Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Godfather of Soul and the workman from Defiance

I never thought I'd beat the Godfather of Soul bicycle sculpture incident for a story about having a workman in the house.

I was living in Augusta, Georgia in the late '90s, for the blink of an eye. A workman came over to our new house to turn on the gas one day. He saw something he liked on my bookshelf, and we fell out to talking. Next thing you know, I'm hanging at his place. He's drinking his thing (chocolate milk and some kind of hard liquor), I'm on beer.

He picks his moment to tell me he has a sculpture by James Brown, Augusta's most celebrated local attraction at that time, right up there with The Master's Golf Tournament. "You want to see it?" "Of course, I want to see it." "Then come on, it's in the garage."

We go out to the garage. It looks like a garage. I don't see any work of art. Then he points at a badly mangled bicycle hanging on the wall by hooks. "There it is," he says. "That's my James Brown piece."

He told the story.

"I'm on my bike one day when I get run over by a car. Didn't see it coming, clipped me from behind - I get knocked clean off the bike, tuck and roll, come up with nothing but scrapes, totally lucky to be alive. The bike ends up under the car, so the guy has no choice but to stop. He gets out of the car. It's James fucking Brown."

That's all I remember about the story. I don't remember the financial arrangements or the nightmare that interacting with James Brown on the subject of car insurance and deductibles must have been. I just remember that my buddy the gas man kept the mangled bicycle and, over the years, developed the concept that, since James Brown was responsible for the bicycle's current shape, he now owned a James Brown sculpture.

I would have thought that would be my best workman story, ever. But, after tomorrow, there is another contender.

I was working on a crabby email to a teacher and administrator at our daughter's school, the kind of aggravating task I have to grit right through singlemindedly or I'd never do it. At some point it became evident that there was a workman in the house and that my wife had included me in a conversation with him. I seemed to have been holding my own in the conversation, despite the fact that I was consciously attending only to my crabby email and had no idea what had been coming out of my mouth. But now we had a hit a snag.

Something about his wife and an uncle and a website and artwork. I didn't know who any of these people were or why I was being asked to care about them. There was nothing to do but fess up to my complete and utter distraction and start the conversation over.

Ten minutes later I have the workman in the basement showing him my most sacred shit, I've given him a rare beer and am fingering the moonshine collection, thinking about handing him over a sample, and he is dreaming of bringing his keg of homebrew stout to my house.

How did that happen?

Turns out on the way in our house, he had noticed the art collection and mentioned that he also collects, a little. We live in scenic St. Louis County, and the workman in semi-rural Defiance, not in gritty city hipster central, so it's not everybody you run into on the street who has a boutique personal art collection. My wife had managed to get me talking about this with the guy, and I guess I had managed to say appropriate things, though I was really ignoring them both and trying to finish the crabby email. Then I got lost when he moved on to say that his wife's uncle was a painter and that she had built a website for his paintings. Now, I understood.

This all got really good when I mentioned playing music, and he said maybe I know his wife's uncle, Dominic Finocchio, he's also a musician - he plays guitar in a local band called The Love Experts.

By then I knew he was a homebrewer, so we were headed to my beer cellar as I told him my Love Experts coincidence, or confluence. How I had read a book about Renaissance England and had hit upon a good anecdote about entrapping Mary Queen of Scots by smuggling messages to her inside kegs attached to the bungholes, in an elaborate frame job. How I wanted a picture of a bunghole to illustrate the story. How I found a good picture of a bunghole from some couple's Flickr site about their visit to a Belgian brewery. How the woman in the couple, who lives in the California desert, saw that I had borrowed her bunghole, read my blog, saw that I was from St. Louis, and wanted to know if I knew Steve from The Love Experts, her fellow rabid fan of New Zealand pop music.

So, yeah, I know of The Love Experts.

And now it looks like I have a new art beer buddy, the workman from Defiance. Who, no surprise, is "backing Obama," as he put it, when he saw all my Wiley Price photographs of the campaign in my basement, otherwise known as The Skuntry Museum. He's also a Teamster and "is backing" Clint Zweifel for state treasurer. Sounds like it's time for a Skuntry Museum mixer. I got a keg of homebrewed stout coming in from Defiance!


The painting is HALF-MASK, MOLDING AND LEAF ON PURPLE DRAPE by the workman's wife's uncle, Dominic Finocchio, from that there website she made for him.

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