Mondo’s phone, hand painted in multi-colors still rang a week after his disconnection notice. He stared at his painting, whispered “Shit.”, and carefully placed his wet paint brush on the pallet table. Still transfixed by his painting, he let the phone ring a third time. There was no answering machine.
He had just begun painting the delicious, glistening texture of energy symbols that he had scribed into thick, Mars black acrylic paint. He had inscribed the energy symbols the day before, a quarter of an inch thick, and waited for them to be perfectly dry so that he could begin painting around them in oils.
In this manner of painting, Mondo played two roles. He intuitively, energetically scribed symbols in the language he had invented, into thick, wet acrylic paint. The following day, when the energy symbols had hardened, he “discovered” them, unearthed them, with a brush, as an archeologist brushed away black soot that hid ancient hieroglyphic paintings on a stone wall.
Often he filled the paint with sand, and then gently touches the sandstone surface with a mixture of Prussian blue and burnt sienna. The beauty of that color, on such an ancient stone wall texture, made him want to cry.
It was an easy shift to imagine that he was discovering the ancient painted symbols as he used his brush to create them at the same time that he used his imagination to archaeologically reveal them. In this way, he was both performer and audience, eager to see the entirety of this most astounding discovery.
The energy symbols spoke of a two men, symbolized by Equilibrium signs for heads. These ‘Signs of Equilibrium’, as he called them, were made of two simple waves. One arched upward and then came back down, to symbolize the rise and fall of desire. The second wave slumped downward and then curved back upward to symbolize intensifying and then diminishing fear. Desire and fear were of the same intensity, and the two opposing waves shared the same moment in time. This made them cancel, neither desirous, nor fearful, simply lucid. He had symbolized this awakening by placing a circle, like an iris, in the center of the two waves. The circle said ‘Fear and desire were here, but are gone’. Left where they stood was lucidity, an awakened being, an opened eye, an Awakened I.
The symbol became an eye, and he had defined these two particular lucid beings as using male energy, giving, in that moment at least, by drawing two strong shoulders beneath the lucid eye of each. In their arms there was an energy symbol of a large basket of fruit, spiral fruit, which Mondo was just about to paint the ruddy, glowing, salmony orange of persimmons. The phone rang for the sixth time. He pulled himself free of his trance and picked up the phone.
“Armondo Battaglia?” the voice asked. The angry tone pronounced it Ba-tag-lia, which he hated.
“This is Frank Douglas again. I said you had to be out of that apartment by yesterday. You’re a month overdue with the rent. You talked me out of a last month’s rent! I’m calling the Buffalo police to put you out. You better be gone when they get there. Do you understand what I’m telling you? I’m calling the police right now.”
“Hey, hey, look, there’s a blizzard outside! It’s ten below! Are you trying to kill me, Mr. Douglas? I’d have to sleep in my van.”
“You don’t have a van! I saw them haul it away for parking tickets two hours ago. You better learn while you’re still young, Mister. You can’t just ignore everyone but yourself! I gave you every chance. I’m through! I’m calling the police right now. Twenty-minutes! You’ve got twenty minutes! Good bye!”
The phone went dead. He stood there. It came alive again.
“If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again. ——-If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again. —-If you’d like…”
Mondo hung the phone up, weak with shock. He glanced at the window, pounding with wind, the snow passed by like stars at warp nine. Inside him, a little boy was starting to cry, but he pulled himself back to the time and place where he stood.
“Stop.” He told himself. He wrestled with a hundred conflicting emotions, surrounded by views of himself that were glaring down at himself from Mr. Douglas’ furious point of view. He assaulted himself with the landlord’s hatred, and finally climbed back to a place behind his own two eyes, and looked out at the room. He needed to pack, before the Buffalo police arrived and walked him to the door, empty handed.
He had been through art reviews by clean up crews, five years ago, when he was twenty five. Eleven of his best paintings, all realistic, life sized paintings had been thrown out by a clean up crew. It seemed that landlords were the real art critics, the one’s who determined which works of art would make it into art history, and which went to the city dump. They had exquisite taste. They chose their clean up crews with an eye for blindness. They threw out everything. If the Pieta was in someone’s bright green carpeted, sliding glass doored studio apartment when a tenant got evicted, they’d have it broken up with a sledge hammer and hauled away to the city dump at Michelangelo’s expense.
Mondo kept trying to clear his mind, think of just the right thing to do, but his anger at everything, at everyone kept blowing the top of his head off. Then he started to cry, grabbed the tears and threatened to strangle them if one more tear showed itself. He bit off his little boy’s terror, and went to the kitchen drawer, grabbed a roll of black plastic garbage bags, and, hands shaking, tried to open one. He tore the first one trying to find the opening end. How could the plastic trash bags be so weak, and the plastic wrappers for everything else be indestructible? He swore at the bags, and began rolling his paintings into a long cylinder. There were at least fifty paintings, unstretched, that he could roll and take with him. The others, he would hide in the back garage, wrapped in plastic, until he could come back and get them.
Quickly he prioritized his belongings. First, warm clothes in a plastic bag, second, all of his paintings. That was it. He began to empty the warm clothing bag back onto the floor, having decided to wear whatever would keep him alive in the blizzard outside. It was seven o’clock at night. Happy Birthday, he whispered. “Happy fucking Birthday.”
He was about to hurry out the door to take a pile of his paintings out to the garage when there was a knock on the door. His heart began to pound uncontrollably like a big fish in a metal bucket. It slammed against the inside of his chest. He hurried to the window. Outside a Buffalo Police car slowly double parked in the drifting snow, two stories below. A light went on inside the police car.
Mondo wanted to pretend that he was not there, but it was not possible. In an instant he hated himself for being afraid. He stopped himself, looked at the plastic bags filled with the paintings he loved in rolls, and saw them as body bags for his children. He suddenly remembered who he was. He was an artist. This was the price of giving everything you’ve got to beauty. He had made his decision long ago. He took in a slow breath, and walked calmly to the door, to face whatever they supposed his destiny to be.
He unchained the door and opened it wide. Before him in the hall were two men in clothes that were too thin for the Buffalo winter. Their faces were almost sun burned. One was tall with a thin gray jacket, no gloves, no boots, and tan pants like a man would wear on a hot summer day. He had a beard that was turning gray, with a thick head of hair, and blue eyes.
The other man was built like a Samurai, strong, Asian, Korean perhaps, and in a brown goose down vest, summer pants and no hat.
“Were looking for a Mr. Battaglia.” The taller man said. He pronounced it, Bat-al-ya, the way it was meant to be.
“Yeah, that’s my dad. He, he died last year.”
“Armondo Battaglia is dead?”
“Oh, no, no, that’s me.” Mondo said. “Look, if you’re selling something, I don’t have time. I mean, seriously, I’ve got to go.”
“May we come in?” The tall man asked.
“We have work for you.” The Asian man said.
Mondo stared at them. Then he surrendered and stepped aside to let the two men in.
“I don’t understand. What kind of work?”
The two men looked at one another, confused.
“Mr. Battaglia, we have art work for you.” The Asian man said, as if there could be no other kind of work for him.
“Art work. You have art work for me.
“Yes. It would only last a year, but we would take care of your needs.”
Mondo was becoming increasingly confused. “My—needs?”
“Yes, Mr. Battaglia…”
“Ah, please, people call me Mondo. This respect is scaring me. Ah, look, I have to get out of here. Can we talk about this somewhere else, a coffee shop maybe?”
Both men almost bowed to the idea.
“Wherever you please.”
He looked at them again, “Wherever I please.”, he repeated, not believing their respect for him. “ Ah, oh, oh kay, how about—Arby’s?” he said, stupidly.
“Arby’s. You can come with us.”
Mondo heard the door downstairs open and the sound of two men walking up the stairs. The sound of police radios made static sounds.
“Well, let’s go then.” Mondo quickly said. He spun around, grabbed his bags, and they went out the door. He shut the light and closed the door to the apartment behind him.
“”Please, Mr. Ba—Mondo, the Korean man said, almost embarrassed to refer to him by his first name. “Let us help you carry your bags.”
“Oh, sure. Thanks.” He said, handing one of four bags to each of them.
They rounded the corner, and faced two large Buffalo Policemen. They were dressed in long navy blue coats and winter police hats. They all stopped and stared at one another.
“We’re looking for apartment five. “ one of the policemen said.
“Oh, that’s to your left. About three doors down. “
The police nodded a thanks and the men shuffled about, passing one another on the stairway.
Mondo turned back and in passing said. “You have to knock loudly. He’s hard of hearing, and he’s in a wheelchair, so it takes him a while to get to the door.”
The policemen gave a slight wince as they realized that they would be putting a handicapped person out into the night’s blizzard, nodded again and followed Mondo’s directions.
The three men walked through the snow storm a few houses down and reached a rented car. The Korean man unlocked it and Mondo started to get into the back seat. The taller man motioned with finality that he should sit in the front. Mondo stared at him, trying to figure out whether he should go back and give himself up to the police rather than get into the car with these two men.
Mr. Battaglia put his four bags into the popped open truck, closed it, and then got into the front seat of the silver car. The doors locked automatically, and the Korean man started the engine and the wipers cleared away the snow from his view.
The driver turned his head toward Mondo and looked at him.
“Hard of hearing, and in a wheelchair?” he said.
Mondo looked at him. He seemed sincerely surprised by Mondo’s behavior.
“They stole my van.” he said.
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A Hand Made Book