Monday, March 05, 2007

I'm Not Helping Tojo (Or, Tales of a Painter Boy)

Lucky you, I finished my job for the second-homers early today. And, lucky me, the little lady of the house got over-the-top generous with the bill. I had let her husband in on my little Snarky Boy character and she apparently got to reading over the weekend. Honestly, I winced when she gave me a sly grin this morning and declared “welcome, Snarky Boy.” She then commenced to tell me all about her days as an aspiring writer, especially her fixation on the creation of characters. Unfortunately, she reported, it never got beyond the character creation for her. But, she quickly added, it was marvelous therapy. Indeed.

So, to make a long story short, she tacked on one hell of a “tip” to the bill, explaining that they felt guilty for taking me off the job site last week for the little snowboarding foray at Sugarbush. Sweet, huh? It wasn’t all peaches and cream, though. She got her jab in by begging me to stick to painting and writing, not painting and singing. Oops, I guess Snarky Boy’s made-up little ditties during the work hours didn’t go over as well as I thought. Sorry about that.

But it’s not all the time that a painter-boy like me leaves a job site with plenty of extra loot and hugs to boot. Now how in the hell am I gonna get snarky after that?

Easy: Visit the next job site. I was informed over the weekend that I’ve been called back to a “crew” job that specializes in “institutions.” For me, that’s meant nursing homes and only nursing homes. This same crew has done numerous other “institutions,” but Snarky Boy seems to be their nursing home specialist. It’s a rather big job, and several of them have already been on site prepping. So, since it was far too early to be seen pushing back the door at Charlie O’s, I took a little drive to see what I’m going to be in for over the next couple weeks.

This will be my third stint at this particular nursing home. The first two have been, quite frankly, a bit emotionally draining. As you can imagine, the clients are always there – except, of course, when the courtesy van departs for those well enough to “go up the hill” to the mall.

On the good days, the folks biding their time there are remarkably cheerful and fun loving. I mean, come on, they can be bored out of their wits and the visitors aren’t exactly lining up during painter’s hours.

But on the bad days, look out. Hell hath no mercy for the poor painter who stirs the murky psychological stew of the mad old man or woman. And they can get pretty damn mad, too.

My worst experience came on my first stint there. There was a sprightly old gentleman who took to me almost immediately. He – like me – was addicted to the news and began our relationship by testing me on what I knew and how closely I followed the news of the day. This was right when Clinton was going through his impeachment debacle and the guy absolutely hated Clinton. And so we would jab and poke one another over the merits of the impeachment. As I recall, the only thing we agreed upon was that the special striped robe that Chief Justice Rehnquist wore to the affair was – well – ridiculous. Other than that, it was all disagreeing all the time – good naturedly, though.

That changed when my dear old friend’s mind decided to take a hike to the delusional side of life. And, trust me, no one bothered to tell the painter just how delusional this fine old man could become.

I thought I was arriving to just another day of smearing rather drab colors on an already drab place when my Clinton sparring partner came walking more quickly than I had ever seen him walk straight up to the ladder I was reaching from.

“Hey old buddy,” I called out, albeit nervously because he was walking and looking a whole lot differently. “It looks like Clinton’s staying in the White House – interns and all.”

And the next thing I knew I was on the floor, paint was flying everywhere, and my dear sparring partner was locked into some other-world where I was – get this – a defender of Tojo. Strange but, trust me, very, very real.

“Don’t let him help Tojo!” he called out as the nurses and administrators ran to stop him and help me. “Tojo must face his accusers!”

At this point, he was literally strangling me. And he kept calling out all kinds of factoids about Tojo, his crimes against humanity and – apparently – Tojo’s attempts to take his own life rather than face the war crimes tribunals set up by the U.S. and its allies. Yep, for a brief moment there, I was seen as Tojo’s ticket to a “death with dignity.” And this old fella wasn’t going to let it happen.

Thankfully, the staff people at places like this are practically saints. So they calmed him down sufficiently, took him back to his room, and bent over backwards to help me clean up and make sure I wasn’t hurt from the fall – I wasn’t. I remember trying to break the mood by turning to one of the nurse’s aids and saying, “I hope you believe me that I wasn’t trying to help Tojo.” Yeah, we needed to laugh.

It turns out that my old friend had served in the Army during World War II. One of his platoon’s assignments was to serve as guards at Japan’s Sugamo Prison, a place that notoriously housed dozens of Japanese war criminals – including Prime Minister Tojo. And, apparently, Tojo left a mighty impression on him. He was, according to the history books, quite the charmer in a one-one-one basis and, as I recall, this was the time when he was undergoing his great transformation from a man of war to a man of peace. Funny how that happens when you’re caught and waiting for your war crimes trial.

As is the case with incidences like this, the next day brought nothing but normalcy from my old pal. In fact, he even responded to my last jab as if the Tojo-incident and a full night’s rest hadn’t even come between them: “Sure, Clinton’s gonna remain our president but he won’t be remembered well.”

And, for the duration of my work there, he never flipped again. I must say, I enjoyed talking to him and so many more folks while I worked there. There can be such an urgency and honesty in people placed in these homes. They so desperately want to talk and to share their lives. And, believe me, a painter with no place to go but up and down a wall and hall is a prime target for a listening ear. I don’t mind a bit.

So that’s where my mind’s at -- far from the politics of today. And you know what, sometimes that’s not a bad place to be. Not bad at all.

Thanks for hanging around. Perhaps we’ll play again later.


Snarky Boy