Jon Gregory Presco
The Art of The Trespass
Last night I dreamed I worked on the painting of a great artist who befriended me – without his permission. He could not get his summer grass right, so, I picked up his brush (while he slept) and gave him a clue as to how it could be done, but not enough of a hint where he could not claim complete ownership, and abandons the great work in pure disgust because a mere amateur, (or a greater genius then himself,) had upstaged him.
This dream was inspired by the composing (in my head) of my this first chapter, this opening scene, that would best describe my dear friend Bill to you.
Bill and I had known each for three months. I had just turned thirteen. We are standing inside an artist’s studio beholding a work in progress. Next to the canvas is a wood box containing an extensive set of oil colors that we two poor artists are admiring.
“There’s your set of oil colors, if, you so desire.” said my new friend in his matter of fact way that exuded maturity, and, authority. Being a Army Brat had its advantages especially when you taught yourself to rebel against the most powerful institution in the world, that many nations complain has engaged in egregious trespasses. And here come the incredible excuses as to why We the People had a right to disregard the bounders of sovereign nations. These, reasons, are an art form.
From the moment we met Bill and I engaged in a Look At That – Look At This, contest, because this is what we were both very good at – as individuals. Now as a team, we already had achieved greatness, for there is no greater and more loving bond then the one two people make when they pledge to see the beauty in the world together – no matter what gets in their way!
On several occasions Bill and I admired the A frame with a hundred panes of glass from the street, we surmising that this must be an artist’s studio.
“Let’s find out!” Bill declared and veered off the sidewalk on Park Boulevard and blazed a path through the tall grass, then the mustard and licorice plants. My heart was racing as we climbed over a weathered cedar fence that was the color of raw umber, and spotted a door to the A-Frame. We tried the door knob, found it unlocked, and entered another creative man’s cathedral.
Here was our dream, the studio we would own one day when we were members of Adult World, when somehow we had money and could afford the things denied us. In some respects this studio was already ours, or, that is the impression Bill gave me as he went about touching things that did not belong to him, opening books that were closed, and leaving his unsolicited opinion behind, as evidence. Critics are trespassers, that serious artists must endure, we leaving a window ajar so they can slither in and accost us, have their way with us so we can be famous.
Studying my friend, I was amazed at how he made himself at home. He was pleased I had agreed to trespass with him, because Bill had mastered the art of trespassing. Being the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Brian Caufield Arnold, who chose a military career, gave my friend a sense of entitlement. Bill had lived in Britain, Paris, and Japan. Down in Mr. Arnold’s basement, Bill showed me all these wooden crates full of things made in France and Japan.
“My father took these things. This is war booty. He had a right to take these things because America won the war. Let’s open this crate and see what’s inside.”
Finding a hammer, we juvenile rats have gnawed our way into the Colonel’s Box of War Shame. Gently moving aside the excelsior, Bill takes hold of the neck of a bottle of French wine, and reads the label and date.
“This is very rare and expensive French wine. I don’t know why my father stole it, He doesn’t drink wine, and has no class. He wears Rubber shoes he stole in Japan while trying to sell real-estate. What a waste of good wine.”
Come summer vacation Bill and I would reopen this crate and take a bottle of Chablis camping with us on Mount Tamalpias. Atop this mount we anointed a special place where we two philosophers would sit on rocks watching the sunset as we told each other our deepest concerns and aspirations. These were extremely poetic moments, because we tried to own complete honesty. You have to be honest with yourself if you want to be a poet. To this day, these honest times were the most cultured I have experienced. Not being a civilian, and not able to have a close friend in the military, Bill was honored to have the first real friend in his life.
“We moved from camp to camp. I would always choose the sleaziest, scruffiest kid to be my friend, so that when it came time to move to the next camp, I wouldn’t miss him. There would be no problem saying “Goodbye!”
Being introspective with Bill was the best thing that would happen to me in this life. As we watched the western sky turn into all the colors on an artist’s palette, Bill told me about the friend he wished one day to meet.
“You have exceeded my expectations. You are a talented artist. You are a wonderful poet, capable of deep thinking. You are caring and giving. And when you give me your opinion, it is well thought out. More wine?”
I held out the cup to the mess kit Bill picked out for me at the Army surplus store, and my comrade poured me a tinful of the best wine in the world.
“For you my good friend, the very best!”
And we made a toast, and we made a vow.
“Let us make a pledge. That no matter what, we will always tell each other the truth! Agreed?”
We camped for seven days on our moutian, and when we had to come down, Bill went into a funk. He would not speak to me. The next day he called me up and told me to come over for there is one more ritual to perform to put a close on our camping trip.
“I’ll be right over.” I told Bill, I detecting in his voice his genius had been hard at work, and he had something great in store for us.
Down in the basement, Bill had a silver pitcher and cups he had dug out of the war booty sitting on a crate.
“Take a seat, and have some water.!”
After Bill had poured me my third cup of water. With a mischievous glint in his eye, he now asked me if I had to take a pee. Answering in the affirmative, Bill produced the empty bottle of wine.
“Let’s pee in this bottle before we put it back in the crate, so if my father opens it to see how his wine is aging, he, won’t miss what he will never taste.”
Bill always pushed the envelope of reality. He was the Master Trespasser. While living in Japan, Bill climbed over this fence and up a high radio tower. When the Japanese spotted this Anglo up in their tower, they went basaltic. This was a great insult to them, this six foot three blue-eyed blonde haired Anglo had restarted World War Two. They cursed him, rained profanity up at my friend. Then, they ran and got bamboo poles to beat him with when he finally came down.
“I was twelve. They showed me no mercy. They beat me black and blue. It was my crucifixion scene. They punished me for the sins of my father.”
Bill did not lie to me when he told me he had an I.Q. Of 180. He was eloquent is his description of the cross he carried while being a hostage of the United States Military.
“If you were not an officer, you were expected to be stupid, have an I.Q. Of seventy, or, you would be singled out and punished. Only officers are allowed to use their mind, such as it is. Being the son of an officer, I commanded respect, but, I was resented. I was not an enlistee. Nor was I a civilian. I was trapped between two worlds with a big brain. My big brain got me into trouble. This is why I chose to become an artist, because it gave me an identity I could use as a shield, employa as my excuse to be – utterly different? I am well read. I was lonely. I invented my own world.”
So, there we stood, before a mount of crates, with our peckers in our hand, peeing into an empty bottle of Chablis.
“I assume you heard my father beats me.” Bill said, as we tinkled, as our vintage friendship produced a facsimile bottle of vino.”
“Yes.” I answered while I waited for my turn, I wondering if I had the guts. But, I had no problem after I understood this was our message to Lt. Col Arnold. And I owned a picture of that fine day, Brian has alas sold a house, and brings our bottle of urine to the new home of the young couple who have purchased their – dream. And, perhaps they politely kept their mouths shut, in respect to their odd realetor, showing this Word War Two Veteran some respect, they dare not telling him his rare wine tastes like goat piss!
All Bill and I wanted, was to be artists – and have folks leave us alone! But, this is a damnable lie. We wanted retribution – for damage done!
As the sun beat down upon me through a hundred panes of glass, it was a scene out of a black and white move as I stood before the box of oils, a halo atop my head, a bright beam from heaven highlighting this great temptation Bill had put before me.
“If you want me to turn my back so I won’t witness your deed, I will!”
Bill turned his back, and looked nonchalant. I never did anything bad before. I was a saint. That was my survival technique. I looked at the most interesting person I would ever meet in my life, and I knew this was the truth. I knew I wanted to know this amazing human being my whole life. Bill was daring, and wanted his best friend to be daring. There were other closed doors to be opened. I quietly closed the wood box. Bill cleared his voice after he heard the click of clasp.
We spoke not a word as we walked down Park Boulevard with the box of oils under my arms – into the sunset. Bill lived a block of Oakland’s Lake Merritt. He had asked me to spend the night, as I had done many times since I met Bill. Thirty seven years later I would learn from Vicky Arnold that Brian beat his son almost every night. When Vicki and her mother, Eugenia, saw my innocent face come in their door, they knew they would have a restful night.
World War Two, was supposed to be over.