Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Round Trip...

Lying about in the den, pleasantly exhausted, and watching people kill each other on TV.

Today, as planned, I loaded my newest piece of useless sculpture into the van (it fit!), and drove down to Millville NJ, and WheatonArts' Museum of American Glass, to deliver same work for an upcoming exhibit.  The trip was simplicity itself; I stopped once, to gas up and grab a coffee, at the Walt Whitman Rest Area.  (I'd much rather stop at a place commemorating Whitman, than James Fennimore Cooper, or Joyce Kilmer)  And then onward, to Rte. 55 and Vineland, the Eggplant Capital of the World.  In case you didn't know.

Once I got to Wheaton, the only apparent obstacle was the firetruck that was leaving the grounds, as I was trying to get to the Museum's delivery door.  We squeezed past each other, and aside from my usual struggle getting the van's side doors to open, things continued to unfold gracefully.  Until...

I'd expected to be installing the work, where it would stay for the run of the show.  On a low plinth, about 6" high, I was told.  But when I walked into the exhibit hall, all I was shown was the general area where the piece was going to stand.  This made me very nervous. 

So we began looking at various (unworkable) options -- some pedestals that looked like window sills, some that looked like door stops, but none that looked like low, 6" high plinths.  And it became apparent to me that there was probably no budget for building a low, 6" plinth (which, had I known, I could have built myself -- there was plenty of room in the van, once I figured out how to open the side doors...), and we were going to look at every single pedestal-like construction in the building, until we found something that would work.

Which we did, first having to thread our way through the entire permanent exhibit -- past the Victorian-era baby casket, and the reproduction of a nineteenth-century dining room.  Sitting on an enormous 6" plinth, as a matter of fact.  Up in the cramped little pedestal loft, there were actually a couple of low-ish items that would, if laid down side-by-side, serve as a support for my work.  Faute de mieux, as the French would say.

We threaded our way back through American glass history, carrying our white boxes that tempted me to plant some geraniums in them.  Set in place, and with a little sheet of black screen beneath it, my piece looked okay.  Well, the persimmon-colored wall behind it is a bit of a shock, but we do pick our battles, don't we? 

I didn't even have to fill out insurance paperwork or anything -- they'll email it, they said.  I didn't even stop at Millville's Queen City Diner for a lunch I would soon regret.  Just got back on the road, heading north. 

There was one stop I wanted to make, though, on the way home -- there's a new Goodwill Store in a mall between the highway into Philadelphia, and the turnpike.  I hoped, as it's brand new, that they might have some men's pink shirts, for my paper project.

But so far from the usual array of orderly racks of color-coordinated clothing, and shelves of appliances and kitchenware, with luggage and sports equipment in the back, there were six clusters of low wheeled plastic bins, each one holding a jumble of stuff.  Stuffed toys, hand bags, some frying pans, a roll of fabric, a tatty old quilt.  Everything looked clean, but after I'd touched two things, I decided I had to leave.  I felt guilty, not having bought at least one bit of refuse, but what was the point?  

And then, by dint of breaking the speed limit as much and as often as possible, I was back home by 4:30 pm.

Part of the way back, I was thinking about my paternal grandfather, who was born in Wisconsin (I think) in the 1890's, just one generation after the American Civil War.  I often think about him, when I drive to Philadelphia and back in a day, wondering how such a trek would have been seen when he was a boy -- would it even have been possible?  Could he have done it by train?  The average distance a person can walk, in a day, is about twenty miles.  Making Philadelphia a five-day journey on foot, from South Orange.  How long would it have taken, on horse-back?  How many stops along the way, to water the animal, and stretch one's own legs a bit?

I thought about a scene in a BBC film, about a little town and the changes it faces with the arrival of the railroad.  Some of the town worthies, finally converted to the idea of progress, venture to take a little ride on the new conveyance, and express some trepidation at traveling at a speed of... 25 miles per hour!  Might this not have a negative impact on one's health, one character asks?

Now, I feel completely normal, driving at three times that speed.  Recently, as I was tooling along at what seemed a perfectly ordinary pace, I looked down at the speedometer, to see that I was doing 80!  And, of course, I wasn't the speediest one on that stretch of road.

I also thought, as I often do when I'm driving, about that boy I knew, in Iceland, when I was in the Air Force and he was in the Navy.  This never fails to make me cry.  I suppose, as has been suggested to me, that this is a stereotypical old-guy issue -- the same sort of thing that makes men my age (if not significantly younger) buy red sports cars.  It's also a cliche, I guess, to put a broken limb in a cast, or to mourn the death of a friend.  The pain still seems real to me; the loss, even if imaginary, feels acute and authentic.  I think about doing a piece of writing, 'The Five Pauls', for myself, to spin out a set of alternate endings to what seemed, to me at least, to be beginning of... something, as we sat staring at each other without making a move or saying a word.

The van has a radio, by the way.  I never use it.  Why would I?                 

©    2013               Walter Zimmerman

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