Once I finally realized that I was the only person holding myself back in life, I looked at my life differently and I felt a new sense of freedom to live my life by my terms once again.
Dave noticed something in my attitude one night as he walked past my work station and saw a different look on my face.
“What’s going on Dude?” Dave asked as stopped at my workstation.
“Nothing much,” I replied, “just thinking about my future and where I am heading,” I replied.
“Good!” Dave said. “I’ve told you a thousand times that the only way you will get anywhere in this place is if someone gets hurt on a machine or dies.
“You don’t want to be here another 10 years with me and Orion, do you?” Just as Dave said that Orion walked over to my machine, as usual, wanting to find out what we were talking about.
“What are you clowns talking about?” Orion asked.
“Jeremy is thinking about his future and doesn’t want to spend another year here working with us grease monkeys,” Dave replied.
“Do you mean to tell me that Jeremy doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life working here like a slave every night, getting paid peanuts for his efforts?” Orion replied.
“Jeremy is smarter than anyone working here, and he’s not married either.” Dave said.
“Count your blessings kid,” Orion said.
“Don’t get married until you’re in your 30’s.” Dave said.
“What about your art? Aren’t you going to pursue it seriously?” Orion asked.
“You should be painting full time, instead of working here for eight hours every day,” Gill said as he walked over to join the conversation.
“I know, Gill, I just want to wait until I exhibit my art for the first time, at the Del Mar Fair, to see if I sell any of my paintings. If my work sells, this will tell me if I can live off the income from my artwork or not.”
The Del Mar Fair (now called the San Diego Fair) came every year and offered every thinkable display and exhibition for the attendees but most important of all it had an annual art exhibition that I entered.
The art exhibition was judged by a panel of esteemed artists from across the United States, the judges choose the art that was displayed at the exhibition.
“Jeremy, you don’t have to sell your art to be a good artist, even if you don’t sell your artwork right away you should keep working on it and not let it discourage you.” Orion said.
“I know, I won’t give up if I don’t sell anything,” I said.
“Have your paintings been judged yet?” Gill asked.
“They are getting judged next week. I will let you know as soon as I find out,” I replied.
Gill winked and said; “Just think, if you sell a few paintings, you’ll no longer be an aspiring artist, instead you’ll be a struggling, upcoming artist.”
“You’re on your way, Kid. I would love to get back into my sculpting, but one of my ex-wives has all of my tools locked up at her house in Colorado. She told me that if I ever wanted to see my stuff again, I would have to give up the Picasso lithograph that we bought from Francois Gilot in 1975, when we were in Paris.” “I tell you, every ex-wife is always after something!”
Francois Gilot was Picasso’s most famous companion. She lived with him for over 10 years, bore two of his children and served as the inspiration for some of his greatest paintings, “Flower Woman”.
“Did I tell you that Francois is in San Diego? I heard through a friend that she designs jewelry or something. I wish I could get her number, but I think she’s married now.” Gill said.
Gill cracked me up. He was often thinking about women and always telling me about the treasures he had lying around from his years of hobnobbing with the rich.
I could see how Gill could have a Picasso lithograph lying around his house and didn’t have the desire to part with it because to people like Gill, fine things are too precious to give up, even if that means working in a crappy job for money.
“When are we going to see the Picasso art show in Los Angeles?” I asked.
“How about next Saturday?” Gill replied.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art was holding an awesome retrospective of Pablo Picasso’s work and I couldn’t wait to get up there and absorb everything that I could.
I had never seen anything that Picasso had created in person so going to this exhibit was like a Christian’s first trip to the holy land. I couldn’t wait. Picasso, for me, was as big as any movie star.
Even though he had been dead for almost thirty years I was like an excited schoolboy with a hunger for knowledge on anything Picasso.
“Next Saturday sounds great!” I said.
Mike saw us standing around my machine talking during work hours and strutted over to break up our little party.
“What are you girls doing? Don’t you know you’re supposed to be working when you’re on the clock?” Mike asked.
“How come you’re head is so shiny? Do you ever wax it?” Orion asked Mike, referring to his bald head, playfully, trying to break Mike’s bad mood.
Orion and Mike always talked trash to each other and Orion never hesitated to get in a jab at Mike.
“You better get back to work before I knock you out,” Mike said playfully.
Gill walked back to his machine and Orion followed Mike back to his office to continue talking trash with him.
And Dave continued to prop himself up on the side of my machine like he didn’t want to get back to work just yet.
“What’s wrong Dave?” I asked.
“Sometimes when I hear young people like you talk I too yearn to do more with my life or just hop on my Harley, get on the open road and never look back,” Dave said.
“What’s stopping you?” I asked.
“An alcoholic wife, slacker for a son, and a pile of debt to choke a pig in the winter,” Dave replied.
Dave looked a little sad for a minute as he contemplated what he just said, but then he pulled himself together into his Mr. Fixit persona when Mossy came to my workstation with an exhausted look on his face. Mossy mumbled something about a machine eating his tools and asked Dave to come with him.
Dave smiled and said; “Duty calls. I’ll see you later, kid.” “Now Mossy, what seems to be the trouble in machine number one?” Dave asked as he and Mr. Mossy jogged to the machine that now had about 10 confused Japanese engineers standing around it with exhausted looks on their faces.
Whenever a machine like number one went down, if Mossy couldn’t fix it in a matter of minutes, every Japanese engineer was working on it, lending a hand, or offering useful comments.
I cringed because I knew that I would probably be recruited to work overtime tonight, because, once the machine was fixed it would be producing “hot parts,” that the company would do anything to have boxed and ready for shipment the next day.
If we were short on people to box parts that night, management would come out from their offices to box parts, just so we wouldn’t miss a shipment.
The company would never change, as long as I didn’t have any say in the management decisions there would always be nights of machines breaking down, the rush to box parts, and weary drives home from work in the wee hours of the morning.
I kept brainstorming about my new plan of attack would be for finding another job. Where would I start looking for work? What would I find? Would the job be long-term and satisfying for me? Could I support myself and also invest my money into my art?
My painting was progressing at a fast rate as I spent every free hour in my studio loft above my parent’s house painting away until the early hours of the morning.
Friday nights were always my favorite night, because for the following two days, I knew I was free from work. And I could spend that time on my art work doing what I loved.
Friday nights, after I got out of work, consisted of my regular routine of bowling and beers with the guys and then I would come home to paint and stay up all night working on my art.
My studio was like an automotive repair shop that always had five different cars in various stages of repair being worked on every day.
As an artist, I just didn’t work on the same painting every day. I used the Henry Ford assembly line approach and worked on at least five different paintings every day.
You can’t work on the same painting for hours a day, especially if you are working in oil paint because once you have covered the canvas with paint you have to give it a day or two to dry before you can work on it again.
If you keep working on the same canvas repeatedly over and over, the canvas will eventually end up looking like mud unless you’re a Van Gogh.
Vincent Van Gogh was a perfect example of an artist whose style of painting was wet on wet. He applied very thick coats of paint to his canvas over and over again until he got the effect for which he was looking for.
Van Gogh painted like this because he was a perfectionist, and was never satisfied with the results. So he kept working on the same painting until he had a picture with about an average of 10 pounds of paint on it.
In my case I don’t always work in oil paint every day. I also work in acrylic paint, oil pastel, charcoal and pencil so I’m never sitting around, with nothing to do.
It was around this time that I started to bring my love for archeology into my art.
One night, as I was looking through old National Geographic magazines that featured stories of Egyptian and African art, I saw ancient cave paintings, pottery, and sculptures and with the eye of an artist I began to take the shapes and images that made impressions on me and incorporate them into my artwork.
I was essentially following in the footsteps of Picasso, who saw African masks at the Trocadero around 1911, and became inspired to invent cubism.
Cubism is the most influential style of twentieth century art, developed in Paris by Picasso and Braque, beginning in 1907. The early mature phase of the style, called Analytical Cubism, lasted from 1909 through 1911. Cubism is based on the simultaneous presentation of multiple views, disintegration, and the geometric reconstruction of objects in flattened, ambiguous pictorial so space; figure and ground merge into one interwoven surface of shifting planes.
As my excitement for archaeology increased, I realized that I was doing what I had always wanted to do when I was eight years old, when one day as I was riding with my parents in our old Buick Regal, family car, my dad asked me, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I told him that I wanted to be an archaeologist artist.
“What’s an archaeologist artist?” My father asked.
I didn’t answer right away. I knew that I wanted to draw or paint pictures of ancient dinosaur, human, animal bones, art, architectural ruins to depict what they looked like during life, I just didn’t know if what I wanted to do was a real career or not.
My parents had no idea what an archaeologist artist did or if it was a field of study, but they encouraged me to follow it anyway.
As I got older, I quickly forgot about that aspiration and that ride in the Buick Regal until one night, as I was working in my studio loft, I remembered that day and realized that I was doing exactly what I said I wanted to do way back then.
It always shocked my parents when they would sleepily came down the stairs Saturday mornings to see me cooking breakfast, with hot coffee waiting for them in the pot.
“Did you sleep well last night?” Dad asked.
“Nope, I stayed up all night working on my art,” I replied.
“What? Why did you do something crazy like that? Don’t you know that you are wasting away your body when you don’t get any sleep?” Dad rhetorically asked.
I didn’t care about sleep when my art was on fire. When I was in the creative “zone” time stands still and everything flows with the development of my paintings.
“I’m alright,” I said.
“No you’re not sweetie,” Mom would say. “Why don’t you go to bed?”
Whenever they mentioned sleep that’s when I got tired and muttered something about, “This is what artists had to do when they are feeling creative,” Then I would leave the room with my black coffee in hand intended to wake me up.
Sometimes, sleep was my greatest enemy as I worked into the early hours of the next day, not sure when I am going to get to bed.
My body would scream out, “get to bed, you moron!” while my mind and my brush holding hand yelled, “More! More!”
Art is like a seductive woman, a tasty treat, drug or alcohol that tempts you into coming back for more.
Even today if I am on a hot streak with my painting and it’s 3 a.m. I’ll stay up and continue working instead of going to bed and loose the momentum that I gained.
I can stay up all night working on my art and fight exhaustion during the day, but once I’m back in my art studio working on my art, I have the energy to work hard again.
I loved my routine while I was working at the factory, but I also knew that if I wanted to grow as a person and start doing things with my friends again, like going out on dates on Friday nights the routine would have to change.
I was also felt the pressure from my friends who were making me feel like a monk every time I saw them because I hadn’t hung out with them in a long time or gone on a date in ages.
Working at night was great in so many ways, but it also hurt my social life. I couldn’t do anything at night when the average person my age was on a date or doing things that all kids in their 20’s should be doing at night.
I have often found when I’m at a crossroads in life, not knowing where to turn the universe does me a favor and sends me a helper to get me going in the right direction.
My helper, my old friend Cliff, showed up that summer, opening my eyes to how much everything had changed in our lives, in such a short period of time since we had last seen each other. He miraculously appeared one Saturday afternoon shocking everyone who saw him.
I had spent the day with my old girlfriend, Michelle, and was parking my truck in front of my house when I heard someone from out of nowhere shout: “DUDE!”
“Dude!” I shouted back, just in time for a bear hug to crush me.
Cliff had changed. He didn’t look the same as he did the last time I saw him. His face looked tired and weathered, and he had gained about 35 pounds which significantly enlarged his six-foot frame.
“How the hell are you, Jer?” Cliff asked.
“Great, dude. I’m glad you’re back.” I replied.
After that brief exchange of emotion, Cliff didn’t want to talk about his new life just yet. He only wanted to revert back to our old life together of fun and games. He wanted to enjoy every moment of his short time off from the military.
“Nothing has changed one bit!” Cliff said, as he sauntered around my house, taking everything in.
At that moment, I realized how homesick my old friend must have been. It had been four years since we had last seen each other and the time away had not been easy on him.
That night, we raised hell like we did as teenagers and ended the night sipping cokes and eating nachos in front of the old Spring Valley movie theater.
“What happened to you, dude? I’ve been trying for years to get together with you, but nothing ever seemed to work and now here you are. What have you been up to, where have you been, how’s married life?” I asked.
“The military sucks, married life is great, and I gained this weight because I blew out my knee in a hiking accident last year and I haven’t been able to exercise because of doctor’s orders,” Cliff said.
“I know I look like shit. Believe me dude, I feel like shit. That’s the reason I wanted to come home, to get healthy in the warm Southern California weather.”
“And also because my wife, Laura, was away training in Alaska and I was trapped at home, alone.”
“It sucks being alone, three thousand miles away from your wife, but she’s serious about her career and I want her to get every opportunity she can while we are still in the Air Force.”
“But let’s forget about me. How about you dude? What have you been up to? What’s new? Are you and Michelle still an item? Are you two doing the nasty?” Cliff asked.
“I’ve been busy, no, and no comment.” I replied.
“What’s up with you, dude? Why are you holding out? Are you still waiting for the right one to come along? Why don’t you get it over with?” Cliff asked smiling.
“Dude, you don’t know how many times I have been tempted to do it with Michelle. The reason why I’m holding out is because I don’t want to end up like our old buddy, Tim.”
“You remember Tim don’t you?” I asked.
“Yeah, he was the tall lanky dude who always hung out with the stoners in high school, right?” Cliff asked.
“That’s right, and now, four years later he has four kids to support from two different girlfriends.”
“I didn’t want to screw up my life over a moment of carnal temptation and pay for it for the rest of my life with a child I wasn’t planning on. You understand, right?” I asked.
“Jeremy, sometimes I wish I had listened to you more seriously years ago instead of doing my own thing as quick as I did. I wish I had your wisdom, Dude. You always seemed to have something going for you while all of our stupid friends were busy thinking about partying or getting laid.”
As we kicked back and thought about the past we realized how fast time had flown by.
For me, everything that we talked about felt like it had happened yesterday. I felt like I had just experienced everything that we were reminiscing about but for Cliff, it felt different and it was like he experienced the same thing 30 years ago.
It was like Cliff had lived five lifetimes in a few short years.
I was still living at home with my parents and doing virtually the same things since I had always done since I had last seen Cliff so nothing had really changed for me, yet.
“You got it made, dude,” I said.
“What do you mean, Jer?” Cliff asked.
“What I mean is, at 22 you already have a great career, wife, home and a destiny in front of you.”
“I’m still living at home and working on the first steps, building my life.” I said.
“Dude! Don’t screw around with me! I know you don’t mean what you just said! You think my life is perfect?”
“This is my life, Jer. I’m stationed in a crappy part of the country, which is far removed from California. I’m on disability because of my knee injury so I can’t do my job. My wife is on a training mission in Alaska so I won’t be seeing her for another month and last week my dog died.”
“The most exciting things that I get to do in my day are play a few games of Dungeons and Dragons on my computer and spend endless hours in chat rooms talking with people about stupid subjects that don’t mean anything.”
“Cliff, I didn’t mean to get you upset,” I said.
“Whoa, hold up, dude, I’m going to tell you something that you’re not going to want to hear.”
“Damn, Jer! You got a lot of talent! You always had more going on than anyone in school. You were always on track because you had something that you didn’t have to work at, something that came easy to you, something that you enjoyed, your art.”
“Dude you got talent! Stop wasting your life wondering what you’re going to do with yourself because, you already know the answer to that question!”
“I don’t know dude. Everyone I’ve talked to about a possible career in art always tell me how hard it is out there and that I will have to suffer for over 50 years, or die before my art starts selling.”
“All I’ve ever wanted was a normal life, working in a good job like my dad, but I just can’t find anything that satisfies me.” I said
“What the hell are you talking about?” Cliff asked as he grabbed my arm and pulled me upstairs to my parent’s living room.”
“Look at this stuff! Cliff exclaimed as he pointed at my art from over the past four years that my parents had proudly hung it around the room.
“Dude, do you think that the average guy on the street can whip out paintings like these in a few days without any effort?”
“If I were to try to sit down and knock out something like any of these, it would just end up looking like shit.”
“But you, dude, you are the only person that I have ever known who can sit down and paint a beautiful picture in one night. You are the only one I know who started his own business at age 10.”
“While other kids were still playing with their toys, you were out working for yourself, earning your own money and getting the things you wanted, without having to beg your parents for them.”
“You have talent, Jer. It’s time to stop being scared and get out there and use it because it will only go to waste. You got to get out there and take charge now before time runs out.”
“I remember, you said that before we knew it, we would be married, with children. Dude you were right. My path is already laid, but you still have a clean slate and its time for you to get out there and make it happen.”
Cliff was right. At that moment it was like I was able to see everything with a different perspective.
I had been trying to hide under a rock for too long, because I was too scared of failing if I went after my dreams. But now I realized how wrong I was. I had been trying to recreate my dad’s life, but was unable to make that happen because I was running away from whom I was and what I really wanted.
Thus, I was determined more than ever to make my dreams come true. I was going to get what I wanted and would not stop or be satisfied until I turned everything from an unattainable idea to a fulfilling reality.
“You’re right, dude,” I said.
“Accept it, Jeremy, and start going for your dreams before another four to five years go by and you are still struggling with the same problems. I really don’t want to come back here and kick your ass in the future but, if I have to do that for my friend I will.” Cliff said.
After Cliff finished setting me straight we took off for an evening of assorted fun and experiences that I would never forget.
We went out eagerly searching for adventures: Cliff had wanted to relive the things that we did back in high school, so for the rest of our night, he didn’t want to think about responsibility, our jobs or responsibilities.
All he wanted was to let loose and go carefree for a few hours and so did I.
Unfortunately, that night everything fun was closed for the evening or wasn’t serving alcohol. We couldn’t find any of our old friends hanging out in any of our familiar places, and setting up camp in an arcade until midnight just didn’t seem like fun anymore.
Cliff was bummed.
“Damn Jer. I can’t believe how fast everything changed around here.”
“I have only been gone for a few years and it seems like none of the places we used to hang out exist anymore,” Cliff said.
“I know, dude,” I said.
It sucked to see the places we had once identified with like the our favorite movie theater, arcade, bowling alley and Taco Bell were now out of business, empty buildings, parking lots and ghosts of our past.
The night was quickly fading fast and I didn’t want to let my old buddy go home on such a sour note.
I drove Cliff back to the hotel where he was staying and upon arrival, we talked for a while until I noticed that there was a pool next to his room.
“Why don’t we go for a swim?” I suggested.
Cliff started to laugh, “Now? Dude, we’re fully clothed and your house is miles away.”
“So what?” I replied and with that I jumped in the pool, fully clothed and began to do laps.
Cliff busted up laughing and jumped in fully clothed as well.
I didn’t want to let my best friend go home depressed about how everything had changed. I wanted him to remember our friendship as a point in our lives where both of us really experienced our youth and acted a little crazy before we officially grew up.
And so we lounged and talked in the warm water until the early hours of the morning. Cliff had to go home that morning and I, most likely, would never see him again.
And then as quickly as the night had begun, it was over. Cliff and I had spent the last night of our youth together and we knew that it was time for us to part.
We got out of the pool, soaking wet, shook hands, hugged, said our goodbyes and I drove home.
After that night, I never saw Cliff again.
I heard from a few of my high school friends from time to time about what he was up to and where he was living with his family, but I was just never able to reconnect with him.
We drifted apart into our own separate worlds.
I remember on the very first day of high school when my freshman social studies teacher told me, “High school is going to be the best time of your life because this will be the only time in your life that you will have all of your friends around you, every day. But after high school is over, everyone will drift apart, go their separate ways and it will never be the same.”
He was right, during the last four years I had lost contact with all of my friends and associates from high school and now my last link to those youthful days, Cliff, was gone and I was faced with the reality of how fast time was flying by.
I was finally able to empathize with my parents because for the first time in my life I had a few years “under my belt,” and I could look back and reflect and worry about an uncertain future.
I felt encouraged, strengthened, confident and self assured after my last meeting with Cliff and was ready to make my jump to a better job and dedicate myself to doing more with my art and live a life that made me happy.