Word Paintings

Post by Tom Buzbee

I am a painter. Not completely successful and certainly not a failure. My work is good but I feel I could have gone farther. I am definitely not a writer. I have, at times, flirted with putting a few words together in a sentence, or a paragraph, even a chapter. Once my word-muse gets tired, she leaves and I can’t call her back to help me remain on task. I think it has to do with how I think. It seems as if thoughts are bursts of light, haphazard fireworks with no rhythm or timing.

Authors I enjoy have a structured sequence to how they write. It’s as if one thought connects like a daisy chain to the next. I guess there is a linear approach to how the ideas connect. I can’t call what I write a book. Whatever I write, I am going to write as an expressionist painter would paint. I am going to use my words like colors to run down the page. I want to allow the writing to dictate the direction of the work with minimal edits. Words will be colors for me. I want to feel their temperature and texture. I want to go back in time to childhood, when any artistic venture was more a feeling than a thought.

Several years ago, on a pleasant Spring day, my four year old daughter (Elizabeth) and I stepped outside on a day when the breeze was a temperature that was no warmer or cooler than our skin. The only way you could perceive it was the movement across your body, or through your hair. She looked at me and uttered with a smile, “Daddy, this is a really silky day”. There was no better description for what we were feeling. I want to think like that.

I might string words together for the sound they make when they are spoken. Maybe the “s’s” will prevail in a sentence. I want a rhythm. I say out loud; Listless fears and restless feelings. Listless fears and restless feelings. Almost like a drummer on a cymbal?

Maybe I should write small stories and call them my Word Paintings.

Cat was a dog. So? My oldest daughter Avaryl (who I almost named Frisbee Buzbee) had a red-eyed rat named Satan! It must be a family thing! Anyway, when you hear my reasoning, it’s not so weird. I named him after Cat Stevens. He was German Shepherd puppy I got from my girlfriend (whom I later married) Betsy. He was the smallest of the litter and had been bitten on the back foot by a tarantula. After it healed, he had one less toe. From the beginning he was, to say the least, a bit slow. Betsy always blamed me. I suppose I might have exacerbated the problem with the name. I mean, what chance does a three-toed dog, named Cat, have to grow up normal? I guess I made things worst by ignoring him. Why? Well, our little runt of the litter grew to be a giant K9 very quickly. He was always dirty, dug holes all over the back yard, and as soon as he heard the door open, came flying at me, 90 lbs of fleas and mud, and with the aim of a sharpshooter, slammed his giant puppy paws into my groin. He was always muddy. The dumbass had obviously forgotten his troubled beginnings because he still chased tarantulas, trying to dig them out of their holes, then barking and jumping away when they tried to “tag” him. A tarantula can jump really far when provoked! Not sure how he kept from getting bitten again. Just dumb luck I guess.

Every so often, but not often enough, my guilt got the better of me and I would try to reestablish a bond with him.

Once I decided to bathe him so I could at least pet him again. I got a bucket of water and some soap and went in. He was not a happy puppy. With his ears flat and uttering little whimpers, he backed away as I tried to scrub. In the struggle, I got as wet and sudsy as Cat. As he backed toward the wall I thought I might have won the battle. I am sure it wasn’t his plan but what happened next put an end to his bath (and every possible bath in his future). There was an outlet on the wall behind him. In Dominican Republic back in “the day” most electrical outlets weren’t grounded. Cat actually used his tail as a plug! I am not sure what he felt but I know I saw a bright white light and was jolted by an extreme shock! Cat disconnected and ran yelping away! I sat on the floor with the realization that my dog Cat was destined to remain dirty forevermore. Later, as Betsy screamed at him, my brother-in-law Ivan would entertain his friends by taking a glass of water out back where he would hold it up and laugh hysterically as Cat took one look, yelped and took off running, tail between his legs.

I am a teacher too. I don’t have a class. My job title is Resident Artist. I help other people with their classes by doing critiques and basically filling the Art cracks. Speaking of cracks, today a teacher told me he might as well tell his students to paint with their asses with the results he was getting on his project and I responded with, “Wouldn’t they get a little behind in their work”? What color is this paragraph? Don’t go with the obvious answer.

Back to Cat the dog.

I tried to reestablish the bond again several months later after being hounded (excuse the pun) by Betsy. She felt that I was, in essence, abusing the dog by not interacting with him.

“You know what? Let’s put him in the truck and take him to Red Beach! That place is deserted. I can surf, you can lay out, and he can run to his little heart’s content”! So we tied him in the bed of my truck so he wouldn’t jump out and off we went! This was a great idea! Win/win/win!

Red Beach was about 15 minutes from Santo Domingo, the capital city. It was where the “gringos” landed in 1965 when they came to save Dominicans from themselves but that’s another story. Needless to say, it was usually completely empty. The plan seemed foolproof.

We got to the beach and as expected, it was miles of unblemished sand. Not a soul in sight. I climbed out of the car, went to the bed of the truck and unleashed Cat who seemed dazed for a moment by the unfamiliar surroundings. As soon as he got his bearings, he bounded from the car as if shot from a cannon, nose low, taking in all the new smells. Up to this point his whole life was pretty much a walled-in back yard. My guilt evaporated with his excitement and joy. With a big goofy dog smile and his tongue hanging out his eyes proclaimed, “I’m FREE, I’m FREE”!!

I watched for a bit and when I saw all was right with the world I grabbed my board and headed for the ocean. A slight offshore breeze showed feathering waves, small but glassy and clean. I splashed into the cool water and paddled out for what was going to be a fun session. The sun looked down in envy.

Betsy laid out her towel for some serious sunbathing as Cat bounded to and fro searching through the high tide line that was piled with coconut husks, driftwood, and any other assorted gifts the ocean had left. A veritable treasure hunt for Cat and it would probably keep him occupied for hours.

The waves were fun, I was alone in the clear water, soaking it all in, but periodically scanning the shore to continue to wash away the guilt of having kept Cat prisoner for so long.

It was one on these scanning moments when I noticed Betsy, no longer laying on her towel but doing jumping jacks, very frantic looking ones. Not seeing what she was excited about, I scanned for Cat and finally found him way up the beach, sitting looking at some cows that had decided that a beach trip was on their schedule. Cows on the beach you ask? Yes, in Dominican Republic, animals, including farm animals, just wander about until it is time to return home for dinner I suppose. Often you have to stop on the roads and highways because some creature sees the road as an amazing pathway or even a warm place to lie down. If you happen to hit a chicken, and you look in your rear view mirror, you see crowds flocking to grab the twitching bird. Evidently, at least in some villages, the unwritten rule is, no matter whose chicken it was, once it is hit it’s first come first serve on early bird gets the worm… or chicken. Again, I am getting off track.

I got out of the water quickly and, with Betsy bringing up the rear, ran down the beach to get my dog before he started something. At the moment he was sitting there, head tilted to the side, seemingly perplexed, wondering what these big spotted dogs were up to. As I approached him, I slowed, thinking he might be preoccupied enough that I might walk right up, grab his collar, and head back to our part of the beach, leaving the cows to enjoy their day at the beach. It was not to be.

As soon as I dove to grab him, he dodged, then thinking it was a game, he decided to include the big cow in front of us. Now, I don’t know my cows, but these cows had horns and were big enough for me to worry. I was trying to get close to Cat and away from. Let’s call her, Elsie. Elsie on steroids. Cat seemed to be smiling. He got close to Elsie, first bowed, head low, hind legs straight, and then hopped with his two front feet together barking like a mad dog. The cow was not impressed and lowered her head constantly facing him as he circled her. The whole time I am trying to get close to him without attracting too much attention from this mad cow. It seemed an impossible task.

As I stepped back to think of a plan, Cat stopped jumping and went back to him quizzical mode. I saw him inch closer, nose extended, with a dumb “Hey, lets be buds” look on his face but the damage was done. His insulting noises and all the bunny-hopping had put Elsie in a defensive stance, an aggressive defensive stance! I could see it but poor Cat was a naive yard dog. I backed away as my socially stunted dog approached the angry cow.

There seemed no hesitation really. It was slow motion in a way. Elsie never lifted her head, she just charged as if she had been watching Spanish bull fights all her life. But there was no “Olé”. Not sure if Cat was mesmerized or what but he didn’t move a muscle. She hit him so hard, the thump was sickening! All I remember seeing was a ball of fur sailing through the air, landing, rolling like a sandy snowball. There were the mixed sounds of Betsy screaming, or me, not sure which, and one good yelp from Cat at the moment of impact. Memory is interesting, I think it is hard to distinguish between memory and imagination. I am sure things become exaggerated in my memory over time but I would swear that Cat flew ten feet in the air on that one. I was sure nothing could live through that blow.

He rolled for a bit and, when he stopped, he miraculously popped up, shook off the sand and, again with tilted head, stared at Elsie. I came to my senses and realizing he was not only alive but just dandy. He was farther away from the cow than he had been and she seemed content to hold her ground so I had to move quickly. I slowly approached from behind and then pounced. I was going to get him! Nope. My hands dug into the sand where a dog had once been. Still wet from the ocean I was starting to resemble a longhaired sugar donut. I looked up and cat was hopping around Elsie again!! In his small mind I think he felt that the big spotted dog was playing with him. So the dance ensued. Betsy a good distance away, providing the music of high-pitched wails with an occasional lower, more angry chorus of “Grab him!”, Cat bouncing in his circular dance, me following, breaking the circle when I got to close to the angry bovine, and Elsie, head lowered, facing Cat as he bounced about, head down, ready to butt the hell out of him. Though I was distraught at the time, this scene was an easy $10000 on Dominican Republic’s Funniest Home Videos, IF there was such a show and there even such things as video cameras.

Well, this went on for what seemed like hours! I couldn’t get close enough to grab Cat without getting too close to that pissed off cow! She hit cat, though I didn’t count, over and over, and each time I thought he was going to die, or learn, or stop. I dove for him until I was exhausted. Elsie seemed to tire of this ridiculous creature as well. Betsy had stopped screaming, but was following at a good distance. Could it be this episode was coming to a close? Not a chance.

Elsie made a run for it. Her beach day was done. She was probably thinking of shade and hay and imagining a place where there was no devil’s spawn chasing her. Cat felt that the soreness in his ribs was a small price to pay for a true friendship. He had never gotten so much attention! I was resigned to seeing this thing to it’s end because I was being coaxed and because I could see no way out. Betsy was following but I was sure she was thinking of all the reasons why this was my fault.

Elsie saw a refuge! As she left the beach, there was a huge puddle, or small lake, where the water had evaporated but the mud was still there. Knee deep mud. She must have thought that since Devil’s Spawn was smaller she could outrun him in the black muck. Cat was excited by this soft black goo and smiled as he bounded into it. For him this wondrous adventure never ended.

I made a split second decision to follow them through the muck. If I had decided to go around it, I might have lost them so I went straight in behind him. I sunk to my knees. I wasn’t sure but imagined that this stagnant muck had a sewage component mixed in. Elsie’s hooves and Cat’s paws functioned much better in this consistency than did these silly long flat things we call feet! It was like walking on toilet plungers! I was losing ground! Elsie was emerging on the opposite side with Cat nipping her heals while I still plodded, seemingly wearing black boots up past my knees, still covered with sand, and now with little black speckled like some twisted, sugar coating, two-legged, dalmation with long blonde hair. Photo op if there ever was one!

When I finally got out of Sewer Lake, the animals were a ways ahead of me, going through a gateless opening in the fence into someone’s property! I approached the entrance slowly. In Dominican Republic people are likely to shoot you long before they ask anything and the way I looked, even on a good day, was an invitation to either kill the demon or call the priest for an exorcism. On a side note, I had long sun bleached blonde hair in a land of no blondes and no longhaired men, these were “campesinos” (poor farmers) and had probably not seen many white people in their lives. I was wearing only my surf baggies. With what I had just been through, I was sure to be seen as a dangerous apparition. I had thoughts of being disemboweled with a machete if I encountered any campesinos.

As I cautiously entered the farm, I saw the dog, Elsie was gone, but Cat was standing like a pointer pointing at a pheasant but the pheasant was Billy Goat Gruff. I think in his small mind he was processing to see if this could be another wonderful friend. “This one is much closer to my size”, he thought! But he didn’t even get to introduce himself, Billy Goat Gruff lowered his head and demolished with an even louder thud than Daisy had made. At this point I was resigned to the fact that this freaking mutt was invincible. Again he sat up, tilted his head, and decided that this new friend was a bit grumpy. I think he noticed the things on the top of Billy Goat Gruff’s head. Wait! Elsie had those too! That’s it! Maybe I can find friends around here that don’t have those hard protrusions on their head.

The little lambs were adorable all huddled together in bunch. They moved like one big fuzzy animal with twenty legs. Cat was intrigued. He also noticed these had soft little round heads with no protrusions. This time I got some of his hair when I pounced. So close. He was getting tired. His tongue was so long I couldn’t see how it could fit in his mouth but, at this point, mine was too. I stumbled behind him like a zombie as he quietly pursued his new friends.

In Dominican Republic campesinos often live in little wooden shacks with thatched roofs made from palm fronds. The window and door are always open if they have them. I saw the farmer’s house and as I crested the hill. I was deflated when I saw what lay before me. The little lambs were headed for the shack with Cat behind them. They wouldn’t… he couldn’t. They did and so did he. I saw the lambs all go into the shack, then Cat, who was huge by Dominican dog standards and then I heard screaming! People started flying out of every opening in that shack screaming bloody murder at the top of their lungs. And then they saw me running down the path toward them. It was too much I think. Some were screaming “El Diablo!” (The Devil) and the others “Jesu Cristo!” (Jesus Christ). I was repeating over and over “perdoname… lo siento” whatever other apologetic terms I could think of. I actually walked past them, into their shack, cornered that fucking dog, threw all 90lbs of him over my neck like a mink stole, and tried to figure out how to leave gracefully before the father came to his senses and got his machete to save his farm and family.

Bowing as much as I could with a heavy dog on my neck and still apologizing profusely, I made my way back up the path. The campesinos had now stopped screaming and were just staring, mouths agape. I imagine they had a story to tell for generations about the white devil with yellow hair, black spots, black legs, having appearing out of the sand on the beach, maybe a ghost of the “gringos” that invaded that very beach, and his demon hound from Hell. I hope that after the fright I gave them something to add color to their lives.

As I approached the entrance, I noticed Elsie blocking my way. I felt and heard a little “woof” from Cat and I held his feet so tight I am sure I cut off the circulation. The damn cow was coming toward us!! With my beasty burden I got on the other side of a palm and as she approached and put a horn on each side of the tree, I again danced, she led of course, side to side, until I was on the right side of the tree and then I quickly ran out on the entrance, which, to my relief I now saw as an exit, and started my trip down the hill to the beach. I met Betsy and signaled that she shouldn’t discuss anything at this moment and, since the leashes were in the car I carried Cat for what seemed like several miles back to the truck. Bets got her stuff, I strapped the dog in and my board on the roof, we fell into the truck and I started toward my next adventure, a bath and a nap. Cat was now definitely nothing but a Yard Dog!!