Monday, February 02, 2009

Caffeinated Art and No Rest for the Bleary

by Zinta Aistars

One eye open, I peeked at the clock on the nightstand, and in the next—groaning and tossing out one or two peppery expletives, and this on a blessed Sunday morning—I leapt from bed, hit the ground running, half tumbled down the stairs to the kitchen with hand outreached for the coffeemaker (nectar of the gods if not this Sunday morning’s God, Who no doubt was still chewing on my choice of expletives and contemplating my damnation), realized there was no time, ran back upstairs, skipping steps, and ran instead for the shower. No time. Splashed water on my face, ran a toothbrush over my teeth, jumped into my jeans, nearly toppling over, popped my head through the opening of a sweater, sneakers and socks, hopefully without holes, back downstairs, let the dog out, glopped spoonfuls of cat food into two bowls for two cats who don’t like each other, grabbed the insulin from the refrigerator, stuck a needle in, just to the line, and held up a tent of my poor cat’s much-punctured hide to jab in the injection while he was distracted with his breakfast. He flinched. I apologized. Let the dog back in. Keys, coat, bag, and I was off.

And reached the Water Street Coffee Joint in 25 minutes, bed to coffee counter, in downtown Kalamazoo. Without a speeding ticket. Not that I didn’t deserve one.

My father was already stacking the paintings and framed charcoal drawings along the seats next to the wall. I didn’t want him lifting anything. Not with his spine crumbling to dust, and the last spinal treatment just a week ago, painful process of injecting some kind of steroids into his spinal cord to stop the pain for at least a short while. Which didn’t seem to be working. He was still in pain. He was pretty much always in pain. He was shuffling along, bent forward, rearranging the paintings to a more suitable order.

“I’ll do it,” I said, waving him to sit down. “Just give me a moment.” I looked back at the coffee counter, where a huge blue coffee cup, big enough to be a soup bowl, steamed in seductive invitation. Oh yeah. Oh. Yeah. I sipped, then drank, then gulped. Yeah. Two eyes open.

It was too early for anyone but one other confused soul to be in the coffee shop. I knew I’d pay for a too short night this morning, but I felt terrible not to have beat my folks to the shop door. Mom had set down one of the framed drawings long enough to come over and tuck a stray lank of hair behind my ear. Must look like hell. I rooted around in my jean pocket for a hair band, usually one in there, found one, and did a quick French braid to hold my hair out of my face as I set to work.

Then realized I had no idea what to do. How to do this. Hang paintings. From hooks along the edges of the ceiling, coils of fishing line, at even heights and without sagging away from the walls. Huh. I knew how to supervise this sort of thing, sure, but not the doing it. Simple, right? Our favorite art curator, Kirsten, had gone AWOL to Mexico, who knows if she’d ever come back, but her e-mail had popped up like clockwork in mine a day ago to remind me: another Kalamazoo Art Hop was coming up, and this time, twelve of my father’s works would hang—not in art galleries, not in expansive office building lobbies, but here, in this little coffee shop on the edge of town, in a building I could remember from my very earliest youth, half a century ago, as a gas station. Set right alongside the train tracks. So close its bricks rattled and realigned the mortar every time a train chugged by. Truly charming. Now, clean-faced college youth served coffee here that could put the buck-making Stars of coffee to shame. Along with muffins, pies, scones, beanful salads, chocolaty bars, and cookies as big as your face. Loved it. As did most every other coffee-worshipping soul in Kalamazoo. Thus the expansion to a bigger space, big enough to show off local art, and a second location on the other side of town.

I was guessing my father had a better chance of selling paintings in this coffee joint than in any of the local fine galleries. If, of course, I could figure out how to hang them more or less straight on the walls. I slid out of my sneakers and climbed up on the seats to pry the hooks free along the edges of the ceiling. Fishing line curled from some of them, left by the previous artist. I examined the slip knot used and slowly untied it, memorizing it. Tying it back again wasn’t as easy, but after six of the twelve paintings, hey, I just about got it. The slip knots held, and when I needed a painting to hang lower, I could unslip it a bit to adjust. When I needed one to hang higher, I could simply loop the line around the hook, once, twice, depending on how high I needed it. Then Mom would stand back and say to the right, no, to the left, no, back a bit, no, back more, no, not that much, no, right again, no … until I glared at her and she shushed, grinning. Dad was sitting at a table cutting out labels with painting titles and prices.

By the time I had all twelve hung, many more coffee worshipers had come in. The sun was bright outside, shining in buttery through the wide windows. Or maybe my eyes were just that much more open, two soup bowl mugs of coffee circulating freely now in my bloodstream. I had to shimmy between the java-worshippers at their tables, sipping in their Sunday blessings.

“’scuse me. Don’t mind my leaning over you. ‘scuse me.”

I pressed poster putty in squishy pieces to the backsides of the frames, pressing them against the walls. This was starting to look pretty good. Although I still thought Kirsten, the art curator, had the better idea, crossing the border to warmer climes and an easier pace of life. I had to slow down. Done here, more work awaited me at home. And this was a Sunday, day of rest, if only I could figure out how to schedule some in. Papers to write, submissions to read, interviews to conduct, books to review, articles to write, and here and there, a load of laundry to do.

And still. Standing back to take it in: Kalamazooans sipping java at neat little tables in a sunny coffee joint, my father’s beautiful drawings and dreamy watercolors brightening the place, I took a deep breath. Smiled. My father wrapped an arm around my waist and pressed a kiss on my cheek, “Thank you, Zinti. What would I do without you.”

There would be other Sunday mornings to sleep in.

Viestarts Aistars Art Exhibit

February 1 to March 31, 2009

Water Street Coffee Joint

315 E. Water Street

Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007

(269) 373-2840

ART HOP artist reception

Friday, March 6, 2009

5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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