Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fall's End Part IV (Part III under Oct.08, Part II Under Sept 08 and Part I Under Jan 08)

At the far end of the cafeteria a row of large windows ran a raving-fire-green of hard afternoon sunlight. Students charged into the cafeteria across the milky white floor like passing a cloud of vapor. Faculty huddled at either end of the cafeteria and sheep-herded the students to the sunflower-orange tables. Without any forgiveness they folded their arms and went face-to-face. Their eyes turned a mantra, of seeking refuge and within a covetous dialogue they rocked away from each other like sea-bobbing buoys. And the children roosted electricly on the lengths of the picnic-style tables looking like they were burned into the sun-filled green.

The thinner, much younger huddle of faculty was smartly dressed under the far clock. They had set off a charge of laughter so abrupt that, as I walked past, I metamorphosed into the coy child I once was. I averted my eyes, marble-ricocheted an arc into the mulling cafeteria frenzy. A hot pang inside my head felt like it singed the skin of my scalp and in the middle of the milky floor I guided myself to the end of the lunch line.

Students quickly added to the line behind me and curled like coral reef. Looking back at them, along with the sea-bobbing faculty, I became nauseated. The shorter the line got the more the hunger pulled inside my gut. But it passed quickly when I took a hot tray from the tall dripping stacks inside the doorway. However in my close examination I found that the fossilized remnants of mashed potatoes were spackled into the corners of the tray. In several areas they were simply Mesozoic and began to turn my stomach even more. I set the tray sadly askew with the other soiled trays like a deck of trick cards and selected another. It’s unnatural shade of putrid green I gladly slid along the glossy countertop.

Behind the glassed-in cases four hair-netted luncheoneers portioned out food, clinking and scraping stainless containers like a tin set of drums. The first lunch man’s eyes squinted down his bulbous nose. His softly accentuated under bite indicated perhaps he had forgotten his teeth and by way of ice-cream scooper he stiffly dolled out a lump of mashed potatoes. The dry heap stuck to my green tray and did not lose its grainy cue-ball shape. The following lunch lady shuffled a steaming pan of suran-covered entrée’s that under the glass looked like melted cheese. She ripped open the plastic and clipped-in a round diskette of compressed meat with enormously long tongs. When her straight smile erupted into a coughing laugh it bounced her heavy bosom and her tiny eyes, in the divided magnification of hot-pink rimmed glasses, became lost in her tight squints.

“With or without—” she said after the laugh and waited a second, “sauce or none, honey,” she said and her impatience pinged the large spoon to the side of the metal container.

“With please—” I said and the ladle of watery brown liquid spilled to the diskette in the main course compartment of the tray.
I sidestepped in line, gliding my tray down with the other students to the next post where a swash of green beans was sloppily spooned-in. They came submerged in a delicate split of soggy drab, looking as if they had been canned in formaldehyde. The final lunch lady smiled down at the tray with the beans sliding towards her. She was younger than the other three and, one hand on her hip, she curtly turned a loose load of applesauce, form-fitting its resin to the small corner square.

“Misses Morcom—” a small boy behind me in line called out. The second lunch lady had just clipped in the diskette of stiff meat to his tray and the boy keenly watched the whole process. He inched up close to the glass case with his eyes level to his tray while the meat landed, crumb-bursting.

“—Misses Morcom,” the young boy pleaded again for her attention but she ignored him resplendently, “My dad said,” the boy continued, “that I need meat—extra meat, because my shirts are loose.”

The lunch lady exhaled incredulously. Her sigh turned her head away from the boy, rolled her in three sections; one at her head, next her shoulders and then her waist, bringing my attention back to the dizzy sea-bobbing milk of the cafeteria floor. She heaved her chest and then looked in the opposite direction. Then, begrudgingly, she let the hissing air from her chest and neatly set another diskette flush on top of the other. When the boy thanked her she smugly rolled her eyes and her grey pupils swam throughout the two half fishbowls of her glasses lenses. Accepting her weakness she winked sideways at the boy and then shook her head in disbelief.

Calls took the children springing from the mouth of the kitchen. In front of the register there was a stack of plastic milk crates and the beads of condensation collectively leaked onto the floor. I paid for my lunch and took one small carton, its weight slight in my hand and crossed to an empty orange table at the far end of the cafeteria.

Here from behind my tray I confronted the green hill of just cut grass. The neighboring diary farm’s pillars of milk stilted up the ash lucid sky and the fields beyond were in a delicate haze of autumn. I was at ease alone and facing the outside world and I looked down to give the diskette a concerned squint before testing it with my fork. I carefully lifted a small wedge to my mouth when the table rumbled and, without too much grace, a young student set herself down cross-cornered the orange formica. In her hastiness the milk carton jumped completely from her tray and onto its side. Her eyes brightened, they were stunned at the tumbled carton, a surprised guile as if she believed the carton of milk had just passed out cold and she was brave enough to begin resuscitation.

I recognized her as the heroic student who fell frontwards in the first gym class that morning. She had not combed her short hair since, it was riddled with cowlicks and she looked wild and clammy. After arranging herself with one leg up onto the bench she slouched over sadly and I went back to my meal. I was about to take a bite when the table rumbled again as the student stomped her elbow next to her tray and, very primitively, she took the fork with her other hand and raised it into the air. I was chewing a mouthful, studying the young student’s sad eyes and the Hitchcockian knife-hold when, in one circuitous stitch, she jousted the flat meat patty and swooped it up above her head. I parted the mouth folds of my milk carton and pulled them open. The short-haired girl remained unmoved with the jousted meat in the air. The most quizzical look surfaced in her face then. One lazy ripple embossed in her forehead, she lowered her eyelids and fluttered them at me. Then she tipped her fork and jettisoned the stiff disk to the floor. I turned to the dairy farm and looked hard at the silos, waiting for the sweating condensation to drip down them but they were too far away. I absently reached for my milk carton, lifted it to my mouth and took the entire carton of milk in one sitting. A drop ran down my chin like mercury as I set the empty container onto the table.

“Are you going to drink that milk?” I asked her as she straddled the bench and leaned long away from her untouched lunch.

“I don’t believe in milk, do you?” she asked, “You do know that cows are a religious item to some people, like in India and junk—”

“It’s probably because they’ve got several stomachs—” I said.

“I don’t believe in that either,” she said with an insouciant roll of her eyes.

“It’s true,” I continued, “they’re ruminants for one thing. They can digest grass. That is, they take cellulose and turn it into protein—”

“If it’s cows milk, I don’t believe in it—”

“Well that’s not the best part. Do you know that farmers—you can believe this one or not at all, but it is the absolute truth—and I’ll tell you anyway. The farmers manage, somehow—you can use your imagination—they have the suspicious ability to leave magnets in their stomachs. Inside the cows. I think they have three—I’m not sure. Well, cows can have got some pretty disgustingly horrible eating habits, as I am sure you are aware. But it’s so that when they, say, eat up a handful of nails and such, the magnets organize them into an assembled order. You know. For obvious reasons.”

“Well”, the short-haired girl said blandly.” She sat upright.

“Well what?”

“You’re the bomb, I think,” the student said. The statement collapsed her in her own unbelief, “I still don’t have any faith in it,” she continued from the collapse, “Nope. At—All,” she said sitting straight up and accentuated both words sharply staccato, delivering them by her hand jabbing for each word.

“But if I did, that would be all the more reason,” she arched her back in a stretch that lowered her eyebrows and forced out a loud guffaw. As she was recovering and in a half-yawn she took her index finger and thumb of the same hand and she made the shape of an “L”. She brought the ghost up to the side of her temple, closed her left eye and the soft damp line of her dark eyelashes took my photograph. The clucking of her tongue from the side of her mouth was the shutter.

The bell rang out then. She scattered her up from the table and sprinted off into the hallway. In her absence her tray was left untouched and the compressed meat abandoned on the cafeteria floor. I reached over and scooted her milk across the table towards me leaving a smeared trail of water. I finished it in one swallow.

* * *
There was a trace of something so dear and forgetful in the muddle of the gymnasium floor. Within the smears of dogeball and the ineffable streaks of sneaker skids the basketball, remarkably, appeared to be sitting in the exact spot it had been as I first noticed it. I searched the ceiling for one laughing angel but the scoreboard only stood with its lovely neat rows of dusty light bulbs, the indifference of their dull white finish awaiting the warmth of some electric charge. In the pure thought of eggs the insides of me stood up and I made for the basketball.

But one good and sharp step was all I was able to make before the gymnasium doors rattled ajar and I froze like a thief with the basketball in my hands. It looked at first as though there were two boys wrestling each other into the room, trying to turn each other inside out. But as the figuration budded further it became clear that the two were actually one; one boy struggling his arms around the glinting rims of a highly polished tuba.

The boy was large for his age and his hair was bronze, short but heavy. One tussled body cantilevered from the other, mirroring across the threshold of the gymnasium. It was a besieging argument that was misleading; somehow the shiny instrument said one thing and the boy the other. However opposing, the single set of legs they shared held the ground flat and square. The boy stomped out a small circle to butt the door open and the god of golden snakes sucked the entire rows of ceiling lights through the metal conduit of its brass tentacles.

The doors kicked shut behind the boy like wild ponies, pushing the two inside. He gave a skillful tug to tighten his soft arms around the metal-brain of the tuba and then made his way across the gymnasium floor. His breath-holding wobble reached him center court where; desperately, he cocked his head sideways. But such poise, his chunky white sneakers cow-hocked to the patient face of the Chief, a slight throat wheeze and, under the weight of his metal twin, the pallor of his marshmellow cheeks went rosy. Here on the face of the Indian Chief the boy stood slumping, proud and alone until abruptly he lurched the god up into his arms and the large mouth of the tuba combed a celestial measure in its path. Every visible light whirled inside that vacuumous opening while the boy, without even a lift to the eyebrows, pivoted on one foot to a direct-right and paraded himself across court half-ways. When he met the bleachers it was without hesitation that the boy stepped up and thundered him straight to the top plank. Here he gave a slow but eager shuffle-turn, a rabbit in a box trap, caught with a carrot and a pressed nose. One-hundred-and-eighty degrees and underneath the residue of his heavy perspiration and his shortbreath panting the boy finally rested. He sat attentively recital-poised despite the effort to muffle his lilts of wheezing.

It was all I could do to take a few cautious steps and quiet my refuge behind the camera. Slightly bent I stood a treetop tiger with my fingers ready-wrapped to the side-handle of the tripod. I lifted my chin to make for something to say, though I don’t know what it would have been. Our silent length soiled the interlude and I was certain that whatever noise would have come out would have been nothing close to music—my twin was a dark and grave camera, its noises were the strict mechanical eating sounds of grass. Its continual digestion was deceiving while its unlying posture did not at all give in to interpretation.

This is when the doors suddenly parted with such violence it was as though a piano had fallen through heaven above. When I looked for its anguished ebony and ivory keys on gymnasium floor I found instead a steady stream of young musicians. Each child forced the double doors wide, a swing that graciously batted around the very next musician who entered. It was a demonstrated war of the true love of what art and life did to you. It beat you up and it devastated you and the cacophony was considerably on the cusp of disaster. Surviving the bites of the clamoring doors, the musicians crossed through the lemon light of the gymnasium holding on to their bright instruments with such careless delight. Following the bravado of the fearless tuba player every musician visited the face of the Indian Chief by the soft pads of their sneakers and the Chief’s nose took the smears with grudging affection. Then they all marched into the bleachers and their roaring stomps shuffled them into a slanting order of metal-clicking that pianissimo-ed the dissonance an unquiet close. It was hard to watch and it was impossible not to.

I resolved once again to express myself from behind the camera. A single shout, a, “How Grand,” or an emphatic, “Bravo,” anything to solidify a connection, just one uttered syllable would have slivered me into the world. But once again it was the half-breath I took that was on perfect queue as the double doors center-left of the gymnasium and opposite the band erupted a steady flow of PE class.

Children marbled across the empty wood floor, girls and then the boys. An ocean was made of half court where white scalloped shorts outlined in the lightest blue matched the robin’s egg t-shirts they wore. Their jumping and bobbing enraged a white-capped water, a welling up of a storm to destroy what it must until there was a melodious interruption, a sweet voice that took a knife and spread some icing over the humps.

“OK. Ready—” the voice rang out. It was an authoritative yet less dogmatic female song and there was no indication from where it had been directed. And though the vacuous room had lost its acrid edge the command remained sugary thin.

“One-two-three, one-two-three, ready-two-three, band-two-three—” the voice called out.

The tuba player struck up the first notes to exact the rhythm of the instructor’s waltz. One measure of grunting had been completed from the gaseous squid before the band jarred into derelict structure. I had to concentrate to pick out the melody because it was always falling. And falling fast the composition suddenly gut-wrenched into a vague but sympathetic rendition of the Blue Danube. By the thick rope of the tuba player’s steady bumping the children arranged themselves into small bouquet-sets, boy-girl, boy-girl.

Echoed hints from the instructor caused sudden jostles and eruptions of quickened steps, as the children attempted a lighter dance than was theirs. It brought me from the studio as I pictured the whole gymnasium swooning dandelion seeds. The awkward space between each couple was a tested fact that one might fly away from the other and never need to return. The floor teemed in this precarious spin and if you had a birds-eye view I was sure you would have witnessed bursting bloom—their bumbledance taking you from bud to full ignited open.

This is where I found the instructor. During my celestial thoughts she was sewing a gleeful syncopation throughout the two-by-two’s. In her counter movement you could have easily mistaken her for one of the children. Her height, her petite frame, she blended like effervescence into the soda of the room. And if it were not for her red baseball cap with a bright white star that she wore, I would have never have found her.

“Wonderful. Yes, wonderful,” the instructor called and swayed her arms to the compositions slow and attractive slight off-ness, “Feel the rhythm, James—that’s right. One-two-three, one-two-three—” her long fingers were open to such uncertain music while she took ribbon runs across the dance floor like barn swallows. It was as if the music so gently plucked her into their quirky story. The startling white star of her red darting bill pin-wheeled her alongside the waltzing couples. Her carefree dance alighted her from one to another, a clumsy appeal where she adjusted them and then sprightly released, whipping her ponytail a calliope.

A few circles had been completed when the dance instructor bumped her way to the outer rim of the corps de waltz. She passed hurriedly by; my face turned and our eyes grazed, such blue exaggerated. Her ponytail lightly brushed my nose and when her dancing toes entangled in the wires of the main lighting rig, her arms whirled in the air. After she stomped out of the slippery snakes she stumbled backward into the studio. She careened and with such lucky aerobatic alacrity set herself square onto the sitting box. There was a calming moment where she caught herself, just a short intake of her breath before the box tipped backwards and she flailed her arms to gather in her balance.

When she was finally still the dance instructor poised herself, reached her arms out in a giant grand finale and the entire dance troupe halted their seaward cycle to erupt a ferocious applause. It brought the dance instructor, her arms still splayed open in gliding flight, to a low and graceful bow.

I was clapping just as vehemently as the children except that an unabashed smile mustered over my face. Which was suddenly wiped clear as out of the peripheral of my eye I noticed the main lighting rig take a slow timber-fall. I leaped then, but I just remember sliding on my knees and a metal hotness in the floorboards, my skin, my heart. The applause sank to utter silence in that cool slide as I heroically caught the lamp but shuttered in anticipation of the explosion pop. I was half thinking the recoil would shoot me into the hallway on my knees as a lightening Budda when the dance instructor, her arms still out spread in the vaudevillian-finale, simply directed them toward me on the floor. The clapping commenced a modulation higher.

“All right, all right. Enough,” the gym instructor clapped her hands twice, “Back to work, now. One-two-three—band-two-three. Lift your head, Linda. Jason, watch those hands,” the low voices of laughter liquefied under the winding up of the band. The spirits of the children it seemed were justified within the clamorous swaying of this sparsely slow interlude.

“I’m a mess,” the young instructor said to me. She tilted her head down and the brim of her ball cap stood a horizon to the tops of her eyes. I hadn’t moved from the floor. I was folded in my prayer with the giant silver egg cradled to the hollow of my chest and the dance instructor, looking as if she was about to sneeze, burst out laughing. Her gesture was a calamity gesture, an explosion, handfuls over handfuls of daisies.

“I’m so sorry—” the instructor said, her coy recovery in the cherry of her pursing lips. To shake off the laughter she jumped her tightly bound arms out in front of her and fanned her fingers into feathers. Surreptitiously she shrugged her shoulders up and nimbly twisted her spine from gipsy sway to demure alignment.

I stood slowly and wobbled the big silver egg back into place. But in my release it was some other fable, the light stand teetered away like the dandelion seeds. I probably should have just let it go because its collapse would have left us no other reason. But I could not help myself. I quick-fisted the stand. I held it firm and tightened its tension screw at the base. In my caution I glanced back to the trick-timber while walking to camera post. And instead of it’s collapse the amusement rolled from red-capped instructor, a hilarity that erupted from every part of her smallness. Her lily hands went from covering her mouth to shaking them again into feathers. The blur made me stumble behind the camera. I accidentally kicked the corner of the tripod, jumping from one auspicious precipice to another. The tips of equilibrium, every single fulcrum weighted any direction like treading a basketball in a backyard pool.

“I’m so sorry, I’m so awful,” the instructor said out from her rolling laughter. She padded herself clear and then said, “Oh, wait, would you mind holding one moment—I’m not ready—”

The children’s disastrous waltz teetered away from the backdrop in swirls. She peeked over at them. Though I hadn’t even begun to adjust the camera she averted her eyes beneath the red brim of her ball cap. Then she snapped to her pose and uncradled her thin wisps of corn silk hair to her shoulders. You could almost smell turning bronze in the air, honey and apples when she struggled-fixed the strands through her fingers. Even the crooked smile that dipped from her lips tasted pie.
I had to divert myself into the viewfinder because my eyes were limejuice-squinted. I had a sad sort of happiness that made me bite my bottom lip. It was easy for me to hide here except that under the closeness of lens magnification the luminosity of her skin stunned me. The thousand fine candles of beeswax I pictured alighting her from within burned me so transparently. I was afraid to look up.

I pulled the lens from its sharp focus to a gauze blur and rounded the barrel lens back to the crispness of her big eyes, a color so violent and mysterious as a capsizing sea. I took a picture. In my open stare the scene fleetingly jogged away. Her quivering afterimage, the fine honey of her hair, her luminous skin and those two lapis lazuli mysteries burned into memory.

“Oh, one more, please. I was not ready,” the teacher pleaded sifting her hips until she was aligned once again, “I forgot I had my silly whistle on,” she said.

The silver whistle was tied around her neck with red shoelace. She fastidiously unlassoed it until it caught up in her hair. She quickly picked at the snarl as her skinny legs fawn-fumbled. Suddenly the whistle snagged the front of her small white t-shirt. It pulled up to reveal her navel, her reedy stomach and then jumped up over her white cotton sports bra that flattened out her chest. She pushed the t-shirt down to an inking flush of her neck, an apple you could have taken a crisp shine to.

“I am so sorry,” she said. The words parted evasively from her tangley hair that had enclosed around her face. An imploring spill, she let it be known that it was not sabotage. Her lips curled as she lifted her chin.

My face felt hot looking at her messed up hair. Where it had just touched the tips of her cheekbones it was crimson running into the rivers of her boney shoulders in the stretch of her collar. I don’t know what came over me then but I moved from behind the camera to kneel in front of the gym teacher. I fanned her hair through the backs of my hands while her body heated a husking embrace of snow. Her eyes had widened to my gained confidence and the staid corrugation knitted up in my brow. I could smell her skin, of clean sweat and dove soap. She followed me closely with those open eyes, testing but on a perilous slope of laughter.

“I feel like a little girl,” she said trying to sit perfectly still.

It was a dreamlike diorama. And not unreal but more heightened, more concentrated in ecstatic life. I walked back to survey the order of the picture and then ducked in cover of the viewfinder because everything had changed. I refocused twice and followed out of the cameras gaze to lay my temple at the dark metal of the lens. To compare our eyes I took the photograph. The pulsing arrest of the flashbulb whitened out like a gust of wind. My eyes were wide open and the two different brains, one; its metal, glass and precision, the other; my own, the conduit of smooth chambers, just as dark and continuous yet the mystified riddle still was not justified.

With cutting accuracy the music was sliced from the gymnasium. It happened so perfectly I though it may have been my own device. The young teacher stood from the box and she pulled her red ball cap on, tugged it comically to the lovely shape of her head. In such quietude she took one decisive step, placed her dancing toes in the entanglement of what seemed to be nothing at all but her own two feet. She stumbled hard and lurched foreword, padded the ground and delivered her in my arms. At falls end she pressed up flat to my chest. I had to grab her tightly and the impact released a sharp blue jay chirp from the squeeze of her throat. The whistle charged the band into a chug of staggering melodious energy.

“Shall we?” the gym teacher said. Her thin folded up arms bundled my tie into a ribbon and when she tilted her head sideways her thin hair ran a river down.

The red-capped instructor took my hand and placed it on her waist. She pressed it there as if saying here on this small bone will be forever drifting you and I asunder. The process leaned us towards the slow pinning of the couple’s concentric circles. There would be no beginning or ending, this song readily admitted. Except that in it’s offering a rich promise glinted a fortuitous direction but never let you know if its destination would be clear enough to travel. And it was comforting to go nowhere just as the components of the musical score didn’t need to fit each other and rather they lightly overlapped so that some parts were faultless and at the same time the concert fell straight through. Its brokenness bought us all together. Had it not been for the brevity of the fearless tuba player dragging his stumping phrases the roaming piece, our drifting, could have all but disappeared.

The gym teacher pantomimed a lift to my gait. And I did so. I took her suggestion as if I were getting my own portrait taken. My posture straightened and the sudden embarrassment rushed to my face as I imagined I was a light bulb against the blue of the whirligig dancers. My heart, my heat and my ungainly side-stepping were black bolts of lightening within the exposed legs of the children. The both of us became a sure part of every visionary mechanics to this performance. Together our wind-turns were the instrument that produced the passing giggles from each twirling couple. I was losing myself. I was really letting myself gather in the dance. And at the same time the musical interlude also began to bunch up to a momentous end. I was overjoyed, almost penetrating my bottom lip. A miniature crescendo gained velocity and then violently came to a halt.

At that moment I found myself pleasurably frozen in the lean embrace of the gym teacher’s athletic arms. I looked down to see if I would find her as sad as I was, that the dance had ended, that there was a wonder, where to go from this point. And here’s where she surprised me. When our eyes met they suddenly gained a devilish tinge. She pressed herself against me, a cue I was sure had meant to engage in a passionate kiss. Then she leaned me back and dipped me over awkwardly to the ferocious clapping of the dance troupe. I was looking upside-down at them. In my bridging posture, across the courts I watched them as if we were all under water. While panning upside down I then discovered that a perfect line of third grade students was waiting along side the photographic studio. They too were clapping but their teacher was not. Instead she rocked in the doorway a steel pendulum, engulfed in the dismal green hallway tiles.

“That was just wonderful, Mrs. Foxtrot,” the teacher yelled bluntly through her cupped hands while rocking away pensively.

“Now, if you don’t mind,” she added as she crossed her arms into a solid concrete ridge, “I believe we are running a little late?” she said, uncrossed her arms and pointed up at the clock, “I do believe we have the dance floor now? Mrs. Foxtrot?”

“Sorry Rose,” Mrs. Foxtrot said her voice rising sweetly but ended in an obstinate jelly. Taciturnly she funneled her class into the double doors, divided once again, girls and the boys.

“We were just—getting down,” Mrs. Foxtrot turned back and added absently.

“You don’t have to be sorry, dear,” the third-grade teacher demonstrated in a voice of fog, each word sluggish and opaquely unsympathetic.

I had hurried over to the studio straightening my tie and pushing my shirt hems into the front of my pants.
“Now take mine first—dear,” the teacher said to me as I got there. She averted her eyes and ended the plea sweetly, “And hurry on before my hair moves about,” she said smoothing her legs down and the polyester zipped against her rings.

“Absolutely,” I said.

The orchestra began the abandon and thundered down the wooden planked bleachers. My rising tone, one I hoped would be stern, came out much different under duress. I was weakened by the silence; the tender space around us was left vulnerable. Even the parting band, there was a need to tote away their instruments quickly. To sequester them to the dark secret rooms so that their unfaltering, pivotal awakenings would be boxed up and swallowed whole like Jonah.

“Don’t make me look too old,” the third-grade teacher muted. In her irascible tone I framed up the photograph and focused. I understood she didn’t want to be rude and I was hopeful it was not directed towards me. More it was a natural resentment to everything in her wrongful world like taking a heavy roller to a plastic molded contour map.

“—And do not make me look too fat,” she added so that the quick inward laugh she made enraged her justification. It was an attempt to iron-out the situation that buckled before us. Though her rigid, lined-up class of third grade students did not dare laugh.

The laughable, the miracle of the musical interlude had vanished along with the band and the dancers. But there was one searing and sweetly divine solo that saved us all. It called right then from the open clamshell of Mrs. Foxtrot’s hands:
“Say pickles—” she yelled.

It echoed across the basketball court and dripped from the lemon walls. And then she too disappeared into the two draining doors.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Habitat, November 3- December 7, 2008

Opening Reception: Thursday, November 13th, 2008 7-9pm

The home as part of material culture is the very place where the intricate relations between architecture, objects, comfort, safety, and gender become visible. The exhibition Habitat investigates the multi-layered themes evoked by the interconnections between these terms. Sculptors; Angelo Arnold, Chris La Voie, Jackson Martin, and Sebastian Martorana, painters; Rachel Bone, Alyssa Dennis, Robert Sparrow Jones, and James Rieck, and photographer, Eddie Winter explore the relationship between the ideas of the domestic and their own artistic practice.

Through the comfortable format of furniture, Angelo Arnold presents concepts of metamorphosis, change and subversion. These metamorphic forms deconstruct the functional object to establish a foundation which recall's past memories, stories and uncanny events. Though his reconstructed objects reference a vocabulary of furniture, the removal of the functional aspects subverts the viewer’s expectations and provokes new interpretations. He employs the gallery as a platform in which to establish an imagined environment of familiar upholstered objects with an unfamiliar twist… he calls this work Familiarture.

Sculptor and multi-media artist, Christopher LaVoie deals with themes of domesticity, stasis, and movement, as he deconstructs and reconstructs familiar middleclass objects and furniture. He sees a correlation between re-imagining our material surroundings and re-imagining ourselves. This transformation often looks like everyday objects that have become activated, released from their boxes, their shelves, their stasis. His work re-fabricates the prefabricated, and gives it animated personality.

Just in case (family of three), is the second in a series of sculptures created by Jackson Martin for the sole purpose of satisfying his obsession with preparation. Recently, he and his wife became parents. With the arrival of their daughter a whole new set of worries and concerns have surfaced. Just in case serves to highlight this newfound anxiety and stands as an ominous and foreboding table, exhibiting daily, an apocalyptic future that might be just over the horizon.

Sebastian Martorana’s latest sculpture, Homeland Security Blanket, is carved from marble and depicts a small child wrapped in a blanket. It serves as a humanist, rather than political memorial, focusing on the sacrifice of others for the security of his loved ones and himself. He believes that the importance of a sense of personal security cannot be underestimated, but is often taken for granted and that perhaps the place where safety and security are most precious is the home.

The women in Rachel Bone's paintings are inspired by a range of people: from strangers in the street & public figures in the news to traditional folk heroines. Although the characters themselves are modest, conservative and domestic, they are often sent on unlikely adventures or put up to bizarre tasks. The lack of individuality or independence of the 50's housewife stereotype makes her an entertaining candidate for such adventures. These paintings are an illustrative reminder that there is little more heartbreaking than a person so confined to a personal world of order and practicality, that she doesn't recognize the beauty of nonsense when it surrounds her.

Influenced by her involvement in a number of sustainable building projects, Alyssa Dennis’ drawings explore architecture as it relates to human function. These images represent a level of disconnect by contrasting aspects of post-industrial architecture with natural building techniques. Alyssa currently works as a research assistant for a "green" architect and brings these experiences to her drawings as she "builds" them using natural materials such as ground pigment, graphite and colored pencil.

Robert Sparrow Jones's narrative vision is a combination of many sources including, landscape, upbringing, faith, family and friends. There is a deep relationship between natural form and human design and his propensity to include architecture within the landscape is a Thoreauvian attempt to coexist with nature. His places and structures hint at human complexity and contradiction and a bold history is revealed as one looks through the layers. Paralleling architecture Jones's loose transparent layers constantly move and pulse like the wealth of wonderful fields, lakes and rivers that are haunted by stories and imply a chance for magic and wonder in an otherwise mundane scene.

James Rieck paints within the language of consumer based advertisements and photographs. His work deals with the illusion of perfection generated through the utopian picture presented in fashion ads: artificial postures that, although seemingly benign, carry with them calculated agendas. Rieck's cool hand, acute cropping, and dramatic scale emphasize the simulated, generating psychological tension and demanding a re-evaluation of what's "real".

Eddie Winter’s photographs are images that encourage retrospective imagination. These images focus on ideas related to domesticity, challenges within memory, and the uncanny circumstances of the human condition. It is his goal to hold the viewer in a state of suspended reading, where he simply suggests the values of intimacy and explores the threshold of description.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fall's End Part III (Part II Under Sept 08 and Part I Under Jan 08)

One mile down the road the Edgewater Diner’s windows were encaustic from the bustle of morning. A suffocating aroma of bacon and potatoes turned in onions surrounded me inside Red Jetta. As orange school busses pulled away from Center Street, they tidied up a line along the school’s sidewalk and the children effused like downpour-rain by the unfolding of the manual-levered bus doors.

I unloaded the boxes against the curb, shut the trunk empty and the thump pitted the depth of my stomach. It seemed I was always empty and though I was not inclined to eat I did so anyway. But nothing ever filled me, I thought as I picked the light box up in my left hand and then propped the camera box under the same arm, bringing the boxes out wide in a half hawk wing, like I was about to circle. Army I slung around my neck and then hoisted bazooka to my shoulder, wobbly and aiming at the Edgewater School’s windows. And those windows brought me back to the hovering of that morning. A dazzling fire crossed the front of the school as the seamless glass windows mirrored the autumn foliage. In magnification, after each child’s springing grace approached and pulled open the doors, a secret entrance was set off in one fierce whirl.

Under the burden of the heavy equipment I made for the trapdoor. I wondered if at all I would even find my way as then a young boy trotted ahead of me. He tugged the heavy glass door, listlessly turned and leaned his backpack roughly up against the cross-lever handle. I nodded graciously at him and then he did something I found very peculiar. He tucked his chin down into his neck and subjected me to the most grievous grin I had ever encountered. His saying to me that this is what you should expect from your day was unforgiving and extreme and I passed the threshold of the Edgewater with that lingering message. The boy galloped ahead of me, blending into the flux of children like milk, into slip-waxed halls and the whited stale compartments of the unconscious classrooms.

I set all the boxes outside the front office suddenly stifled with a stiff interruption of spiced potpourris. My lungs were paralyzed and my eyes watered as I surveyed the office but could find no one. The windowed room was counter-divided one-third into an undulating orange-carpeted aisle dotted with highly uncomfortable looking plastic chairs—circa nineteen-seventy-two and the remaining two-thirds was an open clutter of desks, file cabinets and papers-piles that to me remained perfectly abstract and usable.

By my third aimless pass I was finally able to pick out the secretary. She was on the telephone and when our eyes met she immediately administered a volatile double-take, shifting from her coffee-morning-pleasant to an apprehensive gasp of fright.

I was not sure what had caused the sudden attention and I checked myself down to the flat of my shoes only to find that Uniform had been intact and proper. Then the thought burned over me that perhaps in my cloudy morning I had driven to the wrong school. But I was too careful. I had never missed a day and I had never miscalculated my schedule. Then backing up I slowly realized I had been standing rather opaquely with Army slung over my shoulder and Bazooka aiming straight over the counter in, this means business right between the eyes formation.

I slowly lowered Bazooka off my shoulder and placed it on the floor along with Army and I stood in a more-friendly, at-ease pose.

“I’ll be with you in one moment,” the secretary said. She had covered the phone and mouthed the words to me. When she did this she looked antique. Her violently red painted lips pursed while she patted her hair and the hairstyle easily took the blows. Then she pulled away from her desk and the wooden chair’s castors squawked out like a gaggles south-heading geese. It really appeared as though millions of them were beneath each small wheel and floated her across the office.

“I’m sorry,” the secretary said, pinning the telephone to her neck. Her chalky skin was relieved that the bazooka no longer threatened her life and when she lowered her eyes her two darkly scalloped eyebrows that she had precisely drawn on raised up one higher than the other. She began emitting a succession of short spurted agreement into the telephone. Meanwhile her oversized floral-motifed ink pen wagged with puppy delight as she jotted dabs of illegibility on a block of stick-notes.

With all the visual stimulae of the office I hadn’t notice that there was a reverberating presence to my left side. When I diverted my attention downward I found a young boy on his tip-toes. He had such an exquisite dark-eyed soup of patience that reached his thin arms out on the cold countertop. And upon my looking down to him he gently clasped his hands together and gave a half-roll pressing his ear flat on the countertop. His gazing up at me produced a stoicism that retained dignity yet was ready to play kickball at even the slightest movement.

“Jimmy,” the secretary squeezed her voice into the telephone. She clicked the back of her pen a few times and then punched two of the clunky blinking cube-buttons on the telephone back and forth.

“Jimmy is this you again?” she darted her eyes from the both of us at the counter, “Do you really think I can’t tell when you’re disguising your voice? Hello? Jimmy—Jimmy. You better get your butt in here—hello, hello, Jimmy?” She let the receiver down, took a moment and poised herself by a few gentle sweeps off her lap.

“Misses Miller,” the boy lying sideways on the countertop began, “my mother says—”

“Hold on, Teddy, dear, let me see what this young gentleman wants,” her voice leapt in sweet licorice until her attention reached me whereby her mood shifted to the meat of adult-speak.

“Right,” I said, drawing up from the boy, “Right—picture day. Today is picture day—”

“Oh, how wonderful. I am just so sorry, doll. You are absolutely right. I do remember now. Oh, really, I am very sorry. I thought we were under siege there for a moment. Well, you never know these days. OK, doll, hold on and let me see now—”
The secretary ransacked the wind spray of papers, “The gymnasium, doll. Shall I escort you?”

“I’m fine,” I said, “I’m all right on my own,” my hand seemed to automatically raise as I quickly, unnervingly, adopted the contagious yet unaffected gratitude, “I think I can remember—thank you.”

“And, Mrs. Miller?” I said after picking up Bazooka, hoisting it back to my shoulder.

“Yes, dear?”

“Make sure you get your picture taken today,” my head was foreword-leaning in the departure. I shouldered Army and patted it like a dog.

“I’m having a bad hair day, doll,” the secretary teased. The candy of her words followed my dismissal and she ended it all with a rolling chortle.

Outside the office I took up the rest of the camera equipment. And as I crossed the bleak empty foyer of the Edgewater School the cusp of dialogue between the secretary and the boy trailed off:

“My mother said I could take my shirt off for my picture today—”

“No, Teddy, absolutely not, dear. I really don’t believe your mother would—”

“She said, though—”

“Teddy, darling, absolutely not—”

“But I want to be pure,” the boy pleaded.


The equipment dragged me earthbound. I rounded the corner and felt the moist air sucking from the gymnasium through an aching pout of dismal sun. It kept glaring sideward through an unseen window I was unable to get at. Inside the gymnasium the collapsible wooden bleachers had been walked out like accordions that were drawing in the sweet lemon-scented air. I imagined the one sustained note they played, a single dry sort of tremolo. That one note sifted like white sand in my head as I contemplated the gymnasium floor. I was looking for the right space to set up the photographic studio and that unheard solitude of sand sifting took me to the red outlined rectangle that floated the pool of light beneath the basketball hoop.
From this spot the flow of traffic would be an easily flow to and from the hallway, I thought. I pictured the children arriving Home Side and immediately leaving Visitor Side as I carried the equipment until I was zeroed in beneath the chipped metal basketball hoop. But that singing note I heard left a burning that I felt on the top of my head and it caused me to move to one side as if I was under the intense scrutiny of an electro microscope.

I let each box fall to thunderous claps. Around the horseshoe shape the echoes recoiled from the glossy cinderblock walls like a rattled-disturbed water. The cage of flat aluminum lights high above the gymnasium floor were turning from green to a blue-white as they warmed up for the day. It’s weak light seemed to ignite the rote tango of my studio set up.

I pulled out the heavy wooden tripod from Army, parted its legs to a life-sized capital “A” and locked the castors. Without trepidation I opened the Camera Box and took the stout Z3 from a snug, dark foam cradle. A clement dribble of students began to stir when a low buzz grumbled from the two old box speakers on either side of the gym. I could hear them muffled through the elongated door windows. I lifted the heavy camera to the tripod as the doors jangled open. Tightened the camera to the head of the tripod while an anxious estuary of fifth grade class fanned across the varnished blonde wood bleachers. Their energy carried like rainbow-oil and I, Carpenter fool, was bent over the old wooden boxes, a castaway ship hundreds of miles inland from the sea, a madman submerged in the mechanics of resurrecting a visionary arc-like studio.

Slowly the small coagulating groups of students funneled into a causeway that divided the accordion bleachers. I was taking the camera into the hollow of my chest and turned it from where it had already been tight to assure a firm seat and met the eyes of one student in particular. She was a pixie-haired young lady who had just been eddied by a boy’s searing weave and it stopped her dead in her tacks. Upon finding the studio and myself she slapped her hands to her mouth, her eyes widened and, quite stiffly, she gave a steep lean forward. There was no bend to her knees, her body turned into an insect and she was about to collapse. But before the fall she took off in a slingshot-angle that I thought would definitely spill her to the floor. However as the reckless few risk their lives they never really do fall and make you love them for it. With her fingers still holding onto her mouth she zigzagged the remainder of her class until they all surrounded the doorway and disappeared as if down a bathtub drain.

The simple punctuation of the doors chomping shut behind them took me straight to the light stands. I held each one upside-down sliding their necks open in three thin celery sections. I cinched the tension screws to desired height and spread their thin flat legs open so together their wavering was like the tall dried blackberry arches of that morning. So the dull shine of the two egg-shaped aluminum cups that topped the stands were appropriate, something delicate and close to hovering, they were like praying mantises. To each other they were praying so lovely that when I brought out a collapsed box of hairnets and spread one open onto my fingertips it was a paper lung over the face of the mantis. Hairnets diffused the harsh flash; I used one for the main-light and overlapped two for the fill-light.

The aluminum cup of the main light I raised to my empty belly and cinched it there, four-feet from the ground. I placed the stand to the front-side of where my worktable would go. The fill-lamp, at three-feet high, stood left of the camera. After that the backlight lamp was lifted to just over my head, about six-feet and Hollywood-style-haloed the subject from behind. The effect of the lighting apparatus softened the toughest bully into an angelic choirboy; its membranous web transformed the brightest young braces-speckled lady into a starlet of desire. It just made the teachers look old, shining miserably off bald spots and haloed harshly in thinning white hair. I knew enough to unplug the backlight and had to painfully disperse meaningless jovial conversation to distract them from the mechanical illusion.

The final light sat on the floor behind the sitting box. This light angled up to the backdrop and away from the student. It had a filter jig that when cellophane gels were slid into place over the lamp, magically the background changed color. Ruby Red, Robin’s Egg Blue, Meadow Green and Autumn Ocher, at a minimal extra cost could be added to each package. Without them the background remained its neutral brooding gray, which was how I liked it the best. It was natural; it was the way I had painted it. I remembered that morning. I recalled that arcing photograph and as I was grabbing up coils of wire from Army, a vivacious ebb of fifth grade phys-ed class spouted wild from the locker room tunnel. It seemed natural. And they quickly swarmed the hardwood floors while I let out a lifeline from each light and plugged them into the top of the power pack. It’s vibrating was the heart of the studio. I felt its hum while gym class, convulsed at half-court and students tumbled into beating hearts of an awkward and fitful love. A whistle signaled them to split opposing lines. In maladroit formulation they were divided girls against the boys. And then balls were let into the arena so that the second double-chirp ricocheted a scandalous game of dodgeball.

Sneaker stomps and whips of pelting aims were indiscernible form the horrified screams and the joyous call of the game. And the photographic equipment stood above the empty box shells, hollow like holes in the floor that I suddenly felt an imperative need to close up. The few that might fall into them were as good little coal miners asphyxiating a choke white.

Closed up, Camera Box doubled as a seat for the students. I centered it in front of the background lamp where the backdrop would be erected. Light Box cartwheeled onto its tall end and would serve as a worktable for stamping, filling out slate sheets, number-inking and the collection of elastic-banded yellow package cards. The makeshift table stood waist-high beside the camera with just enough room to maneuver around and knocked sometimes like a buoy.

Now we all assumed a tall stature, the thin standing lights circled me like complacent children, aimlessly looking this way and that. I slid out the backdrop from the hollow bone of Bazooka and unlocked the screen’s end to allow it to take a heavy swing. It clicked solidly into place as a life-sized lowercase “t”. The backdrop’s three splayed legs placed it behind the sitting box and background lamp by a foot and a half. The backdrop rolled out upwardly in its perfect sea storm and made everything believable. Clipping its thin metal handle to the top of the steel pole restored confidence. We were masted and floating away into that storm as the din of the gymnasium surged and a ball zoomed past almost taking out the fill lamp followed by two double chirps of the whistle.


I was lucky enough to have time to visit the boy’s room and get a drink of water and found myself staring into the patina of the short fountain. When I arrived back at the gymnasium the studio stood alone and solemn in its grays. From leaving such a maddening chaos my return was also as sullen and formless until I was taken by the gymnasium floor. It’s miraculous polish, it was as if without my knowing a bold water had seeped under the flat soles of my shoes and quick-froze into a thin sheet of ice. The rack lights glaring now from the cages above vacillated not on the wood itself but beneath the shiny surface so that they were like schools of fish snapping directions. And beneath the charge and angle the tableau filled further. The topographical map of basketball courts vaulted in deft red outlines, disappearing and reconfiguring beneath the glinting sardines. The trajectories were unknown while all lead to the very center of the gymnasium. Here there was a circle and in the circle was a portrait of an Indian Chief. The Chief’s feathers sprouted the circumference of his circle, all painted flat and geometric like a child’s paint-by-numbers. Everything was outlined in foreverlasting black. The circle was also outlined in black and then traced again in a racing line of blood red. The chisel-angled face of the Chief was executed in dour gradations of peach, lime-white and cerise with the ground of the wood floor wearing through in certain spots. The Chief remained in an always-turned-away pose so that moving from side to side you were never able to look him straight in the eye. Something about this was sad and yet the appearance remained satisfying like a quenched thirst from a squeezed and iced puckering citrus.

In my lifted spirits I noticed a basketball then. In the polish of the gymnasium floor its reflection could have been simply recited as “8”, or half a good luck clover, blossoming from the arc of the three-pointer-line. It was so curious that when I approached, it was in the heedfulness of riverwalking. And though a real athlete would have plucked it firm from the ground and slapped it palm to palm, in my fingertips I lifted gingerly as if it were not an athletic thing at all but more an ephemeral discovery.

Due to the ball’s utter lack of texture there was prudence in my handling and a dangling concern with which only a conservator or surgeon might use. Its surface was bald, toothless in my cradle and as I rotated the worn-away rubber in my hands even the discerning black lines describing its turns, they were not only missing their ebony inlay but could be barely felt by my sensitive touch. They were erased seamlessly like memory, I was holding a memoryless brain and I knew the slightest handling would burst it to nothing, and what would come out might be an energy in a golden powdery explosion I would not be able to recapture. I had strayed too far from my camera.

I let the ball fall then. I heard the explosion pitched as a breath above my head like the left over jubilant laughter of the children’s dodgeball. The ball leaped up opposite spinning and I lightly dragged it to stop in my fingertips. I spun the smooth of its skin in both my hands to make sure I hadn’t harmed it. And when I bounced the ball again I only did so hesitatingly and the delayed claps pressed off the glossy walls. I dropped it once more, and then again, until my convoluted and small sluggish victories transmogrified into a slow-motion dribble. It meandered me down center court where I began a galloping trot. I dribbled the ball best I could though my final two extra-long strides ended abruptly as, without too much grace, I took a shot at the opposing basket followed by a short side-hop. The ball domed through the lemon-lime gymnasium in a perfect rising line and, dipping as gracefully as an egret, it approached the backboard. But then it slumped too eagerly and to my disappointment slapped six-feet in front of the basket. The ball bounced up, grazed the bottom of the net and then bluntly nodded against the red foam padding.

Right then a mean, low-pitched grumble urged out from the school’s old box speakers and I jogged my way to the basketball. I plucked it from the floor and continued a quickened dribble until I was zeroed-in once again beneath the scrutiny of the basketball hoop. Here I turned and, with very professional-looking athleticism I hooked the ball around one-handed. The basketball skimmed tight the backboard and shot up fifteen-feet as I spun in the air. It continued straight back down as I landed on one foot and slipped on the highly polished floor. When I whipped square onto my back a noise that was not my own shot from the depths of my lungs and the ball, completely missing the basket, thumped my chest, bounced to the bleachers and then rolled a speedy double in the wax shine of the floor. On my back I followed the ball until it reached a definite rest then I panned my head upwards. Slowly all the florescent bulbs imbedded in the armature of heaven above rushed a wipe of lazy dizziness that sat me up in a panic. I had a moment where my blinding silenced everything to blankness, a simple skip of relief in the world. And when the room took form I found a line of first grade students straightening along-side the photography studio.

“May I take your order,” I said from the floor. Without hesitation I teetered up and stuttered across the gymnasium. At closer range the line stood a collective icy concern that only chilled by my panning them over. They chilled more as I reached the line and edged to the camera, leaned on its flat top and swiveled it from its lock.

“So, who’s getting a few pictures taken?” I asked and clapped my hands together. Then I nervously friction-warmed them as praying hands. Still there was not a word.

“Well, then—who’s not getting a picture taken,” I said but the vast silence welled up like the belly of a sea. And the intensity raised the tremolo of whiteness to that one sustained accordion note again.

“OK, then,” I tried, “Well, who’s going to take my picture?”
It was hard to hear her through the white static in my head as a young girl had cued out from the line and then slid back in and I had to ask once more.

“You’re taking the pictures,” she said, tucked behind the first boy in line and her almost pure white hair sprang back and forth in agile pigtail swings.

“Who said?” I asked and curled my wrists onto my hips; a pose I was surprised I had done but felt appropriate.

“I don’t know. You’re the photographer,” the white-haired girl replied. The young boy at the head of the line who was wearing a sky-blue suit jacket and had the exact remarkable white hair, quickly huddled back to the girl and squeezed a secret laugh into her ear. This sprouted a chain-reaction and the relief of laughter, small as it was, parted the dense troubled cloud into a cooing that warmed us all.

“Oh, right you are. I’m so very sorry. Step in to my office and let me have a look—Madam?” I reached out to take the young lady’s order card but she did not let go and I totted her small and weary march to the front of the line. After a small tug she finally did let go and I looked over the yellow card. Student: Lucinda Brighten, Package: Two with Wallets, Background Color: Robin’s Egg Blue.

“Please do sit and make yourself as much at home as you possibly can, Lucinda Brighten,” I said to her, “Except that there’s not much in the refrigerator, as you could imagine. Unless you like the kinds of foods that are blue and fuzzy.”

Once Lucinda seated herself on the box she was no longer smiling. I kneeled down in front of her so I could arrange her feet a little the right of the box. We were the same height but the smile did not come back and Lucinda’s eyes never blinked but smoothly followed me like glass marbles. I adjusted her flyaway bangs as if I were waving cigarette smoke from two thick red elastic bands and then secretly slipped the blue filter into the frame of the background lamp. Backtracking to the table I stamped her card 00000001 and within one motion rifled the card into the back of the camera. I leaned to viewfinder and framed the fountain of angel hair, pulled the focus sharp by her white blue marble eyes and lifted my head towards her.

“Let’s have a smile,” I said quietly as if her smoke of hair would start to erase her from the seat and vanish into the backdrop. I took one photograph and then another. Two was an example for the others, saying simply that this was how it worked. That it might be fun and magical. But in the double-folds of the afterimage it wasn’t so easy. And in my blinks the flash emitted such a rise that its sudden transparent visage was a fleeting foretaste of a cold plunge. But it did disappear. I hoped it would come back. Such emblems were no great calamities but I was adding them up, each small epiphany.

After the charge subsided, Lucinda stood. And when she did it was as if she had stepped outside for a breath of fresh air, she left the opposite side of the studio and exited the gymnasium. There was some slight element of joyness in her washed out diffidence. In the hallway their teacher who had just arrived a moment before was standing aloof reading a paperback novel. I recognized her from years before, her strait-cut hair wasn’t at all unpleasant but she always stood off and took the children when they were finished as if one more photograph would be too wasteful of her time. I made a note to not ask the teacher for her portrait. Lucinda smiled at her the very same way she had done in the photograph, forced into the memory of smiles. But it transformed the teacher. She bent down to Lucinda and her mouth softened while leading her across the hallway. Lucinda sat against the green tiled wall and the teacher, as if the smile never happened at all, went back to leaning and reading her paperback in the doorway.

The young boy wearing the sky blue suit jacket and who also had the same fine white hair jotted into the studio and sat down. I kneeled in front of him the same as I had done with Lucinda except I did so a little more stiffly. I studied the boy’s eyes with playful scrutiny and he reared back a dubious façade as I took the yellow card from his small damp hand; Student; Richard Brighten, Package; Two with Wallets, Background Color; Robin’s Egg Blue, same as Lucinda’s.

“I really don’t want to look immature,” the boy said. His statement was curt but unending, “I’ve seen a lot of portraits and that’s what I dread most of all.”

“Why, I’ve seen you smile before, Richard Brighten, and, heavens, you look the farthest thing from immature.”

“We’re twins. And I don’t look a bit like her,” he said pitiless.

“Well, Richard, she’s a lovely looking young lady and you do have the same extraordinary hair.”

“Richard Batman. I’d prefer you call me, Richard Batman,” the boy crossed his arms and tightly they forced up the sky blue suit jacket. Then he lowered his jaw to me. It seemed to ready me for the whistling tune that he then procured.

“Richard Batman,” I mused aloud. I rolled my head up into the white metal canisters and the greenish heaven lights whirled a little, “Yes, I like that—it has a certain—panache, to it. Don’t you agree?”

“I just don’t find it funny,” Richard had stopped his undecipherable whistle only long enough to say. The lowering of his jaw and then the dissident tune began right where he left off, a flutter known only to old men and sad cowboys. Or maybe young brooding superheroes, I thought and touched my breast pocket.

“It’s just a photograph, dear Batman,” I lowered my jaw at Richard the same way he had done to me, so that we understood a certain language though I did not attempt the lonely whistle. I did not have the heart.

“Richard Batman—And it’s more than that. Well, it’s nothing against you at all or anything like that. I actually like this. I have a friend who’s a photographer. I like her too. Well, she’s really my mother’s friend and I won’t call her by her name. The thing is, I just don’t see the funniness in the world.”

“Well, Mr. Batman—Richard Batman, would you mind if I try to make you smile?”

“I guess OK—as long as it makes me look natural. Our mother says we should look natural.”

“That is exactly what I’m here for. Lucinda and I, we just had a very good session a moment ago. And she did give us a lovely smile—very natural. So I’m certain we’ll make you look natural. As the trees and the fields are natural.”
“Well, not that serious,” Richard said. He rolled his small eyes which leaned him to the side a little too much, “More, human-like,” he said, “And I don’t want to look like a dumb old tree either.” The jaw went even lower that it had before. No whistle this time.

I turned briskly to the camera. My pursed lips that Richard’s comment gave me led me there. I pulled the focus sharp into the sun-skimmed wheat of Richard’s white eyelashes with my pointed lips. And he did look sadly mature, I thought. Somehow at seven the dark acorns of his eyes acquired too much. They were the same smooth moving eyes as Lucinda’s except that the weight they carried forlornly wavered his peanut shaped head buoyant. Richard’s eyes were indifferent in that they never expired their vastness and this in turn burdened his posture. He seemed dragged to the earth and I patted the dark camera in empathy. Then I noticed how the pretty blue fabric of the boy’s suit jacket lay flat and maybe a little too big for him. And leaning off the side of the camera I saw that his small plaid slacks were skinned white to one knee.

“Say pickles,” I said, lifting my head alongside the camera lens.

“That’s not at all funny,” Richard Batman said rising up slowly. His eyes raised slowly too and while tilting to the other side like a newborn calf he added, “Nope. Why don’t you say—” Richard paused here and squinted hard just one eye, “say, potato bugs. I think that’s funnier.”

“Ok then. Sit up nice and straight,” I asked politely and Richard brought himself to center from the tilt though he stiffened like a cold cat, “OK, Richard Batman, now, say—orangutan.”

The young boy’s smile grew ecstatic. Richard Brighton in the blue suit jacket, as if the pressure had fallen from his eyes and drained into his two little feet, appeared to grow an inch and a half.
From the camera flash a flat powder pulsed against the boy’s pale greenish skin and the repeat of the afterimage folded softly away like tissue paper. I took another photograph straightaway because it was all about trust and the second portrait always relaxed into a more natural pose. However in the quick stabbing light the studio appeared to rise. It stood up quickly, a smolder of shredded scrim that then quickly evaporated and, because there were no reasons left, I said, “All done—”

“Thank you very much,” Richard replied and after he stood from the sitting box he added, “You should use, “orangutan,” from now on. Because I love orangutans more than anything in the world. But if you want to use, “potato bugs,” that’s OK too. I won’t mind,” Richard straightened the lapel of his sky blue suit jacket by two violent tugs and pulled himself out the opposite side of the studio.

“Thank you,” I called after him, the dizzy of whitness resonating in my empty stomach, “I will take that into serious consideration—”

The teacher pried from her paperback and sat Richard Brighton against the wall next to his sister Lucinda Brighton. The two white heads were smoldering campfire clouds from the patina of the hallway tiles. Richard put his arm around Lucinda and pointed his forehead into her ear. He squeezed Lucinda hard and then scooted himself down the hallway in exactly four spots. He looked off as he did because it was his duty and it would always be. He understood this and I understood this by witnessing his very nonchalant engagement of whatever had been down the hallway and had squinted his eyes so much.
The next boy rushed in from the front of the line. As soon as he sat down on the box he shot off an overzealous, “Potato bugs,” and immediately whirled back to his classmates who gathered in the ecstasy of laughter.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mr. Jones and I: A Q&A between Cara Ober and Robert Sparrow Jones, as seen in Gutter Magazine.

Cara: Before you were a painter, you were a photographer. Do you still consider yourself a photographer? How did photography lead you to painting and how does it continue to affect what you create? How is 'thinking in photography' different than 'thinking in paint'?

RSJ: I wanted to be a film director. Growing up in a small rural area in Pennsylvania my introduction to art came through the movies. I connected with the common man finding himself in an extraordinary circumstance and by the work of Truffaut, Goddard, Hitchcock and Woody Allen, I began making short films with a super-eight-movie camera. (You can see a later movie "Silverman" on UTube still!) Narrative is essential to my painting, I am the son of an English teacher and my interest in books fueled my passion for storytelling. The rich velvety black and white mise-en-scène in film led me quickly to photography and prompted the purchase of my first 35mm camera. I had stumbled across "The Americans," by Robert Frank in our small library. It was a remarkable and haunting book of images I kept coming back to. Then I discovered Diane Arbus and Mary Ellen Mark. Vignettes of mysterious life are prevalent theme in my own painting. I tried to come close to something of a mixture between Frank and Arbus as I studied photography. Printmaking came naturally to me while I was into photography. The physicality of printmaking along with my propensity for expressive mark making took me to lithography. I was well out of school when I began painting but the results were immediate. The moment I made my first painting everything changed for me. I felt the summation of everything I loved about process and content come together in a new and transfixing way. This has never left me. Painting enigmatically embodied everything; storytelling, film and photography. I don't consider myself a photographer now, though eight years ago I may have when I had a small exhibit in the Northwest.

Cara: What is the deal with all your paintings of pretty ladies out in the landscape? Are these paintings fantasies or realities? Why are they usually outside? Who are these women?

RSJ: My narrative vision is a combination of many sources including, landscape, upbringing, faith, family and friends. As a boy I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and I was always outside. There is a definitive connection for me through nature. I daresay I find it spiritual. It's a feeling. A feeling comes to me and then a story. The paintings are built from there. I was lucky enough to grow up around strong, intelligent woman. My two sisters, who are around my same age, have very individual personalities and strong opinions. I also have a sensitive younger brother who is an artist. My best friend from my childhood had three older sisters who were somewhat wild and ambitions and used to baby-sit us all the time. My best friend from middle school to this day has seven younger sisters. To me the people who are in my pictures are strong willed, curious and embody that intellect by way of what I always think of as a distorted beauty. Beauty is an easy way into the painting. The "Prettiness" veils the dark mysteries that lay underneath. These paintings are not fantasy at all and inversely are convolutions of memory. I have become obsessed with memory and memory loss. Most these images are culled from childhood in one way or the other. And truthfully there are quite a few of my paintings with boys in them. It makes me think that they perhaps come across as less provocative but I am interested is the way that beauty of the image causes such a reaction.

Cara: You've had your work described in a number of publications and reviews, including your last show at Gallery Imperato being named 'Best Solo Show of 2007' by the Baltimore Citypaper. However, it seems like the reviewers always gets something wrong, either in their description of the work or in their analysis. If you could imagine the perfect explanation/description of your work -- what would it say?

RSJ: I like to think of my paintings as movies. And I also know how ridiculous that sounds. Painting has a different dimension that film. This just how I see them. Using heightened color weights the image into something other than reality. I am playing with memory and movement. I like to think this color engages just the right amount of tension, psychology and emotional indifference. Apparent everyday scenes are experienced through the expression of paint are invested with meaning beyond the ordinary. Each work implies a chance for magic and wonder in an otherwise mundane scene. A typical painting presents an iconic subject underlined with subtle open-ended questions. An appreciation of the painting can be based on the straightforward narrative image or evoke a more complex interpretation and response. And maybe that something about it will be subtlety urgent and retain its burn in the memory. They don't always do that but when I am making them I believe it is so.

Cara: Before you were known as Robert Sparrow Jones, you were simply known as Rob Jones. It's a pretty common sounding name, much improved and more memorable with the sparrow added. Where did this name come from? What is the significance of the sparrow?

RSJ: The native part of me is lost or forgotten with my childhood. As a young boy I was always sleeping out under the stars, exploring the woods and building treehouses. I read a lot of folklore. I was attracted to the way birds are used as symbols. While I was in Seattle I made a documentary on the resurgence of the Canoe Nations. Spending time with the many tribes as we traveled with them up the coast was awe-inspiring. I wanted a middle name that was related to my upbringing and my interests. Sparrow is a master of flight and camouflage. As an air totem, the sparrow speaks of higher thoughts and ideals. She beckons us to keep our burdens as light as we can in order to avoid a heavy heart. Birds continually come into my paintings. After leaving the Northwest, Sparrow embodied a rite of passage; not to be forgotten—two lives now.

Cara: For all of the years you have lived in Baltimore, until this one, you were a long-haired hippie, often sporting a zen-master bun on top of your head. How is life different now without the bun? Do you prefer short or long hair? Please discuss the pros and cons.

RSJ: It's funny you should say that. There was a reason behind my long hair, a story that is tangled and may involve murder. I never saw myself as the hippie type. I must admit though I am awfully green and have a working vegetable garden on my fire escape and compost and recycle everything. In short it was another spiritual thing. I have an uncle who is a priest and another who is a devout brother at the Vatican in Rome. I was always interested in religion, grew up Catholic but read about Buddhism and Native American spirituality. Right out of undergrad I spent some time in a monastery on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. I don't know how long I grew my hair, probably at least eight years, maybe even ten. I just felt I didn't need that bun anymore. And the moment I cut it all off, I felt a sense of lightness. I became more myself.

Cara: You attended the Hoffberger School of Painting at MICA to earn your MFA degree here in Baltimore. Do you have a favorite Grace Hartigan or MICA Grad School story?

RSJ: Grace and I got along straightaway. I was so interested her life. Grace can certainly tell a story or two and she has an impeccable eye for painting. Sometimes she would wheel into my studio and we would just talk about anything but painting. I helped her pack her library on Eastern Avenue. I remember the day Henry Cartier Bresson died I drove down to Fells' Point and rang her buzzer. Grace, as usual, tossed a sky-blue argyle sock from a third floor window. The sock fell to the pavement and I took the key from the sock. There was a puddle in front of the door and I had to jump to get inside. Grace's studio was becoming empty. I was packing her library into cardboard boxes. I labeled several boxes Ab-Ex and then five more Poetry. The day before we were talking about Frank O'Hara, she talked about him with such love. That morning she directed me to her bedroom to get something off her night table. There was stack of correspondence and she let me open a letter from Frank O'Hara. Then I saw a package marked "Utopia Parkway" and I gasped. She was delighted to bring out a small box and a story. In the box was a pennant made by Joseph Cornell, a heart with nails stuck into it. The next day she wore it to our Critiques. Grace and I got along well, although I think she was frustrated with me because I never answer the phone. I wish I could remember the gypsy song she sang to me once while watching a painting of mine.

Cara: You're leaving town! You got a full professor job somewhere far away. Other than the money and respect you are sure to earn, what are you looking forward to most? Where are you going to, anyway?

RSJ: I will be teaching painting at the foothills of the Appellation Mountains in the North of Georgia. A small private College surrounded by bucolic green fields but close to Athens and Atlanta. I am looking foreword to the possibility of creating new work, both painting and writing. I know this change of landscape and lifestyle will create new ideas. I also plan to work hard at spending my summers traveling and researching.

Cara: What will you miss most about Baltimore?

RSJ: All my friends. Baltimore is a wonderful conundrum. Baltimore is full of outstanding artists, filmmakers and writers. I will miss everyone. I am often quiet but I rely on them. I will miss Carma's Café, the dogwalkers, and beers at the Club Charles. My obsessive runs with my white boxer, Apple, up and down Stony Run, through Roland Park and behind Robert E Lee. My lonely Druid Hill Park runs in the dead of winter. The Signal on Fridays and espresso by the water on Sunday. Riding my old Schwinn through the city at 3AM. Baltimore, my Paris, my Tahiti, my wonderful and dear friends.

Cara: What do you think Baltimore will miss most about you?

RSJ: I don't know, my mysteries. And my miseries.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

At Fall's End, Part II (Part I Under Jan 2008)

It was five am and the alarm started off loudly though I had already been upright, speed-thinking with the reading light on. I went to reach for it and every visibility of the past day disappeared as I knocked a stack of books to the floor. They had been parted center story like seagulls in gliding flight but tumbled to the floor like rabbits down the hole.

In the mirror my skin looked transparent. Together the thin-clouded veins of my forearms drew a road map that was layered and unforgiving. These were the very roads of all my travels, interminably taking back to the very same beginning. A reincarnation, I thought, none the better and yet nonetheless.

I stood lean in the cool air imagining infallible intuition would take me to the unknown. My descent was endless as I fumbled through the small heatless rooms of the house, each room a velvety darkness and each room more uncertain than the next. Which did not usually feel bad. But that morning a hasty need pitted the depths of me. I really didn’t know what it was except that after I clicked on the hallway light the weak ambient bulbs hardly drew anything into focus. The lampshades midriff, the slender hips of the caned backed chair, the rocking hallway bureau with its carved inward slippers and then the turned spindles of the front stairs akimbo like adolescent legs of a hundred children waiting in line, I could not think about them nor was I about to ponder the sleepless dreams I wasn’t able to remember anyway. What I did need was to meticulously organize myself into one single unit:

One Oxford; plain white button down. As this shirt was less than brilliant, in relation to the earth tones of Uniform its humble cotton was dingy but passable. Many times it had occurred to me that a few drops of Clorox might stand us up a little but that wasn’t what a portrait photographer needed.

One Necktie; bluish with diagonal stripes of green-blue. Each stripe led a definitive downward graze to my left side, my feeling side, where there was one small clear grease stain. The oval stain was mostly unnoticeable and only really peeked out every once in a while due to my sometimes nervous tucking.

One Pair of Pants; tan straight fronts. They had good short pockets so nothing bundled down my legs and thus they made for better squatting. They fit a little longish in the heels, which allowed them to fray ever so slightly, melding me into the ground and swept up dust like sadness from the dull linoleum of school floors.

One Pair of Shoes; brown leather Timberlines. They were well worn and with three-years continual use, they flattened as they sat over night. Filling them each morning was a comfort however; their formfitting to my feet was simply the memory of warm milk.

One Sports Jacket; Humble and warm I dubbed it simply as “Uniform.” It was brown the color of the sparrow and its corduroy was in such fine ribs that from afar looked as soft as feathers. The encouragement I got from Uniform, besides its luck charm residing at the very bottom of its breast pocket, was that it had been a perfect fit. Uniform actually looked tailored, an earthen wrap snug around my shoulders with just the suggestion of peaking bones.

And last there was my Coffee Cup. Coffee Cup was a handmade ceramic coffee cup from my childhood. Though I don’t know where it had come from I knew it had been handcrafted. It was delicate and its thin index finger loop was a lady trigger. It’s artful chipping brim did not stop its travels with me during my every morning drives. And although the formaldehyde of coffee soured even after being scrubbed every morning its presence reassured me. Its warmth in my hand minded my survival as sometimes the only human touch. Its tinge of olive matched Uniform. Together our pallet noted harvest though provided a less formidable sense of expiration.

I was dressed and tunneled into the kitchen with a wedge of hallway light lead my own lurching shadow. I was following myself, allowing my shadow to take me somewhere and the leading movement drew me but nowhere. Where was I to go except to grab the kettle from the stove, run the tapwater on and snap the burner all the way up? In a moment there was the scissoring hiss from the swirl of heating element, my own cyclical routine I was reminded, my interminable everyday, I said out loud. The hundreds of dark and bitter coffee grains I scooped into the French press clouded my mind as the hot water muddied the glass into a storm river but filled the room with such surprising sweetness.

My eyes adjusted to the dim rooms, I opened the pocket doors to the front room, train-rumbling them into the old plaster walls. Their parting sifted a sandy light across the photographic equipment. It made me think that possibly these dusty discoveries were what brought them to life. The thought made me feel outside myself then and my stomach passed an apprehensive moment. I understood the stewing darkness that lay inside those boxes just as I knew the very hardwood they were constructed from and the tough lacquer paint of steel buff muffled that insecurity further still. Now they appeared hollow, held together by the silver corner jewels that made them resemble musical instrument cases. But neither woodwind nor brass would come to mind. Their dimensions were off, their shapes too obtuse. Instrumentation of this sort would be condescending, a too-stout sounding pit. But however wrong, I believed their sound would not be cacophonous but rather saccharine and sorrowful, a feral call. Animalia showed itself in their scuffs and gouges. Some marks like lashing grass illustrated a better light, they could have easily passed for having been placed in a windy meadow, energized by a predawn eminent glow. The cases also did not resemble luggage. They were too hulking, too over-built and physically too heavy. Nothing of real distance, nothing of any considerable length of stay save for that grassy appearance.

I stood between the Camera Box and Light Box and squat-lifted them both, stumbling to retrieve balance. I t was like lifting night and day, one in each hand. The left was my lighting equipment box. It was the longer box, two-feet by two-feet by four-feet and contained all of the lamps—the fill light, spot light, hair light and background light. To me it was funny to think that so much light could be generated from inside that dark old box. There was also other gaffing equipment tucked away inside, such as the thin aluminum stands for each light and the wires coiled up like snakes who guarded the two extra lamp bulbs I lovingly kept wrapped in blue tissue paper.

On my right was night, a solid square, two-feet by two-feet by two-feet and encased the solid black Z-2 medium-format camera with single barrel, one-hundred-and-eighty-millimeter lens. The Z-2 came complete with internal electronic winder and reels capable enough to withhold one hundred-feet of color bulk film. Although Camera Box was smaller, it was the heavier of the two by several pounds. That heaviness perhaps was due to its dull velvet appearance, a finish dryly absorbing all daylight.

I set the two boxes near the front stair landing, rattling of the bare-wood banister and went back for Army. Army was an actual United States Army duffle bag, circa WWII. Its worn-to-soft canvas of green-gray was stuffed to capacity but not to say seam-ripping, though one more item and I was certain it would explode into a million little pieces.

Army brought to mind the wealth-belly of a doctor’s house-call bag. A perfect sense of useful items it carried and its pregnant shape demanded patience. In volatile situations its equipment required a careful hand. Army held my collapsed heavy-duty metal tripod with locking casters and oil-filled head. There were various wires hurried inside were like the guts of a hindered man; the very thin and sinuous shutter release cable and the extra-long orange extension cord. A small box containing, “One Hundred Unbreakable Black Combs,” was stuffed inside and when opened looked a horrifying million of caterpillars, sliding over one another without care. It was my duty to tame one Unbreakable Black Comb across any bed-head or post-gym-class-head and then discard it due to head lice. I was not allowed to give them away to students anymore and they scattered on the floor near my worktable until I could collect them into the waste.

There were other things in Army that were essential like my ballpoint pens, slate tablets and self-inking numbering stamper. These items had no particular place and so they roamed free and I often lost the pens. I was constantly replenishing my pen stock. One extra canister containing the eternal ribbon of four-hundred speed bulk film was always somewhere near the bottom, sinisterly sealed with black electrical tape. But nothing was of such consequence as my trusted Minolta light meter, which resided always cupped to the nose of Army. My trusty Minolta light meter. To measure light. To collect infinity. An abundant dilemma depending so desperately on where the studio was to be erected. I was really sure where set-up would be. It would often be the same year to year like on a stage floor and suddenly change to say the janitors closet that very morning. So measuring the light was essential. An ethereal involvement where you had to think inside the camera and in that darkness, by way of glass and speed of the sliding shutter, the sour smelling film waited for its quick burn, a solution of curt popping flash and slanting sunlight through a narrow school hallway and the complacent faces of the children connected in a steady stream.

I stood a second and curled up a tiny hole with my thumb and index finger. I brought that opening close to my eye, closed it down as far as possible—a very small opening in the world to let light in. Any smaller of a hole and it would be utter darkness. Which brought me to “Houdini.” Houdini was the neatly folded into itself, magic-black film changing bag. Houdini would make its appearance in the worst possible situations. Those disastrous days of running out of film would produce the snapping out of Houdini flat on the dusty stage floor. Into a dark and stout footprint of a cathedral with its apse, nave and transcripts, its unfurling always released the crunching confusion that mounted a row of concerned brows. In that moment my arms would vanish inside the elastic light-safe armholes and a harrowing wrestle of Jacob and the angel would ensue. And despite my always assuring composure the catastrophe showed itself as awfully desperate and so all costs I avoided this dilemma. I kept a keen eye on the counter at the back of the camera and made sure to change stock at the beginning or at the end of the shooting day if it was low.

Outside in the dewy yard I set Army on top of all of the boxes inside the trunk and went back inside for Bazooka, my background screen. Bazooka was a single dart of white PVC tube, five-inches in diameter, four-feet in length with a screw-top. This tube encapsulated the noncommittal backdrop I had engineered from a high-school sixteen-millimeter movie projection screen I had found at a surplus store. But it was when I leaned around the doorframe to grab it from its usual place that something happened. When I placed my hand on the leather handle there suddenly arced a solid white in my tired eyes and, electrified, the passing froze me quite solidly. I looked up again and it was gone. I then realized it came from a framed photograph hanging on the wall, a reflection of the kitchen light. When I leaned back and made the flash charge again the silver tablet of my mind was refracted and I recalled the day that photograph was taken in vivid detail.

The school portrait season had just begun then. I remembered because I had just gotten a haircut and the roar of the wind was clear around my ears, open and metallic. There was an overwhelming scent of disturbed tomato vine. The thought of it then produced a breath so deep it was the wanting of an easy drink of rainwater. The photograph was of this very backyard, a mowing cleared away from the house and hedged by tall field of corn. The raw form against the tidy keepsake produced a sunken intrigue to the landscape. I was squinting at it and then pulled it off its tiny nail, turned it into the charging lamp blindness.

In the yard that day I pulled open the screen and sailed its glitter white across the corner of the vegetable garden. I recalled watching it shake and lock in the wind. The old house, set back deep in the picture plane is luminous with the long exposure. Dancing slightly the neatly trimmed lilacs darken a frame of the photograph but the screen in the lower third holds the composition. Its fervor is a blurred motion, a white burn I could feel as a ghost encapsulated in the thin emulsion. My quick jaunt to the house was as fleeting as the late summer poppies I could just barely see peeking out of the front lawn near the very upper left of the photograph. My young ideal misconceptions as I twisted my thirty-five-millimeter camera onto a tripod and a continuation of that desire as I firmed its legs into the tomatoes red-ripe and rot. My own legs dug deep and sure. It was then near dusk but the though of the shortening days were not encumbering. The light was still good and I took just one exposure.

Afterwards I sunk into the damp basement and found three old cans of house paint. With a three-inch sash brush, set in a soup can of turpentine, I spread a brooding gray of blues mixed with sea-storm green, much like the sky was that day. I remember the satisfaction of the finished painting and watching autumn shake that backdrop as it was engulfed within the mantis the very tail end of summer waned. There was a pining in my stomach. Everything was an easy and brilliant creation. Just expression it seemed, there was no thinking there was nothing else.

In the front room, after a time, I set the photograph back on its thin brad. I rumpled the doors closed and they shut like gates taking in my long exposure. I realized it was the last photograph I had printed and that was several years ago. I thought hard and lifted Bazooka onto my shoulder. I would not forget.

I thought about that portrait all the way to the Edgewater School. Wanting for some bark, some guttural yearning from a deep inside me, but the slippery movement was just a pinhole I could not seem to siphon anything through.

Seventy-miles of silence wavering between the lucid to the formidable as the banking roads loosened up to the rich blues and dark cool grays that slowly constituted a morning soon to be sun-filled. Chisel woods crossed the rolling hills and took on a remarkable phrasing of Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool. I whistled through my front teeth arranging as closely as I could to this pass of emerging landscape, conducted in pitch to the high drone of Red Jetta’s engine, the slit of an unclosed rear window and the clicking time of a front bushing in need of repair. My throttled notes addressed a blue stonewall shattering passed as I imagined the trumpeter’s breath my own, eschewing a harmonic and rhythmic complexity. The cool tonal pallet easily worked its way into the farmland that preyed close to the window and then departed like the sea. In my forward velocity I sometimes stumbled my solo but imagined in languid lines and purposeful, as a tribute to the maestro. The soundtrack was linked to the luminous screen in the photograph I had forgotten. Somehow it was also connected to the starkly painted fence that, built too close to the road, whittled before a whitewashed farmhouse like a lath.

I skirted that farmhouse and its neatly trimmed lawn brought me to the tenor lines of Gerry Mulligan. Because this is where movement and visual composition took an abrupt depth as the farm broke away to the far mark of outbuildings. From muddling darkness the buildings were glowing alabaster headstones making my ensemble darkly paused as well. Here a remarkably large sugar maple interrupted the sky. The field, having just been harvested, gave its shadow a soft embrace. And tethered to the heavy ballast of angled armed branches were a gaggle of sheet-tied ghosts. The wind shifted the gregarious crowd towards each other like a shake of salt. All were harnessed by their stuffed suffering heads and their crude painted-on smiles gave them menace. Yet their fraternizing was such an enticing situation; their wild swinging suggested a cocktail party that had gone through the night.

The sun was just rising then and when I looked ahead the road teed-off in front of me at an old stone wall. I slowed down quickly and the Miles score faded from my teeth. It was in that abrupt winding down into silence that I encountered the most surprising illusion. A vivid box of yellow lit up above the stone wall. It appeared to hover there in the rich dried blackberry buttresses the stone wall held back. The surfaces of pollen-bright leaves and the stiff dried arches within the box were so buttery I sat mesmerized for a moment. It was hard to take my eyes from it but when I turned around I found the sun was rising directly through an old rotting grain barn. The building’s grey boards were so concave it was to the point of pure abstracted sculpture. It’s natural slumping made a perfect valley where I imagined handfuls of barn swallows dipped to its center, followed the curve of dilapidation sharply up to leap from the high-head window where the sunlight beamed through.
As if it could not get any more sensational I turned back and looked at the hovering box. In the slight wind the dried leaves shook with an explosive energy and then wiped their brilliant hue into cream. Then an old yellow school bus crossed through this blissful illusion and the floating box laid its fiery patch directly, if not precisely, into each halved bus window. And every child looked down at me in Red Jetta as if projected from the lens of the collapsed grain barn. The angelic filmstrip hovered as autumn squeezed into bullion of not only the brilliant dying leaves and the stiff blackberry thistle but also the listing young faces, clear-eyed, intrinsic and in utter silence.

When there was an abrupt grinding of the gearbox followed by a sighing hiss the bus was gone but left in its hulking wake the sweet butter of feverous levitation and an intangible sense of change. It said something gracious and earthy was to come and linger.