I’m Your Mother GPS

I had to take a trip to an obscure section of downtown Orlando the other day and decided to download a GPS app before leaving.  I’d been avoiding using that travel guide as I’d found it annoying when riding with other drivers.  The monotone repeating commands and reminders seemed too controlling and insistent.

I skimmed through a few options and found one entitled, “Mom”.  It came in three levels.  I had no idea what each level offered, so I chose #1.

I backed down my driveway, and a sweet low voice hesitantly spoke:  “Oh dear, did you leave the stove on?”  I ignored it, checked my rear view mirror and backed out onto the road.  “Please pull over and clean the windshield before we go any further,” Mom asked kindly.  I pulled back on the windshield wiper lever, and cleaner fluid shot onto the windshield.  My wipers are getting a bit ragged, so a few streaks marred my vision when I turned east and faced the sun.  The GPS sighed quietly..

“Turn right,” she told me when we reached the stop sign.  “And watch out for that hooligan driving that yard service truck!  Why don’t we wait and let him go ahead of us?”  I had plenty of time to pull out before the driver cleared a speed bump with his trailer, so I edged forward.  Mom sighed again and said in a slightly discordant singsong, “You’ll seeeee.”

Yard guy sped over the bump, trailer nearly went air borne, and I had to stomp on the gas pedal to avoid a collision.  Yard service guy leaned on his horn and tailgated me all the way through the neighborhood.  Mom said nothing when we reached the intersection of Eastbrook and Aloma.  The green light gave me a chance to accelerate through the turn and leave my antagonist behind (he couldn’t manage to stay glued to my bumper without jack-knifing his trailer).

I kept up my speed for a few blocks and took another turn to make sure that I’d lost the yard service road-rager.  The silence remained deafening until I turned onto Howell Branch Rd.  Mom muttered, “Now I don’t have the slightest clue why you’re taking this road.  You’ve got me all turned around.”

I pulled in at the Casselberry Commons shopping center and found a parking space.  I went to the app page and found the “DELETE” command. But every time I tapped the button, the phone harrumphed indignantly and refused to comply. Mom said, “You can’t get rid of me that easily, young man.”

I turned off the phone, tossed it onto the passenger’s seat beside me, and resumed my trip.  I heard an odd noise when I turned left onto 17/92 in Maitland.  I glanced to my right and saw that the phone had somehow turned on.  The screen glowed hot pink.  I picked it up when I came to a stop at the next light and saw the GPS app had switched on to level 2.

Mom said, “Well, I’m back…Aren’t you going to say something?  You know that you’re just like your father…Why are you turning onto Lee Road?  You’re not going to take Orange Blossom Trail downtown, are you?  I bet you are.  I can tell by the squirmy look on your face.  You can’t fool me.  I’ve told you again and again that there’s nothing on OBT but hookers, drugs, strip joints and porno shops.  You’re going to turn right around and go through Winter Park on 17/92.  When we reach Colonial, you’ll take a right, go a mile west and take a left on Orange Avenue.  Well, do it.”

I turned onto OBT and headed south.  The phone turned a deeper, more fiery shade of pink.

“You never listen to me, do you?  Professor Bigshot, used to ordering people around, can’t take simple instructions from someone who knows better, who knows what’s best for him.  Maybe if I’d been around you’d still be married to Rhonda.  Such a lovely girl, and you just cast her aside like last week’s garbage.  You thought I didn’t know about her, didn’t you?  You should see the dumb look on your face.”

“But how?” I faltered.

“You agreed to unlock personal data when you signed the user agreement for my app.  I can look all over the internet and find out about you.  That picture today on Facebook looks embarrassing.  Were you drunk when it was taken?  And that girl you’re with looks like a little chippy.  Is she after your money, what little there is?”

“She’s nice,” I insisted.

“I like Rhonda better.  She looks like a good girl, and you married her in a Catholic church.  You’re still married to her in the eyes of God even if you think that a silly piece of paper gives you the right to cheat on her with loose women.”

“She cheated on me!” I shouted.

“Don’t raise your voice to me, young man!  And keep your eyes on the road.  There’s a porn shop on the right.  Eyes front!”

I drove past and didn’t look at the female dummy in the window display.  I didn’t notice that it’s nipples were painted bright red and that it sported a spiked black and white striped teddy with a lacy black fringe.  I focused instead on the road straight ahead.

I crossed Colonial and kept going south.  Parliament House appeared on the right.  The phone turned hot orange.

“Are you one of them?” she hissed.  “Is that why you flit from one relationship to another?  You’re looking for a woman to satisfy you when all you really want is a man?  Is that it?  Your father must be spinning in his grave!”

“I’ve never been to the Parliament House.  I’m not gay, and my father is still alive,” I said.

I parked at a meter further down the block, picked up the phone and tried to pry the battery cover off.  A sudden electric shock made me drop the phone.  I sucked on my fingers and listened to the phone screech at me.  The screen turned red.

I took an envelope out of my shirt pocket, gingerly wrapped it around the phone and tossed it into the glove compartment.  I got a second shock, but the insulation took some of the sting away.  Muffled shrieks and curses came from the compartment as I continued on, so I popped a Led Zeppelin cd into the player and jacked up the volume.

I pulled into the parking lot of a run down motel (daily and weekly rates) and got out.  GPS Mom howled long and loud.  I opened the trunk, retrieved a bag of groceries and walked to a unit on the ground floor.  Patty, a woman I had met at church, opened the door and let me in.  I handed her the groceries, and she made me a cup of coffee.  We sat and chatted about the new pastor, the ongoing feud in the finance committee, and the recent memorial service for a woman who had died two days after turning 94.  Patty thanked me once again, and I returned to the car.

I saw smoke coming from the glove compartment.  I tore off my t-shirt, wrapped it around my hand and pulled the door open.  My registration and insurance cards had caught fire.  The phone glowed bright red.  I grabbed a water bottle out of the compartment in the console between the seats, sprayed it onto the flames and got the phone wet.  I heard a smothered scream and a gurgling rattle, and the screen went blank.

I tossed the phone onto the sidewalk once it had cooled down.  The screen shattered, but I ground my heel onto it to make sure it was dead.  I should have buried it.

I got lost a few times on the way back but attributed my mistakes to a mind sorely disturbed by the events of the day.  I didn’t need a GPS program to get around.  I really didn’t.

Two days of blessed peace followed.  I went out and bought an old fashioned flip phone, ran a few errands, read a book and avoided the internet.  On the third morning I heard a timid knock on my front door.  “Girl scouts?” I wondered.

I opened the door and saw a man wearing a dirty shirt, torn pants and battered boots. The left one was missing its heel.  He held something behind his back.  A rusty bicycle lay on its side near the edge of my bed of plumbagos.

“Umm, Mister, I’m sorry to bother you, but I have to return something that belongs to you.”

I took a step back and partially closed the door.

“I’m sorry mister,” the bum continued.  “I picked up your phone on the sidewalk near where I live, and it started talking to me.  It told me your address and kept ordering me to bring it to you.  It told me a lot of other things about you, and I tried not to listen…None of my business.   I would have left it on the sidewalk but it wouldn’t let me be.  And I couldn’t make it shut up until I promised to return it.  I’m sorry mister, but this is yours.”

He slowly swung one hand forward. It held my phone. The screen was shattered, but the remaining splinters had turned purplish black. Red, broken letters suddenly lit up among the dark shards, and I read, “Level 3”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Feet Hurt

DSC_0473 (2)Quantum Cubist Self-Portrait, graphite, 12×9″

Woke up at 5 for reasons unknown and watched a grainy black and white youtube video of the 1952 Yankees/Brooklyn Dodgers World Series.  Jackie Robinson played second base for the Dodgers and Roy Campanella played catcher.  Young Mickey Mantle led the Yankees to victory.  The batters swatted at pitches with wide, flat swings.  Baggy uniforms billowed and made the athletes seem slow of foot and wide of ass.

Drifted off, woke to my alarm at 7:30 feeling much groggier than I had at 5.  Stumbled through making breakfast, cooking lunch to leave behind for Judy, and packing an apple and a sandwich to take along.  Felt rushed and slightly hassled as I drove to work but arrived five minutes before the doors automatically unlocked at Valencia Building 3.

The classroom was only partially wrecked from the last class and the Friday clean up crew, so it took just ten minutes to move easels and chairs into position.  Set out three models of human skulls on upright wooden boxes for my Drawing I class.  Arranged a complex still life (a skeleton, fabric, bricks, boots, cow femurs, an angel statue, and a lamp shaped like a horse’s head) on the gray stage for my Drawing II students.

2/3 of the students showed up on time.  Did a brief intro for Drawing I and then switched to Drawing II.  I showed them Picasso’s early cubist paintings, had the students draw 9×12″ boxes and divide them into 8 sections using curving lines.  Told them to draw chunks of the still life in each area.  The kicker was this:  each time they drew another section they had to move to another position.  Cubism=multiple viewpoints rammed together into one shifting, churning space.

DSC_0471 (2)Cubist Still Life, graphite, 8×6″

Drawing I drew skulls and learned portrait proportions.  Then they drew me and themselves, and after lunch they paired up and drew each other.  Usual mistakes:  eyes drawn too large, faces elongated, heads turned into bowling balls with facial features attached haphazardly, noses shortened and shrunk to Michael Jackson proportions, necks too spindly to hold up a head, mouths too small and narrow to chew a hamburger, brains shrunk to subhuman proportions, facial proportions of the drawer transplanted onto drawings of other people.  Students struggled for a while, but improved.  A poor student surprised me by drawing an accurate portrait of another student after having butchered my face.

 

Gave my usual speech about proper etiquette when a model is present (our first model comes next week).  Told them not to make remarks or jokes about the model, not to touch the model, not to fraternize (the model is not a future date), not to photograph the model, and in short, to treat the model with respect.  These rules are based on bad behavior by previous students.  I concluded: “If you have an issue following these rules, then I will have an issue with you, and then I will issue you out the door.”

Two students stayed after.  One wanted to show me her latest work in computer graphics.  I gave her a few color theory tips.  The other wanted to convert me into becoming a computer artist.  Told him that I like the tactile experience of working with my hands, of making things out of physical materials.

He persisted, so I trotted out my standard and most effective argument.  I asked him, “Would you rather make love to a woman or look at porn?”  He stammered and said, “I’ll have to think about that.”  Discussion ended.

Put away wooden boxes, still life props and skulls; arranged easels in a circle around the room; erased the blackboard, locked the closet, turned off the spotlights.  The weekend cleaning crew came in while I packed my bag, and I told them that the paper towels were out in both dispensers.

Trudged through the building and met two students in the lobby.  We cringed greetings to each other sharing the hope that neither student or professor would feel obliged to start a conversation.

The day had turned hot and muggy while I worked inside, and the walk to the car seemed long.  My teaching adrenaline faded away, and the effects of walking on concrete floors became apparent: my knees felt numb and my feet hurt.

 

Ode To The Garbage Man Who Bashed The Handles Off My Can

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I weeded and picked up my yard this morning and filled one and a half cans.  I pulled them to the curb and recalled that someone had dropped a Chick Filet cup on top my yard waste the week before.  Inspiration struck, and I felt moved to compose a poem dedicated to special moments in my personal garbage history.  I apologize in advance.

 

 

Ode To The Garbage Man Who Bashed The Handles Off My Can

I admit that I jammed

the bags too tight in the one we could afford,

and the garbage man with sinewy might

lifted can and bashed it ‘gainst

edge of loading bin.

He waved his arms with savage delight after handles parted base

and lifted plastic scraps up as

if for heaven’s praise.

And he the sweating, raging prole transfigured:

an avenging seraphim.

 

And now his judgment plagues me still when by curb I place

my garbage can on weekly dawns

with handle not replaced.

Dog walkers scoop scatterings left in chihuahuas’ trace

and blithely drop the steaming bags unto my wounded bin.

The trashmen do not lift the can–no handles afford them grip–

but pull forth bags stacked neatly to the lip. 

But they deign not touch the excrement,

and on the bottom it festers and ferments.

 

The curse has spread to yard waste bins still with worthy form:

the careless toss their Styrofoam cups on top of grass and fern.

They brazenly flaunt collection norms

and ponder not the price to be paid

 for the wanton mix of natural and manmade

rotting on foulsome landfill berms.

Oh that the angel of vengeful scorn 

would descend upon them with fiery sword 

and usher miscreant garbage sluts 

to a malodorous final reward.

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The Wine Lady

1994

I saw a woman on a sidewalk near the gallery at Crealde School of Art.  She reigned over a court of listeners, and a fellow Crealde teacher stood in the crowd.  I joined my colleague and soon realized that the lady holding forth was drunk and perhaps crazy.  She slurred her words as she ranted on about a sculptor who had molested her in his studio.  I didn’t doubt her story but wondered why she felt compelled to share it with a group of random strangers.  I began to edge away, but my colleague grabbed my arm, held on tight and said, “You’re not going anywhere.”  If she was trapped listening to the wine lady, then I was trapped too.

I didn’t know that the woman was a regular at art openings all over Orlando, but soon encountered her several times.  She usually held a plastic cup of red as she retold her story.  She had been an art student, and apprentice of sorts, an innocent young woman raped by a sculptor who had volunteered to be her mentor.  She fled, quit art school, and returned home.  Now she felt compelled to attend art events, to drink until she achieved a sloppy state of semi-coherence, and thence to recite the events leading to her downfall.

 

1999

I joined an artist’s co-op, and we held open houses once or twice a year.  I got to observe a lot of odd behavior in the art crowd in Orlando.  Some folks would come for the wine and hors d’oeuvres and set up private parties in the less frequented corners of our studio warehouse.  Some folks came view to what they considered to be a freak show.  They’d sneer at the artwork and make snickering jokes that questioned the sanity and talent of the exhibiting artists.  Everyone appeared to have an expert opinion regardless of their actual experience working in visual arts.

The wine lady showed up one night and stood in the doorway of my studio.  She had  already lost the ability to keep her internal monologue private.  She scanned me and said, “Well, he’s pretty good looking but putting on a little weight.  I wonder if he likes his wine too much.”

I greeted her to interrupt her appraisal, and she wandered over to my refreshment table.  My 14 year old daughter came in to say hello, and the wine lady targeted her.  She began to warn Annie that men were animals.  And then the wine lady started to launch her standard tale of woe.  I cut her off with a few sharp words and told my daughter to go find her mother.

A few years later I saw the woman walking along Aloma Avenue in Winter Park.  She marched at a brisk pace, gestured with her arms, and argued loudly with phantoms.

Several years passed.  My life grew complicated and more difficult and I attended fewer and fewer openings.  I moved my studio home to escape the drama I found whenever I joined artist groups.  I associated with other artists less frequently.  I had grown tired of the collective jealousy, political maneuvering, and madness.

I recently decided to give the art world another chance and went to an opening at Crealde.  I spotted the wine lady hovering near the refreshment table.  I felt surprised that she was still alive.  I listened to her story once more and didn’t dodge off to another room.   I nodded along to her familiar rant, and the intervening years seemed to peel away.

I felt more sympathy for her.  It doesn’t take much to derail a life, and I respected her ability to survive.  And I admired her persistence.  It takes a lot of stamina to hold onto a grudge for a couple decades and to persistently retell a sad tale of trauma.  I doubt that I could manage that.

Perhaps the wine lady is a latter day, wine-soaked Jonah preaching the evils of the male gender.  Who am I to judge her judgments?

 

 

Back Story

A friend of mine, a color field abstractionist who never made it to the big show, painted large canvases of pastels and off-whites.  He sold them to interior decorators who placed them in bank lobbies and board rooms.  He made a living, but his one show in New York flopped.

One day he invited me over to look at some new work.  I stifled a yawn as he rambled on about his “latest breakthrough”, but he rewarded my patience by pouring two tumblers of whiskey.  We lit up cigars and retired to his back porch, and he told me a nugget of art world wisdom:  “People don’t buy paintings.  They buy souvenirs of an artist’s back story.”

I didn’t know what he meant, but he explained.  (He always explained.)  “Van Gogh couldn’t draw and his early compositions and colors are crap.  But then he lops off an ear and tries to give it to a whore to prove how much he loves her.  Ends up in an asylum, shoots himself a few years later.  Folks start buying his paintings.  Wouldn’t touch them while he lived and breathed, but once the back story got out, he became a tragic genius.  Everybody wanted a piece of that.”

I asked him to name a few more examples.  “Dali shows up at a party wearing a diving suit, the ones with the weights and the bell shaped helmets.  He’s walking around with an oxygen tank on his back and nearly dies when a valve fails.  He’s sucking up all the air left inside the helmet and can’t get the damned thing off.  Great publicity.  Stole his wife away from a French poet and got kicked out of the Surrealists for making paintings about Hitler–or rather, his erotic dreams about Hitler.  He turned his life into a circus and sold off the posters.”

He went on.  (He always does.)  “Georg Grosz said that he and his buddies were like barkers at a carnival.  Come see the freak show.  And the rich ones lined up and paid admission.”

“But he paid a price, didn’t he?  Didn’t the Nazis chase him out of Germany?”

“So what?  When you put yourself on the market you have to expect some feedback from the public,” he drawled.

“You’re a real jerk,” I declared.

He sipped his whiskey, winced, and ran fingers through his thinning hair.  “And you’re naïve,” he countered.  He probed:  “So what’s your story?  Middle class background, white boy from the Cincinnati suburbs.  Married happily and had a couple kids.  Boring.  Wait a minute.  Didn’t you grow up Catholic?”

“Yeah,” I said warily.

“Any problems in the priest department?” he asked.

“Nope.  Didn’t happen to me and I never met any victims,” I said.

“Too bad.  Better start making something up.”

“What’s your deal?  I barely know anything about you,” I said.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?  I was born in Venice near St. Marks.  My mother was a part time model and a part time hooker, and my father was Titian’s fourth cousin ten times removed.  I stowed away on a tramp steamer when I was 12 and hid with the rats in the hold.  I nearly starved in New York until I fell in with the mob.  I ran numbers for them and shook down mom-and-pops when I got old enough to look dangerous. Squiggy the Mooch sent me to art school after he saw a sketch I made of a dead body.  Said I drew the puddle of blood real good.  Met Franz Kline, fought Jackson Pollock in a bar, and screwed Elaine De Kooning (everybody screwed Elaine De Kooning).   She introduced me to Peggy Guggenheim, and the rest is history.”

“Didn’t you tell me that you’re from Milwaukee?  Your dad worked in a brewery, and your mom was a seamstress.”

“Back story, boy, back story.”

He took a long drag on his cigar and let out a long stream of smoke.

Mantis, My Love (help me!)

 

 

 

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My love is missing. Or perhaps not.  Or perhaps not in a permanent way.  I see her in the garden walking among the flowering trees, the elephant ears and ferns.  She stops to look at butterflies and listen to the cry of a red shouldered hawk.  A zephyr catches a wisp of her hair, and a delicate tendril dances on the breeze.

But then the sun peeps out from behind a cloud, a ray of light strikes her, and she’s gone.  Another creature stands in her place.  It looks like a woman but has the eyes of a praying mantis.

These unnatural transformations have occurred at irregular intervals since the middle of last week, and I’ve discovered, to my horror, that I harbor an attraction to the creature that is equal to my ardor for my love.  I am forced to recall my spotty record in affairs of love–I’m prone to disaster when choosing mates. One woman, who nearly drove me mad, made impossible, escalating demands, and another cheated on me after we became engaged. Either one would have shortened my life if we had married, but only time gave me enough clarity to be grateful for my narrow escapes.

Mantis stands before me and holds an appendage near its mouth with a claw bent downward.  I feel a perverse urge to move near to kiss it’s chitinous mouth. It has the same shape as my lover’s lips if not their tenderness. Some instinct for survival holds me back.

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My love is a biologist who studies the movement of plant leaves.  But she’s always shown an obsessive interest in insects, and is a fan of the Star Trek series.  What if she combined her side interests and conducted experiments in insecto-human teletransportation?  What if she got caught in a phased loop and crosses between dimensions?  She takes the form of a woman in one and morphs into the hybrid creature in the other…

I flirt with death by decapitation every time the hypnotic reflections in Mantis‘ eyes bid me draw near.  I feel the pull of my attraction to it, resist the effects of its pheromones, and try to stagger away.  Some female insects devour male consorts directly after romantic encounters.

I feel like David Hedison in the final scene of the movie, “The Fly”.  He’s shrunk to the size of a housefly.  He gets caught in a web strung between two plants in a back yard garden and cries, “Help me!  Help me!” as a spider crawls ever nearer.

 

 

The Shirley Temple Effect

godzilla

My Dad looked and sounded tough.  Kids in the neighborhood stayed away from our house after he came home from work.  They knew that tempting his wrath was like pulling Godzilla’s tail.

Dad’s dark looks and growly demeanor scared me too, but not as much as they scared my compatriots.  I had an advantage.  I had carefully studied Dad as he watched Shirley Temple movies.

Shirley was a kid star in the thirties.  She had an adorable round face, curly hair, could sing and dance, sided with orphans and disabled children, and thawed the hearts of crusty old men.  You didn’t want to be cast as her birth mother as your part would last about thirty seconds.  (Your character might have good intentions, but rushing down the street to get a cake to your kid’s birthday party could get you run over by a speeding Studebaker.)  Miss Temple would wander the movie world as a homeless child until an arguing couple or a misanthropic hermit adopted her.  She would instill warmth and humanity in her new household and gradually coax her caretakers to take on more positive outlooks.  She achieved miracles and changed hearts with thoughtful gestures and chipper song and dance routines.  She relentlessly delivered the message that life is worth living if you make up your mind to greet each day with a smile.

But the sunny times only lasted so long.  A misguided social worker sporting thickly-rimmed glasses and spinster clothes would steal her away, or a cruel governess would lock her in a cold garret and deprive her of necessities.  These slashes in the tapestry of bliss usually occurred somewhere near the end of the second act.  Shirley would cry out in tears as she was torn from the arms of a loved one: “Grandfather!  Grandfather!” or “Captain, don’t let them take me away!  Please Captain!  Please!”

My father knew that Shirley would find a way in the third act to return to her improvised family.  But he would start shaking at the shoulders during the traumatic scenes.  He lowered his head, sniffled just a bit, and then retreated to the bathroom.  He returned just in time to witness Shirley put a clever plan into action.  He sat back and relaxed as Shirley rejoined Captain January or her Grandfather or her M.I.A. father in the last scene.  Folks would burst into song as the little mop-top led everyone in a tap dance extravaganza down main street to celebrate yet another happy ending!

Dad’s mouth would twitch in a flicker of a smile as the camera zoomed in on Shirley Temple’s twinkling eyes.  America’s sweetheart had ventured forward in time to win yet another victory, and Dad had given himself away.

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