Paul posts on the bulletin board rather often, sometimes bad poetry or tortured puns, and sometimes tidbits he cuts from old encyclopedias a former tenant left behind. I used photos from those books myself for scanning into a website before I returned them to the communal bookshelf. One day I recognize a few clippings of famous paintings and wonder if they could be from the same source. Two are of the screaming pope by Francis Bacon. Something is off-base here.
So I’m sitting on the deck grading papers and Mario comes to his window. “Mind if I join you? Just wanted to catch-up.” Dressed in chinos only, he climbs through the window and takes a seat in the sun. “How goes it with the band?” I ask. Mario joined a cover group with a local following that works the regional circuit several nights a month.
“We’re doing Kilroys in Indianapolis this weekend, then it’s Joe’s on North and Green on Tuesdays. You should attend.” I only shrug. “How big is the crowd?” I ask.
“With this band I’ve never performed for fewer than 1500. It’s intense. The noise, the applause. I was crouched at the edge of the stage taking photos of the lead guitarist. I wasn’t playing that number… I leaned back to get the shot and lost my balance. Several hands reached for me and actually pulled me into them, then passed me along the top of the crowd holding me above their heads. I had to relax and just let it happen, you know? It was intense.”
Mario tells a long story about his first one-night-stand and how he was a gentleman and didn’t put her in a cab, but rather drove her home. “I called a couple days later because I felt bad,” he confesses.
“She was just using you as an object,” I claim with a laugh. “In my day, the night was successful only if you went home with the bass guitarist. It’s all about bragging rights the next day.” Mario squints in the sun. Dark hair against white skin, and he’s been working out. “I kinda got a sense of that when we talked. I’m not used to the lifestyle yet.”
“But you could get used to it, huh?” We laugh and talk awhile about the pitfalls of fame and how the lifestyle can be addictive and destructive. He feigns modesty and I hide my sarcasm. Well, maybe not. Mario learns I teach MWF so I’m absent from the artist studios until 3pm. “Great! Now I have my times for music. I’m tired of the headphones.” He stands and does a little jig. I’m kind of hurt that my presence crimps his style and he thinks of me as a grinch. “Have at it,” I agree.
I’m still sitting over student papers in the pleasant sunshine when Paul invites me out for coffee. We go to Starbucks and the espresso warms him to conversation. “Mario hates women and only uses them. They got in after three on Saturday and she was gone by 9am. And all that bragging. Candish says everybody at the artist studios has looks and could get lucky any night.”
They are so ungenerous. Why not revel in Mario’s success? “He told me a story about a one-night-stand, and I claimed she was just using him as a sex object.” Paul laughs and slaps high-five. “His changes are far more serious than you think,” I add. “I predict a revolving door of music lovers while Mario gets a taste of local fame. Hide and watch. Hide and watch.”
When we get back, Paul points to his most recent posting on the message board, a nude with a sizable bottom and too many vertebrae in her spine. The screaming pope in blue overtones is juxtaposed by a portrait of a real pope. Paul indicates the similarities in composition for the two pope images. “I took these from Art & Civilization you gave me,” he continues as part of his description.
“You cut-up Art & Civilization?” I demand. He just stares. I have to shrug it off to maintain balance with a friend. “Just a textbook,” I say with a dismissive gesture.
He destroyed the weighty and costly coffee table book, Jeez Louise. So I think back. You know, that treacherous pitfall of memory that we all try to avoid. Paul and I bonded last summer when he was the primary gardener and I wanted to hold a get-to-know-the-neighbors party on the deck. What was I thinking? At any rate, we spent a weekend seriously rearranging already placed houseplants, and then added pots of annuals for balance. He told great stories and took direction well.
Later Paul provided bags and bags of green velvet material he had scrounged from Starbucks when they redecorated display windows. High-nap industrial velvet with coffee stains on one side of the long panels. But since they had hung doubled up, the backside was relatively unscarred. Last summer I laid them out in my studio and cut and sewed six 60”x85” panels for my windows. Elegant tall dressy green curtains lend a certain men’s club flavor to my living space. I was grateful for Paul’s talent for finding free treasures.
But then I saw his studio. Jeez Louise. More than a filthy guy space, it was a full decade of trash and dirt and paint cans and stored scrounged pieces he may find a use for later. And it stank.
Paul rescued discarded fabric samples from the annex of local hardware store, assembled books of swatches of expensive cloth but none of it useful. Over the winter he ripped the books apart and stowed the material in Walgreen bags in the jumble of his room. He talked continuously about making creative handbags or a man’s vest with the ever-so-valuable swatches, but never committed to a workspace or hours spent in front of a sewing machine. It was a game he played in his head, one of many grandiose games that go nowhere.
Yet, on the other hand… Paul and I hallowed and carved several decorative gourds last October for a candlelit deck display that was a big hit during a group house party. Paul made excellent choices with a sense of style and gestures of care and perfection. He just never applied that energy to his own living space. One artist tenant had claimed that Paul lived like a deposed prince.
I decide finally that it’s a form of senior dementia, this need for snobbery and hoarding, and poking his nose in everybody’s business. If I protect myself from the others, his machinations are just daily entertainment, a distraction from grading papers composed by freshman minds.
I’m leaving to teach one morning and see the clippings from Art & Civilization posted on the message board. Of all the possible images in that weighty book, Paul chose several renditions of the screaming pope. How appropriate.