Tag Archives: Mark Rothko

The Distance Between Ground and Sky as Measured in Units of Work

Photograph by Jose Padua
When we were dropping our son Julien off at school earlier that week, he looked at the boy who was getting out from the car ahead of us. I opened the side door to let Julien out and he yelled, “Shavon!” Julien ran toward the school door and yelled, “Hey, Shavon, Baby!” Shavon, the boy who was in the car ahead of us, turned around and waited for Julien. They walked in together.

I never say “Baby” that way. Nor do I use the variant “Babe.” And as far as I can remember, the only person to regularly call me “Baby” was my landlord in New York. “Jose Baby,” he’d say. It was, I imagine, his way of acknowledging that I was all right. I wasn’t one of the junkies or crackheads in his building (my next door neighbor Anna would often complain about “those junkie people”). And I paid my rent more or less on time—or at least until toward the end of my stay in New York. It made me all right in my landlord’s eyes. It made me “Jose Baby.”

At home with my family, in the small town we live in now, I’m the sort of person who often uses the term “Honey.” I rarely ever call my wife Heather by her name—I always say “Honey.” If I do somehow say “Heather” it’s reason for us to look at each other and pause, as if we’d suddenly been transported to some odd parallel universe where I say “Heather” instead of “Honey.” I also call the kids “Honey” at times, the way my mother would use the work “Anak” with me and my brothers—“Anak” being a Tagalog word for “son”/”daughter” or, simply “child.” It was the sort of term I’d hear if I was coming down with a cold and my mother had just felt my forehead to discover I had a fever. “Anak,” she’d say, out of concern. As such, it was a word that comforted me. It meant that she knew what was wrong, and was taking care of things.

A couple of days earlier, we were a little late dropping our daughter Maggie off at school in the morning. That meant that by the time I got to the drop-off line for Julien’s school, I was a little further back than usual. I was tired and wished I could just close my eyes until the doors for Julien’s school opened, but then I looked out into the distance. Because of where we were in line—right where there’s a break in the woods that surround Julien’s school—I could see clear through to the sky above the tree line where the land slopes down to Leach Run, the stream that lies about a mile east of town. The way the colors were blending made it hard to distinguish between earth and sky, horizon and cloud, near and far. Or maybe it was just my aging eyes. Either way, I liked what I saw, so I took a photograph. Then I had a coughing fit.

I’d been under the weather since the past weekend when Maggie and I saw Yuja Wang perform at the Kennedy Center in DC. I was a running a bit of a fever and was hoping that seeing Yuja Wang might do the same thing Sun Ra did about a quarter century ago when I saw him at a performance at the Bottom Line in New York. That night I was in the middle of a horrible sore throat/flu and I wasn’t sure it was wise for me to attempt to make it out to the Bottom Line. But, because it was Sun Ra, I made the effort. I dragged myself out of my apartment.

That night, I left the Bottom Line after some two or so hours of Sun Ra’s performing (usually he’d play even longer, but this was after he’d had a stroke). And I felt fine. My lungs were clear. I could smoke a cigarette without feeling like I was breathing in fumes from the back of a bus (yes, I was a hard-core smoker back then). And, I could have another Jack Daniel’s on the rocks with my friends and have it slide down my throat as smooth as the overnight DJ on WBAI. I was, in other words, all right. I was, once again, Jose Baby.

Seeing Yuja Wang perform that weekend didn’t quite do it. Unlike after seeing Sun Ra, I still had my flu and my fever. I still needed that ibuprofen a few times a day to feel at least marginally human. But then, Yuja Wang is only thirty years old. I think that in a few years the power to heal will come along on top of the ability to play a sick-as-fuck encore off the top of her head.

After I’d dropped off Julien, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some soup, orange juice, and ibuprofen. That’s what I figured I’d need to make it through the rest of the day until it was time to pick up Maggie and Julien from school. As I passed by the magazine rack, I saw something horrible. Wrapped in plastic, it was labeled the “Trump Anniversary Collection,” and beneath those words, peering out into a distance populated solely by wealthy, racist assholes, were the eyes of Donald Trump. At the bottom of the package, underneath Trump’s orange chin, was further explanation that this was a “Patriot’s Kit” and included bumper stickers, a “’Promises Kept’ magazine,” and a “Ready-to-Frame Portrait.” The scream I made in my head was so loud I swore everyone in the store could hear it.

I laid a few copies of Field & Stream on top of the stack of Patriot’s Kits, then walked to the back of the store. There I grabbed a quart of Tropicana 50% Less Sugar/Some Pulp orange juice. I took that, a double pack of the store brand ibuprofen, and two cans of chicken soup and went up to the register. As I drove home, I thought about how the sky by the elementary school, in the clearing between the trees, looked something like a Mark Rothko painting. And I thought about my wife and my children, my mother and father, and all the days of winter we had ahead of us and all the work we had to do.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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An Elegy to the Month of October as Seen Through an Evening I Wish Could Look More Like a Painting by Robert Motherwell

Photograph by Jose Padua
Into last night’s slight drizzle, we all went trick-or-treating. I wore my usual costume, which is to say the costume I wear every cool autumn day—jeans, t-shirt, and a beat-up black sport coat. Heather dressed up as a character from a steampunk novel, wearing a black top hat equipped with high powered goggles and a long overcoat; Maggie put on a curly black wig, a glittery jump suit, and painted various scars on her arm and face so as to become a disco zombie; and Julien had an apron that covered him on the front and back and that turned him into Thomas the Train.

Julien, though, wasn’t really getting into it, and got rather frightened by some of the costumes he saw. So, after walking up to the end of our block—to the house whose occupants look like they stepped out of one of Larry Clark’s old books documenting his drug addicted friends—Julien and I headed back home and let Maggie and Heather go on ahead. On their way back, they picked up something for dinner. By the time we were done, it was already late and time to get ready for bed.

Part of Maggie’s routine involves each of us sitting with her in her bedroom before she falls asleep. Heather always sits with her first before taking Julien to bed, then—usually around half an hour after Heather and Julien have gone to bed—Maggie calls me from the top of the stairs and asks me to come up. By that time I’m usually at the computer working, which means it’s time for a break. Last night when I went up Maggie wanted me to tell her a story. This time she gave me three things to include in the story I was to make up on the spot: a rainbow, the city, and Adam Sandler’s movie Bedtime Stories.

I made up a story about a rainbow that could only rise over the city when it was still raining. This was a rainbow whose appearance didn’t mean the rain had ended or was even about to end. No, whenever you saw this rainbow, it meant the rain was going to continue for hours, even days. Because of that, this rainbow was the most unpopular rainbow in city. Unlike the other rainbows that the people in the city welcomed and celebrated, this rainbow was hated. “If only I could figure out how to get the rain to stop,” the rainbow thought, “then I would be welcomed and celebrated as well.”

The rainbow thought and thought about it, then came up with an idea. “I bet the answer is in the Adam Sandler movie Bedtime Stories. If I watch this movie carefully, I’ll discover the secret to ending the rain that keeps falling whenever I appear in the sky.” The rainbow then watched Bedtime Stories in its DVD player. It watched the movie carefully, several times, but after having done so it still had no solution as to how to stop the rain. Then another idea occurred to the rainbow, “Maybe if I watch it backwards, that’s how I’ll find the answer in the movie.” The rainbow figured out a way to make the entire movie play backwards in its DVD player with the sound on and watched and listened. Somehow, when the rainbow heard Adam Sandler’s voice going backwards, what it heard wasn’t just garbled, nonsensical sound, but real words—words the actor Adam Sandler had no idea he was saying. It was in these words that the rainbow found the secret to stopping the rain, and the next day when it appeared in the sky over the city, the heavy rain turned into a drizzle, then into a mist, and then, finally, it was all gone. And the rainbow stretched its colors from one end of the city to the other as the people welcomed it and praised it, saying it was the best of all the rainbows. The End.

Maggie liked the story, but she wanted more. I told her I was too tired—that I didn’t have another story in me for the night. She then let me finish story time by reading Bob Hicok’s poem “My New Neighbor” in which Bob Hicok talks to one of the cows that grazes in a field next to a Presbyterian church in his neighborhood. By the end of the poem, Maggie had closed her eyes. She wasn’t quite asleep, but she was almost there. I sat there quietly for a few more minutes before I went back downstairs. I tried to finish the story I was writing, but I was too tired to continue. So, after a little while, I went to sleep, too.

This photograph of the soccer field was taken around 6:30 this evening, toward the end of Maggie’s soccer practice. As it got darker and darker tonight, the landscape of the soccer field against the mountains and the November sky looked more and more like a painting by Mark Rothko. I didn’t want to think about Mark Rothko. Mark Rothko, as good as he was, always made me think about the endings of things and I wasn’t in the mood to think about the ending of things.

Maggie and her teammates practiced until it was too dark to continue, cutting their practice hour short by about fifteen minutes. As we headed home, and the evening’s last colors faded into the darkness, the landscape of our small town seemed to slowly change. When Maggie and I walked in the door, dinner was ready. Heather, Maggie, Julien, and I ate under the pale yellow dining room light, and as I started to feel full, the sound of our forks against our plates began to sound more and more like music.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua