THE SLOVENLY ARTIST
His teeth were long and yellow, which I later discovered was from chain smoking. Since we met in a restaurant I wasn’t aware of just how many cigarettes he smoked. He was in his late 40s, had been married, but was now divorced, currently working in a studio where he made glass sculpture. He supports his schizophrenic mother – pays the bills for the institution he put her in a few years back. He invites me to his house for dinner with friends. As we drive there, it’s just a few blocks from the restaurant, but safer to drive because he lives on the same street as the Rolling 525s a Hispanic gang that hangs out in the front yard of the small bungalow in the midst of the remodeled yuppie dwellings. Young boys wearing wife beater t-shirts and baggy pants with guns tucked in the waistband at their backs – the gentrification of Venice is still in progress and the poor and disenfranchised aren’t leaving this beach community so easily so the Yuppies carry guns too. Just not where you can see them.
The interior of his small truck is full of trash. Literally. My feet sit on top of a pile of fast food wrappers, cigarette boxes and dirty clothing so that my knees are level with my shoulders. He lights up immediately, clearly he’s been jonesing for a smoke during the two hours we were talking in the bar. He’s not bad looking, tall and gangly with sinewy muscles in his arms from surfing. Salt and pepper hair, lots of it curly and unruly, that Sam Elliot look from lifeguard that I find so attractive. I decide to ignore the trash in his car and the obvious addiction to nicotine. A trip to the car wash, some nicotine patches and a cleaning the dentist could fix him right up.
Then we arrive at his house. It is the smaller of two units in a building owned by the man for whom he works. When we walk through the door I take in the fact that the living room is full of trash! There are also a few guitars, some skateboards and surfboards. It looks like someplace inhabited by an 18 year old. The kitchen is even worse. There are things in there that don’t belong in a kitchen – like shoes and overflowing ashtrays. I ask him how often he smokes and he says occasionally. I ask him how much time passes between the time he opens his eyes in the morning and the time he lights up his first cigarette. He says not much. Uh-oh.
His guests arrive for dinner – the man is his landlord and his boss. His wife is a lovely person who he clearly married so that he will always have an audience because he talks about himself incessantly. I am attempting to help the artist cook the dinner, but this requires that I clean up the massive mess as I go. I wonder that he would invite people over for dinner in squalor. I wonder that none of them seem to be phased by it. I wonder if I have become Felix Unger because I am definitely phased by the slovenly mess.
I eventually have to go to the bathroom. The sink is a truly a work of art – designed by the neighbor who owns the building. A clear glass bowl that has beautiful colors suspended within it like flowers. Unfortunately it’s filthy like everything else. Again there are more dirty clothes on the floor. I am afraid to sit down on the toilet so I hover over it gripping the sink for support. I wash my hands really good with very hot water after touching it. I dry my hands on my jeans. The bedroom is up the flight of stairs to the left – I am truly terrified of what might be up there. I bet he cuts his hair himself and keeps it in a drawer.
When it is time for me to leave he walks me to my car, which is good because the gang members are still out front - with their guns. I see their cigarettes glowing in the dark and hear their muttered comments as we pass. I suppress the urge to run – they can smell fear. When we get to my car he leans in to kiss me and sticks his tobacco flavored tongue in my mouth. Where it sits like a sodden cigarette. Um, eeeeuuuuwww. I feel his hands trembling on my back. Jeez! I am getting so grossed out. I open my car door and slide inside my hand in my purse already looking for a piece of gum. He asks if he can call me and I say sure even though I’m pretty sure this was already the “no” date.
We go out one more time and he brings me flowers. Unfortunately he also brings a little cloud of cigarette smoke, which wafts along behind him into my house, permeating the couch that he sits on. He asks me to drive to dinner because he’s forgotten his glasses. This is very definitely the ‘no’ date. Once there we have awkward conversation and I pay for my own meal – the surest sign of disinterest. When we get back to my house he tries the cigarette kiss, but I turn my head quickly and shake his hand. I tell him that it was very nice and thank you, but it’s late and I have to go to bed – it’s 9:30 on a Friday. I know he understands that I am telling him not to call me ever again.