Tuesday, March 5, 2013

sentient beings

My friends and family were concerned that I was maybe spending a little bit too much time at the Arch.  I had only been in St. Louis for a couple of months and already I was convinced that I had pretty much found a new and much more reliable reason for living.

"An inanimate object?  You wanna base your existence on an inanimate object?"

Seemed like a fair question, so I told them I'd mull it over for a couple of days.  At the Arch, of course.  Lying on my back, gazing up the Arch.  Indeed, a quiet object.  Indeed, a relatively unmoving object.  But "inanimate"?  Was that really an appropriate word?  I'm not usually one to get all nit-picky about use of language, but this one seemed off, somehow.  I was determined to figure it out.

In the meantime, I quit my job, gave up my apartment, found a new temporary home for Rogers, a small fur-covered animal I had rescued from under a bush in the dead of winter the first year I was attending art school in China.  Coming out of class one day, I heard this pathetic little meowing; distress calls, one might call it.  Clearly a creature not in the most comfortable circumstances.  Because classes were done for the day, I had plenty of time.  After the heavy pedestrian traffic coming in and out of the building had ceased, I started to follow the distress signals back to their source.  I crouched down and laid eyes on little Rogers the lion cub.  He was indeed a distressed looking fellow.  His eyes were huge, his whole body tensed, looking wildly around him in all directions, continuing to pump out the distress meows at irregular intervals.  I greeted him in a soft voice, and he quietly greeted me back, but he remained tense, and quickly went back to his s.o.s. business.  After a few minutes I tentatively reached my hand in and he immediately darted to the the far side of the shrub.  He was beyond my reach before, but now he was almost out of sight again also.  I sighed, stood up, and paused, wondering if there was anything left for me to do in this situation.  There was.  I went to the cafeteria and procured a few slices of turkey, came back, crouched down, peered in, and followed the distress calls back to their source.  I could just make out his orange little body against the red brick of the building.  "It's ok, simple fellow" I somehow recall having said at this point.  I tore off some turkey and threw it in his direction.  He was unfazed at first, but he must have caught the scent pretty quickly.  He crept towards it, sniffed it, snatched it up in his jaws and carried it back to the wall, where he devoured it in a matter of seconds.  I tossed the remaining turkey in after him and he made quick work of that also.

"But the arch is so freakin' amazing!" I keep trying to tell them.  "How could I not wanna spend all my time here!"
"there are other things in life, Bill" they reminded me.
"I know that- I never said that there weren't."
"I mean, when you were spending all your free time here that was crazy enough, but now it's all your time, period!  Doesn't that pretty much qualify as insane?  No apartment, no cell phone, no job, no clear prospects?  Just down here, day after day, wandering around or lying on your back looking up.  Haven't you figured it out?  I mean, it's a pretty simple shape, is it not?  A simple arc.  Solid gray.  Overlooking the river.  Day after day.  Nothing changes.  It's an inanimate object!  I mean, maybe if you were making a documentary film about it, or creating a series of photos or paintings- but for Christ's sake, Bill- you're doing nothing!  In a very real sense you are totally wasting your life!  What's to come of all this?"

I didn't have a quick answer, although I still wasn't convinced about that "inanimate" business.  I guess I just liked the way the Arch blended in with the sky, the wind, and the clouds.  Nothing terribly complicated, true, and no tangible outcome. I probably was wasting my life.  But at least I was now doing it in a way that made sense to me.

I eventually barged in after Rogers and cornered him, snatched him up, and straight-jacketed him under my coat.  He would have eviscerated me otherwise.  he actually did eviscerate me a little.  His distress meows ratcheted up a few notches, but I told him this was for his own good, as terrifying as it might seem at  the moment.  I lived about a 20 minutes walk from campus.  About halfway home, the distress meows petered out and he started whimpering nervously.  He was probably convinced he was going to get butchered and thrown into the stew pot.  I had cornered him, captured him, and was taking him to some distant location very much against his own will.  I understood why he was frightened and kept trying to reassure him, but to no avail.  When we finally got to my room, I loosened my coat and he sprang out and ran to the opposite end, where he buried himself towards the back of the shelving unit where I kept random household supplies.  He stayed there for a week.  I set out food and water by the shelf and every morning the levels were considerably lower.  I'm not exactly sure where he was peeing and pooping but I figured that it would become clear soon enough.  

After a week he started emerging when I was at my art table, working.  He'd jump up on one of the shelves, about six feet away, and just stare at me.  After a few more days he started to tentatively rub against my legs, and after a few more he jumped up on my lap and went to sleep.  I continued making art in that room for about 18 more years.

I eventually wound up in st. louis and decided to take a break from the painting, collaging, and sculpting.  The world already had a ton of these things, and if art school had taught me anything, it was that millions more were being churned out every day all across the whole frickin' planet.  the Arch was one of a kind.  I enjoyed being near it.  For the time being, my friends and family would just have get used to it.