Flowers for Mr. Cub

Flowers for Mr. CubAn older man rolled a baseball to a troublesome little kid at a country club one day. The older man, his skin touched by a half a century of playing the boys game in sunlight, was Ernie Banks and the boy was my son—and he still has the ball.

It is widely known that I have not ever been a Cubs fan. But staring out of this window in a hospital room, baseball seems a million miles away right now and winter has decided to add to its cruel toll our greatest baseball player. Even if you were not a Cubs fan, you were an Ernie Banks fan, because Ernie embodied the very thing that Sox fans claim to hate the Cubs fans for: He loved the game. Let’s play two.

All Ernie Banks needed was the crack of a bat, the sound of a ball being caught and daylight forever, like to be drunk on.

One can be sure that Mr. Banks was subjected to no small amount of racial invective, stone-stupid bigotry and ignorance. The miraculous thing about this gracious man is that if it bothered him, he never wore it. He had a saying once in a while he would just share with friends, “Fools is fools is fools.” He learned to laugh at ignorance rather than carry it. One of his closest friends was Buck O’Neill. O’Neill found Banks playing for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues flush with talent in the late 1940s early fifties. By this time, O’Neill had been doing some scouting, mostly for the Chicago Cubs. Banks was a natural who could hit, could field and had such cool composure that whenever anybody yelled an ugly remark, he smiled at them. It wasn’t a “Tom” smile; it was a smile carved from ice that carried the promise, “You’re next. Pitch me inside, I’ll take you downtown. Pitch me unhittable balls, I will step outside the box and hit back at you twice as hard… I am in this game, too.”

He is perhaps the greatest player to never wear a World Series ring. And, even that was not enough to evince anything like the idea of “tragedy” from Mr. Cub. He was lucky every morning he woke up and got to play ball.

In later years, Ernie tried his hands at a myriad of things. Car dealership, various other businesses, only to find out what he was best at was being Ernie Banks so he served on boards, built boys clubs and was a vocal advocate for the community. Mr Banks raised a lot of money for a lot of organizations and always dapperly dressed with a smile on his face.

The 1960s brought the horrors of two Kennedy assassinations, the murders of Dr. Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers, the Vietnam war and a palpable sense of rebellion among major league athletes, particularly athletes of color. Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Roberto Clemente and others all had political agendas to raise and bring forward and all of them honorable. Not so Ernie Banks; he played baseball. He also played on maybe the greatest team to never win the World Series.

A great many athletes tried to pressure Banks into adopting their politics and being more vociferous. Ernie wanted to play baseball. It did not however keep him from being active in the community, along with athletes like Jesse Owens and Sugar Ray Robinson. Where there was a cause, there was Ernie Banks. Ernie aligned himself with the old guard, men who believed in the promise of America and did not feel the need to be radicalized. The younger athletes viewed the old guard as the “square guard” and that their lack of appetite for “revolution” amounted to “Tomism.” Robinson, Banks and Owens bristled at this notion. All three men were veterans (Banks served during the Korean War) and endured the worst racial intolerance that the late 1940s, fifties and sixties had to offer. Through it all, whenever Ernie Banks heard an untoward remark or the “n word,” he would crouch at shortstop or first base and throw a punch into his glove, break out a smile and hold his face to the sun. And, baseball filled him with light.

Also, three weeks ago I had chest pains which led me to the emergency room and a quadruple bypass. Me and my family have been deeply touched and moved by the outpouring of mail, email, good wishes, prayers and support from all of you. I will write more about this in the coming weeks but I am grateful beyond words.

Thank you.

Published in: on January 28, 2015 at 1:38 am  Comments (7)  
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Lunch Drawing 18: Kid Gizmo

Kid GizmoIt is that time of year again, when baseball will inevitably break our hearts.

One day–the day after the World Series–it will be gone and the world will take on ever more deeply visible increments of gray. The leaves will put on quite a show though, turning to yellowy fire and deep plum and the air will carry the promise and curse of winter, clean and cold.

I have a show in 31 days. For the first time I can remember there is no over all thematic subject unifying all of it. I grew tired of everything having to fall together as an overall statement. I wanted to remember what it was like to grab my sketch book and go out and play. To make drawings that are almost unconscious, like doodles; when the less attractive and under-the-counter thoughts make themselves visible.

When I was a kid, I only wanted to draw birds, animals, naked women, and comics, usually nasty caricatures of the dopes who were authority figures in my life telling me history that was a lie, trying to pawn off a deity which was a lie, and values that were threadbare and empty. They told me to go to college so someday I could worry about storm windows and property values, and I gave not a fuck for any of it– still don’t.

I loved autumn because of the World Series. The names from my childhood that I revered–Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich, Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Rollie Fingers, and Jim Palmer. . .I could get lost in those mythologies and forget the collection of dullards and dimwits assigned to educate me.

I loved drawing animals (dogs and birds mostly), especially birds. I also surreptitiously squirreled away as many Playboys as I could find. I loved looking at and drawing naked women. The curves and hips and legs and breasts were hypnotic and intoxicating and mesmerizing. Back then? I was too shy to ask women to take their clothes off so I could draw them.

I got over that.

I intend on making a bunch of naked women drawings down the road. For now, I go where the day takes me. I make up characters like I did as a kid and make quick and dirty pictures that I enjoy because I finally got a sense of *play* back into my work. It is hard work, but it is not labor. This one is about a dog I knew a long time ago named ‘Gizmo’ who had three legs and would bite you in the balls if you pissed him off.

The World Series is happening on my television as I write. Boston is kicking the snot out of the Cards. Jim Leyland, the great Detroit manager, just retired. He was always better than he had to be, taking mediocre teams and making them dig deeper and find their bigger game, and this breaks my heart a bit. But this is autumn, and at 54 years old I now know that this is what autumn does.

Published in: on October 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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Tokyo Diary — Tokyo Giants Hat

I have walked like a goddamned Sherpa and eaten more tuna than Flipper.  I love Tokyo; its dreaminess, its civility, its attention to beauty and detail.  I wake up here and I am in a city with more people than almost any other on earth, yet, it is quiet.  You rarely here a car horn or a siren.  There is a premium placed on the idea of calm, efficient motion.  One does not expend an ounce of energy one does not have to; life is  lived in a kind of measure.

I went to some art galleries on the outskirts of Tokyo and saw some contemporary art and it was mostly stuff one could see in Chelsea last year.  I was surprised.  There were no Japanese artists in any of the four places I looked; only New Yorkers and Europeans.  I met a very opinionated American trust-fund brat with a gallery in Tokyo who, within the first 3 minutes of our conversation, trashed every artist in Tokyo and New York, and Murakam (the novelist) and Murakami (the artist),  referring to him as an “Orientalist” whatever the hell that means.  He was an annoying, pedantic, name-dropping, ass-wipe who also had nothing good to say about Tokyo, despite the fact he has lived here for nine years.  He also “had a gallery on the lower east side” and spent another 5 minutes trashing everyone and thing in NYC as well.  I wanted to compliment him on his ability to be an unwelcome asshole in TWO hemispheres , but it was clear we’d never get a word in, so we escaped the art district, having given it 40 minutes, and I decided my time would more productively be spent finding the dome where the World Champion Tokyo Giants play and get myself a hat.

I’ve wanted one forever and I suppose I could just snag one off the internet; but I have this memory of my father and uncle buying me a White Sox hat at Comiskey as a kid and I have this particular fetish for buying my hats at the stadium.  So I took the 3000-yen ride to Giants Stadium and found the coolest, most boss, fitted Tokyo Giants hat; and I look like a cool motherfucker in it.  I had to go all the way to Tokyo to get one.    Does that make mine cooler?  Damn skippy, it does.

I’ve had a lot of time to think while I’ve been here and I’ve come to the conclusion that while I love making my work, I don’t much care for the culture that surrounds me as an artist.  It’s like being on a bus full of mental defectives.  The art world’s culture is almost entirely about itself.  There is a curious lack of curiosity about the way rest of the world lives, and an appalling lack of  literate knowledge.  They don’t read much, other than magazines about art, fashion and movies.  They interview each other and they all talk like a roll of toilet-paper; the same banal platitudes wrapped the new buzzwords.  This season “contextualist” is a popular important sounding term that actually doesn’t mean anything.

I’m fortunate.  I have very good dealers who know it’s best to just let me be me and everything will be okay.   But still, I look around and listen to the conversation in the art world and when they discuss “the crisis,” they’re not talking about the huge percentage of our fellow citizens who are without healthcare or a job.  “The Crisis” is about slow art sales and galleries closing.  Really.  I hear this shit regularly.  Maybe it’s time the art world realized that it is part of the real world and embrace a larger set of priorities and step up to a larger responsibility in the community; have its artists mentor kids, do out-reach in the schools and the juvenile detention centers; the other world. . .beyond the  billboards.

Published in: on September 9, 2009 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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