ere is a relatively true story about Davis and the girls who worked in the donut shop down the street from his loft in Greenpoint. I say relatively because Martin told me the story, and Davis told him, so I’m sure the truth got filtered down along the way. I’d really like to talk to those donut girls, actually. I bet they have the best story of all. But it’s been years since this happened, and the way Davis makes it sound, none of the girls last very long at the donut shop, it being some sort of underground donut railroad for recent émigrés. They’re there six months max, and then they move on, get married or sponsored somehow, move to New Jersey, find work at one of the clubs. Anything to get them out of the donut shop. “It’s like their training ground for seduction,” said Davis. “Their early introduction to the deviance of New York.”
Which is why Davis stopped eating donuts. Which is why Davis moved away from Greenpoint to Williamsburg, one block away from Martin, where they soon met at Teddy’s, the bar up the street, and became best friends, blood, hombre, for life, they would joke at the end of the night when they were drunk. Which is why when I met Davis and Martin for the first time at the bar on 10th Street, me in my short skirt and pink hair serving them scotches on the rocks, and Davis asked me if I needed a bathing suit, Martin told him to shut the fuck up already with the bathing suits.
Davis had a thing for Eastern European woman (I never knew if it was the Eastern so much as the European), so he was the target demographic for this donut shop. It was an overheated no-name joint on Manhattan Avenue heading toward the industrial zone at the end of Greenpoint: fluorescent lights (always one bulb flickering), a Polish flag on the wall, held up by thumbtacks, day old crullers for sale (a dozen for a dollar), a shakily written sign denouncing the use of personal checks. Terrible coffee until the third sugar, and then it was just fine. There were always fresh old-fashioneds coming out of the oven hourly all day long, the sheets of which were managed by a quiet older Polish man who only talked when he was angry at one of the girls (Polish curses “!”). Whiskey on his breath in the late afternoons, a fine row of hair sprouting up from his chef’s shirt. Two tattoos on his arm. One bearing only numbers.
Davis first wife was a Latvian woman, an aspiring art historian named Vivika. They met first in Geneva where she was an assistant at a prominent gallery featuring some of Davis’ work in a group show. He promptly imported her to the U.S. like one would an expensive cheese or bottle of vintage wine, found her a job at one of the few good galleries left uptown where someone of her appearance and descent would be prized more as an accent than downtown where she seemed just like everyone else—foreign and beautiful; and then after six months he married her at City Hall in order to ensure her continuing welcome in our fair country. Martin didn’t attend the wedding—he hadn’t yet met Davis—but said he heard that the entire wedding party was drunk on Polish vodka, shots of which had been consumed as they walked across the Brooklyn Bridge on a sunny Friday afternoon, awash in crowds of tourists from all over the world. A half-dozen long-haired artists in tuxedos swigging from a litre-sized paper bag, cut a crooked line across the bridge, as did one woman, a short one, in a white lace minidress, straight blond hair cut at different angles and layers, the tiniest wisp of a nose, baby pink lipstick, huge plastic hoop earrings, also baby pink, fair skin coated with makeup (she reportedly had terrible skin as a teen, plus pores of a woman twice her age; probably from all the drinking, but it was her only physical flaw and the scars ultimately only added to her appeal), and these huge blue eyes with long dark brown lashes, like one of those collector’s dolls you might see on a cable shopping show or in the homes of lonely middle aged women who never had children; or worse, had children who turned out to be nothing but trouble. She was crying of course, wailing practically.
“Come on, sweetheart, it’s not that bad,” Davis said. He put his broad arm around her and as they walked they swerved, Davis’s bulk—he’s 6’3” and has natural brawn stemming from a mysterious Montana youth—forcing her to swerve with him.
“It is just that I am so happy,” she said. Her mascara ran like sewer rain down her cheeks.
“OK, OK. We can stop this right now. But I love you and I don’t want to stop.” He turned to the tourists taking pictures of the Statue of the Liberty, winking off in the distance. “I love this woman,” he yelled. The tourists looked at him blankly. They clearly did not recognize a New York moment.
Davis tried again. “I. Love. Her.” He was wearing a cowboy hat. He took it off, waved it in the air. He was bald by then, but still kept his hair long on the sides, almost down to his shoulders, and he was wearing a rented powder blue tuxedo. (“Why didn’t they just go to Vegas where they would have been properly appreciated?” I had asked Martin at the time.)
At last he received a smattering of applause, two hippies on bikes passing heard his cry for attention and saluted him.
“Right on, man. Right fucking on.”
“See, everyone knows we’re in love,” he said.
They stumbled on to City Hall, where through only a great deal of begging by Davis’ best man—an artist named Max Ciello, who now lives in Santa Fe with his wife, a chain-smoking ex-stripper named Patty who has sent me many sweet letters since Martin’s accident. I am grateful to know her—they were allowed to marry, what with Vivika looking as she did, and Davis smelling as he did.
She left him six months later for an art handler from North Carolina who played drums in a punk rock band. He lived two doors down from Davis and Vivika. They met at their local pub on the nights Davis was stuck at the studio. She took a few thousand dollars from their joint account and they moved to Baltimore where she had an aunt. Last Davis heard, she was pregnant, and her boyfriend was on tour with Minor Threat. But that was years ago, of course.
So Davis was single for a while, a tricky act for a man like him, who was born to love, as he so often says. He started hanging out in the donut shops in the morning, getting coffee with three sugars, staying until the early afternoon when he went to work. (He was the right hand man for T. Okada, arguably the world’s most important video installation artist in an enterprise that rivaled Warhol’s factory in his time, perhaps the current studio of Dale Chihuly. Churn out the work, pump it out into the world, and see what sticks. With Okada, everything sticks. It left Davis in a curious position of power. He had his finger on Okada’s pulse, which connected him to the art world in a unique and important way. But his finger was also stuck on the pulse, rendering him mostly immobile, unable to do his own work, most of which involved the videotaping of demolitions and the display of surrounding artifacts as sculptures, sometimes authentic, sometimes manufactured - “Detritus” was the name of his most famous series. To this day Davis hasn’t resolved which direction he wants to go. Some say he’s just waiting for Okada, who’s well into his 70s, to die.) And sometimes he would come in late at night, after a dinner with Okada and out of town guests in Koreatown. Davis had this very full, very rich life surrounded by people who counted on him or listened to him, but at the end of the day he preferred spending time with pretty blonde girls barely out of their teens who spoke in broken English. It was almost obscene, this sitting and watching and consuming of sugar. Had I known him then I would have given him shit about it.
Eventually Davis got the girls to warm up to him. Even with his wild crown of hair and the goofy space between his front teeth, Davis is still sexy. Maybe it’s his height. Maybe it’s his drawl. He’s a generous man, too, and he started leaving the girls larger tips each time, tips that far surpassed what he spent: a five here, a ten there. And then he began to hire them, one to do housecleaning this week, another to do his bookkeeping, neither act being particularly taxing as Davis was rarely home, and merely required someone to total his expense receipts for him on a monthly basis, no different than ringing up two Bavarian Cremes on a cash register. The girls would come and go frequently, whispering silently in Polish to themselves; they would make their money and leave Davis again and again, which was fine by him. He just liked to see them out from behind the counter, to place them in different scenarios, like Barbie Dolls in every room of their dream house. Everything was free-flowing and warm and familiar. He knew he could go to the donut shop and be received as a sort of sponsor, he had his place there, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Of course there was a layer of wrongness to it. Something Davis contemplated late at night alone, as he sat on his toilet seat finishing up the last of his old fashioned. But he didn’t ask them to wear French maid uniforms or dress up like a naughty accountant. He allowed them to be who they were, and he paid them to do it. He sucked the stickiness off his fingers, one by one.
And then at the end of one rough night—Okada had thrown a temper tantrum about the hue of a fluorescent bulb. Amber, I said.—Davis went to his refuge and ordered three donuts and coffee with whipped cream on top. The waitress across the counter, a 19-year old by the name of Kryztyna (Call me Tina.) smiled at Davis. It had been a pleasant day—blue and clear, the first crisp day of spring, a day when New Yorkers began to have faith they could be happy again—but Davis had missed most of it, stuck in the studio. I bet she sat in a park today, he thought. Smoking a cigarette, drinking a coffee, eating a donut.
“Now how are you doing today sweetheart?”
“Good. It was beautiful day.”
“Yes it was.”
Davis smiled at her, her long blond hair, a little dirty, falling all around her shoulders, and her young, pale skin, and her long nose that reached out beyond her face, her high cheeks, her warm lips. She was wearing a tight knit shirt with stripes across the belly. The shirt was a size too small—deliberately or hand me down?—and he could see her belly button. (“You know those belly shirts? You know what I’m talking about? “ Davis had said to Martin. “Oh, those belly shirts get you everytime.”) She had her fingers hiked into the back pockets of her jeans, like Courtney Cox in that Bruce Springsteen video, the one where he pulls her up on stage to dance with him. Davis liked Courtney Cox, with her huge eyes and deep scratchy voice, always a little impatient. He liked women who demanded attention.
“I go to beach soon,” she said. “Coney Island.” Her eyes, lined with powder pink eyeshadow, widened with excitement. “Swim.” She pinched her nose with her thumb and index finger, and shimmied as if she was jumping into a clear beautiful pool. Davis pictured her in a bikini, her blond hair flying up in the air as she crashed into the water. Oh, she was delightful. He took a swig of coffee.
“You need a bathing suit for the beach,” said Davis heartily. “And then, quieter, “You got a bathing suit?”
“No. Well. Yes I have my sister’s bathing suit. She left it when she move to Chicago. No ocean there she say.”
“That’s not acceptable,” said Davis. “You need your own bathing suit for the beach. This your first summer here?”
“Girl like you, should have a new bathing suit. You want a new bathing suit?” Davis was excited, he was nodding his head. He was inspired.
“Yes!” she started laughing.
“Would you like me to buy you one?”
“Yes, but…” She looked down.
“Oh honey, ask anyone around here. I’m safe as a kitten.”
And that’s how Davis started buying the donut girls bathing suits. One after the other, department store after department store: Macy’s, Bloomie’s, Barney’s if they were really special, the tallest ones, the blondest ones, the ones in the best condition. Bathing suits for big girls, too. Davis was ok with the big girls. Yeah, he was ok with them. He would sit in a chair near the dressing room, and the girls would parade out, one by one, in the barest of bikinis. Davis would sit and watch and smile and laugh. Keep his cowboy hat on his lap. Thank his lucky stars. Hate himself.
Once Davis even borrowed Okada’s truck and took a girl to a mall in New Jersey. Later on she gave him a handjob in the back seat (“She insisted,” he said.), but as much as Davis enjoyed it, that’s not what he wanted from these girls. He wanted to see them model the suits for him, and he wanted them to wear them to the beach, and he wanted them to serve him coffee and donuts with a smile.
It was irresponsible in some way, all of it, he knew, but he couldn’t figure out how to stop himself. And he was slowly ruining his relationship with the donut shop. He used to pay the girls to work for him, and now he was giving them money for nothing. Money just to look good. Now when he walked in the door, the donut girl on duty would slip to the back bathroom and hurriedly reapply her makeup. Now when he walked in, the smile he got was larger than usual, more excited, perhaps less sincere. He couldn’t tell. Everyone was always smiling at him all the time. Except for the donut maker, the stiff Polish man in the rear. It was a staredown, from the minute Davis opened the door, bell jangling, until he shut it behind him. He would stop working, lean on the counter that separated the kitchen from the front service area, and stare. He had Davis’ number, and Davis knew it. It was always warm in the donut shop, but now it was hot.
He was running out of donut girls, too. He had attired all but one, a quiet girl, older, not quite as pretty as the rest - arms lumpier, shirts covered with powder, hair in a ponytail when it might look nicer down but what did Davis know anyway?. She’d been working there for as long as Davis remembered, and she seemed to take her duties more seriously than the rest of them: reminding him if he bought just one more he’d get a free coffee, wrapping them in wax paper expertly, folding the paper bags that held the to go orders just so, a clean, crisp line at the top of the white paper, firmly between her thumb and index finger.
Everyone else was suited up. Why didn’t she want to go to the beach too? Didn’t she want to have fun this summer?
On a night when he was feeling good—Okada was in London opening a show at the Tate and wouldn’t be back for a week. Davis was running the show in New York, and that seemed right, that seemed like the way the world should always work, everything was just as it should be.—he finally nailed her down in conversation. The old man was out back taking a smoke break, Davis had noticed him as he rounded the corner, kicking at imaginary stones with his feet.
Davis opened the door—bells jingling, a wave of sugar and heat blowing in his face—and sat at the counter. The joint was empty. The TV in the corner played the local newscast, sound off, fuzzy reception. Rain tomorrow morning, blue skies later in the day. She walked over, in her shrug of a sweatshirt, a hole in the sleeve, and stood in front of him patiently. He ordered a coffee. She pulled out a ceramic taupe mug from underneath the counter, walked to the coffee station, filled it, gently placed it in front of him.
“Nice night,” said Davis.
“It’s ok,” she said.
He looked her in the eyes. Prettier than he had thought. The blue was hazy, but the pupils were fierce. She had her hands on the counter.
“What’s your name?”
“I know. I know who you are.”
“What else do you know?”
“I know you take girls shopping.”
“Would you like to go shopping?”
She looked down at the ground, held her head down for ten seconds, fifteen, thirty. She nodded. She didn’t look up.
“I could take you shopping.”
He heard the creak of the back door.
“We could do it tomorrow,” he whispered. “In the morning.”
The oven door opened and then slammed.
“Would you like that?” said Davis.
The old man stuck his head over the counter. He began speaking in Polish, loudly and slowly, and the girl stood at alert instantly. She took a step back, turned from Davis, and walked to the back kitchen. He heard the back door open, and then quietly shut. The old man disappeared for a moment, then appeared in front of Davis. He was carrying a large rolling pin. He clenched it in one fist, and patted the base of it in his other palm.
“That’s my niece,” he said. “You like my niece?”
Davis sipped his coffee. He felt his bladder fill. He felt wet inside.
“She seems like a lovely young woman.”
“You think so?”
Davis put his coffee cup down.
“You want to marry her?”
“Why don’t you want to marry my niece?” He patted the rolling pin.
“I don’t know her.”
“But you want to watch her dress and undress. You want her to dance around in front of you.”
“No,” said Davis.
“With no clothes. My niece in no clothes!” The old man sounded wounded.
“No, no,” said Davis soothingly. “She’d be wearing a bathing suit.” As soon as he said it, he knew he had fucked up, but it was done.
The man slammed the rolling pin on the counter in front of Davis. The coffee cup shook.
“No bathing suit. No more bathing suit.”
And Davis wanted to say: “Well the summer’s almost over anyway.” And that he had thought about what he would do in the fall already - short plaid skirts and knee socks—and he knew the girls would want to go shopping again.
Instead he said, “It’s a free country, man.”
And the old man said, “Yes, I know. I live here too.” He rolled the pin back and forth on the counter, both hands on the end. “Get out of my shop.”
Davis pulled his wallet out, and extracted two single dollar bills which he placed next to the coffee cup.
“Get out now,” said the old man.
“I just wanted to make sure I left a tip,” said Davis. And then he left the donut shop forever.