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The Village Idiot


Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(11/2016) DW stops in the upstairs dining room on her way to what has become our reading room. She shakes her head. "You know you will clean this mess up."

Seated at the table, which could comfortably accommodate four diners if I felt like cooking for so many, I consider expanding it to its full size around which we have seated eight people (back when there were eight people I wanted to cook for).

"Mess?" I survey the several paper mache masks in their varied stages of incompletion. "This art."

The room temperature rises slightly as Balor, of the evil-eye, attempts to escape DW, the one-eyed's control. Which is kinda cool in that the wheat paste dries a bit quicker, though some of the paper edges begin to smolder, as does my beard.

"Of course I'll clean it up!" I hurriedly scramble to rearrange my paper strips and point out that what paste did get slopped onto the table easily wipes up with a damp kitchen rag.

She stands there watching me, her one eye flicking about in agitation. ("Mad-eye" Moody comes to mind, but I've pushed my luck far enough with the Balor reference.) Oh gods, she's going to ask me what it is I'm doing.

"Just what are you doing anyhow?"

Honesty is always best. "I haven't a damned clue."

She mumbles something that sounds like, "That's what I thought." She moves along to the reading room.

Little does she know how badly she wrecked my commune with a Muse. Gone is the peacefulness I was into as I dipped strips of newsprint into the bowl of wheat paste. The gentle stripping of excess paste from the paper and the carefully thought out placing of the wet strips onto whatever mold I happened to be working suddenly became futile acts leading to no purpose I can define. I'm left thinking.

Dammit. I don't want to think.

Is this art? According to a dictionary; art is "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power." And "the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance."

I'm thinking that what I'm doing is not art, but simple mechanics that might be taken up by a creative person and made into art? There is no creative skill and less imagination involved in what I am doing and anyone looking on my efforts and seeing beauty or emotion in them had to bring such to the table because I sure didn't mix them into the paste!

Back to this thinking thing. Other than the half baked Zen state I was wallowing in, just what was I doing? With the factory temporarily closed I'm drawing from the unemployment insurance fund DW's da began paying into in my name back in 1973. After a brief expedition to several area restaurants, hoping to be hired as a dishwasher before I signed up for unemployment, I quickly realized there ain't much need for a 62 year old factory drone who will most likely cost more to retrain than he's worth as fertilizer.

Sitting quietly, gluing strips of paper to a balloon at least feels like I'm doing factory work as there ain't no shoe factories around here I can apply to. And maybe some artist can buy my blank masks and turn them into something worth owning? Who knows? I hadn't gotten that far in dealing with the Muse who was helping me learn the mechanics while her sister, who specializes in the art of trade, waited for me to catch a clue. Now, all this thinking, dammit.

And how did I end up gluing strips of paper to molds? Wasn't I going to paint my face and stagger about town as a hobo clown begging for pennies, or offering bread recipes for fifty cents each, or mead recipes for a dollar? Or was I going to tote a sandwich board sign proclaiming the soup of the day for some area restaurant for a percentage of each bowl supped? Or had I planned on promoting the library by standing in front of it being myself? Which leads to the niggling question, am I as senile as I've claimed to be these last 30 years? (That's a question that disrupts DW's peace.)

Whatever I was going to do, clown-face wise, came to an end quickly enough once I realized two things. I ain't shaving, and I haven't enough imagination to work my Spanish mossed mug into a clown face. Still, the clown idea has seized me and won't let go. If I can't paint my face I'll cover it! (People have suggested for decades that they'd be happier if they didn't have to look at me. Sooo maybe a mask would ease their discomfort?)

I've read that learning new things as one ages helps keep the mind sharp and senility at bay. Maybe so. Paper mache is new to me, though remembering why I'm learning to work it often leaves me puzzled. Some other things that puzzle me are the library books in our reading room that deal with color theory, and how to use acrylics, and making one's own paints.

A book on medieval calligraphy really had me stumped for a few minutes. Decades ago I played around with calligraphy, but soon realized that hands shaking from too much alcohol, or caffeine, weren't of much use for creating a smooth penning style. (Faced with the choice of giving up the drugs or the pen, I, of course, dropped the pen.) But the book also goes into some detail as to how to make egg tempera, the paint the monks used to illuminate their books. It took a minute to remember I'd been arguing with the Mad One (now Citizen Simona, another story in itself) about paints. She telling me to just buy acrylics from Walmart and me grumbling I'll make my own.

Ah-ha! So that's why there are books on color theory and paint making in the upstairs reading room! I was researching. (I knew I'd eventually remember why I'd brought them home.)

Having remembered something vaguely important, I suddenly feel confident enough to open a tube of acrylic paint from Walmart (sigh) and begin spreading it in sloppy strokes with some type of paint brush I'm not sure was made for the way I'm using it. Not that it matters because I notice freshly hand-wound wire springs and some narrow diameter plastic tubing coiled near the masks. Ha! A new puzzle to solve! Something vaguely steampunkish crosses my mind. Am I making some post-apocalyptic gas mask?

Cool. Maybe I am an "artist". Though "senile" would work just as well, maybe better. Why, in a senile world each day would be a new adventure as I rediscover whatever it was I thought I was doing the day before. Hell, maybe I'll soon achieve cowhood. (I doubt I'll achieve sainthood.) Cowhood is when you think it's a new day each time you blink. I could live more years than Methuselah if each blink becomes a day!

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.