A Foreign Country Part II
My driving was improving, but I would still gag and dry heave every morning before getting into the car that was lent to me by my landlord Stu. He had warned me that the car had problems, but it was working and that’s all that I asked for. Every morning I would take the long and winding road down the hill from my little house and turn on to the coast highway. I was getting familiar with the trip, where to turn, what bumps to avoid etc, and the view as I drove to the university was magnificent. “Holy fucking shit” I would murmur to myself as I gingerly glanced out my window at the Pacific and the beautiful landscapes that flew by me. Parking at the university was a big pain and it would take forever before I would find a space and then when done for the day, I usually couldn’t remember where I parked the damn car. I was teaching drawing and sculpture, and I was told by the chairperson, Selina Porch to “do what I liked.” This was quite a difference from the boring syllabus I had to follow when I taught for a semester at Rocky Point and I really came up with some good problems to throw at my students. The first project I gave to my drawing class was to do a self-portrait but I had to also be in the drawing. I knew I was taking a chance with this loaded project, as I might come out looking like a monster. The drawings were indeed quite revealing and in most cases the students made me look quite attractive. I knew from these drawings who had crushes on me, and a few of the drawings were outrageous. One female student drew a portrait of herself undressing and there I was peeping through her window, another female drew me herself and a baby. Ok I thought this is getting really scary. One of my male students did a lovely drawing of himself with me smiling at him. This is the one I used for the announcement for our student show. I led a very quiet life in California, basically going from home to the University and back. At night after a few beers I would sit on the patio and watch the spectacular sunsets and then come inside and cook dinner and maybe watch my little b&w TV. One night as I cooked I noticed a terrible smell. Sniffing around like Devine in Polyester, I opened the broiler of the over and discovered a roasting mouse. Puke. Needless to say I skipped dinner that night and told my landlord about this the next day. Traps were put down and I never cooked another mouse while in California. Sometimes at night I would turn the patio lights on to watch the skunks and raccoons that would climb onto the patio looking for food. One night some kind of creature which I guess was an Amarillo came creeping around and that was very strange for me to see for I had never seen such a creature so close-up. Life for me was pretty uncomplicated. Some of my students got cozy with me, and we took trips, sometimes to the desert or to the mountain town of Julian that was famous for its apples. Apples everywhere, the whole town was one big apple, but boy the apple juice and pies were the best I ever had. One of my male students came out to me, and we developed a careful but friendly relationship of course devoid of any sexual contact. The students were sweet and very talented. They worked their butts off for me, as I was a very demanding teacher. The campus was very large and spread out. The landscape was pretty with tons of Eucalyptus trees all over the place. The trees were not native to California and I was told that they were imported from Australia. Most of the buildings scattered about the campus were ordinary and rather worlds fair 1964 looking, except for the library, which looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. It loomed over all the buildings, and was my favorite building on campus.
One day I was having lunch with Lonnie outside among the Eucalyptus trees when he suddenly announced to me that he had once killed a child. I just looked at him waiting for him to continue with this amazing story. “Well one night, I had a little too much to drink, this was back when I was living in Chicago, and I hit a child with my car, and she died.” I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know if I wanted to hear this, but he obviously needed to still talk about this horrible incident. “You know I also once burnt down Rebecca’s studio, luckily she didn’t lose much stuff, but God did I feel lousy about that.” “I bet you did, but thank God nobody was hurt.” “I gave up smoking after that one, and I can’t have any booze anymore.” Lonnie said. “Well you’re probably better off anyway,” I stupidly said. I mean for Fucks sake, he killed a kid and burnt down his wife’s studio, but what could I say. “Better luck next time”. “We all make mistakes”. “Life must go on”. I took a deep drag on my cigarette as Lonnie got up from the table. “I have a class Ira Joel, I’ll catch you later.” And with that He lumbered off. One of the graduate students was the lesbian daughter of a famous Oscar winning actress. I don’t think she got along well with her mother, and one of her “conceptual” pieces that she came up with was a series of photographs using her mother’s Oscar in various not very nice situations. One was of the Oscar with a cord around its neck hanging from a hook. Another was one of Oscar lying in the middle of a road with a car approaching and another was one of the poor thing floating in a bathtub full of water. “Does your mother know what you were up to with her Oscar?” I asked after looking at them. “Are you kidding, she would kill me if she ever found out.” One day my landlady asked me if I would like to go to Tijuana with her and her daughter Tanya. She had to return a dress that she didn’t like anymore and she would love to have my company. Since I hadn’t been to Tijuana yet I jumped at the chance and off we went. My landlady had bought the dress in a rather dumpy crummy department store and it surprised me that this rather elegant woman would be buying her clothes in the bargain basement of a Tijuana department store. She was so worried and nervous about returning the dress that she started to cry and I had to calm her down, as Tanya looked on in total embarrassment. Of course the tears were not necessary as they took the dress back with no questions asked. We then went to a safe Spanish restaurant that everyone on the faculty ate at when visiting the town and we ordered the trout, which was the recommended dish to have. On the way back home we sang songs.The photos used in this post were taken by me in Tijuana and California.