Surrealism is the new Real

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Giving someone Shit - literally and figuratively.

(Should have been posted in January. I'm a bit late on this one.) 

(Aka, “How I drove 1200 miles to give Kyra shit for her birthday.”)

            Trip Purpose: Hanging out with old friends, and surprising Justine & Ray ’s daughter Kyra for her 15th birthday Quincinera. To give you an idea of how long this trip has been in process, 2 years ago at Jess and Brian's wedding, the subject of Kyra having a Quincinera (coming of age party) vs. a Sweet Sixteen party came up. Erica  and I both said “If you have the Quincinera, we promise to come.” We have been keeping this goal in the backs of our minds, and then the forefront as the date rolled closer.

            It was a very long day of driving. I had spent the night at my parents place to put me a little closer to St Louis, and to drop the dog off with them for the weekend. As usual, he sniffed hello to the folks, then walked over to the fridge to demand his piece of cheese. They spoil him rotten, hence why their home is now nick-named “Paradise”.
            I’m not sure where I picked up the habit, but as usual I was counting road kill as I drove, to pass the time. 2 coyotes, 1 deer, 1 skunk. Considering the distance, it was a relatively low number. There were countless numbers of redtail and other hawks in the sky as I was driving, which surprised me. I’m used to seeing one or two here and there, but seeing that many is rare. Seeing that many coyotes - or really any at all - surprises me, since I haven't seen any until last year. Now it seems they're all over, in force.
            Crossing the border was interesting. They asked the usual questions, with a few new ones added in, like how often to I cross the border (once a week for work, more for personal stuff) and why? Fortunately my answers seemed satisfactory, so they didn’t seem too concerned. Like they were doing with everyone, they checked the trunk. I was asked why so much luggage, so I replied “The big one is full of bedding.” She then asked “What kind of dog do you have?”
            “Husky. If you need a lint roller, I have one,” was my answer.
            She came around the side and borrowed the lint roller as Boba’s fur had attached itself to her black uniform. I apologized for the fur, but she did not seem overly concerned. She handed my passport back, and I was on my way. Stopping only for the occasional gas/bathroom/food break, I drove basically straight through.
            I arrived in St. Louis at a halfway decent hour. Early enough to go catch dinner with my host Amanda, and check out the local atmosphere, and meet her awesome roommate. I have to admit, I like the West End. It’s a fairly wealthy area, and many of the nicer homes are more like palaces really, with none of the cookie cutter effect that’s been taking the US by storm in the last decade. We went to Dressel’s Pub, and had Pretzel (as opposed to “a pretzel”) which was yummy, and a meal. I was unaware that pretzels were such a big deal in St. Louis, unto the point of being a cultural thing. After catching up there we made our way to a local book store with a good selection of new and used, and followed by a trip to “The Cup”, a specialty cupcake store. Mint chocolate cupcakes really are the bomb.
            After the cupcakes we made our way back to Amanda’s apartment, where the 4 cats that reside there had spent the time investigating my luggage. We spent the rest of the night lounging, before crashing out. The cats visited me randomly on the couch during the night. 

            Since Amanda had to work Friday, I spent most of the day working on the laptop, catching up on graphic design projects and email. Pretty productive day altogether, if you exclude the time spent shooing the cats away from the computer. Draco decided to be in my face, butting his head against my boobs, trying to encourage me to cuddle rather than work. Xena decided to just sit ON the keyboard, and challenge me to remove her. The other two, Pandora and Giovanni, came around randomly to see what I was up to, but were otherwise disinterested.
            Amanda came home long enough to hang out for a little bit before going to pick up Erica at the airport. While she was gone, the NC folks arrived, and suddenly the 4 cats had more human toys. I was thrilled to finally see so many of my friends from NC. Lots of hugging and catching up. As soon as keridwen and talyr arrived, there was more, followed by dinner at Dressel’s again.
            Scottie also showed us a treasure she had purchased. Apparently the novelty of White Castle burgers was too much to resist for the NC crowd, so they paused at one. White Castle burgers are evil, and I’ve eaten there only once, which was more than enough.
            During their encounter with White Castle, Scottie was offered a charity candle while ordering food. “The proceeds go to Autism!” she was told by the server. Not Autism research; to Autism. The candle, shaped and painted to look like a White Castle box, was $10 and smelled like White Castle burgers! She let us all sniff it, and I was forced to shudder with revulsion at the smell. So tempting, yet horrid at the same time.
            Sleeping arrangements were interesting. I ended up sharing an air mattress with Scottie, while Erica took the couch, and Amanda took the other air mattress. I’m not sure whether it was filled too much then walked on, or if one of the cats managed to get a claw in, but the super-firm air mattress became less so as the night wore on. I woke up with my arm and hip on the floor, and realized we’d lost air. What woke me up was Draco pushing at the top of my head with his paw, as if to say “I’m bored, entertain me.”
            I realized I needed to use the bathroom, so I rose and left the air mattress. Needless to say, Scottie was now awake, because there is really no graceful way to get up off a half-inflated air mattress without disturbing anyone. With me gone, what firmness there was had vanished, and Scottie was now feeling the floor. I went to the loo, and when I returned, I nearly screamed. Scottie too had felt the call of nature, but I was not expecting her coming toward me down the hall, so I about died of fright. I managed not to make more noise than a muffled yelp. It didn't matter - they were all awake anyway.
            This was all at about 5am.

             I proceeded to not sleep, and as soon as it was light I went to the dining room to play on the laptop.
            As people awoke, we gathered in Amanda’s dining room, which has just the right kind of window sills for sitting and reading, and enough that 4 people were seated comfortably while I was at the table and Amanda up and moving around. (It really is a lovely apartment.) After some early AM chatter, and catching up, with Talyr’s initiative we set about making a massive breakfast. I was on pancake duty, and apparently amazed people with my massive pancake-fu. (They’re really not that hard, but it’s nice to be appreciated.)
            After that, it was showers and dressing to go out on the town and explore. With 6 people in Talyr’s car, with poor Laura nearly folded in half and sitting across all of us, but mostly on Michael. We shopped at Scholar’s Shop, which is a 2nd hand store hosting clothing donated by the affluent community, with the proceeds going to scholarships. I bought 2 knit shirts and a London Fog winter coat for $24 for the cause. Will have to make a trip back there at some point.
            Then it was back by the book store then to lunch at Llewellyn’s Pub, which was across the street from Dressel’s. The service was horrible, and the waiter was downright rude to members of our party more than once. Needless to say, his tip reflected his behavior. Since lunch had taken longer than expected, we were suddenly forced to rush to get to Kyra’s shindig. Some folks went directly there, while Amanda, Michael and I made a fast break back to the apartment to grab some gifts & decorations before racing to the B&B where the family and birthday girl were staying.
            It was silent when we came in, and everyone was sitting in the lobby waiting. When we were settled, the signal went up for Kyra to come down. She descended the stairs, seeing people she knew, though it took a moment for her brain to process the fact that some of them were family types she had not seen in several years. In essence, she made a beeline for Rose, the nearest of the NC folks, and the tears were already falling before she could make it the 3 steps to Rose’s arms. The next few moments was mostly Kyra hugging people, crying, and being overwhelmed by the fact that they were there.
            Surprise successfully sprung.
            There was some hanging out and catching up – for me as much as Kyra, since I had not seen some of the folks there in a long time, and it’s always a good time to socialize. Shortly thereafter, the gifting began.
            Now, for those folks reading not aware of the background to this, lemme ‘esplain:
            To handle when Kyra’s allowed to say bad words, her parents instituted giving her words for her birthday. At 13, she got damn, and I think bitch. At 14, I believe it was ass, or something similar.  Since she had the Quincinera, she was given the word Shit a year earlier than planned. This too, was made clear 2 years ago.

Back to Saturday Evening:
            So the gifting began, and Kyra had all kinds of wonderful things come to her. When she got to mine, well… there was laughter. I had wood-burned a wooden box and painted it with First Nations  symbols on it. Inside, I had written a letter to her telling her what a special young woman she is. The crème de la crème however, was an illumination I had done for her. It was the word “shit”, in teal, green, and gold-plated, on a piece of parchment made from recycled and highly fibrous panda poo, courtesy of the Washington National Zoo gift store.
            In essence, I literally and figuratively gave her Shit for her birthday. [And strangely, the joke was only half the fun. The other half has been telling people leading up to the party that I was literally giving someone shit for their birthday, and having them then get flustered and try to explain to me what literally means, and that I’m using the word wrong, or exaggerating. At which point, I would tell them the rest of the plan, and they would say “Oh, right… I guess you were being literal. That’s funny.”]
            It’s a joke that’s been 2 years in the works, and been tons of fun that entire time.]
            After gifting it was time for Taplas at Mojo a short drive away. Of course, none of us heard Taplas when Amanda announced where we would be going for dinner, including the birthday girl. We all heard “topless” which descended into a large amount of laughter almost immediately at Kyra’s horrified expression. A joke 2 seconds in the making, and equally as funny.
            Dinner was excellent, and I had a chance to talk more in depth with Michael about knives and his black smithing addiction. Will likely have to commission something from him in the near future.
            After dinner, we all returned to the B&B, and booted the men out. They went to play Apples to Apples and eat Gelato, while the womenfolk sat with Kyra, and imparted years of wisdom. Some of it was deep and meaningful, some of it was warnings about men and health, and some of it was just light-hearted. At this point Kyra was having a hard time staying awake, she was so exhausted. The men returned, and she retired while the adults continued to socialize for a while longer.
            When we returned to the apartment, there was chatter until late, then there was some shuffling of bedding, and we attempted to sleep. I say attempted, because the cats decided that the humans obviously were too boring for their own good. At 2 and 3am, Draco tried to wake me up to play and cuddle. Around 4am, Draco and Giovanni knocked the Pink Coyote statue Scottie had purchased at the Scolar’s shop off the shelf and right next to my head. Having successfully woken up everyone in the room, they decided that it was time for the 4am crazies, and started running up and down the hallway. Meanwhile, Pandora and Xena slept on people. They were willing to take advantage of the warmth and coziness at least.
            The NC crew left earlier than I did, heading to meet up at the B&B, before going home. While Talyr was dropping them off, Erica and I went walking down to one of the private gates leading to a private street, so I could take photos. I was fascinated by the amount of stonework in the area, which included everything from gatehouses to gargoyles, carved filigree and houses resembling small palaces. I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked, but at the same time, it seems like the kind of place better photographed when the weather is nicer and there are leaves on the trees.
            I left a little later than intended, but it was worth the extra hour to hang out with friends. The drive to Syracuse was uneventful, though I noticed the only roadkill I saw was 2 coyotes and a deer. Same number as the drive down, and I spotted the same large number of redtail hawks hunting for prey. At one point, I even got to watch a dive with what looked like a successful catch.
            I arrived in Syracuse 2 hours later than expected. Partially because I got a late start, and partially because I had forgotten about the time change, and failed to take it into consideration when telling my cousin Char when I’d be arriving. When I did arrive, I was exhausted from a long weekend of little sleep, and not prepared for the challenges that I would face. Like the fact her home does not actually have a front door, or for that matter any door facing the street. The garage door was open, and the way the house sits, it almost appears as if the building is a separate garage/building but part of the property next to it. I spent a few minutes being very confused, and texting her to double check that I was indeed in the right place.
            Finally, I got up my courage, went in through the garage door, and knocked at the nice “front” door that was hidden within the garage. Char’s husband Mike came out to greet me. Apparently she had been called away since her boss had broken her leg while skiing up North, and so she had to go retrieve keys and things from the office. It was the first time that Mike and I had ever actually chatted beyond just saying hello and I discovered he’s actually a fairly chatty guy when he can get a word in edgewise.
            Char returned within 15 minutes of my arrival, and we chatted for a few minutes, and I berated her for not even having a house number on her house so I could tell I was in the right place. The house number IS over the front door, which faces the lake where they keep the boat. Obviously, a boating community thing.
            We decided to head down the street to a little local bar. It’s a small town, so everyone knows everyone, so I was something of a small celebrity. Char’s cousin? From Canada? Really? And and artist? Oh wow…
            We ordered our food, which was greasy but good. I had just finished telling them about giving Kyra shit, when I discovered something on the menu that sounded interesting. I’d never heard of “spudsters” before, so I asked what they were. Mike described them (as Char started giggling) as little turd-shaped pieces of deep-fried mashed potatoes. They were actually quite tasty, though I think they could have used some chives or flavouring beyond “potato”.
            What I didn’t realize at the time (nor did my cousin and her husband) was that by ordering food, we had accidentally ordered a side-dish of crazy as well. A local, who apparently is usually pretty fun and a lot less… vehement, showed up at our table with a tray of shots. Apparently it’s his thing to purchase shots, bring them around, and talk for a bit before moving on to another table.
            He seemed nice enough, and my cousin didn’t seem shocked or upset, so we all picked up our shots, made a toast to friendship, and drank. I commented that it smelled/tasted like a polar bear shot. Apparently “Polar Bear” is the magic word that triggers an anti-government/Bob Dole/Al Gore/Obama tirade from Dr. Krego, who isn’t actually a doctor, but is called that regardless.
            For the next 15 minutes he went on about how Obama is a facist dictator, and how Global Warming is all just a money-making scheme by Al Gore and ex-Pres. Bill Clinton, and how everyone was being fooled into recycling when there were still plenty of trees. “The polars aren’t dying out! They’re not even endangered! You know how I know? I watch Discovery – those fuckers can swim for miles, so they’re not drowning like people say they are.”
            Yes, apparently turd-shaped Spudsters are best served with a side of Right Wing Crazy. I mentioned that, having worked at Environment Canada, I’ve seen the raw data that shows humans are having a global effect on the environment, and he explained to me that obviously I was misguided – the government controls the scientists, and funds them, and therefore it’s all a conspiracy to keep the man down. He doesn’t believe in computers, and pointed out that not once had I mentioned the Chinese (which until that point I hadn’t actually thought to bring them up, since he was talking US politics and Anti-Dems and Anti-Libs rhetoric) and how the Chinese were whaling and raping the seas, but no one was trying to stop them. I tried to bring up the Kyoto Accord, and he told me he didn’t believe in driving foreign cars either.
            At this point, he apologized for ruining our dinner, and exited stage right. Char, Mike and I stared at each other, trying not to burst out laughing. They apologized for him, saying he was apparently good and liquored up, and usually a lot more fun and less vitriol. I shrugged – I thought it was entertaining. Shortly after we had gotten into talking about her 2nd son’s upcoming wedding and her first son (whose wedding I went to in October) and his wife expecting triplets, Dr. Krego showed up with another tray of shots, and an apology. We toasted to common sense, he went on at length about how horrible Obama and the liberals are, and then asked me what I thought of border defense in Canada. I said “I like it, but seriously – it’s not a problem we have to face. All you Southern types complain it’s too cold, so it’s not like we have to worry about Mexicans or Americans trying to get in. For us it’s keeping the moose from getting out.”
            That didn’t stop him – it just got him going again, and for another half hour we tried to be polite and not encourage him. Apparently ALL news on US TV is controlled by the government, except Fox news which is the be all and end all of fair, unbiased reporting. (I had to laugh out loud at that one.) He asked my opinions, and I tried to temporize, but had to admit that I was a little more liberal than him. He said “Well, you Canadians are all socialist tree-huggers.” My reply was “Well, you have to admit, our trees ARE infinitely huggable.”
            That apparently was the magic shut-off button, and he bid us good night and returned to the bar. As we left he said “Hey, you’ll never forget me!” and even gave me a hug goodbye. It was then that I realized I had consumed 2 rum ‘n cokes, and 2 shots in about an hour. I were just a wee bit tipsy.
            We returned to the house, and Char and I sat up and talked for a while after her husband had gone to bed.
            I left at 7am, and headed for the Essenhaus to pick up some pastries for myself and my parents. It wasn’t until I got there around 8am that I realized I had left my cell phone charging at Char’s place. Finding a phone on which to make a collect call to my parents to get Char’s cell number was a pain in the ass. Apparently with the influx of cell phones, pay phones are passé, and no longer used. Since I’m obviously Not From Here, people were reluctant to let me use company phones, even though I promised to call someone else collect, so it wouldn’t cost them anything. Finally, one woman at a gas station took pity on me, and let me call my parents first to get Char's number (which was conviently programmed into my absentee phone), and then Char. I drove all the way back to Syracuse to pick up her keys, went to the house and grabbed the phone, then headed back to her office to return her keys, before hitting the road again. She laughed at me. A lot.
            I blamed it on Dr. Krego, which made her laugh more.
            9am I was back on the road. Unfortunately, I was having a hard time staying awake. Even with caffeine and my usual tricks to keep alert, I was losing it. At least until shortly before I hit the border, when several friends who apparently thought I was supposed to be back by then started texting/calling me.
            Border crossing was blessedly painless, and the last hour-ish to my parents place was clear. I arrived to find the dog had eaten maybe a bowl of his own food, and had been spoiled rotten with broth and people food. I can’t really blame my mother – she knew this was likely the last time she’d be seeing him, and wanted to make sure he knew he was loved. Or at least, well fed. He had some leg issues while he was there, and his pain and arthritis are showing plainly for them to see.
            After a brief visit, it was back on the road to Paul’s house, where I dropped the dog off and realized it was 12C degrees in the house. Apparently, it was windy while I was gone. Yay. After a few moments, it was into his truck, and off to pick him up from work. From work, off to fight practice, which had been cancelled due to a PD day at the school, but no announcement had been made so only the folks who did not have children in school showed up. We hung out for a bit with the folks that did show up, then headed home. All in all, more than 11 hours on the road, with only a few short breaks, none of which were actually restful. 
            All in all, a successful trip, an awesome practical joke brought to life, and much fun and adventure. Already there are plans in the works for a similar trip to Boston for October 2011.

Half a Lifetime

"You got what everyone gets. You got a lifetime."
                             - Death, from Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

Part 1: Midlife Crises

The topic of age, coming into one's own, and really discovering how to life life well has been a recurring topic of conversation around me lately. I'm not always the one starting it. It just happens. I think it is in part due to the fact that many of my friends are entering something of a midlife crisis, and questioning their position in life - or in some cases, confirming. Others are unhappy with the way their lives have turned out, and are making the effort to change it by going to school, divorcing, or seeking new opportunities.

Since I was 18, life has always been turbulent and in transition. As a result, my art has been fueled and changed, influenced and in some cases destroyed by change. It is interesting to compare my life to theirs in some ways. No midlife crisis for me, since while I have come into my own as a person, I have not settled in one area, or stopped long enough to look at my life and think "I'm dissatisfied." I simply move along, and if there are improvements to be made, I try to make them immediately. My friends, however, have reached the stage where they have done the same thing day in and day out for ten, possibly 15 years, and are only just now uncomfortable enough to want to make changes. The bizarre part is simply looking into the mainstream lifestyle and examining it like an anomaly. By living a somewhat alternative lifestyle to the norm, I have no need of a midlife crisis, only need of forward growth. I am doing what I had always intended to do, and as an artist, the act of coming into my own has been a life's work for me.

Part II: The Importance of Art

I received an email from a friend of mine a few days ago. It hit me hard, especially at 6am after just waking up. I'm not even sure why I was compelled to check my email at that hour. Who knows?

To give a little back story, my friend has been seeking the perfect gift for her father for many years. He's a hard man to shop for around birthdays and Christmas, so much so that she jokes saying "The only gift I gave my Dad that he liked was my son!" For Christmas, she had me make a custom "Wrath of Khan" Admiral James Kirk Uniform for him, with all the bells and trappings. He knew it instantly, but it hasn't been seen since.

For his birthday, she commissioned me to do a caricature of her son and her father, both dressed in flight suits with a jet that her father flew in the air force behind them. (F-18, I believe.) She presented it to him, and considered it a success. I received an email explaining the how's, and was completely flabbergasted. He had taken the picture, and rather than his standard "Thanks, I'll definitely use this" line, he simply looked at it for a few moments. He then thanked her, and loaded his grandson in to his car, intent on going taking him to the cottage for the weekend.

On the way to the cottage, an oncoming car slid into their lane, and her father was forced to swerve into the ditch to avoid a head on collision. They crumpled the front end against the bulwark of the ditch, and blew out the passenger side tires. Fortunately, no one was injured seriously. After removing my friend's son from the car, the only thing her dad took with them for the police car ride home was the picture. Not his briefcase,  his CD's... just the picture.

The second half of the email was a long and very flattering editorial about how important my art is, and how many lives I touch with my skill. She said "you never know just where your art will go, or whose life it will touch" and she is correct. When I see budget cuts for art programs in public schools, I will remember this time and know that despite what the accountants say, art is still important.

Part III: Return of the Giant Fish

A little later in the morning, after I had received my friend's email and spent a good couple of hours processing it mentally, I received a second email. This time it was from my mother, who had received a phone call from a pastor who had lived in London while I was a teen. He had apparently moved several times, and recently went through a folder that happened to contain a few of my drawings, along with my old information. He called the phone number, and got my parents who have been in the same house longer than I've been alive. Mom emailed me, to let me know he wanted to return the artwork.

I have no clue what he's talking about. I called him today, to see exactly what it was he had, and he offered to mail it to me. He described some of the drawings, and after 15 years, I have no clue. It seems that I must have done the drawings as a teenager, and submitted them either for a church bulletin, or to someone who happened to want a drawing of Jonah creeping out of a fish's mouth, and such things like that. Still, my brain resolutely refused to remember the how or why. I'm certain when I see it, I will know and maybe call him back with an answer, since he seemed as confused as me as to how he had collected the artwork.

Half a lifetime ago, I did a few drawings for someone, and now they're being returned to me without myself or the sender knowing how or why they were done. I'm not sure if I'll keep them. I have little use for old drawings that mean nothing to me, but it will be interesting to see how much my art has developed and grown.