Color notes from an “art drop-out”

In the course of shopping for gifts this year, I notice a lot of elaborately designed coloring books. They’re everywhere, toy stores, book stores, craft stores, even grocery stores. I can’t help wonder who has time to fill in the intricate patterns in these books? I barely have time to keep up with friends, email, laundry, errands, (grand) kids…and I don’t have a real job! It’s true I probably watch too much TV now that there are Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and cable options. But that isn’t until the dinner dishes are cleaned up and I’m incapable of being feasibly productive. I suppose I could color while I watch TV but that would be like watching with subtitles, wouldn’t it? You don’t see the actor’s faces and often miss weather the line was spoken in dead seriousness, or jokingly, ironically, threateningly… Sometimes you don’t see enough to tell one actor from another.
But the subject is color.

It’s said that a healthy diet should be rich in multi-colored fruits and vegetables. And life is fuller with colorful friends, even if that friendship consists solely of reading their clever/uplifting/intelligent Facebook posts (Twitter, Instagram… whatever app you use to stalk interesting people who might not be willing to come to your house and share a tub of store-bought ice cream).

My mother was an amateur painter. She was a fan of green. Not bright green, turquoise, teal, any sort of vibrant shade or rich blend; but bashful institutional greens, the green of school walls, hospital corridors, government offices. Today some of these institutions have begun to include color in their environment, but in those days an indistinct green was thought to be soothing. My mother was a calm woman. Her home and clothing choices could soothe you to oblivion.

I, on the other hand, am a fan of color. Fall is my favorite season. The worst part of winter is the absence of color—grey skies and people huddled in amorphous dark clothing. I admire summer colors though I’m too old and plain to aspire to drastic vibrancy.

I covet rooms and fashions that are bold colors but, unfortunately, I was laughed out of art class in the seventh grade. I have little sense of what goes together. I know when the end result clashes but have trouble predicting disharmony. I can’t visualize what a color will look like on a wall from a tiny sample or even a stroke of the brush, though I know it’s wrong when it’s completed. When I needed a file cabinet and was offered a pink one, I thought I’d hate it and end up repainting it but, frankly, I think it looks great with the mismatched blues and teals in the room. It matches the skin of the actor on my Peking Opera poster and the faded red of my Carson & Barnes circus poster.

My son doesn’t take a position on color but his wife is very good at choosing dramatic shades and putting them together. My daughter has a curious relationship with color. Her home and clothing are shades of black, white and grey. I would never have thought these “colors” come in shades, but she puts a great deal of attention to whether there’s too much pink in the white, or green in the grey. These are nuances I miss, lessons that must have been taught in art classes beyond grade seven.

Cowgirls and Pirates

One of my favorite readers admired this photo of me (“Life, Death, and Beyond Smiggle’s Bottom” p23), in my cowgirl outfit. Alas, I have to admit that I never had cowgirl aspirations. I’m a great admirer of those that do. I did love the Lone Ranger but thought of myself as more of a “faithful companion” type than actual hero. From the age of four until I was eight (the “Fourgoose Era” in the book), my daily playmates were three boys that lived nearby and playing “cowboy” was a popular pastime. I’m quite agreeable to costumes. You can tell because Halloween is my favorite holiday.
My preferred fantasy identity was pirate. I never saw a real ocean until I was19 years old, but as a child I was fascinated by sailing ships, seafaring outlaws, and, of course, pirate acoutrements. I was determined to be a sea captain until junior high when my failure to understand algebra convinced me that I wouldn’t be unable to navigate a ship (never having read beyond nineteenth century sailing techniques). I learned later in life that I’m extremely susceptible to sea sickness—so there went that fantasy. Arrrrr…

Another question was about my name. No one ever called me Felicity; that’s a nom de plume I used in the book. I have always, always been called Gay because of my early crankiness. It’s not the name I was given at birth. I don’t use my birth name for superstitious reasons.

Ghosts We Left Behind

Our children were two-and-a-half and nine months old when we moved into the Dakota apartments. The young couple we bought the apartment from had had a nasty breakup. Residual anger and disappointment that drifted through the rooms were quickly dispelled by children’s laughter and song. But the ghost remained, squeezed into corners in the high ceilings, envious, watching. She spilled orange juice and stole single gloves and socks. She opened the door of the birdcage and scared our parakeet, Bowser, out of the window into unforgiving 73rd Street traffic. She frightened tough men who came to work in the apartment, none would stay after sunset. Only those from Caribbean islands had the confidence to resist her intrigue. She required our golden retriever to stay in an armoire when we weren’t home, but she was never able to intimidate Lucy, our Aussie, even as a puppy.
When the children were at school and my husband at work, she sometimes acted as my muse, though more frequently as Trickster. She made me humble and strong. On cold days, I called downstairs for firewood and she lulled me into a cozy doze even when my mind danced with responsibilities and tasks.
Those were the days when Winnie ran the office with an iron hand. She was postoffice and screener. Those were the days when you might encounter Leonard Bernstein, Gilda Radner, Nureyev, the Lennons…and other less famous but equally impressive neighbors. We were there by fluke and yet, accepted fully at the yearly courtyard party. We took visitors up to the roof and once entertained H.R. Geiger who was unimpressed by our benign ghosts.
I often wondered who our ghost might have been in life. Was she a girl who lived in one of the small servant quarters on the ninth floor and worked for the owners of our apartment? Perhaps she’d never proclaimed her love for an employer who’s wife was ill or unpleasant. Perhaps she was that wife, jealous of a shy serving girl, or unable to bring herself to leave a husband she didn’t love. Perhaps she was a child who’d died young and was too timid to leave her home.
Whoever she was, she was unobtrusive, pleasant and accommodating except for Danny, our loving but dull-witted golden retriever. “The armoire isn’t a dog house, and Danny can have the run of the place when we’re out,” I’d tell her.
Still the door of the armoire would creak open as we left and we’d hear Danny get up from wherever he was and pad toward it. When we returned, we’d hear his tail flap against the side of the armoire and then he’d appear, happy to see us and unconcerned about his incarceration. I finally gave in and put a blanket on the floor to protect Danny from splinters.
One winter night as Danny cavorted about Central Park, a speeding car struck him and sped off. My husband alerted the doorman who called me and I called our vet. He opened his office to take Danny in. A policeman followed us and asked about the car that wasn’t supposed to be in the park. My husband was too traumatized to remember anything.
Danny didn’t survive.
The children were distraught. Gloom prevailed.
But sometimes when we returned home, we’d hear a faint knocking coming from the armoire, sometimes late at night, the sound of soft padding.
When we moved, the armoire came with us. Ghost and dog remained behind in the building more suited to accommodate ghosts. I wasn’t convinced that the new tenants would be compatible with our ghosts, but I felt secure that there were others in the building that would be pleased to welcome and nurture them.
The painted flowers on the old armoire have faded and the floor is cracked from several moves. It has served as pantry, closet, storage, but never again as refuge.

Manx convention

This picture was taken in the 50’s at a Manx convention. My grandmother is the tallest woman in the first standing row. She talked us into going to several of these when I was a child. My dad, who was a magician, did shows for them. My grandfather was long dead of black lung, but grandma met another Manxman at one of these conventions and married him when she was 69 years old. He was the only grandfather I knew since both my real grandfathers were dead before I was born. I loved him madly! Grandparents are the best!