A word you hear a lot these days, it seems to me, is “transactional,” which my online dictionary defines as “relating to the conducting of business, especially buying or selling” and cites the example of “a purely transactional relationship.”
We seem to be in a particularly transactional moment in time: everything seems to be for sale and few things seem to have intrinsic value. So much has been coarsened or disparaged as a consequence.
It was thus a relief and a refuge and a revelation to visit tonight for about an hour at the Axis Theatre with poet and performance artist Edgar Oliver — and, through him, a community of people overlooked and eccentric, strange and sad, proud and profound. Victor Greco is one such. Victor is a muscular short order cook whom Oliver likens to Popeye who loses job, home, and perhaps sanity, to die at age fifty — last February — alone but not unmourned. Victor perhaps courted the fiercely shy, passive, and melancholic Oliver, stuffing the mailbox of his former East Village neighbor every day with poems, letters, and illustrations; Oliver perhaps loved Victor, visiting him in Tompkins Park, sitting with him at a nursing home during one of his last illnesses, dancing with him in better days to a gypsy-style street violinist in front of St. Marks.
“Those were happy days. Why do we survive them?”
This is the central relationship Oliver traces. But he introduces us to other denizens of this world: a towering black Amazon who, after Oliver has belatedly summoned the police to chase off a cadre of undesirables who have taken up temporary residence for the evening in his subbasement, brazenly knocks on his door to retrieve something she had left behind in her hasty departure. Dazed and accepting, he lets her in, noting that sometimes that’s what you do: let the darkness in.
And Oliver tells us about Joe Meeks, the Mayor of 10th Street, who dies in Victor’s arms. And of the roaches, whom he treats kindly — until the day he doesn’t.
This is not a sentimental piece, and there are no easy judgments we can make about these characters. Oliver muses on why he never asked the homeless Victor, his friend of twenty years, to move in with him. The answer seems to lie in the fact that Oliver gave what he could, and Victor — like the Amazon, like Joe Meeks, like the roaches, like Oliver himself — didn’t ask for more from their fellows.
It is a strange world, and I don’t think most of us would want to occupy it. But the humanity at its core, and the tolerance that drives it, makes this a very different place from where we are now.
[An early, twenty-minute version of Victor is online at Vimeo; here is the link; the play runs at Axis through October 26.]