Art Attack: Fiction for Those Who Love This Crazy Place
We’ve got another Short Story Saturday. Local writer, Charles Wilson, has another bit of fiction for you to enjoy.
If you have a story you would like to submit, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hennesey heard her before we did. The dog had jumped up, bolted out the open kitchen door, and out the open gate to the parking area. She commenced barking like crazy letting us know we had a visitor. Then we heard a car door slam. Her bark suddenly changed to a joyous song of yips, whines, and warbles. Someone’s voice began yelping a duet with her. The cacophony got closer, finally through the open door bounced one ecstatic bird dog followed by a tall young woman.
Our daughter had arrived home for a visit!
She swept in, gave Mary, her mom, a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, did the same with me then went to her knees and started making a big fuss over Hennesey. The dog was beside herself with joy and she got Daphne’s face wet with dog slobber while Daffy hugged her. “You’re getting old Henny but you’re still the best dog in the world, “ she said with one eye closed for protection against the Henny’s warm, wet tongue.
“Damn straight she is,” I said, “The best one currently living, that’s for sure.”
Daphne gave the dog’s soft floppy ears one last fondle and stood up smiling. She was wearing white jeans, sandals, and a white t-shirt emblazoned with MOMA in bright red letters. Her formerly long red hair was cut in what I supposed was a currently stylish slanted bob.
Ugly as all hell, I thought, but hey, it was her hair…
“Coffee, a joint, or both, Daffy?” I asked.
“A joint? Dad you are SOO last century! Haven’t you ever heard of a vape pen?”
“How could I not what with living here. The thing is I can grow the weed myself, roll some in a paper and voila! A biodegradable, portable, disposable, vaping device.”
“That’s my dad! Mr. Greenjeans with rolling papers. Sure Pops, I’ll take a couple tokes and I would dearly love a cup of your mud. As you know, it’s a bit of a drive from the airport. ”
I got water in the kettle, lit the stove, and started grinding beans for a fresh pot of dark, strong coffee. Grounds and boiling water went in a French press and a couple minutes later all 3 of us were sitting around the table with steaming mugs. Daphne sipped at hers, smiled and said, “You should be a barista Dad. I miss your coffee. “
“If I was a barista I would have to put up with customers…”
“Oh yeah, that little detail… I’m getting to know what you mean working at the museum. People can be such a nuisance, can’t they?” She laughed and shook her head as she said it.
I alternated between sipping hot coffee and rolling a J.
“So what exotic variety are we smoking today?” Daphne asked with a grin.
“Beats me! Some start Dave gave me last spring that went in the garden. I have no idea what variety it is but it’s tasty and potent.”
“What’s with all the solid fences going up along the roads coming out here? Has the Donald got volunteers practicing up here in Humboldt? Do they think Mexico is going to pay ‘em or something? I mean, I know good fences make for good neighbors, but this is ridiculous. And most of them are just plain butt-ugly. They look like a big fuck-you to all us drivers passing by.”
“Unfortunately I agree with you. It’s the greenrush kiddo, there’s green in them thar hills and there’s a fresh crop of prospectors that’s come to grow themselves a fortune. Or so they hope… It’s an even crazier scene than when you were a kid, and until the weed has been boringly legal a while, much cheaper, and big amounts of actual cash become much rarer things, it will only get weirder. Humboldt is a more dangerous place than when you were a child. Even now, after it’s supposed to be legal, it’s going to take a while to get the bugs worked out and have things settle down to the new normal. Whatever that is going to be…
“We all miss you Kiddo but you’re probably better off at the museum hanging out in the art world.”
“To tell the truth the art world is probably just as crazy Pops. What a bunch of egocentric wackos and scammers! It can get pretty darn weird. I’m definitely getting to know a lot of people in the big art business though. Amazingly, not all of them are jerks. Some of the artists are fun wonderful people while some of them have egos the size of the golden gate bridge. Maybe bigger! Some of the dealers I’ve met are just warm blooded sharks wearing expensive suits while others manage to quietly be real movers and shakers in the art world yet somehow remain nice humans.”
“Well, at least when someone does an art heist they don’t usually employ guns and kill people.”
“True, usually nobody even gets hurt unless it is an insurance company or someone’s ego.”
I took the now finished J and handed it to Daffy along with a lighter. She lit it, took a small toke and passed it back.
“Not bad,” she said as she exhaled. “Good genetics, good gardener, makes for good stuff. Mr. Greenjeans does it again.”
We handed it back and forth a couple more times then Daphne said, “Enough for me now Pops, I’m a lightweight and I can feel it working already. I’ll take a refill of your coffee though.”
I got up, walked to the stove, brought the pot of java back to the table, and refilled mugs all around. I put the pot in the middle of the table and sat back into my chair. I took a sip of coffee, a hit of weed and looked at our kid sitting across the table from me. Her time in the city had changed her, given her a quiet confidence that she lacked when she moved there. She was still our Daffy but there was a certainty, a quiet strength, that had only begun to develop when she was younger. I was proud of her and amazed at the same time. How did a couple of misfits-OK a misfit and his wife- end up with such a grounded, solid kid after raising her in such a wacky (albeit beautiful) place? I didn’t know, but we both were grateful!
“About those fences,” Daphne said, “I don’t quite understand why people build them. They are a dead giveaway if you ask me. It costs a lot of money just to wall the passer-by off from the view.”
“I think the fences are a requirement for legal pot farming but most of ‘em are definitely ugly compared to the landscape that they now obscure. Who knows, in a of couple years they may start sprouting guard towers!” I shook my head sadly and reached down to console myself by stroking Henny’s ears as she lay beside my chair. Her tail thumped the floor a couple times in response.
“Maybe what they need are murals,” Daphne laughed as she said it. Then her eyes changed their focus and she stared off into the distance for a moment and smiled a wide smile.
“Penny for your thoughts dear…” Mary asked.
“Oh, I was just imagining something. Nothing important though.” And she smiled again.
The visit went by quickly. Two days later Daphne gave us both big hugs. Then she made a big fuss over Henny before climbing into her car.
“The dog gets more attention than we do?” I asked jokingly.
“Well, of course, Dad. After all, you always made a big fuss over our dogs when you came home. More attention than we got.”
I laughed at that. “That’s funny, your mom made the same complaint a while ago. I told her if she came out wagging her tail like Henny I would lavish more attention on her too.”
“So next day he came home from work I sashayed out wiggling my butt and he almost fell over laughing,” Mary said with a big grin.
“She’s still got a nice butt, you gotta admit,” I said and we all laughed again.
Daphne started her car, blew us all another kiss. Then the car motored up the driveway and back to her ”civilized” world.
It was almost a year later when we got a surprise visit from Daphne. A car pulled into the parking area. She climbed out of the driver’s side while an older man in a suit exited the other. Daphne was dressed in a suit herself. Henny woke up, sniffed the air a moment, then ran off the porch to greet them. Or to greet Daphne, her companion might not have existed for all the old dog cared. Once again Daffy knelt to make a fuss over Henny and got her faced licked her face vigorously in return.
“It’s a good thing you don’t wear a lot of makeup Kiddo.”
“I know, but you’re just worried it might make Henny sick. Am I right Pops?” she said as she flashed Mary a big grin.
“What a surprise, Honey. Why didn’t you let us know you were coming?” Mary asked.
Daphne stood up, turned to the man accompanying her and said, “Folks, I’d like you to meet John Arlington. John is the head of the external art project group of the National Art Museums group. He plans and oversees large events.”
Arlington had been looking around while Daphne and the dog were saying their hellos. When she introduced us he shook our hands and said, “So this was Daphne’s home before she moved to the big city, eh? She was one lucky girl! This would beat hell out of growing up in the city! Just listen to all that silence. No traffic, no sirens, nothing but the whisper of the breeze. Do you folks realize how lucky you are to live here?”
“Oh, yeah! On the rare occasion we go to the Bay Area I can hardly wait to get the hell out of there. I’ve lived here on the edge of the world far too long to tolerate the pressure of all those people. I didn’t like it all that much when I lived there, and I’ve lost whatever tolerance I ever had. Mary was kind enough, and crazy enough, to accompany me when we decided to move to here. No, we’ve been here long enough that we’ve become a part of the place and it’s sure become a part of us.
“So what brings you to our part of the world, John? And would either of you like some coffee or some of our world famous agricultural product?”
“I would love some coffee but I’ll pass on the smoke thank you. Daph tells me that both would be very strong and I’m supposed to be working, really.”
I went in the cabin and made a pot of coffee while Mary showed Mr. Arlington her little studio and some of her paintings. In a few minutes I stuck my head out the door and said,
“Coffee’s ready folks,” and filled 4 cups which I set on the table along with the pot itself. I sat down in my customary chair and awaited the rest.
In a minute or two the group filed in with Henny bringing up the rear. The humans arranged themselves around the table and Henny positioned herself between me and Mary, then with a sigh she flopped down on the floor.
“So, why we’re here is that Daphne proposed an idea she had to me one day and, after a little research, I decided it would make a great statement and maybe even some great art.”
“And that’s going to be up here somewhere?” I asked, somewhat puzzled.
“It is going on as we speak,” Arlington said with a smile and Daphne started giggling.
“What is?” I asked looking from one of their faces to the other.
“You’ll see. When we’re done with our coffee we’ll take you for a little drive in our car and show you. You’ll be amazed. I promise.”
“Should I change into something more formal than jeans and a flannel shirt?” Mary asked.
“You are fine just the way you are, Mom, you too, Pops. This is no black tie affair. In fact dad doesn’t even have to brush his hair.” Daphne flashed a wicked grin at me.
So, half an hour of conversation and coffee later, Mary and I found ourselves climbing into the back of a rental car while our daughter and John Arlington climbed in the front. Daphne started the car, turned it expertly in the small space available, then drove it to the county road and turned right.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Just be patient, Popsie, and all will be revealed in time.”
So we sat and I enjoyed the role of passenger as the car cruised in towards Garberville. A few miles rolled past when the car rounded a bend and –WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON?
The road was restricted to one lane by parked cars and trucks. Several TV news crews were setting up their equipment and there were people everywhere. As we got closer we could see people swarming along a long metal wall that had been erected the summer before, one of the fences our daughter had described as butt-ugly.
Gradually, we could make out what was going on. A whole bunch of people were strung out along the wall busy painting. They were turning the ugly metal into a huge canvas as TV crews filmed it all while a man wearing a bright red MOMA windbreaker along with a wireless microphone was earnestly talking at another TV camera.Some people were painting landscapes, some painted strange beings staring out at the viewer, while some painted loud splashes of color in abstract shapes. Kids from the local high schools were spread all along the wall helping the artists with their work. Some were acting as go-fers running to get more supplies, some were steadying ladders, and some were wielding brushes themselves under the watchful eyes of an adult.Three men who looked to be in their 30s, wearing beat up camo pants and tee shirts stood apart watching the melee in amazement as the rusty metal was transformed into a wall of colors and shapes.Suddenly, it all made sense–in a very weird way.
“Daphne, was this your idea?” Mary asked.
“Yep! I pitched it to John after my last visit and he liked it. He was the one, really, who made it all happen. I’ve been helping organize it and made contact with the owners for permission.” She pointed at the camo clad trio standing apart and watching. “Their first reaction was to tell me to go do something obscene but after we talked a while they came around. They realized this could be a big advantage to their business, and to the whole area actually, as far as bringing tourists in to see it. They plan on using a picture of it in their logo and selling t- shirts to the tourists. You’re looking at the world’s first organized, large scale, art attack. Like I said, John did all the heavy financial lifting and I just helped getting it all set up. Pretty awesome, isn’t it?”
Awesome wasn’t the word for it! We spent the better part of the afternoon watching people scurry, paint, and admire their progress as the wall quickly changed color completely. By sunset the work was done, the local high school kids had gotten on busses to return to their schools and the assembled artists had begun to cluster around big makeshift tables dispensing barbeque, beer, and wine. The smells of barbeque and burning pot mingled in the evening air, laughter erupted from time to time and spread through clumps of people. Most of the reporters and TV crews had left when the project was drawing to a close. But reporters from two local radio stations were in the thick of the action, smoking reefers with the rest of the locals, saying what a great idea it all was, and how it should be an annual affair. Call it The Rural Mural Project or something, and put up videos on Youtube. It would help sell the local products, draw tourists, and improve the area’s image.
By the time the party was dying down and we were driven home it was quite dark. Daphne and John dropped us off in our parking lot after Daphne gave us each a big hug and kissed her mom on the cheek. Henny was barking happily at our return till Daphne got a big piece of barbequed pork wrapped up in a paper towel off the floor of the car, unwrapped it, and rewarded the old girl. Then she got back in the car, the door closed, and they drove off to catch a late plane out of Arcata.
We had to go to town the next day, and when we got to the rural mural we slowed to a crawl as we went by. It was a mixture of styles as each group of artists had done a section of wall with their own design. Out of one part gnomes peered from behind trees while a pair of unicorns gamboled in the foreground. Another section looked like Van Gogh had decided to paint redwoods and, yet another, was loudly colored abstract shapes. In all, there were 9 separate murals strung along the expanse of steel. A definite improvement!
It was about a year later that another rural mural event was announced. There would be two this time, one by a famed and much loved local artist and his motley crew of assistants, the other would be artists from all over, come to claim their patch of wall out in the boondocks. It was a thing! One was to be painted somewhere out Highway 36, the other near Honeydew. This time Sunset magazine sent a reporter to cover the events and she photographed the results of first one. By the following autumn, after the article appeared, it was not uncommon to see a dozen cars parked along the side of the road while tourists walked down the road itself looking at the giant paintings and snapping selfies. A new kiosk at the end of the wall sold Art Attack Acres t- shirts, hats, and custom stash cans with a printed image of the wall wrapping around them. They did a booming business.