Penn and I just had, as you know, five days off. He went East and did a spectacular promo tour for Sock,
with a very generous dash of Rio and Showtime. Meanwhile I immersed myself in the strenuous,
loving world of geriatric care. My job in this is essentially communications and cheerleading.
Mam has heavy-duty osteoporosis. About a month ago, several of her vertebrae collapsed
("compression fractures"). She was on painkillers and 24-hour nursing while we waited to see
if the problems would resolve themselves, as they have sometimes done in the past. They didn't.
So with the help of our great doctor, we made all the arrangments and took her into the hospital Monday.
After a few sessions of diagnostic tests, she had a vertebralplasty from the top guy in Vegas.
He deftly reinforced the three offending vertebrae with injections of hi-tech cement, and now she's
back with Pad at the assisted living joint where they have their own art studio.
She’s recovering very, very fast, but she’s still a little weak and loopy from weeks of dope and enforced
idleness. Still she finds ways to say stuff that kills me. The other day, I was visiting her and had to
leave to go and do an interview. She pointed to her forehead and said, "Kiss there. For publicity."
Pad's been having nightmares every night, all night, probably from a medicine we’ve just cut out, so we
expect they’ll subside presently. Floods that come up around his bed as he sleeps. Plastic straitjackets
he dreams the staff at the assisted living joint put him in. One dream involved a visit to Philadelphia
in the 1930s and a bucket full of rods that he was supposed to get out and couldn't. Sleeplessness is
making him pretty tired.
Still, he's been working on a painting for several days. I'm his apprentice, laying out colors
on the palette, cleaning painting knives and brushes. This painting is large, 30" x 40". A big
jagged figure of dark sap green on a background of dark dioxazine violet. Very gloomy. In the midst
of this, four little unpainted patches. These patches were frustrating him. He thought about them
between nightmares, and three nights ago his worries about the painting turned even that into a
repetetive nightmare. He told me to break it in half and throw it away.
So two days ago I put it in the corner where he couldn't see it. Yesterday he asked me what
I had done with it. When I told him, he said, "Good. You don't listen to me."
"I want to try finishing it," I said. "You taught me," I said, "to get myself in trouble,
then get myself out of trouble. You said that sometimes makes good art."
"Fine. Take it out again. Have a good time."
I left him in his room, and went down the hall to the studio and filled one of the white gaps
with lemony yellow. Five minutes later Pad came in. He sat down with an exhausted sigh.
He studied the painting and shook his head. He told me the yellow was too raw; I should cut
it with a little purple. I did. It was a marked improvement. Then he started to tell me what
colors to put in the other spots. "Make it a bouquet," he said. "So you can taste the colors."
As I worked, he shook his head and looked embarrassed. "See, this isn't a painting, really.
It's like something you'd sell on the boardwalk, a decoration." But he kept directing me.
The last thing he said before we left the studio, "You need a cobalt blue weakened with a little violet..."
I promised we'd start with that the next day.
Today I invited Pad back to the studio. I told reminded him about the cobalt blue. He looked
annoyed. We worked for and inserted some small patches of bright colors tidily among the dark,
gloomy background, then he grew impatient. "Give me a brush and some turpentine.
I'll mess that up so you'll never want to paint again!"
He took the brush and started to mess it up, periodically rotating the painting so he got to
look at it with each side at the top. He declined to clean his brush, so there's a murky,
sinister quality to the colors he added. Weird bursts and wrigglings of white and tan and blurry red.
I rotated the painting the third time, and it suddenly looked wonderful. "Isn't this just done?" I said.
"You think so?"
"Why not?" I said.
"That's pretty good, all right," he said.
"But no longer something to sell on the boardwalk, right?"
"Yeah. Nobody would ever buy that on a boardwalk," he said.
"In a gallery...because it's a painting now?"
"No, it's not a painting; it's a drawing. But pretty good. Look at that weird looking face up there.
That's real good."
The painting was finished. I took a Sharpie and marked the back:
July 10, 2004 / Joe Teller / "Pad's Nightmare