by Tony Press
One thing I remember is my father said, again and again, “Nobody knows nothing.” He also said, more often, “You can’t make this shit up.”
He split when I was fifteen and stuck in juvie for a stupid vandalism case. When I got out, it was a couple days before Christmas and I took the bus back to the apartment. Walking in, I found mom and sis and no one else. If they weren’t saying anything, I wasn’t asking.
Sis had turned into two things while I was locked up: fourteen, and a smart-ass. Not that I didn’t see it coming, but it was impressive in its own way. Mom was the same except, and I can’t put my finger on it, somehow she looked younger than when I’d left. It was weird. She was thirty-five years old or something like that, so she was no kid, but I think dad leaving was good for her.
I went back to that thing called high school but my priority was to convince Big Al at the parking garage to give me my job back. He was still pissed at me ’cuz of what he called “ghetto graffiti” and what I knew to be honest art. Even Mr. Lucas, the art teacher, told everyone I was talented. He stood up in class once and said, “Lester’s good and he’s going to be on a wall one day. It might be a museum, it might be a post office, but keep your eye on this guy.”
“Keep your eye on your wallet, too,” said Bailey, my best bud in the class.
If not for the Art Room at the far end of the last corridor, I’d have never gone to school. Never. Well, that plus my Probation Officer, who checked attendance records every week.
Big Al must have been short-staffed ’cuz I got the gig again. One night, when I was working my regular four-to-midnight shift, somebody brought in one of those new Corvettes. Shit, man, there’s not going to be a year like 1962 in a long time, not in Detroit anyway. Talk about artistry. Jesus. I sat up on my fold-up stool and stared like Christmas morning.
I walked to the booth, grabbed that baby’s key, walked to the door, and opened it up. I sat in the driver’s seat for four minutes. No, I know what you’re thinking, but no, I didn’t start the engine, didn’t even put the key in the ignition. I just sat there.
Then I went back to my perch, but this time I had a primo drawing pad I’d grabbed from the passenger seat.
I sat and I drew. I know one damn thing for sure: I can draw. I can draw and I’ll keep drawing as long as I have hands. That sleek beauty came alive on the paper.
The Corvette guy was the last one to pick up his car, just before closing time. He looked at my drawing and said, “Keep the pad. Keep this, too. And keep drawing.” He handed me a fifty for a $2.50 ticket.
The next week, with my PO’s written-in-triplicate approval, I quit school and signed up for lessons at an art studio across town. After that, I still had twenty bucks. And after twenty years, I still have the Corvette drawing, not to mention pieces in a few galleries. I still draw, as promised, and together with Big Al, we run four garages, two lots, and own a piece of three gas stations. We have 24 employees and we treat them well, and trust them to do their jobs. But whenever a ’Vette comes in, I get an instant message. Whether it needs a new carburetor, a bit of paint, or simply someone to admire it, I’m the man, and everyone knows it.
I remember Mr. Lucas saying something about “art imitating life,” but whatever that meant, I’m okay with it. And my old buddy Bailey? He graduated, walked the stage and everything, before screwing up big time, and got 15-to-life, but that’s another story.
Tony Press tries to pay attention and sometimes he does. His story collection Crossing the Lines was recently published (Big Table). He writes in Brisbane, California, and Bristol, England, and occasionally Oaxaca, Mexico. He has two Pushcart nominations but nary a website.