On My 50th High School Class Reunion


The Dead Alchemist
Elihu Vedder
Oils on canvas
23.23 x 16.93”

From a letter to a 1st grade friend:

This is a reason why I am myself no good in a social situation. This is why I could not attend the reunion. I have no grace at all in a group of more than three. I was thinking back on St. Lawrence. Particularly at recess. I remember well how I found ways to not join in. I’d get way back on the basketball area against the fence and watch from there the class mingling here and there. Or I’d get close to the incinerator there at the left corner of the building and try not to be noticed. Later I discovered two group activities I was really good at. Kickball. And marbles. I was surprised at how good I was at placing my kicks perfectly according to how I saw the opposing team’s field of battle. I took it all in in a glance and might hold my kick back just between an opening I perceived in their defense. Or, most surprising of all, I could kick the ball all the way to the basketball area if I saw a “home run” was the solution and an actual possibility. It was both tactical and strategic skill I had discovered. Marbles was a different campaign, again though discovering a kind of natural ability in strategy and tactics. Here, it was more compact, or intimate a situation. It was I think only boys, although I can see myself trying to enlist a girl for I was always more comfortable around girls. And it would be one on one when it was your turn. There might be four or more around the circle, but I’d watch the little beauties – those colorful little spheres – and plan my attack when my turn came up. You wanted to aim for winning the big “shooters”, while along the way winning as many of the little ones as you could. As long as you kept hitting others’ marbles you stayed in the game, acquiring more and more marbles for your bag. I remember I’d got a lovely pink quartz shooter. It was large, seems it was around 3″ in diameter. It had tiny bubbles inside like a ball of frozen champagne. Oh, to lose that would have been disastrous! But I never did. It could roll over two or three or even more in one shot. But you see the concentration needed for both of these games. I was in a group but was focused both outward, and inward for my goals. Neither demanded argumentation or much even of talking to others. This was about the extent to which I would allow myself to socialize. Thinking on it now, I realize I’d known early on that being around others was extremely painful. What I had to do was endure. I stayed camouflaged, stayed hidden. And just watched. I heard them. I wasn’t deaf. I heard their ways. And then I’d go into a daydream. My daydreams were of solutions to problems I saw they were struggling with. I wanted to tell them of my solutions, but I knew how they would respond. The few times I took courage to say something, they’d hear me. I knew they did because they’d take my thoughts into discussion. And in short order my points were changed into the babbling language they were comfortable with and I was forgotten, as if I wasn’t there. That bothered me some, that I ended up ignored. It bothered me to be unceremoniously dismissed. Not so much a recognition as a “you’re crazy”, or “get out of here”. Just ignored. But I knew it was coming; the torture for me was going out there. But after, I would move back into my camouflaged position where they didn’t have to notice me. There, I imagined further solutions – to problems of my own, that they wouldn’t see. As you’ve seen, some of my art is of this latter form, solutions to matters that must remain with me alone, and unspoken out in that world. My choice of career as an artist is perfect for me. It’s a silent thing. I show, but do not speak. So I remain dumb. And it is being dumb that keeps me unseen, and untouchable. I’ve always been like this, both as an artist and in my personality. I know I won’t be seen – and I don’t want to be seen – it’s why I don’t publicize myself very much. I don’t use the more modern things: I don’t use Twitter or Pinterest or LinkedIn and so on. Nor do I have a cell phone. Just my little web site that sits there mostly unseen. I want my isolation. I want my obscurity. What has been of never ending fascination to me is the goodness in people that I’m granted it.


Just So


Just So

 The group was becoming more boisterous as time passed.

“These conditions are awful!” cried a young woman holding a jug. Year after year I lug this thing—” Her voice was lost in a sudden outburst.

One young girl was reclining on a couch. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m freezing. It’s always so cold in here and I—”.

A man called David was rubbing his left arm tenderly. “No one hurts as much as I do,” he boasted. This arm of mine is so worn—”

There was a young girl combing her hair. “Lisa!” she called out. “Lisa” I can’t find her anywhere, and she has more to complain about than any of us.” The girl continued with her long blond hair as she called for her lost friend.

One girl wore a monstrous hat and a huge smile. “I don’t think things here are as bad as you make them sound,” she said to those around her. “They treat us right and—”

“Oh, shut up!” voices to her left said. “You’re always smiling! And here we are, eating the same food day after day after day, never finishing what we’re supposed to be doing, and you keep on smiling.” The whole group joined in the. “If you like it so much here, then you can just—”

Suddenly everyone quieted down. They distinctly heard it now, the sound of people walking towards their room. Hushed whispers filled the room as everyone scurried to find their places.

Michelangelo’s “David” bent his left elbow again. “Mona Lisa” crossed her hands delicately after she waved to her friend, Renoir’s “Young Girl Combing Her Hair”. Velazquez’ “Toilet of Venus” girl stopped shivering, as Goya’s “Water Carrier” jumped into her frame. Bruegel’s “Peasant Wedding” stopped complaining momentarily, and Hogarth’s “Shrimp Girl” smiled even more broadly than before.

None of the museum viewers noticed, though, because they were on a tour and spent only a few seconds in front of each painting.

The guide was saying from the next room, a few minutes later, “And here we have Vermeer’s—”. And then the room behind him broke loose again, with cries of stagnation and unchanging positions and threats of a strike filling the still museum air.

Don’t Tread on Me

I created this “coin” in Photoshop. The coin is resting on the 1775 “rough draft” text of the Declaration of Independence, as Jefferson probably presented it to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams for correction prior to committee. Hence, the mint mark of “1775”. At the top of the rough draft can be read “A Declaration” and “UNITED STATES”. On the bottom is the line “mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Thus, my graphic is relevant to both then and now, as a statement of disagreement with the respective governments. On the coin, the legend in Latin on the outside circle reads “Nemo Me Impune Lacesset,” i.e., “No one will provoke me with impunity.” The motto “Don’t Tread on Me” is based on the Gadsden flag, the famous yellow flag with a rattle snake, an early symbol of American independence. The date corresponds to the date of Jefferson’s rough draft. The mint mark is “L”, the initial of the place the coin was made: Lafayette, IN USA.

independence_day_coin_2015_blogClick image for enlarged view.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done any graphic work in Photoshop. This week I worked five full-time days on this coin in preparation for Independence Day. The coin’s field incorporates the large device of the rattle snake, along with a motto, mint and date mark, making it rather cluttered, I think. However that is, it’s set in a rough and used appearance, not newly minted, a bit worn. Not silver or gold, but a copper piece, with a yellow-bronze patina. I imagined a pattern minted perhaps by a skilled colonial engraver with a heavy press, or a lone gunsmith or even a button maker who could make an accurate impression.

So here it is. It’s a symbol of the legend of a people who took the stand that “no one will provoke me with impunity”. According to that legend, America’s founders drafted documents meant to make the government afraid to tread upon the rights that each individual possesses according to his very nature as a human being. Today, it’s the obverse. Individuals are afraid to tread anywhere, for fear of breaking some new law coming down on them from their government. The defiance and rebellion the rattlesnake signified before and during the War of Independence is almost gone.

“The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag”

There’s a husband and wife detective agency, Randall & Craig, Confidential Investigation. They’ve been hired by the title character to find out what his profession is.

Along the way, the wife, Cynthia Craig Randall, “[R]ecalled once having seen a painting entitled “Subway”. It showed a crowd pouring out the door of an underground train while another crowd attempted to force its way it. Getting on or getting off, they were plainly in a hurry, yet it seemed to give them no pleasure. The picture had no beauty in itself; it was plain that the artist’s single purpose had been to make a bitter criticism of a way of living.” I think that painting is by Reginald Marsh (1898 – 1954) called “The Subway”.


While looking for that painting, I ran across two others of the same subject, and period, that caught my interest. There’s a 1935 painting by Daniel Celentano called “Subway”. This one shows people’s faces that are at least mostly contented, if not happy.


And there’s the painting, “Subway”, by Lily Furedi (1934). Here, we see a range of emotions from happy to sad to tired.

Subway-1934-oil-o- canvas-Lily Furedi-s

Discussing Jonathan Hoag, Cynthia says “That’s all very well, but I wish we had never laid eyes on him.” To which her husband, Teddy, replies, “Too late for Herpicide.” “Herpicide” is from the Latin words herpes, meaning “to creep”, and cide, meaning “death”. It was a product sold around 1899 by the “drummer” (travelling salesman), D.M. Newbro. His claim was that Herpicide would destroy dandruff, falling hair, and baldness.


Will update my reading of “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” as the pleasantness of reading it proceeds….

And it ends with a surprise. And a happy one, because it is impossible for me to disbelieve the truth: that Jonathan Hoag’s profession is the most unpleasant one I could imagine. And yet, I would hire a Hoag, if I could, to do justice to my own alien art.


Yesterday: The Way It Was

On another blog I had written about the overused phrase “Thank you for your service”. This declaration used to happen to me a lot. Not so much anymore. I wear a denim jacket with USMC embroidered in red above the left pocket. Just below that are miniatures of the rows of ribbons I earned during my four years in the Marine Corps. I wear it to show that I’ve lived through an adventure. When I get recognition I like to say “well, it was an adventure.”

Here’s what I said on July 29, 2012:

But I don’t care.  I always feel a touch of sadness for the one wishing that on me, as if he’s staking a claim on my “experience”.  He doesn’t know what he’s saying; he’s articulating what he’s picked up around him, not able to identify it as social subjectivism geared toward service–an idea now brought to life as a relevant slogan: “thank you for your service”.  Ayn Rand’s statement on military service applies not to society, or any collective, but to the individual:

“Even if he enlists in the Army and hears it called “service to his country,” his feeling is that of a generous aristocrat who chose to do a dangerous task. A European soldier feels that he is doing his duty.” –Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, “Don’t Let It Go”, p. 253

Be that as it is, yesterday (actually, it was five days ago on February 17) I got a “thank you for your service” that I appreciated, and returned in kind. Here’s the story:

I had an appointment with a medical specialist is a small town 64 miles away. The appointment was for 1PM. We left at 10:45AM, planning to find a place to stop and have a lunch before the doctor’s appointment. We were given directions by the doctor’s office via a Yahoo map. Linda was my navigator. We missed none of the steps in the directions, but by 12;30 we found ourselves lost. I was preparing for all the costs of a missed appointment, and just find our way back home. But there was still time. We drove through little towns. The feeling was odd, as if we were back in the 1950s, and then another town the 1960s. The houses and buildings were old, but in good repair. She said about one large white house: “that had to have been built in the 1800s.” The streets were clean. All was in good order. Twice stopping at gas stations for directions, the people were kind and helpful. The directions they gave seemed so simple, but they got us further lost. I turned around, stopped at the only business building on the road, a dentist’s office. She didn’t know our destination that well. But she typed in the information and printed off new directions. There were four little local “roundabouts” to go through before making one last left turn. Finally, I could see we were damn close but one more wrong turn or missed sign and I would miss the appointment; it was now 12:50PM. And we’d driven 96 miles. I had to take the next right into an empty lot, but for a cop car.


Looking at the map one more time, I had no idea how far away we were or even if we were on the right road. I drove over to the cop car, got out and said “Hello officer” and told him our situation. Smiling, he said “you want me to take you there?” And so he did. We had a police escort (without the flashing lights)! He took us right up to the door of the doctor’s office. It was less than a mile. But we would not have found it. By then I was suffering a sensory overload what with all the twists and turns and streets with signs for this and that. I parked, went over and thanked the cop. He said “No problem. Thank you for your service”. And for the first time I ever used that phrase, I replied “thank you for your service.” And I meant it.

That cop was happy to be helpful–the way we were taught growing up in the 1950s: that cops were helpful members of our neighborhood, not to be feared.