Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Out of the blue

"Where did you come from? It's like you just came out of nowhere and started doing work." My new friend Standish thought aloud. An old friend from my Sydney Australia days, RachAel, insisted that I introduce myself to the mature gentleman, founder and owner of the Denver Darkroom photography school. I arrived on a Sunday, when there were no classes, not really sure what I was doing there. I'd called a day prior asking if he needed any help, thinking that it would be pretty cool to volunteer at a darkroom. Plus I wanted to meet this old friend of Rach's; she couldn't stop saying wonderful things about him.

So I rolled up, and Standish let me through the side gate. The first thing I noticed was the yard, bulldozed and adorned with various thrift store finds, including an old stoplight and two non-functioning hot tubs that he bought for $1.50 each. Standish had received a surprise check for thirty thousand dollars from none other than Yoko Ono (seriously, just opened up the mail one day and there was the check, no letter of explanation), which he earmarked for the renovation of the backyard. After offering me a Zima (!), he explained his big plans to host, officiate, and photograph weddings there. I'm hoping that I'm painting a portrait, here. Standish is a unique snowflake, to put it delicately. It looked like he hadn't thrown anything away since 1967, and he has a homeless man living in a cupboard above the stairs in his house who does odd jobs around the studio.

My first task was to use a glue gun to make minor repairs to a thrift store chair. The glue gun had seen better days; hot glue came out from various places on the gun, everywhere except the tip. So, I burned my hands 37 times, but the chair looked good when I was finished with it. Then came the closet. My instructions were to take everything out, vacuum the shelves and then put everything back. Easy. "What else have I got for you?" Standish contemplated. "Well, I have one more closet, just across from the other one, at the top of the stairs." I smiled, went around the corner, opened the closet door and brought my right hand to my mouth to cover a gasp rivaling a post-CPR drowning rescue. This closet was actually a room, and it was lined with cluttered shelves. The floor was hip high in pregnant cardboard boxes, spewing out their contents. It looked like king kong had picked the room up, shaken it like a crack baby, and replaced it in the studio. I couldn't take even one step beyone the doors. And there were mouse turds. I wish I had accepted one of those Zimas!

What was I doing here? I looked at the room, not knowing where to begin, and thought, "one thing at a time, Eva. Just take it all out, and put it all back. You are a master of spatial awareness. You can do this!" Two hours later, the boxes were organized, the shelves were cleaned, and the floor had nothing on it but a garbage can. Standish took a break and repeated his offer of a Zima, which I accepted. This was when I traded in my karma. We took a seat in the backyard, Stan in the chair I had fixed extending a pipe full of medical marijuana to me, me kicked back enjoying my Zima. We talked about RachAel, photography, our siblings, our lovers, our dogs, his life as a filmmaker and college professor. He offered to feed me, and we drove a few blocks and crammed our bellies with sushi.

Looking back on my day, I realized that even spending hours cleaning up mouse poop and burning my hands was more enjoyable than if I had spent the day alone in Vanta C knitting. Standish and I bonded over our work, and I left feeling genuine affection for him. I learned a bit about photography and saw my first darkroom. I took a candid look into his world and liked what I saw. It was unspeakably rewarding and entertaining.

Hates digital!

Though I was invited back for another day of work, I was due to leave Denver on Monday, so I drove Vanta C eastward on Highway 36 until Idalia, Colorado, 16 miles from the Kansas border. Here I hit the jackpot! I went to the bar for a Bud Light (when in Rome), which was purchased for me by the manager of the only gas station in town. Without prompting, he offered me the volunteer opportunity of a lifetime changing tires on road-maintenance vehicles the next day. I was TICKLED to get dirty fixin' cars and couldn't wait to meet him the next day. Evening was approaching, though, and I had to find a place to sleep.

When I entered the parking lot, I spotted one of my own: a forty-something man eating NutriGrain bars, his packed bike leaning against the bench. As I sat down, a woman in a golf cart came out of nowhere and offered the cyclist, Steven, and I her yard to set up camp for the night. Steven, it turns out, has been cycling since the first of September, on a great journey from Florida! I met him after two thousand miles, and with only two hundred to go until he reached Denver, his final destination. He was so cool! We set up camp. I made us pasta and broccoli, and we talked into the wee hours about life off the grid.

I looked forward to a day of changing tires, but Ralgh got sick. He woke me up every hour to go outside, where he threw up and had diarrea. I was so worried that I called the emergency vet in Portland, who told me to wait through the night. Ralgh's feeling a little better now, and loving his special vet-recommended meals of cottage cheese and rice, but I had to forego being a mechanic so I could drive to the nearest town with an animal hospital, just in case. Damn. So, here I am, in St. Francis, Kansas, waiting out the day.

Until next time,



Trina said...

Hooray for your adventure! Hope Ralgh gets better quick. Now I'm off to Jazzercise. I've been bad about going, but my friend Jen wants to join me now, so maybe that will help. Love you, miss you!

rach said...

I just knew you and Standish would hit it off like strawberry and shortcake. I'm so glad you were able to meet him. He really is an amazing soul...no one like him in the whole world. Kinda like you.

Take care!

LiveWorkDream said...

Thanks for once again proving that by getting out there in the world, one can discover that most people don't really suck. Ok, well not all of the time.

Hope Ralgh gets better real soon. Please let us know how he's doing, k?