Saturday, October 14, 2017

Periodic Euphoria

Paint Job

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Tiny Piece of Shrapnel

Whether or not the TSA agents notice it depends upon how high the X-ray unit is set. Every so often I am stopped and asked about the piece of metal that has been embedded in my back since the summer of 1967. Otherwise, I am waved through. It is only a small chunk of shrapnel.

I remember the blood and the pain and the hole in the back of my shirt at those times. I was driving  a large International Harvester tractor along Interstate 94 in St. Clair County. My summer job was cutting the grass.  I drove a big mower and worked on my tan until the boss made wearing a shirt and long pants obligatory. This was my second summer on the mower crew and I was quite accustomed to the routine. Early in the morning the mower drivers would report to work at the main garage of the St. Clair Country Road Commission. We'd be transported to where we had left the tractors the night before.  Usually there were two mowers playing leap frog along each side of the highway, all headed in the direction of Detroit.  Late in the afternoon the transport would pick us up. At that time we would park our machines in a cluster as far from the road as possible, pile in to the truck, and head back to the garage.

Relatively speaking there was not much volume on I-94 and although we crossed  the highway to trim the median, we were cautious.  It was unlikely we would be hit by a car or truck.  The mowing crew was considered safer than the paving crew. Every once in a while a worker  on the chipper or recap crew would be sideswiped by an impatient driver who had a different idea what the word slow meant. I thought what we did on the Interstate was carefree until one of the tractor drivers was mowing the incline around a culvert and tipped his machine too far. The tractor rolled over, dumping him off and squashing him.   This happened not on our crew, but to a solo mower along a trunk line.  What was especially sobering to our summer crew of college boys was the dead mower had ten years experience.

Each day I had the same routine. Go to the garage and punch the time clock, be driven to my mower, cut grass in the direction of Detroit, then be picked up late in the day and returned to the garage and punch out.  After work I was still living at home with my parents and siblings.  After dinner I hung out with other college students.

When I first met the other students I was somewhat surprised that so many my own age had summer employment less than a hundred yards from my home. I met the first group on the beach and they invited me back to their barracks. There were girls and boys from all over. None of them were from Michigan and no two attended the same college. They were a diverse group. We'd buy a case of beer at the party store, located midway between their housing and my home. We'd sit and talk and listen to music.  Some of the students were internationals. One girl was from France, another from Italy, and there were guys from Trinidad & Tobago and India. They were all working for the Gratiot Inn, a summer resort on Lake Huron. They had been hired for the summer to be chamber maids, waiters, pool boys, and such. The prettiest girls got to be hostesses for the dining hall. I didn't meet the pretty ones. They were too busy with the older guys. I mainly hung out with the guys from outside the USA. I don't know why, I just did. Maybe it was because I had never traveled beyond my home state and could learn a little bit about the outside world through them.

I brought a few of these kids home and introduced them to my parents.  We might sit in the back yard at the picnic table and talk.

I could see Bill McDonald looking out his living room window as we passed his house. Bill was our next door neighbor.  He was perhaps two years younger than my father. I don't really know what Bill did for a living, but he was an asshole by nature.  He painted his house and everything he owned with white paint, white enamel. Even his riding lawn mower was painted white. His riding lawn mower was only used after dark to take full advantage of the headlights on his noisy gas driven toy.  This meant he cut the grass after the ten o'clock news.  I didn't watch the news. I should have.

I already had grown tired of my neighbor.  He was always showing off his hunting gear.  He may have been the first deer hunter I knew who wore full camouflage and face paint. He left home to go deer hunting, driving a couple hundred miles with brown and green grease smeared on his face.  I saw him driving his pickup looking like this and it wasn't even hunting season.

My dad wore a red and black, Hunter plaid wool coat when he headed to the woods. On his face he wore a grin. Dad always came home with the pheasant or buck or whatever was in season.  I don't recall that Bill ever came home with deer. That was not why I disliked him. When I was a kid and dad wasn't home, Bill would see me in the yard and wave me over, as if to talk to as a buddy. He'd almost always offer the same advice, "Keep it in your pants".  I wondered what he meant at the time, being only a kid. He'd follow up this friendly man-to-man talk with moaning about his bad back and how lucky I was to be in such good shape. His compliment was calculated to encourage me to show off my strength, as he always had some bullshit task he didn't want to do. It would exacerbate his poor back, you understand.  I was naive and respected the requests of my elders.  However,  I quickly learned what was going on. Being reminded that my zipper should be kept closed and handed a warm bottle of Vernor's Ginger ale were not proper payment for unloading twenty sacks of concrete mix from his white pickup. Oh, and stack them this way, not that. If he backed up the truck up another foot the unloading might be easier, but why waste gas when you have the dumb neighbor kid conned?

After that, I avoided eye contact with him and always looked out the window before venturing into the yard alone.  I saw as little of Bill as possible. I did not like being used. Now, being in college I did not see him at all, except from a distance. I preferred it that way. I did not need his advice about keeping it in my pants either.

On one particular July morning in 1967 I was mowing on I-94, as usual. I would not have noticed if there were the usual number of vehicles headed to or from Detroit. Maybe the traffic flow was away from the city. I would not have noticed if there were olive drab trucks filled with National Guardsmen southbound on the freeway. My task was to cut grass and I had not heard the news about what was going on in Detroit.  The orders for the day were to reach the county line and then head back north trimming the median.

The grass was thick as I chewed my way along the northbound lane. It was too deep to see what had been a melted steel belted truck tire, like a python hiding in the weeds. I never saw it.  The rotor blades picked up just enough to fling bullet-size chucks of steel in all directions. I saw nothing and heard nothing. One moment I was driving forward, the next I was slumped forward, clinging to the wheel and trying to shut down my tractor. I felt a burning sensation and reached around to touch my lower back. I had a handful of blood.  I didn't know what had happened. The other mower saw me stop and raced over.  He thought I had been shot, but he hadn't seen anything. I suspected my mower blades had tossed a rock or something.  There was nothing sticking out of my back, but I was bleeding. I wasn't yet lunch time.  In my lunch box I had some paper napkins. The other mower Jerry-rigged a bandage for me and I compressed the wound. As if by some miracle, the driver who had dropped us off not too long ago showed up.

He was there to pick us up, haul us in. There was rioting in Detroit, he told us, and we were being evacuated as a precaution. The driver then say my back and called in for directions to the closest emergency room.

In the emergency room the doctor said it wasn't a gunshot wound, so far as he knew. He patched me up, gave me a tetanus shot, and released me. He had no x-ray machine, so didn't know about the shrapnel.  I wouldn't know about it for years, by which time the doctor who discovered it said I was safer to leave it alone. That day I went home from work early. I would have with or without the puncture wound. The road commission said we'd each be notified when to return to work.

I had not followed the news, but suddenly I was interested in hearing what was going on in Detroit. The other college students working at the inn were as interested as I was.  What they knew they got from the radio. I watched coverage on television. I'd never experienced anything quite like this, or as geographically nearby.  Still, it was far enough away.   Then as suddenly as I had been stung in the back while on my mower, I discovered fear at home.

Returning from telling my friends about my experience, I found a double-barreled shotgun pointed at me from close range.  Our next door neighbor, Bill, was cocked and loaded and screaming in my face about my dark-skin friends and how if I brought one past his house he'd use his gun on both of us. You know that he didn't say dark-skinned.  He told me I was being a smart ass to say that my Indian friend wasn't black.  I didn't understand his fear, but I did experience it second hand. I did not pee my pants.

My parents could not stand Bill as a next door neighbor and a few years later it dawned upon my father how to get rid of him. My father borrowed a for sale sign from a realtor friend. He stuck it in the front yard then made some phone calls.   As soon as Bill saw the prospective buyers were dark-skinned he put up his own sign. His was real.

Bill was gone within the week.

I had no idea my father's doctor had so many friends willing to play at house hunting.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

An Organ Recital In Notre de Dame de Paris

One-Man Band and an Audience

As I sat in an uncomfortable chair in the nave of Notre Dame de Paris, I was alone in my own thoughts and one of many in an audience that filled the cathedral. I am no stranger to organ recitals at Notre Dame.

The seating was not designed for comfort, only for efficiently accommodating a large number of people in the space. Had the chairs been otherwise, more members might have drifted off to sleep than actually did. I wondered before the recital commenced what I might write about this experience. Would I review the performance, talk about the ambience?

Should I describe the aromatic impact of walking into this sacred space and being refocused upon entrance by the omnipresent cloud of incense?  Then, once seated how the communal smell of hundreds of humans neutralized the holy scent?

Did I feel compelled to describe how the direction the audience was facing seemed backward for a concert? We faced the altar, not the organ. Our backs were turned on the unseen performer, who even if the seating changed direction would remain invisible. Or, did I need to note that an organ, especially one that is designed to fill this particular space with glorious sound is essentially a one-man band? It is a gigantic air fueled set of tin whistles played by ten fingers and two feet. It is an orchestra of one that dominates the aural interior of the cathedral.

Instead, I want to talk about the audience, the somewhat captive group of people who self-selected to attend. Hundreds of people paid to sit in uncomfortable chairs to hear an organist perform four pieces by four composers: Bach, Liszt, Roger-Ducasse, and Durufle.  A percentage knew not only the composers but had played these pieces. More were on the other end of the spectrum. There were families who brought their children, couples on a date, individuals, a music enthusiast sharing with a friend, others who saw a poster and had money in their pocket. People choose to attend this concert for their own reasons.  Some knew what they would experience, some had vague expectations, others did not.

After the Bach finished a few people got up and left. They had heard enough or maybe the seats had gotten to them. Another handful departed during the Liszt. As the concert progressed, more drifted away.  I listened to the final two pieces and afterward thought of how local television news reporting manipulates their viewers into staying to the end by teasing with promises of some breaking news payoff or film coverage of cute baby pandas. Films came to mind that give those who stick around for the credits, out takes or bloopers deleted from the movie. Then, I thought how this concert promises only sounds played by one invisible musician, which if you pay for your seat you may stay through the entirety of the performance or leave as you wish or nap, or cuddle with the person with whom you came.

Then I thought how experiencing a gallery of artworks, paintings can be considered in a similar way.  There are those who look at a painting in the way an organist in the audience listens to the Bach. There are the boyfriends brought along who would prefer to be sharing affection than looking at a painting or listening to an organ recital, yet are there none the less. There are the families, the curious and the incurious. There are those passing by wondering what this is all about. There are those who ask for nothing, seek nothing, and get nothing from the experience.

And finally, there are those, some from all of the above and then some more, who consciously or unconsciously look or listen and allow themselves to step outside of the day-to-day world for then entire duration it takes the organist to play these four pieces, or just a chunk, a nanosecond.

There are those who listen to music played start to finish and those who are satisfied with what they hear on the elevator. There are those who glance, in passing, at a painting and those who stop in their tracks to be swept away by a tidal wave of color and line.

The unseen organist and the painter or poet work with our idioms to take those willing to follow an escape for the soul.

Paris 2017 #81

Sandy Kinnee

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Coiled Garden Hoses

Coiled Garden Hoses

Never could get the knack
of how to recoil a hose.

Mine are always
spaghetti al dente 

 Paris 2017 #53

Sandy Kinnee

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Face To The Wall Artwork

Here’s a category that was probably never even considered by the Guinness Book of Records; “Artworks hung face to the wall.”   Thank you very much for allowing me to hold this distinction.    The Museum of Modern Art, in New York organized an exhibition of works on handmade paper, in 1976.   Kathy Markel called  to tell me she was loaning a piece to of mine to the exhibition.  I was too busy with the Venturi renovation and addition to the Allen Art Museum to go see the show until toward the end.  A friend who often helped me in the studio, Walter Bosstick, was in New York about a month after the exhibition opened and reported back to me the following: “The piece they are showing is beautiful.  It’s displayed in between a Jim Dine and a Robert Rauschenberg.  But, you know, I thought I knew all your work and this one is very subtle.”  I asked him to describe it, since I didn’t know which piece was selected.  He did and I was really puzzled.  It didn’t sound like my work!  So, I asked how, other than by the label, he knew it was my work?  “It has your signature right on it.”     I was on the phone to MoMA as fast as I could dial.  I explained to the curator that I signed my work on the back.  By the time I arrived in New York the piece was properly presented.  It had even been purchased by an art critic. My question is: which side did she pay for?   
Sandy Kinnee

Monday, July 4, 2016

Girl with Wings

Girl with Wings

I climb the stairs with what
always seems like thousands
of tourists wanting to see
that painted girl

They look for signs or ask
guards and they search,
only to stand in line
for a short glance.

I ascend the long wide staircase,
the girl with the wings waits
at the top, on the stone prow
of her ancient ship where
she has alighted to signify victory.

She greets me and I know where I am


Friday, June 28, 2013

Perhaps a Shrub

Perhaps a Shrub

Perhaps a shrub would grow here
lending shade when the day is hot

offering a cool embrace

Thursday, November 22, 2012

You Deserve a Poem

If people who pick
kittens up by the scruff
of the neck and those

who are bed wetters
or refuse to behave
deserve to have their own poem

If she can get lost
and still deserve a poem
about how glad

I am to have found her.
Then certainly you,
too deserve words

in poem shape

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Girl with the Cigarette

Inside the internment camp it was possible to buy cigarettes, but they were rationed.  One only had so many smokes a week and had to apply for a special card that allowed the purchase those few tobacco products.

Isamu smoked, bought cigarettes at the camp store, but also had friends outside the camp willing to send him little gifts, such as cartons of Camels. Anna observed him at the post office, with a long rectangular package.  She overheard him ask the clerk about the best time to go to the recreation hall in their block.

Anna convinced Margaret that spending the evening with others in the recreation center would be more fun, or at least not so boring, as sitting around with the family.

Isamu's may have sensed, while observing Margaret and her older sister Anna, as they shared a cigarette between them, that these two were unlike other women in the camp.  Not only did he find them appealing in appearance, he tuned his ear toward them, even as he was in conversation in another group, and caught enough bits and pieces. They seemed educated and intelligent. Initially, Anna imagined she was the object of the artist's gaze. But realizing he kept turning to glimpse Margaret, she whispered into her ear, "He's watching you. Look in his direction and smile".

He was more than curious. He was infatuated.

He had already caught her attention.  When he gestured to Margaret, offering a friendly gift of a cigarette, the ice was silently broken. His cigarette caused her to linger, or rather for her to pretend she was just there for the smokes.  After all, it was a completely plausible excuse.

Mister Noguchi, as she called him, seemed to be the only person at Poston willing to share his tobacco, other than her own sister.  It made him a further exception. Margaret happily accepted the nicotine fix from him. He let her select from the pack, then cupped one hand while starting the flame with his Zippo lighter.   It made an awkward self-introduction unnecessary.  She already was intrigued.  The smell of the lighter fluid, the heat of the small flame, the ignition of the tobacco, and scent of his cupped hand close to her face, mixed as the first of many memories to come.

Anna accepted her role as  fly-on-the-wall, knowing her sister would confide in her. Yet, she had to wrestle with her own confusing feelings about seeing him first.

Years before Isamu met Margaret, the photographer Edward Weston made a portrait of Noguchi.    Isamu gave one copy of this photo to Frida Kahlo.  Margaret probably hid her copy from her parents, in a secret place she would keep the letters and other mementos, yet to come.

Link to the complete story

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Life Less Complicated

My life is much less complicated now

none of that need to rush
to see you
to make those appointments

to be near you
to hold you in my arms
to listen to what you have to say

to wait

to clean up after you

to let you in and out

To change your litter box

My life is much less complicated now
and I miss those complications

Monday, November 14, 2011

Enriched My World

Unless you read this,
which would surprise me immensely,
you will be unaware
not know
not understand

That even when things
are less than wonderful,
you have enriched
my life
and continue to do so

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It’s All Eloise and Abelard Until

Slap a postage stamp on your feelings
write it down and send it

text the dearest thoughts with emoticons
write it down push send

Your mind is bathed in the opposite
of what we call pain

It’s all Eloise and Abelard until
the dopamine runs out.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Preparing to Paint

From the outside looking in,
the cleansing of the studio might look
like cleaning up the mess from
the last time paint flew around the room.

It might seem like straightening up
the living room after a wild party.
Doing the dishes may come to mind,
scrubbing the pots and pans.
These are fair assumptions and associations,
for someone looking at what is going on
from the outside.

In fact, more is at work than clearing away
and picking up.  The smudge stick and
charcoal that melts the myrrh into
heavy smoke gives it all away.

It is a purification, even a sanctification,
if you will, a ritual that permits new work
the studio,
once the old work has been chased away.

I am preparing to paint again.

It is always this way for me.

There is nothing to see until you see it.  

Sandy Kinnee

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Your Own Apartment Building

Inside you is a towering apartment building.
There is always room for everyone.

Everyone you know lives here.

Everyone you have ever met lives here.

No one dies or moves out
but some are  forgotten.

Sandy Kinnee

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Wrote Nothing Yesterday

I wrote nothing
just wandered
with my trigger finger
to the camera's
sweet button.

Today I write.

Giverny, France
Monet's Gardens
Which I have visited countless times since 1978.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pretending to Write

It looks like I’m writing, but I’m only pretending.  My mind is elsewhere, dealing with more important and pressing things.  For instance I am cooking.

Now I’m eating.

At this moment I am cleaning up instead of sitting down and hammering out the words.  Once the cleaning is finished another significant distraction will fill the time I might have better used for writing.  So it goes.
I am sweeping the floor, brushing the dog, milking the cat.  Oh, I meant giving milk to the cat.  Pouring a shallow bowl of milk for the cat. What?  She’s not lapping it up?
She sits there looking at me like I’m stupid.  She’s looking right through me, telling me that only in cartoons do cats drink milk.  Why am I pouring milk for her?  Am I just wasting time?  The dog comes over and sucks the bowl dry.  When it reaches his stomach I will have more to clean up.  I am online researching why adult cats shouldn’t be fed milk.

I’m pretending to write.

I’m really doing something else with my life.

Sandy Kinnee
Feeding the cat I am going to the pet store to buy.
July 13, 2010

Monday, June 20, 2011

Folding Laundry In Rome

Perhaps they were songbirds
squabbling outside
in the trees

They seem not to notice that
the sun engulfs
them and warms their feathers

They squawk in spite of an absence
of the dark and spitting clouds
that until yesterday had plagued
my short Roman Holiday

These birds should be rejoicing,
singing hosannas
Instead, they peck at each other

and I stand inside folding laundry
before it wrinkles.

Sandy Kinnee
January 15, 2010

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Drawing Inside the Box

His latest one-man exhibition was held in the rather large storage room of the local Pottery Barn, and that was quite a few years ago.  Refreshments were served during the opening.  Lunchables and boxed wine were available at cost, in the alley, as the Pottery Barn had no liquor license.

Few knew who he was anymore, although he had shown widely at one time.
His work was in museums, here and there, but was seldom on exhibit.  It happens.  It also happens that artists continue to work, whether or not they have recognition. 
The drawings and collages he had created for the Pottery Barn storeroom show were produced directly upon the kraft cartons circling the room, floor to ceiling.   All sides of the cardboard boxes,  not only those facing the center of the room,  had been decorated, marked, painted, or drawn upon.  Perhaps the number of boxes was more than a hundred. No attempt was made to obscure the lettering: MADE IN CHINA.  The cartons were not empty, but heavy. Inside these decorated cartons remained the articles, goods, and saleable wares.  Black stenciled labels indicated the contents.  I picked up several boxes and peeked at the drawings on their undersides.

The value of each artwork included the cost of the enclosed products, at retail price less ten percent.   This exhibition did not conform to standard museum or gallery conventions.  It further deviated by a complete lack of labels and not a single box was signed.  Yet, it was obvious that every box was decorated by the same hand.

I purchased two of the decorated cartons.  One box contained twenty-four coffee mugs, the other 144 pine-scented candles.  I placed the artworks in the living room, the candles on top of the cups, next to the television.  Why I chose to juxtapose them with the tv was partly due to available space, but also from a sense of irony.

On one hand I could watch two boxes that changed images when I got to my feet, walked over and physically turned them.  On the other hand, I had a single box that constantly flickered, whether or not I touched the remote control.

They sat there for years, ignorant of each other.  The kraft color of the boxes darkened slightly.  At first, I turned them periodically so the other sides could be seen.  After a while, I decided on my favorite sides, after which they remained in the same position.

One summer evening, during a powerful storm, an ancient oak tree was uprooted.  As it crashed down it took with it the electrical lines.  Sparks were flashing on the sidewalk, but the neighborhood was dark and silent.  I searched the kitchen drawer for flashlight batteries, but found only matches.
I picked them up, along with a knife. After all these years I had a use for pine-scented candles.

 I felt my way around the room and sliced easily through the old tape on the box top. I extracted several wax candles, lit them, and placed them strategically to maximize illumination. The aroma of the melting wax was not what I had expected. It did not smell like pine, but more like bees wax and myrrh.

The power outage continued into the heart of the night.  When I returned to the box for more candles, I held one lit candle high so I could see if all the candles were the same golden color.

That is when I noticed the inside of the box.  It was more brilliantly colored and decorated than the outside.

When the storm was over and the lights finally restored, I took a closer look.
The interior of the carton was more beautifully painted than the exterior.  I removed the candles and packing.  All sides were resplendent.  
I set the candle box aside and carefully opened the box that contained the twenty-four coffee mugs.  I emptied it completely.

It was equally magical on the inside.

Sandy Kinnee
March 29, 2007

Post script- My daughter, Lauren, sent me this note:
“My bottle of iced tea has a simplistic but perhaps applicable quote on the inside of its cap: "If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Van Gogh. “

When all is said and done, it is what’s inside that counts.  Silence the voice.