Everybody says beauty is fleeting and whether it’s because we ourselves are fleeting and so cannot appreciate enough the lives we have or because our tastes are refined now for things that don’t last because of the clocks, the god damn clocks, I don’t know. But contentedness really doesn’t last beyond a moment for the living. Doña Rita and her twin babies are living in a small town in Northern California.
It was only a glance. There, in swirling memory is that one cast of the eyes that I interpreted as a love sign and so …
This memory is for those who know the importance of lingering longer. I resist at the laundromat, in the park, at the beach, though they’ve put a television in the laundromat now and the guy in there always has the volume up. I heard Bill Kennard, chairman of the FCC say, “think about how many ways our lives are touched by the spectrum …” That’s what they call tv, radio, the internet and any other broadcast that adds to the noise – the spectrum. (… like a child I resist. No, not like a child. The spectrum is for kids now more than ever – that’s why they call it programming – it teaches that obstinance is no longer childlike, it’s immature, anti-social. The spectrum teaches how to “get with the program.”)
I didn’t talk to Rita in San Francisco, so I’m only going by the friends I saw there and what news they have of others. I heard from Ricardo, the artist, that she lives in Tahoe.
Ricardo is one of my most reliable sources. He stays still longer than most, watches more intently, gathers as much as he can hold and then delivers it in metaphor relatively free of the sloppy stains of opinion. His is a semi-public life, the most public of any of us.
Myself, I am filled with doubts. I take my frustration out by testing truth in the face of commercially uglified metaphors hurled at us by the spectrum. “Right, sure,” I respond to ads and statistics. “Whatever,” I murmur. I despise all media and question authority. I am sometimes a part of the attitude problem. I breed mistrust. I agree only with literature on historians.
But Ricardo always bounces back in the face of the stupid news. It is because he remains adamantly slow and wide. He resists better than anyone I know. He was stern and clear about the Doña. It is important to get the story straight.
I knew Rita before, had met her anyway … I forget where. I have seen her only four times in my life. I don’t remember the first time well. It was brief. Maybe it was in a bar or at a party. I know I was with a Grand Teuton, at the time and we both saw her. Neither of us acknowledged the desire within us, though we each saw it in each other. We did not act, not for lack of desire, but because we each knew we wanted her alone. We didn’t speak to her because neither of us wanted to reveal his weakness. But the black void behind our eyes was stained with her form – we would dream of her.
I remember the second time I saw Rita because I was alone. She was finishing a mural. It was past twilight, dark. She had been working all day and was returning a ladder. She carried it over one shoulder, her arm looped between two rungs. The long metal thing swung with a tender balance. In her other hand she carried her paints. She moved quickly and with ease despite the unwieldy ladder. She seemed fierce to me. I longed for her. I saw her as pure energy glowing like a dim but permanent candle in the wane of the day. I burned to speak to her. “Hello,” I said. She smiled a brief, tight smile and continued on. It was the only word I ever uttered to her alone.
I never got to know Rita but fate has kept us bound. After she became pregnant, I saw her for the fourth and last time. She was huge, carrying the two of them inside her. I was in the front room of my place on Hayes Street, the room that perched out over the sidewalk. I looked out the window through the slats in the blinds and there she was, waddling slowly across the street. There was no mistaking her, she has this kind of beauty. She was visiting a friend who happened to be my neighbor – whom I did not know. I closed the blinds and sat at my desk in silence. I was afraid to speak to her. I was afraid to call out from my window because I knew she was pregnant and alone.
And that leaves only the third time, and the glance and fate.
We were at Four Walls, the gallery space above the Kilowatt, a bar that was something of a grungy punk-rock venue. Ken-Dog had a collage in a group show there.
On that Friday night, Ken-dog was representing himself as MGV. I don’t know if his collage sold. If not, it might have disappeared when he got rid of all his stuff a couple of years ago, after the birth of the Doña’s babies. I heard he went into the street and gave everything away, then. I heard it from Ricardo who rang across the coasts to me in Brooklyn.
Ken’s collage at Four Walls that night was of the Virgin de Guadeloupe as an alien surrounded by a glorious light. The Virgin’s body was long and robed in bright green. Her fingers were spindly. Her face had been replaced. I remember it was one of a series he was doing then. There was one of the Christ-child as an alien swaddled and basking in holy light between the down-turned and adoring faces of Mary and Joseph. The scene was in the manger surrounded by onlooking animals. The Christ-child’s face, like the Virgin’s, had been replaced with that now-ubiquitous symbol – triangular head, big, black oval-shaped eyes – of the extraterrestrial. (K. Huerta, San Francisco, 1996).
There were six of us and some were high. Ricardo, Ken-dog, Aaron, Kenny, the Grand Teuton and me. It was January and someone had collected discarded Christmas Trees from the gutters and hung them inverted from the ceiling, the room was pungent of pine. There were strips of wood and branches along the baseboards. We sipped cheap red wine and watched people under upside-down trees.
The spectrum is supposed to provide metaphors for us, but they are false, filled with moralistic rhetoric in a dumb repetitive loop. The internet, radio, television all move too fast for the subtle interplay between us. Rita and we moved slowly that night. We struggled for her attention.
It was on the stairs at the gallery, the glance. And it was not cast by Rita but Ken-dog. I knew they would be together that night. I saw it in Ken and I saw it in Rita, and I knew. I saw it, David saw it, Ricardo and Aaron saw it and though none of us acknowledged it aloud, there was a palpable relaxation as we let what was developing between them appear.
Rita and Ken-dog moved into Ricardo’s house later. It was there, the conception. I heard about it by grapevine and the results were announced similarly through the quiet of friends who tell things as they happen, slowly, as they are. The story is difficult to summarize.
Rita was pregnant with twins, came the news. Ken-dog was the father and when he found out, he took all his possessions into the street. A grand gesture, because there was no news flash on the internet: San Francisco muralist, artist and teacher gives away everything he owns – gives up art to become father. No. Nothing of the sort.
Over the years I heard different reports about Ken-dog. He was with Rita at his parents house in the San Joaquin Valley, and then at her mother’s house, maybe. He was in San Francisco and the babies were at their grandmother’s house. I heard he had decided to settle down with Rita, then again that he left. There was a story that he took off all his clothes and went to lie in the park where all the homosexuals go. He came home covered in insect bites. I heard he had a fascination with numbers and numerology, had taken to counting aloud for long periods of time and barking: numbers aloud.
I received a phone call from him in New York City once, the weekend my mother was in town. He was at a payphone. His voice was edgy and quick-tongued. He said he was staying with friends in Brooklyn. I offered to put him up after my mother left. I didn’t hear from him again.
On the last night of my trip to San Francisco, Ricardo came to say goodbye to me. I wept in realizing how much I miss him and my other friends on the left coast. It was an hour before the redeye to New York that he told me that Doña Rita is in Tahoe now with the twins. She is still “very energetic,” he said. She invited Ricardo to come and do artwork with the children she teaches. She lives in one of the poorest parts of the South Lake with her two babies.
Beauty is still fleeting. The moments wash past our eyes like rainfall. So I am fiercely proud to report that Doña Rita and her twin babies, who will be four years old this year, are living, breathing and making art in a small town in Northern California.