Thursday, November 16, 2006


When I was about eleven, I decided that I wanted my artwork to have that professional feel. I was tired of the five-and-dime variety of paints, those sickly ovals and the cheap plastic cases and the brushes that left bristles all over the page. I wanted tubes—real tubes—of paint.

And so my Mom and I went to the art store downtown, and I browsed among the papers and canvases, the tubes and pots. I admired the silky brushes and the skeletal wooden easels. When we found what we were looking for, I was thrilled: it was a lovely collection of twenty tubes of paint, with cobalts and ochres and all the best sorts of names for colors, there on the tube.

But I was shocked by the price. My Mom said not to worry, it was a gift, I would enjoy it. But of course I worried. I worried so much that every time I squeezed a little paint into my mixing dish I would immediately regret that I had squeezed too much. And when the mountain or the tree didn’t come out right (and it never really did), I would put the paints away and wonder if I should have gotten them in the first place. This happened every time.

I don’t know why I was-am like that. It's not as if I lived through a war eating tulip bulbs like Audrey Hepburn or something (not that she would worry about wasting cobalt). Why did I worry so much about using up, wearing out? I knew my parents would buy me another one, if I wanted it.

Eventually, I became so worried about wasting the paint that I stopped altogether. In a few years the paint dried up and the tubes cracked, revealing useless innards. There was no going back.

Sometimes, I think that the moral of the story is the obvious one: carpe diem, gather ye rosebuds/ paint your mountains (however bad they are) while ye may. Mostly, though, I just think of another, easier moral: Don’t even try to make art. It’s not really worth it, in the end.

Friday, November 03, 2006

No picture for this one

Today, a cockroach tried to be cute. He almost succeeded, too.
I was just done eating breakfast in a perfectly civilized room, full of civilized things (woven rug, musty Harvard classics, pictures of dead relatives). And there he was, Monsieur le biological throwback. I could tell he felt embarrassed about it. He didn’t really want to be there, during my breakfast hour. It’s just that winter’s coming on, and what else is he to do? He scuttled over to the corner (scuttle really is being kind—there should be a special word for this kind of movement) and sort of pressed himself up against it. There were no gaps in the floorboard, though, and he kept hugging it, trying to make himself smaller. This was the part that, if he had not been more than two inches long, leggy, and crunchy-oozy, would have been cute.

But maybe it worked for him: I told bugmonster to go ahead and do his thing and swiftly departed without taking a whack at him (and it literally is a kind of whack that we—and by “we” I mean “not me”—take. N. has an electric tennis racket of death, meant to kill flies. With roaches, you get sparks rather than instant death, since these beasties are perfectly engineered to survive the nuclear holocaust. But it does stun them in a spectacular way and stacks the odds in your favor*).

This is not something I thought I would be doing in my life: choosing between saying fiddle dee dee or becoming intimate with crunch-ooze while I’m still in my polka-dot pajamas. And this is not just any crunch-ooze. Remember that I live in Too Hot Here, USA. These are Palmetto bugs, and if you don’t know what a Palmetto bug is (and I did not, until 3 years ago), well, count yourself among the lucky. Because although it might make you think of fruity cocktails and lush green fronds, the reality…oh, the reality…. This is the roach royale, also by the name Bombay Canary and all sorts of other jolly euphemisms. It will work its way into your dreams and, in some cases, your closet, your bathroom and your laundry basket. When you go to the fridge for some ice water, there it will be waving its sensitive little antennae right in your eyes. So what to do?

Here is the advice of the ever-practical folks at whatsthatbug
“Since they live outdoors, and can fly from location to location, mass annihilation of the species is the only way to keep them out of your yard. Since this is not feas[i]ble, and since they are not really pests, just a frighteningly large annoyance, I suggest learning to ignore them.”

Oh, three cheers. That “learning to ignore them” could take a lifetime. And not a pest? Please.

[Pest: from the French peste, late 15th century. Denoting the Bubonic plague.
Ok, so maybe it’s not a pest. Still, they do plague me, in a non-Bubonic kind of way.]

*One time, though (and you’ve heard the story), the roach came back. He survived death by electrocution, death by water and (almost—valiant creature) death by garbage disposal. I do have a sneaking suspicion that all of the mauled carcasses we toss so casually into the toilet rise up again underwater, their bodies becoming smooth and whole once again, their little minds remembering all.