That’s me in the picture. It was taken at my old wooden desk on Penn Avenue that overlooked the patchy grass and broken umbrella of our narrow backyard.
That woman on the wall is Mireille Darc, a French actress from the 60’s whose dark eyes had me so fiercely enchanted that I taped her to the wall even after the printer stained the whole thing a psychedelic orange.
Next to orange Mireille is Marilyn Monroe – a caricature that I sketched on the back of a restaurant menu while drinking cheap Cabernet one night in November. It was taken from of that classic scene of her – you know, in The Seven Year Itch where her skirt is all blowing up with ethereal innocence and she’s smiling so big her eyes are almost closed. I colored in her lipstick real red and then shaded small hearts on her panties to repeat it, but you can’t really see the hearts because it’s too small.
Above Marilyn and Mireille is a picture of my parents on their BMW motorcycle back in 1976 atop Mt. Evans in Colorado. I can always hear my dad’s animated voice, – “highest paved road in the U.S,” he’d say. It was taken right before they zoomed haphazardly around South America for a two years. I used to think I needed to nail down what that picture meant to me, how exactly it inspired me and what I was going to do to live up to it, but I never really figured it out, so I just hung it up and looked at it in general.
To the left of Mireille is a quote by Thomas Merton. I wrote out the whole page-long thing because he talks about a certain level of spiritual transcendence in which the relation of God and man gets suddenly so clear that we fall down and worship each other with shuddering sobs of joy.
Below Marilyn Monroe is a slim piece of paper torn from a brown leather notebook my sister gave me on my 26th birthday. I used to write down a lot of Pablo Neruda’s free verse in it. I’d rip them out so I could tape them to the wall. Every month or so the adhesive would wear out, but I taped a new one up every time the old one fell, and it kept a natural sort of rotation going. I think that one was “Every Day You Play.” The best line in it is, “while the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies…” I carved a monarch into the wood of the desk and sketched its lacy wing patterns with a fine-tipped black ink pen.
That green lamp shade on the left there – there was never a light bulb in it, but it was sort of a cool looking little lamp anyway.
There’s a small potted fern on my desk. My mom had given it to me from the sunny windowsill of her farmhouse kitchen because I asked. It was half-dead in this picture. Now it’s totally dead. I don’t know if it died from over-watering or under-watering because I kept thinking it was suffering from one or the other, and I mucked up its circadian rhythm by over-correcting. I later bought a Madagascar dragon tree which was bigger and way cooler, but I still felt bad about the little fern.
The white strip on the back ridge of the desk nearest the wall – that’s an Abraham Lincoln quote – at least in my mind it is. Some people say it was Winston Churchill. “Success is being able to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Regardless, I never really do that.
The red-checkered flannel shirt I’m wearing – it looks all like hipstery-artist-contrived, but my dad always wore red-checkered flannel – especially when we’d go out logging at Whitetail Flat when I was a kid. I’d just sort of sit in the cab of the dump truck we called “The Red Flash” and then jump around on the tree stumps while he roared away with the big chainsaw, but I still dream that stuff – the scent of oily exhaust and fruity sapwood, sawdust sticking to sweaty, gleaming forearms, and the crackling crashes that shuddered the ground under my scuffed white sneakers – that was red-checkered flannel.
The selfie makes me look a little more handsome than I actually am – like a slightly squarer jaw or more pronounced cheek bone or something because of the angle. It’s like iPhones have a damn auto-correct for beauty now too. People say I look a little bit like my mom though. She didn’t need an auto-correct for her face. She was such a knock-out she almost caused a riot once down in Belize City because the locals thought she was Jane Fonda.
The picture’s distorted, kind of reeling backward like a doomed ship. It’s as if the whole thing is going to rear up on it’s hind legs until Mireille and Marilyn and the potted fern and my parents fall off the wall and the desk and hit the floor together in a jumbled pile, as if it’s slowly tipping out of control and away from all attempts at order. It’s like it might even pull the house down on its crazy tilt until the whole thing comes loose and goes cartwheeling slowly away on Penn Avenue.
I don’t have a desk anymore since I moved to New York. I just sit on the floor now.