The Mind of An Artist


I draw. I take photos. I write.

For all intents and purposes, I am an artist.

I see things differently. I will be the one people stare at as I take a photo of something they can’t immediately understand, like a hideous doll at the thrift shop complete with sparkly rainbow Hammer pants. I find personal amusement and that respect, as much beauty in the awkwardly mundane as I do in the purest of nature.

My mind is not wired like a non-artist. It is always going at a rapid pace, writing scenes to an imaginary movie that nobody but me will ever see. The movie’s soundtrack is composed of incidental music that doesn’t exist outside of my cranium, and the confines of my head are my little theater with my brain as the screenwriter who doesn’t care about treatments, pitches, or character arcs. This is my movie, and I am the director, producer, and both best boys.

All that said, to me, art is about being different and eliciting a response, which is perhaps I didn’t think 1987’s Piss Christ was a big deal. On its surface the print appears to be of a crucifix submerged in a substance that could be urine yet the artist, Andres Serrano, only alludes to it in the title. The viewer is left to decide. It’s also worth noting that at the time of Piss Christ, I was slowly drifting away from my Catholic upbringing which could have led to my nonchalance about the work.

As a result, I “got” it unlike those whom it offended, those who based their offense on religious grounds even though the artist himself was unclear as to what the crucifix was submerged in. Those whom it offended, were offended by themselves.

Serrano did his job.

So, moving on. At this point I’ve established that my mind is always working overtime, that I’m the one people might think is weird, and that my mind always open to and looking for new ideas. It’s all true, even at work.

I am an artist – an artist who bags groceries for his weekly notes and coins. And it was at my job a few nights ago when I was feeling a little worthless about my work situation. A part-time cart monkey, banana bagger, spill picker-upper, trash-emptier. At age 45, That’s what I do.

To make matters worse, on this particular night I had been resigned to working with a cashier who, for the lack of a better description, has taken her job and all that it encompasses to levels I can’t begin to comprehend. Scanning bananas, and enforcing the rules that come with it, seems to be her livelihood. And with me being the newest person on the job, she’s often pointing out the most obvious things just for the sake of doing it.

She’s also one who has no sense of humor and whose thoughts can’t stay inside her head. I don’t need to know when you’re going to the restroom, why a label is not affixed to a can of beans properly, or that the ties on your apron are too tight. If you’d complain a little less and do more, then perhaps the job you’re working hard at perfecting would go a lot smoother.

Maybe this is her art.

But I digress. I needed a break from bagging for this person and told my supervisor that I was going to go outside and “clear the lot,” grocery store lingo for “be a cart monkey and gather up all the shopping carts.” I went to the office to don my reflective orange safety vest and made my out into the cool of the evening.

I had cleared about half of the lot and was picking up trash along the way because, for some, grocery store parking lots are also magical. They are places where they can indiscriminately dump trash and *POOF*, without a murmur of protest from anybody, it will be gone the next day. And that trash can be anything from cinder blocks to pizza boxes to lottery tickets. I’ve seen them all.

But you can also dump your old beverage from your coffee tumbler in a grocery store lot. I see it all the time but unlike standard trash, I don’t clean it up. The liquid will eventually dissipate after being walked through, run over, etc. which makes my job *this* much easier.

I seem to have gone off on an entirely different tangent here, haven’t I? How did I go from art to my job to spilled coffee? How are any of these related?

Because this.

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A microcosm of this post is now before you: art, the weirdo who takes pictures of odd things, an unknown liquid, my job, a spilled beverage. It’s all there, right above this paragraph.

When I saw this heart-shaped spill, I knew I had to grab my phone and get a picture of it because it meant something to me. I couldn’t start questioning things like my favorite cashier does much too often; I just had to capture the moment and take it from there. And that’s exactly what I did. The artist in me accepted it for the shape it represented and nothing else. Who spilled it, why they did it, what the liquid was…none of it mattered. The heart is what mattered.

I went back inside to my station with my favorite cashier. Fortunately, I was told to take a break soon afterward and did just that.

While on my break I looked over the photo again, still admiring the complete randomness of it all but wasn’t too happy with the quality of the image so took it into a photo editing app and started messing with contrast, colors, etc. After a whole slew of adjustments, I found one that pleased me more than any of them.

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I had transformed it from a random spill of unknown liquid and origin to something that could resemble blood, with the heart-shape only lending to the message.

What message? It looked nice but that wasn’t enough, so I kept messing with it and ended up with this.

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And so I had.

This is how the mind of an artist works. It’s not the easiest to understand but the artist doesn’t expect you to. It’s the result that must elicit a response.

By the way, that doll I mentioned was no joke.

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I told you my mind was different than yours.

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Throwback Thursday: Hollywood


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You know, just me and Ann standing atop historic CBS Columbia Square in the mid- to late ‘90s. So much to say about this picture, like:

  • Ann and I were both a little…heavier then.
  • She is most definitely NOT taller than me — she was standing on a box.
  • Capitol Records is on the left.
  • The Hollywood sign can be seen on the right.
  • I could never quite pull off wearing mirrorshades.
  • We stopped here, where my brother was working at the time, to take a quick tour before walking a few blocks to the Pantages Theater to see The Phantom of the Opera for the umpteenth time (and by stating that, yes, I do know the whole thing by heart).
  • If I remember correctly, we also chatted with the co-star of the show, Marie Danvers, in her rented Chevy Cavalier after the performance. It may not have been this time but we did in fact spend time with her and wow, she’s a fantastic, funny lady.

Sadly, the building fell into a state of disrepair and is now slated to be converted into apartments, retail, and office spaces.

And I can guarantee that at least one of those stores will be selling mirrorshades like mine – now considered “retro” and going for $250 a pair.

Decade


It was the first week in September 2003 when I got the news. Ann, having been suffering from what she thought was a bout with the stomach flu, called me at work once she returned from the doctor. And I’ll never forget it.

“I’m pregnant,” she said, voice quivering. Barely being able to hold onto my oh-so-chic Nokia 8210, I was ecstatic, scared, nervous, and freaked out.

Us, with a child. Us, parents. Wow.

I told her to meet me for lunch at the office. When she arrived, I ran outside and greeted her with a big hug and the two of us shared a moment we would never forget. It was the first time that we had officially held each other as parents.

From there, it everything went so fast. Our schedules revolved around doctor’s appointments and every little thing a nervous Ann thought didn’t feel right required a call to her OB/GYN who was outstanding throughout the entire pregnancy. She also performed the C-Section.

Nothing really hit us until we saw the first ultrasound.

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That little peanut was our baby although at this point its sex could not be determined.

It didn’t matter. We were ready for little Girl or Boy to arrive. I printed out this ultrasound and stuck it to the side of my work computer and as I got updated ones, printed those out and replaced the last one. Coworkers would come into the office to get an update on things and see the latest ultrasound and, of course, ask how we were both doing.

And being it was a small business, they got together and had a Baby Shower which was just the beginning since one coworker decided she would throw us one herself…

…as did Ann’s parents.

A total of three Baby Showers. Don’t ask. I guess people like us. By the way, that Picasso print over my left shoulder is still hanging in the den.

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Then, after all the showers had come and gone, The Big Day arrived — March 30, 2004. I was on my way to work when Ann called me on my cell phone which at the time I never had on while driving. But something told me to turn it on this time.

I was a block away when I got the call to come back home because her water had broke. I turned around, called the office to let them know my vacation had officially begun and, much to Ann’s chagrin, started the video camera.

We arrived at the hospital and Ann was still doing okay. After filling out some forms, she was taken into a room for observation. Her OB/GYN showed up for the delivery and gave us a rundown of how things would happen — and reminded us of the complications we could encounter as well. Ann was then wheeled out to the OR for the delivery as I donned my sterile outfit.

Here’s a selfie of me in said outfit as I ready to enter the OR. And as is evident by this photo, I was shooting what are known at this particular moment in 2014 as “selfies” long before it was chic. And I was doing it with film cameras in the 90s, you hipster twits.

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The boy we came to name Anthony entered this world at 10:47 am. I sat by Ann’s side the entire time, only leaving her to take photos with two of the three cameras I took with me: two still (film and digital) and one video camera. On said video, I am filled with absolute euphoria as the doctor held up Anthony for the first time. I was crying more than he was and repeatedly saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God! I can’t believe it!”

Ann, pretty drugged up, just smiled at me.

Once Anthony was cleaned up and I had taken umpteen photos, the nurse handed him over to me to hold for the first time. I’ve never had such a feeling of love in my life. Here, in my arms, was our little creation tightly wrapped in blankets and whose newborn eyes were seeing light for the first time. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

I wouldn’t let him go. I held him so close to me as I looked into his big, blue eyes* with absolute wonder, cherishing a moment we may not ever see again. I cried again just staring at him and could almost hear Dad laughing and carrying on behind me, beaming with as much pride as myself and handing out bubble-gum cigars.

Before we knew it, Anthony was off to the Postnatal Ward for more measurements and monitoring. That’s when the grandparents saw him for the first time.

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I was also able to spend a little more time with him later that day as well as change a diaper or two.

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From the time we found out, I’ve always been proud to be this boy’s father. Nothing makes me happier than to see him smile and over these last 10 years, I’ve seen him change so much but remain the sweet little boy I’ve always known.

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May he never lose his sense of wonder. May he always be curious of things as simple as the spots on ladybugs or as complex as the galaxies that swirl above us.

May his compassion continue to flourish whether it’s helping the homeless or playing with the Special Ed kids at his school, both of which he does frequently (despite being ridiculed by some who aren’t as mature as he).

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It doesn’t matter if he follows in my footsteps or decide to take his own path. The only thing I can ask him to do is to be a person of integrity and honesty, and as of right now I think he’s well on his way to making that a reality.

His heart will be broken by his first love. He will lose golf tournaments. He will fail his driving exam. He will make bad decisions.

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But if he is anything like me, he will learn and move on. Whatever the case may be, we will always be there to love him and support him, just as we promised we would the moment we found out he was on the way.

Happy 10th Birthday, Anthony. You mean the world to us.

*Most newborn eyes have a blue tint to them. Their natural color eventually breaks through.

Iron Butterfly


We really should appreciate the small things.

This morning, Ann took a walk outside to check on and water her freshly planted sunflower seeds. We recently planted a whole bunch of flowers and veggies to welcome Spring. I was in the house getting my stuff together as we were about to leave to go run some errands.

Just as I stuck my wallet into my back pocket, Ann started frantically calling me. I know that tone – it’s usually pretty important and I know to drop everything to see what’s going on.

I ran outside and there’s Ann, gazing at a big, beautiful monarch butterfly that was resting on her open palm. The butterfly, however, didn’t look like was long for this world as it was having difficulty maintaining its balance and probably the reason why Ann captured it so easily. They are sneaky little things.

I went in the house and grabbed my tablet to take a few pictures of this amazing insect.

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Her wings were not flapping. She couldn’t stand for more than a few seconds before falling over again. But her legs still showed signs of movement, leading us to believe that she still had a little left in her but not enough to take her anywhere. We thought she was a goner.

Yet she wouldn’t give up. Ann placed her on top of the trash can, hopefully giving her a little incentive to fly.

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Her wings were twitching a little as she stood there, still having trouble staying upright. I still wasn’t too sure she’d make it. Then I took her and placed her in my little zen space.

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The sand apparently made it more difficult for her to move – and she fell over again and her wings twitched again. It just wasn’t looking good.

Then I picked her up and put her in a little patch of dirt and hoped for the best. She just sat there and fell over again. Poor thing.

Ann and I then went in the house and somehow got sidetracked doing something. Could have been laundry, I don’t know. The point is that some time had passed before we stepped outside again to finally go run our errands.

The first thing I did was look over at the dirt patch where I placed the butterfly – and she was gone. We both figured that a bird had grabbed her and eaten her, and it was all over.

Then I noticed something moving near the bumper of my car. The butterfly was under it, wings moving even faster than they had been before. She couldn’t quite get airborne and the power of her wings was dragging her along the driveway.

I picked her up by the wings to place her on the trash can and I could feel her fighting against the grip of my fingertips, ready to let loose. She was nothing like the butterfly we had found earlier.

I put her on the trash can and she stood there, wings gently flapping the way butterflies do. She wasn’t falling over, either. Then it happened.

Her wings went from that subtle flapping to complete and utter strength. They began to feverishly flap as she stood there and finally, she took flight. Ann and I watched her and yes, I admit cheering her on as she made her way from our frontyard, climbing ever higher and heading to our neighbor’s house. She was happily fluttering as if nothing ever happened. She seemed to like our neighbor’s tree as she flew about half the height of the tree and weaved in and out of it. She did this a few times before she finally got it together and flew off. Despite the odds, she had made it.

It was amazing. It was beautiful. It was humbling and metaphoric. It made our day.

And it’s a good reason why we should never, ever give up or take small things for granted.

A Day in the Life


So yeah, here’s how the last day has gone.

I worked a shift at my regular job on Saturday night, a shift that went from 8 pm to 12 am. The thing about these closing shifts is that much needs to be done before you leave the store for the night and doing such things – usually in a hurry – can wear you down pretty quickly. It’s not like working a regular shift where you clock out and walk out, no. They didn’t take too much of a toll on me but I’m still grateful to be working so close to home because of said tasks.

With my tasks done I then clocked out and drove my grueling 2 minutes home. (It’s been raining so I drove that day.) By then it was around 12:10 am on Sunday. I got home and Ann and I chatted a bit then decided to go to bed, around 12:30 am.

By the time I fell asleep (or remember doing so) it was about 1:30 am. I had already set my alarm for 5 am so that I could make it to the Coaster Run 5k in plenty of time since parking can be a hassle at the event.

I ate my usual runner’s breakfast of peanut butter toast and scampered down to Knott’s Berry Farm, the site of the venue. and while still cloudy, there was a glimmer of hope when the sun started to peek through as I sat at the corner of Beach and La Palma.

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I parked the car then headed over to the event corrals where I was slated to start in Corral 7. I did some stretching, took a few photos, then waited for the waves to start.

The sun was still shining somewhat at this point but it didn’t last long because just as the run was starting to get underway, the skies just opened up and started to drop some rain on everybody.

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It wasn’t coming down in buckets but it was definitely significant as you can tell by the number of ponchos in the crowd. Bah, really? But as was stated over and over in both emails and the event’s Facebook page, the event would continue rain or shine.

And so it did. I finished the 5k, drenched in rain, in 32:22 which was around 1 second slower than my PR in Hollywood. Overall, I finished 566th out of 2726 and finished 18th in my Old Man Division (45-49 males). Ran in rain from start to finish. The course is flat I love running through Knott’s, my stomping grounds from 1989-1991. It was a lot of fun.

Oh, did I mention that this race gives you a big, fat slice of boysenberry pie once you cross the finish line? Because they do and unlike last year, I devoured the whole thing in a matter of seconds. I must have really wanted it this year, almost as much as I wanted to devour a bag of hot, fresh kettle corn at 7 am.

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If not for the beloved boysenberry and Walter Knott’s genius, the Farm or Buena Park may not have ever be what they are today. Well, Cordelia did make some wicked chicken.

Okay, 5k is done. I then stood in line to get my official finisher’s photo (taken by an event photographer and much like the image in the upper left of this collage). While in line, I spoke to a woman named Vickie who was running her first official 5k. She had decided to start running after she gave up smoking not too long ago and for that I commended her. She also told me she was in a car accident last night but it wasn’t going to stop her from participating in the run. Again, commendable. I’m sure she will be just fine in her fight against smoking. We all have stories and I love hearing them. It’s what makes runners understand other runners, why they do it, and why non-runners generally don’t “get it.”

By the time I got home it was around 9:30 and Ann already had plans for me, namely to go to Ulta and get her free birthday gift. (Did I mention her birthday was March 1st and we celebrated with friends at karaoke on February 28th after I worked a 4-8 pm shift?) Anyway, I ate a little bit, took a shower, and we were on our way.

She got her free makeup and by then the family was getting hungry. We then went to lunch at Chipotle  followed by desert at Yogurtland. I’m still running on 3.5 hours sleep.

While at lunch, I get a text from my buddy with whom I’ve been working for at his restaurant. He asked me if I wanted to work a few hours that night and me, never one to turn down a few bucks, agreed. I was to start at 4, meaning I’d have to leave around 3 pm.

We got home and I took it easy for a little bit. I think I may have closed my eyes for around 10 minutes before almost falling out of my chair after losing my balance. Still feeling relatively fine, I drove out to deliver some pizzas from 4-7pm.

With that shift done, I stayed around and did some catching up. He also told me I could make Ann a nice antipasto salad for her birthday if I wanted to, so I did. I left around 8 and got home around 8:45, just enough time for Anthony to see me and send him off to bed at 9 pm.

Finally, after being up since 5 am and getting less than 4 hours of sleep, my day had mercifully come to an end. I kicked up my feet on the recliner and grabbed the laptop in the hopes of chronicling the day’s events which didn’t work out that well. I ended up falling asleep while blogging yet again but at least I had an excuse this time. I finished the post just now, Monday morning.

So that was my day. Uh…how was yours?

Perspective


I’ve only worked two days at my new job and I can honestly say that it beats anything I’ve done in recent years (mainly proofreading and writing).

The major difference is that I am now dealing with the public, something I haven’t done since the last time I worked retail way back in…I can’t even remember. Oh wait, I think it was 2010. Anyway, dealing with people is a nice change after suffering under a fluorescent tube at a desk, proofreading piles and piles of paperwork that after a while made you wonder if any languages, including English, made any sense.

Some customers love to talk, some don’t. Some don’t care if you “stuff all the shit in the same bag*” while others are extremely particular about item placement. You can make connections with people you would have never otherwise thought, and it’s a beautiful thing.

For all intents and purposes I am a Courtesy Clerk (aka boxboy) at a local grocery store. It’s not a glamorous position nor is it a full-time gig but I am finding so many positive things in my being there.

The perks are many. This store in particular uses Rewards cards and one of our perks is that we are issued an upgraded card that gives us points (cash back) on purchases, and 10 times the points on private-label brands. The amount is distributed four times a year and can really add up. There’s also discounts on cell phones, auto purchases, etc.

I’m also working with a fun bunch of people, most of whom I already know after shopping at this store for nearly 10 years. A lot of people we knew, however, have moved on to other stores or left the company but the current staff is about as happy as I am to be there and is comprised mostly of younger people. I’ve already told them that I can keep up with them so don’t worry about it.

Then there’s my commute. It takes me literally 10 minutes to walk to the place, or 5 minutes on a bike or 2 minutes by car. I haven’t had such an easy time getting to a job since…ever.

There’s more good than bad at this point and I’m happy to be a part of it. The pay is minimal but the perks, environment, people, and commute definitely make up for everything else.

Some may see this as a step down when compared to what I used to do or what I could be doing.

In my case, it’s exactly what I needed in order to break the rut I had been swirling in since 2003. It’s all a matter of perspective.

*My city has recently banned plastic bags, so a lot of customers are not prepared for their haul if they find more than their bags can hold – if they remembered to bring their bags in the first place.