time with my sons
A while ago, I read Teddy Roosevelt’s biography. I remember a short story, paraphrased here, in which he was having a meeting in the Oval Office with the Ambassador or Emporer or something or other of Russia. At one point in the meeting, he stood up and said “I’m sorry, your Excellency, but I have a very important meeting to attend. You may join me if you wish.” He went outside, where his children were waiting on the lawn of the White House, and proceeded to run and jump and play tag and hide and seek.
Somewhat serendipitously, my entire little family got sick this past week. Runny noses, coughs, sneezing, headaches, etc. I have to admit, I also took this as an opportunity to disappear. I spent the past four days with my two sons and wife, playing puzzles, building block castles, running trains through castles, raking leaves, getting coffee on Main Street. I haven’t left their side for four days now. As I write this, Evan is asleep on my chest, snoring a congested snore. Other than one drawing an hour ago, I haven’t painted, drawn, written emails, or even thought about art.
I went to an event a week ago, at the Salmagundi Club in Manhattan. Richard Schmidt was giving a painting demonstration. As he is currently one of the biggest names in the representational art world, the crowd was enthusiastic. I was lucky enough to be given a choice seat in the front, for which I was greatful. In front of me was a seat marked “Reserved.” And, in front of that was Richard, painting away. He laughed and joked and rambled, all the while delighting the audience with his grace and candor. Suddenly, a woman rushed past me and sat in the reserved seat. Thing is, I knew the seat was not reserved for her- she was stealing the spot. I couldn’t care less, I was somewhat amused by her audacity. The woman proceeded to pull out a notebook and loudly scratch away at the pad, taking copious notes. Her pen was flying, there was practically smoke rising off of the page. She leaned this way, now that way, now this way, half stood up, neck craning all the while. She took out her camera, and proceeded to shoot hundreds and hundreds of photos- her digital camera producing a digital click with every photo. Everybody within a twenty foot circle began to get very annoyed. People were giving her scolding looks, as if to say “Calm down, you’re obsessed.” She returned their gazes with her own unspoken language “And what are you going to do about it?” Alas, the woman was suffering from artistic rabies, and continued to stalk Richard for the next half hour.
Now, I would just like to pause to say that I am not given to laughing when something bad happens. If I see somebody stand up and smash their head on a counter top, it doesn’t really cross my mind to laugh. It’s not that I’m nice, I’m just not wired to laugh in such a setting.
Well, the woman decided she need to snap a photo from around the side of Richard’s shoulder. So she leaned out. And leaned a little further. A bit further, and she was just about able to get that photo she wanted and… over she went. Chairs went flying, drinks were knocked over, pens and pencils and pads and cameras and a stenographer’s typewriter and everything went up in the air and came down with a terrific crash. I was elated. Richard turned around and saw the woman wiggling on the floor like a beetle on its back. I couldn’t stop laughing. Everybody was glad that she had been placed in check. I lifted her up, overturned chairs, picked up papers. She looked at me with an empty, proud stare, eyebrows uplifted, as if to say “And what are you looking at?” Once settled, she stopped taking notes, and just watched quietly.
Liam was sitting beside me on the couch today, happily watching Toy Story. It was wonderful to see him so absorbed. I pulled out my sketchbook, and set to work. My sketch, done on the couch beside him, is better than anything I would have produced in my painting studio these past four days. His wild delight, his open mouth, his chubby hands, his rainboots, his innocence, captured forever on this paper. A moment in my son’s life, frozen, to be enjoyed by future generations.
And yet, Russian emperors, Richard Schmidt’s demonstration, painting and drawing- they’re not worth leaning so far over in your chair for.