suddenly, we hit the curb and went flying into the lake.
it was pouring rain and my car full of band members were stunned for a minute. then we all bailed out at once into the water. the car we called the “pink bomb” was stuck halfway into the mud.
like this only pink.
the first thing you always say when you’re fifteen years old with no driver’s license is “my father is going to kill me.” but it wasn’t my fault; it was the rain, it was the music full blast on the radio and the noisy gang in the car, it was the beer. i only had two beers (but i skipped sleeping the night before so it was my second day.) no it was definitely the roads fault, the way it came perpendicular to the lake. it was so irrevocablely there.
well, we were lucky, i did see a tree on each side of the car as we sailed between them.
we lived in a big old white house with verandas all around, right on a swampy lake in a dense wood of sprawling ancient live oak trees. the enormous canopy of writhing branches were covered with spanish moss. it was dank and dark. that was the style of the old south in central florida… stay out of the sun. it’ll boil your brain.
but it was home. i painted the big wall in my room with golden jazz instruments against a black night. i sprayed the giant letters JAZZ across it all. there were posters on other walls and paintings of broadway and framed water colors of disney characters, mostly uncle remus characters i loved. but mickey was there and donald. i had changed my name from scott to donald, and signed everything donald cumming or d. cumming.
bob said i could stay home to paint, and i did. but my father had one condition… that i join some youth group so i would be in touch with kids my age and not isolate too much. so i joined a boys club at the unitarian church.
christopher west was a virgo like me, a year older. he was a garrulous guy and befriended me immediately. we met after church discussions at his friend’s garage where they had a band and would practice while i sketched. but the best part of our gatherings was the ‘bullshit sessions’ when we argued and expounded on the usual subjects; god, art, anarchist politics, literature etc..
chris and i were both great talkers and thought we knew everything. we were constantly interrupting each other to spit out some genius idea before we forgot it.
chris had a mother, anita, who often cooked dinner for us. their house became my ‘home away from home’.
the sun room, a screened in porch, became my studio, (north light). i began a magnum opus protest against materialism and war, which i truly detested, and called it “progress”. (somewhere at that time chris and i and bobby ‘ran away’ to key west to work on a shrimp boat and bob and anita met. bob never worried about us but he was there to comfort anita.)
we were all back again in a couple of weeks and first chris, then bobby went off to mexico city to go to college there. bob used to pick me up after a day in winter park at my ‘studio’. anita had another son named eric and he had captured thirteen rattlesnakes behind the house. they were all caged in the sun room. eric was going to be a herpetologist. he was thirteen.
one night my father came to pick me up after work in the pink bomb; the same car i had wrecked twice.
the first time wasn’t my fault either. i was on my way to church sunday morning and there were cars parked on both sides of the street. a car was coming at me and i got as far to the right as i could scraping my right side and still scraped the other car on my left. that car just ploughed along as helplessly as i did. i was trying to shrink the car with my mind, but it didn’t work that time.
that night that my father came to get me the car wouldn’t start so we stayed for dinner. he and anita were getting along fine, even famously. no, remarkably happily getting to know each other. it seems they were made for each other. her father was a physicist. both her parents were college professors and anita had even bounced on einstein’s knee as a child. she graduated from college at 18. after a bad marriage, she was, like my father, raising two boys alone. to make a long story shorter, we stayed overnight. the next morning bob came out of anita’s bedroom whistling a happy tune.
so you see, by obeying my father, i found him a wife. and more. through anita i was to meet robert l. anderson, a fine artist. anderson graduated from the ringling school in sarasota on the g.i. bill.
he was an eagle scout, order of the arrow, and when world war II began he enlisted and became a scout in the marines. he had been blown up three times. twice in italy and once in the pacific.
but he survived minus a leg and half a foot and became a very successful artist.
how scott became famous real fast…
now, with my eyes skinned of illusions through the edifying dialogues and forums of my peers, i settled into a routine of working on my opus. five by five feet, on canvas, it required hundreds of drawings. they had to be first traced and then transferred using thirty-five sheets of carbon paper.
one day bob anderson came to the house and when he saw “progress” in the making,
damn, i have to go… appointment at the eye doctor. i’ll be back. sorry, i had hoped i could finish this leg of my story in one post.
i’m back finally, i was looking for one drawing in particular to further illustrate this history.
anderson lived with his wife, june, and seven children in an old farmhouse outside of town. he came to our house one day and when he saw the ‘opus’ i was working on, he volunteered to teach me. at first he gave me the barn to work in but eventually, i gravitated, or should i say ascended to the large attic in the house.
sometimes we worked together in and i would watch him paint. he taught me to draw big and more loosely.
my teacher was an established fine artist and taught the techniques of the renaissance masters; chiaroscurro, impasto and glazing. he said “first learn the rules and after many many years break them if you must.”
around christmas that year i finished my ‘protest’, or “progress”, my allegorical ‘masterpiece’, i thought. i told the ‘master’ it was finished. we stood together gazing at my work. he spoke… “i was waiting until you finished to tell you what i thought about this. although it is a strenous work and shows me that you show great promise…” and then he spoke so vehemently he scared me, “this this, monstrosity” and mincing no words, and even cruelly proceeded to tear it apart verbally, pointing out all it’s flaws. my pride and joy that i had worked on for almost a year was now dead in the water.
on cold nights we sat by the open fireplace drinking heady red wine and argued about art and god and war and literature. i had already read my father’s library, my mother’s books, books my brother, who was a genius at finding great books which were new but obscure; like the evergreen review and grove press books, city lights and the beat poets. we read cousteau and other underwater books, kon tiki and books about sailing around the world in an 18 foot sailboat. plus, i had scoured the libraries with an infallible nose for the best. and now bob anderson is steering me into a whole new realm of philosophy and aesthetics. remember, i’m not sixteen yet.
now i must digress a bit and fit in a little tale which will elucidate my fall from grace. or, how i first tasted the forbidden fruit of the flesh and became a felon at the tender age of 15.
i was happy as a lark drawing everything and everyone every day and painting at night in my garret. i had just completed a large painting that anderson avowed “i wish i had thought of that.” that was “the lovers”. he had allowed me to borrow his nude model and take her up to my attic lair to pose for it. (but i put the head of the anderson’s sixteen year old babysitter who i was sickeningly in love with on the model’s body in the painting. strange, eh?
bob’s oldest boy was around 14 and the youngest was not quite two. the rest were girls from five to thirteen. they all took turns posing for me. pattywack, his nickname, was a messy terror and robbie was jealous of the attention i got from his father. all the girls loved me, and i loved them an awful lot. they were always jumping on me or cuddling by the fire or the television. often, after stories in bed with barbara, who said, “will you marry me someday?” and ann who was eight, i would fall asleep between them.
chris and bobby had just got back from mexico. bobby and i took a walk down the grassy slope to the lake. he recounted some of his adventures; how he and his friends ran naked on the beach south of acapulco. he painted a beautiful picture in my mind of his famous girlfriend there, “mary mary” who everyone wanted to be with. it was said that she was like the ‘botticelli venus’. he told me about marijuana which made you smarter and wittier and augmented the sensation of all enjoyments.
i, in all innocence, countered with “well, any chemical you put into your body from the outside is o.k. for its one time effects but when it wears off, there you are again, a lump of bored and boring flesh.” i think i speculated on mastering my own organism to produce similar chemico-physico-psychic possibilites naturally.
now all his friends had left mexico for new york city. and i, even after saying what i said, took off, leaving my work and my happy life to try my hand at marijuana and the bohemian life. i had names; mary mary, ‘doc’ stanley, turk le clair, bob milo, teragoo, known as oogoorat, and john brent. and i had the name of a coffee house on mcdougal street, in greewich village, the ‘avante garde’ heath of the city.
i went straight to the “commons”. you had to go down a long dark hall to the end where there was a door but no sign and a tiny window. i had to hit on a name the guy on the other side would know so i tried “i’m a friend of bob milo.” it turned out it was bob milo himself. he let me in. they hadn’t opened yet. it was still early morning.
milo remembered bobby very well (he was something of a mascot for these older guys) bobby was beautiful with long wavy blond hair and as wild and jubilant as any son of dionysius and was loved by all.
milo took me back into the kitchen. he lit up an enormous bowlfull of ‘pot’ in a standard tobacco pipe. pot was abundant in those days and cheap.
milo was about 30 and a handsome slim mediteranean type; a man of the world. i trusted him instictively. but after a couple of tokes on that pipe i experienced what they call ‘dracula’s nightmares’. i suddenly felt threatened . i imagined he was coming towards me with a needle to get me hooked on heroin. i was terrified and shrank back into a corner. i slipped slowly to the ground. i must have been staring at him with a terrified grimace. milo stayed cool, didn’t seem surprised.
and just as suddenly as it had come over me my fear subsided. i began to feel kind of silly and sheepish.
we went back into the main room. there were blue and orange globe lights hanging in two rows from the ceiling and bared brick walls. the lights went to the back door which emptied out onto minetta lane; a windy cobbled alley of quaint ground floor apartments and the service entrances of a few restaurants.
i’m not kidding i floated in slow motion between the tables to the open door and settled on the three risers where little morning birds flitted around. milo left me alone. i must have sat there for hours. i came down and i was hungry and penniless. i went to some stores and galleries trying to sell some drawings. finally i broke down and panhandled for a while near the park.
back at the commons i met doc stanley and mary mary. they took care of me. ‘doc’ had an apartment a block away on bleecker st. where live jazz filtered into the window all night long.
about a week later, when i knew my way around, i was washing dishes at the cafe “wha?” and i had already been ‘burned’ by turk for an ounce of pot (he just never came back)someone turned me on to dexidrene which makes work so easy. turk was almost the widest of the longhairs. teragoo was by far the most out of it madman i ever met. he looked almost tibetan. teragoo died young. so did the youngest poet i ever met… so young he had blond peach fuzz on his cheeks and upper lip. the italians hated him because all their girls loved him and would hang out at the commons where he did a few sets each night and then mary travers would sing or one of the many other folk singers.
milo was painting the stairway walls down to the cafe “why not?”; and i mean painting; they were like cro magnon cave paintings. we shared a couple of joints. i watched while he painted a beautiful cerulean horse bigger than life on the wall facing the base of the steps. milo made turk return my money that day, saying, “we don’t burn our own people man.” turk shrugged, handed me my money and split.
then i had a heart to heart conversation with mary mary on the back steps of the commons in the morning before opening. i was off work that day and would hang out listening to the poets sketching and sipping coffee all night.
when i confessed that i had never made love to a woman she was very nice about it. i was afraid she sould just drop me if i told her. mary was so beautiful… she took my hand and led me to one of the basement apartments down the winding lane. “come here at eleven.”
i did, and she did, and we did.
next chapter… how i became a felon at 15.
sorry i left so much out. this is hard.