Artistic Tea Bags

Mr. Henry turns art critic.

October, 2002

Well, it’s starting to cool off a bit, now, and the kids are back in school. This last Saturday we had the annual Arts Festival in the park, which is always fun. Miss Yvonne is in charge, since she’s our local artist.

She started off like most artists, working on the paint by number kits, but soon she got a little bored with that. She tried renumbering the little paint containers at random to get a different effect, but that didn’t always work out too good.

Finally she struck off on her own, but decided to copy the great masters as a learning tool, just changing the subjects a bit to make the pictures her own creations. This led eventually to her most successful series, “Cats Playing Poker”. Her best was one titled “A Friend Needing Something”, which showed a white Siamese passing a 4 of clubs under the table to a tabby. Miss Yvonne never did quite get the hang of poker.

Miss Lucy helps out with the Arts Festival too. She had her husband Matthew cut up a bunch of plywood sheets and paint ‘em up like little refrigerators, so she can display the children’s paintings.

But they were both unhappy when they got to the park early Saturday morning to set everything up. It seems Leroy had missed a turn coming home from Bill-Fred’s Friday night, and skidded into the middle of the park. With all the near misses from hurricanes this year, there was a lot of mud and Leroy’s truck went in up to its axles. Then he completely burned up the clutch trying to get out, and finally just had to leave the truck and walk on home.

It was easy enough to rearrange the exhibits, and move the dolls and kitchen plaques off to the side, but that still left Leroy’s old truck in the middle of things, somewhat spoiling the artistic effect.

Miss Yvonne was in a very foul mood when Mr. Henry rode up on his bicycle. As usual, he was a convenient ear to soak up her frustration. When she finally paused for breath, he held up his hand and said “I’ll take care of it.”

It was easy to find scrap wood and ribbon around the Festival, and he carefully cordoned off the offending pickup. Then he got some posterboard and a marker, and put up a little sign:

Mr. Le Roi
( Not for sale )

Well, this got Miss Yvonne and Miss Lucy so tickled they quit worryin’ and went back to havin’ a good time. And everybody who walked by got a chuckle out of it too. Response was so good Mr. Henry was considering putting out a donation jar, but then he got distracted.

A big Dodge van from the Arts College over in the city pulled into the parking lot, and seven or eight people piled out. The driver was an older guy, obviously a teacher bringing his students on a field trip. Most of the students at the Arts College are from Up North, and after I looked ‘em over, I could see why their parents wanted them hundreds of miles out of sight.

We’ve gotten used to long hair and earrings on guys, but we do usually expect the hair color to be something normally found in nature. And we don’t expect people to have so much metal on their face that they look like victims of a painful industrial accident.

One guy with orange spiked hair and three lip rings came over and read the little sign, then loudly announced, “This is just a crappy old truck!”

Well, the older guy looked embarrassed and came over to shush him, but Mr. Henry stepped in before he could get there and said, “Well, son, that’s a perfectly normal reaction from the general public. It takes a certain level of sophistication to appreciate the symbolism and intellectual dynamism of Mr. Le Roi’s work.”

Orange Hair stood there for a minute, trying to figure out if he had just been insulted, and if so, what to do about it. The older guy walked over to Mr. Henry and said, “I’m Vince Barrister, from the Conceptual Arts Department. Can you tell me more about this piece?”

“Of course,” said Mr. Henry. “I’m Mr. Le Roi’s administrative assistant.”

Mr. Henry let himself into the display area, but he closed the ribbons behind himself, keeping everybody else out.

“This work expresses the universal struggle for advancement and spiritual enlightenment in a secular and tumultuous world. Note that the front wheels are turned as if in search of a better direction in life. The rust spots on the inside of the bed show the wearing effect of carrying the heavy load of the search for epistemological certitude within the loosened constraints of a post modern paradigm.”

I heard a whisper behind me. “What’s he doin’ with my truck?” Leroy had arrived just in time for the show, “Shh, just keep quiet!” I whispered back.

Mr. Henry had moved to the left rear fender, where one of the old NRA bumper stickers was peeling off, exposing the bright pink layer under all the green spray paint. “And yet the bright hues of the innate life force cannot be forever subdued by the mundane monochromatic cares of everyday life.”

He got everybody to bend over and look real close at the pink spot.

“As to technique, note the use of a triple redundant pastiche overlay, which enhances the aeroelasticity and metacentric height of the whole work.”

“Is them real words he’s usin’?” asked Leroy. “Well”, I replied, “ They’re real words, all right, but they do seem to have wandered into the wrong neighborhood. Now hush!”

Mr. Henry paused to see if the hook was set.

Orange Hair piped up, “And the whole thing being stuck in the mud shows how hard it is to keep going!” Mr. Henry gave him a nice smile and nodded. “That’s a very hypergolic comment..”

Vince had moved up and was checking out the cab. “Do these empty cigarette packs and old lottery tickets on the dash represent the search for immediate mundane means of pleasure as well as a persistent hope of life fulfillment from a greater external source.?”

Mr. Henry replied, “I couldn’t have said it any better myself.”

About this time Miss Maybelle, who had been struggling mightily to keep a straight face, reached the limit of her endurance. She did manage to sort of strangle her laughter into a series of coughs and wheezes, and Miss Yvonne helped her down to the Coke trailer to regain her composure.

This mild medical crisis finished up the lecture, but Vince took Mr. Henry aside. “We’re having Parent’s Day next Saturday. Would it be possible to bring this piece in for temporary display? I’m sure we can arrange an appropriate honorarium.”

Leroy poked me in the back. “What’s honorarium mean?” I whispered back, “In this case, money for a new clutch. Now keep quiet!”

Mr. Henry thought for a while, then said, “I suppose that could be arranged. Of course, I would have to accompany it for interpretive purposes, and we need to take along an associate curator to handle the physical arrangements.”

“By all means!” said Vince. “Naturally, we would want you both as honored guests at the luncheon and reception.”

I turned to Leroy and whispered “Honorarium also appears to mean free food and free booze. Now get in my truck! I’m getting you out of here before you mess it all up.”

When I got back from taking Leroy home, the big van was gone and all the artists were packing up. As usual, Mr. Henry came over to have some tea with me.

“Mr. Henry”, I said, “I am constantly amazed at the way you con people.”

“Con? What con? I merely persuaded them to adopt my view of an ambiguous situation. And it’s easy, really.

First off, you state your case like it’s just a plain simple fact. Then you gotta find a way to make it uncomfortable for anybody to offer any objections. Once folks are too afraid of embarrassment to object to the main idea, all you have to do is get ‘em bogged down in details. Pretty soon, they think the whole thing was their idea in the first place.”

“But it sure didn’t work on Miss Maybelle”, I pointed out.

“Of course not. Miss Maybelle has good sense, and she ain’t afraid to say just what she thinks. But people like that are pretty rare these days. And the more important people thinks they is, the less they want to say anything that might make trouble for ‘em. They just floats on downstream, and hopes somebody else watches out for the waterfalls.”

“Well, I guess that’s right,” I said. “But I don’t remember you being so cynical before. Where’d that come from?”

“Well,” he said, “I guess you got a point. But Mrs. Wilkes finally got cable run up to my room.

I been watchin’ a lotta C-SPAN.”