The night David Berman died I couldn’t sleep. My thoughts kept racing like desperate rats in a maze with no exit. I read a book, watched TV, kept turning off the light, then turning it back on again. I’d open the computer for no reason and click around aimlessly, then put it away. With the music paintings about to go up at the Rainbo, I needed a new art project, something to keep me engaged.
One of the times I got out of bed, I found it. There’s a built-in hutch in my kitchen. There are some cups and dishes in there, but mostly it’s full of souvenirs. Lately, I’ve started to put books in there too. Books I recently finished that left an impression. The Great Gatsby is in there. As is Unquiet and some others. The countertop has postcards, a dish of quarters, and assorted bric-a-brac. I looked at it all as if for the first time. It could be a painting, but I’d need a big canvas.
It was about 4am. I booked a Zipcar to go to the art supply store at noon and set the alarm for 11am. An hour later, I rebooked the car for 9am and puttered around the house until it was time to go.
Aside from the painting idea, I got it into my head that I was going to buy a hat. I’ve been getting burnt to a crisp by the sun all summer. The trouble is that hats never fit me and I sweat so much that the cover they provide isn’t worth the heatstroke they hasten. I forget this every time though. I’ve given and thrown away more than I can recall. I did an hours-long internet search, settling on a store in Wicker Park. Sleep-deprived, with two canvases taking up the entire back seat and hatch of the rental, I showed up at the store, tried on a couple hats, then left without buying anything.
The next day, I set up the big easel to face the hutch. I set my palette—a window pane from the alley—on the stovetop and got to work. It was the first time the stove had been used in any way in months.
Friday night I went down the street to see some bands at the Co-Prosperity Sphere. One of them—a loud punk band, with twin brothers and a third guy who looked like a close relation, called Tongue Party—wasn’t bad. But my attention kept drifting to the paintings I’d have to hang at the bar the next morning. I’d been intending to put up a painting of a woman holding a guitar, center stage behind the bar. But I hadn’t heard from her since she posed for the painting and I’d come to believe that the painting was at least part of the cause. It had been hanging in my living room, taunting me, for two weeks. I’d begun to loathe it. While the band bashed away at their instruments, I came up with a plan.
I left the show and walked home. I took the drawing up to the roof, took a match to it, and took pictures watching it burn. It was peaceful and dark up there, the slow-working flame the only bright light.