Monday, September 28, 2009

#5 Freedom

Who doesn't dream of flying? One morning when I was about six years old I awoke and found myself flying through the air. It was very early in the morning and the air was thick. I woke myself up by coughing and found that I was floating over my back yard in the arms of a fireman.

At this Seattle house we had a terraced back yard that had three levels. The first level was all grass that angled down onto a second level where our swing set waited and rusted patiently for our attention. The last level dropped off sharply and had about a three foot ledge before dropping about twenty feet below into the neighbors yard behind us. From the windows at the back of the house you could see Union Bay and the construction of the expansion bridge high above the water.

The fireman carried me silently in the air over the first section of the back yard and laid me gently against the soft curve of grass that met the second level. I remember thinking it was a dream but realized it was really happening when my older sister was placed near me by another fireman within a minute later.

My sister and I shared a bedroom that was very girly. Ruffled shear curtains at the windows covering wide white wooden venetian blinds. We had black wrought iron bunk beds that were placed side by side separated in the middle by a night stand. At the opposite ends of our beds were our dresser drawers against the wall and a little ruffle covered vanity table with a stool. My sister slept in the bed against the wall and I was in the bed closest to the door. I was the easy grab for my fireman as he only had to reach for me from the doorway. My sister's fireman however tried to manueuver around the little girl room in all of his gear and it was more dificult a pick-up for him.

So that's why I got to be the first to fly accross the yard away from the house whose trusty basement furnace decided to break free and explode its memory into the early morning hours leaving us with soot filled momentos for months to come.

#4 Flammable

I have always liked the smell of gasoline.

My earliest memory of gasoline is a warm sunny day. I was about three years old. We lived in a suburb outside of Seattle. It was a time when streets were coated with tar and where there were pot holes in the street - these became tar pools.

I had wandered out of the house wearing panties and a little sun dress. I was attracted to the slick shimmering surface of a tar pool in the street. I stepped in and felt the warm tar slowly gush through my toes. Then I sat down and thoroughly bathed myself in the black ooze.

A neighbor found me and ran to get my mother who pulled me out of the grip of the pit. Holding me at arms length she whirled me around towards our house. Stopping in the yard she plopped me on a picnic table while the gathered adults discussed the next course of action.

A woman put a metal tub on the table while a man positioned himself to pour gasoline into it. After the gasoline was in the tub, I was stripped of my clothes and the man took off his shirt. Holding me close to his body he dipped his free hand into the gasoline and ran his fingers through my hair from scalp to end stripping the strands of tar. Then my hair was shampooed and towel dried. He dipped a small rag into the gas and wiped my face and neck using short strokes while constantly changing to a clean piece of rag. When he was done exploring my ears my face was then washed clean.

I was sitting on his knee now turned around and facing towards my mother as the man dipped another rag into the gasoline and began stroking the tar off my arms towards my little fingers. I don’t remember being afraid. I remember the firm stroking. Where I was wearing clothes I was not too messy. When at last my legs were being cleaned I watched intently as elusive tar spots were firmly smoothed down and out from between my toes.

Another metal tub was brought out to the yard and put on the grass. I had to stand in this tub and get rinsed off with a hose while my mother soaped me down with Ivory. It bubbled away the gasoline smell.

Even now when I am held close and stroked, I recall as a small child I was once flammable.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

#3 Altitude

During World War II civilian pilots were needed stateside to ferry newly manufactured war planes from factories to their designated bases in order to free up military pilots for combat.

She had been flying since she was fourteen along with several of her girl friends. They all lived near a small local airport and were able to bicycle over to the field frequently to take lessons from the instructor of the flying school.

She was nineteen and attending college when the war broke out. One day, upon finding out that a couple of her friends had applied to fly planes for the military, she also submitted an application. She and her friends were accepted into the program based on their logged flying time.

She was trained and then assigned to military bases on the East coast. One of her supervisors was an officer who paid particular attention to her.

One bright, clear day he asked her to join him as he flew a plane to New York. Sitting in the co-pilot position, she scanned the horizon before her and glanced around the cockpit trying to commit everything to memory in order to tell her friends when she returned.

As they flew towards the coast, they chatted a little, but mostly she gazed at the scenery below. Colorful patches of land, laid out like a quilt, unscrolled below them. The little squares of land would be ocassionally broken up by other geometric shapes with roads twisting with the geology of the land.

At the coastline they turned and headed North. As they approached New York City she could see ships sailing away and into the harbor. He decended a little so she could have a better view. She was caught off guard by the khaki colored decks on the Navy ships that were headed into the awaiting piers. She thought the ships were supposed to be painted a gun metal gray. He started to laugh as he decended a little bit more.

Now she understood. From this lower altitude she could see that the ship decks were not painted a tan color but were covered with hundreds of soldiers anxious to get back on U. S. soil.

Monday, September 14, 2009

#2 Accent

As a South Korean artist, he specialzed in fossil modeling overlayed on deco influenced framing. It appealed to a specific audience. Was it really art or forensics?

He became restless. Questioning the meaning of art, he headed out alone to find the answer. He spent six months visiting native villages along the Amazon. He watched the villagers weave baskets used for storing food stuffs, transporting their belongings, and for trade. As he watched, he noticed the natives wove delicate to intricate patterns into the baskets. When he asked each villager why they varied their designs, the answer he received was a very simple and yet sincere, "Because the basket's beauty makes me happy".

He apprenticed with the weaving masters and was soon able to design his own baskets and mats there along the Amazon.

Upon returning to the United States he began transferring his new skills into technical formats that would allow him to follow the master's methods and enable him to produce wall sized woven portraits.

I met him while visiting a warehouse artist loft when I accompanied my daughter on a photo shoot in downtown Los Angeles. As I stood up on the balcony and looked below, I found dozens of eyes staring back at me. I was drawn to look back at them. Going down the stairs, I could not help but reach out and touch the weaves. Black and rattan woven so intrically up close for such a perfect picture at a distance. He walked in while I had my hand on one of the portraits. I recoiled as if I had been caught touching an art museum masterpiece.

The portraits were being stored in the loft while they were rotated to various gallery showings. He explained his processes to me as he put his first woven basket into my hands to highlight how his skills had exploded into to such large magnificent pieces.

We sat together for a long time. He showed me photos of his Amazon visit and other photos of his solitary walking tour of South America. I heard about his adventures with flying mountain top tents and unusually vacant ruins.

When my daughter was finished modeling she joined us and was invited to pose for a weaving project for his next show. Phone numbers were exchanged and then we left the loft.

After he called her to set up the preliminary shoot, to lay the design of the weave, my daughter hung up the phone and turned with a puzzled look on her face. She hoped she had understood him correctly because she said he had such a heavy accent.

In all the hours I spent with him, in every word and whisper, I never heard an accent.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

#1 Reflections

He was the best looking man in town. There was not a mirror or woman his face had not reflected in. It gave him a certain confidence that he complimented by dressing well and keeping himself groomed within an inch of GQ.

She was new to town having just purchased the old Landry house off the square, kitty corner from the gazebo that was undergoing its one hundredth coat of brillant white paint.

The house appealed to her because of the large porch with the hanging wooden swing. In the evenings it was a nice place to sit and relax. The porch had a small opening in the board under the eaves, right about where it meets the house. At sunset, pigeons would flock to the house to roost in safety in the little space, gathering on the struts in little groups as if to gossip about the day's events. The only intrusion into their nightime activities were by two bolts that protruded through their floor, lodged into a seemingly sturdy two by four. When there were swingers below there was motion above.

She got a job at the courthouse coffee shop. Friendly to all. Flirting with none. She was on a first name basis with the regulars before he came in one day. He had been away on a business trip and spotted her as soon as he entered. He tried his usual with her to see his reflection in her face but it was not there. She was not playing hard to get. She was just not playing.

He persued her with such precision that bookies were on the verge of taking odds on his success. Surrounding her so much that any opportunity she had of meeting other men were all but impossible because no one wanted to compete in the game she now found herself in.

One day she gave in and surprised him while he was winding up with a new pitch. She invited him to dinner the next Friday at eight pm sharp. He was directed to bring the wine.

That Friday, he checked his reflection in the mirror before he left his house. Every hair on his head was held in its exact place by the newest men's hair shellac. His shirt was starched so stiff that it crackled when he moved. His precision pressed jeans and polished books finished off his look. Finally satisfied, he grabbed the wine off his kitchen counter and strolled out the door. Walking the two blocks to her house gave him time to fine tune his strategy for the evening. As he turned the corner and zeroed in on her house he put on his game face.

The house was one of the first built on the town square. It reflected the style of its day. Over the years it had sheltered hundreds of pigeons. This particular evening was no different. The birds had already settled down into their little groups under the eaves with a few nesting couples trying for privacy in the narrow edges where the floor and ceiling of their hideaway met.

He climbed the the few steps to the porch and reached out to knock on the door only to be met by her. She had two glasses in one hand and a corkscrew in another. As they sat on the porch swing enjoying the wine, he touched his hair, then pulled on his starched shirt to make it wrinkle free and finally ran his fingers down the crease of his jeans. When she was not looking he quickly rubbed the top of his boots on the back cuffs of of his jeans.

Tipping back her glass, she wondered how she was going to get through the evening. As if in relief, a timer began buzzing in the kitchen and she excused herself, leaving him in the swing as she went back into the house shaking her head in disbelief as she went towards the kitchen.

When she left, he took a swig of wine out of his glass and kicked back in the swing. When he came forward he stopped the swing. Glancing at the door, he quickly stood up, smoothed out his shirt and once again buffed the top of his boots before he sat back down on the swing. Instead of kicking back on the swing, this time he stretched out both of his legs moving the swing seat back and holding it. He raised both of his legs out to swing forward. Instead of the side chains stopping the swing's forward momentum, the chains stayed with the swing as it kept moving forward. He looked up and was hit face on with the secret pigeon coop floor and over one hundred years of pigeon debris.

She heard his scream and ran out to find him pooped and feathered. He was horrified by his less than perfect appearance but she held back her laughter and led him by the hand off the porch to the side yard where she prepared to hose him down. He was speechless. After the watering, she took him by the hand again, walking him back up the stairs to the porch and into the house. She pulled him into the bathroom and started running hot water into the large claw foot bathtub. After thinking twice about it, she added some bubble bath as he began fumbling with the buttons on his shirt. She left him alone for about five minutes then went back in, grabbed his clothes, and smiled at him. She told him dinner would be in ten minutes as she turned to go back out the door. On the way to the kitchen, she detoured by the washing machine where, with little fanfare, she dumped his wet clothes and turned on the machine.

In the kitchen she wondered who the man was now without his accessories. The bathroom door opened. She heard him enter the kitchen and slowly turned around. He stood before her. She looked at him and saw her reflection in his face.