My living room has old-fashioned wallpaper. It reminds me of the walls of 19th century sitting rooms in proper homes as seen in Westerns or depicted in paintings of the time to evoke stolid bourgeois life. Up until a few months ago I only hung work in progress over this wallpaper, but then it occurred to me that seeing as I’ve lived here almost two years and had no plans of moving, I may as well decorate.
A crown molding shelf runs two-thirds of the way up the walls around the whole room. It’s just the right size for books with interesting covers, discarded art from reused thrift-store frames and mementos of every kind. When put up against the brown and mustardy-beige paper, each object is surrounded; the ceaseless pattern cushions and complements some objects, while overwhelming others. Like the paintings of my bookshelves which I’ve been doing for twenty years now, these new pictures aren’t exactly traditional still-lifes in that I didn’t set up or compose each element before committing it all to canvas or paper. They are just vignettes of the view I live with every day.
The Trick Dog is a replica of an old cast-iron toy which my friend Hannah gave me for Christmas. You put a coin in the little black dog’s mouth, push a button, and the dog springs forward and deposits the coin in the barrel. The orange clown used to hold a hoop which stopped the dog’s flight at just the right moment; without it, coins only make it through the slot every now and then. Most ping off the edge of the barrel and roll away willy-nilly.
On Friday, one of the most shameful days in this country’s history during my lifetime, I chose not to follow the news. I went to see a biopic about Ray Kroc, a huckster who swindled two brothers out of an idea which they’d both put their whole lives into and built a billion dollar fast-food empire. The man was no hero and even the great Michael Keaton’s portrayal couldn’t rid him of his conman’s stench. I went for drinks at the Rainbo and heard people I’ve known for decades speculate hopefully about the Vegas odds which favored our newly-sworn-in president’s impeachment within the year. I capped the evening with a play about the recently-retired newsman and presidential debate moderator Jim Lehrer having an identity crisis and wrestling with another version of himself.
None of these diversions were diversion enough of course. The only path through that I can see is to keep going deeper into my immediate world. Make the rooms I live in more habitable and render versions of them in paint as a way of connecting with the world outside my door. Whether doing this will help get our own orange clown to hold up the hoop and help the dog drop coins in the slot remains to be seen.