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Friday, April 30, 2010

There are no dumb questions. (Right?)

It's been almost a year already since our friends Don and Diane saw their daughter graduate high school. They decided to celebrate at one of their favorite restaurants in Little Italy -- a place called Valerio's, where we'd visited with them once or twice before. We don't often dine in Little Italy, in part because who needs to eat a lot of carbs before bed (not me!), and who wants to drive all over the place looking for parking (not Carlo!). But we had liked Valerio's, and, on this evening celebrating our friends' daughter, we found a place to park.

We strolled to this corner restaurant here, which we knew of as Valerio's. Only it wasn't. Valerio's, it seemed, was gone.
Actually, it had not gone, it had simply moved up the street. The waiter at Etna (pictured here), the new restaurant in the old Valerio's, helpfully pointed this out. But he wasn't that cheerful about it. I thought perhaps we weren't the first to ask about this.

Such is work. A lot of jobs have that aspect to them: an issue of explaining and explaining things, over and over again, to people who you come to resent for their ignorance, even if it's perfectly understandable.
And then sometimes when it's not.

"OK, two house salads -- and what kind of dressing for each of you?"
"Oh. What do you have?" Because, after all, the experience of ordering a salad is all new to us, right? Land's sakes, who knew they'd be asking us for a choice on dressing!

(Sigh.)"Italian, blue cheese, poppyseed, balsamic vinegar and oil, and ranch."

"Oh. Uh, I'll take the Italian." Because, after all, you're in an Italian restaurant, and you needed the waiter to tell you they had Italian dressing, right?

The first time I second-guessed the adage about there being no dumb questions, I was also at work. The year was 1983, and I was working on a small daily paper where the business writer had the day off. Something broke in an ongoing story about a grocery-union strike and I had to call the union's lawyer for the info.

Despite the fact that our paper had been covering the story, I hadn't been following the strike very closely. So when I reached the lawyer -- a guy who, like a lot of lawyers, was worth his weight in ego -- I started asking a lot of background questions. At which point, he started yelling at me -- I mean, really yelling -- for being unprepared.

He was such a jerk. I've never forgotten him. Never had to deal with him after that, but he still pops up in the news from time to time, at which point I send out a little hex spell.

But the thing is, the jerk was right. I was unprepared. And while one way to get prepared is to ask a lawyer involved in the case to give you the background, another is to do your research.

All of which is to say, the next time you're in an Italian restaurant, expect the waiter to ask what salad dressing you'd like. Then, be prepared with an answer.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


One of the big questions to be answered in the whole living-life thing is how to escape our own heads. More precisely, how do we propel ourselves beyond funkishness and rut-think to something better?

My one-word answer to this: Books.
In addition to an impressive library of literature and things I generally wouldn't mind a reality TV-show crew filming, I have a host of books -- some of which look very much like the disparaged "self-help" category -- that I keep hidden in shelves on the bedroom. Some are of a spiritual ilk. Some speak of art. More than a few address various kinds of anxieties, for it was my luck to be born and/or bred into a nervous nature, though I pass for confident.

Once, in period of sustained desperation, I ordered (I almost always ORDER these kinds of books, rarely buy them at the bookstore) a tome on handling difficult bosses.

That one didn't work.

Mostly, though, they do. Mostly, just reading them, and often skipping the steps that require me to, say, act things out by myself in a kind of weird, self-helpy Gestalt, provides a bungee-cord snap back to some form of good cheer and optimism. And with the art books, it's often a trip to that lovely land called inspiration.

So, wondering: What kind of funkishness plagues you, and what do you do about it?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Little Illo

Greetings, and thanks for being patient while I barreled toward the end of the semester. To keep you from being bored, I decided to post one of my school projects: an illustration for a magazine spread. The article that spoke to me was actually an opinion piece published by AOL regarding the state of art thievery: how it hasn't been taken seriously enough, has been romanticized compared to other kinds of crimes, and how the thieves themselves -- rather than being real life Thomas Crown types, are generally just thugs of different stripes. Middle Eastern terrorists have gotten into the act, too.

Of course, my intention is that the image here doesn't need to be explained (does it?), but I'll explain anyway. Vincent is being kidnapped out of a "Starry Night"-style environment.

One of my concerns with this piece is the busy-ness around the figure of van Gogh -- all that swirly sky stuff. But when I produced a version where the swirls had been quieted way down in favor of a blacker sky, one of my close-to-home critics said, "Nope. I like it the other way. You need the swirls."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sometimes you just see things ...

This is a window of a nearby flower store.
You can see some of their specialties ...

Monday, April 12, 2010

On Coventry

I got back out into the world to draw on Saturday on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. While there, I bumped into Suzanne DeGaetano of Mac's Backs, one of the great writer- and artist-supporting bookstores I know. Suzanne and friend Gail Bellamy (poet laureate of Cleveland Heights) were setting up for a reading of a new book called "Poetography," in which 10 poets and 10 photographers pair up to explore specific themes pertaining to Cleveland Height's Coventry Village neighborhood.

Couldn't stay for the event, but I grabbed my copy of the book, and was delighted to see some lovely poetry as well as cool photography by folks I know.
The book, by the way, benefits Heights Arts, a nonprofit arts center in Cleveland Heights.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

King Redux

He was always supposed to be creepier than he wasas you saw him here.

I know the background seems like total PhotoShop, but in fact the red splatters are hand-done.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A bit of "Wisdom"

A good friend gave me "Wisdom," a book of superb, close portraiture and quotes from mostly famous people with a lot of gray hairs among them. He thought I might enjoy using the book to practice portraits. He was right.
I am going to resist the terrible urge to self-critique here and just let it lie.

I loved Dame Judi's quote here about how to keep a relationship going. I dropped part of the quote for space reasons, and it had to do with not thinking that a person will always come back just because he or she happens to be married to you. Is that why people GET married, I wonder -- so they can stop trying so hard?
What if we were taught that the real trying actually begins sometime after the wedding? Would people be more careful about jumping into marriage?

Notice, too, that her advice doesn't just hold for marriage. It applies to any relationship. We'd all do better by our lovers, friends and relatives if we treated them as if were -- well, always courting them.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Homage to the King

No, not Lebron. Not The Gloved One. Not even Hen-er-y the Eighth (I am, I am).
When it came to practicing caricatures -- and doing a little coloring with mat medium -- I chose The Frightening One.
Do you read him? Do you like him? Did you read "The Shining" when you were a teenager and stay up all night madly reciting "redrum, redrum ..."?

Me too.