June 22, 2018
West Palm Beach, Florida
In the morning, I met with my father in the parking lot of my apartment complex. We were going to a job in which we would deliver and install a piece of furniture repaired after damage incurred during a move. I am 41 and have the summer free after a particularly stressful year teaching high school students art and art history.
Since I was in middle school, my father has been working as a freelance contractor for moving companies doing insurance claims and furniture repair. In the 1980s he managed a warehouse for a New York–based moving company in Delray Beach, Florida, named Ebb Van Lines. He had subordinates with names like Joe Disco and worked for a man named Bobby Case. Bobby Case often wore a beret and advised me to grow up to be a lawyer because he could always use another lawyer. As a kid I would wander through the giant pallets and crates. I vaguely remember finding among the wooden cubes a flat pallet with a Stutz Bearcat or some other luxury car from the early twentieth century.
My father greeted me with the observation that we were too early for the appointment and asked if I wanted to get a cup of coffee. I suspected this was a way to get two breakfasts, before and after the job. This bugged me a little because we agreed to eat after the job and our family has a bit of a problem with food and overeating. As I was standing in line at Dunkin’ Donuts, waiting to order coffee, I wasn’t surprised when he suggested that we get a bagel or something sweet to share. During the wait I decided we should split a plain donut or something not too decadent, but at the very last minute, convinced that he would be offended by any statement of moderation, I ordered an apple fritter. I had completely forgotten what an apple fritter is and how messy it is to share.
The couple awaiting their repaired lead-glass door for their mid-nineteenth century dresser recently moved to a gated community in Florida from a suburb of St. Louis. They have a standard poodle, which reminded me of my orchestral bass teacher, Jim Clute, and his constant standard poodle companions. When I was studying classical music I would also accompany my father on jobs even though I wanted to play the unfamiliar and complicated music of Europeans like Stravinsky or Bartók. In my 20s on a similar job with my father, I realized that it was uncommon in the homes of the fake rich to be able to recognize and place Beethoven symphonic themes played on the radio.
I suspect my father asked me to join him on this job because he had no idea how he had initially removed the glass panel in order to repair it and now had no idea how to reassemble it. It had a fascinating scissor-shaped hinge that had no fasteners. I hadn’t seen one like it before. I watched my father struggle with it for a couple of minutes, under the scrutiny of the client. In my mind, I figured out which part of the hinge needed to be where for this door to hold in place. I started with a whisper but ended with a forceful plea for him to get out of the way and let me put the damn thing together. I’m sure my dad’s guffawing “wiseass” directed at me, overheard by the client, would have had more gravity if I didn’t put the piece together before he could finish the remark. It feels odd to be as old as I am and still getting yelled at by my father while doing the job correctly.
In the kitchen, the couple signed some papers stating that they were pleased with the work and we made small talk. During this time I noticed a sad, faded, framed reproduction of a very early Salvador Dalí still life. The small block letters on the bottom right of the border suggested that the print came from a book. I told myself that I should avoid any serious conversation with the couple. That said, I was concerned my eyes might betray my scorn, and it probably wasn’t incumbent upon me to convey my true feelings about people who frame the poorly cut-out student exercises of a famous artist. I had additional feelings, also probably not for publication, about this particular artist, who belonged to a famously male art movement whose philosophical underpinnings I have grown to despise. I managed to maintain my silent smile while leaving as my father gregariously wished the couple luck and insincerely offered his help on any future furniture mishaps.
Of course we got bagels after the job. With the apple fritter’s low-grade corn syrup still slowing me down, I tried to order something healthy, but it was still a bagel place. Adding avocado wouldn’t change the amount of bread and sugar I’d already consumed that day. I could tell that my dad appreciated the help with work but more importantly the time spent talking to each other. In my family we seem to talk best to each other over coffee and food.
After four years of teaching high school with my partner, who is also an artist, we have found a suitable studio space in a warehouse bay, 15 feet wide and 30 feet deep, with 20 feet of height. We spent the entire first month of our summer moving art supplies, finished art, and basic junk from our house to this space. And that’s what we did more of in the afternoon. It has been a period of intense questioning. Why do I have this? Why do you have this? Why did I make this? Why did I not finish this? Should I finish it now? Where’s gesso? Where’s a radio? How many box cutters did you take from that paint-store job?
But the most common question was, How poor were we? How poor were we that I thought I should save all of this wire? How poor were we that I thought this power supply was valuable? Holding objects in my hand I felt the memories of previously attributed value and cried a little. I remember thinking that I needed this everyday forgettable object. I felt like I worked to get this object and therefore moved it all over the country. Sometimes I discovered valueless things that I’ve been moving for more than 20 years.
Sarah and I continued to go through these boxes. These boxes have been packed so tightly in our apartment that we feel sick from the blanket of stuff that we’ve been living under, living inside of. We snapped at each other as we opened boxes, anxious about what we were going to uncover.
There was an Illinois ID card for Sarah from when she turned 21. In it, she is hunched over and smiling awkwardly. She told me that the man taking the photograph was hitting on her and the whole thing was awkward and uncomfortable. We found my FM3 visa from 2002, when I was working in Mexico as an orchestral double bassist. During those first years in Mexico, after being empowered by the back photo of Tom Waits’s debut album, I decided to wear a goatee without a mustache. I know that I wasn’t, but I look really stoned in this photo.
I made a point of congratulating ourselves for doing this work. I believe that we are not gentle enough with ourselves. Hopefully I didn’t repeat myself too much and sound disingenuous. We still can’t find a radio in any of these boxes, and the studio feels too silent.
Even though I had an eventful day of light work for money in the morning, and some pretty stressful and physically demanding work for no money in the afternoon, I convinced two friends to meet me at a popular pub in West Palm. We tried to drink at the bar, but a bizarrely punctual cover band convinced us to take the drinks out back.
Conversation meandered slowly. Both my friends know me much better than each other. We got to some interesting areas. I remember we discussed Charles Mingus shooting that rifle in that documentary and The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch. The conversation mostly alternated between musical and literary subjects. We added to our reading and listening lists but didn’t accomplish much. We were just there, drinking in a beer garden in South Florida in the summer.