To Dress For Success

I am almost forty years of age, graying- and I still need my father’s help to buy new clothes. I do not know if this is something that I should be openly confessing but for me writing honestly is the way that I deal with the realities of my life. I was in the Gap this afternoon, accompanying a friend who needed to buy some new pants. While she tried them on I browsed around in the men’s section and realized that I could really use some new clothes. My daily wardrobe consists of jeans and t-shirts with an occasionally worn black leather jacket. My shoes are old enough to be eligible for social security and the majority of socks that I wear are inflicted with holes. The last time I shopped was many years ago when my father gave me a check for $500 and said go get your self some new clothes. The mistake that I made then was that I spent a hundred dollars of that money buying clothes at a used clothing shop while the other $400 went towards paying my rent and getting an Asian erotic massage with a hand job that I no longer remember.

Gun shots go off almost every night outside of my home. An eighteen year old pregnant woman was gunned down last night three blocks away. I am living in the wild wild west and my clothes can prove it. As a younger man I wore top of the line clothes. I shopped at Banana Republic for all of my attire because not only were the clothes comfortable, but they fit me like they were made especially for my physique. I was young then and still had unlimited potential, so I could understand why my father insisted on paying for my clothing bills. Some of the better times that the two of us ever had together were on shopping sprees for me. I was getting new clothes and he was getting to dress his son for the success I would never become. In either case, we were both winners. I got new clothes and he got to dream. Now all of the clothes are faded and no longer fit, and besides- in the neighborhood that I live no one dresses like that.

I begin teaching high school in a few days and I thought it would be nice to show up to school not wearing last years clothes. The Teachers that I work around are so under paid that the idea of buying new clothes is so far fetched that I see tears in their eyes whenever we talk about shopping. I know if I showed up for school with a new outfit I would be the envy of not only my class but everyone else in the school. I would be a symbol of hope for my fellow Teachers who have been sentenced and condemned to wearing the same outfits for at least the past five years. America is one of the only countries in the world where Teachers can’t afford to dress well.

As I looked at the fall clothes line that hung on the racks in the Gap I imagined myself dressed in them. New jeans, new pants and socks and shirts and jackets. I saw myself fitted in all of them, standing infront of my classroom looking like the well dressed man that I imagined I would be when I was young. Granted now I am old enough and wise enough to know that what you wear is only a minimal measure of the person inside and that being concerned with fashion is a never ending burden on not only your ego but also your bank account- but deep down inside of me I truly enjoy dressing well. Not only does it satisfy my own expectations for myself, but it makes me feel like I am finally my fathers son. I thought, for a moment, about buying a new pair of $50 dollar jeans but I sunk back in resignation realizing that this would be too much of an economic stretch. Instead I would return home, like all prodigal sons do, and call my dad and ask him if he would not mind sticking a $500 dollar check in the mail for me, his almost 40 year old son, who is ready for the first time in his life, to dress for success.

Flee Bag

There are flees coming out of my ears. Literally. They bounce around upon my shoulder and manage to land on my scalp or my lap. If it was not for my wife who just had to have three cats- I would be free from this torment. But instead my body is riddled with flees and my house has become flee motel. I am in a state of perpetual itch, with strange sensation hopping around on my ankles and a constant gnawing upon my flesh. Is this what Barack Obama means when he says he wants to help those who struggle? Does he mean common people like me who are ridden with flees but too poor to go to the veterinarian and get some kind of medical attention? I never thought I would live in an America where people like me could be covered in so many flees.

I have tried everything to free me from this affliction. My wife who does not seem to be a magnet for flees washes the sheets every day and mops the floor with Listerine. I am eating tones of garlic and brewers yeast because I hear that this is a natural way to repel flees from human flesh. These remedies are not working. If you saw my face you would see at least two flees and laugh. The only thing that does any good is drinking so much wine that I forget about the little critters that are eating me alive. When I am drunk enough I am able to sleep the whole night through without waking up every hour because I feel like dozens of flees have descended upon my face.

My fate is an unusual one. I grew up in an economic situation where there were never flees allowed in my house and if ever any would show up the exterminator would be called in for three days in a row until the rugs where flee free. Pets were seldom allowed in my house and if ever we had a pedigree cat he or she was certain to be bathed by the maid once a day. Having come from a sanitary and affluent environment such as the one I grew up in- to having flees crawling up my shirt and into my large nostrils or out from my ears twenty four hours a day, is a big step down the status ladder that no man or woman wants to take.

Since I am low on cash, my wife offered to buy me a flee repellent collar for humans. It is white and has a strange layer of powder all around it. The moment I looked at it in the store I started to sneeze and get dizzy. I noticed that by just touching the collar dead flees began to fall from my head, but I could not bring myself to let my wife pay the $120.00 cost of the collar. Instead I think that Barack Obama should put into his health care plan a policy that covers Teachers who are infected with flees.

There are only a few more weeks left of flee season. I am hoping that by eating a certain diet, taking several showers a day, drinking a lot of wine and sleeping in a jump suit with a facial mask on- that I can keep the tormenting affects of flee infestation down to a minimum. I have considered getting rid of our three precious flee bag cats in the middle of the night when my wife was asleep but this act would only burden me with more guilt. I have resigned myself to the fact that I need to accept my discomfort and make the best of my life- but even as I sit here writting this, flees are falling out of my hair and jumping on to the key board. I am worried that next week, when I start my teaching job- flees will follow me all the way to school and crawl out of my nose or ears when I am in the middle of class- or worse, in the middle of a teacher Parent conference.

Cereal Without The Milk.

What has been going on with me lately? I can’t tell if it is the oppressive heat or some kind of chemical strike within my brain. I am used to being lethargic at this point in my life but the kind of forgetfulness that has made itself a permanent fixture in my life- is driving me crazy. If I become any more forgetful I am afraid that the repetitive nightmare that I always had as a child where I would show up at school in the nude will come true. I have started taking various memory enhancement supplements but so far they do not seem to be working because tonight I went to the market to buy cereal and I forgot the milk.

In Dante’s classic work the The Divine Comedy, the stream of Lethe flows to the centre of the earth from its surface, but its headwaters are located in the Earthly Paradise found at the top of the mountain of Purgatory. In high school my English Teacher always used to tell me that if I did not stop smoking grass that I was going to fall into the stream of Lethe and end up in the center of the earth where all the sinners go. At that time I had no idea that Lethe was the Greek term for forgetfulness. Nor did I realize that I would later forget that in Samuel Beckett’s radio play Embers, the main character Henry describes conversing with his dead wife: “that’s what hell will be like, small chat to the babbling of Lethe about the good old days when we ate cereal without the milk and wished we were dead.”

I often forget my keys, where I parked my car and that I am a married man- but lately I have been forgetting more obvious things. I will travel to the post office to mail a letter and come home with a frozen yogurt and the letter still in my pocket. I will start reading a book and immediately forget what it was all about. There are even certain days that I forget what my wife looks like. I am yet to forget the more permanent fixtures in my life like my address and my cat’s name- but I am wondering if I should start considering some kind of medical care to rule out any auspicious happenings within my mind. Normally, I would be in a state of red flag hypochondriac alert, but my forgetfulness has been with me for as long as I can remember which is not long at all.

I often wonder if my high school English Teacher jinxed me when she threatened me to an eternity in the underworld for enjoying the youthful pleasures of being high on the mountain. Sometimes I even wonder if I have not already forgotten this Earthly Paradise and been condemned to an eternity in an Inferno where the sinner is doomed to forget one thing after the next. All kinds of plausible scenarios have percolated around in my brain. Whatever the case may be- tomorrow morning I have to wake up and eat my flax seed cereal without the milk. If I remember.

The Writer

I am a Writer and I have to write about what I need to write about. If I try to hide what I need to write about- and write about something else, well then- I am not doing my job. I am often hunted by my stories (which are nothing more than my past experiences colored in) and if I do not exorcise them by writing about them – I am doomed to repeat them. Whether my experience involves infidelity, deceit, fear of failure, self doubt, victimization, arrogance, self obsession or self flagellation- I must put it down on the page with the utmost certainty that speaking the truth is what writing is for.

The only thing that I expect my readers to demand of me is the truth. It is my job to come forth and claim the story even though I know that most people (including myself) I write about will not approve. I would be lying if I said that I am never tempted to fictionalizing endings, middles and beginnings. Sometimes I do. But for me life is fiction and like Oscar Wilde said, “the Writer of fiction just makes ordinary life a little bit more interesting for the rest of us.”

Guilt, pressure, isolation, backaches, alcohol addiction and death threats aside- being a Writer does have its plus sides. Through the process of writing I often find things out about myself that I did not know. Even though telling the truth is what compels me to write, so does telling lies. In the stories that I make up about myself there is often more truth than in the stories that I do not fictionalize. Within the make believe I find layered aspects of the person that I try hard not to be. My shadow comes out into the light of day and for a short period of time, I am familiar with who I really am. There is some emotional distance between myself and the story that I am trying to tell- and it is within the space of this distance that I can see every aspect of me.

Does a Writer owe it to his family and friends to keep quite if he/she finds out things that are unsavory and uncanny? I am not interested in writing simply to assuage my guilt. Instead, I would like to loose it. It is the unsavory and the uncanny that create the lyrical intensity within my mind that only an experimental opera, novel or film could begin to approach. If I was to keep quiet, than what would I have to say? I am merely reporting back all the absurdities that I see within me and you. This is why the whole process of being a writer is long and twisting and sometimes it reminds me of wondering around the Kafkaesque streets of Barcelona where I was always in awe and lost and not a single person spoke my language.

The Plop Artist

I am yet to be able to sell a single one of my paintings. For over twenty years I have been painting diligently with fervent dreams of artistic success. Unfortunately, I seem to be the only one left who believes that this success is still possible. People see my paintings and they do not understand what I am doing. They think I am untrained and naive. An unenthusiastic “interesting,” is the most often used descriptive response to my work. I have left my paintings on sidewalks to see if anyone would steal them- but the paintings just sit there. Getting galleries, restaurants, museums or any other establishment to hang my art upon their walls is like pulling teeth. Nobody seems to want to see my art except me, myself and I.

The other evening when I was talking to my wife about my decades old desire to earn a living as a Painter, we had another fight. She is frustrated by my inability to see the reality of my situation. “You have been painting for over twenty years and can not get shows. No one has shown any interest your work for years! I love you and I like your art but come on, when is it time to get real real?- you are yet to sell a single painting!” she replied. “This does not mean I will never sell a painting. I mean look at van Gogh or…. (I was unable to come up with another name), they could not sell a single painting in their life time and now their work is worth millions,” I replied like a man defending his property. “Who is they?” my wife rhetorically replied. “You only referenced van Gogh, that is only one out of thousands. Are you equating yourself to van Gogh? -because to be honest with you honey- you are no van Gogh.”

I beg to differ. I think that my talent as a Painter is equal if not greater than any Painter that has ever lived. It may be a latent and unskilled talent but this does not invalidate it. My ability to portray a world that does not exist any place other than in my head- is unrivaled by any other artist I have ever seen. I do not believe that there is anything quite like my art in the world. My value as a Painter is greatly underestimated and unappreciated. So what, gallery owners and museums do not respond to my submissions. Does this mean that I am helpless? What I know for certain is that if I do not find a way soon to make the world realize my artistic value- than I am afraid that my life will be relegated to a nine to five job, salary, health benefits, certifications, and a mortgage that I can barley afford. I will have become a mere image of what I had dreamed myself to be and my painting studio will be cleaned out to make room for the baby and its crib. Shit.

I can tell no one who knows me about being a Plop Artist. If my wife finds out that I am taking my paintings and hanging them upon walls illegally- I know that she will not only loose respect for me but she will become infuriated. She wants a comfortable life where there are no concerns about her husbands arrest. She takes comfort in believing that I am a law abiding Anarchist who has never been in jail. If she found out that I was jeopardizing her domestic dreams by illegally hanging my paintings on museum, gallery and corporate office walls (without permission) I know it would not only destroy her illusion of me but also end my marriage. But this is only if I am caught. If on the other hand, I am discovered, and someone wants to buy one of my paintings or provide me with artistic representation- than not only my career as a Painter but also my dreams and my marriage will be salvaged. My despair will float away like ripples in a stream and I will be entered into Art History books. I am willing to take the risk.

I always check the garbage first. The following day, after plopping my painting upon a wall, if my painting is not yet in the garbage than I know that it is either still hanging on the wall or someone has kept it. I have hundreds of paintings in my cob web ridden painting studio- so giving a few away for free is the sacrifice that I have to make to get my name out into the world. I often leave my business card with my website address besides the painting that I have just plopped down- and it has just occurred to me that this is not such a good idea since it could lead to my arrest. “Never leave a paper trail,” my grandfather used to say to me. Shit.

The other day I hung one of my paintings in the San Fransisco Modern Art Museum right besides Paul Klee’s “The Tightrope Walker.” There was no security in the room at the time and there was a small open space upon the wall which I could not resist. I took the painting out from under my long black coat and stuck a tack into the wall upon which I hung my painting. It was a little out of place but I desperately wanted to hang one my paintings right besides Paul Klee. Just as I was straightening the painting out, a group of what looked like Japanese students walked into the room. I quickly backed away from where I was standing and waited to see if they noticed my painting. They did not. They walked right past it without even a subtle remark.

My heart sank when I was putting one of my paintings on the wall of the TransAmerica building. I stuck the tack in the wall and put my painting up right when a security guard said to me “sir, you are not allowed to handle the art.” “Sorry officer, I just accidentally ran into the painting on my way out to lunch and I was trying to straighten it out,” I replied. “Just please step away from the art sir,” he said and I continued on my way.

At this moment in San Fransisco I have art hanging in several galleries, two museums, a few corporate office buildings and in some restaurant and bar bathrooms. If you are in San Fransisco and you go to the Museum of Modern Art, Hang Gallery or the TransAmerica building- you will see my work (if it has not yet been taken down). I have been plopping for almost a month now and I am determined to make a name for myself before the school year starts and I have to go back to my day job as a high school English Teacher. “When are you going to take the certification test and get your Teaching credential?” my wife keeps asking me. She wants me to secure my career as a high school Teacher so that we can begin to plan having a family and maybe even buy a house. “I will do these things soon, soon,” I tell her with the intention of putting it off as long as I can hold out. Maybe I am trying to avoid the inevitable, maybe there is no hope for success in my artistic career. Maybe I am a 37 year old burn out. But I only have one life to live and I am determined to live and dream. I will keep plopping my paintings on walls all over this city until I either get caught or discovered by somebody who recognizes the artistic genius that I know I am. In the meantime, I still have not sold a single painting.

My Love Affair With Booze

When I first met booze I was 15 years old and wondering around in my father’s liquor cabinet. I was immediately attracted to the shapes of the bottles and the intense aroma that emanated from them. My childhood was filled with unbearable burdens of grief and isolation so when I sipped from one of the oval bottles and felt the loosing of all my spiritual knots- I feel in love. This may have been the only time in my life that I have experienced falling in love as an epiphany, a sudden realization of all the ways my lover could set me free.

By the time I was 16 I was in a committed relationship with booze. I saw booze almost every day. We went every where together and could not stand being apart. I always knew where to find booze when it was not around. I slept almost every night under the sweet intoxication of booze’s effect upon me. What was once a lonely and intolerable hole in my heart- had suddenly become filled with booze.

My love affair with booze consisted mostly of white wine. There was no greater pleasure for me than being alone and downing an entire bottle of white wine and then taking a warm shower while listening to The Smiths or lying in the grass while smoking a cigarette.

Often times my love affair with booze would turn sour. I would awake around five a.m ravaged by the effects of giving too much of myself over to my love. I suffered the consequences of surrendering ones own individuality to the beloved. I would vomit in the early morning, like a man suffering the terrible pangs of a love gone bad. I would get down on my knees and pray that my suffering end. Once the vomiting would stop I would slowly wonder back to bed and swear that I would never see my love again.

My mother and father realized that something was up when my father noticed that a large portion of his white wine collection was missing from his wine cellar. I had drank the majority of his wine, but I also would share it with friends during lunch breaks and after school. My few friends and I all shared a mad love towards booze because it allowed us a respite from going through the banality, insecurity and parental pressure of being a teenager. When under the influence of booze, I was like a kite that had broken away from the string that had kept me from flying free.

Often times when I was drunk I would tip cows over while they slept (Cow Tipping) or throw rocks at ghosts. I would take off my pants in wide open fields and masturbate under the night sky. My friend had a pool table in his garage which we would gather around for hours. We would sneak the wine into our mouths and play pool without a care in the world. That is until my father showed up and took me away.

My attachment to my love was so great that I had to be locked up so that I would not revisit booze again. For four months I struggled through an alcoholic rehabilitation program with a hole in my heart that could no longer be filled up with booze. Slowly the insecurity, banality and parental pressures of being a teenager returned and my longing to see my love increased. I sat through alcoholic rehabilitation classes and four hour long compassion groups seven days a week for months until I turned seventeen and was set free back into the custody of my parents.

One day I ran into booze in the back of my school. It had changed since the last time I saw it. It turned red and it looked aged. I felt sorry for it as my friends drank it and made faces like it was the most awful thing that they had ever tasted. “Pretty bad?” I asked. “We don’t drink it for the taste- we like how it fucks up our head,” one of my friends replied. When he offered me the bottle I felt put off by the booze. I no longer felt the urge to be intoxicated by it. I had enough insight to remember what it was like having my head and heart all fucked up, and I was in no hurry to get back into that love affair.