The Angry Elf and Art

September 1, 2013


So anyway, Jose peered dubiously at the works on display at the exhibit tucked away in the warren of Pumpus Steel and Glass Werks. The beginning of the scholastic year for all ages means that all over the place art galleries and museums threw open their doors for the edification of new students

One piece of glass, a sort of muddy reddish-brown and shot throughout with irregular bubbles caused Jose to pause. The name of the Angry Elf attested to its creator.

"Isn't it delightful!" said Maxine Felcher.

Actually, it resembled a goodly dinosaur turd, thought Jose, but he said nothing.

"Usually we try to keep out these inclusions, but this artist has left them all in. What genius! He has turned flaws into gems!"

A gentleman wearing a top hat and formal tails entered the room. He peered closely at some of the wall pieces with a monocle.

"O dear!" said Ms. Felcher. "It's the Tribune!"

Jose asked Ms. Felcher who the man was.

"That's Percy Tuttle, the most savage art critic in the Bay Area. Even Harrington of the Contra Costa Times is afraid of his trenchant wit!"


"They say he so criticized his mother's art collages that she threw herself off of the Dumbarton Bridge in despair." Ms. Felcher whispered.

The august man paused before the cube holding the Angry Elf's work just as the little man came around the corner.

"So buddy, whaddya tink?" asked the Angry Elf.

Ms. Felcher and Jose stood back.

"What do I 'tink'," said Percy with a slight British accent. "I 'tink' this reminds me of dried sea snail snot."

"You no lika my work?"

"Sir, this is not work. No effort to learn craft has gone into it. The soul of glass material is clarity, not inclusions. Inclusions weaken the matrix. This is onanistic rubbish."

This did not make the Angry Elf as visibly angry as Jose expected.

"Yeah, well get yer own exhibit then, buddy. I got's an in here with all the rest of the arty mucky mucks, so you buzz off with your talk. But you better be careful, I am warning you."

"You are a little man with little talent or skill," Percy said.

"I am warning you, buddy."

"Pshaw!" Percy said, and left, followed by Jose, who did not like the Angry Elf. He overheard the Elf asking Ms. Felcher what kind of car Percy drove. She said she thought Percy owned a Lexus.

"How on earth did such an odious man get into a place of good reputation like this," Percy asked.

"I think he just wants to hob nob with rich people," Jose said.

"A membership at the Commonwealth Club would be simpler," Percy said, and then he paused half a beat before saying, "but then he would have to be capable of holding an intelligent conversation."

these well-heeled people were the targets and the reason for his ... interest in ... art

Jose wandered through the building, looking at seascapes, chiascuro nudes, textured abstracts laid over thick gesso on wooden blocks, and every once in a while something interesting and beautiful and strange. Since the rents had shot into the Outer Limits, artists had been fleeing Babylon in droves to come to the East Bay, causing a mini Renaissance to flourish in buildings once occupied by sheet metal shops and foundaries. This activity had attracted patrons from all over the world and these well-heeled people were the targets and the reason for his sudden new-found interest in making art. Percy was right in that the Angry Elf, who made his living as an arsonist, never bothered to take classes, subscribe to magazines or learn from other people how to work with glass. He just stole a book from the library and a potter's kiln from someone's backyard and set up his little factory and had his boys do most of the work making things that could pass as something artistic. What he really wanted was names, addresses and the bank account numbers off of checks, for the artworld is a last holdout of business by paper and a handshake.

Jose left the building about the same time as the art critic. Across the street a white Lexus stood engulfed in flames as wailing sirens approached.

"Goodness," said Percy. "I almost bought a Lexus myself."

He walked down the street and to Jose's astonishment, unlocked the door of a low-slung British car.

"A Morris Minor! The Bay Area's most formidible art critic drives a Morris Minor?" Jose exclaimed.

Percy looked up at him. "The engine is a BMW. It was easier to just replace it than keep going to the shop."

"I can't believe it!" Jose said.

"My other car is a Fiat," Percy said before driving off with a throaty roar of his engine.

Things were somber over at the Old Same Place Bar when Jose finally dropped in late in the evening. Ireland's Nobel Prize Winning Poet, Seamus Heaney had just passed away and Padraic was inconsolable. Unlike the other three Nobel Prize winners, Seamus maintained a comfortable soft-shoe and modest presentation about himself. Not as Agustan as Yeats, but nevertheless quite his equal in intellect, he remained close to the land and humble origins, with many of his poems focussed on the relationship between himself and his father, whereas Beckett became an expatriot producing work which does not appear to have any specific attachment to any geographical region, and Shaw occupied himself with the drawingrooms of the upper middleclass.

"Oy me laddies, this is indeed a dark day," Padraic said.

"That's because its nighttime now, you doofus," Dawn said.

"Hush now ya sheela. Ireland's diadem of language has fallen to dust."

"Well he left behind a body of work that lives," Suzie said, trying to keep the peace. "Why don't you read us one of his poems now."

"Well I don't know, I don't know," Padraic said. "This bein' a local and not a library. People want to drink and socialize here."

"All right now!" Eugene stood up. "I say let's have Padraic read us one of the man's poems and put this to bed. All you all with me?"

A chorus of ayes and "Come on Padraic!" and "Read! Read!" came from that humble collection of boozers and losers who had nothing of greatness in them, but were common folk, welders and blacksmiths and mechanics and the sort of raggedy lot that probably hung around that radical socialist Jew in Palestine some two thousand years ago. Even the Not-From-Heres all wore frayed shirtcuffs with thready collars and looked a little worse for wear, like they had been carrying Willy Loman's tattered samples suitcase for the past half century.

These, then were the people of the Old Same Place Bar and there was nary a yuppie or a stockbroker among them, but bitter-eyed admin assistants and harried front desk file clerks and orange vested roadmen and roadwomen and big rig operators who flew in the wee hours of radioland through those distant country-station zones where they sing eternally of love won and lost in all futility and despair while the eyes get crusty with lack of sleep on the flamelit horizon of sunsets on that long eternal highway.

"Well all right here is one appropriate to our situation here. Ireland you know is a bit of an island and so are we." Padraic said as Eugene finally sat down.


Once we presumed to found ourselves for good

Between its blue hills and those sandless shores

Where we spent our desperate night in prayer and vigil,

Once we had gathered driftwood, made a hearth

And hung our cauldron like a firmament,

The island broke beneath us like a wave.

The land sustaining us seemed to hold firm

Only when we embraced it in extremis.

All I believe that happened there was vision.

There was a moment of silence before Dawn announced Last Call. Then there was the flurry of highballs and shots with which Suzie had to deal and the last minute hook-ups in those still having hope and the last minute immersion in those who had lost any pretense of the pick-up fiction.

Eugene asked Suzie what she thought it meant. Like many men in the bar, he was always trying to find a way to get into the beautiful girl's pants. He imagined that if he sounded smart and intellectual it would improve his chances. He did not know Suzie well.

"I think," said Suzie, "It just means that you must hold the place you love close to your heart, knowing it all will erode away even though all of it is really just inside your head. And that is why this poem works for our island, which is really just a Mayberry of imagination, another Yoknapatawpha County."

"Aye," Padraic said. "He was the perfect mix of Viking strength, Spanish sensitivity, and the immortal qualities of the Tuatha Dé Danann. A royal vates for sure."

I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.
I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.

The long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water, across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline; it snaked through the cracked brick of the old abandoned Cannery with its ghosts and weedy railbed and silent chainlink fences as the locomotive glided past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off to parts unknown.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.