Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An American Comedy: Book III: Paradise: Chapter 2

Chapter 2

“And I can recall our caravel:
a little wicker beetle shell
with four fine masts and lateen sails,
its bearings on Cair Paravel.”

--Joanna Newsom

Dear Beatrice,

In this life, half of paradise exists as an unrealized dream, and the other half consists of the struggle to bring it about.

Sincerely,

Jesse


Tony and I are walking past the retail space underneath our apartment. It used to be a photography studio that also sold scooters and was never open.

“We should do something with that space.”

“Like what?”

“I dunno. Maybe like an art studio.”

“I could do publishing.”

“Yeah. We could do anything really.”

“I wonder how much it costs.”

“I’ll call Dennis.”

I call Dennis, our landlord, who owns the space and our apartment.

“It costs $1500 a month.”

“That’s pretty steep. I don’t think we could afford that.”

“What if we got some other people involved. Maybe Landon, Chuck, Ben, RJ.”

“Let’s see.”

Over the next couple days, we talk to about ten different people. Landon is skeptical, RJ is pumped, Chuck and Ben are interested.

...

I’m eating pizza with my parents at their house in Brea.

“Tony and I had the idea to open an art studio underneath our apartment.”

My parents give me quizzical looks.

“Hmmm. That sounds interesting. Opening a business is hard.”

...

Over the next week or so, the idea of the gallery starts to materialize. We get enough people who are interested, so we can afford it. We go back and forth on the name. Someone suggests “Hibbleton,” which is the name of Tony’s bike club. I send a mass text. Hibbleton it is.

Meetings. Details. Getting a business license. Getting a DBA. Setting up an LLC. Getting insurance, a phone line, security. These are things I never thought I would be doing. Like standing in line at the County Clerk’s office in Santa Ana. I don’t have a business degree. I don’t know shit about this. But Landon does. Landon is a good resource. He is warming to the idea.

We have meetings, e-mails, phone calls. It occurs to me that we are like a powerhouse of abilities, like The Avengers, or the Thundercats. Landon knows business. I can write. Tony and Ben know art and design. Chuck knows film. RJ is a schmoozer and he knows the internet. We can do this.

...

I spend a few weeks visiting other art galleries in LA and Santa Ana. I meet gallery owners, ask them questions, talk about the gallery we are opening. Nothing like we are doing exists in Fullerton. It is May of 2008.

We are all here together. Landon painting the walls. RJ cleaning the floor. Chuck and Mark building a moveable wall. Tony sanding wood. Ben setting up the internet. I am recording this with my handycam.

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And then the day comes when the artists bring their work. The show is called “To the Fifth Dimension!” The art is of a style Ben calls “lowbrow.” It is comic book influenced, funny, strange. When I took painting classes, I learned about the masters. I don’t know anything about “lowbrow” or “pop surrealist” art. But I like it.

We spend the night hanging the show, and it looks amazing. It looks like an art gallery. Surrounded by bars and restaurants, we are a little cultural anomaly right in the middle of downtown.

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And then the opening reception. It is packed. It confirms what we expected. Artists and creative people live here—they just had no place to gather. Our little gallery reception brings them all out. And people actually buy stuff. They buy art. I have lots of little conversations with artists and people from the community, people I know from living down here a few years. My parents are here. They tell me they are impressed.

It feels like the beginning of something.

After the opening, we head next door to Mulberry where our friends Mark and Casey are spinning records. It is more packed in Mulberry St. on a Friday night than it ever is. Packed with young people—people in their 20s and 30s.

The music Mark and Casey are playing is unlike anything you might hear in the surrounding bars, who mostly play top 40 hits. They are playing soul, garage, and punk music. This too feels like the beginning of something.

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I wander from conversation to conversation in a haze of euphoria. We did this. If nothing lasts, we can say we did this.

...

Today they are having the annual Brewery Art Walk, where all the artists open their studios to the public.

I took the train by myself to LA and have been wandering around through these studios, meeting artists whose work I like, and telling them about Hibbleton.

I can’t believe something like this exists 30 minutes from where I live.

I meet an artist by the name of Venancio Tan, a retired chemical engineer from the Philippines, who does intricately detailed photo collages, mainly of professional tennis players from the 90s.

“When I was chemical engineer, this was my hobby,” he explains, “Now it’s all I do.”

He points to a photo collage of Andre Agasi.

“That took me 30 hours to do.”

“My work is exceptional,” he says, and it doesn’t feel arrogant..

“I agree.”

I meet an artist named Nancy Chavez. She has pink hair and tattoos on her arms and chest. She looks like a teenager. I like her drawings more than anything I’ve seen so far. I introduce myself and she seems very nervous and shy.

Now I sit at a table and write, watching the people drift in and out of the studios. Some look pretentious and say pretentious things. Some just look curious. If I had to guess, I would say there are about 500 people here.

...

Drove out to LA to see my friend Steve’s band at the Silverlake Lounge. This other (more popular) band plays before him. Apparently the singer toured with Beck or something. While the popular band is playing, the place is crowded with hipsters. Most people leave before Steve’s band goes on.

I stand there watching Steve play drums and thinking—I am watching one of the great artists of our time and I’m one of like eight people in the world who knows how brilliant he is. This thought saddens me at first, but then makes me feel sort of special, privileged.

I begin to wonder how many brilliant artists, artists whose insights would make the world a better place, have toiled in obscurity, unrecognized by the world.

This brightly lit sign that says “Salvation” hangs above the stage. It hovers above Steve like a halo as he pounds those drums. His eyes are closed. There could be two people in the room and it wouldn’t matter. He would still be pounding away.

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...

I have this idea for a literary/art magazine, put out through Hibbleton. It will feature artwork, interviews, poetry, stories, essays, comics—everyhing that we are all about. But how do I do this? I have never done anything like this before.

I meet with Steve Westbrook, a colleague at Cal State Fullerton who runs the Creative Writing Club and is advisor for the annual literary journal at Cal State—DASH. Steve helped start DASH.

We get coffee a few times. He shows me some journals. We talk about putting out calls for submissions of poetry and stories. We get a couple more people involved and form a mini editorial board.

I start interviewing artists.

We put out a call for submissions.

I give Tony the material and he lays it out.

I look for a printer we can afford.

We find one in Anaheim. It’s gonna cost about $400 for 100 copies. I can’t afford that, but I convince the other gallery owners that this is something we should do. We pool our money and pay for printing.

They day comes when I get to pick them up from the printer, and as I look over this thing I helped make, I am again overcome with euphoria. I helped do this.

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A cordless microphone rests against my chest. I’m standing in a warehouse full of people watching my friend Ryan’s band playing. It’s the release party for Hibbleton Independent—our new magazine of art and writing that I envisioned and, with the help of friends, made.

I organized this party in this art studio/warehouse that very few people, prior to tonight, even knew about. And now it is full of people, listening to music, looking at art, new magazines, listening to poets read. This community I helped incarnate.

(As I write this, I’m sitting in Hibbleton Gallery, and two of my students walk in, with pens and notebooks in their hands, jotting down notes on the artwork, for the extra credit I assigned.)

I look around at the faces surrounding me—friends, family, artists, writers, musicians—everyone here together. We are not alone.

Earlier, I talked to Mike (who owns this warehouse) about taking over the abandoned juice factory across the street, and turning it into an artists colony with studios, a common garden, etc.

And now the music stops and everyone is clapping and I walk up to the stage and speak through the cordless microphone:

“Let’s hear it for The Waltz, everyone!” Everyone claps.

I remember, a year or two ago, when I was walking down Wilshire Ave. wearing a KPFK t-shirt with a microphone on it, and I noticed in the reflection of a store window it looked like I had a microphone over my heart. And, a few days later, I was in my kitchen making spaghetti and I looked out the window into our storage room and I could see both my reflection in the window and through the window and my reflection was superimposed over the micophone stand in the storage room so, again, it looked like I had a microphone over my heart.

And now I speak though the cordless microphone: “Thank you all for coming out tonight and supporting local art, writing, and music. I’m happy you all came. Good night.”

...

Tom Waits. Tom fucking Waits is at Hibbleton. He walks up in his little hat, with his haggard face. This art opening features artwork by his daughter, Kellisimone Waits. We didn’t think Tom would show up. But we hoped.

He walks up real nonchalantly, walks past me into the gallery.

“Hello,” I say.

“Hey,” he growls.

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There are a handful of people I would pay money to meet in my life. Crispin Glover, the members of Belle and Sebastian, a few others, and Tom Waits. I didn’t have to go see him. He came here. To our little gallery on Wilshire in downtown Fullerton.

He looks around at the artwork. I watch the faces on the people in the gallery. A lot of double takes. Some people boldly go up to him, ask for his autograph, to take a photo with him. I kind of feel bad. He probably gets this all the time. Though I can’t say I blame them.

A little later, standing outside, I introduce myself and shake his hand. I shake hands with Tom Waits.

“How do you like Fullerton?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s a nice little town,” he growls.

I’m not sure what else to say. I’m a little star-struck, like the time I met Drew Barrymore. I walked up to her and said, “You’re Drew Barrymore.”

“Yep,” she said. And that was it.

A bit later, Bill Pullman shows up. Bill fucking Pullman. Independence Day, Lost Highway, Spaceballs.

I walk up to Bill, introduce myself.

“I loved you in the movie Zero Effect,” I say.

“Thanks a lot,” he says, “That’s not one people mention too often.”

“I had this friend in high school who had your entire Independence Day speech memorized.”

He laughs a little, and smiles his signature Bill Pullman smile. He’s a cool guy.

I want to ask him what it was like to work with David Lynch, but I don’t.

I watch as the gallery gets more crowded. People are sending out facebook messages, tweets, texts...Tom Waits is at Hibbleton!

I have this idea for a Downtown Fullerton Art Walk. It occurs to me that we cannot survive as a gallery if we don’t get more people involved. We have to literally change the culture of downtown. How can we do this? One day, I walk around downtown with a clipboard and a pen, talking to local business owners, asking if they would like to put art on their walls once a month and be a part of this.

After a week or so, I get about 20 interested venues—coffee shops, salons, vintage stores, galleries, the Fullerton Museum.

Meetings and more meetings. It will kick off the first Friday of next month. We make posters, a web site, a facebook page. And then the day comes.

It is a huge success. Thousands of people are walking around downtown Fullerton on a Friday night for the purpose of art, not to get drunk. There are families with children walking around.

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I wander around thinking “I did this.” I think, “Maybe this is the meaning/purpose of my life.” If I died tomorrow, I would be happy knowing that I helped contribute this to the world.

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