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"Indeed, of my 'thousand beautiful things' around this place, a vast majority are dumpster dive renegades...."

antisocial pastoral velvet
essay by stephen mead


Leading to the door of my apartment is a very short hall with an unusual sort of welcome, a mat before my neighbor’s which reads: GO AWAY. I often think I should put in parentheses underneath it (AND THAT MEANS YOU). I’ve been in this apartment for five years now and have seen this particular “GO AWAY” mat travel back and forth between floors and doors as old residents vacate and new ones come in, all seeming to get as much a kick out of the “GO AWAY” as I do. It really speaks to the camaraderie of the antisocial. We may pass one another on the stairs of dust bunnies and bottle caps with a modicum of civility, but are happy to leave it at that.

Actually there’s a certain small amount of irony in other tenants having the “GO AWAY” mat as opposed to me, for most of them are young student types who get more visitors per night than I do in a decade. Furthermore, I suppose if it wasn’t for my own hand painted Van Goghesque welcome mat, I would have nicked the “GO AWAY” one long ago, but I believe it serves its purpose just by being near. It also stands as a perfect metaphor for the “One Man’s Junk Is Another Man’s Treasure” philosophy which I ascribe to. Indeed, of my “thousand beautiful things” around this place, a vast majority are dumpster dive renegades. If not dumpster or trash prizes than they are what I would call “dollar store chic.”

Like a sort of lowbrow Martha Stewart, I once thought it might be a nice idea to put out a handbook or cable access show. “Lives Of The Poor And Obscure” as opposed to “Lives Of The Rich And Famous” would be the motif; decorating not only on a shoestring but on a shoestring one got off the “Free” table at the thrift store discount.

Case in point: Directly across from a Van Gogh’s Sunflowers poster on my front door is a small wooden table I found one summer night on the street. For a tablecloth it has a tortoiseshell scarf patterned Indian style with small diamonds and turquoise arabesques. (I believe I found this particular article accidentally mixed in with my own things when I pulled them out of a dryer at a laundromat.) On top of this is an old fedora which was used in a play I did in high school, “You Can’t Take It With You.”

Well, apparently you can and I did.

For a long time I used the fedora as a lampshade on a green wine bottle lamp (Ripple Royal, I think the brand of wine was called) a former roommate made during shop. On occasion, say while going to a job interview, I would wear this fedora and no one would be the wiser. I also used to have a terrible crush on a young man who wore a similar make of hat, very jaunty there with his French nose and hazel cat eyes. But when the infatuation went kaput in a bad way, as they usually do, my own fedora went back on the lamp and I’ve tried to avoid men who wear them ever since. (They really should come up with an inoculation for such unrequited hormonal urges anyway, don’t you think?)

In any case, next to the fedora on the table in my hallway, is quite a nice Perrier bottle which I’ve put silk sunflowers in to complete the Van Gogh symmetry with my door. Behind that is an only slightly dusty oil on velvet painting which I also rescued from, as the Scottish would say, a “midgie bin”. The painting, unsigned and unnamed, is a fairly good-sized rectangle with quite an ideal depiction of a cabin in the woods. The stiff dry brush of the canvas really makes the brown shingles come to life, as well as the bark and fir needles of the trees. The cabin, with its smoking chimney and gold glowing windows, is nestled in the valley of several snow capped mountains. These are reflected in a periwinkle blue lake.

Trite, I suppose many would say, since such a native forest scene once had such commercial mass appeal, especially on black velvet, but I rather admire such primitive folk innocence, especially knowing that at one time most of the earth was such frontier, and also especially knowing it isn’t something I’d be moved or patient enough to paint myself. It is also a place where if I had to live for an extended period of time, I would most likely go quite nuts.

Still, having grown up in a rural setting, I know there is a pure truth in those woods which the painting depicts. I can almost hear the leaves crackle, feel the acorns underfoot, taste the snow in the air, the metallic glint of it, a Thoreau world of such pristine solitude that the different tribes of trees begin to feel like wise companions.

Of course, unfortunately, one always has to worry about predators too, and I don’t mean bears or such, but the sort of creepy types who would have one squealing like a stuffed pig from an outtake of “Deliverance”. Yes, often enough, there’s more than banjoes dueling in them there hills, and I think I’ve spent enough time in this particular forest. Its paint, on closer inspection, now does have several fine hairline cracks.

Time for a good strong cup of coffee and a cigarette, thank you very much, thank you very much indeed.

(illustration: john richen)


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©2005 Stephan Mead • Smokebox
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