Archive for the ‘Relatives / Friends’ Category

It all started on Christmas Day 2019, when I received a greeting email from a blogger friend in Australia, whom I have never met in person (who shall remain anonymous here). At the end of the email she added this sentence:

Also, I have to tell you that I am a big fan of your paintings. There have been so many occasions when I was tempted to ask if you sold your art. Because if you do, I’d like to one day make a purchase — never mind the shipping costs.

I responded telling her that I didn’t sell paintings, but I occasionally would create custom ones for friends. What motif did she have in mind?

After she reviewed my online portfolio and pointed out what she liked, it struck me. In back of my studio there had been this “first draft” of a painting I called Aspens that I had been trying to make work for a couple of years that just wasn’t clicking, it wasn’t going anywhere. I thought it might work, so I took this photograph, with yardstick for scale, and sent it to her.

[click to enlarge any of the photographs in this post]

Her response was enthusiastically positive. But I took it with a grain of salt. What do you say when an artist shows you an unfinished first draft that he was planning on turning into a painting for you?

So I got to work. There is nothing that motivates like committing to making a painting for somebody. Now it has to move. Here is what it had turned into by January 16, 2020:

Here we are on January 25:

By end of February it was done:

This was just before the pandemic hit. In the months of March, April and May it cured. Oil paintings take months to dry properly. Then it needed varnishing, which takes another few weeks, at least, to dry sufficiently.

Of course, no painting is done until it is framed. So I took it to the frame shop, picked out a nice frame that I thought would be neutral. When it came back from the shop I put it up in the house for this portrait of Aspens with Artist.

But before shipping it, I thought I’d enjoy it for a little while in my home office, where I spend most of my days working during the pandemic:

But it was time for shipping. I went to U-Haul and got a mirror/art shipping box of the right size, and I called FedEx and UPS to get an idea what it would cost to ship this thing to Australia. That’s when the surprise started. The cheapest shipping I could find was about US $900, and it went up to US $1,600. Now, I consider my work valuable, but a thousand dollars just to ship a painting just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. While my friend had offered to pay for the shipping before, I am sure she had no idea what that would mean, and I would not ask somebody else to pay for something that was outside of the range I myself was willing to pay.

I started thinking about alternatives.

After all the costs of framing, I could take it back out of the frame (and repurpose the frame for another painting), take it off the stretch frame, and ship it in a roll. I was sure that would be cheaper. I first made sure that my friend in Australia had access to a frame shop that would be skilled enough to re-stretch a loose canvas. Also, I suggested to her that rather than paying for the shipment, she could spend the money on a good frame of her choice and get better value that way. Having confirmed that approach, I realized another hurdle: Australia was on the metric system, and there would be no way for a framer to find a 24 inch by 36 inch stretch frame. I would not be able to take the old one apart well enough for it to get reassembled. So I made a trip to Blick Art Supplies in San Diego, pretty much the only place anywhere I know where you can buy stretch frames, and bought two 36 inch sections and two 24 inch sections to ship in the tube with the painting.

Here is the painting, now without its frame, and the shipping tube, along with the stretch frame pieces. Time to take the painting apart.

Then came the next hurdle.

In my day, when I was a struggling young artist, I made my own stretch frames and stretched my own canvases. In the end, they looked like this, with the canvas stapled to the frame. This picture is a cheap store-bought frame. But that’s what I expected.

But no, that’s not what Aspens looked like in the back. I am buying high-end canvases now, and they are not stretched like we used to do it back in the day. This is what they look like now – not that I had paid much attention to it before:

So after committing to taking the painting apart and shipping it in a tube, I had no idea how to actually get it out of this kind of frame, and whether it would be possible to re-stretch it after that. I didn’t want to figure this out on Aspens itself and possibly ruin the painting. Better to experiment first. So I went to the supply store at Michaels where I get most of my canvas and bought the smallest canvas I could get using this stretching methodology. Here is is, ready with tools, to be taken apart:

It turned out it was not so bad. First you remove the corner staples, then there is a bead of caulk pushed down into the frame, probably by some machine in China, that both stretches the frame firmly and keeps it tight. Somebody surely made a fortune on that patent. Here is what it looked like after I took it apart:

I was relieved. It was not hard to do and the canvas had enough scrap around the edges sufficient for re-stretching later, as long as the framer knew his business. A word of caution here: Do not try this at home unless you know what it takes to stretch a painting. It’s a craft and it takes practice.

Now it was time to take apart the Aspens painting:

It went without a hitch. I took it apart, taped the new stretch bars together, rolled the canvas up with a large sheet of paper against the painting side, and it all fit into my tube snugly.

Here is the full tube, along with the empty old frame.

Now for shipping, I went to the trusty United States Postal Service, right around the time when the government apparently tried to sabotage the postal service to hinder the smooth execution of the federal election. So everything associated with shipping with USPS did not go so well. But you can’t beat the price. It cost me US $69.00 to ship the tube to Australia. I was excited when it left. I figured it would take a week or so.

By now you have probably figured out why I titled this post “The Odyssey.” The odyssey continued. Here is the tracking log of the tube trying to leave the country:

I truly don’t understand what the painting did lingering in San Diego for a week, before finally making it to Los Angeles, where it bounced around for another two weeks, before finally moving on to San Francisco to get on a plane to Australia. Once in Australia, it took some more time to arrive.

When my friend tried to take it to the frame shop she found out that, being a retail business, the pandemic lockdown had been extended to the end of October. She would not be able to take it in until then.

Well, today, almost a year after the Aspens project started, she send me this picture of herself with the painting it its new frame.

This was taken today in Australia. I have to say, the frame works beautifully with the painting, and the color scheme matches her décor better than I could ever have chosen remotely.

I am glad this project is done. Aspens is on the other side of the world, and it has a good home.

Read Full Post »

On August 22, 1974, I was a bright-eyed 18-year-old AFS foreign exchange student, when I arrived in Lakewood, New York. The Saxton family took me in for a year and made me one of theirs within the first few hours of my arrival. When we pulled up to the house at 22 E. Summit, they had hoisted two flags, the German one next to the American one. I took this picture within a few hours of arriving there on that hot August evening, the first day of a drastically changed life.

I gave the camera to my host sister Val who then took this picture of me by the flag. Check out my crazy cut-off shorts! The kids never let me hear the end of it, and those shorts went into the trash quickly never to be worn again.

Here is a view from the side of the house, looking toward the street. The house that was to be my home for the next year was so drastically different from the house in Germany that I had just left. The entire architecture in America is very different from that in Germany.

Many months later I went outside and took another picture of the place in winter, with the icicles pointing down from the roof.

Here I am in the hallway toward the end of the year, a proud high school graduate. By then, 22 E. Summit had become as much my home as any place in my life. I still remember the countless hours lying on my back on the thick, plush carpet, next to the stereo, listening the Elton John records using the headphones: “Ticking, Ticking, don’t ever ride on the devil’s knee, Momma said.”

Five years later, in the summer of 1979, I brought my German parents to the U.S. and we drove across the country from Arizona to New York. While we were there, my stepfather and I painted the house. Here we are, he on the left, myself on the right, working away in the hot summer morning.

The Saxtons sold the house within a couple of years after that and moved on with their lives, and so did I.

Now let’s turn the clock forward 40 years to last Sunday, Father’s Day 2019. My sister Val and I drove by the old place. It is now long abandoned and tagged by the authorities. There is a red warning sign on the wall. The place is infested with mold, bed bugs and anything else you can imagine after being left to the elements for years. I assume it will eventually be torn down. There are no other options left.

The yard is overgrown and the house is literally crumbling.

Here I am in front of the steps where I stood in my cutoff with fringes 45 years ago as a boy.

Looking in I see that the place is completely gutted. I can see the spot where I stood when I had my graduation picture taken. I see where the couch used to be where I watched Gilligan’s Island after school every afternoon, where I learned listening to rapidly spoken English in the first couple of months. The old house is full of memories.

No visit to the old house would be complete without a parting selfie. Here we are, Val and I, after a lifetime of memories and a friendship that started in these very rooms so long ago.

Good bye, 22 E. Summit.

Read Full Post »

On Saturday we traveled to Big Bear, California (a town up in the mountains) to watch our son Devin, at age 31, race the Spartan – The Beast. This is a 13.1 mile race with 30 obstacles and almost 6,000 feet of elevation gain on the course. Read all about it here.

Here is the course – photographed the banner at the beginning of the race.

It takes place at the Big Bear ski area, and some of the trails follow the slopes. We were able to see him leave at the starting line, then take the ski lift to the top of the mountain and wait for him there on stations 10, 14 and 15.

Here is champion before the race:

And here is his pit crew:

From left to right (the parental units): Norbert, Jack, Devin, Mary and Trisha.

Here is the starting lineup. Notice, to get into the starting area you have to climb over a wall.

The voice you hear is that of the announcer, getting the crowd ready.

They released the participants in batches of up to 250 people every 15 minutes. They carry chips that track their individual times. Devin was in the last batch for the day, and there were only a few participants left at that time. Other starting waves were packed with people.

Here is a view of the start.

Off they go, up the mountain.

After they left, we made our way to the ski lift and went to the very top. Here is a view of Big Bear Lake, and some of the racers below us:

Once on the top, in the background you can see one of my favorite mountains. This is the peak of San Gorgonio, at 11,503 feet (3,506 meters) the highest mountain in Southern California. I have been on its top many a time over the years, and I have loved being there every time.

The two of us bundled up and waiting in the cold at the top:

Then I waited for Devin at Station 10. It was good to know he was the one with the neon-green leggings. I could see him coming from a distance. I could tell from his pace that he was faster than most people.

At station 10 there is an 8-foot wall to climb over. Many people struggled with that wall, needed assistance up from fellow racers. Here is how Devin handled it:

After he dropped to the other side, I turned off the camera and ran around the wall, only to find him long gone, running up the hill. He was not waiting around for us spectators.

I was able to hike back up the mountain from 10 to 14, and Trisha and I waited for him there. It was freezing cold. The weather service had forecasted snow the next day. Good thing not today.

About 45 minutes later (see the map and the big loop on the left after station 10) he arrived at station 14, just as fresh and chipper as ever.

Station 10 had monkey bars to navigate. We watched many people struggle with these.

Judge for yourself on how Devin did on those. After he dropped off the monkey bars, he immediately ran away up the hill toward the next station, number 15. I went into a full sprint and ran up the hill on a side road, and I beat him to the top by just enough time to run over to the ropes and take this video:

After he dropped off he ran away. The picture below is the parting view.

We got back on the ski lift to make our way down into the valley. We had just enough time to go into the ski café, get a quick sandwich, before we needed to go back out and catch him at the finish. We ALMOST missed him. He was there as soon as we got out.

We were waiting for him at the mud bath pit, but missed him. This is what it looked like:

In the video below you can see him right after the mud bath (where they are completely in the water) making his way to the end. We missed the mud bath, so I have no video of it.

One of the last obstacles are the rings. Judge for yourself:

Here is Devin on the rings:

Then, finally, before the finish line, the barbed wire run.

I could hardly keep up with him taking the video.

Here is a pretty crappy sequence of him going through the finish line. I had to run around people to catch this, and my finger slipped over the lens a few times.


Here he comes out with is medal.

The medal:

After this, he had to change into some dry clothes quickly as he shivered uncontrollably. He kept us busy trying to keep him warm. Note to pit crew for next time: Bring extra sweats, a towel, and warm accessories.

The next morning he found out about his statistics. He completed the race in 3:26:33 (hh:mm:ss).

In the open category, there were 3,995 participants. Devin came in number 2. That is incredible. Out of the open category for males between ages 30 and 34, there were 562 participants, and Devin came in number 1.

Incredible! Congratulations, Devin, from us all!

Read Full Post »

In early December I visited Detroit and called an old friend (EP). We had not seen each other in many years, and it was time for a visit. As friends dating back to high school are wont to do, it took only a few minutes for us to be back in the groove. He is a professor at a large university, and we have nothing much in common, other than our love for art, writing, philosophy and a general feeling of living lives of joy and integrity. We disagree on religion, and that brings spice to the conversation.

We met at a Chinese “deco” restaurant; the sushi was great, we downed a bottle of Champagne, and before we knew it we might as well have been back in high school, so the discussions went. I got a call from work in the middle of it telling me that a critical public server was down, and the internal stress went through the roof, but I recovered, and I hope I was not too absent-minded after that.

Of course, in the age of smart phones, it was appropriate that we two old dogs took a quick selfie before we said good-bye, for the record, and for evidence that we actually met. Hey, I had forgotten about the visit we both did together to the art museum in Toledo, some 15 years earlier. He reminded me of that.

Here we are, the professor and the software CEO, with a set of titties on a painting between us photobombing the occasion.

We have to get together more often.

Friends. Timeless.

Read Full Post »

Wedding - All My Pride

All My Pride: Chelsea

Wedding - Walking Down the Aisle

Walking Down the Aisle

Wedding - Yes!

Yes, We Did It!

Wedding - With Us

Trisha, Tyler, Chelsea, Norbert

Wedding - The Place

The View

Wedding - All the Family

All the Family

Read Full Post »

For her 30th birthday, we gave Chelsea a balloon flight. Here is Chelsea and her fiancée Tyler.

Happy Birthday Chelsea

Watch them depart:

And watch them land:

The landing was a little more bouncy than they normally are.

Good times!


Read Full Post »

The Apple

The Jägermeister

Selfie of my son at his new place.

Read Full Post »

Penguins on an ice rink skating around a Christmas tree. More penguins waiting in the snow off to the side to get on.

Penguins on Ice Rink

Penguins on Ice Rink [click to enlarge]

Penguins: Carrots, large and jumbo olives, cream cheese

Christmas Tree: Cucumber, strawberry

Snow: Cocoanut shavings

Trisha has outdone herself.

Read Full Post »

My sister sent this photograph of her son and grandchildren as proof of genetic heritage.

I can roll my tongue, but I never knew it might be special. I didn’t know that not everybody can do this. Can they?

I can actually touch the tip of my nose with my tongue. I am resisting publishing a picture to that effect. But can’t everyone?

Read Full Post »

Balloon Ride

Took Trisha for a balloon ride as a birthday present today.

Read Full Post »

…by my sister Margit Haupt:

Read Full Post »

Joe is my brother-in-law (accurately: boyfriend of my sister). He runs a language school in Germany, and he is a hobby songwriter and poet. He is also a fellow Bob Dylan fan. He wrote the ballad below as a present to Bob Dylan for his 70th birthday.

Read Full Post »

For the first time in a few years I went sailing in San Diego Bay. The occasion was a visit by my brother Jürgen. Here he is holding the tiller, with downtown behind him:

Also, for the first time ever, I took a GPS with me. I wanted to see a record of the tacks. Here is our 2 hour, 9.5 mile tour in the bay:

It is interesting to see how I actually went back and forth in almost a straight line, at the top left of the tour, out in the main bay, and on the bottom right, dipping under the famous Coronado bridge.

To see more detail of us coming out of the marina and then going in, I have a zoom section here:

 All in all a good day. Nice to be back out in a boat.

Read Full Post »

Here is a post by my friend Naomi Murthy in the Yucatan Times.

I read this, looking up in my den/office to see these paintings waiting to be varnished and framed:

Notice something?

Here is a better picture on my site (even through the lighting is off).

Thank you, Naomi, for a great motif.

Read Full Post »

He was a friend of mine.

John Stringer was 52 years old when he was murdered in a roach-infested, filthy apartment in Phoenix on February 25, 2004. Between spring 1981 and fall 1983, I built about ten houses in Fountain Hills, Arizona, and during that time John worked with me almost daily, including weekends, with occasional breaks of a few weeks at a time between projects.

If John’s life were equated to one 24-hour day, my time with him would have been from two to three o’clock in the afternoon, nothing before and only one single meeting after. So I have a very narrow albeit extensive time slot in John’s life, and I can picture him clearly and vividly as he was in the early 1980-ies.

What’s My Zip Code is a superb chronology, analysis and celebration of John’s life, told by his older brother David. It gave me a view into John’s background before I knew him, as a carefree jock in his school years, his college years when he started getting goofy, his early travels and move to Phoenix, where I eventually got to know him. Those were the good years. Then the book described him after my time, the time I was worried about for John, when I was wondering what might have happened to him. I had no idea how bad it got, how stark-raving-mad he was toward his middle age, battling paranoia and psychosis and whipped by terrible drug habits.

David interspersed plenty of letters and passages of letters John wrote to friends and family over the years to provide glimpses into a severely ill mind, along with narration focusing on the various major subjects and periods of John’s life. At the end, the book provided me with an excellent insight into the dynamics of the Stringer family as it related to their black sheep and youngest member, and it illustrated the almost heroic efforts his older siblings made, year after year to help him out, keep him grounded, make him better and make him more comfortable, against terrible odds.

I was grateful for the insight. I had always wondered how John got the way he was. I knew he had done damage to his brain and his mind by using a lot of drugs in his younger years. I had held up John’s image to myself as the archetype of what can go wrong when using drugs. But I never knew exactly what happened. John was very closed about his past. I clearly remember one time when we were working, he was mixing cement in a wheelbarrow while I was laying foundation block and he told me about having a brother who was a high school teacher [David]. He laughed after the statement, inappropriately as he often laughed. He was very private and sharing facts about his family is something he did not do very often.

When reading David’s book I saw him describing some of the habits of John I knew so well. The dark, handsome face, seemingly painfully shy, eyes always averted, looking down, and his huge bright smile when he enjoyed something. I think John could not look people he considered authorities into the eyes, which included me, his employer, and of course his brothers, counselors, police, etc. He was different with friends and equals. He would be stooped, looking down, smiling crooked, shuffling his feet back and forth and occasionally making wise-cracks indicating a much higher intelligence than the almost retarded look he sometimes projected, particularly toward strangers.

David described a John that was completely unstable, unemployable, a perfect victim and impossible to reign in. During the short window I had into John’s life, I did not have that view at all. Perhaps I was lucky to know him before his schizophrenia rampaged. While I knew John, during those two years, I would often pick him up at home, which was the hovel on 24th Street at the time, or he would drive to the construction sites in his yellow VW bug and we’d meet up there. We would often start work very early at 5:00am, and work until early afternoon. Since I was going to college at the time, we’d often work weekends and take a weekday off. Many periods we worked seven days a week.

Contrary to the picture David seems to have of John’s employability, here are the unequivocated facts while I worked with him: Not once in the years we worked together did John not show up for work. He was always on time. Not once do I remember him ever complaining about work, or walking away, or not doing the job. He may have done drugs after work, but I never once saw any evidence of drugs on the job, not one joint was ever smoked while we worked, there was never alcohol. John never appeared impaired, numb, hung over or otherwise in any trouble. He operated power tools all the time. He was up on roofs and I never worried about him or his balance. He would measure and cut lumber accurately and reliably as called for. He worked at a steady pace. I paid him more than other helpers because over the months he simply was more experienced and he could work more independently than others.

David talked about John working from time to time as a carpenter with a man named Rayjan. Eventually they had a falling out, partly because of John’s odd habits, apparently living behind Rayjan’s house and scaring his wife. Rayjan eventually threatened to beat him up, at times.

I do not know where in the chronology Rayjan fit in John’s life with respect to my years with John. It looks like he came later, and John used some of the skills he learned from me when working for Rayjan.

I can firmly say that John was employable, productive, steady and dependable when certain conditions were met. I do agree that the conditions are tough to meet, and John didn’t have the luxury of those conditions very often in his life. His employer or team leader needed to understand John and respect him. This was a college-educated, bright and fun-loving human being, and he needed to be treated that way. John needed a firm hand of leadership. He needed to be told to be there at 5:00am, and he was there, without fail. John needed rules, reasonable rules, and he had no problem living within them. John was an easy victim. He was good, he wanted to help, he could not say no, and therefore he attracted riff-raff who abused him all the time. A boss or employer who was out to abuse John would do so and quickly lose him. In addition to being his boss, I acted as a friend and protector (sometimes from others on the crew) and John, as a result, respected me and was ever loyal. While it lasted, we had a good thing going and it worked, for me and for John.

Like all good things, it had to end. I graduated from college, took a job as a computer programmer and stopped doing construction. I had no more work for John. I had an uneasy feeling about leaving John. David’s book showed it got worse, much worse than I would ever have fathomed. We stopped working together sometime late in 1983. I saw him once more in California in the early 1990-ies. He died in 2004,  and I didn’t even find out about it until 2011 – by stumbing upon David’s writings online when I, on a whim, Googled “John Stringer.”

This was an excellent book for me.

Rating: ****

Of course, anyone knowing John will want to read What’s My Zip Code, there is no question. I am grateful to David for writing it. It is a celebration of an utterly unique individual.

I cannot imagine how What’s My Zip Code would seem to somebody who did not know John personally and if the book would be as readable as it was for me. Probably not. But the powerful images coming through the pages, the filling in of all the dark and blind spots and blanks that only a brother could provide who was there all these years watching it first hand was eminently valuable to me.

Thanks, David.

John was a friend of mine.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: