Yesterday I was so busy talking about my crush on Patti Smith, developed after reading her memoir Just Kids, that I didn't even get to talk about the love story/friendship at the heart of the book; that is, her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.
The story(ies) of how they met indicate, from the start, the sort of fated friendship they were bound to share (as well as illustrating what a small town late-1960s New York City seemed to be). When Smith first moved to New York City, with no money,* she went in search of some friends of hers who attended the Pratt Institute for art, but when she arrived at their address, she found they had moved. Instead she met someone else who would become hugely influential to her: Mapplethorpe.
"I walked into the room. On a simple iron bed, a boy was sleeping. He was pale and slim with masses of dark curls, lying bare-chested with strands of beads around his neck. I stood there. He opened his eyes and smiled." (p. 25.)
A bit later, after Smith found a job in Brentano's (where they also must have sold crafts and jewelry), that same boy came in and used a credit slip (he had a job at a different Brentano's) to buy Smith's favorite necklace on display. And not long after that, when Smith was on a date with a bookstore customer whose motives she didn't trust, she happened to see Mapplethorpe nearby and used him to make good her escape:
"It was as if a small portal of future opened, and out stepped the boy from Brooklyn who had chosen the Persian necklace, like an answer to a teenage prayer. I immediately recognized his slightly bowlegged gait and his tousled curls. He was dressed in dungarees and a sheepskin vest. Around his neck hung strands of beaded necklaces, a hippie shepherd boy. I ran up to him and grabbed his arm.
'Hello, do you remember me?'
'Of course,' he smiled.
'I need help,' I blurted. 'Will you pretend you're my boyfriend?'
'Sure,' he said, as if he wasn't surprised by my sudden appearance..." (p. 38.)
I'm sorry, but that, my friends, is a relationship that was meant to be. Three chance encounters across Brooklyn and Manhattan? Of course, their entire love affair doesn't stay that idyllic. But you've got to read this book: what these two did for art, the people they met (particularly while living at the Chelsea Hotel), the way they loved each other--take your pick. It felt like about four great books in one.
*Have I said how much I love Patti Smith? Check out this sense of adventure: "At twenty years old, I boarded the bus. I wore my dungarees, black turtleneck, and the old gray raincoat I had bought in Camden. My small suitcase, yellow-and-red plaid, held some drawing pencils, a notebook, Illuminations, a few pieces of clothing, and pictures of my siblings. I was superstitious. Today was a Monday; I was born on a Monday. It was a good day to arrive in New York City. No one expected me. Everything awaited me." (p. 25.)