The Instructor

Once upon a time there was a drawing student named Henry.  He worked at Disney and believed in Jesus.  He drew Bibles, crosses and mouse ears when given the chance, and he hated the instructor.  He knew, just knew that the man had no faith in Christ or Walt Disney.  And the instructor frowned every time Henry brought out his pictures of his lovely wife and two darling children.  Didn’t he like children?  Or didn’t he believe that Henry was their father?  Why couldn’t he be the father?  He had the right equipment and knew how to use it.  The instructor didn’t care that Henry did his absolute best, had put his past permanently behind him.  Jesus saved him, and then he found Lisa, and now he was happy.  Really, really happy…What did the instructor know about anything but drawing bottles and boxes?  He could talk all day about perspective, but did he have any?  Did he understand true suffering, the suffering of Jesus for mankind, the suffering of mankind trying to be like Jesus no matter how much it hurt?  That smug bastard was the king of his classroom, but not King of the Universe.  Henry wanted to be there when God gave the instructor his Final Grade.

Helen sat next to Henry.  She hated the instructor too, but wasn’t sure why until Henry told her that the instructor was arrogant.  Helen hated arrogant men, and this teacher (He wasn’t a real professor, was he?) was dirty minded too.  The instructor had asked her if Robert bothered her and didn’t believe it when she told him that she liked Robert.  Robert was funny.  The instructor said, “I saw you bend over to pick up your back pack off the floor, and Robert bent over your back, hugged you from behind, and whispered in your ear, ‘See you next Tuesday.’  You’re okay with that?”  Helen was fine with that.  Robert just kidded around, and she hadn’t felt anything sexual.  The hug had been funny and nice, and she didn’t care whether Robert had pressed up against her butt and his hands accidentally grazed her…The instructor was the real pervert imagining filth when grown people were just having a bit of fun, horsing around.  She wasn’t a weak woman like her mother who let men do what they wanted and pretended to like it.  Helen could take care of herself better than some fake professor who saw harassment in one harmless little hug.  Arrogant bastard.

Robert sat two easels away from Helen, but he’d already decided that she wasn’t the one for him.  Too old and lean.  Stringy blond hair.  There were several girls in the class, younger, juicier, who deserved his attention.    But one stood out:  Charlotte.  She was a tough chick who wore work boots, skinny jeans, tank tops, and pink lipstick.  She smoked cigarettes with him during break.  She liked his jokes, dirty girl, and paid close attention when he got close to her and touched her shoulder and told her about his mother, the artist.  Most girls thought that he was weird when he went on and on about Mom, but Charlotte listened…Mom knew that he was a special and had lots and lots of talent.  Robert didn’t care that the instructor gave him Cs.  He knew that it didn’t matter if he drew abstract textures while everyone else drew still lives.  Real artists didn’t bother with anything but abstraction and the human form.  He loved the human form.  And it didn’t matter that Charlotte asked him to stop touching her arm, her shoulder, to stop bumping his hip against hers (“Oops again, hah-hah!”) when he passed by her easel.  She pretended to be pure but acted like she had plenty of experience.  He could tell.  Girls liked to put up some resistance at first, but gave in eventually.  Most did.

Joseph knew that the instructor didn’t respect him.  The instructor was annoyingly tall and walked around like the giant god of the world.  But Joseph had talent, more talent than the instructor, and he would show the man how good he was once the instructor brought in models.  Joseph had signed up to draw nudes, but that man made him draw bottles and boxes, toys, a doll and a beach ball.  Junk didn’t inspire him, and an artist needs inspiration to do his best work.  At midterm that prick had given him a D and told him to do some homework in the second half.  He might get a B if he applied himself.  Joseph did not do B work, but he did choose what kind of work he did. And he didn’t do homework.   Homework was boring.  Homework was useless practice when he, Joseph, already knew how to draw his hand, a still life, the interior of a room.  Couldn’t the man see that?   Maybe he was too tall to look down and see Joseph.

Mary was tired, really tired of being told what to do.  She worked as an airline stewardess and took the class for fun, as an escape.  She spent the week slaving for people who acted as if she were a servant, and now she wanted things to follow her terms.  She’d paid good money for this class, and technically, though he’d never admit it, the instructor was her employee.  And he was so rude to her, never saying anything nice about her work when it was obvious that she was the best drawer in the class.  Oh, he gave her As on nearly every assignment, but he always slipped in some nitpicking criticism about any little mistake he could find.  He must spend hours finding a line that wobbled a sixteenth of an inch, a tone that smudged slightly.  Why couldn’t he tell her just once how good she was, and then shut up and go away?

The instructor could tell that half the class hated him.  Henry was meticulously polite but sneered at him when he thought that the instructor wasn’t looking.  He whispered like a conspirator with Helen during breaks.  Helen glared at him as if his very existence offended her.  Joseph stared stone faced whenever the instructor looked at his drawings.  Nothing he said made an impression on Joseph.  Mary thought that she was running the show.  She lectured him on his duties as an instructor.  She told him one day, “First you have to greet me, say ‘Good morning, Mary.’  Then you have to praise me.  Then you can tell me all the things you think I’ve done wrong!” Robert oddly enough, thought they were buddies.  But Robert was a loon and a lecher who had taken the class to harass women.  And Robert’s sketchbook had odd little poems about suicide, about using a piece of glass to slash his wrists.  The instructor had reported him to the dean’s office, but they were worried about legalities and seemed to think that the instructor showed a negative bias toward Robert.  Thank God there were a few students who took him seriously, who worked hard and tried to improve.

The instructor’s wife pretended to listen when he complained about the class.  He joked, but wasn’t really joking, when he said, “My quest to be loved by everyone at all times has failed once again!”  She sighed and said what she always said at times like these: “There’s always another class.  There’s always another semester.” Continue reading

You Just Gotta Know What to Do

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You’re an artist?  I saw you painting there and I just had to stop and say “hi”.  I love art.  My name is Kara and I live just up the street with my husband Terry.  I’ve been here for twenty-five years, and way back when this neighborhood used to be nice.  Folks moved here ‘cause it’s so close to the highways, so if they worked at the Cape or at Martin Marietta they could drive a few blocks and hop onto an entrance ramp.

Do you have any family?  Two kids, that’s nice.  Two little baby children.  Enjoy them while they’re young.  My boy’s all grown up now.  He went to Colonial High School.  He’s a good boy, and he had to be.  That school was rough.  He could’ve got into all kinds of trouble if he’d had a mind to.  He did anyway without trying.  Someone slipped a tab of LSD into his cola when he was at this party, and he comes home and tells me all this crazy stuff and I realized right away what was wrong with him, so I sat him down on the sofa and made him drink ice water and held him tight until he calmed down and fell asleep.  He was right as rain by the next morning…Everything turns out all right if you know what to do.

What do I do?  I’m a housewife right now.  I used to work, but I hurt my joints at this package delivery company.  I packed boxes and got them ready for shipping, and I liked the job and my boss, but the doctor put me on this new steroid for my arthritis and it did the devil’s work on my shoulders and I had to quit.  I tried to file a lawsuit against the company.  I know that lifting all those boxes did me damage even if they can claim that I was sick before I started working there.  But my lawyer keeps dragging his feet while he takes my money, and meanwhile my disability claim is all up in the air.  But I know that lawyer is going to work things out.  I’ve put a little spell on him, a little white magic.  What you do is mix some herbs and put them into a cheesecloth sachet, and you say a few words right before you toss the sachet into a fire, and the smoke carries the spell away and puts it into the universe.  It’ll work (and if it doesn’t it makes me feel better).  That lawyer’s gonna earn his money, one way or another, and I’m gonna get my due.

Sometimes I think that I got sick because of my husband, Terry.  He’s a good man, a good man.  But his first wife is a sneaky bitch and kept nosing around playing up to him, and he was dumb enough to fall for her act.  I could tell he was thinking about leaving me, the dumb ass, but my arthritis flared up so bad I was nearly crippled and he had to wait on me hand and foot and felt so sorry for me that he forgot all about that whore.  But I have to remind him from time to time whenever he gets that look in his eye and I can tell that he’s thinking about her again that I need him so much .  He loves me.  I know he does.  I tell him that we were meant to be together, and there’s no escaping what nature and the universe has decreed.  And every morning I get up and make him breakfast even when my hands feel like claws and my knees freeze up, ‘cause it’s a wife’s duty.  You never know if your husband’s gonna get hurt or killed on the job, so you gotta get up and make him his breakfast and kiss him goodbye like it might be the last time.  That’s a secret to a happy marriage.  It’s what you gotta do.

Do you follow politics?  I don’t know about this Clinton, how he’ll work out.  But one president I sure did like was Richard Milhous Nixon.  He knew how to run a country, and when he said jump, everyone jumped.  Now I know they said all kinds of things about him, all kinds of bad stuff about Watergate and how he was a crook and all that.  But you gotta look past that.  He was a good man and he didn’t deserve all the grief they threw at him.  He threw some back, but he just didn’t know how to duck.

You might think that I’m some kinda witch from what I said before, but my spells are all for the good.  But being a spiritual person can get you into trouble.  The devil doesn’t want you to stay on the good side of things, and you have to be careful if he comes knockin’ at your door.  But everything turns out okay if you know what to do.  Like one day I was looking out my back window out toward the drainage field beyond my back fence.  You know, where the high-tension lines run through?  And I saw the devil rise up out of the swamp, and he was big and ugly and glowed dark like a charcoal briquette, and he called my name and I knew that he wanted me for his own.  But I just closed my blinds and sat on a chair and thought all about the good things I had all around me.  I knew that the devil wanted me to lift the blinds and take a good look at him and open my soul up to his poison, but I wasn’t that dumb.  I just sat there and waited, and pretty soon I felt him going away, the evil draining out of the day.  And when I opened my blinds again he was gone.  For good I hope.  But if he ever comes back I know just what to do, and everything will be fine.

You come down and visit some time.  We like to build a bonfire out back and shoot the breeze.  There’s nothing better than a cool night, a bonfire and some beer.  And visits from neighbors and small talk and listening to the frogs croak out on the drainage field.  Some nights I can’t hear myself think they get so loud and the noise fills up the inside of my head until I just want to scream.  But then I sit by Terry and hold his hand while he smokes his cigarettes and sips a Bud Lite, and I think that I’m a lucky girl to be living here with him on a sweet night with stars in the sky and embers glowing on the fire.  The frogs stop bothering me and I’m glad I left Ohio and came down here to Orlando way back in 1962, that I followed my heart and knew just what to do.

Sleepless in Orlando

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I woke up with a sore knee one morning in December.  A few months later I aggravated it while mowing the lawn.  Physical therapy helped build muscle to stabilize the joint, but overexertion can still annoy it.  At its worst it feels like a migraine has decided to forsake the cranium to torment the under side of my knee cap.

Last Sunday it throbbed enough to wake me up at 4 a.m.  I tried to adjust the position of my leg.  I bent it, straightened it.  I lay on my back and angled my foot from one side to the other, and finally rolled over on my stomach.  I knew that my neck and shoulders would tie themselves in knots by dawn, but my knee felt better in that posture.  I drifted off with face buried in pillow, but the sound of shredding metal woke me up again.  The screeches and scrapes came from the side yard near the air conditioning unit, and I wondered if a druggy punk was trying to strip out the copper.

I knelt on the bed to open the blinds, and the pressure on my knee sent a sharp jolt up the leg.  I gasped, shifted my weight onto my other knee, and then pulled the cord down to lift the slats.  A large raccoon stared me in the eye.

He straddled the chain link fence that meets the house at a 90 degree angle, and his nose was no more than three feet from mine.  He must have been making that racket with his claws as he climbed.  Now he seemed unable to move.  I rapped against the pane to send him on his way as I still had hopes of getting back to sleep.  But he just gave me a weary look as if to say, “Hey, buddy.  I’m doing my best.”

I saw his point and tried to drop the blinds, but they snagged on one side.  I fiddled with them, but couldn’t unsnarl the cord.  I gave up eventually and let the slats hang at a crooked angle.  I slumped down on my bed, and my knee hurt worse than it had before.

I closed my eyes, but my mind raced with plans to trap the raccoon, put spikes on the top of the fence, call animal control.  I thought about all the raccoon jokes on “Parks and Recreation”, including the one where Leslie Knope tells a state commission that Pawnee’s raccoon problem has been solved.  She says, “They have their side of town, and we have ours.”

A half hour later I snapped on my light and turned off my alarm.  No more sleep for me.  “Yippee,”  I thought.  “A new day.”

A Spoonful of Covfefe (By Kellyanne Poppins)

Just a spoonful of covfefe makes the agreement fall down,

Paris fall dow-wown, the agreement fall down.

Just a spoonful of covfefe makes the agreement fall down,

In the most atrocious way.

 

A senator blustering his views says that we’ve an awful lot to lose

While China can go on its merry way.

He claims the science won’t be complete till the ocean laps his feet.

Then he’ll get—a tan—when the shore comes to Spokane.

 

Just a spoonful of covfefe makes the science seem wrong,

The science seem wrong-ong, the science seem wrong.

Just a spoonful of  covfefe makes the science seem wrong

Until we all get washed away.

 

A Trump man feathering his nest has very little time to rest

While gathering his bits of slime and gross intrigue.

But he tweets out his pursuits and English convolutes.

He knows—a lie—can turn the Russian (rushing?) tide.

 

For a spoonful of covfefe makes Jim Comey disappear,

Jim Comey disappear-ear, Jim Comey disappear.

Just a spoonful of covfefe makes Jim Comey disappear.

But did he really go away?

 

Poor Spicer is surrounded and on every side he’s hounded by

reporters making up outlandish news.

But for every question that he takes he knows his job’s at stake.

He groans—he sighs—he sputters and denies.

 

For a spoonful of covfefe makes democracy fall down,

democracy fall dow-wown, democracy fall down.

Just a spoonful of covfefe makes America fall down.

Let’s hope we can come back some day.

What the Hell Was That All About?

DSC_0151 (2)Yesterday I sat in the shade under our blossoming magnolia and finished reading Robert Olen Butler’s novel, Hell.  The author imagines the after lives of politicians, writers, actors, and artists.  His main character is a news anchorman, and his punishments in hell include reading from flawed and obscene teleprompters (“poopy butt, poopy butt”), holding a wooden smile as the camera refuses to pan away at the end of a broadcast, and running stories by Beelzebub, his producer.  I smoked a cigar and enjoyed the cool breezes that stirred the leaves and branches overhead.  The contrast between the suffering depicted in the book and the comfort I felt created a pleasant dissonance.

One of the themes in the book is that we often are the cause of our own suffering.  We choose situations and people who harm us.  We do this repeatedly as if our learning curves are flat lines.  One character in the novel, Anne Boleyn, is still obsessed with Henry VIII and is incapable of loving any other.  She seeks him out, but their relationship is just as dysfunctional as it had been in the mortal realm.  After one reunion she gets so depressed that she removes her head and puts it on a shelf.  But in the end she reattaches and goes back to him.

Another idea that Butler revisits is that our thoughts are often a source of  pain.  When we live in the past and consider things we’ve done we eventually find painful memories and regrets.  The protagonist, after seeking out his three ex-wives in an effort to discover how he ended up in hell, discovers little that provides him clarity.  His exes are just as self-delusional as he.  The newscaster learns that living in the moment, no matter how painful, causes less suffering in the long run.

The author also depicts heaven as a place of sterile perfection.  In the last chapter the newscaster escapes through a back door into paradise, but eventually decides to return to hell.  He realizes that he prefers a messier place where everyone searches for satisfactions they cannot find and seeks comforts that their fellow damned cannot provide.  No one in hell can truly understand the suffering of another person, yet all are united by a common denominator:  pain.  The newscaster realizes that he belongs in hell with the flawed beings parading before him and declares his love.

A man pulled up in an old sedan across the street from me and interrupted my reading when I had just a few pages left.  He delivered a pizza to the house next door.  As he stepped back into his car he grimaced, slung the thermal bag into the back seat, and asked, “Why does it burn?”  He dropped to the hot pavement and began to do push ups.  After twenty he stood up, wiped sweat off his forehead, got into his car and drove away.

I watched his car turn a corner and disappear.  I thought, “What the hell was that all about?”  Maybe I need to reread the book.

Despairing for Joy

Today I saw a woman standing at a bus stop.  She held up a blown out umbrella in a vain attempt to take shelter from the rain.  A sudden squall lashed at her, but twenty yards down the road the pavement remained absolutely dry.

So life sucks.   We can agree on that, can’t we?  There’s no need to defend this proposition.  But if some of you suspect that I’m being overly negative, just think back to a few moments from childhood that came as rude shock.  Extrapolate from there (review similar episodes from various stages in your life) and come to the aforementioned, obvious conclusion.  Don’t listen to Pollyannas who try to obscure the clarity of your dark vision when they babble on about newborn babies, flowers and sunshine.  The positive-thinking upbeats are just part of the evil.  Their one cruel purpose in life is to make you feel bad about your negativity.

As you sink deeper into depression reflect on the Buddhist teaching that all life is suffering.  Think, “Thanks a lot, Buddha.  That sure helps,” and feel even more justified in holding onto your black funk.

When you hit rock bottom find some satisfaction that you can’t sink any further, and then consider the additional afflictions that could arrive at any moment.  Marvel that the possibilities for personal misery are nearly infinite, and smile when you realize that God is magnificent in His Elaborate Creativity.

Find satisfaction in the fact that by wallowing in despair you are actually coming closer to the hidden foundations of All That Is.  A star doesn’t want to explode in a super nova, and galaxies fear the black holes swallowing them.   The seas shudder as they crash against the unyielding shore, and mountains despise the storms that gnaw at the magnificence of their height.  A microbe dreads the touch of an ameba as much as an antelope abhors the rake of a lion’s claws.

By embracing the pervasive Cosmic Despair you enter into the Great Ennui and become one with the true nature All That Is.  Unimaginable relief floods your soul as you realize that your futile struggle for happiness has finally ended.

“Thank God that’s over,” you’ll pray as your heart fills with sweet resignation, which is, after all, the purest form of joy.

So, The Last Kid Gets Married

My son wed his long time sweetheart, Amy Carlie, a few days after Christmas.  My daughter married Bryant Scott yesterday, May 20th.  I felt a lot more relaxed on the day that Alan walked the aisle, but found it harder to give Annie away.  A father feels a protective attachment to his daughter.

I spent the morning of the wedding beset with dull anxiety.  I kept mostly to myself and said the least amount possible.  When I saw Annie in full wedding regalia a few minutes before the ceremony I had to catch myself.  She looked stunning in her gown and with her hair swept up.  I knew that if I was going to break down it would be at that moment.

She looked nervous but happy and a little tearful.  She had been afraid that she would cry through the ceremony, so I told her a joke.  That didn’t work, so I deadpanned, “I hate you.  I wish you’d never been born.”  She picked up on her cue and said something about hating me too and that I had been a horrible father.  We meant the opposite, of course, but our declarations of mock disdain cut through the welling emotions that threatened to turn our walk down the aisle into a Dad/Daughter weepy fest.

We made it.  I shook Bryant’s hand, hugged Annie, took her hand and placed it in his. I sat down next to my wife. The ceremony was brief but funny, sweet, and touching.  Their ring bearers were the couple’s two dogs.  The officiant, a friend of the groom, declared the official words of union saying, “By the powers invested in me by the internet and a quasi-religious cult, I pronounce you husband and wife.”

Several hours later my wife and I drove home.  I sighed with contentment and relief that all had gone well and that my daughter had married a man who loves her deeply.  A feeling of gratitude replaced the odd sense of loss that had been plaguing me for several days.  I was happy that I had been given a chance to be my daughter’s father.