Monday, January 21, 2008

I'm a packrat
and am probably going to hell, too

I swear I was paying attention in my college classes, but I also spent a good portion of each lecture each week doodling loads pictures of one classmate per class, per semester. A character study, of sorts. Now, I have no formal fine art training; most of the stuff I do is either computerized or involves a pile of junk and some adhesives and a lot of luck. I do think despite this lack of artistic education, I have a knack for capturing a person's essence, or, I suppose, annoying qualities. So, in one particular class in college, I filled my notebook with doodles of a guy I'll call Ken, who drove not just me, but everyfuckingone else out of their minds. He asked tons of questions — stupid, annoying questions that took too damn long to answer, when he should have stayed after class to get some extra guidance — and brought in presents for the teachers, and had a stupid annoying grin. He completely dominated the conversation, the teacher's time, and we were often late getting out of class because of him. I enjoyed the class, and very much admired the teacher, so Ken made me so insane that I drew more pictures of him than anyone else during my years in school. And they were such awesome pictures that several of my classmates often asked to see my notebook.

That semester, Ken had some sort of surgery and missed about five classes. Now, I'm not lying, I WAS paying attention in class, to my teachers, but I was not a great student, by any stretch, and for all the worst reasons: I didn't exert much effort. I got by, but could have done MUCH better. Anyway, stupid annoying Ken got back from whatever medical procedure he had, and could have asked anyone else for his or her notes. I thought it was clear to everyone in the class I was maybe a C+ student, since I spent a large amount of time trying to capture Ken's most irritating poses and gestures. So, I nearly vomited when Ken asked to see my notes, since I had been particularly brutal that semester and filled that damn notebook with unflattering doodles of him. At first I thought someone put him up to it, but unless he was a very good actor, that wasn't the case.

I stammered, "Uh, well, uh, I have a class right after this one, and use the same notebook, so, uh, how about I photocopy all of my notes for you and I'll meet you tomorrow in the student center. Unless you want to check with someone else to see if you can borrow theirs?"

"Oh no!" he said, chipperly. "I'll wait for yours. See you tomorrow, okay?!" said Ken, with that stupid annoying grin.

I didn't have a class immediately following that one, and instead spent the next several hours using Wite-Out to cover up all of my glorious sketches, so Ken could catch up with the class. I was bitter. Bitter. Bitter. But I gave him my notes and he never suspected any ill-will on my part, even though I hated him more for making me undo some of my best work ever.

Glen's been spending a lot of time in the attic this weekend, sorting and tossing and cleaning. He brought down for me a box of stuff which contained a hodge-podge of all sorts of things, including several Star Trek Deep Space 9 action figures (dressed in Original Series garb, for that special episode when they went back in time and encountered the Tribbles), a whole mess of keys to forgotten and lost and changed locks; some hair ties, and a half bag of catnip, which the cats found and promptly ripped apart. Also amid all this stuff were a lot of my doodles, and other scraps of paper I have collected, and saved, and schlepped around with me for years. Not all of them are my doodles -- I have some more organization to do -- but rather, come from a variety of sources, and most of them show just what a rotten human being I am. But maybe I blog to repent. To cleanse my soul. I'm not sure.

This first image is of a boss of mine from a few years back. She was a wretched troll of a human, and I promise you, I would not mention her trolliness if her insides were not as ugly as her outsides. She was hideous, through and through. I was telling Glen about her, mostly about her character, and the wretched, wretched things she said to other people, and then it dawned on me that I had to draw her, to just help him visualize this mess. She was squat and fat, but what was most striking about her appearance is that she obviously wore a wig. It looked like Planet of the Apes meets Steel Wool after Scrubbing an Old Floor. For the love of God, if I wore a wig, I'd try to find something better; failing that, I'd wear a damn hat.

In September of 2001, I had purchased some items (okay, if you must know, some Star Trek stuff) on eBay from a dude out in America's west. I won't give the state, in the off chance he stumbles across this, but just so you know, it wasn't a coastal state, but it was pretty damn far west. Due to the anthrax scare in September 2001, or maybe just because of some ineptitude on the part of my mailman (who was a stark raving lunatic where I used to live), I never got my Star Trek stuff from the west. I contacted the seller, and he was understanding — I did live in New Jersey after all, and a lot of that anthrax stuff happened here. He resent the package, and we drummed up a friendship, and it turns out he ran a small publishing company. He printed tour guides for trails in the west, and needed a designer to put together a few books for him.

Just to establish a timeline here, Glen and I started to see each other around the time I received my Star Trek stuff. The tour book work wasn't particularly lucrative, but it was a change of pace, and not too difficult, and it was even kind of exciting to learn about the terrain out there. I didn't want to focus on it, since it seemed so egotistical, but suspected the eBay seller/tour book client may have developed a crush on me. Glen was sure of it, and developed a few nicknames for him, which I'd share, because they were funny, but unfortunately, involve the name of the guy's home state, and I just want to be a bit vague here, lest he ever track me down, so I'll call him Tour Book Guy, or TBG. TBG knew I had a boyfriend, and so, he spent a lot of time telling me his sad, sad story of how difficult it was to meet a good woman. He eventually used an online dating service, and met a hot, Russian woman. Glen and I were floored, and even though Glen disliked the guy, Glen did some research on TBG's Russian Beauty and found her on several "Watch out for these Russian women who will swindle you" sites. TBG was forever grateful to Glen, or so he said. And on his way east that spring to visit some relatives in Kentucky, he was going to "drop by" on us in New Jersey.

His casual use of "drop by" was questionable, since New Jersey is about 12 hours out of the way from Kentucky, from where TBG was coming. But we figured we were safe, since he was dumb enough to believe what the hot Russian girl wrote to him and professed her undying love, and also, because we did have a decent working relationship, and he was paying me in a timely fashion. He seemed okay, if a bit dopey.

He had never been all the way to the east coast before, so we took him into New York City, and Philadelphia, and got him some great local pizza. He was ho-hum on everything, except in one area: he was VERY critical of Glen. Glen picked out the pizza joint for dinner, one of the best pizza places near to where we lived at the time; not as good as Trenton tomato pie, but VERY good. TBG told Glen, "I've had better pizza. In fact, I've MADE better pizza."

The story of our time with TBG could go on and on, with many, many classic moments, which I do believe made my relationship with Glen stronger. It was tough getting through our weekend with TBG, but it brought us closer together.

TBG woke up early on his last day (yes, we were crazy enough to let him crash at our place), and I put the coffee on, and he said that he'd write down his pizza recipe for me. He wrote while I made breakfast, and a short time later, he was gone. The pizza recipe is awesome in that it is absolutely riddled with so many grammatical problems, but what I liked better was the utter nerve the guy had to leave it. We took him for some of the very best pizza in the world – I've been west, and pizza sucks out there (for the most part, though it's getting better) – and he had the balls to leave this joke?? If it were a recipe for, hmm, Fry Bread, or Jackalope Stew, or even Burritos, I could respect his need to leave me a recipe, but pizza? He can go scratch. You may want to print this one out and keep it with your other favorite recipes. I might bring it up to DeLorenzo's soon and see if they can make it instead of their usual pie:

Please click on this to enlarge. It is SO worth it.

Through the late 1990s and until 2002, I worked for a major food distributor in South Jersey, in the art department, where we designed not only food labels and packaging, but also an industry magazine, catalogs, flyers, ads, and other printed pieces that had to do with food. It was a family-run company, so we often created birthday cards for the owner, and fake covers showing the boss's son reeling in the big one, on the fishing magazines. Around the turn of the century, we were lucky to get a bonafide HR guy, with real background, since our company really didn't have anything like that. The company did need to modernize a bit, and the new HR guy asked our department to create some new forms for him to use with his new co-workers. They were disciplinary forms he requested, which we, in the art department, thought was hilarious, as a first project for the HR guy. I created the form, and my immediate supervisor wanted to make sure it worked properly, so she filled one out for me. It's all true:

The art department was small, but filled with very talented people, and great direction from the art director. The company was a bit of a Good Ole Boy's Club and we were expected to stay late and work on Saturdays, which kind of pissed everyone off, though sometimes we complied (or someone in the department would), but mostly we just complained about it. After all, we worked on a number of monthly deadline-oriented projects, and when needed, we pulled late- or all-nighters, so the Saturday thing seemed totally arbitrary to us (and me in particular). We were working more than our 40+ hours a week anyway, because we were a very busy department.

But every now and then, usually in the days after a series of late-nighters, and we released a job to the printer, we'd have just a few precious days of down time. Usually, we'd just clean up the pizza boxes and papers from our desks, and get organized for the next big project, but every so often, my boss, the art director, Chris, would still be filled with buzzing, creative energy. She liked to Photoshop the corporate material so that, say, a VP had long eyelashes and lusty eyes, and looked longingly at another (usually same-sex) member of upper management. She'd put the sales manager's head on everything. She'd take Dena's mouth and put it on my face, take my nose, and put it on Dena's face, and could always —ALWAYS — make it look convincing. Once, she took my face, and mapped it to some green peas in a pot pie that was the cover shot for our magazine. I found this picture in my box of goodies as well:

Click to enlarge to see the peas with my face on them, in greater detail.

While I found a ton of other stuff, I wanted to spend some time categorizing that stuff before I put my confessionals on my blog. But just one last item struck me for today: it was a little, stained, crinkly envelope flap, and on it is a quote from Charles Bukowski. As a woman, I feel I must defend my love for Charles Bukowski; as a woman, I am not supposed to even tolerate him, much less LOVE him. Somehow, I managed to encounter some of his more sensitive, tender poems before I got to stuff reflecting on the drunken, disorderly part of his life, which was, as I learned, most of his life. I still love him, especially because I ramble, and am verbose, and take forever to get to my point. His writing is so honest, so intimate, and his words are careful and beautiful and visual and economical, in that he can say so damn much in just a few words. His poems and thoughts are like photographs, capturing a moment with perfect clarity, even if that moment involves too much booze, and horse races, and casual sex.

I encountered the Bukowski quote in an unlikely place — it was in a large photo book, at the public library, in one of the non-circulating books. His words resonated with me, and so, I rooted through my bag, and ripped the flap off of an envelope that I had with me, to write down the quote. And I have been carrying around that flap since at least 1992. Crazy! I can't say that I agree with it 100% any longer, since I have learned firsthand that we can all lose way more than the universe should ever permit, but in terms of every day living, the spirit of his message is spot-on, in that we get caught up in stupid schemes and our material possessions and ridiculous routines and priorities.


Irving Bertrand Clean said...

Dude!!! You never told me that LA Parker spent a weekend with you and left you a pizza recipe!!! Dude!!!

Dan G. Tawnie said...

What's up with the Trenton bloggers obsession with Bukowski? Myself included.

Chrissy said...

Just a hunch, but I suspect at least a couple of our blogging buddies may not like Bukowski. But I could be wrong. But I think -- again, just a hunch -- he may appeal to a lot of bloggers because we are essentially keeping an online diaries, even if some of those diaries are not that personal. Bukowski's poems are like diaries chronicling his life, his bullshit, his passions; our blogs are diaries that chronicle the bullshit and glory in Trenton, NJ, sometimes with some other stuff thrown in for good measure.