Soon after Pacific Engineering Company hired me my life started to improve, and everyone in my family saw improvement in their lives as well, it was a long time coming.
My parents struggled financially for years after Rohr Industries laid off my dad, and they were joyous when the day came that my dad was finally called back to work there.
Once the economy finally improved, especially for the aircraft industry, things were looking good again.
His company signed a 20-year contract for the production of various parts for different aircraft, which meant that if everything went well, my dad would be able to retire in the same company that my grandpa did, this made my dad very happy.
Not to mention, he was going to make three times the money working for Rohr again than he did with PEC. I had never seen my dad happier.
The black cloud finally lifted from our family. My parents were excited about no longer worrying about making the house payment or purchasing groceries every month.
And they looked forward to carefree moments for the first time in years.
My parent’s financial situation was a huge source of worry for me for a long time because I didn’t know if they could survive without my Dad’s job. But now that he was working for his old company again I felt like the burden of worry was lifted from me.
More good news came when I found out that my best friend, and mentor, Joe and my sister, Becky, were officially engaged to be married and had set a date for February 1999.
Joe and Becky had been dating for a while and I knew that their interest in each other was becoming more serious, when Joe started to make more serious romantic gestures to my sister, like buying flowers, taking her on romantic dates and spending more time in our house.
One night when my parents were away on vacation Becky had been gone with Joe all day and they came back to the house late at night acting like co-conspirators in a secret plot. It was at that moment that I knew that they were engaged and they confirmed it when Becky showed me her engagement ring.
I was ecstatic when I heard the news. I couldn’t possibly think of anything better than to have my best friend marry my sister.
At the time, I felt that there wasn’t anyone else on the entire planet that I trusted and looked up to more than Joe because of all the time that we had spent getting to know each other over the year during the time that we spent together working on our art and lives.
All I saw ahead for Joe and Becky were nothing but crystal clear blue skies and a promising life together, because I felt they were a good match and they completed each other.
Joe was very outgoing, social, animated and goal orientated in his life but lacked the management and organizational skills to get his plan for a career in the art world off the ground. And Becky was very quiet, reserved and had a gift for business management and administration from her years working in secretarial and office administration positions for companies in San Diego.
With their own unique talents and gifts I felt that their marriage would be a successful and fruitful partnership that would be a blessing for them both in many ways.
Life couldn’t get any better. Different facets of my life were coming together like building blocks striving for structure and I started to grow in more ways than I ever thought possible.
I felt like John Travolta in the movie Phenomenon. In the movie he plays an average guy living a small town life when one night he sees a bright light flash in the night sky. And as a result of that night his life is changed forever and he develops special gifts and a passion for learning that he never thought possible.
Each week, I was at my local library picking up five or more books on everything from art and poetry, business, science and history.
There just isn’t enough time in the day when you have so many items, people, places and invents that interest you and call fervently for your attention.
The best and worst time of day for me was when the clock struck three p.m. and I had to leave for work.
I didn’t hate my job; I just hated leaving my painting or my writing to go to work.
My quest for knowledge was largely fueled and encouraged by Gill, who I was now spending every night working with and talking about everything from politics, current events, sports and life.
A few days after I started working for the company, my boss, Mike, put me on one of the assembly lines for the first time, boxing parts with Gill.
Mike had a hard time putting the right people together to work for the night, because with a crew of 25 people, each person had their own very defined personality and putting the wrong people together could cause a lot of friction.
For instance, there was one employee on our crew, named Sung Ho who I classified as an ultra-religious nut-ball. He got easily offended when anyone swore, mentioned beliefs or expressed sentiments with which he didn’t agree. For instance saying “Merry Christmas” around Sung Ho brought the same response as swearing at him, physical confrontation with the offending employee.
And then there was our resident biker dude, Bill, who lived his life at 90 miles per hour and wasn’t afraid to let anyone know what was on his mind at any second, especially if it included using his favorite four-letter words. I always suspected that Bill was involved in drugs because he always seemed on edge, never had any money and hung out with suspicious people in the parking lot, after work.
If Bill and Sung Ho, or Orion and Sung Ho were assigned to work together for a night, which did happen a few times, inevitably one of them would always end up provoking the other and start a fight. As a result, Mike would always send Sung Ho home for the night because his caustic personality was sure to inflame other personalities after a fight.
And so, as I was settling into my job that evening, and preparing for another long night of trying not to stare at my watch Gill and I started to have conversations, which would influence our work relationship, and help shape my creative mindset for years to come.
“So Jeremy, what are you interested in?” Gill asked me that night we worked together, with a bored undertone. At the same time Mr. Mossy was risking his life yet again, trying to fix another problem on a machine that had stopped our production line.
Production lines sometimes have a mind of their own and can easily stop for no reason at all.
“Well, I have a lot of interests,” I said. I wasn’t sure where he was going with question and I really didn’t feel like a long conversation.
“Like what?” Gill asked.
I didn’t want to open myself up and start talking about my desires and pursuits because people didn’t seem to care or understand when I told them what was on my mind and heart. So my plan was to keep my desires internal until I built the confidence to boast.
I felt that I could trust Gill and with reservation, I told him that I was an artist.
“Really? Who are your favorite artists?” Gill asked.
He wasn’t sure if I was serious or just another joker just like everyone else in the factory.
In our factory everyone affectionately regarded Gill as “the professor” because of his background and tendency to read during our lunch breaks. And his reclusive demeanor and academic ways caused some people to occasionally pick on him.
Later, Gill told me that he asked me this question because a lot of kids my age were only interested in graffiti and knew nothing of art, and what great art was really about.
“My hero’s are Heri Matisse, because I love his colors and simple lines.” I fell in love with Henri Matisse’s artwork during my senior year in high school because I could relate to his style, love of color, design and influence on modern art today.
“And Pablo Picasso because he never conformed to any distorted or societal standards and his work was always changing and catching the critics off guard even when he was in his 90’s.”
Picasso influenced every aspect of art in the 20th century, from new modern art movements, commercial art, contemporary design, theater, movies and television. Every artist alive today knows who Pablo Picasso is and can trace the foundation of modern art back to him and other key artists of his time.
“And, most of all, I love Paul Cézanne, because he is the father of modern art and his landscapes are just awesome,” I said.
Paul Cézanne is probably a name that the average person would not know because he lived his life as an outsider artist during the Impressionist Period when artists like Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Degas were getting all the credit for the ground breaking art that was being created during that period.
I felt passionate about Cezanne then and now because I can relate to his desire to forge his own style through his dedicated work ethic, a good example of which are the hundreds of paintings that he did of “Mt. St Victorie” during his career.
“And…” I started. Gill interrupted me before I could continue:
“You’re on the right track, Jeremy, but why do you want to be an artist? “ Gill asked, looking rather stern at that moment.
Gill wasn’t the only person who tried to dissuade me from my serious artistic cravings. Joe had asked me, on a few occasions, the same question and then said, “You would be better off as a plumber because at least they make better money.”
“Don’t you know the stories of artists like the Impressionists who suffered for years because critics didn’t see their vision, their art didn’t sell, and they weren’t able to feed their families?”
Monet and Pissarro and their families starved while they continued to paint and do anything they could to remain full time artists without selling themselves out by creating commercial paintings or taking jobs painting houses or signs to pay the bills.
“Are you prepared to give up your life to attempt to convey your vision to the world; to show people another way of seeing things that they won’t understand?” Gill asked.
“I know the stories of the Impressionists and other artists that have suffered, Gill, because I’ve read and studied their lives and work, and the times they lived in.”
“I also know their suffering and their contribution to art,” I said.
“But why do you want to be an artist?” Gill asked again.
“Because I can’t help it,” I said.
“Because creating art for me is a passion; I look forward to it every day from the moment when I wake up in the morning to when I come home from work at night.”
Gill grinned when I said that.
Any artist, young or old, knows that art is like a drug you can’t deny, and once you start creating art, you are hooked for life.
Even if an artist tries to quit producing art, they will always look at the world around them with the mind of an artist and constantly be thinking about painting or drawing the images of the world around them. Life will always be like this for the “recovered artist” until, like an addict they go back to the paint, pastels, pencils or clay to start creating again.
Even Picasso, during his last days, referred to art as a dominating woman who controlled his will.
“Painting is stronger than I am. It makes me do it’s bidding.”
“During my senior year in high school, I had to take an elective course to graduate. So I chose art and my life hasn’t been the same since,” I said.
“I was set on going to college and becoming a landscape architect and my drafting teacher told me I had the talent for it, so I knew that this was the direction I was going to go. But ever since that first day I sat down in my art class and began to paint, I’ve been a changed man.”
“I know the road is tough and will get tougher for me as time goes by, but I also know that I can’t go back because the door opened up and I have something inside me that has to come out. And the only way to get it out is by art,” I said.
“Wow, you should have been the teacher and not me,” Gill replied.
“Did you catch the Padres game last night? Man, they blew another huge lead, “Gill said.
Gill had a way of naturally changing a serious conversation about deep topics like art and poetry to something less serious like the latest Padres or Chargers game.
When he did this, it was his way of saying, “lighten up” and “come back to earth” for a while.
It frustrated because I felt that he had important and valuable treasures of knowledge hidden inside him that I wanted to unlock.
I also speculated that it was Gill’s way of getting away from a potentially painful subject.
Gill was a walking example of the classic tortured artist and I sensed that sometimes, especially when the work in the factory bored him to passivity he remembered who he was, and not using his talents really bothered him.
Sometimes I couldn’t understand why he didn’t get up and say “screw this place,” and finally quit, but then I realized that Gill had become “institutionalized” in the company just like Orion had warned me about.
There were moments when Gill got angry with the company and told everyone including Mike, that he was “going to quit his job and go back to sculpting again,” but sadly, he always “came back to earth” when remembered his commitments to his ex-wives and children.
For the time that I would work there I made it my responsibility to be the spark that would ignite Gill’s creative fire again.
“No” is not an answer for me. I was not going to accept that I couldn’t live life on my terms and I wasn’t going to accept that my family or friends like Gill and Dave couldn’t live happy lives either.
I also felt the same way for my soon to be brother in law, Joe. When I first met him, I immediately felt like I had been reunited with a long-lost brother, for whom I cared deeply and wanted to help in every way I could.
I guess you can call it a creative kinship that I had with Gill, Dave and Joe or maybe I saw part of myself in them and as I grew and improved in my life, I wanted to take them along with me on my path in the hopes that, success would breed success in all of us.
I felt that my creative kinship and relationship with Joe over the years had paid off, and that Joe and Becky’s wedding day would be the start for their beautiful future and also a sign that better days were ahead for me and everyone in my life.
Their wedding day finally arrived on February 13th 1999 when they were married in front of a packed church of family and friends in “Old Town” San Diego.
I told Joe after his wedding was over that I felt like cruising for chicks in my tuxedo later that night because it would probably be a long time before I would ever get to look that good again.
After the wedding was over, and everyone had gone home and the cleanup staff was tending to the aftermath of the wedding reception I decided to drive over to Joe’s house to celebrate with his family and watch the video of the wedding.
When I got there I was greeted by Joe’s sister, nieces, and mother who greeted me warmly and handed me a shot of Tequila that they expected me to gulp down and celebrate with them as an extended member of their family.
I’d never tried Tequila before but since I was in the middle of a family celebration I gulped down the shot with enthusiasm.
It tasted like rubbing alcohol mixed with gasoline, but after another few shots, I didn’t care. I caught the momentum of their celebration and ended up spending the rest of the night happily rejoicing the union of two people everyone loved.
Joe and Becky were off to their honeymoon, everyone was happy and later that night I went to bed in a warm Tequila haze with a big smile on my face….