“Here force failed my high fantasy; but my
desire and will were moved already--like
a wheel revolving uniformly--by
the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
In this book I have spent the past ten years or so writing, the last section is called “Paradise.” It’s not about heaven (not necessarily), but about what makes for a good life here, in this world. I have, I think, caught glimpses of paradise.
Sometimes, Beatrice, I wish you could see me here. See what these hands, compelled by sorrow and passion, have helped create. Would you recognize me if you walked in here tonight? Would you see, in my eyes, the same scared boy you met in Seattle, the boy who was afraid to take your hand, afraid even to speak? Or would you see something new, a spark in my eyes now. A sadness still, but also a fire, a fire built by a man in a frozen wasteland. A fire I have learned to share. Would you see this, Beatrice? You are married now. I think you work in a hospital in Minneapolis. I have seen your facebook pictures. You seem happier now. I wonder—do you still carry the wounded loneliness I saw in you? I am still lonely, but I have friends. I have learned how to be with people and not to be afraid.
The loneliness is okay. I sometimes wonder if I will meet the woman I will marry at one of these openings. For so long, I was very very desperate. I ached for a companion, anyone who would have me. Sometimes, these days, that ache transforms into a quiet resignation—I am alone, but that is okay. My soul walks with me. My lonesome fiery heart. The ache is part of the beauty.
This is the part of the story where I let you go. Where I step out of the realm of abstraction and idealization, where I step into my skin as a living, breathing human being, and I let you go. I have carried you in my heart through hell and purgatory and now I, flesh and blood, step into paradise.
“What do you do for a job?” Jonas asks.
“I’m a teacher?”
“Why do you do that?”
“I dunnno. I like it.”
“You should have a different job.”
“What should I be?”
“A truck manager.”
“What does a truck manager do?”
“He manages trucks. And then you could let me drive the trucks.”
“I’ll consider it. What are you gonna get at Yogurtland?”
“Oh dude. I’m gonna get a huge one.”
I walk through this suburban neighborhood in Brea, trying to keep up with Jonas on his scooter.
We arrive at Yogurtland and Jonas runs in ahead of me. He grabs one of the big dishes and starts filling it with yogurt.
“I think that’s enough, buddy.”
As I’m filling my own dish, I notice Jonas at the topping bar, dumping spoonfuls of gummi worms into his dish. I think of stopping him, but I do not.
We get to the register, and Jonas’s dish is spilling over with gummi worms.
“Dude, I think you got more toppings than yogurt.”
Jonas laughs, a little mischievously.
“This is what I always get,” he says.
His yogurt weighs three times mine on the little scale.
We sit at a table and dig in.
“So how’s school, buddy.”
“Fine,” he says, but he seems more interested in the music playing in Yogurtland—the song “Dynamite.” He’s kind of bobbing his head to the music as he shovels spoonfuls of yogurt-covered gummi worms into his mouth. Suddenly he gets up and does a little dance and sings along to the song:
“We gon light it up
Like it’s dynamite!”
He keeps dancing and singing for a while, and then returns to his Yogurt.
“Nice moves, buddy.”
We sit in silence for a while, eating. I get the sense that Jonas is way more interested in what song is coming on next than any small talk we can make. So I sit and listen to these pop songs that Jonas knows way better than me, and enjoy the yogurt. It’s kind of refreshing—no pressure to talk. Normally, if you go out for coffee or yogurt or dinner with somebody, you are expected to talk. Not so with me and Jonas. We eat yogurt and listen to pop songs, and we are cool with that.
Afterward, we walk outside, and Jonas sees the big sign for the 99 cent store.
“Dude, we should each get a toy.”
“It’s like you were reading my mind.”
So we head into the 99 cent store. Jonas keeps grabbing things—candy, spoons, cards.
“We should get this! We should get this!”
I feel like a real baller in the 99 cent store with Jonas.
“I don’t think we need spoons, but you can get a candy for later.”
“I wanna get this for my sister,” he says, grabbing a bag of M&Ms.
We find the toy aisle.
His eyes light on a dart gun.
“We should both get these and then have a dart fight!”
“I think we should also get a snake.”
“Grab one of those king cobras.”
He stands there holding candy, two dart guns, and a rubber snake, looking like he has found the lost treasure of the Sierra Madre.
“Alright buddy. Let’s roll.”
We are together in this old warehouse on the edge of downtown. The walls are pretty beat up, and the back is cluttered with junk—old cars, washing machines, tires, microwaves, scrap metal and wood, tools, records. It looks like a particularly intense episode of Hoarders.
“This is it,” Mike says.
“This is awesome,” I say, “It’s enormous.”
This is the future home of our new gallery. Landon, Tony, Chuck, Steve, Brian and I look around.
These beat up walls with holes, this grungy concrete floor stained with decades of oil and paint and rust—this is beautiful. This is a start.
We stand outside on Santa Fe, looking across the street at the old Donald Duck juice factory, long abandoned.
“Man, imagine if that was an art colony, like The Brewery in LA.”
“We can start here,” Mike says.
Mike’s dad, an aerospace engineer who worked on Apollo missions, who designs spacecraft, owns these warehouses. He has for years. I have no idea why. Developers have for years tried to buy these old buildings to build condos or apartments, but Pete never sold. So here we are. We have stumbled onto this treasure. A blank canvas.
I once read a book called “Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Post-Industrial City” about how artists and musicians in Chicago took old industrial warehouses and re-purposed them into studios and galleries and music venues. From the ashes of old school manufacturing, we will make things again. New things. Andy Warhol called his studio “The Factory.” They didn’t make tires or washing machines—they made art.
When we started the gallery two years ago on a corner downtown, people thought we were crazy. An art gallery in Downtown Fullerton? And not just an art gallery—but a contemporary art gallery—a lowbrow/skate/punk/outsider gallery. We showed weird shit we thought was cool. And people came. From sleepy suburban neighborhoods, people came into something new, something different.
At the time, parents and friends asked, “What do you know about running an art gallery?”
Nothing really. We just like art.
I think conventional wisdom is that you need grants and funding and bureaucratic blessing to do something like that. You need some big museum to say, “You can do this.” But I have seen what bureaucracy can do. I have seen the City of Fullerton talk about renovating an old movie theater for years, and nothing happen. I have attended the city museum openings, and been underwhelmed.
Our ethos is DIY—do it yourself. That’s how this shit gets done. So we will do it ourselves. We will patch the holes in this old warehouse. We will do the drywall and painting. We are not contractors. We are people who figure things out and do them.
We will bust our asses. We will get home from a full day of work, and then do some drywalling. We don’t get paid. We don’t have grants or bureaucratic blessing. We have only our hearts and hands. We will have help from friends who share our dream. John says, “I know how to patch a wall,” and he does it. Chuck says, “I know how to do moulding” and does it. That’s how this shit gets done.
In one month, we accomplish more than any redevelopment agency or historic foundation can do in a year. We create the beginning of an art colony. It is human beings coming together, doing things with their hands, each according to their abilities and knowledge.
Mike walks through with a big Polaroid camera, taking pictures. We have to document this. This feels important. It is something bigger than any of us individually. I wander through with my camera. Landon cleaning old windows, Chuck nailing wood, Tony sanding a wall.
Vince, the semi-homeless guy who lives out back, pushes a mop around. Vince talks to himself, but his conversation is very down to earth. He is narrating his thoughts aloud.
“I gotta clean this floor. It’s filthy. That place hasn’t been cleaned for years. I gotta clean this floor. I better change the water. This mop is pretty old...”
Vince looks a little beaten down by life, but his eyes reflect a sincerity. You never have to wonder what he is thinking—he says it all the time.
Part of me wishes everyone was like this—that I could wander around with my video camera, filming Chuck hammering nails, Tony sanding the wall, Landon cleaning the window—each saying aloud exactly what is on their minds.
If I had the courage of Vince, I would say something like this:
“I am filming this. I am tired. This is amazing. We are tired. But this will be amazing. Mike, I can’t believe you made this happen for us. Landon, I know you get sad about the fact that we don’t make money, but trust me, we can do this. Tony, you are a little irresponsible, but you are one of the coolest artists I know. Chuck, you can’t spell very well, but you are good at making things, and you have an eye for beauty. You have a vision with your moulding. Steve, I hope you understand what you got yourself into. Prepare to lose money with us, and to be okay with that. Fuck money! Fuck business plans and all that capitalist bullshit. This is real! This is real! We are doing this! I’m sorry we don’t make money, I’m sorry about that, but do you know how rare and beautiful this is?”
I wander around filming, with these thoughts in my head. My head a little cloudy from fatigue. I think I will sleep well tonight.
I walk home and make some soup and watch Where The Wild Things Are. Max and his Wild Things build a fort together, and for some reason it really moves me. This idea of people creating something together. Making things as we want them. Not accepting things as they are--making them new. I feel like that's what the gallery is all about, and this whole new Magoski Arts Colony. It's like we're a bunch of kids building a fort together. Making something in this world that we want to make, not because we have to or because anyone is telling us to, or because it's gonna make us lots of money or anything stupid like that. We are doing it because it's fun, and we want to.
Maybe that sounds cheesy, but it sounds good to me.
I sit in the CSUF cafeteria, eating a bean and cheese burrito, watching students rushing about and eating and talking. I watch these young people and I wonder what they will do with their lives. Will they be ordinary or extraordinary? Will they take the safe road—boring job, family, house? Or will they take the more difficult road into unknown territory? Will they follow their childhood dreams, or let themselves be pressed into a boring mold? They are at such an important age, these young people, when they can choose the path of their lives. I wonder—what will they choose?
It’s 1pm on a Friday afternoon. I’ve just finished teaching an English 101 class at Cal State Fullerton. I’ve feeling a little overwhelmed by the number of papers I must grade over the weekend. But I have more immediate concerns.
I stop at Ralphs to buy sugar and flour to make wheat paste, which I will use to put up a big poster outside our gallery. We have an opening tonight, and there is a lot to be done. I text Chuck to ask him to pick up a couple cases of wine. Now I’m in line at Kinko’s, waiting to have the big poster printed. When I pay for the poster, I have this familiar internal debate: should I use the gallery credit card or my own credit card? Technically, I know, I should use the gallery card. That would be the fair thing to do. But, as usual, I use my own credit card, because I know our financial situation. I know that we can’t really afford this, but I can.
Back at home, I make the wheat paste and send out a facebook message about our show.
I zoom over to the gallery, where Brian and a few artists are installing the show at PAS Gallery, our neighbors. We hung our show last night, but there’s still lots to be done, like the labels. Shit. I gotta make the labels. But first things first...the wheat paste poster.
Putting up wheat paste posters is actually one of my favorite things to do. There is a rich history of street artists who have used the medium of wheat paste posters. Normally, wheat pasting would be a felony, like any other type of “graffiti.” But this is MY business, and so I can wheat paste the hell out of it.
While the poster dries, I start typing up the labels. Dammit. One of the artists forgot to give us prices, so I call her and for the 84th time I have the semi-awkward conversation about pricing artwork. I ask her to price it as low as possible because our patrons, in general, are not wealthy. Our patrons are other artists, students, families, neighbors. In this economy, not many people have a thousand dollars lying around to buy a painting.
Nick arrives, eager to help. Trying to sound as un-bossy as possible, I ask him to set up the DJ station.
Steve arrives. I ask him to fold t-shirts.
On art opening days, I usually have a mental checklist scrolling through my head all day, a checklist that usually doesn’t get completed until around 6pm, when the opening begins. Wheat paste poster? Check. Labels? Check. Wine? Chuck. Facebook? Check. Sweeping? Damn. Still gotta sweep. I bet Landon will do that.
Tony cruises in on his skateboard, wanders around taking pictures.
5 o-clock. Crunch time. Oh shit. The vinyl sticker. The show title for the front wall. I feel bad calling Casey, our vinyl sticker guy, because every month we give him the design super last minute and we’re like, “We need this in two hours!” As I’m texting Casey, he walks in with the vinyl sticker. Phew. I give him $40, and then Tony and I put it up. Alright. The show is ready.
As I drive home for a quick shower and an even quicker dinner of cold pizza, I start thinking about a playlist for tonight. What do I want the vibe to be? Punk? Dance? Everything! We will improvise, like we always do.
As I’m finishing my pizza, I get a text from my dad, “We’re here. Where r u?”
I head back over, a little tired and anxious, but ready. What I really want is a cup of Candace’s sangria and a cigarette. After the stress of the day’s preparation, it usually takes me about three sangrias before I can actually start enjoying myself.
I hug my parents and grandma, warning them that some of the pieces are, as usual, “a little risqué.” They don’t seem to mind. They smile and eat their cheese and crackers and look at the art.
The people are starting to come. When we first opened the gallery, our crowd (being mostly in their 20s, like us) wouldn’t really show up until 8 or 9. But now that we have a full-blown Downtown Fullerton Art Walk with over 25 venues, people come earlier, and the crowd is way more diverse—families, old people, middle-aged people, people of all ethnicities and socio-economic levels. A good cross-section of the Fullerton community. I like it better this way. The young people still come out later, ready to party, but this feels more like a community art event, which it is.
Nick is on the turntables (actually only one turntable—the other one broke), playing New Wave. He digs the New Wave. I’m more of a punk.
Lots of little conversations. Leah from the Chamber of Commerce. A super old artist describes his work as “magical seascapes.” He wants a show at Hibbleton, and I don’t have the heart to tell him that seascapes are more of a Laguna Beach thing. I take his card, which has a watercolor seascape on it.
A few sangrias in and I’m feeling good. I hop on the turntable and play some punk classics: Dead Kennedys, Toy Dolls, Stiff Little Fingers, TSOL. Setting the vibe.
Landon takes over. He plays more rock n’ roll—The Kinks, electric Dylan, Cash, Howlin’ Wolf.
I wander over to The Violet Hour, Mike and Candace’s studio. Mike is at his DJ station, playing ambient music with spoken word stuff layered over it. He kind of looks like Andy Warhol. Candace is at the bar, pouring sangria. She is wearing a big pink wig and a nurse’s hat.
“You need another one, Jesse?” she asks.
More little conversations. City council member Pam Keller. The weird skinny dude who used to play at our open mic nights and make everyone feel uncomfortable.
“When you gonna bring back open mic nights,” he asks, a little aggressively.
“I dunno. We kind of stopped doing those. Have you checked out Max Bloom’s open mic nights?”
I wander over to the photo booth, where John Keller, one of my favorite people, is making buttons.
“Hello Mr. La Tour.”
“I’m like halfway through that Richard Feynman book you loaned me. It’s awesome!”
“I love the way his mind works.”
“Yeah, he’s this total physics genius, but he writes in a way that anyone can understand what he’s talking about.”
I bump into Landon.
“Any sales?” I ask.
“I think we sold a t-shirt,” he says, a little bummed.
“That should cover the rent. One t-shirt.”
“We are rollin’.”
What can we do but make jokes about our utter financial failure? But this place is packed. An art gallery on a Friday night in downtown Fullerton is full of people. If you said that three years ago, people would have thought you are were fucking insane. Maybe we are a little insane for doing this. But it feels good. It feels right. Money don’t make our world go ‘round. Music and art and people and love. That’s what makes our world go ‘round. And this place is full of those things. And it is beautiful. In this little warehouse in suburban America, we have found a kind of paradise.
I walk around, my head a little cloudy now from the sangria, drinking all this in: the art on the walls, the faces familiar and unfamiliar, the music. Now that the checklist has faded from my head, I drink all this in, and all this is beautiful.