The Art Gallery

I bought three art prints today after spending the afternoon at the gallery. I had been meaning to go since I returned from Vancouver 16 months ago but I never got around to it. While out west, I visited every gallery and museum in B.C. There’s a lot of Salish and Inuit art in Vancouver and Victoria, which I can take or leave. I’m a big fan of early twentieth century Canadian painting, especially work done by Emily Carr and Tom Thompson and work by or in the style of The Group of Seven.

The prints are not large, approximately 30 x 22 cm. Now I’ll have to find frames, which will likely cost me more than the prints. I’ll spend some time on-line tomorrow to try to learn what sort of frame is best and then more web time to find a shop, hopefully in my neighbourhood. I already have a particular wall selected for them.

All three of these are representations of oils by Carr. She spent most of her career on the BC coast and she’s better known for her watercolours but I’ve never appreciated that medium. It’s usually too pale and washed out for my taste. I prefer oils. They’re usually more vibrant and full of colour. I learned today that she often mixed her oil paint with gasoline in order to allow the paint to flow more freely on the canvas.

I don’t know much about art. I go to a gallery and look around until something catches my eye and then I read the wall plaque or the guide to learn more about it. I can’t tell what is artistically “good” and what isn’t. I just know when I like something. I deal with it in much the same way as I do wine.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the gallery. There were rooms I zipped right through and others that deserved some dawdling. There was a visiting exhibit of Jean-Michel Basquiat that I took the time to go through and there was a second special exhibit of photography that I didn’t get to before closing. The gallery can be a confusing place with dozens of interconnecting salons and it’s easy to get turned around or find yourself back where you started.

I don’t buy art very often. My apartment walls are still bare although I have a few things that I could have hung if I’d gotten around to it. Now I’ll have to, so watch for snaps on my Shots page. Maybe I’ll hang the rest of my pictures at the same time. I should probably pick up some boxes too. If this is like every other place I’ve lived in, when I finally complete my decorating, I’ll end up moving. ©

——–

Cherish

 

I stood at the window in the front room, looking across the street. Mrs. Pauley was standing on her front step, her chin in the air as she tried find the sweet spot to read the paper though her bifocals. She always looks funny when she does that, I thought, like she’s looking down her nose at whatever she’s holding. She said something to the old guy and he shook his head. She turned to the cops, fishing a tissue from her sleeve and lifting her glasses to wipe her eyes as she listened to whatever the smaller one was saying.

Mom? I called, “What’s going on at Mrs. Pauley’s?” My mother came in from the kitchen to stand behind me, drying her hands on a tea towel and looking over my head at the scene across the street.

Oh, my,” she whispered, “I didn’t know it would happen so soon.” She looked down at me and before I could ask, she continued. “When Mr. Pauley died, she found out that he’d let his life insurance lapse. Couldn’t make the payments, I guess. He didn’t leave much money and she hasn’t been able to pay her rent. I think they were already a little bit behind.”

So? Can’t she get a job or something? Maybe one of her kids could help.” The Pauley boys were all grown and had moved away. Four were married with kids and living in Toronto and the other two were in Vancouver.

She can’t work. Her health isn’t good and she hasn’t had a job since she was a girl. She’s not trained for anything. As far as I know, she hasn’t told the boys about this. I don’t think she wanted to trouble them and its not as if any of them could afford to pay it for her.”

She stood for a minute longer as the drama played out and then said, “I’m going across the street to see if she needs anything. I may be a little awhile”

I turned back to the window. The cops and the old guy were getting back into their cars. Mrs. Pauley, tears running down her cheeks, held the screen door open as Mom walked across the grass.

I felt confused. I understood what Mom had said and knew enough about money to appreciate Mrs. Pauley’s predicament. What I didn’t get was, how could her family not know and why weren’t they helping her? I wondered if the rest of the neighbourhood knew about this. Maybe they could get together and help her out. I knew that a lot of folks were out of work and times were tight but this was important. The Pauley place was like a second home to many of us kids. There were always a few friends of the boys’ around the yard or in the converted garage. Even the younger children were welcome to step in for a cookie or a glass of water or just to say hi. Many of us had spent time at her kitchen table sharing a tale of woe and getting in return a soft shoulder and a dose of common sense. Once the last of their boys were gone, Mr. and Mrs. Pauley had kept the garage open as a kind of clubhouse. We spent a lot of time there. 

After I raided the fridge, I started on my homework. Mom came in about an hour later and began preparing supper. “How is she?” I asked.

Not very well,” she answered, “she has to be out by the end of the month and she’s already started packing. Do you think you could go over after school tomorrow and on the weekend to help move boxes and furniture around?

I was glad she’d asked me. “Sure, I’ll ask Hamid if he wants to help. Where is she going to live?”

Robbie and his wife are making room for her.” Mom gazed at me with an odd expression and I realized that she was a little afraid. This could happen to us, I thought with a shock. Mrs. Pauley’s life had been shattered out of the blue. You can’t be sure of anything.

The next evening I went over to Mrs. Pauley’s and helped her pack boxes and brought some things down from the attic. We didn’t talk much and I heard her crying once from the other room. I didn’t know what to say. The next day was Saturday and as I opened her front door I saw that the house was buzzing. It seemed as if every kid in the neighbourhood was there. They were dragging things from the closets and the basement and half filled boxes were scattered across the floor. The air was full of chatter and laughter and in the corner Kerry and Macy were arguing about something. It was bedlam. Mrs. Pauley was standing in the middle of it all with a jug of lemonade in her hand. She was crying again, but this time a broad smile lit her face.  ©

———  

Karma

Jason plopped onto the bus seat with a sigh, reached into his pocket and examined the heavy silver pen he’d found on the floor at closing time. Each evening he took a careful look around the tables and the reading areas. It was remarkable what the students left behind. People are so careless, he thought, and most never came back for their lost items. He hadn’t put this pen in the lost and found though. He’d never owned one like it and it could probably fetch a pretty penny at the pawn shop. He sometimes sold the better items he found although most of the stuff was junk. One of the perks of the job, he’d always figured. Helped to make up for the poor pay and lousy benefits.

He got off the bus and headed for the pub across from his apartment building. He waved hello at a group of neighbours sitting in a booth and took a stool at the bar, ready for a couple of cold ones. Paul was talking to a young guy who looked about as miserable as could be.

I don’t know what I’ve done with it.” the kid said, “It’s solid silver, a gift from my uncle just before he died. He brought it back from Germany. I should have left it at home but it writes so nice. I use it all the time.“

The bartender shook his head in sympathy. “Where were you today? Did you retrace your steps?”

Yeah, I did. I spent most of the day in the library but when I went back it was gone. I’m sure I didn’t drop it outside. My backpack is always buckled up tight.”

Well, Its a damned shame,” said Paul, “hold on a second while I get this man a drink”

He moved over to Jason, said hi and asked what he wanted.

A beer’s fine, thanks. What’s going on there?” He flicked a thumb in the young man’s direction.

Poor guy lost a keepsake pen today. A momento from a dead Uncle.”

Huh, too bad.” Jason’s mind raced as he sipped the foam from his pint. What were the odds that he’d run into the guy? A city this size, it’s ridiculous. He wasn’t giving the pen back. Tough luck for the guy but that’s life in the big city. He finished his beer and stayed out of the conversation. He changed his mind about staying for another drink and dropped a bill on the bar, reaching down to grab his bag as he stuffed his wallet into his pocket.

As he headed for the door, someone called out, “ Hey, buddy!”

He turned and saw that it was the young man. He was marching toward Jason, his hand out and Jason thought, how did he know? Then he saw that the hand wasn’t empty. “You dropped your wallet,” the kid said. Jason stood staring at him until the guy began to get uncomfortable.

Isn’t it yours? It was laying right there by your bar stool.” As if from a trance, Jason shook his head, then nodded, grunted thanks and carefully tucked the wallet away.

He nodded again at the kid, turned and walked through the door. Doesn’t change a thing, he thought. He’s a sucker. There’s three hundred bucks in the wallet. It doesn’t pay to be a good citizen.

——-

What’s that? “Asked Paul, his face bathed in flashing reds and blues.

My pen.” the young man whispered, “It must have been in his pocket. I wonder how he had it.”

I know he works at he library. He’s one of my regulars.” Paul replied, “Lives across the street. He must have been trying to beat the light. ”

You know, I don’t think he even looked. He just muttered something and stepped off the curb.” ©

——-

VSO

While living on the west coast, I struck something from my bucket list. I had always wanted to attend the symphony and the VSO is an orchestra of Canadian renown. I bought a package of tickets to three performances and looked forward to what I had been told by one friend would be an exhilarating evening for any music lover, even one unfamiliar with classical music. Another friend raised an eyebrow and wondered if I’d asked for the senior’s discount. I ignored her.

The Orpheum Theatre in downtown Vancouver is an ageing beauty dressed in cream and gold and deep red velvet, still lovely in the soft light of her chandeliers and wall sconces. Oil paintings and memorial plaques adorn the walls and there are comfortable chairs and sofas scattered about the halls and foyers. It’s easy to imagine the early Vancouver upper crust in gowns and tuxedos gathering in the orchestra lobby or climbing the stately staircases to the Dress Circle. Inside the auditorium, the decorative painted ceiling and the sculpted backdrop complete the effect.

The first half of that night’s performance was by a visiting pianist. The music was marvellous and when the audience stood to give him a standing ovation and a curtain call, I joined them. At intermission I bought a glass of wine and took a stroll around the theatre. I was quite pleased with my choice in entertainment. The music, the building and the ambiance provided an entirely pleasing experience. I looked forward to the next performance in my package.

Back at my seat, I took off my jacket. The balcony was warm in the late summer evening and the AC seemed to be struggling. The next musical pieces were described in the program as stirring and I settled back to enjoy them. The first was pleasant but I thought “stirring” was a bit generous. And it was long. The final work started with even less melodic flair and seemed to be entirely about the violins.

I awoke with the first burst of applause. Embarrassed, I jumped to my feet and joined the audience in a stirring round of appreciation. I didn’t tell either friend about my nap. ©

——–

To Whom It May Concern

Dear PC,

As you know, I committed the other week to posting something each day. This was to be an exercise in discipline. I was having no trouble coming up with ideas but just as soon as I opened my mouth to tell the world that writer’s block is hokum, “I just sit down and free type”, things have dried up.

I’m here to tell you that I’m getting a little tired of waiting for you to pull your weight. I don’t ask for much. A few words about loons or a joke about a fire. Perhaps a short poem or a ditty about a little red sweater. Just about anything will do, really. Just help me get started. And don’t speak to me about the prompts. Sometimes they work and sometimes I stare at them as if they’re written in Greek.

This letter is intended as a warning that should you continue to block my efforts, I will go out, purchase a new laptop and consign you to the closet. Beware, once in, never out! There are still jackets in there from the 80’s!

I can tell you one thing, this is definitely not my fault. I’ve always been able to bullshit about any topic for a couple of minutes or a couple of hundred words. So, as you are the only other entity involved…

…huh. Look at that, a couple of hundred words. ©

——–

Rubicon

I’m moving out.” The boy said quietly, looking at no one in particular.

The dinner table was usually a quiet place. His parents were as often as not engaged in silent combat and the kids would rush to finish eating and then get busy with the dishes before the storm broke.

Now, almost everything stopped. His oldest sister looked at him across the table, her cheeks flushing and her mouth dropping open. They were close and she knew about his plans, but suddenly the moment was here. His younger sister missed these opening tremors and picked at her pork chop.

He turned his head to the sound of a fork clattering on china. His mother was staring at him, her eyes wide and her mouth working in silence. “Where will you go?” she finally asked, looking from him to his father and back.

“I’ve found a place downtown,” he told her, nervously adding additional details, “An attic apartment. The ceilings are a little low but I like it, and its not too far from work.”

His eyes slid from hers to the other end of the table. His father speared a carrot and without looking up from his plate asked, “When?” as if this wasn’t the most significant event in his son’s life. As if he’d said he was going to the movies.

“Saturday. Archie will pick me up,” Letting him know that he was independent now and didn’t need anything from him.

Life with his father had almost made him shrink from this confrontation but he’d been fantasizing about this moment for months. He had turned eighteen just the week before. He was a man now and eager to be gone. He had planned the conversation carefully, confidently anticipating each response and he sat trembling in anticipation, arguments and recriminations at the ready.

His father put his fork down and studied him for a few moments and the boy imagined that he was considering options. This was definitely not what had been planned but no man-of-the-house reaction would work here. My-way-or-the-highway was staring his old man in the face.

Later that night, with time to think and in his bed in his parent’s house for the last time, he would be shocked at the indifference he’d heard in his father’s voice. It would linger in his memory.

“Well, be out by six. We have company coming and we don’t want to be disturbed.” ©

___________

Trout

When we were overseas, my father introduced our family to camping. It was an exotic adventure to sleep for the first time under canvas, walk to the communal wash house each morning and to cook our meals outdoors. Over the years, camping would become the norm at vacation time, especially when we were overseas.

This time was special to me for an unusual reason. My father took me fishing. I had fished with him before. There was a family cottage and we had fished off the dock and from the boat. Here, we had no boat so cast our lines from shore. The owner kept the lake stocked with trout so it wasn’t long before we had our dinner hanging from the stringer. Dad showed me how to improve my cast and we chatted and shared fishing stories with other fishermen nearby. We had a good time and got along well.

Back at the camp site, Dad started a fire and then cleaned and prepared the trout. He added a little butter and salt and pepper and sealed the fillets in tin foil. Once the fire was ready he stepped over and tossed the package into the coals. I don’t recall the other parts of that meal. The aroma that arose from that foil after it was pulled from the fire has stayed with me ever since. For years, I proclaimed that trout dinner to have been the best I had ever had.

I don’t remember how the rest of that vacation went but this had been a good day. We didn’t always have successful holidays because family life stays the same whatever the setting. I do know that it’s one of my best memories of time spent with my father. ©

——–

Points of View

Scene: A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry…

——

John:

“That lady made me think of Mom,” I tell Carla, “she was always knitting something for one of the kids on the block. Doesn’t that look like the sweater she was working on when we visited her last week?”

“Yes, it does. Do you need a tissue?” She gives my hand a squeeze and digs one out of her purse.

“Thanks. Just caught me unawares. The dog looks a little like Mom’s too,” I pause, ”we’ll have to do something about Buster.”

“Try not to think about it right now. You’ll feel better once this is over and we get home. Time enough then for decisions. Let’s stop over there for a cup of tea before we head back.”

“OK, we shouldn’t stay long though, they’ll be waiting for us.”

She’s right. I need a bit more time before facing the gathering at the reception. I don’t know what I’d do without her, especially over the past few days. She’s held me up, a real rock. She always seems to be looking out for me. That reminds me that I’ll have to sit down with her before Thursday and explain the changes Mom made to her will. I doubt she’ll care but I wouldn’t want her to be caught by surprise in front of the family.

——

Carla:

He’s crying again, barely holding it together. I look at him with dismay and wish we didn’t have to go back to the hall. Some of his relatives are a handful and his uncle is downright rude. I hand him a tissue and look over at the bench to see if the old woman has noticed his tears.

I wonder what he’ll do with Buster. He’s certainly not coming home with us. I liked John’s mother well enough but that stupid little dog is too much, yapping at every sound and begging scraps from the table. It makes me itchy just to think of sitting on that hair covered couch. Did she ever vacuum?

I could really go for a cup of tea before we head back to face his family and Mama’s friends. They want to talk about her money, of course. Well, they can go to blazes if they think they’re getting much of it. They won’t come right out and ask him today but I know we’ll get an earful once the will’s been read. It won’t matter, he’s been a good son and 8 years definitely entitles me to something. I had choices but it was unquestionably the right move to marry a lawyer.

——

Mrs. Kane:

I look up to see a young couple stroll by my bench. I think of it as my bench because this is where I always sit, if it’s free when I come to the park. Of course I don’t come every day. Sometimes the weather is just too horrid.

He seems to be upset. I wonder if he’s caught something in his eye. They don’t seem to be fighting, holding hands like that.

I like to watch people and try to imagine what’s going on in their lives. I think I’m usually correct. You can just tell what people are about, if you study them carefully. Maybe this man’s just happy. A young couple like that, I’ll bet she’s just told him that she’s expecting. They look the right age and are obviously in love.

I’m pleased with my deductions and hold my knitting out at arm’s length to inspect the last few rows. Very nice. This will be a lovely sweater for Walter. It’ll help keep him warm on our walks. He’s getting on and it’s been a little chilly in the evenings.

I tuck the knitting away in my straw bag and struggle to my feet. It gets harder every day. I may have to start using a cane soon. My daughter is always after me to get one. She’s afraid I’ll fall over and break a hip.

“Come along Walter,” I give the leash a gentle tug, “time to go home and make dinner.” ©

——

In Transit

Mornings and evenings in a subway station are not the same. People are in a hurry at either time but in the evening they’re heading home looking forward to relaxing after a long day or thinking about getting ready to go out for the evening. This morning, as on any weekday morning, the station bustles. There’s an urgency in the air as workers hustle to get to work on time. Its a busy, noisy place at 7:30 am.

I join the commuters streaming down the escalator and watch them jostle to claim their places in the turnstile queues. Voices echo as neighbours share their plans for the day. The clatter of feet and the mechanical rattle of the turnstiles resound off the tile. A steady breeze flows down the stairs from outside and then down the far stairs to track level. It’s as cool as a cave below ground and there’s a slight smell of floor cleaner mixed with a dozen passing fragrances.

Like me a few people are standing against the wall waiting for colleagues or travel partners. There’s a busy kiosk in the far corner selling newspapers and candy and a small crowd is huddled around the cash register, impatient for their turn. Next to the kiosk sits a collection of silver coloured waste and recycling containers. From one of them an escaping page of newsprint trembles with every gust.

The concourse is clad in tile. A black border runs along the floor about a foot from the walls, corralling the grey-white granite squares. Years of traffic has eroded the original finish and the surface is marked by shoe scuffs and tracked-in street dirt. The ceramic tile walls are a clean and shining pearl, save three bands of pine-green at floor, shoulder and ceiling. The ceiling tiles are white and a half dozen neon light fixtures and a few fire sprinklers break its plane.

Every few minutes the air rumbles and then up the stairs from track level comes a roar and the squeal of brakes. Doors hiss open. Seconds later the cars rush back into the tunnel. The wind from each train sends a collection of litter near the stairs shifting like debris caught in a river current.

The crowd thins as I wait, the stream only a trickle and the queues have disappeared. The latecomers are scurrying past me in their ones and twos. All of the others who were waiting along the walls have gone. The concourse is almost empty except for a whiskered, denim clad busker strumming his guitar at the bottom of the steps and a trio of teen boys huddling with a slim girl by the ticket machine, hooting and laughing as she flushes in response.

I see my friend coming down the steps from the street. I wave and meet her near the turnstile. We step onto the escalator and the concourse slides out of sight. ©

——–

Give and Take

“Remember this?” Becky broke the silence, holding up a photo. She had been sitting on the end of the couch, a box from the closet on her lap.

I nodded, “Hubert’s cottage. We rented it for the summer. Your mother and her friend Doris came along.”

“Lois, not Doris,” she said.

“Right, they stayed a month.”

“Two weeks,” she said.

“Really? Seemed longer.”

She swivelled her head a quarter turn and gave me the eye, “Don’t start.”

“I’m not,” I assured her, “remember that party across the lake at the Parkers?”

“Palmers.”

“Right. Their son was a doctor,” I said, into full windup mode now.

She was quiet for a few seconds. “Dentist,” she said, her voice just a little clipped.

I decided not to ruin the mood any further and ducked back into the book I’d been reading. I could her muttering as she dug through the box.

“I thought I threw this out,” she said, a chapter and a half later, “remember Mark and his friend Peter?”

I looked up, slightly peeved at the interruption, to see a handbill. My friend had spent a year trying to kick start a musical career. “His name was Dieter.”

“Right. He played the guitar.”

“Dobro.” What was she thinking? Becky had always been a big fan of bluegrass.

“Oh, right. Remember the gig at The Castle?”

“Cassell’s.” I had lost the thread of the chapter by this point.

“He wrote that lovely song. What was it called, the one with the duelling fiddles?”

“Payback.” It slipped from my lips before I could stop.

“That’s right,” she said and went off to the other room. ©

——–