Day 123: Starving Artist

To say Chad Bergman was a little oversensitive was like saying cotton candy was a little sugary. First the art instructor warned him to pay the fifty dollar studio fee for the next session or he’d have to drop out. Chad didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

But when the art instructor told him his painting style was too busy, Chad whinged about it to Garbol, the eccentric old man painting a candy store next to him, and then rebelled by adding extravagant detail to the partially done scene of his studio apartment’s interior.

He drew a tapestry on the wall with extreme detail of a pastoral roman scene. Even though he didn’t smoke, he placed several ashtrays on the counter, the coffee table, the TV, and a few other places. Plates full of half-eaten food were on every surface, including the floor, and clothing was strewn all around. He made the TV four times the size of his own, Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens on the screen. Animals were everywhere. Squirrels on the dining table, geese on the bookshelf, raccoons climbing the drapes, and turtles on the chairs and floor. A chimpanzee peaked out of the bathroom doorway. He added detail after detail. Chad wanted the instructor to learn just what ‘busy’ meant.

He was close to finished, only one corner at the end of the couch undone, when he started laughing and waved Mr. Garbol over to see. The old man leaned back, raised his eyebrows, then came in for a closer look.

“My heavens,” he said.

“I know,” said Chad. “I’m that good.”

Garbol looked at Chad, then back at the painting. He glanced at Chad again, then waved his hand over the canvas saying, “Quite enchanting.”

Chad was about to put on the finishing touches when his cellphone rang. He put down his pallet and pulled it out.

“Hell—”

“Mr. Berman, there’s a crazy racket coming from your apartment.” Melanie the manager, who never raised her voice, was screaming. “We need you here immediately. It sounds like an insane asylum if it were on fire… on Parcheesi night.”

“I… I’ll be right there.” Chad stripped off his apron and sped for the door.

At the apartment, Melanie stood out front, and as Chad drove up, he heard a ruckus from the parking lot. Screeches and beeps, banging and shattering, the noises jumbled together into a cacophony of mayhem. Melanie followed him. Something large banged against the door while he unlocked it.

As he eased the door open, the smells of feces, urine, and rotten meat overpowered him, and he had to hold back the compulsion to vomit. Chad peeked in and thought he’d gone insane. Animals tore the place up, raccoons ate the food on the plates, geese ran back and forth trying to avoid the raccoons, and turtles were everywhere. Just like his picture, the TV had grown four times its size and there was a brand new tapestry of the roman scene. Everything he’d drawn was there, but animal excrement also covered the floor, some of it smeared pretty badly, and most of the food had been dumped off the plates.

Chad stood there stunned. The face of a chimpanzee came out from behind the front door, stared at him nose to nose, then screamed. Chad slammed the door shut and stumbled backwards.

“How…?”

“I don’t know how all that shit got in there,” said Melanie. “But I’ll be charging you an animal deposit.”

“What are you talking about? Those aren’t mine,” said Chad.

“You’re responsible for your unit. Get rid of all of them and clean it up, or we’ll be sending you a huge bill for animal control and professional cleaning. Probably cost you about three thousand bucks—plus whatever repairs you need.”

Chad shook his head in disbelief.

“You have until five P.M. Thursday. Forty-eight hours.” She left.

Three thousand dollars! No way Chad could afford that. Especially with the psychiatric fees he would now need. The longer he stood there and tried to puzzle it out, the more he felt he was losing his mind. The only rational correlation he could find in any of it was that everything he’d painted was now in his apartment, which he knew was impossible, but the only logical move he felt he had was to try to repaint it.

First thing in the morning, after staying at a pal’s place, he headed to the art studio, arriving just as they unlocked it. Skipping his classes, his racquetball date, and the anti-tofu rally, he scraped the paint to the canvas and started fresh. He painted feverishly, ignoring the other classes that came in.

He made the apartment spotless. Cleaner than he’d left it the day before. He did a quick search on the Internet for a nice HD 4K TV and painted it exactly the same, down to the logo and buttons. He put his favorite Frederic Remington painting, ‘A Dash for the Timber,’ on his wall, and he concentrated hard to make sure he didn’t miss a single piece of furniture or other object that he owned.

When he was finished, he sat back and looked at it. He had to admit, it looked nice. Not busy at all.

In a flash of inspiration, he brushed in a new La-Z-Boy chair, red leather with red oak armrests. He studied it very carefully to make sure everything was right, then rushed home.

All was quiet. He opened the door and walked into a pristine apartment exactly how he painted it, down to the Remington and the La-Z-Boy. “I am insane,” he said. “But I think I like it.” He tried out his new recliner and snoozed.

A knock at the door woke him. He got up and opened it. Melanie stood fidgeting and looking at Chad’s shoes.

“What is it?” asked Chad.

“I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you, but the police came by looking for you.”

“What for?”

“They got a tip that you had a stolen painting—a Rembrandt or something? It went missing from a museum this morning. They’re getting a warrant to search your place for stolen goods.”

Oh, boy. Chad glanced at his TV and La-Z-Boy and wondered. But what’s up with the manager? First she wants to empty his life savings, and now she’s protecting him from the law?

“Thank you, Melanie.”

She gave him a thin smile. “I’ve gotta go. They’re on their way now.”

Not taking any chances, Chad climbed out the window and snuck out the back. He avoided his car and sprinted to the bus stop, taking the route back to the university.

After ten minutes of scraping the canvas, it took him about thirty-five minutes to complete. He was putting on the final touches when the door burst open and two police officers came in.

“Chad Bergman?”

Shit.

“Yes?”

“You’re under arrest for…”

“Officer?”

The one speaking turned to his partner. “What do we want him for?”

“I…I don’t know,” he looked around and checked his pockets. “I had the warrant right here.”

“I’ll call in,” said the other.

Chad improved the shading in one corner while the officer talked to dispatch.

“They’ve got no record of this arrest warrant.”

“What the hell. Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Bergman.”

The officers left.

Chad blew air through his lips. “Wow.” Exhaustion dragged him down, but he felt pretty fortunate. After gazing at the painting for a while, he chuckled, then painted in his old buddy Jason Farley asleep on the couch.

Back at home, he found everything as it should be, Jason snoring away. He shook him awake.

“What? Where am I?” asked Jason.

“Hello, Farley. Where’s the fifty bucks you owe me?”

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