Saturday, December 23, 2006

Gennaro's Truck and Other Poems

Twenty six poems from 1970 are here.
Explanatory notes may follow: I have to help make tomorrow's enchiladas, so please refer back to this.

Morning Star

Road flattened beer can: rusted and painted and hung with baling wire, street sweeper brush hairs and metallic decoration, 1970,
app. 21 x 6 inches.
From the collection of Janice Pober-Higgins


Monday, December 11, 2006

Janice and Linda at Richard and Anita Silver's Wedding, 1974,

acrylic on canvas, 42x60 inches.

From the collection of Mr & Mrs Brian Higgins.

The wedding was held in Carmel Valley a few years before the painting was made from black and white photographs.

The painting was among others exhibited in March of 1975 at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery in San Francisco and was specifically mentioned by Chronicle art critic Thomas Allbright in his review of the show, which was generally unfavorable. Allbright noticed the painterly qualities of women's dresses but nothing else.

I thought it a fairly great painting, still do, and I kept it till the mid eighties when I gave it to Janice , on the left, who hangs it, happily, in her dining room.

She and Brian have other paintings and drawings, among them the oil painting below, one of the few I ever made in that medium.

Untitled landscape, 1969, 36x28 inches, oil on masonite.

They also have the two watercolors below, the pasture behind the bunk house at Battle Mountain Ranch, from 2003, and a view of the beach looking south from the Redondo Pier, 2004. Both are about 11x15 inches.

And Janice has both a black Encounter poster and a red Encounter poster.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

~ Los Angeles: Our Own Hat Dance ~

Los Angeles: El Sombrero, 1994, acrylic on board, 14.5x13.5 inches.
My paternal grandparents left the valley and moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950’s when Grampa Pink was promoted by the Southern California Edison Company. He’d worked for Edison since returning from France after the First World War and became, at the culmination of his career, and impressively to the rest of the family, Vice-President and Regional Supervisor of the San Joaquin Valley. His office, a sanctuary of everything serious and adult to me, was on 5th Street in downtown LA, high in the old Edison Building, a classic example of Art Deco and in those days, a landmark silhouette on the city’s skyline.

He was a formidable grandfather in his office. I was always dressed in my best clothes when we visited him there, and I recall going one time with my dad, also in tie and jacket and on his best behavior, sharing his own trepidation of the visit silently with me, passing it on father to son with his gesture and manner and through the air with an emanation of Lucky Strikes, Old Spice and Wrigley’s spearmint gum. We waited on a leather couch across from Grampa’s secretary at her desk in her office. Her name was Mrs. Hilty, she wore mannish glasses and a French bun held together with a yellow pencil. It was much like waiting for the doctor. The rooms were dark and cool; the building was one of the first to be air-conditioned when built in 1931. Behind the secretary’s desk was a set of windows framed in multiple rabbets of dark mahogany; they were set outside with terra cotta casements in deep relief. Through the window was the wide view to the south and west looking out over lesser commercial buildings on South Hope Street, past the extreme east end of Wilshire Boulevard where it finally ends, or begins, at South Grand Street, past Olympic Boulevard, Washington, Slauson, past mile after square mile of houses and apartments and businesses, past the Coliseum and the USC campus, past Florence Boulevard and all the numbered streets, past Watts Towers. We knew nothing of Watts Towers in the middle fifties. The view stretched on, it still does, out over the LA Basin, we watched propeller driven aircraft land at the airport, the view goes on down to Long Beach, and if it were a clear smogless day, which it never was, the color of thin and faded denim folded in a low rise would mark the rolling mound of Palos Verdes, then magically expose Catalina floating on the horizon and all the fantastic beyond.

The view was to the west and north out the windows in Grampa Pink’s office. And though he retired before the ground was broken for the stadium where the Dodgers would play baseball, he was very proud of the slanting view his office had of Chavez Ravine and the prospects it held.

He wrote a check after a quick and hearty greeting and asked questions of me and dad: how was school, how was my mother, then he put the check into an envelope and handed it to my dad. I had no idea what it was for, but I sensed relief in the room. My dad thanked Grampa, then they both lit fresh cigarettes, Grampa pointed out the spot where the new stadium was to be built and we all spent a moment or two gazing out the window. The three of us shared a fascination for vast expanses, and though the two of them, both Edison employees shared a particular appreciation for the beauty of power lines, uncountable in Southern California, we could relax in our common appreciation of the whole scene. The silence was a bond between us.

“Oh we should buy that hill there!” he suddenly said, “Do you see it? The one just behind, and a little to the right there, the one that looks like a Mexican hat?”

My dad and I looked. Grampa was pointing to a conical rise at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains above where the stadium was to be built.

“Oh my!” he said, laughing, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live up there on that hill and watch the ball game!”

Grampa Pink and Gramma Midge lived on Cresta Drive in San Gabriel, in a one story three bedroom two bath frame and stucco ranch house my grandmother kept clean with the help of a housekeeper. The house had the typically mild Spanish flavor ubiquitous and well-suited to Southern California. Ivy climbed the front of the house; there was a flaming bougainvillea, hibiscus bloomed along the driveway. There was a patio in the back, a Mission style arcade, and poured red concrete walkways gave the illusion of tile work. Various Mediterranean plants hung from glossy blue and orange pots at the center of the arches. The whole place front and back was shaded by large sycamore trees, and the yard was tended weekly by gardeners.

Grampa Pink drove a large Chrysler 4 door sedan, a Windsor, and when he came home from his LA commute after work he undid his vest, loosened his tie, sat down in his overstuffed deep-seated velveteen club chair and first read the Los Angeles Times, then the Examiner, and listened to the radio. He loved Fibber McGee and Molly and he smoked Pall-Mall straights in those days, and he alternated the cigarettes with a pipe, dropping the discarded butts and burned up bowls into the ashtray stand fashioned together with copper and chrome fittings. It stood beside the chair. He pressed a Bakelite button on the tray to open and close a cover plate over the ashes, and it gave a scissor snapping clip each time he pressed it, a sound that drew attention to his authority and I think, perhaps too imaginatively, to the very essence of 20th Century efficiency and modernity. Everyone had standing ashtrays then. The smell of tobacco smoke was a normality.

Behind Grampa Pink’s authority was great gentleness and generosity, first noticed I expect, by his mother, Anna Farrington of Maine. We know little of her, and less of Grampa Pink’s father’s family. There is the tale of the Anglicization of his father’s name from Natano Ricasole at the registration desk at Ellis Island, but my mother, who traced our genealogy as far as she could in the ‘50’s said nothing of it before her death in 1981, and any Italian heritage must remain wholly apocryphal. They must have been Anglo.

Midge and Pink were Catholic. Both received all the Roman sacraments available to mortals. It must have been Midge who next noticed Pink’s generous spirit beneath the formal layers of his character. She called him Pinkie for his red hair. He was freckled, tall, and robust. They had two sons, first Bernard Foster Jr, the favored son, and then our own dad Kenneth Harry. No one who was at the funeral mass Father Dillon gave for Gramma Midge at St Anne’s will ever forget the depth of the grief Grampa Pink expressed, openly and loudly over the body of his wife. She died at home in bed on Christmas night in 1963.

Gramma Midge, the subject of a dozen posts, was born on her father’s ranch at Rag Gulch. She was the loquacious seventh and last child of an Irish immigrant. She was her husband’s muse. Grampa Pink was born in Duluth, Minnesota, but his parents settled in Los Angeles and he was the product of Southern California. His life was simple and direct. He grew up. He served in France, he married my Grandmother, had two sons with her, he worked, he retired. There were trips to Canada and Cuba; he was an avid amateur photographer.

My sister, who remembers his smile, his kindness, and the fragility of his last years, hangs a framed set of three oval photographs on the wall at the end of the table where I sit typing. The middle oval shows Grampa Pink dressed in a young boy’s sailor suit; an anchor is thickly embroidered on his shirt front, it must have been bright gold against the blue wool. He is not more than seven. His father is in the oval at the left, his mother at the right; they are handsome people, they very much look like the best of the early years of the 20th Century. They look respectable, they exhibit no extravagance, and they all show contentment beyond the fixed smile of the photographer’s studio. They look like they felt they were modern; they are young, they were going places. Pink’s father was an engineer, he built railroads. He worked across the United States, in Alaska and in Asia; we don’t know where.

Grampa Pink was also a craftsman of ability. Along the wall here is a large ceramic jar sitting on an oak cabinet. He built the cabinet; it is the only piece that survives to show his talent, perhaps the only piece he made. The oak is quarter sawn in the clean, graceful and forward style of the second decade of 20th Century. Its doors are green and frost leaded glass, and it is one of the singular failures of my life that I have not repaired the broken panes. Once the repository of Moroccan boxes holding recreational drugs amid the arcane detritus of my own several lives, the cabinet now keeps family photos and documents. The jar on top of the cabinet is broken and cracked, but it is repaired, all the parts meticulously glued back together by my lover when he understood in the hung over morning clarity of our previous nights drunken rage the enormity of what it meant to smash the jar over my head. Japanese characters fan out across the top of the curve to the lip of the mouth; they still wait for translation. There is another jar across the room; both were brought back from the East by Grampa Pink’s parents. I was given the cabinet at his death in 1972, the jars when our mother died.

When, on Carmel beach one day, I was given by fortune and took by choice the opportunity to leave California and travel on my own for the first time, I went to my mom to ask for the airfare to Europe. She sighed and told me to ask my father, who sighed and told me to ask Grampa Pink. He was no longer in his great office, but in his small room at Villa Manor, his retirement home in Delano. He was still smoking of course, but the brand by this time was Parliament not Pall Mall. He listened to me with a smile and said he would cash the Edison stock he'd bought for me when I was born, he'd been holding it for the right time, and the time he said, seemed right.
Then his smile widened and he asked, "Hey what did we ever name that hill down there by the ball park? We should've bought it you know!"

My cousin Kenneth Bernard, BF Jr’s oldest son, long dead himself, brought a friend home to meet the family one year. The friend, also a friend of mine, is a professor of French. Ron met Grampa Pink when he was old and frail, two years before his death, but Grampa eagerly and fluently turned their English conversation to French when he heard Ron’s profession. They talked of the Great War where he’d learned the language, then to the amazement of my cousin who sat listening, transfixed, they talked of the present, the day to day, and, as Ron recalls, Grampa Pink talked of…

…how quickly things had changed since he was a boy, how young people no longer had the same respect for others as they once had, how many folks no longer cared about each other, how duty no longer seemed to play a role in one’s decision making. Once in a while the glaze of nostalgia and melancholy swept over him as it does in those who reach a point at which they no longer look forward but keep alive by reinventing the past. Behind it all, however, was the spark, the twinkle, the glimmer, like opal, which is only there in the eyes of those, who, blessed with a profound sense of humor, still know how to laugh, even at themselves."

Note: The original painting is Beth's, and there is, physically, materially, only one panel of Los Angeles framed across the room, the five others shown after the first above exist only in the amazing world of the creative jpeg. The real painting has no added buildings or the helicopter, but who cares?