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

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MORE TALES OF FOOD, LOVE AND THE AMERICAN DREAM

 

I drove straight through from New York to Miami which took me twenty-two hours and almost finished off my poor old tired Torino. In North Florida, the radiator boiled dry and I had to stop in a gas station and have them hose it down with cold water before I could fill it up again. It never really stopped leaking a little after that. When I got to into Coconut Grove it was evening, Kay was in hospital and had already had her operation. I went over to her beautiful big new house where I found Carlos. We saw Kay in hospital briefly and she seemed to be doing well though later it was discovered that the surgeon had inadvertently punctured her bladder. Poor Kay was in hospital for several weeks in the end and the whole experience was horrible for her.

I ran into Pamela almost immediately and she spirited me off to her bungalow in the suburbs, south west of Coral Gables where we happily renewed our affair. She had a nice little house, a double lot on a suburban corner, with a high fenced garden and a big swimming pool surrounded by palm trees. Things were obviously looking up for me. But I remembered how Pamela had dropped me suddenly a few years before and was careful not to get very involved this time. In any case, she was planning to go back to Rancho Rajneesh again soon to live there permanently. I've never been sure what Bhagwan's appeal was for so many of my friends. I guess he taught them that it was alright to have a good time and that they didn't need to feel guilty about feeling happy. It seemed to work for Pamela at any rate and that was all that mattered.

 

Back in the Grove, Kay had come up with a real job for me. A new gourmet delicatessen called McMeads had recently opened and needed a prep. chef. I went over there straight away for an interview where my experiences at Panchitos and at the Spring Street Bar, which was famous even down in Coconut Grove, came in useful. I was hired on the spot. They were a nice crowd at McMeads where only men worked. They were all gay, as were the owners. They seemed to be on a roll there in the Grove and were getting more business than they could handle. All this was just before the awful Aids epidemic struck and before people became aware of the dangers of the free n' easy gay lifestyle. All these people are now dead, according to Kay, my source in the Grove. As well as the deli trade, they catered a lot of parties all over the Grove and Miami and I would be asked to work as a waiter at night too. The pay wasn't too bad but it's never very good in the restaurant trade and there was an comfortable, relaxed feel about the place. My English accent went down very well around the deli and I was soon working regular hours there. I learnt to make fresh pasta with the Italian pasta machine, did plenty of vegetable preparation and had to make sure that the prepared food counters out in the deli were always stocked up. I remember that we would buy fresh snow peas for $1 per LB, cut little V's out of them, steam them and sell them for $4 per lb.! . Presumably, the little V's made the food "gourmet". Oh yes, I had to learn to make McMeads Mythical Triple Chocolate Chocolate Chip Monster Brownies too, which became somewhat of an ordeal after the second or third time. My baking skills came in useful and I was soon whipping up cakes, tarts and pies like they were about to go out of style.

Coconut Grove had a large transient population of bums and derelicts who hung out around the 7/11 store and the dumpster at the back of McMeads. They were mostly young men, probably junkies or alcoholics I would guess, with hair bleached almost white by the Florida sun, deep brown skin and often with piercing blue eyes. I got quite friendly with them and would often take out yesterday’s leftovers to them. One day, I remember carrying out the day's garbage and throwing it into the dumpster. My friends, the bums, came clustering around and as usual, some would climb into the garbage and sort through it, looking for the choicer food. The squashed strawberries would be mixed with the salmon mousse and the chicken fricassee with the stale chocolate brownies. But it mostly all got eaten in the end which I felt good about for I hate to see wasted food. This particular day, I spotted a packet of yesterday's sourdough rolls and pointed them out to one of the guys who stood knee deep amongst the gourmet garbage. "Those are pretty good", I said. Replied the gourmet bum, "Oh, man, but they make them out of white flour. I only eat wholewheat!"

The parties that we catered were a lot of fun. We were all issued little white jackets and black bow ties. Each event was treated rather like a military operation, with planning sessions, briefings and debriefings and little perks of food and drink like an army might plunder. We did a gay political party that got very wild and crazy, a big party for some major insurance company that didn’t and a convention of actors and actresses, directors and film technicians from the Porn Movie Industry that I couldn't possibly tell you all about. I was even trusted enough to be sent out in charge of small household functions where I was both chef and waiter and my good old English accent came in very useful. Mostly I settled down to a regular job, with regular wages, regular hours and all the regular satisfactions and frustrations. I spent nearly all my nights and free time down in Perrine with Pamela, living the Florida life under the palm trees around the pool and wondering if I this was finally my realization of the American Dream.

Pamela was meanwhile gearing up to leave Miami, had put the house on the market for sale and was packing up all her belongings. She had three daughters, all with problems of one kind or another. Susan, the oldest, was in her late twenties and was currently undergoing treatment for mental problems locally in the Jackson Memorial Hospital. We went to visit her before Pamela took off to take her some books and to tell her that she should move into the house in Perrine whenever she was released. My first impression of her was of a desperately confused woman who couldn't stop talking about "The Aquarian Conspiracy", a book that she had just read. Neither Pamela or could get a word in edgeways but she was obviously very pretty and bright. Susan had been a student at Smith University when she had had her first "episode" and had been forced to drop out of school without finishing her degree. She had been diagnosed as a borderline schizophrenic and since her late teens had gone through a regular cycle of manic-depression which had made any kind of normal life impossible. A series of electro-shock treatments had only destroyed chunks of her memory and all sense of security and self-worth. She was prescribed drugs as treatment but they canceled out both the lows and the highs of her existence and she tended to stop taking them after trying for awhile. She had been working as an au pair at a family's house in Miami Beach before her last attack. There she had accused the husband of the house of spying on her and taping her phone calls before committing herself once more into a mental hospital. Susan had learned how to deal with her illness when each episode reached its peak and by this time had been in and out of hospitals for years. I felt very sorry for her and also could see a strain of craziness passing through all the generations of this family.

Pamela finally left but not before asking me to live at the house in Perrine until it sold and to help out her daughters in any way I could. I took her to the airport on the First of July to catch her plane for Portland one afternoon and reflected that it was a typically chaotic, packing at the last moment, racing down to the line, take-off for Pamela. I realized that although I was very fond of her, it wasn't hurting me to see her go. Susan moved into the house three days later and we were lovers within a week.

I honestly hadn't planned that to happen and resisted it all the way, for almost a week at least, but Susan made quite a play for me. The night we started our affair was a Full Moon with a full Eclipse, I remember and I've always been a little unstable on such nights. Out of the hospital, Susan was much quieter but also much more beautiful with rich auburn hair and startlingly green eyes. I felt incredible sympathy for her and was myself suffering from both rather low self-esteem and that old "white knight" syndrome. I could help this lovely young women, give her my love, stabilize her life, show her how to get on top of her illness. In the end, she nearly took me down with her. I didn't learn my lesson until much later when I went through another relationship which turned out even more unhealthy and unhappy.

 

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