sharing the same birthday is known as the Birthday Paradox, but I think the real paradox is that every birthday brings you closer to the end of having birthdays. I was looking at all the people who showed up for Listener Smartski’s birthday party the other night and wondering how many people would show up for my birthday party, if I ever had one, and then I got to wondering how many people, if any, would show up for my funeral. I hope some people would. I hope they would remember that I always tried to be helpful to strangers in need of help (partly because, being faceblind, everyone is always a stranger to me), and that I had an odd sense of humor and a great hatred of the New York Times. I hope people would know that I had a radio show once, and that I wrote a few pretty good comic books, and that no matter what happened to me, I tried never to give up but always to go on just to see what would happen next. And I hope someone would care. I guess that’s all.