Monday, July 20, 2009

Ten-In-One Parts Three and Four: "I'm A Very Vindictive Man."

Back when the missus was still sculpting we'd frequently share models. It wasn't perfect for me since I didn't get the one minute, two minute, five minute poses but it was a nice shared interest.

Man, I remember hating myself for this one. The model was a dancer and I'd gotten some good sketches off of her in the past, but in this one the anatomy is all funky and since I was working in watercolor I couldn't really correct my mistakes. Not capturing her beauty accurately felt like a betrayal.

Now I think it's got a little charm to it -- I like the way the bushes and the curtains mimic the motion of her body. I also like the way I handled light and color. I wonder what I'd be doing now if this kind of thing hadn't totally discouraged me from working in conventional media...

Verse Three

Whoo, boy. I'm not even sure how to start this one off -- this was one of the weirder and more uncomfortable acquaintanceships I've had. Looking back on it, I was passive in a way that now seems vaguely deranged and quite possibly amoral.

Mind you, at the time I was both in love and learning art for the first time (s?) in my life, and getting me interested in anything but my gal and areas of tone was sort of a lost cause. And I was very young.

And there was that beautiful trainwreck quality to the situation, where as my suspicions slowly built, as I heard stories and started putting things together, I realized that I was regularly chatting with someone who was as close to a comic-book villain as you could get. All he needed was a leotard and a goofy helmet and Batman would have been kicking his ass up and down the block.

So. Names and places are vague and changed not so much to protect the innocent as because I do not fucking want to get my ass sued. On the other hand, the details are so... unique that I suspect than anyone familiar with this cat will recognize him immediately -- but the guy I'm talking about was seven feet tall, bright blue, and always carried a chihuaua tucked under his right arm.

And all my evidence for misbehavior on his part comes down to rumor and circumstance -- but I still wonder if there was something I could have or should have done. It's a gray area for me, and one I feel deeply uncomfortable about. Okay? Okay.

This was when I was living with my Grandma, just before the time I wrote about in my story God's Tourists. We lived in what some would call a mobile-home retirement community and what others would call an upscale trailer park. I had a long, long bus ride to and from school every day.

This was in the wine country, in a pretty community that was a tourist destination. It was so square it was like cubical, man. After my girlfriend dumped me (I can still hear her saying "I didn't dump you," which is every bit as true as her, "I didn't make the first move." What she meant by those statements were, "I figured we'd be able to get back together even after I rejected you," and "I thought you were asleep." Motherfucking love!) I got a mohawk -- and that was enough to get my picture in the paper. It was a wedding cake of a town, and a cockroach on a wedding cake is extra-appalling.

So when I first saw Stewie, I was a little shocked. His arm and the side of his face had been badly burned at some point in his life and he wasn't the least bit shy about parading his scars around. I was waiting for the bus and he walks right up to me, cheerful and cocky, waving his three-fingered hand.

"Hello, admiral!" he said, and we were off to the races. He and I rode the same bus line and I'd run into him two or three times a week. He was one of those people who talks to strangers because they can't live without an audience. I heard about how he'd gotten burned when he was in the Navy, serving on a troop ship that had taken fire. He didn't specify a conflict, but based on his age I figured it was probably Viet Nam.

He also told me about his purpose in life. He wanted to help kids quit smoking. His miraculous, life-changing method?


Stewie claimed to be a highly skilled hypnotist, and around the third time we'd met, he offered to put me under.

"I don't smoke, dude."

"Well, I can help you with your self-esteem."

As a student of the odd corners of cognition, I was curious. And I do have some fairly ugly self-esteem issues, as we say in California. And we're on the bus. It's in public. What the hell.

So I close my eyes and he starts going through his routine. He says a few phrases about relaxing, getting heavy, getting sleepy, and he repeats them over and over. There is a quality to his tone of voice that's very different from his speaking voice -- both soothing and authoratative.

Thing is, is that I'm a terrible hypnotic subject. My mind, to be blunt, is deep, wide, complex, busy, and weird. No matter if part of me was napping like a cat in the sun, there were other sub-personalities that were going, "I don't trust this creep for a minute and I ain't taking my eyes off of him."

Every so often he'd lightly touch my shoulder to see if I was out and I'd just open my eyes and shake my head.

This frustrated him. For the rest of the time I knew him, which was a span of a couple of years, he repeatedly tried to put me under and was never able to do so. After a while, for reasons that will become clear, I was firm in my refusals to let him try. But for quite a while, I'd let him give it his best shot.
Oh, brother.

I did get a chance to see him work on someone else, though, and I have to say it was impressive. Scary impressive. Again, we were riding the bus and there was a local skateboarder who knew Stewie. Stewie offered to reinforce his anti-smoking hypnosis treatment. ("I'm giving those kids years of life for free.")

That kid was out cold in a matter of seconds. I've never seen anything like it, and I'd never read anything that led me to believe that hypnosis could be so fast and effective. It was like magic. A literal superpower. Dude's body was limp and fucking vacant.

It wasn't that long afterward that I got my first hint of the dark side. We were waiting for the bus at the park, and Stewie points across the lawn at a bunch of teenagers hanging out.

"See that punk? That little scumbag called me a child molestor. I'm no child molestor. I told him that if he wanted he could go straight to the cops and I'd ram my face into the side of a door and tell them he did it. I'd do it, too. I'm a very vindictive man."

And after that, I no longer regarded Stewie as an amusingly irritating eccentric, someone who should be cut a little extra slack. After that, I hated to be around him -- but I didn't feel as though I was in a position to judge, to condemn. I did anyway, of course, and felt guilty about it.

But at that point, what the hell was I supposed to think? And then there was the way he'd periodically raise his scarred arm to his mouth and gnaw at it -- squeak squeak squeak. His arm always had a few quarter-sized scabs on it as a result of this charming activity.

(I'll always remember the time my brother met Stewie. Stewie said something I found amusing, and I raised my hand and said, "High three!" and we slapped palms. Afterward, Duncan said, "Oh, my god. I thought you were exaggerating about him." That's the secret of my life -- there is no need for exaggeration.)

I rode the five-thirty bus most mornings in order to make my eight-thirty classes. After a while, my polite 'hello' to the bus drivers changed to, "How you doin' this morning," and after that, I wound up chatting with them on a regular basis. There were two guys who covered that route, and both of them had their Stewie the scar-eater stories.

"I thought that hypnosis stuff was bullshit," I told one. "But then I saw him do it."

"Yeah, well, I had to throw him off the bus for that one time," one guy said. "He had some kid on the back bench and I'll tell you what. That wasn't hypnosis, that was molestation."

On another occasion:

"Burned himself in the navy? What a load of bullshit. He passed out drunk on his couch when he was smoking."

Had to wonder how that related to his ardent anti-smoking campaign.

And the other had lived in an apartment complex with Stewie.

"I just don't trust that guy. He always had a stream of teenage boys coming in and out of his aparment. He got thrown out because of some kind of drama with one of them. I think he should be arrested."

I joked with them about how we'd hear about the bodies in Stewie's crawlspace in the news some day.

I wasn't entirely joking.

And yet I didn't know how to handle Stewie. I was now thoroughly creeped out by him. I wondered if there was anything to address the situation. But when push came to shove, I always just acted toward him the same way I always did, and came away from our encounters feeling shitty about myself for not knowing what to do, how to respond to the situation, and even for not being honest with Stewie.

He was always glad to see me, always ready to talk at me. Seemed to think of me as a friend. And every so often he'd ask if he could try and hypnotize me again.

That was when I started to learn how to say, 'no.'

Verse Four

This one ain't much of a story. I was working in a warehouse and I hurt my back. I had to take the bus to go to physical therapy. One day as I'm riding I notice a particularly lovely young woman coming down the aisle with a baby in her arms.

She sits next to me; I am obscurely gratified, and stare out the window so as not to stare at her. It's summer, I'm in shorts, and as I try and ignore her (We do not want to be the pigman, now do we?) I feel someone gently pluck at the hairs on my thigh.

I give it a while; it does not stop. So I casually direct my gaze from the window to my lap.

Good thing I didn't freak out. It wasn't the woman, it was the baby. I go from a combination of guilty gratification (a cute girl is behaving erotically toward me) and rage (this is a fucking violation) to a relaxed, aw-ain't-that-cute.

And then I notice that the baby has two fat cone-shaped fingers on each hand. In sideshow parlance, he's a lobsterboy. Oh, well. I give the kid a smile and look back out the window, and think to myself, "I wonder if I can get a song out of this."

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