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Okay, ya got the picture. Alright, I’m this kid, see, and the sap is flowing. And I’ve already got the sense of guilt that all fourteen-year-old kids have got. Guilt about all kinds of things. Terrible thoughts that would go through my head.
I’ll never forget one time when Esther Jane Albery went up to the front of the history class. She had on a flowered dress and she was silhouetted against the light. Incredible. I have never lost my wonder about it either. I don’t think most men ever do. It was unbelievable. Right out of my head an awful thing suddenly popped out, it had twenty-six legs, had a big black moustache, and was chewing tobacco. This thing, this thought, came out, spilling all over the place. It was the first time a thought like that went through my head, and I swatted at it like a fly.
I was flabbergasted—we were studying Richard the Lionhearted and all of a sudden I was looking at Esther Jane Albery in a way I’d never looked at her before! Oh! Whew! It was spring.
More dating stories to come
Another thing about it that has to be said parenthetically. That the sun was very bright. And the wind was very windy in those days. And the tumbleweeds tumbled. They really did. And streetcars roared, and the lake boomed on the shore.
And living beside a Great Lake when spring comes is a very exciting thing. It’s not quite like it is living next to the ocean, because the ocean, you know, tempers the season in a way the Lakes don’t. The Lakes are very cold in the springtime. And the ice that grips that part of the country had broken and cracked away a few weeks before, and now it is alive again! And you can feel the hot wind coming up from the south and it hits that cold air hanging over the Lake and it would be beautiful—just cataclysmic June thunder showers that would come from where those two pieces of air are hitting. And it would all come right down where we lived, right there at the dividing line.
And on one side there would be dogwood and tulip trees blooming. (The state flower of Indiana is the tulip tree.) So there would be tulip trees hanging over there in the dunes, and the dogwood climbing up the side of the hills, and those big, fantastic thundershowers would come roaring down. It’s springtime, my god, it’s really spring! You knew it. Things were moving—you could hear it. Always. Another thing you could hear in the springtime is the very beginnings of frogsongs—I cannot describe to you the sound of the frogs at eight or nine o’clock at night in June in Northern Indiana. Just like the whole earth is singing and making this one, long, warbling note just going on and on and on.
My Ubu Raw
[Pardon the appropriate/objectionable word on the cover and elsewhere. There are five sheets plus a final page with its instructions and special applicator for completing the art project at its appropriate end.]
(Note that TV has recently shown several poop-related ads: hemorrhoid ointment; toilet paper; odor reducing spray for “#2” to none of which I have yet adequately accustomed myself. I still consider them, on the public media, questionable displays of tastelessness.)
Despite these recent public displays of scatollogy, to preclude potential public agitation in the streets, highways, and byways of the Internet, and though I feel that Art and related Artsys should be allowed much wider latitude and longitude, I sadly, hereby, perform an act of self-censorship (forgive me the unforgivable self-indulgence–it’s been a humdinger):
Backside of Box
The publishers [New Directions] are grateful to
Gaberbocchus Press, Ltd.
….Ubu was conceived as hideous, grotesque, with a pear-shaped head, practically no hair and enormous, flabby stomach; the embodiment of cupidity, stupidity, brutality, ferocity.
[Jarry]….then for two days no one saw him. Two of his friends went to see what had become of him and found him lying on his straw bed in a state of indescribable filth, paralyzed in both legs and unaware of what had happened. He was taken to hospital where he became rapidly weaker. And on the 1st November, 1907, he died, at the age of 34. His last request was for a toothpick.
PART 10. REARING ITS LOVELY HEAD
As a cake of human yeast and a young bud on a thorny rosebush of life, Shepherd succumbs to urges of sexual awakening. In biology class, sharing the dissection of a frog with a lovely young thing, he dates an uptown Pearl; pursuing another “chick,” he encounters an impediment of turkeys a la Ford; on a much-anticipated first date with a young Swedish beauty, he drinks fly soup; and, not expecting one consequence of high school graduation, he scraggs with the best of them.
Bud On That Thorny Rosebush
I’m this kid, see. One day it’s June. It’s going to be June for a lot of you, as it always has been for kids for centuries over. And it was once June for me too.
It was June, and I had just finished my freshman year in high school. I was veritably a bud—on that thorny rosebush of life. Ready to pop those petals out and to reach for the sun! To drink in the elixir, the veritable dew of passion and of existence.
There I was, crammed with my head full of isosceles triangles. I had just finished a year of algebra and I was very good at quadratic equations. Very good. Mr. Suttlemeyer was very proud that I made it. I was beginning to absorb this thing—what it was about—this education. And now it was spring. June. It was the Depression.
My artists’ book, “Ubu Raw,” done in two formats in 2002, is a tribute to Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play, Ubu Roi. The play is an outrageous stinker, a surrealist masterpiece. The artist’s book’s first version is fitted into a hinged plastic box 5” X 7” X 1 /7” and the subsequent edition of one is housed in an elegant wooden cigar box 6 1/8” X 9 ¾” X 1 7/8” (These wood boxes, in many sizes and styles, can be found at ebay. At the moment there are 4,384 for sale.) I chose the lines from the play and designed/printed the selections. My printed illustrations are pasted on corrugated cardboard sheets. Note the cardboard backs for numbering the sheets, made by cutting into the cardboard on one side forming numerals, then removing that top layer. (The current paragraph is meant to convey info for some, and for everyone, to lull [amusing-sounding word] into the illusion that the following material is of no offense.)
I am not responsible for Ubu’s terminology: pardon my and Jarry’s French. Any connection between Jarry’s Ubu Roi (1896), my Ubu Raw (2002), and life in these United States, is a bizarre and lamentable coinkadink.
(Jarry’s drawing of Ubu.)
Ubu’s first line in the play is Merdre,
Which, with the extra “r” is, in English, [S—t].
King Ubu (Ubu Roi) by Alfred Jarry,
Translated by Patrick Whittaker 2007.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ubu-roi : The title character, Pere Ubu, is a gluttonous, greedy, and cruel individual who slaughters the royal family of Poland in order to ascend the throne. Willing to sacrifice anybody to accomplish his ends, Ubu ultimately proves himself a coward when he is forced to do battle with the king of Poland’s surviving son. The play’s scatological references, pompous style, and bastardized French caused the audience to riot when it was first produced in 1896. It was later championed by the Surrealists and Dadaists in the 1920s, who recognized in Ubu roi the first Absurdist drama.
My cousin Ray was fascinated by the play—he and his wife and I saw an off-Broadway puppet version of it. I became interested in it also–and encountered an artists’ book, hand-lettered-and-illustrated edition by the female half of an accomplished husband/wife team in the experimental book creation and publishing business:
Two Pages From the Extensive Ubu Comic Book (1970)
by Franciszka Themerson
END OF PART 1 OF 2
So that Monday I get myself some rotten liver at Oshenslauggers. I take it to work and by nightfall, my god, I had forty or fifty rats! And by the end of the week I got maybe seventy-five rats one day. I walk into the tin mill assorting office and Chester looks up and says, “You know, you’re even better than Stanley.”
I say, “Aw, nothing to it.”
Herman calls out, “Yea, he’s pretty good! He’s damn near as good as Stanley.”
I walk out to the tin mill floor that day, tall and straight. I walk up to Sophie and I say, “Sophie, how about going over to the Red Eagle with me after work.”
She says, “Where’s Stanley?”
I say, “The hell with Stanley. I’m movin’ in. Ya goin’?”
She says, “Well, if you put it that way, yes.” And she did.
After all, I am one of the truly great rat catchers to come out of Inland Steel. Better than Stanley. Even today, kids are being measured against me. I am a legend.
[END OF PART 9]
John Curry won the 1976 Olympic Gold Medal.
The fundamental basic of ice skating is an obscure form called “school figures.” It involves precision of movement, and represents an important element in learning to skate well. It used to be a part of high-level competitions, shown on TV in a short segment. But, probably because it was not “exciting” for the mass public, and virtually impossible to adequately depict on camera, it was eliminated. Apparently, Curry was its master. He commissioned modern dance choreographer Twyla Tharp to create a piece for him. She called the 7 ½ minute solo-program, “After All.” The New York Times writer described it as “a luminous study of edge work, in which a skater’s shifting weight emphasizes inner and outer edges.” That, with the patterns inscribed by the blades on the ice, is “school figures.” When I first saw Curry perform “After All,” because of its mostly simple skate-blade movements, I saw it as a tribute to school figures, the basic origins, the wellsprings of skating, and as a statement of defiance against its downgrading in the figure-skating world. It showcases Curry’s superior skill:
John Curry and Twyla Tharp.
Images From What Seems to be
the Only Internet Sources Available.
(“After All” and Curry’s other work embody unsurpassable purity and elegance.
That such smeared video renditions of “After All” is all that seem available
on the Internet is an ironic travesty.
That John Curry died of AIDS, nearly penniless, at 44, is a tragedy.
I strongly suggest avoiding the sad details of his final time on Earth.)
Comments upon his death in 1994
“I think he brought the purest form of ballet to the ice,” Peggy Fleming, [1968 Olympic Gold] said of Mr. Curry. “He was a real purist, totally devoted to the art of skating. He also had the technique and athleticism to make that art look effortless. It was a wonderful blend of what skating is about — art and sport. It’s a huge loss.”
Dick Button, men’s Olympic champion in 1948 and 1952, said yesterday in a statement that Mr. Curry was “the finest and most intelligent all-around skater I’ve ever seen. He skated with a combination of superior athleticism, solid technique, classical line and musical sensitivity. And he was choreographically inventive.”
Bill Jones, author of Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry: “Figure skating’s gibberish lexicon, with its lutzes and loops, meant nothing before John Curry took to the ice. In five hypnotic minutes gliding across the ice, he transformed a discredited Olympic event into a glorious art form.”
How Dare I Discuss Motion and Music in a Static Blog?
None of the Elegance in Actual Motion Above is Available for this Blog,
But all of the Above can be Seen on YouTube.
Movement and Music are the Most Emotionally Satisfying Arts (for me).
So I go back out by the tracks and start walking my trap line. The first three traps, nothin’. The fourth trap where we throw the waste has been sprung! No rat. And no cheese. Son of a gun! I put more bait in there. By god, I couldn’t believe it, I’m walking on the trap line and I get over by the Coke machine and I caught a rat! I take the rat into the office.
Chester yells, “Get that thing outa here. Don’t bring them rats in here! What’re ya bringing a rat in here for?”
I say, “I want to show you I caught a rat.”
“Don’t bring it in here! Throw it back in the garbage! Get it outa here!”
I walk out with my trophy. Well, that first day, I caught six rats on my trap line. Six rats. And I kept careful score.
The next day I come in. This time I’m all excited. Somehow this stuff started to get to me. So when I come in, eight o’clock in the morning, I’m not messing with Sophie. I start laying my traps. It’s like a game. By noon I had caught seven or eight rats. I’m beginning to get used to where them babies are. And by that night I must have caught twenty or twenty-five rats. I keep score. I mark down on a pad how many I catch and where I catch ‘em. Back of the Coke machine: two; back out by the number two cardboard cutting machine: three.
By the end of the week I can hardly wait to get to work every day. Then I hit the jackpot. Fantastic day. I catch almost forty rats. That night I’m back at home sitting at the kitchen table, feeling on the top of it all.
My old man says, “What’s got into you? You look like you got a heavy date tonight.”
“I had a good day at work.”
“I caught thirty-six rats today.”
“Thirty-six rats in one day?”
“That’s not bad.” He says, “Listen, I got a tip for you. You know what rats really like? We have them down at the plant.”
“Rats like nothing better than rotten liver. Get rotten liver down at Oshenslauggers and you’ll catch more rats than you can believe.”
SHALL WE DANCE?
Skating and art—
How dare I mention motion and music?
I know nothing about ice skating but I know what I like and why.
For me, ice hockey is a sport (producing the most impressive athletic agility), figure skating is an art, but sometimes the word “sport” is conflated with ice skating—probably because, to accumulate a more massive audience, commercial interests promote it as such, and the “sports-like” twists and turns—“toe loops,” “axels,” “lutzes,” etc. are given the biggest applause. These recent decades, the most twists per leap of various kinds are most highly regarded.
For me, the problem is that most figure skaters skate around—as though winding up—and then do a multiple twist, then go back to artless skating around, winding up for the next spectacular athletic adornment. That is a perversion of the art of figure skating. Only a very few skaters flow out of one move and go immediately into additional artistic moves, segueing into another fancy turn. The difference is a showing-off of athleticism versus the creating of a continuous artwork. My wife and I still watch some ice skating on TV, but the form, for me, has been corrupted through a commercial elbowing-out of the magic of the highest human level of skating that is art.
To compare, Fred Astaire dancing alone and with Ginger Rogers, in their 1930s movies, were superb artists. Astaire, it’s said, insisted that while he was dancing, camera work had to show his entire body—his dancing body was his art. One of the most amusing and astute comments on Astaire/Rogers is that she did the same as he…:
(The non-dancing banality of the remaining parts of their movies were but useless dross.) The cleverness of Busby Berkeley’s dancing geometrics in 1930s movies, was a crowd-pleasing, optical tickling of the eye—Op Art’s mediocre visual tricks.
The categories of performers are: men singles and women singles; pairs consisting of a man and a woman skating together; ice dancing, in which a man and a woman performing together are restricted in various ways such as–both usually doing the same moves in synchronistical manner, and the two remaining as a single visual unit. Ice dancers Torvill and Dean (1984 Olympic and World Champions. I gather that Dean did their choreography.), and solo skater John Curry (1976 Olympic and World Champion), for me, fused, assurance, elegance, and physical perfection without equal–they were the highest level of art on ice.
John Curry: “I think that over the years individual skaters have been truly sublime. People like Torvill and Dean have definitely helped prepare the public for the kind of work our company is doing. It’s fascinating that what most captured public attention during the winter Olympics were performances that didn’t have any of the usual thrills and spills, but were simply pieces of movement on ice — done, of course, so beautifully and so well.”
Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean
One aspect of figure skating on television that I have always disliked is the TV commentators constantly speaking over the music and video with their description of the athletic and technical performance when I’m trying to absorb the art/quality of the skating. (It’s as though, in a ballet performance, a voice over the music was constantly describing the action.) But, in a sublime moment, the commentators having seen practice sessions and knowing what an extraordinary performance was coming, Torvill and Dean appeared for their competition piece, “Bolero,” and the typical, polluting audio commentary gave way to the full glory of art–the music began and the skaters skated with not a word of ruinous, technical/athletic commentary! The quality of the skating and choreography were the best ever seen on television. With “Bolero” they went on to win the World’s and 1984 Olympic gold medals. In other fine works, “Mack and Mabel,” which evoked the emotions of a sweet but stormy romance, and at the World Championships in 1983 they danced a circus number with music from “Barnum.”
End part 1 of 2.
The great Stanley. I never saw this character! The great Stanley again!
“Look,” he says, “I’ll get you some of the stuff. Stanley had his own way,” he said. “What do you want?”
I say, “Gee, what do rats eat? How about some cheese, some old hamburger, or something like that?”
He calls out, “Okay, Madge, fix up some of that stuff that Stanley used to use.”
Stanley had his own bait! So she goes in the back and about five minutes later she comes out and what does she have? “This is what Stanley invented.” I’m working under the great Stanley. Stanley would take old hamburger, stuff that’s gotten gamey, and he would have this woman grind up old cheese ends and mix them together and make little balls out of it. She comes out with a plastic bag full of these little balls. She says, “The older they get the better they are.”
I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I go out with my little bag of bait. I walk down by the tracks and I set a couple of traps. I put one under a big cardboard cutting table and I put one in the back where they throw out all the garbage, and I walk up and down and put one back of the Coke machine. I put out all fifteen of them, so I come back into the office and I say to Chester, “All my traps are out.”
He says, “Don’t bother me with it! That’s your job! Don’t tell me your troubles. I got my own troubles!”
What am I supposed to do? I hang around a bit. The best thing to do is to stay out of their sight. I go out, I look at Sophie. She’s flipping the tin.
“How are you, Sophie?”
She says, “I’m alright.” Flipping the tin. She’s looking at me and she says, “Say, can I ask you a question?”
I say, “Yeah, baby.”
Stanley! “I don’t know where Stanley is. He got transferred to the main office.”
“If you see him, tell him Sophie has been asking for him.”
Stanley’s not only the greatest rat catcher that the tin mill ever saw, but he’s also making it with the chicks.
BILL & BILLY
Bill’s “Snarky Parker”–1950 & Billy Stewart–1956
I’ve recently become aware of two extraordinary musical “performers.” One of whom hadn’t crossed my mind in over sixty years and who had only performed to my ears and eyes for one television season when I was about 12 and he was made of wood. The other I only encountered at age 79.
[Oh, the 1950s were a strangely quirky time!]
Snarky Parker–1950 video
One of my fondest memories of television (in addition to staring at the early-in-the-day test patterns), was in 1950, a goofy guy pounding away rinky-tink on an old upright piano.
He was a puppet named Snarky Parker. (I later found out that he was a creation of the great, early TV puppeteer, Bill Baird.) It was a 15-minute daily program called Life With Snarky Parker, and it had a little story line each day, but the only part I remember was when Snarky began the program playing the piano, looking and moving suspiciously like song-writer Hoagy Carmichael, creator of “Stardust,” “Georgia on my Mind,” “Ole Buttermilk Sky,” and many others. Somehow, Bill and Hoagy combined here (with a casually balanced cigarette) in an ARTSY stunner.
Hoagy played in several films, including with
Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not.
But quirky Snarky remains stuck in my mind.
Our alarm clock-radio wakes us up to mostly contemporary pop/rock music every morning. One day I heard a very unusual creation of sounds in an odd interpretation of “Summertime,” but, as usual, the performer’s name wasn’t announced. I YouTubed “Summertime” and found a TV video in monochrome green, with someone I never heard of—Billy Stewart, lip-syncing his 1956 recording.
1956 on a 45 RPM
His performance is one of the most fascinating pieces I’ve ever heard. He uses his voice and his mental agility as a quirky musical instrument, doing a take-off of the song that in this rendition, for me, is a jazz masterpiece. It grabs me by the ear and engulfs me in ARTSY amazement.
I’d never seen this Stanley but already I’m working under his legend. It’s terrible to replace a great performer. Can you imagine a poor guy who had come along to fill in for Mickey Mantle? He sits down at the end of the dugout and the crowds are hollering, “We want Mickey! We want Mantle!” They ain’t hollering for George or Fred, who’s just come up from Rochester to replace him. Here I am, I’m not the great, legendary Stanley, so I say, “What do I do?”
Chester says, “What do you mean, ‘what do you do.’ You catch rats. That’s what you do.”
I say, “Where are the rats?”
“They’re out there by the tracks, down there by the shipping dock.” He says, “There’s rats around the back. You know what these damn girls do? They eat their lunch and they throw all the bread crumbs and junk around. These rats come in here. The place is full of ‘em now. It’s your job to catch rats. Go find Stanley and ask him where he caught ‘em. Stanley knew how to catch rats.”
There I am. I’m on my own now. I say, “Alright, where do I get the bait?”
“Go down to the commissary and ask ‘em for bait. Stanley didn’t bother me with this stuff!”
We have a commissary down at the end of the mill, so I go there and there are all these guys eating. I walk in and I’m looking around for Mr. Roberts who I used to deliver mail to. I tell him I want some rat bait.
“You want what?”
“I want rat bait.”
“Rat bait? What are you going to do with rat bait on a mail route?”
“I’m working for Mr. Gotch down here at the tin mill assorting office and I need some rat bait.”
“You’re replacing Stanley!”
I say “Yea.”
“That kid was fantastic!”
For decades I’ve kept a 3” X 5” white pad and a pen with me wherever I go. I often write a note regarding such things as grocery lists and other superficial stuff. Most importantly, I make notes about important (to me) ARTSY stuff, sometimes in the middle of the night–when I grab pen and pad from my nightstand and, to avoid disturbing my wife, I write my note in the dark—in hopes that I’ll be able to read it in the morning:
Allison once asked me what I write in the night and I explained it to her.
In October of 1997 I’d encountered a New Yorker cartoon
that perfectly described the situation:
Occasionally, waking up in the dark, I’ll want to write a more extended note as I recently did. So I have to get up, get a big pad, turn on the dining room light, and write at the table. Most recently a dream had concerned theater, comedy, and book collecting—things connected to my ARTSY life. One of the most absorbing and enjoyable dreams I can ever remember having. I’m not sure how ARTSY it is, but here’s what I wrote:
Not such a great dream—
but, being about an Off-Off-Broadway play,
a comedy, and a used book store
(such as the dozen on lower Fourth Avenue
I used to haunt many Saturday mornings
as a youngster),
gee whiz, it is a bit Artsyish.
I say, “Okay, you want me to clean out the file cabinet, huh?”
He says, “No, just bring out the stuff. That’s your stuff.”
“This is my stuff?”
He says, “Yeah, bring them rat traps over here. I want to show you something.”
And so I take the rat traps with the big rubber band around them and some big cans of stuff. I put the rat traps on Gotch’s desk.
He’s chewing away on his first salami sandwich of the day. He says, “Alright now. You ever work a rat trap?”
“No. I’ve messed around with mouse traps once in a while.”
“Works the same way. Here, give me one of them.” He puts the sandwich down. He takes that trap and bends a piece back. “Now here, you take this little metal tongue here and hold it down, it’s stronger than hell. Be sure to hold it tight or it’ll get your finger. Put it in the little ring there. Now that trap is set. Now watch.” He takes his pencil and puts it on the trap. Bam! It busts that pencil in half.
I jump back.
“If the rat comes over and touches the little tongue here, he’s gonna get trapped. What you do is put the bait on that tongue. That’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna catch the rats around here.”
“I’m catching rats?”
“Yep. And I’ll tell you this. If you’re good as Stanley was, you’re gonna be damn good.”
I say, “Stanley?”
He says, “Stanley was here this spring catching rats. Best rat catcher we ever had. Fantastic. Got promoted to the main office.
“Stanley got promoted to the main office?”
Herman in the back chimes in, “Listen, kid, if you catch rats half as good as Stanley, you’re gonna be damn good.”
Best known of Gaudi’s works is the Sagrada Familia, a short walk from the Casa Mila. (The church is still in-process after being started over a hundred years ago.) Of course I’d visited it on my first stay in Barcelona. (The more traditional looking portion on the right front, was designed and built before Gaudi was put in charge.) I even climbed the narrow, winding stairs in one of the steeples to the point where one can see, far below, the entire city, and close up, another of the steeples.
When I was there, the exterior walls and the four main steeples were built, but the interior was still without a roof, so that it looked like a bombed-out building. Now it’s enclosed.
While in Barcelona I also visited the downtown older section with its gothic cathedral, Picasso Museum, and nearby elegant promenade with its stores, restaurants and vendors down the middle selling everything including small, colorful caged birds. This is the pedestrian street, Las Ramblas.
August 25, 2017 News Report:
Chilling moment tourists flee as van that killed 13 innocents,
speeds through bustling Las Ramblas on deadly terror mission.
I read the other day (early December, 2017) that the terrorists had been making explosives to strike the Sagrada Familia! However, the explosives accidentally detonated in the house where they were being prepared. I mentioned it to my wife, who wondered how many people would have been inside the church–and injured and killed. I had no idea. And realized, shocked at my mental glitch, that I hadn’t thought of the human injured but of how the explosion would have damaged Gaudi’s architecture.
The next morning I am all dressed up. I’ve got my new corduroy jacket that I got at Sears. I’ll be working in the office, see. I got myself a nice shirt and I got me one of those clip-on ties that they wear in the mill. And I don’t even have to wear safety shoes there. In the mill it’s considered a real status symbol if you got a job that you don’t have to wear safety shoes for. That means that you’re moving up the ladder.
I show up at five minutes to eight and all the chicks are coming to work in their blue uniforms. I see Sophie over there and I see Helen. “How are you, Sophie?” And she gives me the eye. She’s not used to seeing me here at this hour. I used to come running through with the mail. I casually walk over. “Hey, Sophie.”
She says, “Yea, what?”
“Sophie, I’m working here.”
“Here? What are you doing?”
“I don’t know. I’m working here.” Mr. Gotch’s assistant. I’m working in the tin mill assorting office!
She says, “Ohhh. See ya later.” She takes that big glove and flips a big piece of tin in my face.
I walk into the office and there’s Chester. This time he does not say, “What do ya got for me today?” He just looks up and says, “You’re two minutes late.”
“I was just out talking to Sophie.”
“You mean the big broad down there on number twelve?”
I say, “Yeah.”
“She’s alright! You ready to go?” With that he turns around and looks over at Herman, the guy sitting in the back. “Hey, Herman. How do you think he’s gonna do?”
Herman says, “We’ll see!”
Gotch says, “Alright, your stuff is at the bottom of the file cabinet over there.”
I say, “What stuff?”
“You just open it up. I’ll tell you what to do.”
I figure I’m going to have a desk like the other guys in the office, a telephone, a desk with a little nameplate on it. Mail’s going to come to me. You always have these dreams of glory. I walk over and open the bottom of the file cabinet. There’s a whole pile of stuff in there. “What’s this stuff?”
He says, “Get those things out of there.”
I reach in and I can’t believe what I get. There’s about fifteen big rat traps. “You mean these rat traps, Chuck?”
“Yeah, bring ‘em out.”
Colonia Guell Crypt
The designs of angled columns, which people might think was a wild and ill-thought-out feature similar to those of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, and columns in the Park Guell, are all actually the fruits of Gaudi’s design based on carefully-worked-out angles based on engineering developed by him. He built large models with cords and weights based on the stresses of these constructions, then took photos of these and turned them upside down to incorporate the accurate physics of angles and stresses for his columns. The upper part with its spires was never built.
Photo of Model Showing Stresses for Columns
With Reversed Photo Below
Drawing of Proposed Chapel
Actual Chapel Interior.
I always looked forward to coming to that office, only one trip a day. Just going through that field of fantastic women, my safety glasses would cloud up with passion. I’d lay the mail down and say, “Hiya, Chuck.”
He’d say, “What ya got today?” At work they sort of develop a whole routine. “What ya got today?”
“Oh, just a couple of things, Chester.” I’d turn and go out and always adjust my safety glasses and I’d run through that crowd of women.
Here I am, with an unbelievable stroke of fate and fortune. Fantastic stroke. I am being assigned to the tin mill assorting office. Me! I say, “When do I go out there, Mr. Moss?”
“You report tomorrow morning at eight.”
“What am I going to do out there?” There were only three guys in that office. There was Chester, there was Mr. Kennedy, and a guy named Herman who would sit in the back with a punch stamp and pound on cards all day. “What am I going to do?”
“I don’t know. You report to Mr. Gotch.”
“Report to Mr. Gotch.”
“I know Mr. Gotch, that’s Chester.”
“Well, report to Mr. Gotch. You’re working for Mr. Gotch.” At that point he pulls his hat down and he goes back to work. That means he is dismissing me.
I’m all excited. I go into the mailroom and say, “Hey, Freddy.” Freddy is my friend. We work the routes together. “Hey, Freddy, I’m getting assigned.
He says, “Where you goin’?”
“Tin mill assorting.”
“Oh my god, no kidding! Permanent?”
“I don’t know. I’m going to work in the tin mill assorting office.”
“With all those chicks?”
It is the double jackpot. Like getting assigned to heaven. You’re in charge of harp strings or something. I say, “Last day here, Freddy. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll drop by at lunchtime. They only work eight to five there, you know.” Of course in the mailroom we worked—oh god, what hours!
BARCELONA, GAUDI’S ARCHITECTURE,
AND THE MARQUESA.
Don’t know much about Catalonia except that Barcelona is there, and Barcelona–to me, as an innocent, ignorant foreigner who cherishes it as one of the glories of Spain and the location of most of Antonio Gaudi’s major architectural works–is as important in my imagination as New England is to the United States.
I’d discovered Gaudi’s architecture in photographs and books many year before I first visited Spain. So Barcelona had to be one of my goals when I toured Western Europe for five months in 1966. I parked my VW Beetle in front of Barcelona’s Casa Mila and was thrilled to find a sign saying “Pension Saxea” out front.
Note Seaweed-like Balcony Railings.
Street Seen Through Perforated Gate.
I climbed the stairs and entered the vestibule—there was an older Spanish woman, who noticed that I was staring at the interior architecture. We began talking and I found out that she was a marquesa and a relative of the Guell family who promoted and supported Gaudi in the early years of the 20th century. She lived in the pension. She told me that I needed to say that I wanted to stay in the pension a full week, and should I decide to leave earlier than that, just tell them then and leave. I got a room.
I spent many hours talking with the Marquesa of Gaudi, Picasso, Hemingway and others—she had known them all and many other cultural figures. For my European trip, I was, for the first time, growing a beard and I showed her my beardless passport photo. She responded, “Oh, don’t ever shave it off—you’d look just like ten million other Americans. I told Hemingway the same thing—don’t shave it off I told him. You’d look just like ten million other Americans!”
I wanted to see the roof of the Casa Mila. The Marquesa said it wasn’t open to the public (now it is), but she could get me access. She called her relative, a formally dressed senior who arrived in a new, black Dodge limousine (in Spain, the height of class in those days). He browbeat the pension’s manager, who finally gave in and I got to the roof.
A Bit of the Casa Mila Roof, Showing Some
of the Tiled Smoke Stacks.
Gaudi did a lot with rooftops. Down the avenue from the Casa Mila is the Casa Batllo, the façade of which is aglow with multicolored spangles, and the roof of which, in addition to Gaudi’s sculptural chimneys, is dedicated to Saint George and the Dragon, the major feature of which is the tiled, multi-colored representation of the dragon’s scaled back. For the usual gratuity, the building’s custodian allowed me to spend time on the roof and photograph it. Downtown, what was then the city’s theater museum housed in a conventional-looking building, also had a special Gaudi roof, which, for the always necessary gratuity, I was allowed to stroll upon. The curved opening on the right side of the dragon’s back gives a view of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.
Casa Batllo Façade.
Note Bone-like Lower Columns and Dragon Scales of Roof.
I took a bus to the park overlooking the city. This had been the first portion of the planned-but-never-built neighborhood of several dozen houses. Gaudi lived for some time in the only house built (later used as a museum to his life). The Guell Park entrance is elaborately designed, with the roof of the proposed market-place (yes, another roof) decorated with a winding series of benches covered with broken tile segments–that’s the front edge of the bench area seen in the top middle above.
Walkway Under a Park Roadway
Another major Gaudi site is the unfinished church in the Barcelona suburb that his patron, Guell, had built for people who were to live and work in the factory-based town. To get there I approached a taxi driver who was relaxing in his parked car on a Barcelona street. I told him I wanted to go the Colonia Guell to see the Gaudi chapel, stay for half an hour, and then be driven back to Barcelona. We worked out a fee and he drove me there.
Colonia Guell and more to come.