Friday, March 25, 2011

Hard Candy Fish

When my brother was just four years old, it was clear he had a gift for artistic expression. He'd draw these hilarious faces with lopsided eyes and spindly strands of hair, as do many children, but his showed that he was observing more than appearance and overt emotion. His doodles had their own personalities.

By the time he was in the fourth grade, teachers were noticing his quirky style. He was entered into a local fair that gave prizes for arts, crafts and other accomplishments. His entry was a tall, detailed clay vase. He'd cut out a couple dozen fish, glazed them in watery hues, pieced them together with deliberate holes here and there and fired the thing up in a kiln. A fish vase that, ironically, could hold no water. It won first place... and was promptly stolen. Stolen! Talk about a letdown. Then again, if it was worth stealing it must have been pretty darned special.

There is still that carefree confidence and careful observance in each of his works. His medium is acrylic paint. Years ago he taught himself to work with acrylics almost as if they were oils, but he likes the challenge of the faster drying time and the stability and glow of the finished pieces. Humor and depth, light and shadow, color and line, stories within stories.

He calls this one "Hard Candy Fish"; as dichotomous as the vase.

by Bryan Ubaghs
acrylics on deep-edge panel--no need for framing
Go to comment on this post or tweet me @girlweena for more information.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

License to Dial

A large group of addicts and dealers had gathered on the lawn in front of the bank, openly selling and buying, ignoring their audience unless someone strayed too close. Then they would harass and cajole until the hapless pedestrian backed away in fear. They were drunk, and therefore oblivious their locale, which happens to be one of the busiest corners in North Seattle.

It was before 1:00 p.m. on a Saturday and the bank was still open. I could see the manager and a couple of tellers pressed up against the windows with their cell phones to their ears. I had mine ready just in case, with my trusty but uselessly small canine as back-up.

When the squad car appeared the bank employees hung up in unison, and we watched the loiterers scatter. One guy was cornered by an officer and began to make excuses for his very existence at the top of his lungs. An escapee exaggerated his relief by exclaiming, "Phew! Close one. Phew!" and ducked into the pub, while I showed my relief by high-tailing it home.


"Wish you could hear what I'm thinking, bitch." She and I had just passed each other in the alley, and she hadn't returned my smile--given her stumbling condition, a sign of trouble. I had a pretty good idea what she was thinking. She probably wanted me out of her territory, as would any angry, hungry, terrified dog. "Speaking of bitches..." I wanted to say, but I don't have a death wish.

Now 10 feet behind me, I could feel her glare. Instinctively, I didn't turn around to see if she was still there until I was nearing the street. Then she was gone. I'd won! I felt tough, invincible and large in charge except for the fact that my hand was in my purse, sweatily gripping my cell phone like a loaded gun.


"911, what are you reporting?"

"Yeah, there's a fight in progress. Again." I tried not to sound too apathetic as I watched the man and woman hit each other and throw things at each other while their falling down drunk friends tried to intervene. I dutifully answered questions and provided descriptions using the photo I'd taken. "Looks like a bunch of packages of something white in their trunk. Probably drugs, knowing what goes on around here." *sigh*

"Mmm hmm. Could be. Are you safe?"

"Yes. I'm on the fourth floor of a condo. Some of my neighbors are calling, too. They're safe."

"I can see the other calls coming in. We're dispatching a car, now."

"Thanks." *sigh*

While I'd been on the phone, my neighbor two floors down had had the same conversation with another operator. Her boyfriend had joined her out on the deck, phone in hand. Above and to the left of me, another neighbor on another call, and there were other phones being dialed up and down the street.

By the time the police arrived, we'd watched as the antagonists had driven away with their trunk still open. Officers interviewed inebriated witnesses, quelled tempers and began inspecting the baggies. I went back to the couch.

Later that evening I found a stash of similar baggies behind a bush. They contained tiny white gym socks, breast pumps and bibs. Probably not worth a call to 911, but you just never know around here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Pond

Termites in the walls, icky silverfish in the shower and spiders in the kitchen. Two kids, oblivious to it all, went barreling out the door of grandma's ocean cabin and down the rotting, wormy steps to the back woods. There they discovered The Pond during a mission to get as lost as possible before they were called to dinner.

They'd slept well, after a day of glorious sand, sun and waves. Grandma's falling down, white and red creation of boards and nails was the best thing that ever happened, ever in the history of the universe. They were at ease. Nothing bad ever happened when they were there, except that one time when the antique toaster burned two slices of cinnamon-raisin bread. Everything about that place was so different from their home in Seattle, with the notable exception of the spiders.

The Seattle house had a creepy basement and the furniture couldn't withstand messes. The dog was stuck in the yard, not chasing down birds on a mile of slimy, seaweedy sand. There was gardening and mowing and vacuuming to be done. Such cruelties! At the cabin, a single sweep of a broom sent whatever was on the floor right out into the tall reeds to be eaten by whatever lives in tall reeds.

The Pond was a monumental discovery. It was hidden from the town by overgrown blackberry brambles and fallen trees. It's green algae surface broke in places to trace where ducks had been, and the lily pads were huge. Three generations of frogs could make a home of just one.

Between The Pond and the hills were massive, old growth trees. Many were toppled and being nursed upon by newer varieties. "Nature is always changing," said mom or dad.

After a few minutes of observation, the boy and girl decided The Pond was inaccessible and unnavigable. It was too deep, and the clouds of mosquitoes were like force fields, keeping out the enemy that was Them. But it was stare-worthy, and so they stared for hours until mom's loudest voice broke over the top of the frog chirps. "Dinner!!!"

Should they tell mom and dad about The Pond? Oh, why not. They probably wouldn't believe it, and so the boy and girl simultaneously delivered the exciting news, knowing they could still have their secret but without the guilty feeling of having to sneak.

"Yes, we know about The Pond," said mom or dad. "It's going to be all filled in with dirt to build new, expensive cabins that aren't falling down like this one. Kind of a shame, really, but this land will be worth more in case grandma needs to sell it."

Okay, THAT was the worst thing that ever happened at grandma's cabin.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

By Appointment Only

I've met this kid several times while out walking Sam, and he's a real cute boy in a teen idol kind of way. His approach to me has always been way too friendly for someone his age, kind of like witnessing a very precocious child star being interviewed by Barbara Walters. Engaging. Polite. Funny. Fidgety.

He doesn't appear to be old enough for high school. I'm guessing he's 13 or 14. Always a skinny guy, he hit a growth spurt last year that shot him up at least six inches and his fat stores all went toward that project. When I saw him a couple of months ago he was very, very thin. Now he's even thinner, but not much taller.

Sam and I were coming off of a dicey encounter with a pit bull and I just wanted to get home. The wind and rain, some other dog's shit on my shoe and people in general were pissing me off. As my grumpiness was reaching crescendo a backfiring, gold, 1980s sedan pulled up next to me and one of the back doors opened. Out flew my young acquaintance, buttoning his pants that were now too short and wide for him and closing his filthy, hooded coat tightly around his body. He stumbled a bit, stopped, checked his zipper and turned to the side to watch the car speed away.

He saw me, but he didn't make eye contact. Instead he headed for a dark doorway, still clutching his coat; stopping, bending over, struggling to walk. He looked sick, in pain and riddled with shame.

To have a meet and greet with a kid like that, you sometimes have to make an appointment. Child exploitation stays far underground, as it's more in line with sexual slavery than street prostitution and call-girls. You have to really want it bad to find it.

My state (Washington) is working to change the laws and send kids like him to safe havens, where they would receive proper medical care, drug rehab and counseling. Currently, the safest places for these victims are juvenile detention centers, foster families and adult mental health facilities. But none of these options can teach life skills to a child who doesn't even know he's still a child.

Further reading on this topic: