A Day of Signs
Today was a strange day. Unplanned, they do happen. I only spoke to one other human being all day, just one conversation, so it sticks in the mind clearly. A day spent basically in silence, without music or chit-chat, but the silence of the air seeming somehow 'full' , almost bursting.
I went to work, house-painting, in a house I have been to work at many before. I conciously decided, when I got there, to leave my camera in the car, to not let myself be diverted, but to straightforwardly focus on the day's work.
I was walking past the foot of the stairs in the house, which i've done a hundred times before, when something caught my eye with such suddenness that a shiver literally ran up my spine. I was completely shocked. After standing fixed for about a minute, I went to my car, got the camera, and returned.
What the camera records is exactly what I saw:
You can imagine how startling this was to see. Especially as the stairs had, in the past, always been completely empty. I tried to return back to work, but my camera was now with me and I wondered if there was anything else to see. I walked into the living-room and saw this hat-head. It seemed a little odd, but not very, but it seemed cheerful to me, so I photographed it.
As you can see from the photo, the guy's chin is a drawer, slightly open. I couldn't help wondering what was in the drawer, so I opened it a bit further:
The Ace of Clubs! Again, I was startled. So that's what he was keeping under his hat! I'd already thought he was a good-time, nightclub kind of guy, but this was the Ace of Clubs himself!
From there I went straight into the next room, the bathroom, and I burst out laughing. This is what I saw:
I call her Woman Who Knows What She Wants!
Then I heard footsteps coming up from the basement. I'd previously assumed I was alone in the house. Turned out he was a carpenter called Joe, a union carpenter from Tacoma, who's jobsite had been closed down due to the rainfall, so he was doing a bit of side-work. We exchanged comments on the financial insecurities of life, and I said I thought the only way to avoid them was by being a trust fund child, or perhaps by making a new invention. He said, "or Art. Some people make a living through their art." This seemed a pretty strange comment for a carpenter to make upon meeting a house-painter! So I asked him if he made art. He said not for many years, but he'd recently made a sculpture, out of wax, and shown it to some friends, who really liked it. He told me he made lots of sculptures when he was young, and people had told him he should do it for a living. Then a thing called the Vietnam War happened, and when he got back he "went to some interesting places and met some very interesting people." Then got a job cutting wood, a wife, and children. He told me he'd been with several people at their death-beds, and they had all wished for more time, that they'd never done the things in their lives that they'd always wanted to do. What kinds of things, I asked. He said, "to go and do things to help other people. to go and say sorry for things they'd done wrong. to make art. ... one said to me, I need more time Joe! But what could I say to him? It was too late."
We talked about our jobs. I told him the attention to tiny details in house-painting gave me this habit of really looking into all the crevices and corners when I look around me at life, and also that I spend hours every day looking at the places where two colors meet. He told me how in fact he'd been making things all his life, and his job is about choices in scale, and materials, and perspectives. We talked about the physical stamina to get a job finished, and to solve problems. I said I see art as a physical need, like hunger. His eyes lit up. "That's a great word for it. I'm hungry!"
Actually, he didn't talk endlessly. The whole conversation was maybe ten minutes. He would pause each time before he spoke, and looking back I can't think of any better analogy than to say it was as if he has a hand of cards, his own precise cards that belonged to him, and he was one by one placing them out on the table. Then we went back to our jobs.
After work I was driving home. It was dark, and the city skyline at night caught my eye, for a photo. I never normally take such pictures, and I failed completely to even photo the skyline! But when I looked at the picture I was once again startled by a coincidence:
You may need to peer into your computer screen at the shadows from various angles, but I see some boots on that pedestrian crossing!
Boots... what an entire world there is in that one word.
I can't help keep thinking about the wierd Wonderland cat who opened all this up for me. And I can't help thinking about Woman Who Knows and the Ace of Clubs. I think those two would get along fine. I think she's sitting in a club , and the Ace of Clubs will walk in. Some dark dive, with the light shining out of the magic bottles above the bartender's head. And they'll go off to one of their apartments. Maybe it's them that's crossing the night-street, and maybe it's her wearing those black boots beneath her long lacy dress, and there's nothing wrong with that. I wonder what music they'll put on. I see him plopping his hat down onto a glass coffeee-table. Afterwards they'll have a little bit of food. Well, life is short, and last time I looked, the world is sometimes cruel. And no-one's given me another reason why God placed these strange things between our legs!
So I think of those two, and I smile. And I think of Joe. His children still out with their friends, or burrowed deep into their rooms. His wife asleep next to him. And Joe's whole body full of angles, perspective and shaping. Imagining and solving. His body at work, not in forced labor now but in free creative labor, with the manual worker's depth, and attentiveness, and intuition. He has risked his life on these before. His proven ability to transform nature, his trust in what his hands know. All he feels and all he is. Until his body begins dissolving, and is replaced by a vast openness: the limitless joy of being truly alive.