rain not apricots

Because procrastination should never feel fruitless

Month: July, 2012

Double Stick


I ran out of tape putting up another leg in the hall yesterday. It’s not my personal hall, it’s the building’s, so I’ve been hesitant to put up a second leg because I’ve never been entirely sure how my neighbors felt about the first one. Not everyone wants to walk by a six-foot-tall construction paper leg twice a day. I’m sure my neighbors thought it was going to be the only leg, and I told them I was more than happy to take it down. That was sort of a lie, but you have to say these kinds of things in order to make life work and I would have been ok with taking the leg down even if I wouldn’t have been more than happy doing so—I have pettier things to stew over.

My neighbors said they were ok with the leg. That was their first mistake. And I suspect, prior to yesterday’s development, they’d probably stopped noticing it. But after months of telling myself I was fine with only one giant leg in the hall, and that there were already so many things in my life for which I should be beyond grateful, there was an unexpected window yesterday when nothing needed to be done and I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I was weak. I knew where the red and black construction paper were and, unrelated to my lingering interest in a second leg, my daughter had already begrudgingly given me permission to use her off-white “big special paper,” which she had gotten as a Christmas present from my friend Antoinette. I was pretty sure there was tape in the tape drawer. And… no one was home. How could anyone in my shoes at that particular moment in time not put up another leg?

If I’m totally honest with you, it was as good as I’d imagined it would be. I’d spent months thinking about the black shoe. About the red sock. About the cream colored pants. It was hot work standing on the edge of my daughter’s piano bench wedged on the stairs reaching beyond the point of balance to reshape the curve of the toebox. I was afraid to open the front door to let in some fresh air for fear the mailman might see me sweatily drawing the stitches on the instep. Or readjusting the height of the pants above the sock. It was all going so well… until I ran out of tape.

I had brought the leg to within two feet of the baseboard molding when all of sudden I had nothing else to stick the paper on with. In a panic I thought about using duct or packing tape. Or chewing gum. But I noted the time and realized my daughter was going to be getting out of camp soon and I needed to pick her up and duct tape would make delegging the wall a dicier endeavor than I was prepared to own. My second leg was done for the day and there was nothing else I could do about it. Until this morning.

This morning, after walking the dog while my wife took our daughter to camp, I snuck off to Staples to stock up on double-stick tape. No matter how often I walk over to Staples to stock up on any kind of tape it seems like  I’m always opening up the tape drawer to discover we’re out of whatever tape I need at the moment. This is because my daughter uses tape as if she were trying to stick the very fabric of time together. Sitting at my desk drawing with my pencils and my paper while watching Charlie and Lola on my computer screen she will distractedly reach over to the tape dispenser and pull out three feet of tape to stick a one inch piece of yarn onto her collage.

“Good lord,” I sigh from wherever I’m spying on her. “What in the world are you going to do with all that tape?”

“Dad…I’m only six. I don’t know how to use tape yet. Anyway when you talk I can’t hear the show. Can you bring me some cheese and crackers?”

The only reason I continue to buy tape at Staples is that the last stationery store in my neighborhood closed two years ago and was replaced by one of the endless “healthy” hamburger-and-shake establishments that have opened around here. I loved the stationery store that’s no longer there, but my remaining closest option for tape is Staples. I don’t hate Staples because it’s a chain store. As chain stores in my neighborhood go, its workers are nicer and more helpful than most, and the lines at the register are generally short and speedy. What I can’t stand is the pricing. Literally every time I go to Staples to buy tape or Sharpie markers or glue or envelopes or whatever else my daughter has gone through since last I bought it, the tape or glue or markers ring up more expensively at the register than they’re listed as on the shelf.

Having already spent more time than I care to admit trying to figure out if 4 rolls of Scotch double-stick tape at 100″ per roll is a better buy at $10.99 than 8 rolls of tape at what might be 75 yards per roll or the 75 yard might be for the whole pack at $16.49, or two rolls at $4.99 (but it’s not clear how many inches each of those rolls is) I decided to go with four rolls at $10.99. When I suddenly noticed a 20-pack at some other potentially better price, I also noticed the same 4-pack was listed at $11.49. On the shelf below. Same item number as the $10.99 4-pack. Different price. I decided to take a picture of the price I wanted to pay since I knew when I got to the register they were going to charge me $11.49 per 4-pack. There was zero chance in the world they were going to ring up at $10.99.


For most of my life I have eaten the 50¢ in question. I hate making a fuss. I get the bends when I think about making people wait in line behind me while a cashier calls his supervisor over the store intercom to get a glacially slow price check on double-stick tape. I would rather stew over being chiseled out of my life’s savings than make someone stare stewing laser beams of hatred into my back while a store manager searches out the price of double-stick tape in more time than it took Cortes to conquer the Aztecs.

Today there was nobody in line behind me…. and I had a picture on my phone. No one needed to conquer anyone, and while I smugly walked home not stewing over the fact that I paid  50¢ more than I wanted to pay I spied two washers on the ground to add to the washer collection and noticed several nice gumstain and paintblob sidwalk compositions.


I finished the second leg before lunch. My wife and daughter have still not noticed it since they usually use the door under the stoop to come and go. As to how my neighbors feel about the second leg, I can only hope they will be better disposed to it now that it properly meets up with the baseboard molding. It goes without saying everyone will be much happier if we ignore the fact that my secret long term plan is to tape giant legs all the way up the stairs, dancing along the second floor landing and reaching up the next flight of stairs toward the roof. But nobody needs to go there today.

Things Fall Apart

Washers
Although we’ve slacked off the past few weeks, my daughter and I have been collecting washers. You see them everywhere once you start looking. Snugged against curbs. Wedged in those seemingly pointless grooves between sidewalks panels. Huddled among the turd-strewn mulch that ebbs and flows around freshly planted ginkgoes. Snoozing by hydrants. Loitering near stoops and doorways.

If I weren’t so fussy about how many of those washers are too intimately ensconced with something turdlike or glistening with what is undoubtedly a fresh sheen of dog piss, we’d have a much larger collection. A fact my daughter regularly notes with derision.

It’s true. She’s a much braver curator than me. I admire this, but I resent having to hold her waste-besmirched hands when crossing the street, and she never wants to wash them once we’re home or wherever we’re going. And always inevitably those feculent fingers will be jamming pieces of moist melon or mango or cheese into her mouth. Having still not been washed. So our collection is fussy and limited because of me. I take full responsibility for that. The fact that my daughter has not yet contracted ringworm or e coli or giardia or elephantiasis or whatever is my bad. The fact that there is melon or mango or cheese in the house to be obediently cut into moist pieces for her to jam into her lovably bossy maw is largely my fault too.

The fact that I won’t let nuts or screws or chain links be counted as part of our washer collection is not my fault. My daughter’s welcome to collect all those things, which she does. But they aren’t washers. We can make an allowance for a well rusted rivet. But no snaps or buttons or rubber gaskets. It’s important to know the taxonomic constraints of your collection.

Where do all these washers come from? Bikes? Scooters? Strollers? Rolling granny baskets? Skateboards? Gurneys? Stolen grocery carts? It has to be something like that, right? So where are all the rolling things that don’t have those washers anymore? Are they rolling any less well because they don’t have them? If not, why were the washers faultily attached to them in the first place? Does anyone notice they’re gone? What happens when we stop seeing or caring that the wheels we’re rolling on are slowly coming off ? Literally. Right under our noses. It can’t be good.

Reading Glasses


It should go without saying that most days I don’t read books about 17th-Century Dutch painters. Most days I don’t read the collected works of any Polish poets, and most days I don’t have the slightest clue what Arthur Rimbaud is talking about—in English… let alone in French. Most days nothing tousles through my pines and there are no silver summits or goddesses to be recognized and the only veils I lift are tired and feel more like packing blankets. Dawn always passes long before I’ve groggily made my first cup of coffee and realized I don’t have enough to cobble together a real lunch for my daughter to take to camp.

Yesterday a friend sent me a picture of her husband in his new reading glasses—he’d spent a goodly while deliberating over the right frames and she was sending me a picture to see what he’d finally settled on. In her email she said he looked less mincing in them in real life than the photo might suggest.

Earlier that morning a different friend had emailed to say she’d looked at Mervin Peake’s Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor, an incredible picture book from 1939, which I’d told her about the week before and which I’d only discovered a couple weeks before myself.

My friend said she could see how Peake’s work resonated with mine, and then she asked what I thought about the androgynous yellow creature Captain Slaughterboard befriends and settles down with at the end of the book. If I’m totally honest I should confess that until she asked the question I hadn’t really thought about it. I just liked the book and loved the pictures. So I decided to reread it… with my reading glasses on. Back in winter I had to get glasses when I realized I could no longer read medicine bottles and wasn’t totally able to see what I was drawing any more.

On the second to last spread of Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor the androgynous yellow creature sports a miniskirt and is somewhat suggestively whittling a thick piece of wood over a cooking pot while the captain adoringly smokes his pipe in the background. On the facing page the two are cuddled on the ground while the androgynous yellow creature eats a peeled banana. I won’t ruin the ending and I won’t summarize what comes before this island snugglefest, but suffice it to say the book appears to be, among whatever else it is, a gay love story. And when my friend nicely suggested that Peake’s illustrations resonated with my own (I wish), I realized she was obliquely asking if I was secretly gay (ie. my metaphorical reading glasses made me look mincing).

She is not the first person to ask me this. Anyone who draws pictures like me might well be asked the same. Although my reading glasses are way too practical to make me look any more or less mincing than I might already seem, I run a notoriously tidy ship at home, am unapologetically interested in vintage needlepoint pillows, and I shamelessly ogle other people’s perennials. Sounds much more Rimbaud than Rambo to me too.

My wife has a longstanding fantasy about watching Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock take love of each other. Or just wrestle passionately in some dark corner of the Enterprise—but not so dark that she can’t see. It is one of the many troubling things I love about my wife, but it is sadly… not a fantasy I share. I’d like to think I’d let myself playfully tousle with Kirk or Spock on the bridge if that was where my heart was boldly going. Or that I would cloudlessly cuddle with a banana-eating  androgynous yellow creature on a remote pink island if those were the shores around which I had dropped my emotional anchor. But those aren’t my shores.

I may not be entirely correct when I say what I’m about to say, but I think it’s true that literally every friend in my entire adult life who has ever met my dad has asked me if he’s gay. And I always answer pretty much the same. I don’t know. I see why you ask. Everyone does. There’s a preponderance of circumstantial evidence that would seem to suggest as much. But my dad says he’s not. And strange as it may sound… I believe him. Not because I care. I really don’t. Or that’s not true. I care to the extent that I love my parents and I want them to be happy individually and collectively and there would obviously be complications if my dad were actionably gay. Few if any are better at preemptively lancing life’s complications than my parents.

I also care to the extent that it’s hard not to think about an interpretation which one person forever denies, but which seemingly everyone else reads in unanimous contradistinction. How could you not wonder? But the truth of it is, for reasons too convoluted (and undoubtedly too flawed) to summarize herewith, I don’t think my dad would ever allow himself to cuddle with a bark-whittling androgynous yellow creature on an exotic pink island. He has worked too hard to wrap in packing blankets those keepsakes which are best stored in the darkest corners of his personal storage locker. Even if he knows about Kirk or Spock, which I suspect he does not, I know my dad would shrink from the layout and decor of the Enterprise and be even more turned off by the quality and cut of the uniforms.

It turns out the friend who noted the resonance between Peake’s work and my own was not metahprically suggesting that my reading glasses made me look mincing. She was flagging a different resonance and I read something in her words she wasn’t saying. But while we were on the subject of gayness she wanted to know whether I thought Mervin Peake was out or closeted or not gay at all.

Is it possible to draw an androgynous yellow creature snuggling with a formerly fearsome pirate on a pink island while eating a banana and not have that banana be a metaphor for something? No matter how my reading glasses make me look, they will never work well enough for me to see the answer.

Au réveil, il était midi.

Serendipity


While reading a book of essays about 17th Century Dutch painters my friend Ali had loaned me, I came across a name I didn’t recognize. Gerard ter Borch. Maybe you know his work? I did not. So, as is often the case when I have no clue who someone is, I googled him and went to the the first listing under his name. It was a Wikipedia entry. This was a few months ago. During Wikipedia’s annual fundraising drive.

At the top of the Wikipedia listing for Gerard ter Borch was a picture of Brandon Harris (it’s no longer there since the fundraiser is over). Brandon was personally appealing to me for a donation. Which I reflexively ignored. What I couldn’t ignore, however, was that he looked exactly like Gerard ter Borch. Same pose. Same face. Same expression. Same facial hair. Same sartorial color palette. It was highly disturbing. I thought it was a joke. You know how everyone loves a good joke about Gerard ter Borch.

Anyway it seems Brandon Harris’s face was on many Wikipedia pages during the annual fundraiser, making personal appeals to anyone researching anything from merkins to scrimshaw. Did Brandon Harris or anyone at Wikipedia know his face would disquietingly appear on the top of the page for Gerard ter Borch? A Seventeenth-Century Dutch painter I’d never heard of and who I was only looking up only because I was reading a book of essays by Zbigniew Herbert, who I’d also never heard of prior to Ali’s loaning me his book?

How many people happened to look up Gerard ter Borch during this year’s annual Wikipedia fundraiser? Other than me. Maybe I’m underselling the worldwide appeal of Gerard ter Borch and his work and his importance within the art historical cannon?

Zbigniew Herbert’s Still Life With a Bridle is an excellent book. I’m now reading a collection of Herbert’s poems which I borrowed from the same friend. But this is not a post about Zbigniew Herbert or a nudge for you to familiarize yourself with Herbert’s writing if you don’t already know it (which you should…but whatever). Mostly what I wanted to say is that by deciding to look up someone I’d never heard of  I got to discover how much Brandon Harris looks exactly like Gerard ter Borch. Exactly. Nobody in the world ever knew this until I discovered it. If I accomplish nothing else in life, I will always lay claim to this. Should Brandon Harris and the folks at Wikipedia ever decide to maintain they noticed the likeness first, and that the juxtaposition of portraits was intentional, I will countermaintain that I was the first and only loser in the entire world to appreciate the joke… until I told you.

Limbo

It's all downhill from here today
Sometimes it’s so ungodly hot and humid you can’t do anything but set the bar as low as possible. High if you’re dancing under it. But there will be no dancing today.

Message in a Bottle


I’ve been drawing people in bottles since the Clinton era. Men. Women. Mustachioed, coiffed, or otherwise.


In older sketchbooks there are sometimes figures on the outside wielding sledgehammers. Or jackhammers. Wailing away. To little avail. The figures on the inside mostly don’t seem to notice or care about what’s going on. Those that do seem to want out.



Sometimes there are figures inside of bottles inside of bottles. But usually the bottles inside of bottles are empty. The people have become bottles themselves. There are pills inside of bottles. Buddhas in bottles. Oak trees in bottles. The brownstone I live in inside a bottle. A city skyline of empty bottles.  Buddhas balancing bottles. Sad flaccid empty personified bottles. Who doesn’t love sad flaccid empty personified bottles? You can never have enough of those.


But lately there are only men with mustaches and women with big hair. And no arms. Inside bottles.


A woman whose drawings I love recently said how much she liked my people inside of bell jars. Strange. I never thought of them as bell jars. I love bell jars. What’s not to love about bell jars? But it would never occur to me in a million years to draw a sad flaccid empty personified bell jar. And people in (under?) bell jars are totally different than people inside of bottles. I understand how the former could have gotten where they are, but how did the latter get inside? I don’t know. I never have. That’s why I keep drawing them.

Are they happy inside? I suspect not. They don’t seem to be. But none of the people I draw outside of bottles look to be happy either. Being inside or outside a bottle appears to have no bearing on whether one is happy. That makes total sense. That’s how life works. As to why my people sport limber mustaches or improbable hairdos and have no arms, I haven’t a clue…beyond their being fun to draw.

When I’m drawing people inside or outside of bottles I am the only happy person around. So while being inside a bottle doesn’t appear to be a better predictor of happiness than being outside, drawing people inside bottles does. It’s been keeping my serotonin at the proper level during multiple presidencies. No prescription needed. No prior authorization required from your insurance. You can skip a day without withdrawal. The only downside is my new favorite sketchpad has been discontinued by the manufacturer. Forever. At $1.05 a pad it’s small wonder they weren’t profitable. Staring at the blank speckled-brown paper is enough to make you feel giddy. Not to mention the corrugated cardboard cover. And the twine stitching along the spine.

I bought the last 30 at the only store around that sold them. Sorry. Unforgivably shabby of me, I know. Desperate times calls for desperate measures. There are no more. None. Not one. Anywhere. IN THE WORLD! Am totally screwed when these run out. Consider yourself lucky you never got to draw in one in the first place. In that sense, I did you a huge mitzvah by hoarding them all to myself.

the last 30 of these pads…in the world!

Castles Made of Sand

The drip castle we made before lunch.

The hermit crabs we didn’t buy… or touch.

The rack of Walk-a-Pets ® no one cared about.

A Longport Bathing Beauty

Please don’t TOUCH the hermit crabs!

Over my dad’s couch. Literally.

Perfectly arranged pairs waiting to board.

Vacant shells for sale. Ocean City Boardwalk.

The Atlantic ocean was as dreamy as it’s ever been.
For once that can be said without a drop of hyperbole.
The ride down sucked bumper-to-bumper ass,
but the ride home was almost a pleasure
(as rides home on the GS Parkway go)
courtesy of the lightning storm and
blinding downpour from Central Casting.
Everything in between the driving was a delight.
Except for the things that weren’t, and no one’s talking
about those things now so they don’t count. Sometimes
you can’t help but enjoy the rain-soaked shimmer
of brake lights winding ahead
for as far
as the
eye
can
s
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e

Jersey Shore


We’re going down to spend the weekend with my family.
It better not rain. That’s all I’ll say.
clamshell drawings

Godlike Harmony

There’s an unopened packet of brushes that’s been hanging on my wall for nearly a decade. It’s hung on different walls in different apartments, and as the cellophane clouds and sags and the bristles begin to slouch under the weight of their own slipshod creation the whole thing grows ever sadder. And more dear. It was a gift from my wife. One of those crappy little nothings couples give each other early on which helps define the language of their profoundest and most lasting connections. For me to recount our dissertation-worthy musings on Godlike Harmony would feel cheap to all parties involved. As tawdry as it would feel to open the packet and daub those wan hairs into some fresh watercolors and drag them adulterously across a piece of expectant paper. Nothing but deflation that way lies. The genius of the gift is in its inviolate whole. The promise it can never fulfill. It has never once occurred to me to open them. Truly. This is not meant to be a diatribe against marital infidelity. I know life isn’t lived in a cellophane bag.

Godlike Harmony lives about 15 feet behind my left shoulder. Hanging at the top of the stairs over a small writing desk where we keep all our tape and picture frames that have yet to make it onto the Family Wall.  You have to walk by Godlike Harmony to get anywhere in our apartment. The bedrooms. The bathroom. The kitchen. It drives my daughter insane.

Why can’t we paint with these?

Because we can’t. They were a gift from your mom.
Who ever heard of brushes you can’t paint with?
Well you can’t. They’re Godlike Harmony.
Who ever heard of such a dumb thing. I’m opening the brushes. 
No you’re not.
Yes I am.
No you’re not. They’re not good brushes anyway.
How do you know?
Because I do.
No you don’t.
We already have lots of opened brushes.
I want to paint with these brushes.
Sorry.
Why would mom give you not-good brushes?
Because she did.
I hate those stupid brushes!

They’ve been hurled down the stairs or huffily crammed into the drawer with the tape and picture frames, but they’ve yet to be opened. And in fairness to my daughter, I totally understand why she hates these brushes. What six year old wouldn’t want to use them?  They’re brushes. She doesn’t see or care if the bristles look wan. What she sees is potential. She doesn’t see the seeds of regret. She doesn’t care if she never wants to paint with the brushes again. It’s the thrill of opening and trying them. That’s all that matters.

My wife and I have tried to explain what is funny about a sealed packet of artist brushes called Godlike Harmony, but all she thinks we’re doing is keeping a secret from her that isn’t even remotely funny. And it makes her all the madder that she doesn’t get the joke. She wants to be in on it and she doesn’t get it and that makes her mad. I get it. One day she will totally understand what’s funny about Godlike Harmony, but I hope the packet’s crumbled and the bristles have long since wilted away before she does.

Inadvertent Faces

My wife likes to make pancakes. Swedish. Buttermilk. Blueberry. Lumpy. Minimally whisked. Thin. Whatever. Always lovingly served with a small ramekin of heated Grade B maple syrup. She would never willingly serve cold syrup… not even to her worst enemies.

She also likes not having to worry about making drips while she cooks. Or crumbs while she eats. Fresh batter dashes on the counter. Nibbled toast crumbs in silverware drawers. Rorschachs of honey and syrup and jelly on anything flat or vertical. Blobs of something on oven knobs. Floury handprints on the cabinets and refrigerator door. She is tirelessly working to prove that life is being lived by real people in our home. And the truth is, in spite of my lifelong fear of crumbs (and the sinking feeling that comes with turning a mysteriously sticky oven knob) part of me celebrates her ability to find new places to make them. Crumbs. But that drawer is so low? And never opened. Good lord…there weren’t even that many crumbs in the whole loaf. How do you even make dried  fruit crumbs?

I was raised by people who fanatically believe no such evidence of human existence should exist for  paleoanthropologists to unearth. Painting on cave walls might have been okay if it were construed as sprucing up the joint, but none of those messy hand prints and no piles of bones or sooty remains in the corner. We’re not barbarians. It’s like living a life of crime every minute of your life. Leave no traces. Ever. You’ll never be caught that way.

Rather than worrying about how to ungum a refrigerator handle or how to chisel off desiccated pasta-sauce Pollacks from inside the microwave, don’t leave any clues of having lived (or eaten) in the first place. Lucky for the Leakeys early hominids didn’t evolve from my family.

If you never spill pancake batter on the counter, you never find inadvertent pancake batter faces. Lemonade out of lemons? Guilty as charged. Inadvertent Faces has become an ongoing game for me and my daughter. The rub being, of course, that inadvertence has to happen unintentionally. Sneakily arranging the prune shards in your oatmeal to make a smiley face is a different game. Funny—depending on how the morning is going otherwise—but it’s not the same as Inadvertent Faces.

Here is a Funny On-Purpose Food Face from a cafe in Lucca:

Cappuccino in Lucca, Italy.

Here is an Inadvertent Face on a sidewalk in Brooklyn:

The white face above is different than the face below.

The pink face is an example of Found-Faces-That-Were-Always-Faces-in-the-First-Place. Which is also a great game. But it’s entirely different. Look it up. I don’t make the rules. Or maybe I do. Someone has to. Usually it’s my daughter.

The face below is another example of Found-Faces-That-Were-Always-Faces-in-the-First-Place:

I’m pretty sure my daughter knows the difference. Inadvertent faces are accidents. Fortuitous wrong turns. Funny-On-Purpose-Food-Faces and Found-Faces-That-Were-Always-Faces-in-the-First-Place are both top-notch fun. But they are definitely not Inadvertent Faces. Different rules. Different games.

Why do I care? Because pretending to be lost is different than actually being lost. There’s a different energy and intensity. Pretend lost is great. I much prefer it to real lost. I heartily endorse pretending to be lost. But you never learn as much about yourself when you secretly know where you are. It’s the truly not knowing which forces you to open your lowest, most impractical drawers and peer inside them to see what horrible crumbs have crept  inside.