I'm thinking of buying a beret, as I am now an artist.
Yes, friends and neighbors, I've taken up painting. Watercolors. Acrylics.
I don't have a studio, but my dining room's piled with brushes, tubes of paint, canvas boards, sketch books, pictures in various stages of completion and other accoutrements you'd expect a creative spirit such as myself to keep within easy reach.
I'm awake until all hours adding a brush stroke here, a transparent wash there. When I do go to sleep, I dream about painting.
This is not to imply that I'm a good artist.
I am probably the worst artist in history.
I only aspire to eventually rise to mediocrity, in all its glory.
My problems start with the fact that I have no taste. But I'm also handicapped by a lack of innate talent. The short list of things I can't comprehend includes color, composition, lighting and perspective.
My idea of great art is those pictures you used to see in barbershops of dogs playing poker. I'd enjoy creating a few of those, but I don't have the skills to pull it off.
Have you ever tried to paint a green eyeshade on the brow of an English bulldog? It's not as easy at it looks. Then there are those paws. How do you show a Labrador retriever dealing cards when he doesn't have fingers or thumbs?
Oh, art! Alas!
So instead, I'm tending toward landscapes and portraits of humans.
I'd like to claim that my works are part of a primitive, folk-art tradition, that they're supposed to look the way they do. However, claiming that would be a dreadful insult to decent, law-abiding folk artists everywhere.
My paintings look more like what might have happened if Grandma Moses had dropped acid until her head spun off her shoulders and exploded against a canvas.
I tried to execute a portrait of my infant granddaughter. When it was done, her cheeks were a mottled purple, her eyelids looked baggy. The overall effect was that of a 102-year-old woman propped in high chair. Not what I had in mind.
I painted a farm scene — barns and fields and flowers and whatnot. I made up the picture entirely out of my imagination.
When it was done, I showed it to my girlfriend.
"Do you like it?" I asked.
She got that deer-in-the-headlights expression.
"Wow. That's, uh, certainly ... something."
"Do you like it?"
"It's, uh, it's very ... colorful. That's it! It's colorful!"
"Thanks," I said. I take my compliments where I can get them.
As she walked off, I heard her mutter, "At least he's not addicted to crack."
I have a friend, Wayne, an accomplished painter. Out of the goodness of his heart, and having taken leave of his senses, he agreed to give me a few lessons.
I took him an acrylic I'd painted of a bright street scene in New Orleans.
Wayne turned the painting this way and that. He squinted at it.
"Is it raining?" he asked.
"Your buildings glow as if they might be wet. If rain was orange."
"Raining?" I thought about that. "Sure! It's raining!"
I didn't even realize the scene contained any orange. Have I mentioned I'm also partially colorblind? This is not a joke. An optometrist diagnosed me.
Most other artists aren't colorblind, I suspect.
You might be asking yourself, Why in Sam Hill is this fool trying to paint?
Because I like it.
Some middle-age guys buy Harleys and career down the highway with their beer guts hanging over the handlebars. Surely they realize they don't bear any resemblance to Marlon Brando in The Wild One. Surely.
Other guys spend every free hour on the golf course, thrashing their way out of bunker after bunker. They've got to know they'll never be mistaken for Tiger Woods.
Motorcycles make me nervous, and golf bores the bejabbers out of me.
But at last I've found my equivalent, my oeuvre.
The moment I pick up a paint brush, I forget everything except the picture in front of me. My mind relaxes. I'm oblivious to the bills that need paying and the tenant of one of my apartment buildings who has just sneaked out in the middle of the night without giving me notice.
I swirl those pigments with a brush and feel as if I've swallowed a powerful tranquilizer. It's great to have an outlet, something I love, that nobody's paying me for, that I don't even have to be competent at, that's for my own pleasure alone.
I hope you have something like that in your life. It's better than drugs.