A Palm in the Tundra

I’m excited to announce A Story Most Queer podcast has published an audio production of my story, “A Palm in theTundra.” The narrator has an amazing voice with a range that brought my characters to life. They added some subtle sound effects and even a trigger warning.

The story is based on true events from my life in 1983-1984. I’ve changed the names and details to protect the anonymity of the people involved.

Produced by Mischief Media, written by William Lunt, edited by Leah Cornish, and narrated by Hunter K.

Talking to Ravens

The Canadian Rockies aren’t just mountains. They’re jarring. They shake you. I was on my way there after emigrating from California. I was looking for ravens, which I’d heard flew among the trees and tumbled through the wide-open sky.

We were heading East towards Banff and the National Parks. The mountains became increasingly more majestic, more immediate, and intoxicating. Growing up in Utah, I’d seen plenty of mountains, but nothing like these. The Trans-Canadian Highway snaked through the pass beside rivers, dense with glacial silt, that glistened like strands of aquamarine. It was Summer Solstice. The Winter runoff was still cascading down the jagged slopes in fractured streams and waterfalls.

At a gas station, the first raven appeared. It landed on the pump and stared at me. I’d assumed that ravens were the size of crows, only with larger beaks. This Raven was more than twice that size.  A row of tiny feathers on the top of his head flared up in a crooked mohawk. His wing and tail were tattered and coal black, with an opalescent sheen. He let out a full-throated squawk. The pump shut off and spit out a receipt. I reached in the car for my camera and tossed a cheese puff on the pavement. The raven looked at it, then looked back at me with an expression that said, “That’s the best you can do?” It was all I had in reach. I tossed another, farther away. He snatched up both, and returned to the pump. Orange crumbs flew like sparks from his beak and scattered around him like embers. When I aimed my camera, the Raven spit up the cheese puffs in a big orange glob. He defiantly glared at me with his head slightly tilted, wings halfway spread. After another guttural squawk, he flew across the street and landed on table outside a Tim Horton’s. My eyes were locked on him. I almost didn’t notice the second raven scoop up the orange mound, and join him. They shared my chewed-up offering. They’re a couple.

My friend Jonas, who volunteered at a bird sanctuary, told me that both ravens and crows mate for life. He told me that a group of crows was called a murder; a group of ravens, an unkindness. I knew ravens were once thought to be bad omens—harbingers of death and war.  Jonas told me it was because they were often seen on ancient battlefields, enthusiastically gorging themselves on the flesh and bone of the fallen. He went on about how a raven’s brain was bigger than a crows.

“Ravens have a much bigger vocabulary too and can learn human words and phrases, they mimic the sounds they hear.”

“I had no idea,” I said.

“We had a raven at the sanctuary named Elvira. She would make the sound of the squeaky cupboard door where the feed was kept. Taunting the other birds with false hope was her guilty pleasure. Their memories are keen. They never forget anyone that does them wrong or shows them kindness.”

I thought of the crows in my old neighbourhood. I was sure they held a grudge on me. We had a bird-bath fountain in our back yard. It attracted robins, blue jays, and finches. Crows showed up one Spring and the other birds stayed away. I noticed the water in the fountain had become milky with a greasy film on the water’s surface. After noticing an unpleasant smell, I decided to drain and change the water. I routed the pump to spill over onto the grass. Minutes later, the water had drained from the basin, exposing a macabre collection of decomposing chicken heads. Dead eyes stared up at me and a jolt of horror passed through me in a silent scream. Leo, my next-door neighbour, saw me jump back.

“What’s wrong?” he said.

“Chicken heads,” I said, pointing to the fountain.

“Damn processing plant!” he said. “They’ve left their dumpsters open to the crows again. I’m reporting this to the City.”

Leo offered me the use of his power washer. When the crows caught me cleaning out their treasure-trove they squawked with fury. From then on, whenever I took my dog for a walk, a chorus of abrasive vengeance followed. They never singled out my partner; only me.

***

After finishing their snack at Tim Hortons, the raven couple flew into the trees. Our journey continued. Ice covered mountains jutted up on either side of the Icefields Parkway that stretched for miles towards the Athabaska Glacier. Cottony clouds tumbled swiftly over the taller peaks, causing shafts of sunlight to dance on the ice and snow. We stopped at a vibrant turquoise lake that mirrored the mountains behind it. Sight-seeing tourists like us stood in awe, trying to capture splendour with their cameras.  A small grey bird with black wings perched on a bear-proof garbage can beside the car. I took a picture, wishing it were my old raven friend.

“Turn around,” my partner said in a whisper.

A raven was hopping through the dandelions and grass. The top of his head was shiny and slicked back. I aimed my camera. A second raven appeared in my viewfinder. Two ravens in one shot! I pushed the shutter button at the perfect moment. Then a notification on my camera said, “out of memory.”

“No!” I yelled.

Both ravens fluttered into the air, leaving shrill kaws echoing in their wake.

“Come back! Please, come back!” I shouted.

I wasn’t sure why I had this obsession to take raven pictures. Ravens weren’t on my radar until I moved to Vancouver. I’d never seen any real ravens, but I kept noticing them everywhere in the indigenous art.

According to the Haida, a raven hatched the first humans from a cockle shell—after the great flood waters receded. A raven spotted a shell rocking back and forth on the beach. With his strong beak, he pried it open and found tiny creatures, huddled together inside. The raven decided not to swallow them, because he was lonely and wanted company. The timid humans refused to leave their vessel, but with his trickster ways, the raven eventually coaxed them out.  Artist Bill Reid carved out this ancient story from a four-and-a-half-ton block of golden cedar. His magnificent sculpture lives beneath a domed skylight at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. I remember sitting in the museum rotunda,  gazing up at the enormous raven, perched on the shell with his wings half spread. Inside the shell, six human forms are suspended in reluctance. It evoked in me the familiar chord of apprehension that comes right before laying a stroke of paint on a blank canvass, or typing the first sentence of an essay. The Raven with his strange wisdom and appetite for mischief is like a guardian of divine discontent; that gnawing spark that eventually pulls me out of myself.

***

Before heading back to the cabin, we decided to hike to a waterfall. Being this far North made the longest day of the year even longer.  At 9:30pm the sun shined with afternoon brilliance, gracing the waterfall mist with a rainbow. On the trail, we passed a Mennonite family. The Father, tall and stern, gripped a walking stick, and nodded with a furrowed brow. His wife smiled. All the kids, in single file, wore brightly coloured running shoes that clashed with their old-fashioned attire.

At the car, I was tucking my camera away when several ravens descended and landed around us. I tossed a hand-full of cheese puffs into the air. The ravens devoured them in a fluttering frenzy. Of course I took pictures.

“Maybe you’ll remember when I come back this way,” I said. I tossed another handful of cheese puffs. “Next time, I’ll bring healthier snacks.”

The Mennonite Family had returned from the falls and gathered by an old school bus. A little girl in a white bonnet said, “Look Mommy, that man is talking to the birds.”

The Father started the loud engine. Then, without leaving a single orange crumb behind, the unkindness of ravens rose up and shattered the sky.

Solstice Raven

18″ x 24″ Acrylic on Canvas
I painted this experimental piece as I was writing and editing this essay. I was curious how the painting would influence the writing and vise versa. I plan to do more ravens in the future which I will post here.

Drawing Karen Part 3—I’ll Say Goodbye to Love

People never think of entertainers as being human. When you walk out on stage the audience thinks, “Nothing can go wrong with them.” We get sick and we have headaches just like they do. When we are cut, we bleed. — Karen Carpenter

 

Weeknights, I sang and played piano at The Mark Twain in Salt Lake City, run by polygamists. Alice Knudsen was one of Willard T. Knudsen’s many wives. She managed the restaurant with her oldest son.  She wasn’t like the polygamist women I’d seen in St. George where I attended Junior College.  Those women wore long-sleeved, ankle-length prairie dresses cut from the same homely pattern and rarely spoke to anyone, always looking at the ground. Alice held her head high. She wore ruffled blouses and a cameo broach. Her dark hair was stylishly twisted into a bun on the top of her head. On the day of my audition, she looked regal standing against the swagged jacquard curtains.

“I’m not supposed to ask this,” she said. “But, are you Mormon?”

“Yes,” I said, confidently, leaning against the piano which rested under a heavy crystal chandelier. I didn’t tell her that I no longer believed.

“Oh good,” she said, smiling. “Serve a mission?”

“Indiana. I’ve been back two years.”

“And you’re not married?” Alice said, looking surprised at my ringless hand.

“Not yet.”

She was impressed that I could fill two hours without repeating a song.  After hearing my rendition of “Somewhere in Time,” she hired me on the spot.

“Wear black slacks and a white dress-shirt. We’ll provide you with a vest and a bow tie.”

Of course, I played a lot of Carpenters songs.

After my last set on Friday nights, I’d go back to my apartment only to change my clothes. Then I’d head to the gay dance club where I could celebrate who I was, at least until midnight. I had to be up early Saturdays. The Mark Twain didn’t pay enough to cover my rent or feed my gas-guzzling car, so I worked weekends as a security guard.

One Saturday morning, groggy and hungover on my commute, The Carpenters, “Road Ode,” played on the radio. It was unusual for a top 40 station to play an obscure album cut, but it was one of my favourites. Karen’s vocals, like a magical drug, could soothe any kind of ache or discomfort.  Something in her voice acknowledged all of the pain, but at the same time, pointed towards acceptance and hope. I pulled my rust-coloured Oldsmobile into the vast empty lot and parked by the front gate. I stayed in the car until the song ended. The other guard glared at me through the window, urgently pointing to his watch.

“I’m coming,” I said, as if he could hear me.

When I came through the door, he said, “You’re late!”

“By thirty seconds,” I said.

“Late is late!”

“Sorry,” I said, as he slammed the door.

I turned up the heat and tuned the radio to KOVO—Provo’s all-hit station. Another Carpenters song was playing. Two in a row? Then the phone rang.

“Billy?” It was my thirteen-year-old sister, Kimberly. “Did you hear?”

“Hear what?” I said.

“Karen Carpenter, she died. She had that disease. Mom, what’s it called?” In the background I heard my Mother’s voice whisper, “Anorexia Nervosa.”

 

 All the years of useless search/

Have finally reached an end/

Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend/

From this day love is forgotten/

I’ll go on as best I can.

 

“Billy?” Kim said.

“I’m still here.”

“We thought you probably knew. We wanted to see if you’re okay.” Kimberly said, holding back her tears.

“Kim, I’ve got to make my rounds. I’ll talk to you later.”

“I love you,” she said.

I hung up the phone as the song ended.

“Folks, that was the late Karen Carpenter singing her 1972 hit, “Goodbye to Love.” What a voice! We’ll be taking your Carpenters requests all day long until midnight. A-sides, B-sides, we’ll try to play them all.”

The radio news confirmed that Karen Carpenter, 32 years old, was found unconscious on the floor of her bedroom closet, at her parents’ home in Downey, California. Cardiac arrest. The Carpenters kept playing.

The Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Company was a sprawling complex of gritty industrial buildings, surrounded by swampland. Every hour, I made my rounds which took me twenty-five minutes to complete. Except for the occasional lone worker doing overtime, the entire place was void of life and too bleak to be haunted. Dressed in a navy-blue polyester uniform, I usually walked around the plant belting out show tunes, but not that day.

In the afternoon, the phone rang again. It was my Mother.

“How are you doing?” She said, gingerly.

“I wish that I didn’t have to be here.”

“People have been calling all morning, asking about you.”

“Really? Who?”

“Oh, relatives mainly. Your cousin Verleen said it felt like a death in the family. Everyone knows how much you loved her.”

“That’s really sweet,” I said. “Kind of embarrassing too.”

“Where on earth did she get the silly idea that she was fat?” There was silence. “Billy, I worry about you. Are you spending the night with us? I’m making funeral potatoes.”

“Because of Karen?”

“I don’t know. I guess.”

“I’ll come home,” I said.

“Oh, your old missionary companion called.”

“Which one?”

“What’s-his-name? The one that sounds like God—in church movies.”

His name was Jack, but we called him Lumberjack because he was six feet, seven inches of solid muscle. Loud, outspoken, and irreverent, he made me laugh so hard I’d forget to be depressed. Jack had a thing for Liza Minelli, so he didn’t mind that I put a Carpenters poster on the wall of our apartment next to Joseph Smith. He took a picture of me standing next to it. It looked like I was standing right next to Karen. img_2187

Out of all the guys I was paired up with, over my two-year mission, he was my favourite. Instead of tediously going door to door, trying to get converts, we visited the elderly and volunteered at the YMCA. It was an easier way to meet people, and it felt like we were making a difference. We followed the strict mission rules, except for the time we checked out Karen and Liza records from the library. We weren’t supposed to listen to anything but the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

“What if someone finds out?”

“Elder Lunt,” Jack said authoritatively. “There’s nothing more spiritual than listening to the voices of angels sing.”

 

Pacific States had twenty-one security checkpoints. Some were outside in the cold, some down stairs, up ladders, and through dark cement tunnels. A layer of soot covered everything. The smelting furnaces were always hot, and an acrid chemical smell pervaded. Inside an enormous open enclosure, a giant magnet dangled over two-story mound of scrap metal. Tons of metallic waste would be melted down into a molten liquid, and formed into sewage pipe. I felt minuscule, standing at the base of the rusty apocalyptic heap.

“She’s gone.” I said, to the emptiness.  I screamed towards the magnet as loud as I could. It felt good. I screamed again. My yells echoed through the enclosure and dozens of pigeons fluttered about and scattered. A feather fell and spun circles in the rising heat of the furnace.

Frozen snow crunched under my feet and the sky darkened as I made my way back to the office. When I turned a corner, l saw a tall hooded figure rattling the front gate. My instinct was to hide, and I did for a few moments. Then I timidly approached the padlocked gate.

“Are you going to let me in, or do I have to rip a hole in this thing?” He roared.

“Lumberjack!”

“Through here,” I said, pointing to the turnstile.

“I heard about your woman and I had to see if you were okay.” He put his arms around me and squeezed the air out of my lungs. I sobbed against his chest.

“Man, if anything ever happened to Liza, I’d tie myself to the train tracks or jump off a cliff. My luck, I’d survive the fall, and end up dying from the hospital food.”

My sobs turned into laughter. He slapped me hard on the back as he followed me into the office.

“You know the world is going to Hell in a handcart when a place like this hires you to work security.”

“I’m hoping it’s temporary,” I said.

“Are you going to finish college?”

“I was accepted at the University of Utah, but my parents won’t help me out unless I go to BYU, where I won’t get exposed to any more liberal ideas. Mom flipped out when I told her I believed in evolution.”

“That’s not a liberal idea; it’s science.”

“Even if I wanted to attend BYU, I wouldn’t pass the Bishop’s interview.”

“Your Mom said you’ve been avoiding church.” I was irked that she told him. I didn’t want to be anyone’s project.

“She can’t look at me without breaking into tears. It’s uncomfortable.”

“She’s just worried. What does your Dad say?”

“Not much,” I said. “He treats me about the same.”

“So, what’s going on?”

“I fell into a depression last Spring. A bad one,” I added. “Church made it worse. The longer I stayed away, the better I felt.” I wasn’t ready to tell him I was gay.

“Hmmm,” Jack said.

“I don’t fit the mold, Jack. I never did. I was pressured to go on the mission, and now I’m being pressured go to BYU, find a wife, and start a family. Like it’s as simple as going to the mall and picking out a tie.”

“People at church look at me like I’m a menace to society, especially with this beard,” he said, stroking his chin.

“It suits you.”

“I want you to understand something,” he said, slapping his big hand on my knee. “Church or not, I’ve got your back. I’m here if you need me.”

“Thanks Jack.”

“And I know the Guy Upstairs has your back too.” He looked up.

I looked up too. There were cobwebs and a fluorescent light.

 

When my twelve-hour shift finally ended, I was relieved that I didn’t have to drive back to Salt Lake. My Mom hugged me when I came through the door.

“You smell like someone’s science project backfired. Go change and I’ll toss that in the washer.”

I changed into sweatpants and an old t-shirt. Kimberly came out of her room.

“I’m going to miss her too,” she said. “I’ve been listening to your old records.”

My Dad didn’t say anything, but he was there. That’s how he was.

The chime rang and Mom pulled a plate of funeral potatoes, a slice of ham, and some green beans out of the microwave. I sat at the table.

“All day I’ve tried to think of something comforting to say,” Mom said. “Things people usually say at funerals seem so silly and trite. Like Verleen said, it feels like a death in the family. And it hurts.”

“Thanks Mom.”

 

Monday night at The Mark Twain, Alice was fluffing the napkins and lighting the votive candles. She smiled when I entered the dining room.

“I’m so glad you’re back. All weekend guests were requesting Carpenters songs. How are you?” She reached out and squeezed my hand.

“Glad to be here.”

That night, I sang Karen’s songs, inwardly dedicating each one of them to her. Maybe her own words could comfort her now.

Above me, the chandelier was sparkling.

img_2330

I made this chalk pastel portrait a few weeks later. It hung on my wall for years.

Drawing Karen Part One—Monsters End

Drawing Karen Part Two—The Portrait

 

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

 

 

 

Drawing Karen Part 2—The Portrait

IMG_2249

Part two.

At the start of my Senior year, I thought having a mall job was cool, even though it was washing dishes at the food court. On my lunch break, I’d browse the record store and meander through Hickory Farms to get cheese samples. I’d drop by the fabric store to see my friend Tricia. She was slender girl with thick brown hair that fell to her shoulders in bouncy curls. She had an olive complexion and green eyes that sparkled when she smiled. Even though I was secretly attracted to guys, I liked Tricia a lot.

“Hey Trish, how’s everything at the Fabric Barn?” I said.

“Busy! Girls are getting their formals ready for the Homecoming dance at BYU. That reminds me.” She paused and priced a remnant of lavender gingham. “Are you taking me to see the Carpenters?”

“They’re coming?”

Tricia nodded. “Tickets go on sale Saturday morning.”

“Yes, I’m taking you!”I jumped and down. “Shoot, I have to get back to work. See you tomorrow at school.” My hand grazed the bolts of tulle, and taffeta as I dashed out of the store.

 

That night, I stormed in the house. “Mom! Mom, guess what?”

“You didn’t wreck the car, did you?”

“Of course not.”

“What?”

“The Carpenters are coming, and I’m taking Tricia as my date. I’m going to camp overnight if I have to, and I’m going to need the car!”

“Lower your voice. Daddy’s asleep,” she scolded in a whisper. “Have you been smoking something?”

“No!”

“Who’s this Tricia?”

“Tricia Thomas. You remember, her parents teach at BYU.”

“Oh yeah, but aren’t they Democrats?”

“What if they are?”

Mom clutched her chest, and let out a heavy sigh—as if she’d learned that Tricia was a stripper, or a Catholic. “Billy, haven’t we taught you anything?”

“Mom, she’s nice. She even told me that she likes guys that are artsy.”

“I’m just teasing,” she said. “What’s this about camping?”

“I want to be the first in line, so I can get front-row seats.”

“Can’t you just go early in the morning?”

“Not if people are lining up the night before.”

Mom shook her head. “It seems so silly—spending good money on a concert. You can listen to records at home.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am serious,” she said. “You know they’re going to play the same old songs.”

“Mom, they’re called hits, besides, it’s Karen!”

 

I did camp out all night—with a parking lot full BYU students who got there first. They had tents, blankets, and sleeping bags. I brought a pillow to sit on, a bag of Jolly Ranchers, and a Coke I’d smuggled in a root beer bottle. At that time, caffeinated beverages were strictly forbidden at Brigham Young University. I sat on my pillow at the end of the line. Scattered laughter, ghost stories, and Mormon hymns, echoed through the parking lot until 10:00 pm when the Campus Cops told everyone to shut up.

Hours of silent boredom. Green apple, grape or cherry. What if I drew a portrait of Karen Carpenter, and gave it to her after the show?  Maybe it would be a way to get backstage. Whoever is in charge might be impressed with my labour of love, or feel sorry for me—I didn’t care. The thought of meeting Karen Carpenter made me too giddy to rest my eyes. The hours passed and the students slept soundly. I gradually scooted myself closer to the front of the line. At the first hint of dawn, the asphalt became speckled with dots of rain. The sleepers woke as the rain turned into a downpour. Many were prepared with umbrellas. Some crowded into tents, and others gave up; giving me the opportunity to move even closer up the line. My pillow had become a burdensome sponge. I was soaked, shivering, and needed to pee. I popped my last Jolly Rancher and reminded myself that Karen was worth it. When the ticket office finally opened, I handed the cashier a wet twenty, and scored two third-row seats.

A week before the concert, I purchased some Canson paper and fresh chalk pastels from the BYU bookstore. Then I sequestered myself to my bedroom until the portrait was finished. I pushed aside all my homework and even missed an episode of The Waltons.

“Look Mom, what do you think?”

“It’s the smart one from Charley’s Angels—Kate Something-or-other,” she said, looking over her reading glasses.

“It’s supposed to be Karen Carpenter!”

“Why don’t you draw someone else for a change? Marie Osmond is pretty, and she’s right here in Provo.”

I realized that my imperfect portrait would have to do since I didn’t have time to make another one.

 

IMG_2251Tricia and I took our seats early. I stored the rolled up portrait under my seat.

Tricia was studying her ticket stub. “Who is Steve Martin?”

“Who?” I said.

“The guy that’s opening the show?”

“I’ve never heard of him,” I said.

Steve Martin, a goofy man with salt and pepper hair, took the stage and made us laugh non-stop for forty minutes. The audience gave him a standing ovation. We had no idea that two weeks later, he’d host Saturday Night Live, and become a huge star.

Richard Carpenter was the next to appear on the stage. He thanked everyone for enduring the rain, and then he took his place at the keyboards and started to play. Then suddenly, as if a cosmic portal had opened, Karen appeared like a heavenly apparition. Dressed in all white, she sparkled in the spotlight. The audience cheered.

“It’s her!” I said. “She looks amazing!”

“She’s thinner than me!” Tricia said.

Wearing a rhinestone-studded culotte suit, and white leather boots, Karen Carpenter moved confidently about the stage, singing her latest single, “A Kind of Hush.” Her stage presence was polished and elegant. The Carpenters performed their greatest hits flawlessly. Richard played the Warsaw Concerto. Karen performed an impressive drum solo, and had five costume changes, but it was over too soon.

We stayed in our seats after the lights came on.

“Tricia, see that guy on stage with the dark glasses and bushy sideburns?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll bet he’s in charge.”

I grabbed the portrait and approached the stage.

“Um, excuse me,” I said to the man on the stage.

“Yes.” He looked down at me suspiciously. “What’s up.”

“Are you part of the crew?”

“I’m the road manger,” he said.

I unrolled the portrait. “I was wondering if you could give this to Karen, or maybe let me give it to her.”

He rolled his eyes, looked at the portrait, and back at me.

“This way,” he said grumpily. “But only you!”

I motioned for Tricia to join me. Karen and Richard were already greeting VIPs and radio contest winners.  Richard turned to us and noticed my rolled up paper. I didn’t rehearse what I might say to to Richard Carpenter. It never occurred to me to draw him, let alone speak to him. My mouth hung open.

“Great show,” Tricia said, breaking the awkwardness. “That Warsaw Concerto was wonderful!”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” said Richard.

Karen finally turned to us.  Her silky brown hair fell loose and straight on her shoulders, as if all the curl and hairspray had been brushed out. A lock of hair fell in her face and she combed it back with her fingers.

“Hi, what’s your name?” she said, reaching for Tricia’s hand.

“I’m Tricia,”

“Nice to meet you, Trish. And you?” She reached for my hand and shook it firmly. I could feel her jewelry, loose on her slender fingers, almost sliding off as our hands parted.

“I’m Bill,” I said. “I made this for you.” I handed her the portrait and watched her unroll it.

“Wow Bill, this is really good.” She said my name. “You’re quite talented.”

“Thank you for being so amazing,” I said. “You’re so beautiful. I love your music. I loved your show.”

“Thanks! We have a lot of fun. Can I keep this?” She rolled up the portrait tightly and held it up like a diploma.

“Yes, it’s for you,” I said.

“My Mom will love it. She can put it in her collection portraitures.” She raised her brows dramatically and fluttered her lashes like a diva. Then she looked right at me with her big brown eyes and said, ‘Thank you, Bill. Thanks for being a fan.” I wanted to stay in that moment forever.

We said goodbye and backed away as Karen Carpenter was swallowed by the crowd.

Karen Sketch

The following week I made this sketch when I should have been studying for my Math test.

 Drawing Karen Part 3 — I’ll Say Goodbye to Love

Drawing Karen Part 1 — Monster’s End

 

 

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

 

 

 

 

 

Drawing Karen Part 1 — Monster’s End

This is Part One of a three part series about my early obsession and love for Karen Carpenter.
Before Karen Carpenter, I drew Dracula; I drew monsters. I drew the Wolf-man, Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, copied from monster magazines. As I sketched, I would imagine them coming to life to torment the bullies who were tormenting me at school. Charcoal on snow, chalk on black paper. Each stroke, a slap or a slug. A blending of fears to wash over my enemies, like it washed over me, each morning when the bus swallowed me up. “Faggot,” or, “Big fat queer!” came with a shove or a smack on the head.

“Lunt the cunt,” stood on its own.

At the end of each class, I would stare at the second hand of the clock until the bell rang. I’d imagine my monster friends beside me as I darted out the door. This never prevented an attack; it just got me to the next class.

One Saturday, I was at the neighbourhood Seven-Eleven, buying some candy and a magazine. Brother Briggs from church, a handsome man, much younger than my Dad, saw me leaving the store.

“What have you got,” he asked, pointing at my rolled up magazine.

I proudly revealed my latest copy of Famous Monsters. After browsing a few pages he shook his head in revulsion.

“This is the work of Satan!” he said, handing it back to me. He examined his hands for signs of contamination. “You shouldn’t be looking at this filth. Get rid of it. Burn it!”

No one was going to burn the Mummy Madness issue, which I bought with my own lawn mowing money. I just stood there.

“See you at priesthood meeting?” he said, getting into his car.

“Yep,” I said, and bit a chunk off my red licorice rope.

Later that day, I was at the mall with my Mom and younger sister. A poster at the record store advertised the Carpenters in concert, at Brigham Young University. The tickets were only three dollars, so I bought two and invited my friend Pete.

On the day of the concert, my Mom dropped us off at BYU’s Marriott Centre. We took our seats which were on the second-to-the-last row. Pete brought his hunting binoculars and we watched the place fill up with BYU students wearing their Sunday best. After the opening prayer, the lights dimmed to black. Then, out of a drumroll, a voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Carpenters!” The music began and the stage lit up.

Long ago, and oh so far away,

She glided across the stage in mint green.

I fell in love with you/

Before the second show.

Graceful and flowing, but sometimes her movements were clumsy, as if to convey, “I’m a real person. I’m just like you.” Maybe she was like me. Maybe, somehow I could find some kind of value in my own life; discover a talent or gift that could outshine my imperfections. Her brother at the keyboards, in a suit white as pearls, dimmed in Karen’s radiant cast. The boys in the band, like cardboard props in a school play stood easy in their supporting roles. Nothing out shined Karen, except for the occasional flash of light reflected on a swaying saxophone. Her velvety low notes swirled around the arena like chocolate filigree, and found me on the eighty-ninth row, smitten, clutching the binoculars so tight the image shook. Song after song, she enthralled me. I wanted to be closer, on the front row and I didn’t want the concert to end.

newclubimage-the-carpenters-37010568

We lingered after the lights turned on. BYU students, solemnly headed for the exits. Pete and I made our way down to the main floor and watched the roadies wind up cords and pack instruments. We sat in two empty front-row seats until BYU security came to clear out the stragglers. Pete and I evaded them by hiding behind a big piano case that had a Carpenter’s logo stenciled on it. From there, we saw a small crowd forming around a back-stage door. I had nothing but my ticket stub. Pete reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and a chewed up pen. I grabbed it and wiggled myself into the crowd. When the door finally opened, it was Karen, beautiful and radiant, as if the spotlights were still shining on her. The Homecoming Queen shook Karen’s hand and presented her with a gift; probably a Book of Mormon with her name engraved on it. Everyone was taller than me. I waved my crumpled paper in the air to get her attention. She reached over someone’s shoulder and took it from my hand. “Here you go,” she said, handing the paper back. She kept Pete’s chewed up pen to sign more autographs. I trembled with excitement.

 

 

Scan 1

Vampires and monster magazines faded into Karen Carpenter.  Each day, after school, I’d play Carpenters records on a hand-me-down record player in my room. I would sing along as my freshly sharpened pencil struck the page in wispy, circular strokes, building layer upon layer of what would be Karen’s hair. I loved drawing hair. Time blurred out. I escaped into a fantasy world where I was tall, slender and had lots of friends. I pretended that I went to a school surrounded by palm trees, somewhere in California, where I could actually learn stuff; not just survive the day.

One Sunday after church, Brother Briggs confronted me in the foyer.

“We miss you at Scouts Bill,” he said.

“No you don’t,” I replied.

“We really do! Why haven’t you been coming?”

“I’m bad at sports, and I have more important things to do.”

“Like what,” he asked. “What could be more import than sports, I mean Scouts?”

Not getting called names, I thought.

“Drawing,” I said. “I like to draw.”

“Draw what?”

“Stuff.”

“What stuff?” He pressed.

“Umm, lately I’ve been drawing Karen Carpenter.”

He glared at me.

“She’s pretty,” I said, “and I like her voice.”

“Bill, you’re in the eighth grade. You’re much too young to be thinking about girls,” he said. “There’s plenty of time for that after your mission.”

“But she’s special,” I said, “She makes me feel good, she makes me feel like…” I couldn’t find the right words.

“But Karen Carpenter isn’t even a member of the church!”

“Maybe she’ll join,” I said. “She’s got a Book of Mormon.”

“But she’s not the Saviour, she didn’t die for your sins, and she can’t lead you to Heaven.”

“I don’t expect her to,” I said. “Thing is, she gets me out of Hell every day.”
Shocked that I said the word Hell in the Lord’s house, he looked around to see if anyone was in earshot.

“Idolatry can lead to more serious transgressions.” He fumbled in his scriptures, looking for the right verse.

“I gotta go.” I said. “My family’s waiting.”

“She’ll let you down some day.”

I pushed glass door open. “You wait and see,” he said, as the door behind me clicked shut.

 

IMG_2328

I drew this long after the story took place. After obsessing on the hair, I’d rub graphite all over her face and erase highlights with my kneaded eraser.

Drawing Karen Part 2—The Portrait

 

First Crash—Part Two

Link to Part One

 

“The Doctor is on his way,” Mom said.

“Another one?” I whined.

“The Doctor who did your operation,” Mom said. “The Plastic Surgeon!” She pulled out a compact mirror from her Sunday purse and applied a fresh layer of fuchsia lipstick.

“Can he fix my ears?” I asked.

“Stop being silly!” she said, combing my hair with her fingers.

The Doctor entered the room. His long white overcoat fluttered behind him like the cape of a superhero. I recognized his eyes from the operating room.  Now I could see the rest of his face. The dense shadow of his beard emphasized his strong jaw, and the little dent in his chin. His dark wavy hair was combed back behind his ears and fell over his collar.

“Hi there,” he said. “I’m Dr. Mancini, you can call me Dr. Mike.” None of the other Doctors ever said a word to me. He positioned my head in his hands and came in close to examine my eye.

“Now, open your eye, as much as you can,” he said.

Blurry at first, his face gradually came into focus. That moment, I almost forgot that I was in a hospital bed, and that I had injuries. Maybe that’s how Jesus healed people, I thought. Maybe He was so beautiful, people forgot they were sick, and got better.

“Now,” the Doctor said. “Follow the tip of my pen with both eyes. It might hurt a little, just do the best you can.” He raised his ballpoint in front of my face. His knuckles were hairy, like my Dad’s. He drew up and down.

“Look at the pen, not me” he said. Then his pen went side to side, and around.

“Good,” he said, placing the pen back in his pocket. “Here’s the good news; I’m going to let you go home today with your Mom and Dad.”

Mom closed her eyes, saying a silent thank you.

“Bad news is,” he said. “I don’t want you to play any sports, for the next couple of months.”

I blushed.

“He doesn’t like sports,” Bobby said.

“No?” The Doctor smiled, revealing pretty white teeth and said, “I didn’t like sports either when I was your age. I just want you to be careful, okay—so everything can heal.”

“Sure,” I said. I felt a thousand smiles burst inside me.

After writing something on my chart, he gave my Mom a business card and said, “I’d like to see him in two weeks.” He shook my Dad’s hand on his way out the door.

I changed into my own clothes as Mom gathered the Get Well cards. She insisted on making my hospital bed even though the nurse told her to let it be.

“See ya, Bobby,” I said, but he ignored me.

A nurse pushed me in a wheelchair to the front of the hospital where Dad was waiting with the car.

When we got home my baby sister screamed and cried when she saw me, like I was a monster or something. Cheri still had cuts and scratches on her face. Her big brown eyes were tearing up.

“I’m so, so, sorry Billy,” she said, handing the baby over to my Mom.

“It was an accident,” I said.

“But I want you to know that I’m really, really, sorry,”

“I know,” I said, and we hugged.

“You should have seen Billy’s Doctor,” Mom said, changing the subject. “He was a cross between Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis!”

“He looked like a hippy, if you ask me,” said Dad.

 

I spent a lot of my time listening to records and hanging out in the backyard since watching TV gave me a headache.

I wasn’t ready to be around people, but Mom insisted on church.  In Sunday school, I was made to stand on the podium next to Sister Calhoun. I stared at the carpet as she addressed the congregation of children.

“Boys and girls, we are blessed this day,” She stretched her hand towards me like I was a set of luggage on a TV game show. “Standing before us is a modern day miracle!”

I glanced up and saw my friend Marcy snickering. I had to grit my teeth to not laugh.

“If not for the priesthood blessing that Billy received in the hospital, he might have turned out blind, crippled, disfigured for life, or even dead!” My pursed lips made a farting noise, which evoked giggles from the congregation.

Unfazed, Sister Calhoun dramatically continued, “When he’s on his mission, he can share his miraculous story!”

I felt dizzy and I wanted to sit down but Sister Calhoun insisted I stand beside her while she led the children in another song. Ten, nine, eight, seven, I counted backwards like Dr. Mike, six, five, until it was all blurred out.

 

Mom drove me to Salt Lake for my appointment with Dr. Mike. His office was in a big building and we took an elevator to the third floor. The arch of letters on the frosted glass door read, Dr. Michael T. Mancini M.D.  I almost didn’t recognize him. His whiskers had thickened, like he hadn’t shaved for a few days, and his long, messed up hair flipped out under his surgeon’s cap. He looked like a pirate with really nice teeth.

He examined the incision he had made in the crease under my eye and asked me again to follow his pen as he moved it around.

“I’m happy with the progress. The red is diminishing and his mobility is almost normal,” he said, turning to my Mom. “I don’t think you need to bring him back. I’ll remove the stitches on his leg and you’re good to go.”

He pulled out some scissors and tweezers, and then positioned me on the table cupping my calf muscle in his giant hand. “This might pinch a little.”

“Um, Dr. Mike?” I said.

“Yeah,” He said, as he started to snip and tug on the suture.

After a pause, I said, “Could you fix my ears?”

“Billy!” Mom said, shaking her head in disapproval “I told you not to bring that up!”

“Your ears?” Dr. Mike said, furrowing his thick, dark eyebrows. “What’s wrong with your ears?”

“This one,” pointing to my left ear, “ is lower than the other one, and they both stick out”.

“He was born with his left ear folded over.” Mom said. “They told us it would straighten out, and it did.”

“Ears are supposed to stick out,” the beautiful surgeon said. He looked closer. “Hmmm,” he said, with his turquoise eyes darting back and forth. “I don’t really see a problem here.”

“See Billy, what did I tell you,” Mom said.

“Kids at school making fun of you?” He said, carefully removing another stitch.

“Sometimes.”

“Kids can be ignorant,” said the Doctor. He removed the last stitch and gave me a big smile “You look fine! Nobody’s ears line up exactly,” he said. “The important thing is that you can hear. Right?”

“Yeah,” I said, looking down. I didn’t want my time with him to be over.

He patted me on the back and shook my Mother’s hand.

“Nice to see you, Mrs. Lunt,” he said. “Enjoy your afternoon.”

My heart sank as he left the room, because I knew I’d never see him again.

 

I continued to heal and feel better as the summer progressed. I even went to an amusement park called Lagoon with my friend Sam.  We went on all the rides and rode the roller coaster twice. We went through the Haunted House where there was a mirror maze. It was like the three-way mirrors at Penny’s—times a hundred. A thousand identical versions of myself, bounced back and forth in all angles and directions as I moved about.  Which one is me? They all had my eyes, and my ears. They were all laughing, and having a great time being a normal kid.

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 5.32.04 PM

 

 

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

First Crash — Part One

IMG_2150This is Part One of a two part story about the time I was in a car accident.

 

By the age of nine, I knew I was different. When I got into a car crash, I started realizing why.

Mom asked my sister Cheri to go to Penny’s to get some shirts for my Dad’s Birthday. Mom had to stay home, take care of my baby sister, bake a cake, and prepare a fancy dinner. Dad would say, “Beverly, now don’t make a fuss over my Birthday,” but she would always make a fuss.

“Stop at the Arctic Circle on your way home, and get me a Coke,” she told my sister.

“Mom,” I said, “Sister Calhoun says that Mormons aren’t supposed to drink Coke.

Mom handed Cheri a ten-dollar bill and the keys to our white Mercury Comet.

“Get me a Large,” She said.

“Can I go?” I begged.

“I don’t care,” my sister said.

I jumped in the car and bounced up and down on the seat, excited at the chance to tag along.

While Cheri was purchasing the shirts, I browsed through records. Rock stars all had long hair in 1969. I wanted long hair too. I stepped in front of a three-way mirror in the men’s department, and cringed when I saw my reflection. My ears stuck out, fanning wide from my head.  I pushed them back, as if somehow they would magically stay put. My father was a barber; hiding them under long hair would never be an option for me. I’d been self-conscious about my ears ever since Doreen Duncan and Edna Bird, from church, were visiting my Mom one day, after school.  Sister Duncan stopped me and examined me like I was an unruly houseplant that needed pruning. “You know Beverly,” she said to Mom. “You should get him some glasses, they would distract from the unevenness of his ears and, you know, give him some symmetry.”

“Oh, he’d look sophisticated too, just like his Father,” Sister Bird added sweetly, in a high pitched voice.

I ran and locked myself in the bathroom.  I held a comb in front of my reflection to measure, and sure enough, my ears didn’t quite line up, and they stuck out. “I’m a freak,” I told my myself. All my insecurities and feelings of being different were now concentrated on the two flaps of skin and cartilage protruding from either side of my head. For weeks, I slept with one of my Mothers nylon stockings over my head in hopes that my ears would flatten. Now, forlorned at the three-way mirror at Penny’s, I realized that plastic surgery might me my only hope.

My sister brushed by me with the shirts.

“Let’s go,” she said.

At the Arctic Circle, Cheri ordered two large Cokes and a small orange soda for me. She put the drinks next to the shirts on the front seat. With the windows rolled down, the dry summer air blew in our faces and tousled our hair as we drove off with the radio blasting.

I don’t remember the drinks spilling. I don’t remember the car crashing into the telephone pole or my head hitting the dashboard.  I don’t remember the neighbourhood kids gathered around the car, gawking, peering in, and pointing while my sister screamed for help. I was covered in blood, Coke, and ice. My eyes were open and glazed over. Cheri thought I was dead. I remember sounds. My sister crying. She never cried in front of me; always hid in her room. A man’s voice: “Wake up, wake up!” And my own voice, disconnected, crying, “Please God! Please,” and then the howl of the siren devoured everything.

After being unconscious for two days, I emerged into a world of beeping noises and a throbbing pain. In a spinning room, nurses darted back and forth in streaks of white. I noticed a girl with short brown hair in a bed across me. Was it Cheri?  Everything was blurry.

“Mom?”

A nurse with a soft voice said, “Hi sweetie, you’re at Primary Children’s Hospital. You’ve been in an accident, understand?” I nodded and realized that the brown-haired girl across the room wasn’t my sister. My right eye and head were bandaged up and there were tubes sticking my arm.

“Where’s my Mom?”

“She just left.” Said the nurse. “She’s been sitting here by your side all day. Your Dad will be here soon.”

I wanted my Mom and cried out for her. The nurse gave me a shot.

I woke up in a different room, away from the beeps, with light coming only from the hallway. Drifting in and out, I was relieved that Mom was sitting beside me. She held an open magazine on her lap, but wasn’t reading it.

“Stay with me,” I said.

She put the magazine down and held my hand. “Daddy, Grandpa and Uncle Mel gave you a blessing last night. The doctors are going to operate on your eye. It’s going to be okay. We’ll be right here.”

Silhouetted figures hovered over me. I was lifted onto a gurney and pushed down a corridor. I heard footsteps on either side as oblong lights passed over me.  We burst into a very bright room. I had to squint. That’s when I saw him, the surgeon, standing over me. His eyes were aquamarine blue, like the shallow end of a swimming pool. He had long dark eyelashes and dense eyebrows. A mask covered his mouth and nose. The bright lights behind him radiated out from his back like an angel in a painting. His ears didn’t stick out like mine; they elegantly hugged his head as if they had been sculpted out of marble.

“We’re going to make you sleep.” He said in a deep gentle voice.  He put something over my mouth and nose. “Now, count backwards from ten, like this, ten, nine, eight, seven, six”. I didn’t say anything. I just dissolved.

I awoke in a room with a big window and what looked like an oversized baby crib. A skinny boy with a plaster cast on his head, like a motorcycle helmet, peered through the bars and waved. “Hi, “he said.

I responded with a, raspy, “Hi.”

“I’m Bobby,” he said.

“Um,” I was drowsy.

“You’re Billy. They told me.”

“Oh,” I said. “What happened to your head?”

He was quiet, then after a few minutes he said, “You like to shoot?”

“No,” I said.

“You like to Fish?”

“Don’t know, I’ve never tried,” I said.

“Oh,” he said walking his legs up and down the bars at the foot of his bed. “ You like football?”

“No,” I said.

“Baseball?”

“Not really,” I said.

“Basketball?”

I shook my head.

“Hmm,” he said. “What do you like?”

“Setting off firecrackers in tomatoes and watching them explode,” I lied. Mom never let me have firecrackers.

“I blew up a peach once,” he said.

“Did it look like brains?” I asked. He started laughing and then we both laughed.

“I sleepwalk,” Bobby said, thumping his fingers across the bars. “That’s why I’m in this stupid bed.”

I kicked my leg out from under the covers to expose the jagged gash on my leg, all stitched up, looking like a clutter of spiders.

“Wow!” Bobby said. How did that happen?”

Car accident,”

“Ouch!” Bobby said.

“I don’t remember anything.

I became acquainted with bedpans, awkward sponge baths, ugly hospital pajamas, nasty hospital food, and the nurses waking me up in the middle of the night to take my temperature. Some nurses were nice. Some were cranky, but they were all just nameless faces that would come and go.

One day chubby orderly with curly red hair showed up and pushed Bobby and his bed out of the room. He looked like a clown with a circus animal.  Bobby fired his finger-laser at me through the bars. I faked getting hit and fell back on my pillow. When I closed my good eye and opened my bloody eye, Bobby said I made a pretty convincing corpse.

“Where’re you going?” I said.

“It’s movie day,” said the orderly. “I’ll be back.”

I lowered myself off the bed for the first time and walked over to the window. The entire Salt Lake Valley stretched out in front of me. The rocky granite peaks extended far into the distance. Dotted with buildings, the valley was bursting with shades of mossy green, and the sky was that kind of vibrant blue that you only see in summer. Summer wait for me, I need to catch up.
The orderly showed up with a wheelchair and pushed me to the hospital cafeteria, which was set up like a theatre. He positioned my chair on the front row, just as the lights went out. A nurse was passing out ice cream sandwiches. I looked behind me and saw the room full of sick kids, some in wheelchairs, some in beds, some all hooked up to machines, looking up to the screen.  Next to me, a little girl without any hair, held a stuffed elephant in her lap. A cartoon lit up the screen and a chorus of cheers erupted.  After a few minutes I had to close my eyes because my head hurt, but I didn’t care, I just listened to the kids laughing, reacting and eating their ice cream. With my eyes closed, it sounded like we were all normal, healthy kids. It sounded like hope.

Read Part Two

 

 

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

My First Published Essay

ScanThe Portland Mercury News and The Stranger have both published my essay about Al Parker!

There is a link to the full story below. Here is an excerpt:

The first time I saw him was on a giant screen at a bathhouse in the summer of 1984. Sitting on a carpeted banquette, with a only white towel wrapped around me, I watched him climb a tree to rescue a skydiver, tangled in a parachute. He and the skydiver had sex in the tree, of course. The room filled with men, transfixed by the screen. Their faces, illuminated by the flickering light, looked up in awe, as if they were watching a mother ship land.

“Who is that?” I asked the guy sitting near me.

“That’s Al Parker,” he whispered. “He’s a fucking legend.”

Everyone’s focus was on the tan, ripped, bearded man on the screen. With his dark piercing eyes, and chiseled features, he emanated this unapologetic, raw, sexual charisma that I hadn’t seen that modelled before, not in movies or television, and certainly not in Utah, where I’d grown up. The spell in the room broke when the credits rolled. The other guys in towels returned to wandering the bathhouse.

“I’d love to paint him,” I remember thinking.

It wasn’t hard to find Al Parker videos. In many stores, he had his own section. I studied him, his expressions, the way he moved, the way he made sucking cock a religious experience. Maybe I thought that because he reminded me of Jesus. I wanted to be like him. I stopped bleaching my hair and got a shorter cut. I tried growing a beard, but it made me look Amish.

Almost everyone in the public eye—celebrities, politicians, were still in the closet. Gay culture had just entered the nightmare of the AIDS crisis. Living in LA, I worked at the Pleasure Chest, a store that sold biker jackets, leather chaps, boots, hankies (which came with a pocket-sized foldout hanky code), paddles, tit clamps, magazines, and videos. It was a different world back then. Hanky codes and most porn magazines have faded out of existence along with the stores that sold them.

One day, I was holding a twenty-inch double dildo over my shoulder when I saw someone’s reflection in the glass case. “Can I help you?” I said.

I raised my head and it was him, Al Parker “Poppers and one of those cock rings,” he said.  His close-cropped beard revealed naturally rosy cheeks, and his tight jeans accentuated his crotch.

“Size?” I stammered.

“Large,” he said.

“Of course! I mean, coming right up,” I said, sounding like I was serving cheeseburgers. Maybe that’s how I remember it because later, after moving to San Francisco, I got to gaze into his dark, soulful eyes again, while waiting tables at a diner.

Orphan Andy’s was a classic greasy diner with two window tables, a row of booths, and a long counter. The tiffany lamps looked plastic and the fake potted plants looked thirsty. The jukebox played everything from Edith Piaf to the B-52s. Orphan Andy’s existed outside of time. Or in all eras at once. It filled up after the bars closed, sometimes with a line out the door. I worked the quiet afternoon shift. Regulars told me stories about the glory days—before the acronyms and dark diagnoses. Every Thursday, the gay paper was filled with pages of the faces of newly dead men. Ruby, a retired security guard abruptly announced one Thursday, “I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to know anymore—who died,” and slammed her paper down.

“I refuse to go another goddamned funeral,” said Gary, a 76-year-old leather man. “Just throw me over a fucking bridge.”

“Right now?” said Ruby.

“My ashes, you asshole!” Gary said.

Ruby cackled. “After you die old man, I’m not going to make any new friends. I refuse to watch another person wither.”

Grief hung over the city like smog. I hadn’t lost anyone close, but I grieved for how life had been—the smiles I used to get from men on the street, the lingering eye contact, the exchange of glances to the crotch. It was okay if didn’t lead to a hook-up, there was a connection, a mutual sense of “I see you,” a measure of validation. As men were dying, I’d come to feel invisible, like an out of focus extra on the set of someone else’s nightmare.

When the diner was slow, I’d watch the endless parade of strange and beautiful passersby. Sprinkled throughout were the walking sick: gaunt, frail, sallow-skinned men, unable to keep pace with the hurried throngs, sometimes escorted by a partner or caregiver, but mostly alone.

I got tested back in LA, but was too afraid get the results. I’d convinced myself that I was robustly healthy. I took vitamins and had a gym membership. Sometimes I even worked out.  I rarely got sick, except for that ear infection that put me in the emergency room, or those annoying night sweats, and that weird spot on my leg that I continually obsessed over.

In 1992, I turned away from a table of men who’d just placed drink orders. I froze when I realized that one of them was Al Parker. Just try to act normal, I told myself. Then I accidentally knocked down a tower of plastic glasses.

By the time their food was ready, I’d mustered enough courage to say, “Once I sold you a cock ring and a bottle of poppers.” He and his friends laughed.  Then Al Parker introduced himself by his real name—Drew.

Returning to the kitchen, I heard someone call “Shane! Come back Shane!”

Drew was holding up his empty glass for a refill.

“Come back Shane” became our running joke at Orphan Andy’s. When anyone else said it, I grimaced. But when Drew said it, I got goosebumps. He came to Orphan Andy’s often, though never alone. He was either with friends or his partner Keith, who had silver hair and serious crystal-blue eyes, like an Alaskan Husky.Scan

“Has anyone ever painted your portrait?” I asked Drew one day after taking his order.

He laughed. “Yes, as a matter of fact. Quite a few times.” I thought of him sucking dick in that tree. Then he said, “You want me to pose for you?”

In my shock, I didn’t know what to say. I’d never drawn from a live model before.

“I work from photographs,” I said, shyly. “I wondered if you had any pictures I could use, with your permission.”

He smiled and said, “Sure, I might have something,” and reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. “Give me a call.”

Thunderstruck, I took his card.

Continue Reading in The Stranger

Continue Reading in Portland Mercury

 

If you don’t understand the humour of  “Shane! Come back,” this is what he was alluding to:

Dining Room Antlers

This painting was inspired by some wall decor I saw at a retail outlet. White antlers were stenciled on a wood pallet. I decided to replicate the idea on canvass.

IMG_2468

Back in 2004 when I was living in Sonoma County, California, I created a series of small fruit paintings for a gallery in Rhonert Park. What didn’t sell at the gallery, I sold at the Rio Nido Art Festival the following Spring. The two apples in the grass were a commission I did in 2003 when I was still using airbrush.

© 2020 William Lunt

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑