Entries Tagged as 'Life'

Two Octobers

Complicity.

What was my father thinking to himself as I sat hunched over in my bed, my face buried in the crook of my arm, failing miserably at not crying?

I could almost hear him: I did this to him. Like if he had been a reformed alcoholic who watched me take one drink too many and careen into an endtable, lamp flying, me muttering to myself, “Who put that there?” That flawed gene, that came from me. This is all my fault. Years had slipped by where it had seemed there would be no repercussions, no piper to pay. Maybe the bullet had been dodged. But no, no… not on this night.

October 27, 1986. The Red Sox had lost Game 7 to Mets, my first dance with the fickle mistress of postseason baseball (I was fifteen). I had made it through the aftermath of Game 6 OK, angry as hell, of course, but with jaw set and focusing on the fact that there was still one more game to play. So what the hell was happening now?

I had stepped across that Sox fan threshold and finally understood what it meant to live and die for this team. And there I was, fucking crying, and I couldn’t control it and it wasn’t fair and I didn’t know why I had to feel this way at all. I had thought I held it together in the immediate wake of the final out, just morosely slinking off to bed, but once the darkness settled in and the reality of days without any more baseball and the tortured joke of how it all went down caught up to me, and it happened. I cried. Like each breath was being torn out of my lungs. I was fifteen, for Christ’s sake, but I still couldn’t help it.

And my father came in, and I wouldn’t look at him, I kept my face smashed into my arm as if this would somehow deny the reality of what was happening, and I think part of him had to be wishing he never nurtured my love for the Sox in the first place, never took me to games when I was very young, never sat and talked baseball with me, as if all of this could have been avoided if I just never cared about it to begin with. Complicity.

His words to me weren’t historic, not bathed in the glow that inspires orators, but they were pragmatic and heartfelt. There would be next year, he assured. He was careful to point out that my grandfather, his father, had followed the Sox for his entire life without seeing them win a World Series, and we had to appreciate what was given us (Poppy had passed away in 1983).

But it didn’t help, not at the time. And despite my grief over this love for a team that my father had passed down to me, despite his own role and accountability in what I was feeling at the time, I think he was proud. Because I cared that much. Cared too much, in fact, although that was really an impossibility, when you think about it.

* * *

Scott Rolen had just flied out to right field, making the first out in the bottom of the ninth. I told my wife to go get our five-month old son out of his crib and bring him down for this.

“Can’t you wait until there’s at least two outs?” she asked.

“Edmonds might hit into a double play.” Pujols was on first.

She went to go get him.

There were maybe sixteen people in a room that was designed to seat 6. Kitchen chairs had been brought in, people were sitting on the arms of couches. I had driven two hours from my home in Maine to watch Game 4 at my sister’s house in Massachusetts, weeknight be damned. My wife didn’t quite understand why, just as she didn’t understand what was to be gained from waking an infant to witness a moment he wouldn’t possibly ever remember. But I had to watch the game with my dad. I had to be with my dad. And my son had to be there, too.

I sat on the floor at my father’s feet. He had the corner of one of the couches. We were faking being at ease, but not overly so: even false hubris would smack of the preconceived notion of celebration, therefore taunting the baseball gods.

Back in the top of the third, when Nixon got to a 3-0 count with the bases loaded, we both simultaneously muttered, “I bet he’s got the green light on this pitch.” And indeed he swung, missing a homer by a few feet and scoring Ortiz and Varitek in the process. And the game progressed to its preordained conclusion, but you still had to wait for it to get there. And in waiting, you start thinking of all the ways that things could go wrong. But then it gradually became clear that none of these bad things were going to happen, and the Sox were indeed going to win the World Series, but you had to wait that interminable moment or two until victory actually arrived. Because baseball does not run on a clock. You had to get the outs.

Such anticipation regarding the Sox was audacious, considering their calamitous postseason history, but then again, the Cardinals were fucking cooked. Absolutely dead, and it seeped out of their pores the entire game. We could smell the stink of it in Hopedale, halfway across the country.

So in the bottom of the ninth my wife stood in the living room cradling my stirring son, and once Edmonds struck out, I shifted from my sitting position to a kneeling crouch. I threw a glancing look back at my dad, wondering what was passing through his mind, and saw that while his face was one of guarded calmness, he was grinding his palms together with such force that the veins on the backs of his hands stood out. And my eyes flitted back to the TV, intently watching Foulke face Renteria, and as soon as the hopper back to the mound was stabbed, the room erupted. Me leaping out of my crouch and instinctively grabbing my father, burying my face in his shoulder as I once buried it in my own arm on another October night long ago, crying just as I did then but for entirely different reasons, a long journey that we had taken together finally having come to fruition.

I held him for a lot longer than I care to admit. The embrace had its origins in baseball, but it became an opportunity to silently thank him for everything he’d ever done for me, to simply show him how glad I was that he was my father. He who had handed down to me this wonderful gift, wrapped in horsehide and red stitches.

When I finally let go of him, my wife put my bleary-eyed son in my arms. He was not crying. No, his face bore the serene look of the starsailor gone through the other side of a black hole, beholding a new universe, one where it just so happened that the words Dent, Buckner and Boone held no weight, nor would they ever. And I gently brought his forehead to my dampened cheeks, baptizing him into this strange and euphoric unknown.

Phantom Limb

This is all gonna make sense in the end.

The above picture is of 1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, Syracuse Orangeman running back and leukemia victim who died at the age of 23. The piece was done on commission for a friend who went to Syracuse, which she was going to give as a gift to a friend of hers who was also an SU alum.

This sort of thing is exactly the type of piece that I do, and while I prefer action shots to portraits, the source picture was this gorgeous black-and-white photograph that lent itself very well to charcoal. Add to that the significance of the event (Davis hoisting the Heisman the night he had won it, first African-American recipient in the trophy’s history, died less than two years later), I was more than happy to draw it.

And, of course, I went to Syracuse myself. For three semesters, anyway.

My thoughts about college run all over the map. In a vacuum I think it’s a tremendous experience that every 18-year old kid should be required to go through, but once you start taking cost into account and what the return on that investment will be, it starts to get dicey. Throw in the fact that it’s sold as a bill of goods vis-à-vis future employment, yet at least half of the kids enrolled at any one time are going to end up doing the same type of job whether they went to college or not (and that’s presuming they even finish, which a good portion won’t), and the whole concept strikes me as a big fat fucking shakedown. And I say this as a recruiter working in an employment office, one who looks at resumes on a daily basis and interviews candidates to try to determine if they’re qualified for the job I’m trying to fill, so I have to be able to discern this type of stuff.

College should be required for the life lessons alone. It instills independence, it encourages critical thinking, it fosters responsibility and accountability, and in most cases it exposes the student to a far more culturally diverse landscape than their high school or hometown ever provided. College can also knock you on your ass, but it’s important to get your ass stomped once in a while.

What it does not do is guarantee you a job, any job (let alone one in your chosen field of study), nor can it possibly justify its cost. Those are realities. And if so, then at least 50% of the kids going to college have no business being there. I went to Syracuse for three semesters in 1989 and 1990, and at that time it cost $25,000 a year, and I was an art major, of all things. If I had actually been a diligent student who applied myself and lasted all four years, my parents and I would have been $100K in the hole, and for what? Maybe I’d have been a better person for having had that much time at college to explore my art, but a $100K is a steep price to be a starving artist. Jesus, even if you’re going to major in Finance or Accounting that’s a tough effing pill to swallow, except these days the pill costs $200,000. Most would be better served by using their first year’s tuition as a down payment on a house and the next three years of tuition towards the mortgage, all the while working at real job, gaining that much more experience (as well as equity) in the process.

Of course, we live in a world where college degrees are required for most white-collar jobs, so there’s that. But frankly, if you’re just going to college to play the paper chase and that’s it, you might as well go to a state school.

On the other hand, would I have paid $100K to magically have the experiences I missed out on by dropping out of college early? In a heartbeat, presuming I had that kind of cash to spend. I did go back and finish ten years later, at a different school and under a different major, and while I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment in doing so (and ultimately got more out of it at my advanced age than I ever would have in my late teens/early 20s), I felt like I was marked in some deeply weird way just the same. And in the end, even after getting the degree, I still feel like I never really exorcised that ghost. For eight years, from the time I left Syracuse to the time I enrolled at Framingham State, I walked around under the acrid grey clouds of a nuclear winter, hidden from the eyes of God, wandering somewhere east of Eden with a whistling hole in my soul that refused to close. So even now, with my whole education dilemma miraculously rectified, I still have dreams where I somehow fell short.

Amputees imagine pain in limbs that no longer exist. I look at my leg, which had been symbolically shorn off at the thigh in the metaphysical car crash that was leaving Syracuse, and despite the limb that magically sprouted from that stump upon graduating from Framingham, I still wake up clutching at the perceived empty space. Despite the flesh and bone so clearly there. Persistence of memory, or simply haunted.

The car crash was my fault, by the way. All my fault. But I don’t think there was much I could’ve done about it. And as I alluded to, even if I had avoided it, I’m not sure the alternative would have been better for me. Given this knowledge, from both my time as a student and as a recruiter who hires college grads and experienced workers, I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do when it comes to my own kids and their college plans. I may not have to worry… with some kids you never do. They’ll get their good grades and do everything they’re supposed to do and generally take care of themselves. I’ll endorse whatever choices that kid makes.

But the kid who seems like they might have one foot planted in another world, some dimension where rules and expectations and laws of gravity are like a foreign language that everyone else can speak but the kid? I don’t know what to do about that kid. That kid is fucked. And I hope I’d be able to step in and guide him or her somehow, but I doubt I could have been guided at that age. Maybe I could pull it off, having gone through what I have, but it would require making some really important decisions, birthed via an ugly and bloody process. There would be casualties, and with no guarantees that the right path was chosen in the first place.

May my children grow up to be accountants, or left-handed fireballers out of the pen.

Know What I Miss?

Once I got my first post-college job — the first time around, we’re talking art school here — I was flush with cash, relatively speaking. Very few financial commitments, just rent and a mild student loan payment (going for only two years will do that). The company I worked for used to let their employees go at 1:00 on Fridays as some sort of perk for having your spirit crushed into dust on a daily basis, so I’d drive from Canton back to Brighton in little-to-no traffic, all the time in the world to take care of the administrative crap you always put off, and the two stops I always made on the way home were to browse some CDs and pick up some beer.

I’d get to my apartment by 2:00, maybe 2:30 at the latest, put on my new CDs (if I had bought any), crack a beer and climb out onto the fire escape and wait for 5:00 to come, when my other roommates would get home and the usual drunken silliness would ensue. That was some quality time right there, that 2:30 to 5:00 Friday stretch. Try to sort some shit out (which never worked), map out a battle plan for the weekend, and embrace the solitude that only music, some beer, a fire escape and the sun can provide.

The point was that anything was possible. Of course none of it ever came to any fruition, but Friday afternoons had short memories; each weekly three-hour chunk of time was its own Nina, its Pinta, its Santa Maria. The soggy grey embers of Sunday afternoon were an impossibility, despite being inevitable.

Flipping CDs on the racks in the record store, fingers dancing over the ridged edges of each jewel case. Clutching the metal door handle to the cooler in the packie, reaching in and grabbing a 30-pack as the refrigerated air stole around you. Driving to Foster Street, brown Newbury Comics bag riding shotgun, a squat box of thirty cans of beer on the passenger-side floor, that weekend’s future laying before you like so much asphalt being eaten up by your tires. Maybe you were going to talk to that girl. Maybe you were going to tell your roommate to go fuck himself. Maybe you’d wake up on Monday morning in a new job, with a new life, in a new you.

Maybe.

But what you did know was that you were going to put on some CDs when you got home, some new shit you were really looking forward to listening to, and you were going to taste that sharp and crisp first gulp of beer, a black metal railing warm under your forearms as you rested them upon it, leaned over and looking down Comm Ave as you waited for the sun to set and your life to begin.

That’s what I miss.

This Is the Way the World Began

Sort of. In a Star Wars IV: A New Hope kind of way. In that A New Hope seemed like the beginning, but it turned out there were really three other movies before it, only we saw them 20 years later. “Prequels.”

But now that I think about it a little more, the Tiger Woods drawing is actually the beginning of a third trilogy in a series, not that Lucas has gotten around to making the Star Wars equivalent yet. The whole comparison a little tortured, I admit. But let’s run with it.

OK, so if that’s the case (which I think it is), then the first trilogy, chronologically speaking — Phantom Menace through Revenge of the Sith — would be the series of drawings I did for my groomsmen back in late 2001 through early 2002, pieces to be given as gifts at my wedding’s rehearsal dinner in the summer of ‘02. Although that’s not quite right, either. Maybe it would go back as far as the pen-and-ink Nomar drawing I did for my freshly-minted brother-in-law as a Christmas gift in 2000, in honor of his having joined the family that October.

Now that I think about it, yes, that’s it. The Nomar’s the one. Because prior to that I hadn’t really picked up so much as a pen, a charcoal stick or a paintbrush with a purpose since I left Syracuse in the winter of 1990. Ten years gone. Which would make my high school and aborted college years The Hobbit, if only I weren’t mixing epic sagas.

At any rate, my middle sister Michelle was the first of us to get married (fall of ‘00), and her husband Mike was a Sox fan (of course), so I thought drawing him a Nomar picture as a Christmas gift that year would be a cool thing to do. I never had any brothers, just two sisters, so the arrival of a fellow man into the family who was close to my own age was a profound and welcome change in my life. Despite not having drawn for almost a decade, it was something I wanted to do. And to my surprise, in the course of drawing this picture for him, I found myself enjoying the process. Like the cokehead who lays off the snow for an extended period of time, but comes back despite knowing better, I suppose. *I’ve never done cocaine, but my addiction to animal porn is probably not as relatable.

When Mike unwrapped his gift, I could tell he really appreciated it, but the kicker was that he didn’t know that I had drawn it. He just assumed it was some store-bought piece, until a few moments passed and he saw my signature. Which isn’t really a signature, just my initials and the last two digits of the year in which it was completed; I always got annoyed when artists had ostentatious signatures, drawing attention away from the piece. Digression aside, he liked the Nomar, and I liked that he liked it. So art wasn’t such a useless thing anymore.

I got engaged the following spring, and by that time I had already decided I was going to give my groomsmen some original artwork as gifts, which ended up taking around 6 months to complete (one month/piece for each man in the wedding party). It was a lot of work, but it was an important development for several reasons:
• That I even decided on such an undertaking after being “retired” for so long in the first place.
• I had to bust my ass and stay on schedule, because if I created five masterpieces but wasn’t able to start the sixth due to time running out, the whole concept was shot and I’d be screwed. “Hey, sorry Rob, you don’t get a drawing. I’ll get around to it after the honeymoon.” That I succeeded is all the more surprising because busting my ass and staying on schedule has never been a strong suit of mine in any walk of life, let alone when I was an art student in college, which was the last time I had to match that kind of artistic output.
• I enjoyed the process. A lot. Which is the most important, if I may state the obvious. Creating art (even unoriginal and derivative art such as mine) is an incredibly draining process, and there’s really no reward at the end of it, at least not for me, because I usually dislike the final product. It never ends up being what I saw in my head. So it’s a drag, which is why I buried it for ten years. That and the fact that I curse the skill to begin with, which has never been anything but impractical. I’d feel a lot more comfortable in my skin if I had been blessed with the discipline to study law or medicine, or if I had a nose for finance, or even to wake up without hitting the snooze button seven or eight times first.

But this is what I’ve got instead of those things, and Project Groomsmen worked, which was a refreshing development, given my track record.

Anyway, I think we were talking about the time continuum of the Star Wars universe. You know, it’s not as if I worship the Star Wars canon. Really. It’s just the most appropriate analogy. If six Godfathers or six X-Men had been made, I’d be trying to shoehorn them into this scenario, you can bet. Which is silly anyway, because I’ve already stated this art saga thing is really three separate chapters (chapter equaling trilogy, in this case), while the Star Wars series has only two. But it’s the closest thing. That’s all.

So which drawing is A New Hope, then, if not the Tiger Woods? The first Pedro I did. That was the first piece I actually sold (I really should be posting or linking to pictures of this stuff, by the way). But I’m not, because I want to address each one on its own merits. Which is strange, because I haven’t addressed the Tiger drawing, and that’s what this post is supposedly about.

I’ll get to it. In due time.