by Chuck Holmes
Although Clara Mairs had been gone for a good many years, her companion Clement Haupers was still confronting, in a painterly fashion, the canvas daily when—once again—I found myself “between rooms” in St. Paul. Theirs was the Mediterranean green Italianate “villa” perched on the side of Ramsey Hill, across the street and down the bluff a bit from the University Club, that polished old institution which admitted its well dressed guests on a members only basis.
If one stood in the most distant corner of the little park at the corner of Summit and Ramsey Hill, right where it came to a point mimicking the bow of a ship, then one could lean out over the rusty railing, as I so often did, and see the former Mairs and the current Haupers painting studio on the left, and the candlelit wood paneled reception room of the University Club on the right, and—in a masterful stroke of diminishing perspective—the stately shapely wrought iron High Bridge bridging the Mississippi River bluffs at such a steep incline that the force required to mount it could only be measured in brush stroke power. And if there was snow on the ground—and there is often, in St. Paul, snow, great piles of it, on the ground—and if the temperature was such that a snowball could be shaped into the size of a baseball, then it was nearly impossible for me to resist fashioning an icy projectile to launch in the direction of the University Club’s tennis court. I liked to aim for that point where the far baseline met the near sideline. This called for a graceful arc, and if I hit the approximate spot that I was aiming for then I knew I would have good luck in finding my next room or rooms.
I was only obliquely aware of the legacy of Mairs and the existence of Haupers as I descended and ascended on foot that most hidden of St. Paul back roads, the Western Avenue Extension, which ran in back of the before mentioned Mediterranean green Italian style villa whose high French window panes I was so envious of. Going down the bump of a hill toward it, the curious saunterer had an excellent sightline into a third floor painting studio with southern exposure and a view that, while you couldn’t quite see the French Quarter, was still stunning in its all inclusiveness. I was that perverted type of voyeur who, lacking the courage to commit paint to canvas, was still intensely interested in people who were able to do what I could not. And there was no doubt in my mind that in his work, some of which I had just happened to see in a show at the Commodore, Clement Haupers had captured his view as well as mine.
View or no view, I had yet to latch on to my next room. And time was running out. It was nearly the end of the month. The winter was still upon us, and showed no sign of going away. There’s something slightly sing song melancholy about moving in a late afternoon winter’s light. The carrying of boxes down one set of stairs and up another. And if one works in used bookstores for a living, and thereby acquires books almost as a matter of accidental happenstance, then these boxes are heavy, heavy with books, particularly art books.
It’s no good admiring other rooms if one is about to be in the position of not having one of one’s own. And so I set about securing a place of domicile. In desperation I turned to the local and hard-to-take-very-seriously paper, the Pioneer Press. The pioneers had come and gone, the Natives had been mercilessly shunted aside, and Governor Ramsey had proudly displayed Little Crow’s skull on his executive desk for all to see, but I still needed a room to take up residence in. I set aside my historic inhibitions to consult the “rooms for rent” section of the want ads, and it was there that I came across a “room for let” on smug Summit Avenue. Was it possible that I would become a neighbor of the eminent ghost of Mr. Hill? We might ride the same bus, walk the same sidewalk, he in his beard with his pockets bulging, me in my little black Irish fishing cap from dear old Donegal. Hill had tamed the West when he built his fabled Empire Builder, and with his own hands he would have you believe. But I knew better. I had come across an account, while working in the bookstore, of how his train route across the northern Rockies was built on the backbreaking backs of Chinese laborers. Old Hill and his vast collection of ornately framed art—his Millets and his Bougeaureaus—secured with the help of the dirt cheap Asian migrant worker. To hell with Hill, I thought, as I gently punched the doorbell to the right of the obese street entrance to the oldest continuously inhabited house on Summit, where there was a room for rent that I was interested in occupying.
The monstrous door opened slowly, revealing an interior bathed in an antique light. A white baby grand peeked into view, accompanied by a white cat with long hair, an Angora atop the closed piano lid, who raised his or her head in a feigned sort of interest at my entrance. I was ushered inside by a small and slightly stooped-over elderly lady in an embroidered pink silk bathrobe. She was elegantly decrepit in her mismatched slippers. She lived in the midst of a herd of long haired cats of all ages and breeds. And they were everywhere: perching on stools and clawing curtains and pawing cardboard litter boxes. They had the run of the place, and they evidently ran the show. Miss Cook, as she liked to be called, was the artistic ringmaster of this feline menagerie.
The facile beauty of youth still showed through the moles and wrinkles of the white haired woman with the room for rent upstairs. I sensed that she could see back into a past that I could barely imagine. Movies are not to be trusted when it comes to the anterior view. Pervading all their period costuming and set décor is a shallowness which, by the time the credits appear, ends up obscuring everything it purports to bring to light. Books and paintings and music are the more accomplished purveyors of time spans that have preceded the present. But when one is in the presence of an ideal old age which still has its wits about it, the supreme mode of conduct should be to shut up and listen.
The large room off the living room, just past the last scratching post leg of the baby grand, was evidently a studio and an office. It quickly became apparent that Miss Cook had been, and possibly still was, a painter of portraits. For people portrayed in a wide array of profiles hung everywhere on the walls. They were lifelike but somewhat lifeless. I mean that they had ceased to tremble. To achieve a credible likeness, they had had to hold very still, and this stillness had stuck with them. They were fixed in position within their gilt edged frames. Their visages looked down on me, secure in the knowledge that they had been captured—for an eternity perhaps—in a medium which would endure until it was misplaced. The eyes were the only indicator of some inner significance. There were so many of them, and they were all staring at me, as were the cats, who had come, one by one, into the room where the business was done. Miss Cook was studying me as well. She was looking through me, and separating my antecedents into abstract and representative.
In the space of a very short time she made up her mind to rent the apartment to me. She asked if I would like to see it before or after I signed the agreement. Despite what all the portraits eyeballing me seemed to suggest to the contrary, I asked—as politely as I could—if I might see the apartment first.
Miss Cook appeared to be slightly perturbed by my request. It was as if a cat had scratched some litter out of the litter box and on to the carpet. It was something that could be cleaned up—or in my case, managed.
You’re as curious as old Lover Boy over there. Yes, of course, you can see the apartment.
People are more like cats than cats are like people: This thought was tendered to me by the cat on the desk. It was stretched out in a pose of great repose, midway between myself and Miss Cook, as if it were translating some high level diplomatic problem involving trade or security between two overly cautious countries. Miss Cook, speaking through her cat, said that I should immediately indulge my curiosity by going to see the apartment that several other people were very interested in. It had its own private entrance. I would have to go back outside and walk around to the west side of the house. There I would find a door that was locked. I was handed the key to unlock the door. It was all very Alice in Wonderland like. I was to mount the stairs quietly, as there was another renter who worked nights and slept days. The apartment in question was the first door on the right. And the bathroom … the bathroom was down the hall …
The rooms, as it turned out, were ideal. I was immediately smitten by both of them. They were small and low ceilinged, but they let in a view which enlarged them in one glance. I could see my trusty High Bridge, and my equally faithful Northern States Power Company smokestack. And the river was there too, although it would no doubt be hidden once the leaves reappeared. The bathroom that was down the hall—and oddly partitioned in the corner of a large room—was less than ideal. It featured a claw foot bath tub big enough to hold an Alaskan brown bear. But this handsome tub, stained on the inside, was ringed by a shabby shower curtain, which hung suspended from aluminum poles, which were themselves suspended from a high shadowy cobwebbed ceiling, giving the appearance of a Rothko-inspired shower curtain which appeared to float in the ether of its own intransigence. It was a dirty bathroom, one that I might be embarrassed to send guests—especially women—off down the hall to use. But I could live with it, and even clean it, to make it more inviting.
Upon re-entering the abode of Miss Cook, I immediately signed the agreement and paid the first month’s rent and a small deposit. I was told to keep the keys … that they belonged to me now. And if I needed anything—but I was strongly encouraged by the dominant cat not to need anything—why then all I had to do was ring the doorbell. Miss Cook opened the door in mid to late afternoon only. My next month’s rent was due on the first.
It was when I went to pay my second month’s rent, sitting in the same chair before the same desk, but with another cat acting as translator, that Miss Cook related the following story to me: the story of how she came to alight in St. Paul, and of her first experiences in the city that she has never felt fond enough of to call home. I attempted to transpose her multi-toned monologue immediately upon returning to my apartment above her.
But in the meantime—I mean in the time between when I paid my first month’s rent and when I paid my second month’s rent—a show—an art show—came to town—to St. Paul—to the Landmark Center downtown—which I feel that it is chronologically imperative that I speak of next—before I return to Miss Cook—and hear her story—seemingly spoken through her cat—as if Miss Cook was a clever artistic ventriloquist.
It was in the Eighties—a long time ago I know—think early Prince—that an exhibition—a traveling art exhibition—came to St. Paul—a city not on the main line of art exhibitions—and changed the visual perspicuity of many who saw it. For who could look on these late paintings of Munch and not be diverted in some significant way from what, up until then, had been a somewhat purposeless existence. You had only to delve into his Self Portrait in front of Nykirken in Bergen from 1916 to realize that your life was not the same, and would never be the same again. This picture, and many others of equal significance, had somehow found their way across the ocean to you, and were there for the viewing in haughty high ceilinged second floor rooms where no admission was charged. You had merely to come and go of your own free will. What a state! And what a city! It was easy to visit these pictures every day. In the end it was as if you took up residence with them. You carried them home, so to speak. They became part of your consciousness, and informed your every move. They helped you to navigate through your own emotional Scylla and Charybdis. Carrying those heavy boxes of books down one set of steps and up another, there was a sense that in some way Munch was aiding you. For to move is a somewhat strenuous endeavor. On a list of stressful situations it comes in quite high.
Seeing so many self portraits of Munch, one begins to see ones own self portrait, a portrait that has never been—or has yet to be—painted. To be self conscious is not a terrible thing if it avoids the trap of narcissism. And so I began to see myself in rooms, with boxes in the background and foreground. Boxes in various states of being. Some half full, others full, a few empty and ready to be used again. This annual rite of leaving one place and settling in another. Exchanging one view for another view. One comes to a city and establishes not one but a series of residences in it. Each residence becomes a picture or a series of pictures which is registered according to the materials that one has at hand. And then the people who come to share this residence for brief periods of time … they become part of the picture too. If one looks closely, there are pictures within the pictures. Seascapes and landscapes which take the place of that which is either out of sight or irretrievably lost to one forever.
Munch suffered from the Spanish influenza which killed millions, while my malady was a melancholy which, while much less deadly, still left scars upon the heart and mind which stayed with one until the end of their time. Munch suffered from melancholia as well, and became very adept at portraying it. He left his pictures outside at times to soak in the Norwegian rain and snow. I too left certain memories outside, and I rarely let them back in to warm themselves at the radiator. I preferred that they exist externally. I revisited them—as I revisited the Munch show—over and over that winter, walking down the hill to downtown St. Paul, and to the little square framed by the main library and the St. Paul Hotel and the Ordway Theatre and the Landmark Center: temporary repository and to my mind a temple now dedicated to the work of Munch. From which I had so much to learn. To which I visited and revisited, always bringing something new home with me, something to reflect upon as I went about doing other things.
The Munch show, with its women on the shore and their women on the bridge, and the ever present woman standing by the bed or lying on the bed with her hair mussed and her entire personality seemingly out of sorts, convinced me of the necessity of having a woman in my life, to fill out my picture and give it a perspective which it lacked: a feminine presence to play off of my solitary masculinity trudging around in the snow like a Zchivago looking for his Laura. There was an emptiness to my existence which the Munch paintings had only served to highlight, and so I kept my eyes open for a woman who might fulfill my needs, and to whom I, in turn, would bring something which her life presently lacked.
After a hiatus brought on by a disappointment in love which had been healed to the point where I could once again become engaged with desire, I actively began to pursue women again. My method of pursuit was more passive than aggressive however, and this meant that I was not often successful. And I had little money for entertainment, and no car, and a clean but simple and somewhat somber lodging situation that I was unsure of inviting a “date” back to. But I did have a plan, and my plan was this: to invite a woman to visit the Munch show with me, and to judge her reaction to it, and therefore come to know her, immediately and forthwith, for what was and is and some day might be. Because Munch had laid out all the passionate situations of life right there for all to see, in large oils that looked back at you even as you looked at them. So that there was nothing between the canvas and the viewer, nothing else that could intrude upon the emotions but that which was directly in front of us.
It was an ideal situation, set up perfectly for me really, a delectable tonic for my at times paralyzing shyness. You see, Munch would lay bare the emotions that I could not express. He would do the work for me, and the woman that I was with would have this artistic experience of an almost religious significance which would either unite us in desire or tear us asunder and drive us apart in disgust. It would either be one or the other, with nothing in between: a no man’s land of a wandering and separate existence until the end of personal time …
It was an experiment, one that could only be concocted by a repressed person who spent too much time with books and paintings and music and movies, and who was somewhat separated from the realities of everyday lover to lover existence. But I was willing to pursue it, spurred on by the freedom of expression with which Munch wielded his paint brush.
But first—first I had to pay my rent again.
First I had to scrape together the money to pay the rent. It’s not easy when you get paid in cash every day. I always had paper currency in my pocket, but not a lot of it. I liked to eat in restaurants, as single people do who can ill afford it.
I was a few days late. As before, I rang the door bell. It was late afternoon when I was ushered in. I took more notice of the large room, looking beyond the cats and past the piano. The windows facing the bluffs took in the same view that I had from up above. Cats were rubbing against my legs and leaving a few strands of their long hair behind as I came face to face with a few of the many portrait paintings hanging on the lavender walls. Miss Cook was adept at depicting life on the surface, while avoiding all of the expressionist interior turmoil which Munch liked to bring out as a way to move his paint around. Beautiful cats, each one with a name out of the chorus line of the Ziegfeld Follies, competed for my attention like jealous grisettes.
Miss Cook, in a light blue bathrobe and matching slippers, motioned for me to follow her into the office. We had business to conduct. It was my only reason for being present. Otherwise I would not have interrupted Miss Cook’s valuable time. Once again I was seated in the armless chair with the cushion one sank into as if in a dream. Once again I was captivated by the photograph of the man wearing a whale of a fedora and sucking on a large cigar, the smoke of which obscured his dusky face. Miss Cook put on the eyeglasses which were waiting for her on the glass-topped desk. She peered at me as if she were seeing me for the first time.
I removed the roll of folded bills from my left shirt pocket and counted it quickly, both for my own connivance and for Miss Cook’s. Then I laid them all in numerical order, from greatest to least, on the glass top of the ornate desk which separated landlady from renter. It crossed my mind that this was a ceremony, and that I as a novice had to familiarize myself with the rituals, as well as the order in which they were conducted.
The flattened roll of bills remained on the desk where I had placed it. I would not say it was hard earned, but I would not say it was soft earned either. It was simply unreported earned income derived from the resale of used books bought cheaply and sold to collectors with a passion for their collecting interests.
Miss Cook was interested in none of this. She did not care how I earned my money, only that I paid her the agreed upon sum in an orderly and calendar-appropriate fashion. She did not find it necessary to have to state any of the pre-ordained conditions. They had been agreed upon in advance. In dealing with older people—as I very often did at the bookstore—many of the varieties and vagaries and vulgarities of life are simply understood for what they are and always have been, and so it is not necessary to waste words.
The receipt for my rent remained to be filled out. Miss Cook took up a rococo pen from the glass topped desk. The receipt book was … where was the receipt book? Several drawers had to be fumbled through before it was finally located, and with a gasp of relief, for it had been feared by Miss Cook—without her saying so—that it might be lost. So many things got lost, and the cats were usually to blame, for they liked to knock things off of high places, just to watch them fall to the floor. Such are the ingenious games that house bound cats like to play, to the displeasure of their mistress.
The date? The space to the right of the date had to be filled in. But what was the date? Rather than volunteer an approximate one, I waited for Miss Cook to clarify it for her own assurance on the little calendar propped on the glass-topped desk. Magnifying glass in hand, I could see her zeroing in on the month and day, using powers of elimination with exponents that could only be guessed at by a soon to be middle aged man on the make for a woman in the ballpark of his age.
The date filled in, Miss Cook moved on to the name. My name. She had forgotten it. It would be necessary for me to remind her of it. She led me to believe that she would not forget it again. I watched her write it. She made disparaging allusions to her once fine penmanship which had deteriorated into a scrawl. She wrote my first name, and then put her pen down to rest. A cat jumped up on the desk, and she gathered it into her lap and gave her a few strokes under the chin, while at the same time launching into a brief story—a soliloquy really—delivered and enunciated with a creakingly calm passion—which I immediately wrote down upon returning to my room and pulling a chair close to the window, and with the sound of her words—their timbre and tone and stresses and punctuations—still sharp and clear in my mind:
My hand shakes . . .
The mind wanders . . .
I’ve got so many things to think about . . .
The house gets cold. I go to put on more clothes.
Someone knocks at the door. The phone rings.
How can I work with all these interruptions?
Life was much less hectic when I started out.
I got off the train. I didn’t know a soul. My brother had said I was a fool, a complete idiot. I just laughed. I’d carried my own bags to the station. No one had come with me. Those were the days when women who traveled alone were . . . What’s a polite name for them? I don’t know . . . I couldn’t have been anything else but an artist. It was in my bones, in my heart, in my soul if I have one. But no one else could see it. Of course they couldn’t! What do you expect? There was no such thing as a woman artist in Nez Pierce, Idaho. She just didn’t exist.
Here Miss Cook took up her pen again. Although this time she grabbed another pen, the one with a tiny plastic quill on the end. She asked me, without apology, how to spell my last name. There was an ‘L’ in it that she couldn’t hear clearly when I pronounced it. And so I spelled my name for her again. She wrote it out with difficulty. The color of the ink did not match that of my first name. But this made no difference to me. Meanwhile, another cat had joined the fray by bounding up onto the desk and spilling a cup of what appeared to be very old coffee.
In a brew of disgust and exhaustion, Miss Cook dropped the pen on the desk. She removed her glasses, and continued her story:
St. Paul was the first town I came to after the frontier. I mean a town that was really a town. I got off the train and looked around. Men appeared out of nowhere saying: ”Can I help you, miss?” I told them to go away, leave me alone! I had to get my bearings. It was a big jump. I carried my bags myself, and the first hotel I came to wanted too much money. It was the same with the next one. By the fourth or fifth hotel I decided it must be the going rate. But I still kept going. I never looked back.
As Miss. Cook talked, her eyes glazed over, and I surmised that she was looking back and telling me what she saw. She was seeing the streets and the horse-drawn trolleys and the men in hats leaning against lamp posts smoking and the ladies with long dresses and carrying umbrellas—or parasols—and lifting their dresses to avoid them getting wet or muddy, but not exposing any ankles—no—no bare ankles. It was another time, and how was it different from the way she saw it—looking back—from the way it really was?
Nez Pierce is just a memory. The house where we lived, the little school on the hill, the horses on Main Street . . . all just . . . memories . . .
She paused to ask me how I liked my room. Or rooms, I should say, she said, smiling to herself. I said that I liked them fine. I didn’t say anything about the dirty bathroom down the hall.
I’m glad, she said. I’m glad that you’re happy here. She was anxious to get back to her story. Her train of thought would desert her if she didn’t continue:
I finally found a small room. The desk clerk was rude but I didn’t care. It wasn’t a cheerful room by any means. I think I stayed a week. That was my introduction to St. Paul. I collapsed on the bed and slept. When I woke up several hours later I was a new person. I looked out my window and saw all the people in the street. I never had the slightest doubt as to my ability to succeed as an artist in their town, which I was soon to make my town, unbeknownst to them.
She took up her pen again. Only the amount of my rent remained to be filled in. Then the receipt would be complete.
How much did you pay me?
I looked at the stack of bills. I didn’t have to count them again to give her the amount. My easily earned used book money. Getting paid to read. A musty library of the world’s paperbacks at my fingertips. My current favorites. Their stylistic rhythms running through my mind, even as I looked above her head to the large framed black and white photograph. A mustachioed man with his fedora slightly askew. A fat cigar between his lips. Consumed by smoke. The mists of time. Paradoxes in the air. History as a farfetched possibility.
It was apparent that Miss Cook was worn out with the weariness of old age. Time to lie down and regenerate. Cats for comfort. She saw me looking at the photograph above her head. She did not have to turn around to be reminded of the visage.
All the men wore hats back then. I painted them with their hats on. The ladies frowned a lot. I painted them frown and all. I was a quick worker, full of confidence. Children of course are much harder to paint. They won’t sit still. Now I paint from snapshots. I study them over. I take my sweet time …
They want it finished by Christmas or a birthday.
I do the best I can.
My hand shakes …
The mind wanders …
There was a customer—not frequent, but not infrequent—who came in the bookstore looking for books about beauty. She herself was a beauty, and on one occasion I subverted my shyness by asking her, as she was digging for cash in her purse to pay for a paperback of photographs by Imogen Cunningham, if she’d like to go see the Munch show with me. She’d heard about the Munch show, but when she’d read in a review that the famous Scream was not included, she’d lost interest. I gave her my take on the show, telling her how emotional and compelling it was. I said that there were paintings of great beauty in downtown St. Paul, and that they were going back to Norway soon, and might never be seen again on this side of the pond. Why don’t you come with me? I asked as I returned her change. Saying that I’d given her too much, she handed me back a dollar.
Her name was Tulla, and she agreed to meet me at the Rice Park entrance to the cavernous Landmark Center the next day. It was mid-afternoon, and quiet as a monk inside. We walked between smooth shapely columns, heading for the stairway to the second floor. The stale air of a multitude of unacknowledged injustices seeped into our lungs like second hand smoke. On the wall near the base of the stairs a black bulky Louise Nevelson assemblage held court. It was interesting, but questions of carpentry aside, it was nothing compared to what awaited us upstairs.
Tulla Larson had modeling aspirations. In fact, she’d already done some slim jeans modeling. She certainly had all the requirements for the profession, including a countenance that never appeared to look at anything very intently. She had the model’s smirk of a moon face. It was ok to look at her, she seemed to unhesitatingly suggest, just as long as she didn’t have to look at you. Models, of course, are only comfortable with other models. I was anything but a model … had nothing of the model about me. No set lines, no classic proportions, no poses, nothing that would in any way recommend me to the pages of a magazine. But as the song says, I had time on my side, for the time window for modeling is short, and the days fade into one another, and one day the models join the non-models, not on the glossy pages at the checkout counter, but in the aisles themselves, the aisles of the frozen food section. Tulla herself was between photo shoots, working a job at the mall selling chocolates.
The Landmark Center has marble stairs with brass railings, and you mount these significant stairs in anticipation of what is waiting for you on the floor above. At one time it had been a courthouse, but now it was—among other things—an art gallery—or an art museum—which is possibly more precise, because Munch’s paintings were not for sale, but were simply traveling around, visiting here and there, astonishing one and all with their impatient virtuosity.
I didn’t have to wait long to see Munch’s brushstrokes work their magic on Tulla. Despite the arrogance that came with her profession, she had always left the impression of being somewhat unsure of herself, until she came to stand in front of Munch, who believed (according to an introductory message posted at the entrance to the exhibit) “that each painting is an individual trying to achieve something of its own.”
Munch’s models seemed more like symbols than individuals, but Tulla—rather than being deflated by their shadowy appearance off to the side of the man—appeared to become empowered by their silent brazenness.
If you pay heed to the maxims of that chauvinistic St. Paul leprechaun who haunts the halls of the Landmark Center, then there’s nothing more erotic in everyday life than watching the way a woman reacts to a painting in a gallery. She responds physically by placing her hands on her hips and confronting the painting directly, while her eyes dart soulfully from one area of the painting to the other, as if they were a pair of cardinals looking for a place to build a nest. Eventually they alight on the woman, for the man is cut off by his poverty and his shame and his abject melancholy. It is the woman who is facing the horizon, that bluey edge way out there, the unfathomable sea from which the future will come riding in on the crest of a wave.
“I am beginning to see the resemblance between women and flowers,” Munch wrote in a letter which was reproduced on a gallery wall, as an introduction to paintings from the gardens and orchards of Munch’s studio at Ekely near Oslo. Coincidentally, Tulla was wearing pants, tight pants, leotard-like, with a floral design, which her hands, still on her hips, assuaged and massaged as she moved from one painting to another in the confrontational manner of a woman trying to get at the heart of the matter.
I myself was stranded between Two Women on the Shore and Melancholy. The brooding figure in the lower right hand corner of the latter was me. Not all of the time. Just some of the time. On winter nights at the window, looking at the last bit of light in the west. It was suggested by the mounted card between the paintings that I was to take these pictures as “allegories of youth and old age.” For a brief moment I juxtaposed Tulla’s youthful hands-on-her-hips figure before me with that of Miss Cook’s aged and stooped over posture. The brushstrokes on the canvas helped to hold each of these images in place for me in my mind. Was I seeing paintings in addition to the ones before me?
I felt Munch’s painterly melancholy infusing me, even as it held sway over Tulla in yet another way, to the point where, once back outside and walking up the hill toward the Cathedral, she seemed to have developed a new resolve, which caused her to walk brusquely and purposefully, as if she had somewhere important to be.
My next rent paying session was conducted a few days after the start of the month—a particularly cold and bitter one that clutched in its bite the force to frost over windows and make the geriatric radiators clink and clank non-stop. Having heard my stories about Miss Cook and her portraits, Tulla insisted on accompanying me.
After I introduced them, and even as she was addressing me, Miss Cook couldn’t seem to take her eyes off the still shivering Tulla, who basked in this unabashed inspection, soaking it up like a sieve as she fell into one pose after another.
Slightly annoyed, I turned my attention, as in previous sessions, to the large black and white textured photograph which hung slightly aslant just above Miss Cook’s head as she sat at her desk.
Miss Cook somehow noticed my more than fleeting interest in the photograph.
She felt it necessary to introduce us:
“That’s Mr. Hodgeson!” she said, slightly contemptuously.
“He always had a cigar in his mouth. And his hat was ever present. As was the cigar smoke.”
As if on cue, three equilibristic cats simultaneously jumped up in as many laps, just as Miss Cook was handing me a receipt for my rent. Something humorous came to mind as she leaned back in her chair. She laughed, and then, in spite of her sense of propriety, she laughed again, louder this time, nearly a full scale belly laugh, erupting forth from some long ago and yet ever present memory, which an older person—providing he or she still has one—is adept at keeping on the tip of their conversational tongue.
Tulla laughed too, a corresponding laugh, though hardly an echo. It was this return of a laugh that (I can see now in retrospect) cemented their relationship.
Miss Cook leaned foreword and spoke to Tulla as if she, and not I, was the renter. And not only a renter, but a reporter. A reporter, not from the staid old stale old Pioneer Press, but from the sexy New York Times, who had come on assignment out to the hinterland to interview her—Miss Cook, artiste—on her relationship with a certain Mr. Hodgeson.
Miss Cook began—not at the beginning, as any simpering neophyte would be expected to—nor at the end, as is the wont of a director who is overly fond of the flashback—but somewhere inside the inexhaustible middle:
We were standing on the Wabasha Bridge, watching the barges and boats, when out of the blue he asked: Will you marry me?
A year later, while admiring the rose gardens in Como Park, he repeated his proposal.
The third time was at Indian Mounds Park after a fireworks show. At least allow us to become engaged, he said.
What an odd way to put it, I thought.
Then I said—because I suddenly felt sorry for the man—You can become engaged to me, as long as I don’t have to become engaged to you.
And that was our agreement, until Mr. Hodgeson passed away in 1949, without ever realizing his dream of being elected mayor, or of marrying me.
He was a good friend, a dear friend of Sinclair Lewis, and I was to paint a portrait of Lewis, but this—like many another of Mr. Hodgeson’s ideas—did not actually happen.
I believe that for Mr. Hodgeson it was the idea itself that was important, and the actual carrying through of the idea was not necessary, was even to be avoided.
“Do either of you mind if I smoke?” Miss Cook asked me.
“Oh no, not at all.”
“Neither of you smoke, I take it?”
This was a lie. I occasionally smoked pot.
“Good. And actually, I don’t allow smoking upstairs, so it’s a good thing that you don’t smoke, because otherwise I’d have to throw the both of you out!”
Here she laughed again, perhaps at the thought of having to toss us out of her house for smoking.
With a flourish, Miss Cook struck a match and lit a cigarette (she smoked the same brand as my grandmother) and fixed her cloudy eyes on Tulla.
“An aquiline profile and almond shaped eyes. Look how languid she seems. Lost in a secret daydream. She has this flowing elegance, doesn’t she? An Eighteenth Century face, gentle and sullen at the same time. Where have you been all my life, dear?”
“But where was I?” she wondered out loud in my direction.
“Oh yes, Mr. Hodgeson! He was …”
She felt it necessary to take a puff and re-gather her thoughts concerning Mr. Hodgeson, which had evidently been superseded by a potential “portrait in the offing” during the ensuing cigarette break.
Her thoughts sufficiently gathered, she began again:
We were sitting in the shelter of the little park with the fountain at the corner of Summit and Western, when suddenly he got down on his knees and put the damn ring on my finger, kissing it before and after. He then recited a fragment of Stevenson from ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’, which I assumed that he had memorized for the occasion. But in fact he read it off a plaque which was directly behind me, but which he could see, the old codger.
You see, life to Mr. Hodgeson wasn’t serious, but merely the backdrop to a play—a high school play, it seemed to me—but to him it was an opera, a grand opera!
He reveled in the melancholy of the late fall, insisting that I leave my studio in the late afternoon to accompany him on a purposeless walk up Ramsey Hill to ‘see the leaves,’ as he put it, stopping from time to time to take a quick sip from the flask that was always with him, as were the cigars, the smoke, the hat, and the mustache.
We had very little in common. Not only was he much older, and of an entirely different stripe, but I was not—in any way—in love with him. And yet I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t have married him after all.
Poor man! He met a tragic end, shooting himself in the heart under the Payne Avenue Bridge in the dead of winter. He was destitute at the time.
I sold my ring in 1950, and used the money for a down payment on a house—this house in fact!—on Summit.
“Would either of you mind if I have a little drink?” Miss Cook politely inquired.
“Not at all!” Tulla enthused.
“You don’t drink, do you?”
“Noo … “ I said hesitantly
But again I had fibbed. Because in my rattling refrigerator was half a bottle of a French white Bordeaux. It was keeping cool between the milk and the juice.
“Good! Because if you did drink, I would have to ask you to leave. Because I don’t allow drinking upstairs. That’s rule number one!”
As if out of nowhere, a bottle of brandy and a spotted glass had appeared suddenly on her desk.
With the appropriate ceremony, Miss Cook poured herself a small glass of brandy.
She stole a quick sip, and her obvious delight in the taste and the after taste was readily apparent.
Buoyed by a brief burst of energy, Miss Cook asked that I return my rent receipt to her, that she might ‘dash off a quick sketch’ on the back of it.
“I might have to have you wear a hat, dear, just to enhance the oval of your face. I’ll need something to frame the curves in those cheeks too … as well as the charming ridge of the nose … but what?”
She sketched on in silence for a few minutes, before letting her pen fall of its own accord on to the glass-topped table.
“Look how she leans back … perpetually leaning backward in a poor state of posture … just like I did when I was her age.”
After another in a series of “quick sips,” Miss Cook herself then leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, reciting what followed in a very pleasing stream of consciousness delivery:
I still have a clear picture of Mr. Hodgeson in my mind, as he was on the first day he came into my studio without knocking, spouting his opinions on art and politics in a non-stop monologue, while at the same time imploring me to Get my tie right! For this portrait that I was painting would one day hang in City Hall. Whatever became of that portrait? I know that it existed because I painted it! It was not just another dream of Mr. Hodgeson’s. How I fussed over that red tie! And the smoke from his cigar gave me many problems. To capture something as fleeting as smoke on canvas! I would never take on something so difficult these days. My eyes were watering, and I started to cough. I stepped back from my easel. I could hardly see it! My tiny studio on Sixth Street was filled with cigar smoke. Mr. Hodgeson struggled up from the sofa and flung open the door, fanning it back and forth. He took me by the arm and led me out onto the sidewalk. The fresh air immediately revived me. He suggested we go for a walk. The Mississippi would rejuvenate me, he assured me. We walked out on the Wabasha Bridge, stopping at what he said was the exact midpoint to admire all the boats and the barges. Out of the blue he asked me:
Will you …
Will I what?
I’d invited Tulla over for dinner, and so I had to clean my apartment and its accompanying but somewhat cut off bathroom down the hall …
Down the hall! How those words ring out as a sense of direction gone to seed.
After the candles were lit, my apartment would be cozy enough. It just needed some cleaning and polishing. I began with the windows, squirting them with the blue fluid which promised an ever-lasting sharpness of spectacle. I used old socks, inserting a hand into one, spraying and then rubbing for all I was worth, small circular furious strokes. I would have liked to wash the outside too, but the cold prevented it. The outside would have to wait ‘til spring. Not that spring was a given.
Tulla was spring-like. She was lively, and she had a nice smile, and she dressed oh so stylishly. She liked art, and was now a believer in Munch. We worshiped at the same shrine. I got out my books on Munch, dusted them off and casually arranged them on the little table in front of the couch. The couch that became a bed at a certain hour of the day, and which in turn became a couch again, although it always seemed to leak a little scrap of bed sheet trying to expose itself from within.
There had been cobwebs in the ceiling corners, and these had been dutifully dispatched. The walls harbored mice, but they kept out of sight, although the young ones did not know when to stop their incessant squeaking. I would drown out that sound with some tunes from my tiny tape player.
Tulla was living with a musician: an electric bass player. I had to be careful what I played for her. She distrusted the blues; she objected to jazz; she was easily bored by classical.
The air inside my two rooms was charged with excitement as I awaited her arrival. And then she was there, in a clever hat and thin slacks and a colorful mitten and boots which reached nearly to her knees.
Was she hungry? Yes, she was famished. The eggplant parmigiana needed another fifteen minutes. We would drink some wine in the meantime. She would briefly, and rather obliquely, admire my view. She wouldn’t praise it to the skies though. That was left for me to do. To which she turned a deaf ear. She had very pretty ears, and her lobes were adorned with a tiny shell each, which allowed her to listen in on the ocean’s roar even as we chatted.
We had a way of talking past each other, as a means to cover over our philosophical divide. There was her girlhood to rehash, which was much nearer in time to her than my boyhood was to me. She still had a trifle of the little girl about her. It revealed itself when she laughed. I guessed that her beauty had been taken advantage of, probably more than once. There was an inherent shield of mistrustfulness in her demeanor, which no used bookseller on earth had the skill to pierce.
When I tried to turn the conversation back to art—and specifically to Munch—she reflected my nerviness back at me, a little too harshly for my taste. It was then I remembered that she was indeed the very image of Munch’s The Woman on the Shore. She was not there to look at me, but rather out to sea, as she waited patiently for her eggplant baked in the Italian style.
“Maybe we should start on the salad while we’re waiting,” she suggested.
It was a spinach salad, with invigorating iron-clad greens smuggled in from warmer climes, as the latest snowflakes pelted the windows, and the radiator rose up in arms to assert its authority over our comfort zone.
Dear Tulla, don’t allow me to ever forget how you parted your bangs as you ate the spinach salad sprinkled with fresh parmesan and chopped pecans and raspberry vinaigrette. You were a picture waiting to be painted; you blessed my rooms with your artistic presence; you reserved any comments concerning my choice of music or my disregard for stylishness in my manner of dress. Your forkfuls of spinach initially appeared too big for your small mouth, but you managed to stuff them in there, and gracefully. And what is more, you chewed with your mouth closed. Your jaw worked diligently and resourcefully to Fletcherize each mouthful. I saw you swallow like the rare bird that you were, always in flight from island to island. Your neck was as elegant as any heron’s. No other word but elegant will do in describing it. There was nothing of the vampire about you. Munch would have begged you to come to his Eckly retreat to be his model. He would not have left you out in the rain and the snow, and neither—and never—would I.
But Munch could not have you. You were mine that night, the steaming eggplant on the table between us. You held your glass out to me, and I refilled it until you said “That’s enough!”
It was not enough, but you said that it was enough, and I respected your wishes, and so refilled my glass, which just about did it for the green bottle, a chess piece with the moves of a tenacious and devouring Queen.
We talked and ate, and ate and talked. I remember the cat which joined us for dessert. He’d snuck up from downstairs and scratched at the door. He’d asked for and received a taste of the banana cream pie. You had some on the corner of your mouth, which you didn’t quite remove with your deft pink tongue. How that white and yellow smudge served to highlight your oh so thin lips. Everything about you was thin back then. It was your profession, your creed. Although you had a few rather oversized friends. You spoke of them to me that evening in endearing terms.
The dinner over, we repaired to my sitting room.
Almost immediately, you asked to use the bathroom.
I directed you to it.
You got up and left.
There was a void in your absence.
The room was empty, the silence deafening.
The mice in the wall rushed in to fill the vacuum with their infernal squeaking. Old houses are perpetual havens for such stealthy furry rodents. Were they simply begging for something to eat? Had they tired of chewing on the lath and plaster? Theirs was a world I had little knowledge of.
The cat in turn became interested in these unseen but ever-present creatures.
I tapped and rapped on the wall to hush them up. They briefly ceased and desisted.
I knew nothing of Tulla’s relationship with mice, although I suspected that it was an uneasy one.
She was gone a long time …
With my bare hand I wiped the fog from the window opposite the couch …
When she finally returned, it appeared as if she might have had a distasteful experience. She washed her hands thoroughly in my kitchen sink. She asked for and received a clean towel to dry them with. They were quite beautiful hands. The fingers were long and supple. I wanted to ask her if she had ever played the piano.
The evening proceeded fitfully after that.
We sat together on the couch …
She appeared somewhat sleepy.
A painting on the wall opposite the couch—an abstract watercolor—reminded her of a Mark Tobey.
So she knew Tobey! Or she knew of Tobey …
We talked about Tobey. And we talked about the artist who had painted the watercolor, a friend of mine named Koppert.
She said she had some Tobey’s. Prints of Tobey’s. Numbered but not signed.
We briefly touched on abstract art vs. representational art.
And photographic portraits vs. painted portraits.
Had anyone ever painted her portrait? Taken a picture of her?
She was a model. She’d been photographed since she was a baby. She had always been beautiful, she said. But lately, she added, she’d begun to notice that her beauty was fading. She’d discovered a wrinkle …
No, no one had ever painted her portrait … until Miss Cook …
“Miss Cook is painting your portrait?”
“You know what she said the first time I posed for her? She said ‘I’ll paint you if it’s the last thing that I ever do!’ And then she asked me to take off my clothes.”
“And so … did you?”
“When a great artist asks you to take off your clothes, you take off your clothes. When I put them back on, they were covered with cat hair.”
I reminded her of what Munch had said in regard to portraiture. It was in a collection of his writings. I’d read it earlier in the day, so that it was fresh in my mind.
She was leaning back against the couch. Her eyes were closed. It looked like she might be about to fall asleep. Her Nordic eyes, and the skin so smooth surrounding them. Dazzling eyes, full of fun. Now slowly closing.
“What did Munch say?”
“Munch said that a portrait should not look like the sitter.”
“And that it should be art.”
“What should be art?”
“Why wouldn’t it be art? Especially if Munch—or Miss Cook—painted it! Then it would have to be art, wouldn’t it?”
She turned toward me.
“I’m confused … “
After I kissed her, she said that no one had kissed her in a long time.
A neighbor was out shoveling snow. He looked up and saw us romancing through the window, which had not had a chance to fog back over. As it was too late by then to close the curtain, I left it open. The hell with it, I said, strictly to myself.
The view, the view …
Always the view …
“I want to be just like Miss Cook when I’m old,” Tulla insisted. “Exactly like her. A tough old lady who answers to no one. And with a herd of cats around me. I might take art lessons, so that I can paint nudes when I’m her age too. I’ll paint young nude guys until … until I lose my marbles, I guess …”
My memory fails me …
Fails me completely …
I’m getting senile … and worse …
I can’t remember anything … anymore …
Although I didn’t conduct a head count, I sensed somehow (the faint sound of a closet-bound cat in heat) that Miss Cook’s cat population was on the increase. There were multiple Miss Prissys, and no shortage of Lover Boys either.
Miss Cook pointed in disgust to the frosted-over window:
Why did I ever come to this godforsaken place? Each winter colder than the last. If you could see where I grew up … Across the road from our house was the loveliest field of wheat in the world. It was forever raining; either that or the sun was so hot, the wind blew the dust. Dust, rain, wind, sun. The weather then was just like people now … can’t make up their minds …
Tulla couldn’t come to a decision. She said she wanted to leave the guy who never kissed her for the guy who always wanted to, but she wasn’t quite sure, because the new guy’s place was pretty small, and the bathroom down the hall was disgusting, to say the least …
This mansion was a mess when I moved in. Can you imagine why? Right here on Summit Avenue. Do they still call them whore houses? The first thing I did was kick them all out. They had one day … and then they were gone. Every last one of them!
O … to have lived in New Orleans in the days of Jelly Roll and Buddy Bolden and Storyville and the photographer Bellocq. Why wasn’t I there then? Besides not being born yet. I listen to the recorded music, and I read about it, and look at the pictures. But to have been there! To have left the river and walked through the French Market, past the long strings of garlic, and tomatoes the size of cantaloupes, and then head straight north through the narrow streets until I heard the sound of the piano, and saw all the girls …
You should have seen the mess! I called in the fumigators. The walls were crawling with bugs and spiders. There were bats in the attic. Rats in the basement. The roof leaked. To fix up an old house like this took every cent I had. And then it’s always something else that goes wrong. I paid a man thousands to fix the roof. It still leaks …
Decay and decadence part of the air you breathe in New Orleans. Cockroaches the size of a large showerhead. Those Streetcar Named Desire late afternoon downpours. Then the sun pops right back out like a jack-in-the-box. People sitting on their front steps, their front porches, fanning themselves with the society section of the Picayune. Lots of stuff that needs doin’. But it can wait ‘til it cools off a bit.
I’ve had good and bad luck with my boys. None of them pay their rent on time. They’re always a month or two behind. What can you do? You can’t put them out on the street.
The streets of New Orleans. Roughed up and bumped up by the roots from their ancient live oaks. Trees that refuse to go away until their day is done. The shade they provide is contagious. Take the shady side of the street. The side that Booker and Long Hair and Dr. John worked.
With the exception of the old gentleman in Number Six. He pays his rent at noon on the first. He’s a nice old man, but nosey. He helps out around the place. In the winter he shovels. In the fall he rakes. In the summer he mows. In the spring he insists on helping me plant my flowers, but he only gets in the way. He means well. He’s been here nearly as long as I have. Never married. Retired on a pension from the railroad. Walks to the store every day. Eats like a bird. Goes to bed at sunset and gets up at sunrise. Walks down to the library every afternoon at one, and sits in the reading room reading newspapers until four, then walks back up the hill for his bath and his can of soup. What a life! Always prying into my affairs. Wants to do this. Wants to do that. Tells me about the other boys. I don’t care what they do so long as they don’t have women over. I won’t tolerate any hanky-panky in my house! If they do, out they go. They’re gone!
Handy hanky dandy panky. On the couch with winsome Tulla. A smile unbeknownst to Munch’s demoiselles. Her eyes narrowing, her cheek bones rising, her lips laughing. Tickled by something I said. As pretty a picture as you could hope to find in a night’s romp through the mountainous snow banks of latter day St. Paul. Tulla wait! Don’t leave yet. There’s something that I want to ask of you.
A man came to my door yesterday … or the day before … As big as life he said: My name is so and so, I own such and such, and I’ve come to make you an offer for your house. I said: I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you own, this house isn’t for sale, so get the hell out of here! Now! You should have seen his mouth drop. He turned on his heels and waltzed off. And don’t ever come back! I shouted. I treat fire inspectors, religious fanatics, real estate agents, insurance salesmen, and girl scout cookies all the same way. First I smile sweet as I can to disarm them, and I can see they’re thinking: What a nice old lady. Then I let them have it with both barrels: Bam! Bam! They can’t get away fast enough.
Tulla had to go. She practically sprang off the couch. Found her sweater, pulled it over her head, jamming her arms through the sleeves. “Where’s my coat? Oh, here it is. I found it. You don’t have to get up. I’ve only got one mitten. Where’s the other one? If you find it, save it. I’ll see you again soon. Do you have to work tomorrow? I know I do. Where’d you put my boots? O, here they are. You don’t have to go out with me. I’m not like some helpless clueless kind of girl. I can find my way to my car. I hope it starts. It’s colder than hell, isn’t it? I should use the bathroom again before I go but … I think I’ll wait. I can always stop at a gas station if I have to. Okay. Bye!”
I don’t know what accounts for my constant foul mood. The only ones I’m nice to are my pussy cats. You see Lover Boy sitting over on the sofa? I’d do anything for him and he knows it. If he wants to use the Steinway for a scratching post, that’s ok. If he wants to walk on the keys and play a tune, I’ve heard a lot worse from people who call themselves pianists. The only thing I get after him for is if he’s bothering Miss Prissy. That I won’t stand for, and I whack him on the side of the head.
Tulla’s missing mitten was on the sidewalk. I wouldn’t have spotted it if the fingers hadn’t been sticking out of the snow. Like that sword extended in The Lady of the Lake. Some things are just meant to be. What was once unrequited does not have to remain unrequited. Stumble upon mittens and swords and lost love when you least expect it. Tulla’s car wouldn’t start. We got out her jumper cables. Brushed the snow off her hood with my bare hands. Flagged down a policeman for assistance. “Not supposed to do this!” he said. Did it anyway. A tribute to Tulla’s full moon model face. Policeman accused me of not knowing which cable was positive. Colors hard to see in the dark. Car sputtered and knocked. Finally started reluctantly. Then she was on her merry way. Executed a U turn right in front of the policeman. He wanted to know if she was my girl. I said “Well, yeah”. He said “You’re a lucky guy!”
The great painters of yesteryear? I never went in much for art history. Sitting around talking about yellow in a café all night. No thanks. I take a drink on holidays and special occasions but … I haven’t set foot in a museum in years. Avoid them like the plague. You see all these paintings around you? Commissioned portraits which were never paid for? They didn’t get painted by studying the masters. They got painted by painstakingly applying the paint to canvas by use of a brush in order to achieve the closest possible likeness to the subject. It’s a lost art … like lace making …
My last trip downtown to see the Munchs before they flew back to Oslo. On foot down the snow-packed Western Avenue Extension. Clement Haupers at home at his easel. How he dipped his horsehair brush. Day dreamed most of the way to the Landmark Center. Said my good-byes to Red Virginia Creeper and Jealousy and Anxiety and The Murderer. When it came time to leave I found that I couldn’t. Ignored “the gallery will be closing in five minutes” announcement. A bit of anxiety on the part of the guards. I no sooner turned my back on a picture—Two People / The Lonely Ones—than I turned right back to face it again. “Baby please don’t go back to old Oslo ‘cause I love you so.” The guards formed an impenetrable phalanx. I backed out of the gallery like I’ve backed out of normal everyday life … one step at a time in the wrong direction …
Even at an early age I was drawing, always drawing. Sitting at the kitchen table drawing. Drawing under the covers with a candle and pencil and paper. I didn’t want sewing instructions for my birthday. I saw art everywhere. I mean things that I could turn into art. Art to me is what you see, reproduced on canvas. I went in for landscapes in a big way at one time. Then it was people. Then it was people in landscapes.
The woods along the Mississippi at the end of Summit Avenue. Late afternoon winter light. The tracks along the path … and then the rabbit. Bundled up like a character out of Peter Brueghel. These northern climes and their latent late in the day melancholy. I bathe in it to my heart’s delight. No Tulla anywhere in sight. “A way a lone a last a loved a long the” No periods where none intended. No end either. Comforting somehow.
There are so many artists now, or people who think they’re artists. Back where I came from, you had to prove yourself. Talk meant nothing. Now it’s just the opposite. Do you know I had a man the other day telling me about the beauty of abstract art, and I told him I can’t understand, I’ll never understand it. A nice man too. But why paint something that’s not there when there’s so much to paint, I mean so much beauty in the world, sights that make your eyes pop out. Like your friend Tulla, for instance. The older you get the more you wonder what is the use of inventing problems that aren’t there in the first place?
“But what’s the point?” Tulla pressed, after I tried to explain to her on the bookstore phone what this story that I was writing was about. “You take words out of an old lady’s mouth, and you call them your own? What’s the point of that?” I had to admit that she had a point. Maybe I hadn’t done a very good job with my synopsis. I’ve always struggled with summing up. A story is never about what I say it’s about. “What’s the point,” she pushed, “if you can’t say something the least bit intimate? You use art like a dishonest hollow crutch. You completely missed the point about Munch, and you were way off the mark about me too. You said your bathroom was ‘pretty clean,’ but it wasn’t. It was filthy! What’s the point of having a disgusting bathroom? You tell me. And one more thing: the way you dress is … well, it’s a little embarrassing to be out in public with you. I’m sorry if that sounds mean but … I take clothes seriously.”
Most of the time I don’t even know what year it is. Would you believe it?
They threaten to shut off this, shut off that …
It’s really too big a job for me …
But where else would we live?
It’s true the cats have the run of the place like the old gentleman says. Let them run anywhere they want. The old man should mind his own business. He’s bored of course. We’re all bored.
I don’t feel like painting anymore.
I can’t remember what I had for lunch.
The news comes on at five thirty.
I sit and look at it, but I’m not really watching it, and I sure don’t listen.
It’s just a blur …
You’re just a blur …