Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Man in the Red Crocs

There isn’t much to do in a waiting room except wait. Which is what I was doing last week at the VA at Jefferson Barracks. I go there twice a year for an exam and get my meds from them. Yes, I was in the Army but you don’t have to thank me for my service. It was their idea.
     So on this day there was just one other guy in the waiting room. Him and me and 22 empty chairs, plus a TV set at one end with a cooking show. (How many vets want to watch a cooking show? Just wondering.) So this guy was somewhere between 60 and 75 I guess, had a bushy white beard, lots of hair on top of his head, and a friendly face. He held a plastic bag that contained 3 or 4 round things. My guess is that it was fruit, like plums or apricots. I knew it wasn’t golf balls.
     My appointment had been for 10:00, but I was still sitting there at 10:45, so I was rather desperate for some relief from the boredom. That’s when I noticed his shoes. Red Crocs.
     “I like your shoes,” I said. That’s an easy way to start off a conversation. Guaranteed to get some kind of response, usually something in the way of       “Yeah, they’re comfortable” or “I got ‘em on sale” or just a simple “Thanks,” which usually ends the conversation.
     Not on this day. My bearded friend was delighted to talk about his Crocs. The following conversation is guaranteed authentic. I used my “Recorded” app on my iPhone.
     He said, “They look just like house shoes, complete house shoes with the heel back there and everything. The ones for the winter time don’t have holes in them, but they’re lined. Some people in life, and you know these people, their feet don’t hardly get cold.
But these are house shoes, and you can wear a pair of socks with them.. they’re plenty roomy.
     “Do you wear these all the time? Or do you wear other shoes?” I said.
     “I only wear these.” He got up from his chair, crossed the room, and sat next to me, so I could get a really good look at his Crocs.  “If I went to church, I’d wear ‘em to church. You can get ‘em in so many colors. Nowadays, most of ‘em at church, don’t even care how you dress, as long as you show up. You know, these kids.” He took one of his shoes off, handed it to me. “You can give ‘em away to the homeless as a last minute pair of shoes.”
     I held his shoe, by the heel. “How many pairs do you have?” I said.
     “I’ve got a total of three pair. A winter pair at home. Another pair like this that are dark blue. Just three pair. You can buy ‘em online. But for the first time you’re better off if you go to the mall. That way you can find out if you really like ‘em.” 
     He gave me directions to the nearest mall. I’d never heard of it.  Then a VA tech came in, talked to my friend about his meds, and said he’d have to go down to the pharmacy to get them. So I could feel our conversation coming to an end.
     As he started to leave, I said. “Nice talking to you.” He stopped and said the same.
     “What’s your name?” I said.
     “Where did you serve?” 
     In a matter-of-fact voice, he said, “I was in Viet Nam. 1968. Mobile river marine force. On a boat, with the Navy. We were in the Army, but the Navy transported us up and down the river, to get to where we needed to get to.” He checked the contents of his bag. “I was only there a year. Half of ’68 and half of ’69. But I did my part and I left.”
     I wasn’t sure whether to ask my next question, but I did anyway. “You come out okay?”
     “Yes,” he said, again as though he were talking about what he had for breakfast. “Well, kind of okay. Agent orange, of course. Agent orange has some effect on your body, it shows up later. Sometimes lots later. Well, they’re the boss, so what you say doesn’t mean anything. I guess I’m doing okay.”
     He took a step towards me and I thought he was going to talk about his health. I was wrong. He said, ‘One big change I’d like to see in this system, make an agreement with Walgreens to be able to walk into Walgreens, show ‘em your ID, and get your prescription there, and paid for by the people here.”
     “Good idea,” I said. And I meant it.
     He smiled, waved. “Have a good rest of the day.” And he left the room in his red Crocs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Beware of Listening to Art Critics

You can put this in the category of "Too bad you didn't know then what you know now." I'm talking about art. Specifically, paintings. While looking through an old Life Magazine for an article on Charlie Chaplin's daughter Geraldine, I came across an article titled "Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?”

The date on the magazine is January 31, 1964. That was about a year before I was married and still wondering what kind of career was ahead of me. Here’s how the article begins:
“For some of America’s best known critics and a host of laymen, the answer to the above question is a resounding YES. A critic of the New York Times, hedging only a bit, pronounced Roy Lichtenstein “one of the worst artists in America.” Others insist that he is no artist at all, that his paintings of blown-up comic strips, cheap ads and reproductions are tedious copies of the banal.”
That’s a pretty tough condemnation. If I read something like that, I’d pass on Lichtenstein and buy a big-eyed child by Keane. The article continues, “But an equally emphatic group of critics, museum officials and collectors find Lichtenstein’s pop art “fascinating,” “forceful,” “starkly beautiful.” 

I was not in a financial position to invest in art in 1964 or anytime soon after that. I knew nothing about art as an investment. My loss. Here’s what the article says about him.

“A quiet affable man of 40, he fully expected to be condemned for the subject matter as well as the style of his paintings. But he little dreamed that within two years of his first pop exhibition, his canvases would be selling out at prices up to $4,000 and he himself would be a cause celebre of the art world.”

When I saw that figure, I remembered something I had recently read about art auctions in New York. Paintings are going for record-setting prices. There are a lot of very wealthy people who deem it necessary to display their breeding and wave their money by owning major works of art.
So I Googled “Roy Lichtenstein.”
I went to the website of Christie’s, the art auction house.
I found the latest prices on 4 of Roy's paintings. One of them, the one you see in the photograph above, like a thing with two heads, on the right side, just sold for $56,000,000. That’s 56 MILLION $$$$$. Lichtenstein Paintings at Christie's
I knew his work was hot, but 56 million? For something I could have bought 51 years ago for $4,000? I think that’s an appreciation of 14,000%. Just imagine if I had bought TWO of them. And add a couple by Warhol, while we’re at it.

Obviously I should not have been putting my money into Mad Comics. 

I'm not sure what the moral is here. Don’t listen to critics? Pay attention only to certain critics? Follow your heart? I don’t know. I think the moral is to not read any more articles about artists in old Life Magazines. 

The article concludes with this thought:
"Eventually, Lichtenstein and his admirers expect, the repulsiveness of his subject matter will wear off and viewers will become more aware, and perhaps appreciative, of the esthetic qualities of his paintings."

That's for sure! Fifty-six million bucks is a lot of appreciation for one painting.