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BATIK ART BY JONATHAN S. EVANS
Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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THE LATE AFTERNOON CONSTRUCTION COMPANY

 

Of course financing my new life in the city was constantly a problem. But around this time, I got a call from Pieter, Bruce's friend in Larchmont, to say that he had got a big job and to ask if I was interested in working with Bruce and him again? Pieter was an interesting character, a charismatic and handsome ex-Vietnam vet. with a slightly crazy edge to him that I both liked and was leery of. He and his younger brother Carl had done a lot of world traveling with their shady businessman father but the latter had died recently and the two young men were now without any family. Pieter had signed up and served in Vietnam, had seen a lot of heavy action and violence and had reputedly returned a very different and unpredictable person. He had practically lived at the Heutchy house in Larchmont while I was there and was a great favourite of Bruce's father. I had always sensed a lot of rivalry between he and Bruce in spite of their long friendship. He liked to party a lot and was somewhat unreliable although he always managed to scramble and come through in the end. He knew a lot about construction and house repairs, or at least seemed to and he had always been the leader in our Larchmont operations. But I had heard a story about him getting a job to build a new deck on a house in Westchester, tearing off the old deck, ordering a lot of materials and then vanishing, leaving the job undone and a fantastic mess behind him. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained and I told him that I was up for it and that Michael was available too.

The job that Pieter had been offered was to build a very large Z block patio on a newly constructed house in West Hampton, Long Island. The house was one of those shared weekend vacation homes that you find all over the Island. New Yorkers who had bought into the deal would be out there at weekends. We were to do the work during the week and then make ourselves scarce at the weekend for the space had already been rented out.

We swung into action late one Monday night and were picked up by Pieter in his battered Volvo and driven out to West Hampton at breakneck speed. It's quite a long distance from Manhattan and somehow, what with stops for coffee and food, we didn't arrive at the worksite until nearly dawn. It was a big wooden house with plenty of bedrooms and balconies, all surrounded by a sea of sand for we were near the beach. The first thing we did when we got there was to switch on the obviously brand new house stereo at maximum volume and to blew out both of its speakers. "Say it was like this when we arrived", said a glib but tired Pieter who promptly found the best room and crashed out fully dressed on the bed.

We all slept, but Michael and I, ever the conscientious workers, were up by nine in the morning ready for action. Bruce appeared a little later but Pieter was dead to the world until well into the afternoon. When he finally got up, he jumped into the car, mumbled something about needing to see a man about supplies and vanished until after six in the evening. He reappeared looking relaxed and smiling with, could I be mistaken, a light suntan. "Too late to start today", he smiled, "let's cool out till later and then check out the local talent situation". The rest of us had no alternative but to fit in with this scenario and we all went out to investigate the town later. A meal lead to a few drinks, at least for Pieter and we all ended up at the local disco dancing until early morning. The following day, the same thing happened as had happened the day before, although Pieter did manage to get a couple of phone calls out to order Z blocks and other supplies. It wasn't until the fourth day with that we actually got down to doing any work. It then became apparent that Pieter had never done any work like this before and that he was winging it completely. In any case, the house's weekend occupants were due to arrive and like good, invisible gnomes, it was time for us to vanish again. So began my life with the Late Afternoon Construction Company!

The job actually lasted for over six weeks with the same routine that I've described although there were some days when Pieter partied so much during the night that he didn't get up at all during daylight. We were totally in his hands over the work for he cunningly managed to keep all dealings with the developers completely to himself and none of the others of us knew how to do the work. Once we'd started, we pretty much had to go along with his schedule for we weren't to get paid until the job was completed. Eventually, the developers began to put subtle and then not so subtle pressure on us to finish the job. The tenants began to mutter about the unfinished patio, the nonexistent garden and the long promised tennis courts that could only be finished once the garden was complete. So, slowly, our schedule altered and we began to be working at the house when the weekenders arrived. Finally we found ourselves living there all the time, sort of like second class tenants who slept together on foam mattresses on the porch in the early mornings but who determinedly continued to party all night. By that time, the workers of the Late Afternoon Construction Company had a hard-earned reputation to maintain and like amateur vampires, we felt that we couldn't bear the sunlight. We got to know the tenants pretty well in the end and I gave batik classes to one of them eventually. We finally mastered the Art of Z Block Patio Construction. The secret, for anyone who might be interested, is in the careful grading of the sand underneath. I built mighty biceps as the lowly labourer who got to carry wheelbarrow loads of blocks all late afternoon long. I even sold my batik portrait of Marie Luz to one of the developers so that in the end, it didn't work out too badly for me. When we were offered the next job of building a Japanese garden and the tennis courts, we politely declined. At this point, I felt that I needed to get back to a more normal sleeping pattern and was getting sidetracked from my real mission in life. So Michael and I headed back to Manhattan where Douglas informed us that a travel agent had signed a lease on the apartment on 44th Street and that we had to vacate the place.

 

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