...and That's What I Did This Weekend.

The tall guy turned around and came back to my art station - he was wearing a Bell's Brewery shirt and had trouble finding his words.

"I never do this, I'm from Michigan, but could you draw a skitty sk...shitty sketch of my best friend and I at the bar there, like a Hemingway feel, you know...a well-lit room..."

I was stationed between the bar and the side-door at Palette 22 as an Artist-in-Residence. Heavy humid air bustled in with every turn of the revolving door. Outside, two young women with elaborately-braided hair nestled together, perusing the menu taped to the window above my table. The young man was in front of me, unsure whether he'd made his request clear. He shuffled from side to side.

"I hate Hemingway," I responded, grinning. "Also I dislike Kalamazoo very much."

My daughter's voice giggled in the recesses of my brain:  "You're the one who taught me: If it isn't worth doing for the story it isn't worth doing at all." I looked around at the heavy wood bar, the industrial stools, the walls hung floor to ceiling with art, not quite a Nighthawks feel... I expected to see Hemingway smirking from a shadowy corner.

"Oh, I don't like Hemingway, either," the guy was saying. "Just well...A Well-Lit Room...are you from Michigan, too?"

"Yeah. In fact, today's my daughter's birthday, and she's in Vegas right now, but she still lives in Kalamazoo. I went through a lot of trouble to get her out of there and she went back."

"I get it," he mourned. "I ran from there, too. Grand Rapids."

Because I'm a horrible person, I laughed. "Let me see what I can do." Obviously, Hemingway was standing behind me; I couldn't see him anywhere, but I could smell that damn Campari on his breath. His petulant words and arrogant tone were wheedling my fingers into doing his bidding.

The tall kid from Grand Rapids found the story he meant on his phone and let me read a bit of it. Yep. I could feel that story in this sparsely-populated, dimly-lit room. I took a clean sheet of scratchboard to a spot round the corner from where they sat and instructed the pair:

"Don't pay any attention to me. Just do what you do."

I sketched out the rocks glass with its lime wedge dipping into the murky cocktail and worked toward the far end of the bar - there is no erasing in scratchboard. When one or the other of the friends would try to talk to me, I shushed them. I blocked out the sunglasses sitting next to the best friend's arm.

A couple sat a few stools down, paying no attention to me nor to each other. I looked up briefly to get a visual on the guys, and the blonde one was watching me, chewing loudly, unidentifiable food hanging from his mouth. The tall kid, the one who'd asked for this, was shuffling mussels around on a plate and talking about Spiderman.

"You wanna do it? Let's go, man." The blonde seemed beyond finishing that drink. The tall one got up again and presented me with a small plate of food that looked to have seen better moments:  a mussel in its shell and possibly-chewed triangles of bread, among other things.

"Thank you. Go sit down."

"My nose isn't that big," he said, looking over my shoulder.

"No," I assured him, "it isn't. Go back over there." He went back over there.

"Spiderman?" said the friend. "You wanna do it? Let's go see it."  The bartender materialized and quietly took away the small plate of food.

He'd said shitty sketch - I tried to work fast and loose. I was feeling less Hemingway and more Van Gogh -  The Tired Mussel-Eaters.  I picked up my scratchboard and knife and went back to the art station for better lighting. I sketched in a little more detail make a cohesive piece. If you're gonna do a thing, do it all the way, or at least try.

"My nose isn't that big. Can you fix it?" They were hovering over my table.

"I really can't," I laughed. "Just pretend it isn't you."

"Wait, that other one is supposed to be me? Holy shit!" Blonde Best Friend fell into drunken laughter. He explained that he was from Syracuse but lived around the corner, and they were here celebrating his tall friend's engagement.

My work was finished and we three stared at it, unsure what to do next.

"How do you get paid?" Blondie asked.

"I don't know. I never do this." I started explaining the process of buying original art off the walls, and looking for a manager to handle the transaction. "But how are you going to take this to the movies?"  Blondie and GR looked at each other, silent, weaving slightly.  I suspected they weren't going to make it through the movie.

I asked them to take a picture of it with a cellphone and text it to me, because I'd misplaced my phone. In the end, they left with the photos and I kept the original. I still don't know what to do with it.

Further Reading:

A Clean, Well-lighted Place - Ernest Hemingway
Courtesy of WPLS.org.

Bell's Brewery
The wonderful house that Larry built. I have fond memories, especially of the Front Desk Meetings with Aaron, Marc, Rich and Nichole.


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