we met through a childhood friend of his, m, who lived down the hall from a place i just rented in miracle mile, one block from the labrea tar pits. i met m on one of his daily lunch breaks from work. he invited me in to “really” hear tom waits for the first time. i did. he would tell me mad stories about his friend, b, who was living in sf and making is way down here. legends like the greeks told, that couldn’t be all true, but created new archetypes nonetheless.
in the first five minutes of meeting b, when he first arrived weeks later, i discovered they weren’t just stories. it was clear that i was face to face with a living, breathing historical figure. i have had brushes with such figures before, but i wasn’t always sure they were really there. or like the artist whose loft i lived in for the year previous, only living among their remnants and remainders, not actually facing them or feeling their breath.
i held something for him, if only the ability to see through the human evidence to the spirit that lay below; which had clanked through eternity amongst mortals unable or unwilling to sense the essence. we listened, drove, painted and prodded things. i learned tactile ways to interact with the untouchable, which haven’t escaped me since.
he had been to twelve art schools in as many years. on a sunday in september of 1993 we were driving down doheny. b was spilling his science on art, about the moment he realized painting was different than sculpture. he was at a loss for an artist’s name, a sculptor or painter who had the same realization and wrote it down on the 19th century equivalent of a cocktail napkin. something like, “it took me 40 years to realize painting is not sculpture.”
“rodin”, he groaned. but for the first time in what seemed like forever, he didn’t seem sure of himself. we turned onto sunset from doheny and everything felt much lighter, as in not heavy. he stopped talking. i stopped listening. and it felt as if we left the atmosphere. everything looked the same, but felt indescribably altered. we looked at each other and kind of shrugged. and then he went white. i asked “what”, and he pointed straight ahead at an impossibly white ‘76 mercedes 280 se. beautiful. i looked and it took my eyes a few seconds to fall down to the license plate. it said “rodin”.
somehow we knew it was him. we made our way to the other lane to creep up beside the car and get a better look. it was a convertible and the driver’s long, gray hair spun a web around a face that had been carved for millennia. i felt terrified. absolutely like i should not be there and i almost grabbed the steering wheel as if to avoid an accident the driver couldn’t see. but i was frozen. and even b, a demigod in his own right was visibly shaken and stunned into an inert force. on cue, the head, almost as if disembodied, slowly turned to face us.
if you asked me what the devil looked like i would have given this description. at the time. now i know the devil doesn’t dress that well. rodin said something without moving his mouth. a car stopped ahead of us and we were trapped as the mercedes and the man sped forward, unobstructed.
we pulled over and got out. neither of us could breathe that well. as soon as we could speak, we both said the same thing, “cezanne”. and we instantly knew that’s whose quote it was, “it took me 40 years to realize painting wasn’t sculpture.” that’s what we both heard rodin say before he drove off, “cezanne”.
if there’s one thing the gods won’t abide, it’s being misquoted.