may i place you on hold?

i'm getting ready for a collaborative show with my good old friend kj.  for me, that means work upon work, priming, cutting, sanding, sketching, drawing, painting, repainting, assessing, discussing. it means adding sequins, rhinestones, gold and silver where necessary.  it means learning the grim sad stories of dead rock 'n' rollers, and avoiding their eyes, drawn by your hand, watching you walk around the room.  it means driving up to bellingham to look at those portraits side by side, some by you and some by she, maybe listen to hall&oates radio and add a few details here an there, gossiping all the while.  but mostly, it means that the one a day project gets put on the back burner.  the hiatus, it's worth it. i promise, it will be worth it. i swear.


the daily grind

hanging signs, hand-lettered

having a blind cat of 18+ years means many things.  namely, it means patience, with a side of concern.  today, it meant cleaning up pee and poop in the usual spots, in my usual manner: wipe, rinse, spray, repeat.  it also meant sitting on a bench outside in the sun, waiting and watching, trying not to count the minutes while max explored the sidewalk out front.  it means leading him with my voice, with pats on the ground or surfaces, leading him to the soil or the gravel, where he can sniff around and pee like a man, like he wants to, outdoors and on his terms.  it means occasionally getting up to run defense, between him and the road, the cars, or the customers, while he wanders around not really knowing where.  today, it means your neighbor andrea finds max standing there blankly in the middle of the street, and picks him up like a good Samaritan to put him back in safety of the fenced enclosure.  sometimes it means running defense  between him and pato, the territorial duck who comes a'running and flapping beak first toward any cat in his backyard.  on a daily basis, what it means for me is slowing down for long enough to give max what he needs, like fully supervised time outside, lap time, belly rubs, and a carefully concocted meal.  it means trying my hardest to read his signals, to interpret his quiet subtle version of cat language, so i don't piss him off too often, so i don't confuse or disorient him, so i can guide him gingerly to the places he wants to go.  it means not flinching or cringing every time he bumps his nose into a wall.  having a blind cat, well, somehow it changes everything.

since max has gone completely blind, all of these little things happen on a daily basis.  they're new chores, new mental clutter to add to my already long list.  as his caretaker, his momma, i feel it is my duty to see him through this phase of his life without complaint. it's hard sometimes, but i keep doing it, if for no other reason than the hope that someone will have the patience to do the same for me when i grow old and clumsy.  i guess that's what love is for, providing us with the patience and willingness to see each other through the roughest spots, and to show each other the beauty hidden in the darkest corners.


falling off (the wagon): part 4

miraculously, we found a mechanic that would take us.  we had the van towed, puppies inside.  in the cab of the towtruck on I-5 north, i kept looking back worriedly, the van at an angle, the puppies at an angle too.  i couldn't see them, and wondered how it was, their first towtruck ride ever.  so many firsts, every day full of firsts, firsts for them, and firsts for me too.   

we arrived. at a remote gravel lot with an unmarked building in north olympia, the towtruck pulled in.  once at the shop, we couldn't be in the van, neither could the dogs.  we had lots of time to kill.  so we set out with the puppies for a walk on a busy and fast road, what we later found out was the "deadliest highway in kitsap county".  

the road was desolate and dangerous.  nothing for miles.  i was stressed, unnerved by the noise and commotion, longing for the peaceful and slow bend in my road, the road home.   the puppies flinched at each loud motor screaming past.  we passed three crosses, casualties of speed and metal machines.  i felt hopeless.  

soon, we came upon a gas station. with a schwag deli! and a coffee cart!  and outdoor tables!  "hallelujah!  this is an oasis!"  i thought aloud.  we settled comfortably into some chairs.  i bought a round of scratch tickets, for good measure.  

we spent all day there, all damn day, scratching the silvery wax off of paper tickets, figuring it might just be our lucky day after all, if we invested our winnings, or picked just the right penny to scratch with.  we scratched and scratched, until five hours had passed, until we had spent forty dollars on coffee pizza and scratch tickets, until it seemed like our van might just be ready for us.


falling off (the wagon): part 3


 we stayed up late that night while grandma told us stories, mostly ones we hadn't heard yet, about her father the world book salesman and her mother's decision to divorce back when nobody did that kind of thing.  she told us how it all went down, all the gritty details.  in that room on the second story of the sequoia house, while the light went down and until it was black outside, we talked and talked.  and somehow, it seemed fated that our car, grandpa's van, would break down there of all places, and that we would finally take the time out of our crazy lives to get to know our grandma even better.  somehow, it seemed necessary.  she had just turned 87, after all.

we slept in the van that night, surprisingly well, with the dogs snuggled into us under the blankets, not as crowded as i would have thought.  and in the morning, so early it was, 5 o'clock maybe, we awoke to the sound of grandma, shuffling by in her walker, anxious for a trip to Ihop and a real, hot breakfast for a change.  Those cold scrambled eggs they served at the sequoia house weren't from a shell, after all.  they were powdered, and just plain nasty.

grandma kept a surprisingly quick pace on the mile or so walk along that busy busy road to ihop.  once there, we snuggled into a booth, drank coffee and ate as much pancake and eggs as we could.  james thumbed through a phone book, and we all silently hoped for a mechanic with an opening that afternoon.


falling off (the wagon): part 2



our car was broken.  but breaking down so close to grandma was ironically convenient. with the help of some screwdrivers and a culinary knife bought from cash&carry, we were able to limp the van to her apartment complex.  driving there, every light seemed to turn red before us as the thermostat rose higher and higher.  finally, the gauge had peaked about as far as it could go, with the telltale smell of smoke before self-combustion.  finally, we made it.  we rolled up on the sequoia house, an assisted living apartment complex, right next to the hospital where grandpa gordie died. a large sequoia tree marked the entrance,  looking strangely impotent surrounded by asphalt and the white columns of the convalescent center.

at last we found grandma mickie, an oasis of love and comfort amidst the turmoil of a broken down engine.  she insisted we eat, so we followed her down the burgundy carpeted halls, she chugging determinedly forward with her walker, to a cafeteria filled with all of the old folks.  we sat at a circular table for a feast of shit on a shingle, just a triangle of squishy wheat bread with a little turkey and gravy, that plus a dixie cup of broccoli salad and a big cup of jello salad.  it was all cold, and barely palatable, but i didn't complain.  because i was going to eat what everybody else ate.  a crazy old lady asked for seconds of jello, and i gave her ours.  i was terrified, but strangely at ease.  so this is where the old people go, i thought to myself, overwhelmed, not sure what to think about the glaring reality of it all.


falling off (the wagon), part 1

hey folks, it's me.  i know, you haven't seen me in a while.  and maybe it's true: i've fallen off the wagon.  but i've still got a leg up on the damn thing.  i mean, i did make some paintings.  good ones.  but in a flurry of business, i hung them in a show and forgot to photograph them.  so for now, you'll just have to close your eyes, and imagine what they're like.   

let me explain further.

last week i went out of town, off the grid.  it was the four year anniversary of my momma's passing, and every year since i make a pilgrimage to the place where we spread her ashes, a cozy fishing cabin on a remote lake at the base of mt. st. helens.  there, i slow down, do what feels natural...breathe the cold mountain air,  watch the reflections in the lake, take walks, snap photos with real film in my heavy old camera, float around in the canoe.  there, i work on the place a little, work against nature's pull, rake the fallen winter's branches, hammer in a few shingles.  there, i work on paintings with the ghost of my mom, work until the light goes down and i can't tell one color from the next, just shades of brown.  at night, its blacker than coal, you can't see in front of you.   at night, james and i play card games by candlelight, sipping whiskey and laughing at the dogs, sleeping belly up.  when i go to the cabin, i reflect and reset, i slow down, my rhythm quieting to match circadian, the pulse of the trees. the forest soothes the ache and loneliness at those times i miss my mom the most, and for that reason now i know why she wanted her ashes spread there, of all places.

four days and three nights we spent, barely able to tear ourselves away from our hectic lives and animal feeding schedules to get there, not to mention daily maintenance on max the blind cat, who can't seem for the life of him to find the correct toilet to use, me trailing him daily with paper towels and a squirt bottle.  but we did it anyways, knowing it was risky: we made a break.  and on day four of our respite at the cabin, we were done, rested, reset and ready to head home. we headed up I-5, to Olympia to have an afternoon visit with grandma mickie.  It was, after all, her 87th birthday, and we had an envelope with 87 dollar bills to give her, one for each year of her life, just like she'd done for all the grandkids for as long as she could.

just off the exit was when it happened.  billowing smoke.  after about an hour of doing laps with the dogs in the cash and carry parking lot, james came out from beneath the van.  the water pump was shot.