Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tales of the Koko Lion, Part 25: Finding Grace at Art Center– Arrival


"The most important thing in life is showing up."
Woody Allen

Even though he was only twenty-one, the years seemed to weigh a little heavily on him. Disproportionately so. I suppose it was more a crisis of attitude than anything else, as he didn't think he'd witnessed any more trauma than normal (other than his childhood), or hadn't fairly well survived Life's most terrible tests so far...but then, what was merely terrible to him may have been ruinous to some, and he was pretty sure that he didn't know what normal was.
He just felt that he fit a bit obliquely into the world, and had a persistent, not totally uncommon sense of there being a transparent veil of sorts separating him from the happy, practical life of belonging-to that seemed to be other kids' birthrights. He'd read about that, that veil in the Existentialism he was drawn to when he was twelve, Camus and Sartre, Kafka...Marvel Comics. So was it simple suggestion, or acute and subtle injury that formed his youthful romantic alienation...and which is it with any disaffected kid?


The veil cast a decidedly purplish, or violet tint (on the blue side) to Life, like the childhood story he remembered about "Grandpa," who dropped his glasses into a bucket of purple paint, where "Purple fires were rising up...From a purple hill." In his case, the perception heightened an inescapable sense of exile, of being a visitor in an indifferent world, a feeling that many people experience, especially when they really are visiting someplace strange. Like tourists. It felt that real to him, like he was a tourist here, wherever here was.
All those dusty canyon years growing up, avoiding his unhappy parents; years floating along the foggy shoreline and chasing his future like trickster spirits through the west, and miles of Nevada. The years on the sales floor, pitching expensive toys to oversized kids; the grinding, clang, and molten sputter of the factory steel; the strange ways of "entitled" high society he'd witnessed–the whole envied class of people acting out like petulant teens–all of this enforced a sense of profoundly adult disillusionment, and when he'd intuitively sought the ground of Love, it too had turned over on him.
His Mormon girlfriend wrapped back into her relentless indoctrination; the impish, warm-hearted neighborhood girl he'd begun to date died of a rare blood disorder; and then the one most exciting "older" woman who'd seemed to secretly know Life's promise suddenly died too, at only thirtywithout even telling him that she knew she was going to. Perhaps that's why she was so exciting. Perhaps that's what she secretly knew.
And then there were his own personal goblins growing up too, forming around and within him. It wasn't all their fault.

So, it was this state of vagabond disconnection that carried him into South Pasadena, with his sculpture-making money, a matching grant from his drowning father, and his beat-up VW. He'd wanted to go back to a school in New York City, a long ways away, but as a condition of his father's largesse, instead he had to apply to the very reputable Art Center College in Pasadena, and had been accepted.

The other students occupying the huge mission-style house he got into weren't "kids," and were all a good deal more flush than he was. They agreed to let him in despite all the bedrooms being taken, so that they could secretly reduce their rent by a hundred bucks each and pocket the difference without their paying parents knowledge. So he found himself moving up into the hot, sprawling mansion attic, unfinished, ducking through the pitched roof tilting in on every space, following the house below in all directions. He staked out his "living room," bedroom, and studio between the open raw lumber braces, and lived there with the dust and the spiders.
It seemed an appropriately strange space, and gladly kept him at a comfortable distance, and so different from the others, which was what he really wanted to be anyways.

Pulling up to Art Center in the multi-colored VW that he'd been piloting around the west like an old mail plane, with his disassembled drawing board and army green duffle bag, he felt himself like a used truck without a muffler, sticking out like that from the late-model student coupes, and various trophy cars. No one noticed...but then it turned out they did. He did not care...but then, of course, it turned out he did.

The Art Center he pulled up to wasn't the southland fixture he'd heard warmly remembered by chummy old pros, it was the new Art Center, a monolithic steel and glass bridge forced onto a rolling hillside with backhoes and cranes and Caterpillars, in the familiar chop-terrace fashion of California deve-lopment blight. The lauded architecture even seemed familiar, a re-hashing of all the Gropius and Van der Rohe his father had loved so much. There was something uncomfortably egoic about it that rubbed him the wrong way. He'd wanted to be in a vaguely stinky, trodden-in old school, with warmth and esprit de corps, but instead everything was cold and new –the kids' money, the hard, black painted steel, and all that polished cement.
He still didn't think he'd found the place where he might meet himself, but he was going to...in a way.

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