Drawn to Thumbthing Offal

I reminisce, apropos nothing in particular, on works of art that have disappeared from my life.

When the world was much larger, the public school system set me (and, I suppose, my classmates, although I don’t recall anything about that, self-centered little bastard that I was/am) to work with my father, to spend a day seeing what he did and how he did it. Daddy was the manager of a restaurant, and the day I went with him there were Employee Meetings and Management Meetings and all sorts of tedious, mind-numbing claptrap. Dumb luck. Throughout the back-to-back meetings Daddy was attentive, watching each speaker intensely, asking questions to draw information out, nodding understanding as points were made. And, as he actively listened, making each speaker feel attended to, considered, valued — just being Daddy — he kept jotting things on a pad in his lap. Obviously, this was some fairly important stuff, if I was to judge by his note-taking. I tried to grasp the important points, but couldn’t find a one. It all sounded like a bunch of people talking far more than the points they were making called for.

Later, I had a chance to peek over Daddy’s shoulder at his pad. There were some scratched figures on the front page, nothing revealing. The second page was where all the jotting had taken place. On the second page was rendered, in elegant detail, an ancient outhouse fallen into disrepair. The boards were splitting at the ends, one wall was pulling away from the roof, which lacked several shingles and wore a bent stovepipe at a jaunty cock. The front door was overgrown with weeds, hung askew by a single bent hinge, and had the traditional crescent moon cut-out. Every knot hole had lovingly been shaded, every bent nail textured with rust. It was beautiful.

I wanted to cry out in awe at the sketch, and maybe to ask to keep it, but he was talking to the general manager, smiling, his brow knit as he clung to each word spoken, wringing out the meaning and savoring it…and jotting refining lines on his masterpiece. It didn’t seem a good time to interrupt, certainly not for mentioning artworks kept sacred from profane eyes.

The day picked up after the meetings, and I forgot to seek out the out house and ownership of it. Chances missed, and all that.

When I was 15 or so, I was left as Benevolent Dictator of the house while my mother went out. This, in theory, included charge of my little brother. Airhead was an engergetic creature of pure chaos; to attend him as exhausting and exasperating, to ignore him courted peril. One evening, I was fiddling with a pad and some art pencils while we watched TV. He was trying to talk to me, which was simply unbearable (I mean, he was my little brother. *rolls eyes*), and getting antsy, which usually meant he was about to either disrupt the stately grace of my evening or find something to blow up, tear down, or otherwise disrupt. Inspiration struck.

I looked at him intently for a bit. I held up my pad and looked at the paper and Airhead, side by side. I considered deeply, chewing my lip, nodding to myself. I held my hand out at arm’s length, thumb extended as I peered past it at him in the time-honored pose of Great Artists everywhere.

Then I began to draw.

Airhead became extraordinarily still once he noticed what I was doing. Over and over, I regarded him past my extended digit, and would return to my pad with renewed intensity. We spent about an hour (two TV shows, in the measure of that time) in those positions. He was amazingly easy to manage for that hour. Finally, I had had as much fussy detail-work as I could handle, and, regarding my work with satisfaction, got up to make myself a bowl of ice cream. I left my pad on the couch, ignoring Airhead’s questions about what I’d done. I heard him scramble behind me as I left the room. Then I heard him howl.

As he found the amazingly detailed study of my thumb.

I have no idea where that portrait has gone. It graced my wall for years, but has gone on to wherever it is that Great Art goes when it is not properly attended. I like to think that it’s hanging on some collector’s wall next to a archetypal out house.

I was telling Ma about the thumb drawing the other day, and she claimed that I was a chip off the ol’ block, but I don’t see it. I can’t draw a decent out house to save my life.

2 thoughts on “Drawn to Thumbthing Offal”

  1. I remember that drawing (the thumb, not the outhouse). I don’t know what happened to it, either. Did you have it on 14th street? Maybe I just saw it in your house in Turner.

    1. I think it was on the wall of my room in our apartment, which implies that it went with me to the studio apartment I moved to afterward…I suspect it stayed there when I bailed for my express trip through the South on the Dysfunctional Marriage Train. *sigh* Beauty is, by its nature, ephemeral; no one can own it, merely worship in its path as it speeds toward its destined oblivion.

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