“Why are the paintings going away?”
Mommy explains: ”Your dad is having a very important one-man show at a big fancy gallery across from The San Francisco Opera House. We’re going to get all dressed up and attend the opening.”
I get to go and not wear my pajamas with feet.
The grown-ups that belong to my friends will be there, the City Lights poets, the artists we know who hate artists who paint clowns, the jazz music dads in black turtlenecks who play at ‘The Hungry i’ , the Berkeley college teachers with the round leather on their elbows, and the actors from The Actor’s Workshop mommy draws the programs for.
An art critic is going to write about daddy’s art on newspapers after the opening party.
Mommy tells me, “It’s crucial to daddy’s career that he get a good review.”
There’s going to be fingers-food there, and drinks that I’m not allowed to drink, and everyone will talk about daddy’s paintings, and, my mom says “hopefully, wealthy art patrons will pay lots of money to take the paintings home to put up in their living rooms.”
I don’t have to pay any money to have the paintings at my house, and I feel sorry the patrons do.
I want to keep daddy’s paintings because nothing on walls my mom calls “day-class-ay.” I tell my friends’ moms‘, “you need real art to cover up walls, but not of kids or puppies with giant crying eyes.” My mom and dad won’t make friends with people who have the day-class-ay.
After my mom tells me about the big art show opening, she goes to try to cook the casserole with the potato chips on top. Poor Mommy. She loves cooking that I hate eating.
I’m just standing there watching her and our new stove and fridge that my mom says are “avocados” and are “very smart.” We have a smart ugly green fridge and stove now.
I’m big because when nobody pays attention to me I do whatever I want. In the living room, I turn on the little weensy T.V. all by myself that’s in the middle of a long wood cabinet.
I know that after dinner when daddy gets home, we will watch Edward Arm Urrow talk about McCarthy who is a very bad man who scares people about The Communists. When he calls people “The Communists,” they lose their job or even go to jail if they don’t tell on their friends for being The Communists who just want everyone to have work and food and clothes. I know to hate him.
After daddy gets home, Mommy goes and makes her art while we watch T.V.
Grandma Mutti from Poland likes to watch Ed Sullivan and Lawrence Welk. I dance while Lawrence Welk plays music daddy doesn’t like. He tells me he’s only clapping for me.
He likes The Friday Night Fights and tells me why it’s OK for the boxers to hit. He says, “They are not mad, they are just trying to win a big belt.” We don’t hit in our family, and even if we did, nobody wants to win a stupid belt.
The TV has kind of yellow knobs that you can pull off. I always watch ‘Micky Mouse Club’ after my mommy brings me home from nursery school. I’m almost famous on T.V. because I put on my mouse ears my daddy made me. I jump up and bow when they call out “Annette” even though I’m “Nanette.” And I like “Spin and Marty” on Mickey Mouse Club because they always get in trouble, but not the sent-to-your-room kind. I have that sometimes. Then I get to play in there.
Next is I’ve Got A Secret. A guy can drink water and smoke a cigarette at the same time. I guess he’ll die after I turn off the T.V.
Right before I shut it off, I always turn all the knobs to make the TV have wiggly black and white lines for my dad. He likes to fix the picture when he gets home from night art teaching at “The Jewish Community Center.”
Now, by myself, I go downstairs to daddyʼs art studio. I have my important ears on. I want to see all his big gigantic paintings that are going to be in the really crucial show and that are all in a line around the whole studio room that’s really the basement. The art is so much taller than me, up to the high ceiling. There are all colors of squares on the paintings, big circles inside circles, and even made-up animals like a “butter-phant”, and a “cam-eebra.” My dad painted them all to the Mozart records. Sometimes he paints to Bach which my dad tells me is not “bok”, it’s “bachhhhhh” with a throw-up sound at the end of the word.
The studio smells like art books, and paint, and canvasses daddy does the stretching to. I love to go there when Iʼm watching my dad paint his paintings to the Mozart. I have a special kid Butterfly-Chair, and I eat Cheezits while my dad paints away white into something else.
Once, my dad let me put my feet in paint and walk all around the wood floor of the studio. He said, “This way we can always see how much you’re growing.”
He gets his serious face on. “It’s important to really get in touch with the paint and make bold statements”, so I make hand prints on the floor too. My daddy paints on paintings and on things. All things can be made into art by painting on them.
Just like before nursery school lets out for summer, the dads come there to tell about work. The mom’s don’t come because they all do the same thing; laundry, cooking, cleaning, except for my mommy who makes art and works.
Grandma Mutti does laundry and cooking. Nobody in my family likes the cleaning part. We just make everything look nice, but mommy and daddy argue about the cleaning part because they are both artists and art comes before everything.
All of my dadʼs paintings are giant and canʼt fit into the station wagon with wings in the back that daddy doesn’t think mommy should drive because mommy is a damn lousy driver. He looks around the house for something to paint on so he has art to bring that will fit in the car.
He tells my mom, “The pressure cooker is a potential candidate. I could paint vegetables all around the outside of it.” He winks at me. She shakes her head…and means it.
I ask, “Our macrame planter with the knotted-up rope and a dried spider plant inside?”
“No,” he bends down and whispers, “Then mommy would make us water the plant from then on after it’s not dried-up anymore.”
My dad picks my doll-clothes trunk to paint on. “Always remember, painting means you’re growing up to be an artist.” He counts on his fingers. “Auntie Nadja’s an artist, Uncle Joe’s an artist, Grandma Mutti’s an artist, Mommy’s an artist, and I’m an artist. We’re a whole family of artists!”
In his studio, daddy puts the Mozart painting music on the record player, then he holds up a tube of paint. “This is the new acrylic paint, Nanette. It dries VERY fast, no more oil paints and turpentine in this house!”
He paints perfectly swirled circles, wiggled lines, and spots, and dots, all over my doll clothes trunk, even the bottom. The designs, he says, are “the filigree” and “the paisley.” My dad uses shiny gold paint to write “Nanette” on the lid in real handwriting he says is “calligraphy” which he learned from books. My doll trunk is so beautiful it could be on Howdy Doody!
Before we go upstairs for my dad to tuck me in and tell me “Mary The Hairy Fairy,” he lines up all his big gigantic paintings around the studio. He stands way back and looks at them from floor to ceiling and back down again. He does this with his thumb sticking up.
He closes one eye, opens it, then closes the other. He says, “This helps me really see the perspective.” I stick my thumb up too. I see my thumb.
In the morning, my dad trims his beard, and he puts on a skinny knitted tie around his neck that looks like it came from part of a sweater. He makes Wheatena and Bosco for my breakfast.
Then he brings me and the painted-on doll-clothes trunk to my school.
The dadʼs are in front of the whole classroom in a line, like when the teacher makes us go to the lavatory to pee even if we don’t have to. I can hold in pee except for jump rope.
Gladys’ dad works at the Green Stamps, and he shows us squares that you lick and put in a book, and then you get a bubble hair-dryer that you pay by the Green Stamps. My mommy doesn’t let me put the Green Stamps on letters because that makes letters come right back after you mail them and then all the lights in the house get turned off.
Stella’s dad is a cook. He wears a tall white cook hat and an apron, and he shows us a meat grinder and fondu-er with long skinny forks. We had a fondu-er that went to the Goodwill. We never used it because the fondu takes a long time to make and mommy doesn’t have time for that kind of nonsense.
Iris’ dad sells the Studebaker cars. He doesn’t bring in anything to school because Iris told me soon he’s going to be looking for a new job.
Afterwards, we have graham crackers and milk cartons, even all the dads. I let mine sit in my chair with the desk arm to the side. He squishes in there and bangs his knee. Also, he gets old gum on his pants.
My friends all like my doll trunk better than fondu-ers, and they tell me so.
Now, in the studio, by myself, I see all the tubes and jars of paint my dad told me are called the “burnt umber”, the “sienna”, the “ochre”, the “cyan”, the “indigo” (which really is just blue), and even the shiny gold.
I see the Maxwell House can with water inside. Brushes go in there, like my dad’s most special new expensive sable brush. It’s from a fur-coat kind of animal.
I switch the record player on.
Put on the shiny black Mozart record.
Watch the needle arm go down slowly, then land.
And the beautiful Mozart fills up the whole room.
I close my eyes like daddy to wait to see.
My hand rolls tubes of paint back and forth. Then I pick up the biggest tube of my dad’s paint. I wrap my fingers almost around the whole thing. I twist off the cap. As hard as I can, I squeeze the big tube of paint on my daddy’s pallet and white comes out in a long toothpaste snake. I squeeze other colors too.
Into the can of water I dip the special sable brush that a real artist uses. I know this comes first because I watch painting.
Then I verrrrry carefully squish down the hairs of the big sable brush in the paint on the pallet, the white, next to the cyan, next to the indigo.
I go over to all the gigantic paintings that are way bigger than me and are up to the high ceiling, and I verrrrry carefully, because I want my daddy to be so happy, I verrrrry carefully paint swirls, and lines, and dots, and even kind of paisleys, on all my dad’s paintings that are lined up around the big studio room ready to go to the vital art gallery show. When I’ve reached painting as high up as I can, I stand all the way back and hold my thumb up. It has paint on it. I wash the paint off, then I go upstairs and try to eat mommy’s casserole.
Daddy comes home late from night art teaching and he’s beat. I’m already asleep without a story because I was beat too.
In the morning, the art gallery van driver comes to my house and my dad takes him down to the studio in the basement so they can pack all the paintings into the big blue van that says ʻCellini Galleryʼ on the side.
I go downstairs too because I want to see how happy my dad will be when he sees the paintings with my paintings on top of his paintings.
And my dad sees the paintings, and his hand covers up his big opened up mouth. His face and ears turn very red all of a sudden. His other hand he puts on his chest. Then his shirt gets wet under the arms, and he is very quiet and sweaty on his forehead and looking at me with big googly eyes and he is staring at all the paintings while he is standing very still except for his eyes.
The van driver is leaning on his dolly and is looking outside. He gets to chew gum.
He says, “Hey Daddy-o, c’mon, we have to get the paintings to the gallery so they can put everything up for the opening.” Then the driver picks up paintings, and tells my dad to give him a hand. My dad keeps just standing there and standing there. The driver grumps at my dad over his shoulder and walks out to the van. My dad still keeps standing there.
But then they both make trips back and forth, back and forth, to the big blue van that says ʻCellini Galleryʼ on the side. The van driver drives away, and my dad stands on the curb for a long time with his hand on his head. Maybe he has a fever.
When he is done and comes back into the studio, he is shaking his head. Probably he is worried the patrons won’t buy the paintings. I tell him “the people will see the getting-in-touch-with-the-paint”, and I stand on his feet and hug.
When we go upstairs, my mom and dad go into the bedroom and close the door so I can’t hear them discussion.
There is loud whispering in there for a long time. I hear:
Dad: “YES…ON ALL!”
Mom: “OH NO!”
Dad: “THE HELL DOING, HELEN?”
Mom: “CASSEROLE, DAMMIT.”
Dad: “WHERE WAS SHE?”
Mom: “T.V… DAMN MOUSE EARS.”
Dad: “DO NOW?”
Mom: “CALL CELLINI???”
Dad: ”TOO LATE…GONE!”
When they come out of their bedroom, my mom just swooshes right past me into the bathroom and bangs down her curler brush-rollers hard on the sink edge. She is in her T-strap high heels with a purse that matches, and she is wearing stockings, and a girdle, and red lipstick, which usually makes her pretty, but not now because she has another kind of face on.
Daddy just walks back and forth, up and down, up and down, up and down the hall, for no reason.
My mom is not talking during my whole bath. I want to tell her about the paintings but she acts like when she has to do the dishes because my dad just won’t. Then she curls my hair with socks she puts at the ends of pieces of my hair. She rolls them up hard, and ties a knot. I wind up with lots of tied-up socks on my head, and I jump on my mommy and dad’s bed in my undershirt until my mom says it’s time to put on my best red taffeta dress and my shiny black Mary-Jane shoes.
She takes out the socks and my hair is all curly. My dad wears his skinny knitted tie. My mom says for him to wear a suit jacket if itʼs still in the way back of the coat closet and hasn’t gone to the Goodwill with the fondu set.
We are all going to the big art opening at the special downtown art gallery across from the Opera House and the very important critic from The Chronicle will look at my daddy’s paintings and then the critic will go home and write a newspaper about the art for everyone in the world to read.
We get into the front seat of the brown station wagon with the wings sticking out the back. My mom told me that we bought it because daddy likes the ʻtuck and rollʼ. I like to hide my momʼs Chiclets gum I get from her purse under the tuck parts of the seat so I have gum for later. I sit in the middle because I like to get bounced while the car is driving. Sometimes I stand up. Daddy and Mommy stick out their arms across me when they see red stopping lights. We drive with nobody talking, and it is very quiet all the way to the special downtown art gallery with the big art opening where all the friends, and poets,and artists, and musicians, and actors will eat the fingers-food.
The big quiet feels bad.
It is really hard to park the car when we get to the Cellini Gallery because a whole crowd of dressed-ups are going to the Opera across the street and we have to drive around and around the downtown blocks three times. My dad yells out the window to a guy in a car that got in front of us. “Jackass.” My mom yells too. “Leonard!” Dad yells some more, “Well, the jerk took my space.” Mom yells, “It’s not important.”
Finally, we walk three blocks to The Cellini Gallery and people are spilled out onto the sidewalk. They drink from glasses outside. Then they all clap. My mom and dad sort of smile. We go inside the Cellini Gallery, and a fancy lady does make-pretend kissing air next to my dad’s head, both sides, and then my mom’s too. My mom whispers to me “she thinks this is Europe with that kissing.” The same lady gives me a cookie, thank goodness. I think maybe she is the leader and she lives in there with paintings.
It’s a good thing the Cellini Gallery has high-up walls all around in lots of rooms because my dad’s paintings are so giant that they look better on high-up walls than on regular walls. Jazz music is playing, and the big gigantic daddy paintings with my swirls, and lines, and dots on top of his big color squares, and triangles, and circles, and animals are beautiful. They make the strong statements.
I know some of the people there because they are the dad’s and mom’s that belong to my kid-friends , but I am the ONLY kid there. The dressed-up lady who gave me a cookie goes around to all the fancy people coming in. She is shaking a lot of the hands and pretend kissing then pointing to a man in a black suit and bow-tie who hangs up people’s coats in a little kind-of closet. Two other suit-guys carry big round trays full with juice in lots of glasses. They might spill.
Down the middle of the gallery is a long table with a white cloth on it. Little black dots are on crackers with stinky cheese. Thereʼs teeny tiny doll hotdogs, and stuffed egg halfs with dill sprinkles on top. I love those. I even eat one after it slides off the plate onto the floor. Thereʼs smelly pink shrimps to dip in sauce that I wonʼt eat no matter what, and I tell my mom so.
Daddy’s paintings all have their very own spot light just like Ed Sullivan. The crowd of people walk around drinking from the glasses and get a lot more. Little groups are pointing in front of paintings. I hear grown-ups talking things like “ahead of his time” and “the new Picasso.” Once in awhile, people bend down to me and ask “what do you think of your daddyʼs work?” They whisper to me if my daddy told me what the paintings mean.
I roll my eyes, and I don’t whisper. “They mean art.”
I also tell them that buying the paintings makes people not be day-class-ay.
After awhile, I’m tired. A lot of the paintings have little red dots on the walls next to them.
The people stand all around my dad telling him nice things. He is nodding and kind of laughing. My mom is kind of smiling. They keep looking over at all the dots next to paintings and then they look at each other. Sometimes they look at me. Then they look at the gallery lady who is laughing her head back even more than when the people first came.
The talking and music is very loud. Finally drink glasses end up back on the big trays. The people get their coats from the little-room man. There is a lot of sort-of hugging without all the way hugging, and then the people leave. The gallery lady is even happier to my mom and dad than when we first got there. I guess she is glad everyone is gone. I am too.
I sleep in the car. After awhile, my dad carries me.
The next morning my dad drives to the grocery very fast to get the newspaper to see if we are famous now.
Mommy and I sit on the couch. Daddy sits in his big chair. Then he reads us what the big important art critic wrote down:
catapults the viewer into a dynamic world of
many-tiered patchworkscapes, punctuated
with an illusive trans-dimensional innocent
grandeur. His unique approach to imagery,
particularly with the manner in which
the lower portions of the paintings are thick
with layered simple shapes, flows upward into
the more complex, which at last appear to fade
to a hover above the paintings themselves.
Breger challenges traditional plein-aire,
and yet has the congruent yearnings of
an ultimate context of no context leaving one
with a kind of breathless narrative by his
staunch determination to overcome the
known with a quasm of anti-polarity.
This work is a triumph of cataclysmic strata
and non-rectilinear musings…a must see!”