The Occasional Reminder

I woke up to the words “Call 911. Somebody, please!”

These words, I’ve awoken to before, kids being kids, they joke about most everything in their little world just a stone’s throw from outside my window, so I wasn’t exactly leaping into action. Then one of the kids called out the full apartment address and I knew they were serious. Flung back the covers, still groggy, straight out of a vivid dream to fumble my way over to the window. Pulled the blinds up calling out, “Do you need help?” to the girl down below. Her reply, “Call 911, there’s a car on fire!”

Briefly looked out to where my red car is normally parked in full view of the window. On rare occasion, there are no such spots left in view. Such as the night before. Glanced over to where I did find a spot to park … hidden behind the overhang of the roof … from which a steady billowing stream of dark smoke was pouring upward into the sky. Was pulling on some pants and reaching for a top all the while thinking “What if it’s my car … no, it can’t be my car … somebody would come to the door and” – KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK! Thought I must still be dreaming. The knock came at the door just as I thought it. From outside I heard the words “They’re on the way!” No longer needing to call for help, I opened the door to a teenage-ish boy. He began, “Do you own the red car out there parked along the road?” “Uh, yes, why?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “It’s on fire, there was a guy and he was under the hood working on it, he had a can of gasoline and then there were flames and he took off in the car he came in. Cars kept driving by and no one seemed to be stopping or looking, so we thought we should call 911.” As the sirens of the approaching fire truck, dispensed from the station just down the way, wailed on, I followed him down the stairs.

Had never seen this particular car, mine’s the only red one in the slew of vehicles often parked out there.

Walking across the lawn, I could see peripherally that there were several handfuls of kids standing around. I didn’t allow myself to look up, in hopes of delaying the inevitable, until I’d nearly reached the edge of the grass where the sidewalk began and my car sat just a few feet away. At last, I looked up. And started to laugh. There, a red car parked. Behind mine! Praise God and hallelujah, it wasn’t my car afterall! Had never seen this particular car, mine’s the only red one in the slew of vehicles often parked out there. Looked around then, hoping the owner of the torched vehicle wasn’t nearby feeling put upon by my flagrant display of relief in the form of said laughter accompanied by a gigantic smile across my face.

Thing was, all the evidence seemed to point to the fact that, yes, indeed, my car was the one ablaze. Yet I clung to the hope and possibility that, no, somehow it would not be my car, and I refused to let anger and the worry and inconvenience of no wheels wash over me until I saw with my own eyes. Basically, I was confronted with the old adage “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck” only to be rewarded with the truth. Really, it could be just a dragon doing a duck impersonation. Meaning, things are not always as bleak as they may appear, there’s always room for hope. A lesson I thankfully learned long ago, though it’s always, always nice to have the occasional reminder, even if in the form of such hoopla. And it just goes to show that not all such adages are what they’re quacked up to be …

I snapped a few discreet camera shots

In looking around, I was happy to spy yet another obviously just awoken person standing a few feet away in varying degrees of dress: No shirt, puffy winter jacket, jeans, belt dangling down unbuckled, no socks, shoelaces dragging on the ground. Tucked under one arm, he carried the fire extinguisher provided with each apartment. The firefighters had set up shop, one aiming the water hose at the sea of flames filling the entire front end of the car engine compartment, flare-ups frequently curling out up and over the hood causing the small crowd to rear back slightly. As the flames diminished, two others attempted to pry open the hood with crowbars, after which I snapped a few discreet camera shots.

Fireman Lifting Up Car Hood

In discussing possible theories concerning the rationale behind what had occurred, the crowd consensus was that the guy had been purposely sabotaging the car in an attempt to have it deemed “totaled” so as to receive an insurance settlement. The inclusion of daylight and witnesses though, not so bright. Most car fires rarely blow up in action movie fashion. All the same, I was thrilled to find I didn’t take on my own bright idea by trying to save my car in the moments before the fire truck pulled up, and in so doing possibly have sparked fumes, the pit of flames and/or the puddles of gasoline along the blacktop. Getting blown up doesn’t mesh well with my summer plans. Turns out, I didn’t leave completely unscathed. A girl nearby, asked if the other red car was mine. From where she stood, she could see the back end had begun to melt. Visions of dripping pools of metal and red paint came to mind, possibly an indiscernible license plate to boot. Alas, no, simply a melty red bumper. I’ll take it! It has a curvaceous ripply wave to the passenger’s side now with the markings of receded paint blisters. Kinda like Two-Face from Batman. Lastly, once I arrived home, I caught my reflection in the mirror only to detect that my fly had been down the entire time, exposing indigo blue undies which stood out quite nicely against the cream colored pants.

So, this latest fiasco was a week ago from this past Monday, allowing just enough recovery time for me to look forward once again to flames galore in the form of a grill and backed by the dark night sky. Independence Day! ♦

Painting by Marina Petro

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A Widening of View

Oh, to bask in a bouquet, to meander through a field of sunflowers …

Today’s musings, the telling of my outright full-on love (love!) for that of Vincent van Gogh. Often, I am asked who my favorite artist is, to which I reply “My favorite artist is Vincent van Gogh.” I’m met with a groan or rolling of the eyes much of the time, especially if a fellow artist or designer is the one asking. For, he’s typical. A layman’s choice. His work over saturates many a poster shop, the term “a dime a dozen” coming to mind in describing the prevalence of his work.

What I had yet to learn was that the ability to produce realism was in fact considered preliminary.

At the age of 14, I hated, hated, hated him! His work rather. Any artwork that didn’t seek to capture realism simply sucked in my view. The way I saw it, these artists didn’t have the skill to look at an object or scene and reproduce it in graphite or paint. Instead, they apparently did what they could, creating splotchy, ill-conceived versions of their subjects often with poor perspective and proportion to boot. My thinking hadn’t yet evolved to realize that the art that he and others were creating wasn’t about the desire to recreate reality perfectly. What I had yet to learn was that the ability to produce realism was in fact considered preliminary. For years artists were trained to draw and paint realistically, spending hours recreating works painted by the masters down to the last brushstroke, as well as the traditional still life studies, figure rendering, portraiture and landscape work.

I returned time and again to books filled with works of Impressionism (along with a handful of other “isms”) and still shook my head in disbelief, unable to see an ounce of beauty in the work. I remember the day it all became clear to me. From the 6th grade on, I’d spend hours drawing, shunning a table or desk, opting instead for the floor. More often than not, I’d look up to find myself quite literally frozen in place, the sketch pad laid out across the bed, having knelt alongside it for hours, legs long since asleep, as I realized I’d once again trailed off into my own little world. That particular day, in leu of sketch pad, I stared perplexed at van Gogh’s “Irises.” Light bulb! I’d been perceiving the work all wrong. Having acquired the structural basics, fully versed and equipped in all things realistic, artists wanted more! To push beyond and discover something new! Uncharted territory. A style unexplored and yet to be defined, to be known for originality, a contribution. To create and be known for creating!

Art isn’t about beauty, though, it’s certainly a personal joy when it is. Art is about ideas. It’s not always pretty. Nor soothing. It can tell the truth. With a lie. With art one can mirror the current trends and foibles of society, as many a wry political cartoon may attest. The lie being that the art itself is a recreation of an image, not the actual image.

Irises by Vincent van Gogh

So, Vincent was the catalyst to my expansion of thought, a widening of view, and for that, I have great affection for him despite his commonplace status. Screw art snobs and the need to offer up a high brow example of artistic depth, yes? I’ve always been a bit sad that van Gogh came off as somewhat of a kook, what with the earlobe sharing and death by botched suicide attempt business. His short life spiraled downward into madness and was filled with many dark times and a lingering lack of self esteem. He sold but one painting while living and was generally considered a failure.

I was overcome to find that he was more than his bleak reputation.

In 2004, the Seattle Art Museum held an exhibition including an extensive selection of his work. I had seen several pieces at other museums on the East coast, but nothing like in this particular exhibit. The first room was full of just his drawings. Detailed sketches on aged brown paper with graphite. In those drawings, I saw that he was by no means just some kooky, dismal failure. He knew how to capture light and shape and perspective. Incredible detail, thoughtful visual tellings of the life he lived day to day. It was like reading an intimate journal, looking at those drawings. Then the next room, all paintings, all color! YAY! The piece de resistance, my favorite painting by him. “Cafe Terrace at Night.” No print does the real thing justice! No words in description. Cobblestone, wrought iron, night, stars, outside dining … le sigh. I began to cry. In a room milling with people, my sister came up behind me, “Deborah!” When I turned, tears welled over. No sobs, I held them down, receiving a nice lump in my throat from that! Ha. I was overcome to find that he was more than his bleak reputation. A published book of letters written to his brother show he was wonderfully expressive and reflective in thought. Seeing tactile proof right there though, on paper and canvas, to almost touch what he touched, it showed that for whatever struggles he had, he was so much more, and it renewed my pride in naming him my favorite. ♦

Cafe Terrace at Night
Cafe Terrace At Night by Vincent van Gogh

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Tires. Flat ones.

Several weeks back, Bean came home from work semi-ranting about some kids who were throwing glass bottles into the road. She arrived home with a flat tire. Down we headed to change it, Bean being introduced to the wonderful world of the car trunk where the jack, lug nut wrench and spare all reside. So love that they’re included! As they should be.

Not having changed a flat in years, we were double checking our progress when over walks a woman from a car parked a few spaces over. She’d just pulled in. She asked if we needed any help, stating that she had worked on tires for a living. Her husband, standing back by the vehicle, one kid hanging lax in the crook of his arm, head on shoulder, the other being coralled in near his leg from repeated attempts to wander out into the road, nodded his head our way. We totally took her up on the offer! I’ve had periodic car issues over the years, ending up stuck alongside the freeway in the blazing sun on a trip to Portland one time, in the dark night on a strip of Pac Highway another, among others. Whichever, always, always someone came along within minutes. A crew of road warriors out there looking out for me. Blessed! So I wasn’t at all surprised at the uncanniness of finding not one, but two people (the woman mentioned her husband currently worked at a tire shop), a couple no less, in an apartment complex of hundreds, not only living in our building, but arriving home just minutes behind us. Thanked her profusely! Several minutes later, on track from her advice, we’d removed the tire, and were beginning to struggle with lifting the spare up into place to aline with the bolts when up walks the man. Endowed with lovely “man” shoulders, he placed the tire in mere seconds and we were on our way.

My little car is under strict instruction to not cave under peer pressure and follow suit.

Turns out, the tire wasn’t flat due to the glass afterall. A thick nail was the culprit. Upon further inspection of the tire, a nasty patch of barely there tread was found. So worn in fact, it was reminiscent of a helium balloon, stretched thin, and surely would have blown out at any time. Bonus: Acquired knowledge and practice of tire changing was put to use not even a week later, when my Dad’s car got its very own flat tire on our way to lunch. My little car is under strict instruction to not cave under peer pressure and follow suit.

Here in lies the rub. For well over a year, I’m randomly disrupted from time to time by a truly awful ruckus out in the parking lot. That of a woman, a mom, screaming, no RAGING, at her children. Two little boys. She bellows at them, shoving them into the side of her car, back and forth between hers and the next, to and fro like human pinballs. Clenching their arms, violently shaking them, slamming them up against the door, swatting at bums, slapping at heads, roughly directing them, eventually, into the backseat. All the while the words from her mouth, she hates them, not only hates them, f**king hates them. The standard issue of foul names to be called are then slung at them with a liberal helping of “dumb” and “stupid”. Needless to say, my buttons, pushed. Push! To an Nth degree. It wrenches my heart.

So, last week, again with the screaming. Was awakened by that horrendous voice. Each time I’ve gone to the window, my vision of her upper body has been blocked due to the angles of the carports, but this time, she walked out around the vehicle in such a way, that I saw. It was her. Our road warrior. Blessed tire woman! Left me more deflated than any tire. I’ve mulled over the options …

A. Approach her soft heartedly, attempt to appeal to her sense of rationality, of heart.
B. Play her version of “mommy” and slam her up against her own car door with many the flying expletive.
C. Call the police and/or apartment complex and report her. A lot.

The woman in the booth can no longer take it, and as she goes to stand for a confrontation, the man reaches out, grabbing her wrist to drag her back down

Thing is, unless a rare, rare case, nothing, absolutely nothing I attempt will reach her. Once I heard her let the maintenance man have it when he politely asked her to keep it down. Off she flew on a tirade of complaint. How the neighbors had been calling and reporting her for abuse. That she could damn well do what she pleased with her kids. That incident takes care of both options “A” and “C” in one fell swoop, more or less. That leaves “B”. A few months back, I watched one of my favorite actors, Justin Theroux’s, directorial debut, Dedication. A scene takes place in a restaurant booth, where a man and woman attempt to hold a conversation only to be continually disrupted by another woman talking cruelly to her child as she shoves him around. The woman in the booth can no longer take it, and as she goes to stand for a confrontation, the man reaches out, grabbing her wrist to drag her back down, uttering the following words, “If you go over there, she’s just gonna take him home and beat the s**t outta him because of you, you want that?” That scene, was like a slap in my face. To think my potential actions, be it “A”, “B”, “C” or any other, could cause further harm, further frustration built up in her to be unleashed unjustly on those boys.

I’m glad for the personal encounter with her. She’s been humanized. Not excused. And though I’m left feeling rather helpless, I know, know, people can change, drastically, and for the better. I’ve experienced it. Seen those mellow who needed mellowing. Boy, would I like to mellow her. May she experience an epiphany to so entirely eclipse her ingrained habit as to move her up and on to a better way! Sooner than later. ♦

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Made My Toes Warm

Lately the smell of clover hangs in the air and it mixes with that of salt water wafting up from Puget Sound just down the way, lingering heady and inviting. Crickets chirp, frogs croak in a rhythmic symphony and I’m thrilled it’s spring again. Summer nearly! It acts as an offset to the barbaric yelping heard by an overpopulation of teenage hooligans that congregate outside my window these days. A fair trade. Almost (actually not at all, but this shall be the glass half full version). Walking across the lawn to the stairs recently, I spied an old clunker of a car that reminds me …

A few summer’s back, I volunteered to help set up the Sunset Supper event at the Pike Place Market. In celebration of the Market’s birthday, 70-ish first class restaurants/wineries/breweries serve up their best set up buffet style out along the cobblestone for patrons to partake in a late night of al fresco dining and dancing with live music all to the benefit of local charities.

Pike Place Market Sunset

My shot of a most glorious sunset (!) from the walkway into the Market

So, I’d just pulled into a spot to park and was turning off this and that when a short, pudgy man rounded the corner near the front end of my car and proceeded to whip out his ware and water the shrubbery! Glancing at the ever present camera on my dash, I rightly thought better of it. Miffed at the unsolicited show, though, I considered driving away, but not to be shooed from my hard-won parking spot, I instead quickly exited the car, briefly stopping at the trunk to get further situated, before heading on up to the Market. That’s when it happened.

There she was, walking directly towards me in a fuzzy off-the-shoulder hot pink sweater complete with swinging fringe, leopard print mini-skirt and gold lame cowboy boots in the bright sun of the midday afternoon. What did this leggy goddess of sheer oddball delight topped off with a crazy curly red, red bob want with little me, I pondered momentarily?

Spent many an hour the summer between 6th and 7th grade plopped down on the library floor in the aisle containing plays and poetry perusing to my heart’s content.

She began with a large, wonderful, krinkly-eyed smile, asking if the Sea Green big daisy-hooded car was mine. I replied that “Yes, that’s Smitty!” She gave her name, Kelly Lyles, introducing herself in affiliation with Art Cars locally and nationally. I looked over then, to what surely was her very own art car. Leopard Bernstein. She then personally asked if I’d like to join in the Fremont Fair where many an art car congregates to the tune of much fanfare and broohaha. Dream 72, checked it off the list! Made my toes warm. Spent many an hour the summer between 6th and 7th grade plopped down on the library floor in the aisle containing plays and poetry perusing to my heart’s content. There I found a book on “Art Cars”. The taking of a vehicle and adding various knick-knackage and/or paint to create a themed wonder on wheels. The fascination began!

Been totally hankering for a car to tinker with again. One day, someday. Chalkboard! Wanna paint one with chalkboard paint along with attached and usable chalk for the making of many public doodles. Taking something unwanted, unattractive, out of vogue, like a Pinto say, and elevating it to a place worthy of adoration, in which it’s cared for, loved. Paraded! A thing of beauty, albeit questionably. Art cars can be thoroughly tacky, but when done well, kitschy! Where tacky meets nostalgia, its saving grace. Sadly, Smitty met his demise before he was able to attend his first official gathering. Still, he was thoroughly loved around town, receiving many a wave and wild pointing while out and about. Hooray for that! ♦

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