hippo love -- a story of two paintings : painting, scott richard, san francisco (2010)
i made two of these paintings for the same person.
in the end, i gained another one of my "sorry for pulling the rug out from under you" stories which i so enjoy sharing.
these stories are fraught with the naivety of my own self, which just goes to show that toleration and kindness are truly gifts to the world. and, like any good gift, it is easily traded for something else. like drugs.
anyway, back to the story.
i lived on mount davidson when i first moved up to the city for the third time (1989, 1991, and 2010). and moving to the city is always a big deal for me. i dread social interaction, but i also love it. i'm fascinated by people, but i'm also a hyper processor of information and that makes it hard for others to be around me -- i'm a bit like a machine that won't stop working. only certain types of personality types can put up with this kind of behavior. and i know this, so i keep mostly to myself.
but street photography was becoming a great passion of mine. i'd spent a year in manhattan walking the streets for at least 8 hours a day making shots and hunting shots (literally learning the art of seeing time and destiny and conjunction and then getting set up for it and nailing it). it has an addictive quality because a photographer truly is capturing something in the process and the reward of the capture is something one can enjoy every time they see a great photo.
so i ended up in this strange house that i was going to crash in for just a few months and then move to another part of the city. at first it seemed like a really great place -- a little old-fashioned and grandmotherly with bad furniture that looks like antiques but was mostly just crappy and irretrievably fake, though old (poor people trying to look richer than they can afford way back in the 60s. the thin veneers, so to speak...).
but it was comfortable and there was a devastating view out the back which covered the entire downtown sweep and out into oakland -- ah, simply amazing. a bit like sitting in your living room and looking out over a kingdom. [see pics below]
plus, mount davidson is the tallest of the 47 hills of san francisco, so it has commanding views and a wonderful park at the top of the hill, which was just outside my front door. and parking was always easy.
but more brilliantly, suddenly i was also able to rent a studio space in the house itself. because of the architecture of the ribbon houses, there was a cavernous interior space under the house that was a part of the house (some call them row houses, but basically there is a lot of attached and semi-attached architecture in san francisco city, which creates a "light tunnel-effect" -- unlike the "cave effect", there is light at both ends. rather annoying, truly!).
imagine a whole form of architecture which cheats you of 80 - 100% of any possible natural side-lighting?!??!
let me see if i can explain this fully.
if the house we are discussing (see pics below) is a two story house, from the downside, it will look like a four story home. and, many home owners have converted this empty space into very practical use. entire two story, fully permitted with separate entrances to the apartments have been created in these empty spaces.
so it's not too big of a surprise to have imagined my own studio taking form in this kind of darkness.
besides, in a town full of earthquakes, the only thing saving most of these kinds of houses on the hills is the bedrock itself. they all have what are referred to as soft stories -- that is, a home which is built over a garage. but, when you live on hills, this the only way to store cars on the downside of the hill to keep them off the streets since the foundations for the homes are tiered.
again, on the plus side, my studio space was very large and hung like a stage set inside a much bigger space in total darkness.
to suit me, there was a very hellish quality to it -- of course i mean that in the best sense!
after installing the walls and insulating the ceiling, i added lots of dazzling, brightly colored lights, sensuous and intriguing, loud music, paintings of naked men and women, thick throw rugs and an assortment of mirrors and curtains.
it was an introvert's paradise -- i had constructed a box within a box -- and it was a great place for me to focus on the work i was doing at the time, having fallen into a homoerotic frenzy from which i couldn't get out. the darkness of this interior world overwhelmed me for almost a year. lusciously.
but one of the things that i hadn't known at the time was that the seemingly cool and friendly housemates were more complicated than i'd originally been led to believe. they had secrets and lies that they were perpetrating.
one, a handsome, god-like, blonde and sculpted homo from washington d.c., had merely been on a sabbatical and shortly left the home to return to his partner and his high level job in education. he was a great housemate and his presence had been a big stabilizing part in my sense of trust for the other housemates.
he ended up being a great housemate, but was gone before any time had passed at all. and he wasn't just great housemate because he went to sex clubs every night and was gone from the hours of 6pm until 4 am. but also because he was intelligent, well-mannered, non-dramatic and directed (i'm not sure why -- of course i am! -- but i always seem to like east coast people better than west coast folks). his sudden exit took me by surprise and made me wonder if i'd made a good decision.
the man in charge of this home, as it turns out, was in alcoholics anonymous. i knew very little about AA at the time. almost nothing, in fact. just that it was a place where alcoholics went to find like-minded people.
now, to me, alcoholism is like different clothing on different body types. some people can get away with different forms of it and others' distress is so overwhelming that it is constantly collapsing on itself.
for some, they just go for it. they dive in head-first and for them, they just like being drunk. they don't really hear the voices until it's way too late.
and they do their best to keep it from destroying their lives.
the secret voices of sorrow and loss and inability just lull these people to sleep at night or help them drag themselves through the daylight. they keep it tight and close as long as they can until they start fucking up.
but others aren't like this. they have a complicated relationship with the voices of their disease.
their disease is one of agitation and remorse. it stalks them like an echo of doubt and intrigue -- the tingling promise of despair.
and they are in love with these voices. these voices are songs in their minds that lure them and coax them until they can bully and coerce them. these voices are pushers and shovers.
and these kinds of alcoholics are the worst, imo.
well, aside from the complete black outers and such. those folks drive cars and wake up from severe accidents as murderers.
and these alcoholics are the hopeless who have brought hopelessness to others, and done so long before they murder another on accident. people just ignore it. it's easy to ignore alcoholism.
but back to the story...
these alcoholics that lived around me were the conniving, manipulating cheats who lie to themselves as much as they lie to others. and they are so good at lying to themselves that they genuinely believe they aren't actually lying to others.
their indignation at the thought is touching and endearing -- they ruffle and fuffle and their head shakes as they try to gain confidence in the same manner a pigeon might as it tries to clean itself in a dirty puddle on a shady sunday morning in the west mission. they make for great portrait-sitters when an artist is exploring concepts of false indignation.
and this man was much older than everyone else. he was like a fake daddy mentor. and he had taken the youngest man in the home under his wing. or, that's what it looked like at first.
it's fair to say that if i had known the full extent of the hidden nuances, i would have stuck to my original plan of only staying three months and relocated immediately. but by the time things started to descend, i had built a studio and created a whole working world and it wasn't hard to use "shut door policies" as a way of creating boundaries. besides, i think everyone else was doing that heheheh.
but, as it was, i had a great live space with incredibly thin walls. i had a great work space and i could dive into my work. which i did. it was a very prolific period and i spent so many days in darkness. i could swing with the flow. the flow i knew of, at least.
in the mornings, i'd wake up really early, drive down to the castro, do yoga, drive back out of the castro into the generalized fog bank of the eureka valley wall -- seriously, our street, molimo, was like jack the ripper london. it wasn't even really fog, more like slow wet thick rolling clouds. very conducive to submerging myself into a darkened studio.
there was this sense of sadness for me as i'd leave the sun-drenched castro neighborhood and climb market street. right at about clayton the fog bank would be sitting -- like a mantle of responsibility, an umbrella against the sun.
and people don't really get how much the weather has changed in past five years in san francisco. when i arrived, mount davidson was in fog more often than not.
nowadays, mount davidson and the sunset are more often NOT in fog. but back then, there was gloomy fog and clouds a very large part of the time.
meanwhile, in almost all the other neighborhoods of san francisco, better sunlight and changing weather. but not the horrible weather of mount davidson and the glen park passage. and i knew people in glen park who could live with the weather. i called it the toilet bowl where clouds would go to be flushed out. and it was bad and it still the worst weather in the city when the inland temperatures pull the cool oceanic moisture over the city, sweeping against the eureka valley's west facing walls as it heads toward balboa park.
oh well, live and learn. follow the sun!!!
at least it seems like everyone now knows why the mission and eventually hunters point will be the heart of the city one day...
so this young man that i mentioned earlier as having been taken under wing, he was a lanky genius. a poet of the highest caliber. still is. he is burning his life in the truest sense of the poetic metaphor -- that of the sword which explodes its sheath.
he could write like no one i've ever met. and i've met a lot of people who write. i have an MFA in writing with highest honors. i have an MA in english literature. so i've read a lot of poets and studied the poetry of several cultures. and tony le tigre is up there with the best.
and, like all great poets of sorts, the depth of his loneliness and his ability to feel and be felt was compounding and magnificent.
and he was an alcoholic. or, at least that's the lie i was told. i mean, it's true that he was an alcoholic. but no one mentioned meth!!
the thing about meth is that you can hide it from others.
it's not super hard to hide if you're a good liar.
most people don't even want to talk about it, except the users. they love talking about it.
it's similar to when you're at a party and you're in a talk circle and someone casually mentions something that has to do with cocaine and suddenly all the cocaine users start to tap their feet unconsciously, their auras brightening up and the conversation gets instantly louder and their user mojo starts to kick in...
anyway, tony kept it under wraps.
he would stay in his room for days without coming out.
he'd wait until two in the morning to scurry about, his tall skinny frame flitting down the dark hallway to the kitchen to get food.
he kept bottles of wine in his room.
he hated having to share a bathroom, but he really liked greg, the fellow from d.c.
so that was good.
and the house was in peace.
bruce, the old mentor-alcoholic downstairs, would occasionally check in with tony. they would have talks and because the walls were paper thin, one had to try to block out the emotional niceties of it all. to me it seemed a bit much like a man petting a dog. but bruce was hard to get. he said he was gay, but we all knew he was categorically more inclined to be a pedophile, and had never really had a sexually driven relationship with a man, because hiring barely legal call boys to boss around but not have sex with isn't actually very gay or homo. it's a separate thing...
plus his son was gay (and lived in town and visited now and again). and there was this strangely competitive thing between them about who really had the right to be gay -- the son had come out first. incidentally, they actually had rules about not showing up at the same places at the same time -- gyms, bars, etc.
anyway, when greg moved out, the house suddenly went to shit and took on a conspiratorial tone. bruce started asking me if i thought tony should be kicked out. but he wouldn't say why, he'd just try to bluster and bully me into agreeing with him.
then, without really asking tony or me, bruce moved his AA sponsor into the room that greg had occupied.
but in truth the new guy had been promised my room, which was the master suite and had its own bathroom and skylight and was bigger. and this new guy made no effort to conceal his issues about me being in the room, which seemed odd -- no one told me he'd been promised my room.
but, like i said, this is a "carpet pulled out" story. and i had no idea about the back story.
but the back story goes like this.
a. the house belongs to a man who inherited it from his father and mother. he had to grow up in this house from the age of 16 on. he hated this house. he'd been living down in noe valley in a sweet place and then his parents had decided to move up here.
b. bruce was friends with this man and they had arranged for bruce to become the manager of the house in exchange for a seriously reduced rent AND the best space in the house -- bruce had rest of the ground floor that wasn't taken up by the garage. and he had a world class view with gigantic windows across his entire living space. he was the king bee of the house.
c. he had told the new guy, his AA sponsor, that i was temporary and would be leaving, so that he could take my space.
d. unfortunately, donald, the man who owned the house and i had met. instantly, he became one of my gay heroes.
donald's an actor-comedian genius with flair and has been openly gay forever and has been involved with the historical shifts and changes over the past several decades. he is an artistic activist in the same vein that i hope to participate in.
further, he MCd down in santa barbara at the gay pride day festival and got in trouble for being too ribald, which will always make me laugh.
i, for one, am so over the whole "family gays" bullshit and their political desire to be average and normal and get married and have all the horrible responsibilities that destroy people's lives.
and having to watch these family gays take over all the fun events and then they welcome their corporate sponsors and suddenly gay day is just some dumb event overrun by people who are celebrating something entirely different.
especially at gay pride events where being gay really just means you're brave enough to admit you like having sex and relationships with men and you're going to do it openly...
so kudos, to you, my admirable man!!!!! kudos to you for offending the santa barbara faggots!! they can take their kids to see ellen degeneres
anyway, after meeting me and summing me up as a stabilizing force in the household, donald insisted that i had the right to stay, so it caused immeasurable upset for bruce and his sponsor. again, i knew none of this at the time. i just felt the hostility and the edge.
i should add that it was at this point that i had the first real rug pull.
but what really freaked everyone out is that i busted them on this. we were at a "house" dinner party to celebrate the departure of greg. i had already settled into my space and it was set up and arranged.
over time, i have unwittingly collected a large number of magical objects -- these are objects that have been gifted to me and remained in my presence. they are memory loves, so to speak. over time, memory loves develop power and strength. anyway, long story short, my grandmother gave me a peruvian gourd drum when i was a very small child. i have cherished this gift among all of the memory loves.
and it sat right next to the entry door in my room.
after dinner, i had darted into my room to brush my teeth before hanging out with everyone in the front living room. as i left my room, i noticed that my gourd drum (this is not a small object, about a third of a meter tall) was missing. i peripherally searched my room for it and it wasn't anywhere.
but the disappearance was odd. i wasn't uncomfortable about it. i knew the memory love was gone. i knew it had been moved during dinner. but everyone had been at the dinner table. at no point did i genuinely believe a person had done something. which is odd.
but still, as a means of broaching the subject of the possibility of an in-house theft in a less direct manner, when i returned to the living room after searching my entire room and closets i asked the group of guys if my room had any ghosts.
they all blanched. it was strange. it was like i'd thrown cold water.
and this was how i discovered that someone had committed suicide just six months before on the bed that i was sleeping on. he'd drunk a bunch of draino and died a miserable death, apparently.
they'd rented me a dead bed without mentioning it.
this is actually illegal and they knew it. that was the disconcerting part of all of it. and that rug was called trust.
a year later, bruce said to me, "i do wonder how you see me."
i didn't know what to say.
after all we'd been through that was unnecessary, it seemed like saying anything at all would just add to that.
and so greg left the next morning.
the drum gourd showed up several weeks later.
right next to my door.
as if it had never gone away.
and then the new guy showed up.
with his migraine-inducing cologne and skinny black elegance.
the son of what had once been a maple syrup empire dream.
but also the son of a philosopher, and more like his dad than his mother and her dreams of liquid gold, tree sap cash.
and this guy hated tony.
he knew everything about tony that i hadn't been told.
he'd been scheming with bruce for months on how to displace both tony and i. and tony knew all of this.
again, i didn't.
but i strongly disliked the new guy.
everyone who met him did.
and this was why neither tony nor i understood/understand what bruce saw in this guy. i guess he must've seen the life he could have lived if he had the courage to be himself instead of hiding his true identity. but either way, tony and i were both repulsed by their friendship. it was this strangely critical perspective that they would share, like two gollums sitting around wringing their hands as if water would come out. they would ask you how were doing so that, no matter what you said, they could side-attack you with it later in a manipulative, "so how is that going for you? i know that was a really down thing for you."
at first i took this form of communication to be genuine and i'd try to be emotional and sharing, but eventually, i realized that people who are trained in psychology and work as psychologists, just like to create a picture of you that they can work from -- holy crap, i was just trying to be nice and answer your "how are you doing?" question. it was the first time i've been around people who want to be hand holders just long enough to snap a handcuff around your wrist and theirs so that you can't get away.
or, since i have a pictorial mind, it's sunset, down by the water banks and you're so damn thirsty but the crocodile will drag you under... i hate being mistaken for a wildebeest!
but they would both try to get me to hate tony.
that part sucked.
mostly because i was starting to loathe both bruce and the new guy so much. they were so conniving and so obvious about it. they were idiotic -- the kind of people who try to be clever but trip all over their lines and give themselves away.
in a depersonalized way, it was actually funny to watch them do their thing. like walking tv. they thought they were the gilmore girls or something.
and it wasn't all that much.
it was constant, but i'd breeze in and blow out. literally. i suppose if i had noticed things more clearly, i would have actually left.
since they knew i wasn't freaked out by the dead bed scenario, it also came out that donald's own parents had both died in the bed as well, which sort of led me to a happier conclusion -- when i'd confronted them on the ghost, they told me the horrible suicide story, but i assured them that this ghost was female and playful. there had never been a feeling of dread or malice or negativity when the gourd drum went missing. it just was what it was...
and remember, too, i grew up with some really, really mean people. i have an incredibly skewed sense of tolerance based on harassment, abuse and deprivation.
plus, i had no idea tony was high all the time. or drunk.
that rug was still to be pulled later.
but even now, i forgive him.
his dishonesty didn't hurt me.
he actually didn't want to hurt me and figured if i did nothing for him we'd always be even. this bummed me out because i will move heaven and earth for a true poet, sculptor or artist. even if i don't like them i will still do my best to empower the spiritual forces of greatness in these areas.
too many people have fleeting and meaningless lives.
great poets deserve just enough to stay alive and i always feel like i can give a little to make that work.
so sure, i made him this painting one time to cheer him up. he loved hippos. they were his favorite animal. and, in those early morning hours, he'd sit alone in front to the tv watching nature shows with underwater dancing hippos.
eventually, the new guy and bruce won the war.
and tony le tigre left.
but he really didn't have any way to actually leave.
it's not like he could just get on a bus and move.
i did this in new york city.
it was hilarious.
on the lower eastside.
but only because it was incredibly direct and i had time to pull it off without any transfers.
many a story from that silly adventure, though i will assure you that it's much easier to move using the bus than it is to use the trains... more silly stories there...
so, having a truck and knowing how much tony hated to ask for assistance, i vaguely suggested that it would be incredibly convenient for him and i was already going down to that area. and i was. so we loaded things up and drove to his new place.
as genius is wont to do, tony was late and things took longer than he'd planned. which consequently made me late for my engagement that i was heading toward. he was very apologetic, but it made for a very rushed drop off on folsom street.
i stood by the truck and unloaded stuff and he transported it inside. then i took off. in real life, though, the painting somehow disappeared or was stolen in process. i had no idea. i'm just a painter.
a couple weeks later i received a tersely written email about how i'd taken my painting back from him and that wasn't cool. he must've been really high, too, because he made it sound like it was my fault that i had somewhere i was supposed to be and blah blah blah. but i still had no clue about the meth and other drugs. no clue at all.
so i made him another one, this one.
and he was really surprised and delighted. he didn't think that i would care. but i did.
and i know he lost it as well.
i knew he would, but art isn't always meant to last.
so i wasn't disappointed when the drugs took it away.
and that's when i learned that meth had taken him.
so much talent and genius.
and everyone was so disappointed to see it go toward the drain.
he lost his place down on folsom street. he'd been living with a very tolerant white witch in this great, well-lit place right near the hole in the wall bar. but things grew strained and stressed.
he even tried to move back into our place, this time, father bruce came asking if i thought it would be okay.
i was like, "what do you mean? you mean would it be okay that the new guy who hates the meth guy would have to share a bathroom again?"
there was some bottomless despair to all of it.
since then, tony's been homeless for a couple of years now.
he still writes. he goes in and out shelters and arrangements.
he creates a fascinating fanzine. he is one of portland's lost bohemians who drifted out west from his wisconsin roots.
now, he lets the drugs and homelessness and the interactions and his own survival do the work as his poetry.
he incorporates his choices. he writes about his life and experiences.
and he's a genius.
and i love his mind deeply.
but damned if i'm making that bitch another hippo love painting ;)