I Was Like You
If I could "make it" in ART after what "they" did to me, you can too. Not to say "making it," is all that good for ART. That's an argument all its own.
Here follows my street story though, with insight into how I graduated with a scholarship from high school in a beautiful California small town in 1959, into the nightmare of hustling on the streets of San Francisco instead of staying in art school.
To begin, I was born dying, for a cigarette.
In 1940, my mom smoked a pack of Kools a day while I was in the womb. In other words, as Freddy Fetus I smoked a carton of Kools a day for nine months. Moms did stuff like that in those days because tobacco pushers advertised wearing white smocks, pretending to be doctors, actually claiming in print magazine ads: "Tobacco is healthful!" So I'm not pointing an evil finger at mom, I'm coughing. And I survived and it hasn't been easy.
I'm saying my fetal-brain receptor sites for nicotine must have looked like nipples on a bodybuilder.
And, I know lot of people had mothers who smoked while pregnant and it didn't bother them.
It made me a nasty little squeaker from the gate. I whined for years, I know now, craving hits. And forget being tied to my mother's "apron strings," I hung on the poor woman's calves for years, climbing, clutching for cigarettes. I think I wanted back inside mom. It's true. It was like a Richard Pryor stand-up bit.
My kin will tell you, believe me.
I AM: the family story.
My "climbing" drove mom so crazy she used cayenne pepper on my tongue to get me to stop. Parents did things like that in the 1940's.
It didn't work.
I love pepper.
And my family still talks about my disturbed temper as a toddler. My late uncle Andy, the Texas cowboy, nicknamed me, "Stinky". He should have flipped me a Camel. That's all I wanted.
I remember liking the smell of cigarettes. Ug. To this day, I love all smoked meats. I started smoking actual coffee grounds in a corn cob pipe around nine. Mom said I could only smoke coffee grounds outside. When my brother came back from Japan in the Navy, he brought a box of fine cigars.
Snakes and snails, and puppy dog tails, one precious stogie a day, I pinched them all, feeling more and more guilty and afraid, until the box was completely empty. I couldn't stop. Boy, Dale got mad. Sorry bro. My late mother was still smoking at age 91 --- after 70 years of, --- you guessed it, Kools. Brand loyal, she had her last toke just before the ambulance arrived.
I quit butts years ago though. I survived. Well, heck ... so did mom when you think about it. Not only that, I suffered a botched circumcision by our family doctor at age 5. Not a wise move to perpetrate on a little kid. This was bad. I mean, for one thing, they could NOT have picked a more perfect age to fill me with abject terror if they'd used the Witches' Almanac and had me eat datura pancakes before Doc Torquemada mutilated my crotch.
Also rudely, I was given no explanation before the surgery, or after, until over forty five years later when mom confirmed it and apologized ... a lot.
Bless her smoked heart. I forgave her. The following morning (our family doctor, Dr. Treadwell) changed the bandages in front of me, painfully ripping the adhesive tape away from my crotch, and I SAW the gore that used to be me, AND, I had just undergone a tonsillectomy as well, so I could not even scream!
Sam Kinison is still my all time favorite comic, and he's dead.
Dr. Treadwell should never have let me see that wound!
My weenie was so swollen it looked like a bashed tomato with black stitches sticking out of it: like wart-hairs on a cartoon hag's nose, covered in red blood and splotchy purple iodine.
I could not scream!
See, instead of merely inventing million volts electric painting, I should have invented punk-rock to go along with it. Decades early too. Or I could have built the Alaskan pipeline single handed. There you go. Well, with Babe, the Blue Ox.
I was so enraged about my botched crotch, there was a time I could have run through my hometown graveyard at midnight, swinging a dead cat over my head screeching like a Yeti, and chiseled Treadwell's name off his tombstone or something stupid. Just to get up in the morning now, I have to put on my favorite Judy Tenuda album. I can't remember the name of it right now, but it's the only album Judy ever did that was all accordian, I mean, just so she can kick-start my amygula ... jeeze.
It took a long time to forgive Doc's bungling. On the one hand, doctors back then were very cool, making house calls and all, on the other hand: dang loopy. They were one step away from blood letting. Treadwell never meant to traumatize me, a product of his day, he and many of his fellow doctors thought children handled pain differently than adults back then. They believed that young children had no traumatic hangover from office procedures. That they outgrew them quickly.
Well, he was very wrong about that because things got worse. "Incident At Horror Hospital," kindled in me, a dreadful dream, recurrent, a nightmare, every night, for years --- a gauntlet: the arrest, trial, judgment and jail house of my childhood.
Terror by: NIGHT WITCH! I remember having the dream twice the same night!
Always identical --- home alone --- hiding from a ghastly crone dressed in black, looking like a Halloween witch, but I knew she was real and utterly evil. Gripping a butcher knife as if to gut a fish, she shuffled from room to room searching for me, cackling,"You can't hide from me David ... I'll find you ... and when I do I'll cut off your thumb ... I'm coming to cut off your thumb David! ... I'm coming to cut off your thumb!" In the nightmare I always hid behind dad's big chair in the living room, pulling myself into the smallest Houdini bundle I could make, hoping somehow, to sink through the carpet there, thumbs gripped tightly inside my fists, then those fists twisted together and rammed hard between my knees, my upper body folded over them, forehead to floor. And not because I thought I could actually hide behind dad's big chair. I knew I could not. But because the terror would simply overwhelm me there, and I would curl like a pink armadillo. Then at the last second, always, I knew THIS, was, "... THAT nightmare again".
I remember fighting the blankets like a netted faun, wrenching, twisting, gulping for air. My parents were not bad people. They just made mistakes. After I kicked the blankets off for awhile, they went somewhere, and got metal blanket clips, like something from Home Depot to fasten the corners of my sheets down, which were then tied to the headboard. They wanted me to stay warm of course. They were protecting me from getting sick.
I remember waking up at times from the same nightmare, somehow turned all the way around in the bed, face pushed into tight sheets at the foot, flailing, terrified.
Decades later my daughter had a dream one night, during which she VIVIDLY killed my, "Thumb Witch". Thank you River!
More: at age 8, I was molested by an older neighbor boy named Muffy, something that continued for years. I never told because in the 40's and 50's, we never told. He was a bully, coercive, using violent intimidation, and the opposite, candy bars and coins, to have his way with me. "It" also felt good, which meant "I" was bad. He threatened me into not telling. I never did.
Riddled with shame, I went on.
Over the coming years then, (as a "setup" sex dupe, with a psychic "jumper" sticker on my back), I was picked-off by a lot of sick men in my hometown: to name three: an evangelist minister from the Moody Bible Institute when I was ten, a local music store owner who still lives in San Luis Obispo, (when I was 12) not to mention, being sexually humiliated by a high school football coach, in some ways the worst of them.
In my junior year, this incredible cretin skipped over my name at every roll call, saving me for last, then "overacting disgust" would turn slowly and say, "Oh yea, is the physical moron here?" Then WAIT ... for me to say, "here," before releasing the class to choose up sides and play.
Talk about difficult forgiveness.
It took me forty years.
Tuttle was potty-mouthed in more ways than one. Forgive me for telling this, but truth heals. The man had me working in his office with him, (releasing me from sports participation in exchange for being one of his flunky "managers") handing out towels through a small window to my schoolmates, freshly showered of course, while, just a few feet away (hidden from the view of others) "our hero" sat on the toilet defecating just for me --- every school day of my senior year. Lewd to the core, this cur made as much "noise" as possible, saying, "What's that David, those mice again? Here comes that smell you like Goldie. (sissy talking 'Goldie'). "Um good stuff, huh, I know what you like 'Twinkles'" (sissy talking 'Twinkles') "and I know what you're looking at too. You're looking at those boys (sissy talking 'boys').
Evil is an action.
Tuttle tried to kill my spirit. Consciously or unconsciously, he tried. And that is the truth. He perpetrated crime on me. And this: in the "good old 50's," when we had just as many creeps around, yet little to no protection from them at all. Not because protection wasn't there, but because we existed in a sort of "dreamy civics," in the sense that most parents simply could not imagine child sex abuse, because they themselves, had come from even more repressed times. When we victims did tell, often the cops would not follow up out of embarrassment. It was something so taboo not even the police wanted to hear about it. Really, I'm not kidding.
For instance, the only time I ever told my parents about a man who molested me (a local business owner), my father reported him to the police and they did nothing although they'd had other complaints on the same man for many years. The police even informed my father that my tormentor had in fact, been kicked out of the Boy Scouts for the same thing. What were they waiting for? The truth is, they went on waiting until the man had molested dozens more boys before arresting him? It was that bad.
I was an overly angry man for a very long time, until one day I reached a point where I just let it all go, and forgave the world. You know you're way too angry when it's a beautiful day, the sun is out, birds are singing, you actually scream at some poor bugger for stealing a nice red rose from a nursery.
I did that once.
I told a friend about it.
He said, "you have rose rage".
True story. Hating bores me now. And I am so grateful that it does. The final few months of Jack Tuttle's criminal torment nearly ended my life. As an adolescent self-medicating boozer, I was carried on a stretcher from, "A Night Beneath The Stars," my graduation dance --- for which "me dear sweet mother, rest her soul," spent six weeks every night for hours and hours, cutting out hundreds of foil stars to dangle from the ceiling over the dance floor, each on it's own thread --- and rushed to the hospital after drinking a fifth of vodka in less than a half hour, and not seeing any stars, at all.
Not one, star. In the morning, my savior, Dr. Mugler, explained what he termed, "acute alcohol poisoning". I've never forgotten Mugler's graveside manner, "David," he said, "when we pumped your stomach last night you had ten minutes to live ... ten minutes, at most ... I mean from a cold slab in the morgue! Do you understand what I'm saying ... !?"
Thanks to the good doctor, plus a great HIGH SCHOOL ART DEPARTMENT I survived. When school money shrinks nowadays, they cut ART, not SPORTS, rah, rah. That really bugs me.
Anyway, like many men who never talk about having been molested in youth I went my way and for decades I never told. My molesters told me not to tell, and when they didn't warn me, I was too ashamed anyway. You know, I don't know much, but I know this:
Survival is important!
Because, survival led me to LIVING.
Survival is what I practiced until I healed enough to LIVE more freely. More at home in my own body. More at peace with my neighbors and friends. I try to remember THAT always. Because "survival" as a way of life, while necessary, is synonymous with "existing".
It's great, but no cigar.
And no matter what you think right now, you DO deserve better living. It's up to you though. You've got to get up and do it.
If you are surviving a wounded life, and you decide not only to survive, but work toward actually thriving, as I did, then I say no matter what your present condition or job, or no job, to survive, you must have a daily constant discipline that improves in ways that please you over time. Because if what you do has soul, others will like it, and you will reach an audience. Not the polished museum crowd "consuming" nine dollar pastrami sandwiches in,"Café Miro," perhaps.
But fine folks who truly enjoy collecting original art.
With all due respect, I humbly suggest developing any talent you have, or you might not make it very well in this world.
Develop over time, as a daily discipline!
Paint. Write. Fill journals with watercolors and ink drawings. Draw. Draw. Draw. Study the human figure. Improve your skills. Get better and better. Really. Make music.
And make some good money for yourself.
People say, "I don't really care about money".
Sure they do.
In modern capitalist society, to enjoy an even a halfway decent life requires chunks of it, not millions, but chunks.
When I sold paintings off A-frames in the actual street, in order to get myself OFF the actual street, I made thousands of dollars selling electric space paintings on glass --- sometimes as high as fifteen thousand dollars in four hours in an afternoon!
Mostly, I made five hundred or a thousand, or two, or four thousand, in a good afternoon show in the street. Wads, you know, darn good for a street bum.
I like to romanticize my life in North Beach 60's bohemia hanging out with Janis Joplin, etc. but it was also pure poverty. The rooms were awful. The beds were worse, like torture racks, the heat sparse, the communal toilets and showers, simply heinous! We often went hungry, got hassled by the cops for loitering, and never had money for a night of theater, or fine dining, not to mention travel, or anything really cool.
Selling in the street, over time my rule got to be: would the chunk in my pocket make a lump in a python?
If it wouldn't, I worked harder until it would. And I worked, smart too, really learning from "mistakes".
I needed the money for supplies to make more art, and pay off the van I used to drive my space paintings all over the western states to festivals, living in motels, eating in restaurants, having massage and chocolate, and paying my own way as a responsible tax paying citizen. It was a good life, bringing in hundreds of thousands dollars over the 70's. Then I went into galleries in the 80's and did better.
People say, " It's never ... too late".
Ah, actually, yes it is.
Many of us who were molested as children commit suicide, and drink and drug ourselves to insanity and death.
That's too late.
We starve ourselves of love and friendship, cutting off family and even old friends, trusting no one. Or family and friends cut us off, no longer willing to "participate" in what they consider, with good reason, our self destruction. I am living proof that even very badly broken people can survive, heal, and really LIVE, balanced, productive, lives that are meaningful to themselves, ot for anyone else, but for themselves.
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