Saturday, September 24, 2016

Red When Green

While most of the year their tangled arcs
Studded in thorns
May snag and tear at the flesh
Of those who get too close

For a few short weeks these bushes
Reward with sweet berries

These brambleberries

I might try to describe the flavor
A moonbeam on your taste buds

When not yet ripe they bite the tongue
With a tartness,
Taste bitter

The promise of wild black berry pie
Comes with the gathering of feral fruit

Daring to be pricked,
Tangled in thorny arms

Blackberries are green when they are red
Or red when green
Get close and you will be scratched.

A fair exchange, after all.

The same rings true with love.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Discovery of a World Beyond Home

The World Outside

The world outside Port Huron was mysterious, at best, scary in its
unknowable vastness.  For all a little boy knew, the world away from
Lake Huron and the St Clair river was invented for others and might not
really exist.  They were like television, something you might accept,
but didn't have experience with.  The world could all be an elaborate hoax.

Detroit was one of the places beyond town, said to be as real as the great
big town he would visit with his grandmother.  Port Huron was as large
a town as he needed. It even had two butcher shops, two shoe stores,
and two stores that had soda fountains. His grandmother sat him on one
of those tall red stools at Kresge's that spun around and would order up
a tin roof sundae for him when he came along on her shopping trip. 
The tin roof sundae was topped with Spanish peanuts and there was
never a rotten peanut, ever.  Kitty corner was the department store
that sponsored a Christmas parade each year.  He never wondered
at the coincidence that Santa Claus had a throne in the basement,
surrounded by decorated artificial trees, not far from the toy department.

He was content with the size of his world. It was just right, so long
as he had apple sauce, tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches
on grandma's baked bread, and from time to time a tin roof sundae.

Whether this was the entirety of the world didn't matter and he had
no curiosity about whether what he saw flicker in black and white
was real or not.  On Sunday mornings he watched silent cartoons
accompanied by light classical music. 

He didn't know the name Offenbach or that the tunes were more
often than not from Orpheus in the Underworld.  Before the cartoons,
he sat with his father quietly and watched Victory At Sea, accompanied
by heavier orchestral music.  His dad was especially quiet. 
The boy watched how the shifting grey reflections from the television
screen played across his father's face.   He didn't talk about it all that much,
except that this weekly television show let him travel backward in time. 
As the boy had not been born during the time his father was revisiting,
the boy never saw his father go away or come back from beyond the town.
Dad always was home before dinner, cold coffee in his thermos and a
leftover windmill cookie or mackintosh apple.  The smell of the lunch box
tasted as good as the treat, and the warmth of the thought his dad left
something for him.  The boy was more interested in the love inside the
lunch box than whether or not his father had ever crossed beyond
the city limits.

His aunt Margaret was the first person he knew to venture into the
outside world. She made it real in a couple ways.  Margaret had gone
to college. But, the boy didn't know anything about that.  He wouldn't
have known what a master's degree in education meant.  All he knew
was he got to ride in the car when she was taken to the airport. 
He had never seen an airplane, other than in the sky.  He rode through
a place that had tall buildings, so tall he looked up and couldn't see the tops. 
These buildings were much taller than the department store where he sat
on Santa's lap.

The big city had a name: Detroit.  The airport was called Willow Run
and he watched Margaret climb steps onto the silver plane.  It was at
that moment he understood that he was already beyond his hometown.
He wondered about her two suitcases and why she hadn't taken them
onto the airplane. That may have been one of the first times he wondered
about anything.  Obviously, her bags were in the belly of the plane. 
There were other people flying, but he saw only his aunt Margaret. 
It was akin to the feeling he had years later when the first astronaut,
Alan Shepard, shot into space.  By then he understood there were other
places one might go than downtown to see Santa or get a tin roof sundae.

Margaret did more than fly away and eventually return. She sent postcards
and envelopes with coins and paper money. She returned with gifts.
She was the first real explorer he knew.  She returned with chunks of Paris
and Rome, London and Venice, Istanbul, Athens, Prague, Moscow, Tokyo,
Cairo, Lisbon, Madrid, and more.  It was if each time she returned the world
became more real.  Still, the boy understood these places were real and they
truly existed, yet had no need to leave home to see them himself.

Then, one day, many years later, a girl with long dark hair took him
by the hand, kissed his lips and said, let's go there together. She had already been. 
Gale finished the introduction that Margaret had begun.
The world outside is real and everything is colorful, not black and white.

He now knows where the baggage goes and how much the weight limit is
before they have to pay for an extra bag.

His aunt Margaret visited them in Paris and stayed for a week in their apartment.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Brilliant Yellow Paint Taking An Agonizingly Slow Time

 A Good Day In The Studio

It must be a good day of painting
if my lunch break is a Tootsie Roll

Brilliant Yellow Paint
Taking An Agonizingly
Slow Time

To Dry

I hope it dried overnight
or I will pull out
my remaining hair!

 The Not Up and Down

These yellow and purple
which perchance look
black and gold
are wet and flat on the floor
like carpet just now washed

when the colors set
the canvas will be hung
for the photographer and
we can all judge
them as up and not down


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

No Fork No Knife On The Way To Meet The Elephant

No Fork No Knife

Airplanes were being hijacked in this era for any number of reasons; greed, political statements, etc.  Signs were not yet posted warning of possible consequences for making jokes or comments.  I don’t know if it was common practice at the time, but  airline security was at the gate, as I boarded this particular flight, and not at the head of the concourse.

Irv, my supervisor on the art handling crew at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and I were flying to Los Angeles to pack  J. Paul Getty’s collection for an exhibition at our museum. After we had both gone through the metal detector and were on the jet-way,  Irv tapped me on the shoulder and showed me something he had forgotten to leave at home; a fist full of keys.  He said he was surprised that the metal detector hadn’t sounded an alarm.  I stared at this wad of keys and mentioned that someone could have a derringer smaller than that. Oh, me and my big mouth!  We were about to file  into the plane and a stewardess must have heard my remark.  I didn’t know anyone else heard what I said, but she did.  No sooner was I settled  in my seat and thumbing through the in-flight magazine when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a group of people stopped in the aisle next to me and an outstretched finger pointed directly at me.  “He’s the one! He’s the one who said he had a gun!”

Oh, my lord!  I gathered my belongings was escorted off the plane.   One federal marshal took notes about my responses to his questions, while his partner rifled through my stuff.  Both could see that I had nothing to threaten the flight crew or passengers with.  So, I was allowed to go back on the plane and start my journey to the land of the palm trees. Fortunately I was detained only a few minutes and the departure slightly delayed. I sat down. No one was in my row. The plane took off and after a while a meal was served to everyone but me.  Eventually, a stewardess brought a meal and leaned over to tell me that the captain would have police  meet me at the gate if I gave the crew any trouble.  I tried to assure her that this was all a misunderstanding.   She wanted me to be have no misunderstanding of their intentions.  I tried to smile and eat this meal I has just so warmly presented.  Something was odd about the tray and its contents.  The napkin was rolled but not shrink wrapped.  The food was all crackers and bread.  Inside the napkin was a plastic spoon. Nothing hard, sharp, or hot. No fork. No knife.  Nothing to use as a weapon if I attempted to take over the plane.  You have to be on your guard against people how make unnecessary comments about the size of a set of keys!  I probably even looked like a trouble maker.  I had on a jacket and tie, after all I was going to J. Paul Getty’s estate upon landing.

Midway through the flight a guy came over and sat next to me. I think he said his name was Peter, but I can’t be sure.  He and his friends had been watching the entire incident with increasing curiosity and wondered what was going on.  So, I told him about the keys and my off hand remark and what had happened to that point.  I even showed him a page in the in-flight magazine with an advertisement for derringers, which are actually hats. (The firearm known as a derringer was a personal defense weapon capable of firing one shot and designed to fit inside a derringer hat.) We spent a pleasant time and he said he and his friends knew what it was like to be hassled.   He said he was with a band called Chicago and they had performed in St. Paul the night before.  I didn’t know at the time to get his autograph for my little sister, who was a big fan of the group.  As he got up to leave he noticed the meal tray , “So, they gave you a plastic spoon, too?”

In two more weeks I would save both of  J. Paul Getty's Elephants.

It Turned Out She Was A Bed Wetter

The Bed Wetter

So often I awake from a dream holding a fully formed story to transcribe. This story gift state is especially common when I fly or ride a train.

Yes, when not writing, I doze on planes. I am not certain the influences or suggestions that cause these odd tales. But today I did not dream. Instead, I was influenced by my layover destination, where I would catch the final leg of my journey from Paris to Colorado Springs. Minneapolis is where I would clear US Customs.

Minneapolis is the venue for so many of my real-life adventures. I had neglected writing about Minneapolis, a city that brings a lost part of my life to the surface.

It was way back in time that I lived there. This is where I had my own apartment, first real job, and was truly on my own. Here, I found my first long term relationship. My brother, who came to visit while I lived there, decided to go to school at the university. He lives there still. There are people who matter to me in Minneapolis. Some would appreciate if this stopover at the airport were much longer. There are others who might want the plane to fly past. There are those who don't remember me as much as I don't remember them. In this last two groups are a bank teller, a weaver, and the bed wetter.

Moving beyond the borders of the state of Michigan was daunting. It was conceptual space, that world beyond the one defined by gigantic bodies of water. I suppose an element that made Minnesota a viable place to relocate was that it called itself the land of ten thousand lakes. I laughed that these Minnesota puddles were considered lakes.
But here was a place that seemed to have artists and promised to be familiar enough, because of the relationship to water, and exotic because it was simply new to me. The multiple cultural institutions sold me on at very least, a visit.

I had grown up with a fear of the outside world. It was a shock to even go as far away
as a hundred miles from home to Ann Arbor, to attend college. During that time in Ann Arbor and my short trips to Chicago, I discovered the world extended further than expected. That trip to Chicago did not prove lethal.

Beyond the words upon Minnesota car tags: LAND OF 10,000 LAKES, my other reasons for selecting Minneapolis were equally unscientific. It was a city. It had cultural institutions. It was close enough to Michigan that I could quickly return home if necessary. Also, I was armed with the names of two people who were part of the arts structure in Minneapolis. Neither of these people had I ever met. I had not even seen photographs or either and we had never been in contact. The single connection was both had worked at the University of Michigan Art Museum and knew the staff I had worked with the past two years, while a student.

One was an artist, the other a curator. The artist had the position I was preparing to leave, one of exhibition designer and preparator. He had switched fields latterly, becoming a theatrical set designer at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. By the time I found my way to Minneapolis, he had already moved on to Broadway. I didn't know it, but my connections were already reduced to one.

The remaining contact was currently assistant director and chief curator of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Just to demonstrate how unprepared I was, I only knew his name and where he worked. I had not sent a letter of introduction or made any attempt to inform him that I would like to talk with him. I had no written resume. I did not know where the museum was located and had no plan further that to fly to Minneapolis and explore. I was a complete fool. I bumped around until fate smiled at the silly boy and thought: how refreshing to see such a rube! I shock myself at how oblivious I was. Blind luck is just chance.

So, on a whim, I flew, took a bus from the airport and bought a map. As is my preference today, I like to explore on foot. Map in hand, I set out to get a taste of this strange city. I had heard from more worldly friends, at school, that a good way to meet the locals and stretch your funds was to stay at a youth hostel. So, after strolling for a few hours I began searching for a the hostel. I spied a natural food store and knew it would be the ideal place to ask directions. Plus, I was already hungry. I could pickup something to eat, not having eaten since the airport in Detroit.

Once in the store, I saw noting to eat that didn't need preparation. This was not Whole Foods, where on may browse at the salad bar. The definition of natural foods was rough and simple: mainly dried peas, beans, brown rice, fertilized eggs, and withered carrots caked with dirt. I had to wait. Probably the youth hostel had food. I bought nothing, asking directions for the place to stay for the night.

I should have been worried, since the clerk said I was already at the meeting place, the food store. He told me to hang out in front and a guy would come by shortly and gather the folks needing a place to crash for the night. Not having previously stayed in a youth hostel, I didn't realize that this was going to be a different adventure. This was a pick up point, not for a youth hostel, but for housing the homeless. How was I to know?

Two people were waiting under the streetlight. Evening had already fallen enough to trigger the lights. Most people, in the comfort of their own homes, were sitting down to dinner under the yellow glow of incandescent bulbs. Three people stood waiting for a man with a beard who would be driving a Volkswagen van.

A car slid over to the curb and a hippie with a beard opened the doors to what could be called a customized antique. It was no Volkswagen van. He couldn't drive the van. It was out of gas. Again, I should have run away, but here was adventure giving me a full grin, complete with missing teeth. The car had been hand-painted, probably with brush and roller, not just on the outside. I didn't know anyone who had used LSD, but if I had to guess, the person who painted the car had. It was evident the windows had not been rolled down or masked while the car was slathered in its inharmonious, crashing kaleidoscopic, rainbow of paint. The Naugahyde seats had been reupholstered after the paint nightmare. Doubtless the upholstery needed more than the torn patchwork of old army blankets that had been duct taped and stapled to cover the missing zones of padding, nauga, and protruding springs. We drove to places I had not walked earlier. So, it was more exploring, of sorts, but I could see little, except through patches where paint had been scratched away, through the car windows. Outside there seemed to be greater distances between the cones of security offered by street lamps.

The driver stopped a couple times, told us to wait. He went into darkened houses and returned, saying nothing, just driving on. He entertained us with his life story. About how he was a tattoo artist and there wasn't enough business for him in New Orleans, so he followed some girl back home to Minnesota. Her family kicked him out after a few days. He was staying in a couple of places, but they were both full tonight. He was looking for a new, "honey", so he said.

He told us that most people thought he had a New York accent, but it was a true, authentic New Orleans accent. He was friends with this or that famous musician or fighter or someone or other; all names that meant nothing. The two others in the backseat with me seemed not to even hear him. They were tuned out, almost dazed.

I guessed they were as hungry as I. I still kept the hope there would be food at the hostel. It had not occurred that the stops he was making were to try the doors and windows on darkened, vacant houses. He was going to deposit us in the first house he could find that we could enter. None of this entered my mind. I imagined he was stopping at other pick-up points, gathering others to ferry to my imaginary youth hostel.

Found a "crash pad" was what he said, then he used his large flashlight to illuminate our way into the house. This is where we could "crash". More like trashed. At this point, I just let the adventure keep on running, thinking this wasn't as horrific as it seemed. But, it was. This was an abandoned house, with no electricity or furnishings. The walls seemed to have been decorated by the same genius who painted the soon-to-vanish car. Trash was every where, seemingly there were path-like lines between piles of crap. In the center of one room, likely a study when the former residents lived here, was a pile of rags. The other male, who had shared the back seat of the car ride with, laid claim to this mound with a simple "night", closing the door. In another trash-strewn room was a filthy mattress. It had a clear border around it, making it seem almost like a sacred object or an altar. The driver said, you two can have this room. He turned, with his flashlight and ran to his car. That was the last I saw of him, until many years later when the interest in body-art became part of popular culture. But, that is another tale.
Apparently he became a skin guru. I could picture him, even without the beard.

The mattress was visible only by moonlight. As there were no pillows or sheets, which probably had been relocated to the pile of rags that the third person had claimed. One could still see the discoloration of the ticking. Stains that would fascinate those who give Rorschach tests were too visible. I flipped the mattress over and the verso was only somewhat better. A visible cloud of dust, as the bed flipped over into the floor, caused us both to choke.

So, the adventure was coming into focus for me. The girl in the room was part of this adventure, but a highly awkward element. She said nothing, just as in the car, moving with no awareness that a world was swirling around her. No expression visited her face. She had to have a face. I had no idea if she was sixteen or twenty or forty. Her skinny body was under layers of clothing, which considering the temperature outside, was more than excessive. I carried a backpack. She apparently wore everything on her body. I would say she looked like an exhausted zombie.
We said nothing. She could have felt no more aghast than I that we would share the same mattress. I looked around the room and there was no better option than to share.

What does one do before going to sleep, even if you have had no supper? One goes to the bathroom. That was a mistake my nose had already warmed me of. The bathroom was non functional. We were not the first to have needed to use the toilet, sink, or tub. The moonlight only confirmed what the smell had warned. They were brimming with waste. I closed the bathroom door and found the kitchen sink to be in the same condition. The open windows allowed fresh air into the house.

Had I had my wits, and not been both hungry and tired, I should have walked out and found myself on the map. Instead, the adventure progressed.

Without a word between us, it was clear that she had that side of the mattress and I had the other. The girl and I had curled up on distant shores of a not large enough island, floating in a sea of refuse. Judging from a distance, we might also be viewed as disposable. I clung to the edge for fear of bumping against her. Doubtless she would have the same idea. Neither of us removed any clothing and I made sure to wrap the strap of my backpack so it wouldn't walk away. I lay on my back. I tried to sleep. My nose had long since adjusted to the stench, like a scale that has registered a tare weight. The aroma had not diminished, it was just accepted as nothing new or dangerous. My nose warned me. If I wasn't going to act on the warning, it was my choice. My nose would reset its calibrations.

From the next room came deep snoring, like chains slowly being pulled up a set of wooden stairs. Near my head the soft wheeze of someone with an obstruction, a respiratory illness, or just a wet snore. She had fallen asleep. I continued to struggle with this experience, this negatively pointed adventure. But, I must have drifted off, at least a little.

What I thought was a vivid dream startled me. I stood up and the sounds from my dream were explained by the beams of the flashlights twisting through the moonlit space between the adjacent buildings, the sound of gravel under the feet of more than one person running down an alley, and the shock of gunshots that were not from a television. Outside this house people were being chased and shots were fired. There were no sirens and no red flashing lights, no helicopters with spotlights. I was a spectator and once I realized that bullets were flying, I got back down on the mattress and covered my head. This time I know I fell asleep.
It wasn't more gunshots that caused me to stir. The guy who dropped us off hadn't returned with food, which is exactly what I had been dreaming about. It also wasn't the first rays of sunlight turning the sky an apricot pink. It was a fresh scent and the strange warmth of my finger tips. My hand, resting toward the center of the mattress was on a pool of liquid. This liquid was not mine.

The urine was hers. I pulled my hand out of this warm bath, wiping my wet and warm fingers upon my dry side of the ticking as I stood and prepared to take action.

I hadn't thought about that girl in all these years. She was part of my adventure until now, a prop, a bit player with no lines. She only had that soft, sick sound in her throat.
What was her view of that night? What kind of an adventure was it for her? That night? The next night?

The life up to that night? Does her bed wetting define her outside my tale? Was it a onetime accident? Or did she piss the bed even when she could pee before bedtime? Was she a run away? Why was she waiting for a place to "crash"? What was and is her life like? Is she even alive today? Did she find a better life, or as I did, a nicer place to sleep the very next day?

Did she have money to spend on a good breakfast and a restaurant bathroom where she might wash up, remove her urine soaked clothing, discarding it in a dumpster behind the eatery and switch to fresh clothing from her backpack? Oh, that's right. She didn't have a backpack. I did. Everything she had, she wore.

She lay there either actually asleep or too embarrassed by wetting the bed to pretend to notice me getting out of the place and restarting my life.

I am sure I couldn't have changed anything by doing anything differently. But, if I could have, I would have wanted to know this quiet person who shared the bed was as OK as she could be, under the circumstances. If sharing a meal or giving her a few bucks would have helped, I would have liked to think that is what I would do. But, I didn't. I extracted myself from a negative adventure and she inadvertently gifted me a story about a bed wetter.

She must have felt terrible about her situation, walking until she could clean herself and launder her clothing. Mortified would probably be more descriptive of her feelings. She couldn't be a zombie all the time.

I tiptoed out the door, like a one-night-stand lover, leaving before daybreak. The map may not have saved my life, but it did help me find civilization. It lead me to a saner and safer adventure.

After a good breakfast and chance to freshen up, I found my way to the museum, where I asked if the man-who-I -had-yet-to-meet was in? I introduced myself using the magic names of the people we knew in common.

We sat in his very nice office and talked about Ann Arbor. We talked about the people we knew. He asked what I was doing in Minneapolis? I did not relate my recent adventure or how I hadn't really slept.

He told me my timing was perfect, but that I was over-qualified, with my experience working at the museum in Ann Arbor. He would like to hire me immediately. Could he arrange for meals and a place to stay while in town? Could he offer assistance in making moving arrangements?

I accepted all his offers except for the one about food. I had heard of a place called Becky's and I wanted to go there myself.

So, here I am on a flight that will take me through Minneapolis, a place as changed as I am. A place where I had adventures, where I once lived. A place where some people know me and lots don't. Where a handful might be happy to see me. Where some people know my artworks and others my stories.

I suppose there could be a few people who would not expect to see me, ever again.
They would have no memory of the ancient past or might recall a narrative so vastly different than mine. I might as well be talking to a Rorschach stain on a mattress.