I've been a bit busy, and distracted lately, so apologies for not posting in a bit. However, still managed to finish a few art pieces. Mostly it seems I just needed to let my abstract freak flag fly. As such here are Emanations, Abstract Spider, and Hermitage. The last one, Hermitage, is a common style I return to every now and again, but it still feels like a peaceful image. In other words, I'm not bored doing them yet, though the second I am that style is going out the door. The other two are... odd. Emanations felt creepy in a manner I can't explain, and spiders always get under my skin. I'll leave it at that. Enjoy!
OH! and this seems like the time to shameless promote the Honesty is Not Contagious Instagram page. Feel free to check that out: https://www.instagram.com/jackblankhsh/
He stayed in the shadow of the alley, the cherry red glow of his cigarette slightly illuminating his scarred chin. He exhaled a cloud that immediately blended in with the fog blanketing the street.
In a rat like voice he said, "So our mutual acquaintance sez to me he sez you're lookin' fur a jab."
I replied, "Yes."
"Aight, I got two." He cough-chuckled, "Tonight the begga's a choser."
"What are my options?"
He said, "Ones 's real simple. Der's dis beach out in Cali..."
"Yeah that one. Dah beach got all deez seals on it. Anyway, hippie types like to protest there 'bout, 'Leave dem seals alone.' And when dey protest you set up a booth to sellz 'em t-shirts -- all kinds uh shit."
"I think I can handle that."
He nodded, "Good, good, but dat's only part of it. See, dah udder part is deez hippies sometimes dey need incentifications."
I felt a need to probe, "Such as?"
"Such as," he twirled his hand, cigarette cherry spinning like a comet, "Occasionally you gotta go down, and stab a seal, or put out a ciggie on one, maybe club a pup with a bottle. It keeps the hippies riled up -- protesting lasts longer."
Without hesitation, "What's the other job?"
He shook his head, "Real borin' shit, man. 's like growin' family trees 'n' shit. Seal jab is way more fun."
"I'll take the family trees."
The "jab" turned out to be doing genealogy research for a website called MyRoots. Here's the thing: the main documents people need for their genealogy aren't classified papers. Anyone willing to take the time to fill out government forms like NAFT 81, 82, and 84 can get the basic documents necessary to track down ancestors. However, most folks find even that sentence hard to get through let alone the piles of papers often full of barely legible handwriting which provide bits of useful information. My first day on the job I watched an intern peel off a fingernail in mute boredom.
Basically, the job involved mountains of paperwork requesting documents such as land entry case files, immigration records, and census reports. When these arrived, rarely in an electronic format, I read them in search of a surname. This could get tricky with immigration records since names tended to change. Grandpa may have left Poland as Alojzy Trzetrzelewska, but not wanting to deal with all those letters a lazy official dubbed him Al Zulewski.
After days going through whatever bureaucratic breadcrumbs could be gathered I then sat down with clients to disappoint them.
Address the client smiling, "So your great-great-great grandmother came over from Scotland in 1830..."
Client predictably interrupts, "What about before that?"
"Well, we still have to hear from Scotland, but as far as anyone can tell, seems she was a bar maid in Edinburgh."
"So she wasn't a revolutionary rebel fleeing English assassins? Maybe Scottish royalty?"
Not sure what to say, "Is that what you've been told?"
Obviously disappointed, "That's what I hoped."
There's nothing quite like the ire of a customer shouting in anger at the revelation their ancestor fought in the Civil War... on the wrong side -- North or South depending on the client. These folks would yell at me, faces beet red, as if I convinced great-granddad to fight for them damn Yankees, or join up with Johnny Reb. History is never what we wanted it to be because we have no control over it.
"You have sullied the name of this great family, sir."
To which I might reply, "I didn't convince your granduncle to die of syphilis."
"Good day, sir."
"There's still the matter of your bill. You're credit card didn't go through."
"I said, 'Good day!'"
Occasionally a client would be happy to learn some ancestor left New York, perhaps caught up in the gold rush, and headed West only to stop in St. Louis. A few months later a marriage certificate is issued. The details are simple, the story easy enough to extrapolate. And even with fewer details than that there are those clients who realize the past doesn't have to be epic to be full of wonder. No one will ever really know why Uncle Phil moved to New Orleans, or why Great-grandma Mabel signed all her papers "She-wolf," but it's fun for them to speculate.
A matronly figure who wore thrift store clothes with aristocratic grace took a seat. I introduced myself. She greeted me with a gloved hand:
"My name is Roberta Wilcock."
"How do you do?"
"Oh, I'm well I suppose. I could be better."
I said, "How's that?"
"My husband recently passed away..."
Interject, "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Thank you. We have children, you see -- well, they're his step-children; I was married before, but Wallace, that's his name, Wallace and I had a connection, we just understood each other in a way my first husband never did. However, I don't know much about Wallace's family. I'm hoping to find out more, for our children. Something about him was always a mystery. I don't like that. You see, I never knew my parents, I'm adopted, and mystery, well, has a way of gnawing at you."
"Then I hope I can help."
I would come to regret that hope. In the days that followed I seized the slender thread Roberta left me. Starting with census reports, and what little family history she could provide, I followed Wallace back to Seattle. The two met there before moving to Chicago. Through the census I tracked Wallace to Portland. He grew up there. So did Roberta.
So far so good.
The simplicity of this job made it easy to put in overtime. Though that said, mostly I stayed after hours because I liked the quiet. The faint buzz of headphones roaring in ears, an incoherent hum at a distance, no longer surrounding like a swarm of lethargic bees. The unpredictable shouting of irate clients, disappointed to discover they aren't descended from famous historical figures; the chug, cah-clunk of the dying photocopier struggling to copy one more document; the office manager drunk by midday, fighting off boredom practicing for her all female barbershop quartet... in the afterhours, once the bulk of staff fled home, I could pour a quiet drink, and calmly peruse the bureaucratic breadcrumbs... on this occasion, to a small Portland orphanage.
It was no surprise. Roberta mentioned as much. In fact, the two of them being orphans apparently helped them bond. Whatever history the living can offer is invaluable in genealogical research. It provides starting points as well as giving a sense that one is on the right track. So I expected the orphanage. Wallace's sister, on the other hand... that is, his twin sister Roberta...
I chalked it up to coincidence at first. Some names go through periods of being trendy. Perhaps a famous singer at the time, or a local Portland celebrity made the name popular. I pictured headlines like: Ravishing Roberta Rose Dazzles Audience!
But the more I dug the more undeniable it became that Roberta and Wallace were twins.
The next day I went to my boss, "Becky, I got a problem."
"You got a problem? Member of my quartet got punched in the throat last night. She won't be able to sing, maybe ever again. She wants to go back to the roller derby, says it's less violent."
"Okay. Mine's worse."
"How so?" Becky put her feet up on the desk. Sipping a coffee mug full of gin she gestured for me to hurry up with the details.
I said, "I just finished confirming the background on this guy. Turns out his wife is actually his twin sister."
Spewing her drink laughing, "You're shitting me."
She sighed, "Oh that's awesome. I got that beat though. A while back I had a guy come in, turns out he married his daughter."
"So this is not uncommon?"
She shrugged, "It's not common-common, but it seems to happen; and hey, it's usually an honest mistake, so I say fuck it. It's not like if gramps turns out to be a Nazis. Lord knows I've had plenty of those."
"Anyway, what's the problem?"
"I can't tell this woman she married her own brother."
"Why not?" Becky leaned forward, "The look on her face will be priceless. I promise."
I returned to my research station -- an oversized cubicle, big enough to allow clients -- where I found Roberta waiting for me.
She smiled, "They told me to take a seat. I was in the neighborhood, so thought I'd stop by to see if you've made any progress."
"Yes, a little." My phone rang. Grateful for the distraction I answered it.
My boss whispered through the line, "Is that her?"
"Yes," I said, instantly knowing I'd made a mistake.
"Hold on till I get there." The line disconnected before I could protest. Soon Becky began orbiting my cubicle waiting to see what happened when I dropped the bomb.
Roberta said, "Whatever you have, well, I think it'll be interesting."
"You can say that again," Becky said, unsubtly aiming a smart phone at Roberta.
At that point I realized if I didn't say anything Becky would. So, hoping to deliver the news as softly as possible, I said, "There's no easy way to say this."
Roberta sucked in a muted gasp, "Oh my, he wasn't," she whispered, "Negro?"
Suddenly I didn't mind saying, "No, he was your brother."
Her eyelid twitched. Her face fell, slackening on one side like melting wax, "I'm sorry. Wha... wha?"
"You married your twin brother," Becky said. She seemed ready to laugh until Roberta's eyes rolled back, and the old woman collapsed onto the floor. Becky stopped filming, "Oh shit I think she had a stroke. Still posting this online."
I called 9-1-1. As the paramedics carted Roberta away I mentioned to Becky, "I quit."
I didn't feel comfortable being in charge of other people's secrets, especially the ones that induce strokes. Yet, those seem to be the only ones with any relevance. After all, an ancestor being a cowboy doesn't make their descendants anymore rugged. Perhaps interesting to know, it means next to nothing. It's like people are always looking for what defines themselves outside of themselves -- looking to an incomplete past to inspire their future. Except for the curious who simply wanted to know, it felt like inspiring people to be echoes instead of voices.
So I collected my things, and left the orchard of family trees.
"Nothing Sells Better than Permission to Hate"
Though a mouthful of silver spoon
Might taint the tune
While attempting to croon
Make the blue collar swoon,
A paid pool of actors
Can ripple out laughter
Infecting the mob
So they miss the off key
Obvious sour C.
Then shed crocodile tears
Spiced by demographic fears
Charted over years
Drown out logic in cheers,
And leave kindness to the saints
Because nothing sells better
Than permission to hate.
Some masturbate gleefully
At the bleating horribly
Issuing from scapegoats
As knives gnaw their throats,
Opening like spigots
So those claiming, "We're not bigots."
Can silently collect blood
To coat doorways
In the hope it dismays
Terrorist hordes hiding
In closets and under beds,
Around every corner --
Foreign, never U.S. bred --
Jihadists somehow ceasing at the sight
Of crimson innocence
Smeared like a liquid fence
Painted across the land,
Red yet strangely night,
As if doing so might
Conjure mystical walls
Those with the biggest balls
Shouting, "Come at us with your acetone peroxide!
We sacrificed the right people!
The emperor's new defense
Is as glorious as his clothes."
They enjoy the sparkling fuse,
The shameless joy
Of someone else to accuse
While holding the bomb
In their sweating palm.
A wad of doughy dumpster meat
Does its best to excrete
Some semblance of humanity
Wrapped in Armani
Thinks itself bonny
Steps to the podium
Spewing toxic as plasmodium:
"The future is as golden as my towers."
But who reaps this future fortune?
No plute ever left a portion
Yet they own the penniless devotion
Of those holding a dreamy notion
Of a sanctified past
In stark contrast
Because truth isn't always beauty.
Disgusted and stunned
Borrow bits from Bob Hund
"Ett fall & en lösning...
släng på en smäll av en atombombsexplosion
...möt mig på andra sidan, annorlunda riktning."
("A case and a solution...
throw on a whack of an atombombsexplotion
...Meet me on the other side of the altered direction.")
It isn't odd
To find a man forsaken
By what he's mistaken
For a god.
Face first hitting a brick wall
Skull broken, set the pall.
From Aaron's rod,
Down by the lake inn
Let the can drool
An ocean of fuel
The 13th station
Even at risk of firing squad
Strike the match
To erase the facade
Then use the ash to scrawl,
Paint a warning for all.