Have I Got A Moon For You
From a memoir in progress © 2002 Dave Archer / All Rights Reserved
From a memoir in progress
© 2002 Dave Archer / All Rights Reserved
During the ten years I was a street artist, I got a call from the promoter of a psychic crystal fair one day. Evidently he was having trouble selling all his booth spaces because he offered me a double one ––– normally eight hundred dollars ––– for free, if I would trade him a painting. I said okay, if I could pick the painting.
He paused again.
He was thinking, "he's going to give me a bummer ...".
The show was at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in a big barn normally used for showing farm animals and homemade pies and jellies. And it was dreadful. Not only did the promoter have trouble finding enough psychic’s to fill the place, the public had better things to do that weekend. It must have been White Flower Day at Macy's.
Walking the show the first morning confirmed my suspicions. One guy was pushing gizmos to make light bulbs last longer. There was a booth selling the Encyclopedia Britannica. Then between a Santa Clara Police anti–drug exhibit and a Star Trek booth, there was none other than that great psychic arbiter of the New Age: the United States Army Recruiter. These displays were mixed amongst such singularities as, Rev. Keith Rhinehart - spirit medium, Steve Lavell who walked on broken glass, and Lancelot the Living Unicorn, obviously a goat ––– and I might add, the only farm animal in the barn that day. It appeared to me that Lancelot's horns had been surgically fused together into the middle of the poor animal's forehead, making him not only a red flag around the local SPCA, but the very vanguard of the Modern Primitive Movement by at least a decade.
Lancelot’s booth literature extolled such esoteric knowledge as:
“The moon was dark at Spring Equinox of 1980 when the first medieval unicorn in 500 years was born in the western mountains. He was born hornless, but as the moon waxed towards full, his horn began to grow ––– from the center of his forehead. The emerging horn has changed the shape of his skull, the root affecting the pineal gland which yogis call “the third eye ...”, and so on.
Goats have pineal glands?
People badgered the woman tending Lancelot all day long. Her name was Meadowlark, or Sunflower, or Skyperson, or Earthshoe, or Waterfall, or Sunbonnet, or Squatpersonweewee ... I forget. I was close to her booth though, and overheard many bizarre exchanges between Meadowflower and the public. Once a man called over the fence to her saying, “Nice horn graft...”
Well, Moonflea flipped, “That’s no graft, and Lancelot is NOT a goat, he's a unicorn! I’m sick of people saying that”.
Even five year olds had trouble buying it, “Mommy, why does the Unicorn look like a goat?”
The even more bizarre booth by far however, was spirit medium, Rev. Keith Rhinehart, Master Kumara, The Light Of The Mighty I Am.
The good Reverend was there in “spirit” only, that is performing his remarkable feats of "Hindu"-flim-flam on a TV monitor. And on TV at least, he was truly scary looking, cadaverous, with lumpy, sallow skin and long white hair to his shoulders. Okay, Reverend Rhinehart looked like Andy Warhol’s sister. And yes, Andy Warhol didn't have a sister. But if he had, okay ...
Every now and then the camera would ratchet in on Master Kumara’s face, then his mouth, and the Holy Man would barf up a gaudy plastic necklace, allowing it to fall from his mouth and onto the floor, where the camera would zoom in on the slimy thing lying on what looked like indoor–outdoor carpet.
For “The Light of the Mighty I Am," I don't know, I expected at least a decent Persian carpet. He also spent a good deal of time on the video pushing large jewels around under the skin on his face ––– this would explain his complexion ––– until he had worked the lumps to the vicinity his eyes where he would squeeze the jewels out from beneath his eyelids, also allowing them to fall to the carpet. The camera would zoom in on a wet jewel or two. The old sideshow trick of course, of pushing small items through the tear ducts.
“The Light of the Mighty I Am” was only a few steps away from my booth and all weekend long I kept wandering over. The folks attending his booth were twenty–somethings and spoke of their Master in hushed reverence. Don't they all.
I noticed most were wearing gaudy necklaces. One woman was wearing a real humdinger. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Excuse me, I’m showing my paintings down the way there and can’t help but notice your video. Could you tell me please, is he barfing up jewelry?”
She looked at me with a hurt expression and said, “Master Kumara does not barf”.
“Ah ... yes, well ... what exactly is he doing then? I mean, it sure looks like he’s ... you know ...”
“Master Kumara apports”.
“Yes, the Master dematerializes jewelry from somewhere else, and, then rematerializes it in his throat chakra”.
“Ah ... yes, and is your necklace ... ah ... ?”
“Why yes. All of us have these”. Nodding toward her booth mates she lightly touched her necklace, letting the tips of her fingers trace the plastic bauble as if it were one of Liz Taylor’s better pieces.
“I got this one at the Master’s ashram," she continued, “there is a table there, where all of his apports are displayed”.
“So if you're a student you get to pick one you like?”
“Well, they’re for sale”.
“If it’s apported ... ah, psychically, ah ... I mean comes through the Master’s throat chakra is it real gold and silver?”
“No, this is costume jewelry. BUT ––– it is not the material that’s important, it is the spiritual energy imbued within the material”.
Her fingertips returned to the necklace as she added, “And of course, this is your better costume jewelry, nicer than most”.
From the literature of Master Kumara:
“Apports are usually small physical objects that are dematerialized by spiritual power and pulled through the solid walls of the seance room or a person’s home and rematerialized in a spiritual electro magnetic force field in the vicinity of a mediumistic person”.
I can only assume there are a lot of stores around the country where shoppers, reaching for stylish necklaces, ended up thinking they were losing more than their minds.
Directly across from the good Reverend’s booth was Encyclopedia Britannica. This booth was attended each day by the same woman from New York. A real “gal" of a gal, like certain waitresses who call you “honey”. I got to know her the first day, and we sympathized over her having to be set up directly across from them. Just the look in this poor woman’s eyes said it all. Master Kumara’s TV monitor faced her directly, up high. Over the course of two days she had endured The Light of the Mighty I Am, dribbling one too many icky jewels, stringing mucus.
Toward the end of the show I happened to have my camera in hand as I was walking past her booth and impulsively held it up saying, “Time for your photo”.
Instantly she whipped off her own gaudy costume necklace, folded it over about three times and shoved it into her mouth pretending to gag. Now, the trouble with this good fun was, all of the "Mighty I Am" people in Master Kumara’s booth also saw her do it and were so appalled they complained to the show promoter. He came to see us and whispered that he thought the video was pretty awful too. But the show was winding down after all. He didn’t care. He had other things to agonize over. Especially after he saw the painting I chose for him.
All the man could do was complain about losing a fortune in advertising and rental fees for the barn and how all the exhibitors were mad at him because nobody came to the show. As he was retching all this out, I happened to look across the hall to the far wall where all of the psychics were set up with their crystal balls, Tarot cards and incense. Many of them had framed their National Inquirer articles and had them on the walls of their booths as a seer inducements. You might say, this was the Sears of seers. All in a row, about twenty, each with a homemade drape over a card table ... all alone ... waiting for nonexistent customers. Black drapes were popular, with a few blue and dark violet. Some even sported appliquéd stars and moons.
Pointing toward the psychics, I said to the promoter, "What I want to know is, what in the hell are they doing here? Shouldn't they have known?”
The promoter thought about it for two beats and said, “hey you're right, what in the hell ARE they doing here?”
Driving the western states as a street artist, showing and selling in art festivals, was a well paying trial by reluctant greed. I say reluctant, because of the way I am wired ––– that is, I never really want to actually do anything I commit to doing, after I commit to it. My psyche aches for NO obligations.
There were times when the road was fun, and times when it was unbearable, both drunk and sober. Now, that said, I was making over a hundred thousand dollars a year so you think I'd shut up and be grateful. And I am grateful. It really did feel great having people collect my work, while being so happy about it. I was invited into people's homes for dinner, dined in fine restaurants, shown the sights, and taken out to the movies. Still, I am an artist at war with living itself, having fought suicide on a daily basis for decades, ever since childhood molestation. And there is a wino in me who always wants to find a park bench somewhere and sit in the sun watching the world go by. He just doesn't give a shit. And the days I'm writing about were before I had any sort of help. Therefore, the road was at times an awful trial, at others, the "blessing at least of running away" and being so busy I didn't have time to be depressed.
Once in Texas I met a man who produced more electricity in his garage ––– in one flash ––– than all of the Texas Electric Company at peak season. Later in his living room he demonstrated how he could charge up his body like a battery with thousands volts yet remain safe. The electricity stored inside him could not travel to ground because Steve had two artificial legs, which he demonstrated to me by thumping on hollow plastic below his knees. Essentially then, Steve was a walking capacitor capable of committing the perfect murder, simply by shaking hands, as he laughingly put it, "Well, it might help if the guy was standin' in a mud puddle”.
In 1980, as Voyager-1 zoomed it’s way out of the solar system it’s cameras trained on Saturn, I was invited to show at an event in the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco billed as:
1980 – A SATURN ODYSSEY
Well, it was an odd-yssey all right.
The event promised two thousand folks a chance to sit in the darkened theater viewing realtime pictures of Saturn, direct from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena via computer linkup, and projected onto a huge rear projection screen. The place was packed. I showed my paintings in the lobby on the same show stands I used in street fairs. Kim Poor, a terrific space artist, and myself were the only two artists featured.
Things began to get strange when the realtime pictures failed to reach the Palace of Fine Arts from Pasadena. At first the organizers tried to stall for time by showing a slide show of hundreds of outer space pictures, many from NASA, but quite a few from magazines and posters. After an hour of this, the audience was beginning to fume.
One of the guests of honor was Star Trek's James “Scotty” Doohen: billed as official “Tour Guide” for the event. Mr. Doohen sat on stage before a panel of faked–up dials, gauges and control knobs doing his best to placate the surly audience. It wasn’t easy. Not only did the audience not want to hear what the man had to say, he was having trouble saying it too. I’d had a visit with Mr. Doohen in my display before the show, where I couldn't help notice he was having a “wee bit’o trouble” speaking in complete sentences, perhaps enjoying a "wee bit the Scotty” himself.
Realizing that the slides were now being repeated, the unruly audience became more upset by the minute. Scotty’s "stalling" ad–libbing had begun to border the bizarre. I did not envy the man.
“... so, we are here ... all of us, ah ... yes, ah ... sailing the cosmos ... into tomorrow ... until ... ah ... until all tomorrows ... all yesterdays too really, and today's, when you think about it ... are ... will surely ... become one grand and glorious tomorrow for us all, together, since from the dawn of time, the future has beckoned humankind ever forward into the unknown ... ah ...”
This was the unknown all right. Scotty wanted to run. We all wanted to run. What better time then, to invite one, Mary Rudge, a self-described poet on stage to read her emblematic work, “The Many Moons Of Saturn”.
I’d spent time with Mary in my display earlier in the day. She was a medium sized woman wearing a floor length purple poncho. She also wore a headdress fashioned of metal, with bunches of feathers protruding, somewhat in the shape of horns, for the over all effect of a talking purple person. I asked her about the headdress at one point.
“I made it from bullets as a peace symbol. You know, like beating swords into plowshares. I beat actual bullets into this headdress. See, right here, these were bullets”.
I assume Mary, bless her soul, volunteered to read her poem, and the panicked organizers, scrambling for anything to save the day had agreed. At that point, I think they would have welcomed Tara the topless snake charmer from Big Al’s. Scotty was handed a slip of paper and soon announced, “And now it seems ... ah ... we are in for a treat for sure ... as ah ... Mary Roooo-ged ... will read her poem for us, “The Many Moooons of Saturn”.
Then the curtain at the edge of the stage began moving in hesitant thumps, as if Marlin Perkins had a drugged grizzly trapped in a net.
The audience tittered a bit.
Scotty introduced Mary again, and then suddenly there she was, staring into the bright spot lights, blinking and squinting, as if trying to see the audience ––– all two thousand anxious, angry souls ––– by bending low and peering beneath the lights. She even held her hand over her eyes and leaned out, as if looking for us. The audience, confused by her costume and mannerisms, thought she was a standup comic and began to laugh.
A bad beginning. She finally found the lectern and microphone, and in a jittering high voice, Mary began to read her poem from a paper that shook in her hands like dry leaves on a tree. Leaning against the back wall where I could run if need be, I thought she might actually have a seizure and require paramedics.
No chance. On trudged Mary Rudge.
The first words out of her mouth brought a laugh:
“ ...The Many Moons of Saturn, by Mary Rudge ...”
When the laughter quieted she proceeded:
The moons rise
From every direction
Over Saturn’s rings
Through incredible blue
Numerous moons ...
The audience laughed again. Something about “numerous moons” really got them. Then too, Mary’s delivery was stunningly unprofessional, and her costume, on second look, was even funnier than the first shocking view. Her voice cracked and shook as though she were reading her poem from the back of a mechanical Safeway kiddie-horse.
When the audience quieted again, Rudge trudged.
Scotty sat eight feet away from Mary, half turned away from the audience, fiddling with knobs on his fake control panel pretending he was piloting a Starship, far, far, away I'm sure, ready to jump to light speed. My god how he must have longed for a great slug of whiskey about then.
New moons ...”
Now the audience went nuts, and Mary ... well ... Mary cried. And, see, I would have cried too. It was awful. Then the crowd became even more confused.
What ... this was not comedy after all?
Mary tried desperately to explain that her poem was serious. Half the audience thought her explanation was even funnier than the poem, the other half sensed the cold steel truth, that this purple cow with Helga horns, was dying in front of a huge audience because the Saturn Fly-by folks were stalling for more time. So, then half of the audience became hushed in horrible embarrassment before this mess, while Mary, in the throes of total weeping flop sweat, still, ever the trouper, attempted to go on. If you ever need a poet for a war-zone, call Mary.
Suddenly a man stood up in the middle of the audience and yelled, “Yea, well I’ve got a MOON for you all right! I want my money back! That's my moon!!!”
It was all down hill from there. Half the audience began chanting, “Money back ... money back ...”
People lined up two hours to get refunds. The line snaked past my display and I sold some paintings. It was great.
For me, by far the most difficult place on the road to show paintings was in an enclosed mall. Any enclosed mall. I preferred outdoor shows but winter dictated moving inside to the rot-iron benches and fountains shrouded in plastic ferns. I would set up in front of Sees Candy say, hanging my paintings on pegboard stands, each with lights and brag-articles, (a carnival attraction for sure), as well as letters from celebrities saying how much they loved my work.
Muzak extruded “tunes to grout the shower by,” ... which of course, is why they call it Muzak. Unless you can can get to the main player and lob in a grenade, you're sunk. There is no way to effectively blot Muzak out (headphones or ear plugs) when you are showing in a mall because you need to be able to speak with potential customers. Beside the fact, that mall show rules veto headphones.
To this day, mall air still makes me psychotic, which is really saying something. Back then, a few hours in a canvas chair and I was drowning. After a couple of days I would make any excuse to go outside and drink cheap wine. Well, outside as you well know, is nothing but a bleak, bleak, bleak, parking lot. It's doesn't matter if you are in Steamboat Springs or Anaheim. Or it's thirty degrees. Or it's smoggy. Or it's 110 in the shade. It's a parking lot. In malls though, it was often busy, and I couldn't get outside to either freeze, or fry. Mall air is like 747 air. Your eyes go rheumy and weep. Washes of "conditioned" pathogens crisscross currents of after-shave, greasy food, murderous methane, popcorn oil and Sees chocolate. Selling in a mall is to be trapped in a Sears prison terrarium, hoping for a nematode to screw.
People can be wonderful to artists selling their own work on the road though. It’s great when they are. It's really great when they buy thousands of dollars worth of your stuff, then take you out to dinner, then bring you lunch the next day and buy two more paintings, pieces you’ve been packing around for five years. There's nothing quite like it.
A lot of people wandering malls are lonely, and disturbed, with psychopathic traits. My special people. Ed Martinez for example. Who ran into me at a party twenty five years after a mall, and thanked me for inspiring him to be an artist ––– and we became great friends.
Some folks had an aching need to relate entire plots of fantasy / science fiction books they’d read:
“Then the Gorts attacked the Peedle’s with glow cancer ...”.
Others had been abducted by the Pleadians or the Pythagoreans or the Diarrheans:
“It was horrible. They stuck this thing up my ... you know ... and squeezed something up there that looked like lime Jell-O, but it smelled like gasoline ...”.
And talk about lime Jell-O. People stood over my paintings eating ice cream cones, dripping runners down the glass. They continuously touched the edges of the moons with greasy fingers and picked the paintings off the stands to turn them over and see what they looked like on the back.
A woman told me once that she had purchased a painting from me several years earlier. She said one night her house burned to the ground and she barely made it out in her night gown. As a firemen was putting a blanket around her shoulders she noticed for the first time that she was clutching her Archer to her chest with both arms. I wanted to say, "You left the baby ... and the money?"
Another time a couple came to a show after reading I was to be there in their local paper. Their story was they were set on divorce and my painting intervened and brought them back together. It hung of course, over the fireplace, with a nice light on it. At first they enjoyed looking at it so much they eventually turned off the TV. Now, that really got me. I’d beat f'in TV. Then with the TV off, the space painting led to conversations concerning everything from UFO’s to spiritual things which then led to their “rediscovering” their love for one another. Hearing stories like that always helped me keep going. Of course later, (he) probably popped (her) in the head with the same painting and did ten years in San Quentin, but at the time, it made my "mall-and-chain" day.
On the other hand, there were people who did their hair using my glass paintings like dark mirrors. I mean, they actually “did” their hair while I sat a few feet away. They would stand sometimes for minutes using a comb or brush, really getting into it, turning to see how they looked from different angles, as though they were in their own bathroom at home, never once seeing my work or noticing me.
Elderly ladies walking by might say: “Now that’s the sort of thing I hate".
One day an older man tugged at the elbow of his wife, pointed toward my work said, “look ... it’s all that moon crap again”.
Doing well meant remaining as positive and friendly as possible. That’s where brandy and speed came in.
Space paintings attracted a steady stream of Jesus folk suggesting either I paint the Lord returning on a white stallion from Revelation, or the opposite, warning me that I was Satan’s handyman. Once at a show in a shopping mall in Sacramento, California, I was approached by a born again Christian couple who had a large church for teenagers called, “The Warehouse Ministry”. They wanted me to paint a picture for a Christian “rock and roll” album they were producing. They took me out for a meatball sandwich (a Christian meatball sandwich) then to a Saturday night service at their church, a converted warehouse. After services I was given a poem by one of their young flockee’s to use as inspiration for the album entitled, “Come Back Soon”.
The poem was about a big pair of scissors cutting out the sun, leaving a hole in the sky. Then an airliner flies into the hole and then birds are refusing to leave the trees ... stuff like that.
I thought the guy's line:
“... and on the beach
the holidaymakers awaken,
the useless sun tan oil
making gleaming rivers down
their half done bodies ...”
was worse than mine:
“... talk on,
in gauzy lumps,
that fall among
the silent screaming chambers ...”
which I’d written when I was thirteen.
I mean, he was in his mid-twenties.
High on something, I agreed to paint the picture for five hundred dollars, then two weeks later delivered a different picture. I just didn’t have the heart to paint a black hole in the sky, so instead I painted a gorgeous, warm orange ––– “show–stopper sun” ––– ga-looooow-ing, way up in the middle of the air. And, okay, I left out the airliner too. I did put some tiny figures on sort of a “beach” and although they were small and in the distance, they might well have had, “useless sun tan oil making gleaming rivers down their half done bodies”.
Also, here and there on branches along the sides of the painting, I did birds, that is: birds refusing to leave trees. I longed to put a cartoon balloon over each bird that read, “Hell no! We won’t go! Hell no! We won’t go!”
Delivering the piece to the warehouse I leaned it against the wall of the entryway. Everyone who worked there came rushing see it, about ten people in all, including of course, el duo pastoral, and ... the poet. They huddled around the picture buzzing, until the young man who had written the poem finally spoke up saying, “Ah ... wasn’t there supposed to be a black hole with an airliner going into it?”
Others joined him, “yea ... hum, ah where’s the airliner ... buzz, buzz ... and the hole?”
I’d been stoned for days of course, hoping these good people might somehow, “just sort of not notice”
Well, true, I had left it out.
I had no answer. Not really.
“Ah, well ... ah ... OK ... get this ... this is my concept," I sputtered.
Everyone fell silent waiting, watching me gesture around the painting, hoping they were not picking up how psychotic I actually was. Then I heard myself say, “now, ... OK ... get this ...”
They stared in anticipation.
“This," I said, “ this ... is ... just before ... the BIG scissors come in ...”
I couldn’t believe I’d actually blurted out something that pitifully stupid.
All heads turned to toward the poet of course. Who took a long pause, then a longer one, and then slowly began to nod his head in what I hoped was tentative agreement ... finally saying, “Yyyeeees ... yes ... just before the big scissors ...”
They liked it. In fact they were so happy they soon became ecstatic. So ecstatic in fact, I brazenly hit them up for another five hundred dollars. My request brought their merriment to a grinding halt right there I can tell you.
It was suggested to form a prayer circle and consult a higher authority. After the prayer, el duo pastoral adjourned to their office for a consultation. When they returned they told me that they had indeed received a clear message and I was to have five hundred dollars more and handed me a check for a thousand dollars.
Thank you Je-sauce-za!
At an outdoor art festival in Los Gatos, California, a lady was interested in a particular painting. After I had answered all of her questions and quoted a price, she stood gazing at the piece with her hand under her chin. The painting was hung low on an “A–frame," a folding stand made of two pieces of pegboard hinged at the top. I knew from experience to remain quiet, allowing her time to make a decision.
Out of nowhere, an aged Scotty dog badly in need of a long hot bath, walked up and lifted his leg right on the painting, squirt, squirt, squirting pee all over the glass. Then the bastard looked over his shoulder, back at me, directly in the eye, and scruffed his back feet about twice each, scruff, scruff, scruff, scruff, then walked away with its nose in the air. Quick as a wink I grabbed my handkerchief and attempted to wipe the glass clean saying, “No harm done at all madam. On a glass painting, this is nothing but a bit of moisture ...,” thus smearing the pee all over the glass. Panicking I lurched into, “one of the great things about a reverse glass painting is how easy they are to clean. Since all the paint is on the backside of the glass, you simply wipe the front ...”. The white handkerchief I was using, was new however, and therefore as nonabsorbent as Teflon. I held it up dripping with yellow pee. The woman turned and walked away. I went looking for the dog but never found him.
At street show, this time in Tempe, Arizona, I talked with a well dressed young couple for two hours and they bought a painting. We said goodbye and as they were leaving my display I noticed the fellow steal another painting. He was heading for an alley. His girlfriend cringed as she saw me move in his direction through the crowd.
“Oh ... Jim," I called.
He froze as solid as ice, then slowly turned on heel and toe to face me clutching the paintings to his chest. I didn’t want to lose the sale, so I looked him in the eye and said, “You know we all do some dumb things once in awhile. You earned the painting you paid for, so if you hang it with the one you didn’t earn, you will never really be able to enjoy either one of them, so here ... let me help you”.
I reached out and took the stolen painting back. Jim burst into tears and apologized. The other artists warned me his check would bounce, but it went through a week later with no problem.
A month later at a show in a park in Los Angeles, in Studio City, two movie guys came by and took me to their studio where they were making a science fiction space picture. They wanted to use my paintings in their movie. At the time I was on one of my healthy wino kicks and brought along a homemade salad in a large Tupperware bowl. I’d made the salad in my room that morning and put a layer of carrot chunks on top. I was starving as we rode along in their Mercedes, and kept lifting the corners of the Tupperware and pulling out hunks of carrot and chewing them, even thinking what a good Adele Davis example I was setting for these obvious carnivores.
These men wore those woven leather shoe-sandals with no socks and I was sure they ate steak. Evidently my chewing drove them completely crazy. One guy blurted, “What are you eating!?”
They gave me a quick tour of their facilities saying things like, “we just want you to see what we’re doing”. Then had one of their employees return me to the motel and I never heard from them again.
Toward the tenth year of showing on the road, a day came when I found myself sitting with my paintings displayed near an automatic door to a Safeway supermarket. People would exit the store, unload their carts in my display and leave. After a few hours of collecting carts and pushing them back into the store it occurred to me that I had become a thirty nine year old Moraga Safeway cart–boy.
There was a pay phone hanging on the wall near me. I called an art dealer and the next day delivered everything to him, then went home to wait for checks. I was scared. I was making a $100,000 a year in the street. If I gave all the work to someone else and waited, what if it took months before they sold anything? I needn't have worried, almost immediately I made more money in galleries than I had on the road.
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