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Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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At the end of June, I got a phone call from Drummy in New York. A friend of his was starting a band down in Florida and could he come down and stay with me until he got settled? Sure, I said. And why didn't he bring Boo down too? She was recuperating from her riding accident, had her whole leg in a huge cast and the sun and the pool would be good for her. It felt good to be able to offer my nice little free house to my friends for as long as it lasted. So Boo and Drummy flew down, I picked them up at the airport and they moved into the spare bedroom. Poor Boo could only hobble around at that stage and it was obvious that the easy life down in Florida was just what she needed. It was great to see them again and it felt like life would be a lot easier and less stressful living down there in South Florida. Drummy brought his friends round and although I felt very peripheral to the new band, they welcomed my imput. The first incarnation of the new band was called "Jungle Fighter" and it was to be a more aggressive, tough-sounding band. I went to a couple of early rehearsals and could see that the level of musicianship was a lot lower than in "Catch A Fire" but also that Drummy was getting much more chance to lead and to sing his songs. I had always felt that he was the natural star of "Catch a Fire" and felt that this new band would probably do alright. In any case, I didn't want to get too involved with the business this time. Between working at McMeads, which was already starting to wear me down a little and a new exciting, though stressful, relationship with Susan, I had plenty on my plate. Life went along pretty smoothly for a little while and I brought gourmet throwaways home every day to feed the gang. Susan and I got out in the car as often as we could and explored the little roads that make up the grid stretching from Coral Gables down to the Everglades to the south west. I even set up my batik table out by the pool and went back to work, making some large wrap-around skirts that I thought I might be able to sell in the Grove. Reviving an old tiger design from Ibiza, I batiked a beautiful big skirt which was featured in Jillian Bos' annual Coconut Grove Fashion Show where it was worn by a tall Afro-American model. But apart from that nothing much else happened with the work, which was a bit discouraging. So I moved onto wall hangings and started a new series of landscapes. It was hard to work very hard when I had to leap up at six every morning and drive up to the Grove to put in a nine-hour day in the kitchen. None of the others were working or had money so it was up to me to keep the household together.

Boo got her cast off and started to exercise in the pool and Drummy's band went into the studio and started to record some of his songs. They got a gig at an open-air concert supporting Steel Pulse and changed their name to "Up Front". Susan slowly came out of her post-hospital depression and started to take an interest in life again. But she was intelligent enough to be aware of the pattern of her life and lived with the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over her head. Once again she was off her medication for she complained that it just made her feel numb. As her energy picked up, she was able to recognize the start of what would terminate in a manic high and total paranoia. On the other hand, perhaps this time it wouldn't happen. But there were lots of little things about her that worried and upset me. Susan hated her body in some ways and I discovered that she was bulimic and trapped into a binge/purge cycle of behaviour. She once told me with a laugh, for she could often see humour in her predicament, that she was sixteen years old before she realized that she was supposed to keep down the food that she ate, so confusing had been the examples set her. She could regurgitate a glass of water on demand. She would shoplift too, only silly little items like candy but I worried that she might get caught. I saw all these little behaviour patterns as indicative of deep-seated illnesses that I had no idea how to deal with.

After almost three months of working there, McMeads was starting to break me down. The routine bored me, I wasn't that interested in the work and really just wanted to be doing my batiks. I was finding the cook in charge of the kitchen really obnoxious and finally gave in my notice. So for three months, Susan got a waitress job and I was able to stay at home and really concentrate on my new batiks. I started to go up to the Grove more often with Susan out at work and helped Kay out in her Magazine shop for several weeks which was a change of pace. I painted Kay's garden room and all her cane furniture and then the interior of a neighbour's cottage. All this helped out with money of course but kept me away from my real work.

But the new batik wasn't selling and I was terribly relieved when I made a great new friendship and was offered a new job at the end of November. Lenor had been telling me about this woman called Mary Ann for years. She was the aunt of a friend of hers and had a small shopping center called Cauley Square just off Highway One, the Dixie Highway, south of Coral Gables. I finally got over there one day, loved the place and loved Mary Ann. If Kristin was a little like one's ideal mother, Mary Ann was like one's ideal grandmother. She must have been almost seventy when I met her, a very attractive, hyperactive, no-nonsense Southern woman. She had a retired four star general for a husband, two amazingly beautiful children about my age and a fabulous family estate down a back road near to Cauley Square. Her nephew was actually a movie star in England and the whole family set up somehow reminded me of a soap opera like "Dallas". She had taken over an old warehouse and set up a variety of little shops and stalls there and then had bought up old period houses from all over the state and moved them onto her land. Cauley Square actually resembled a small village with antique shops, a hairdresser's, an art gallery and a really good restaurant, famous locally for its heavenly deserts. Mary Ann herself was an expert on antiques and had her office in a massive room crowded to the ceiling with paintings, books, porcelain, old furniture and the most amazing collection of garbage imaginable. She and I hit it off immediately. She became a great fan of my work and I of hers and she asked me if I'd like a job at Cauley Square. She had just bought some old wooden houses, they were already set up amongst the trees behind the main warehouse and she needed someone to do simple carpentry and to paint the houses. I would be working with an old rather alcoholic handy man named Glen as his assistant and would be in charge of the painting side of the operation. Mostly I would be working outdoors which suited me fine and part of my job would be to try and keep Glen out of trouble. It was very gratifying that so many people found me generally responsible but who would be around to keep me out of trouble, I reflected, as I accepted Mary Ann's offer?

It was early December 1992 and looking back on this period, it seemed like I was starting to lead a schizophrenic existence, getting up early and driving down the Dixie Highway to work each morning, humming to myself as I zipped through the traffic. The Pretenders' hit song, "Back on the Chain Gang", with its inspired, anguished vocal was to be heard on the radio twenty times a day that year and sounded like my theme song. I mostly enjoyed my work at Cauley Square and quickly graduated from yanking old nails out of old wood to hammering new nails back into the old wood. It felt great to be out in the sun and fresh air all day and I felt too that I was learning something useful. Mary Ann soon had me painting the old houses that we had repaired and converted and I spent my days high up on teetering ladders. The new houses soon had a Victorian look with dark red walls and black and white trims.

But then I would go home to Perrine, the pool and that enclosed garden where Susan would be waiting for me. She had applied for and been accepted as a teacher's aid at an Alexander school nearby which was excellent news and was working there several days a week. We took a lot of long walks and ran along the river in the evenings. We made little trips out along the country roads on the grid but our life together was becoming very insular. That didn't feel very healthy but I was in love with Susan and still hoped that I could help her. I felt that we were both walking on thin ice that could break under us at any time and wondered how long she would be able to keep a job together. Boo and Drummy were still around a lot and struggling to get it together in a new town. Their band went through several transformations and eventually, Pearl Marley, Bob's half sister was brought in as a back up singer. I was a dedicated nudist at that time and would race home from work on the chain gang every day, tearing off my clothes as soon as I got in the front door and then diving straight into the pool to cool out. I got to the stage when I never wore clothes at home. I often remember with some mortification the time that Pearl came to the house and I had a long talk with her about the state of reggae, stark naked. I cannot imagine what was going through my mind at the time and can only surmise that I must have been a little crazy. What on earth did she think of me, I've often wondered?

So ended 1982, one of my most confused and confusing years when I tried to explore new avenues and ended up in a lot of trouble. There were big Christmas parties in the Grove and Simma and Jeffrey were around too. But increasingly I was having to close down more and more of my contacts with outside friends for the situation at home was steadily deteriorating. Susan's behaviour was increasingly unpredictable, her eating habits were getting much worse and I was afraid to learn what she was up to when she was out of the house. She seemed angry and aggressive most of the time, in marked contrast to the rather shy self-effacing woman that I was most familiar with. Soon she lost her job at the Alexander school. As her life started to go out of control once more, I went out only to work at Cauley Square which I still enjoyed and spent most of my free time in Perrine, trying to keep control over the household. To add to a bad situation, I wasn't getting on so well with Boo and Drummy. They were still pretty broke, couldn't keep their transport scene together and were making demands on me that I just couldn't meet. I felt that they expected me to be the same Jonathan the Reggae Band Manager that I had been in New York while I was just hanging on for grim life to a relationship with a paranoid schizophrenic. I didn't have much energy for them and had no interest in their band at that stage. All I felt that I could do was keep the house, my job and my poor Susan together so that there wasn't much room for anything else in my life.

Susan was becoming much less communicative and had started to sleep less and less. At night she'd prowl around the house or take her car out and drive into Miami. I was really worried about her. One morning I got up to find that she'd taken our television to pieces during the night and had laid out all its component parts in neat lines on the carpet. She told me it was because the TV was being used to film her movements and to spy on her. All the telephones in the house were recording her conversations too. I tried to calm her down but nothing I could say could convince her that she was suffering from paranoia and she got furious with me. Then she completely vanished for two days and I eventually tracked her down to a nearby hospital where I learned that she'd checked herself into the Psychiatric Ward with some tiny remaining scrap of sanity. She was completely uncommunicative for over a week and had been put on a heavy drug program, which kept her sedated for most of the time. Eventually she started to come out of it, was a bit more coherent and I used to sit out on the grass on the hospital grounds with her in my lunch break from Cauley Square and eat a picnic with her in the evenings after work.

After three weeks I took her home again but she was quietly depressed and would cry a lot. She'd cry because she was depressed, because of the medication that so controlled her and because of the hopelessness of her situation. Privately I cried for her too and was amazed that she hadn't killed herself long before. Had I been in her situation, I didn't know if I would have been strong enough to stay alive once having recognized the biochemical cycle that so conditions a schizophrenic's existence. Her life seemed to me to parallel the Planetary Cataclysmic Theory pattern, in which a disaster destroys civilization every ten thousand or so years, burying almost all experience and knowledge each time. Each time she came out of hospital and put her mind and life back together again, it would be blown apart again by her illness. The total futility of this kind of existence was pushed into her face repeatedly.


In fact, Susan was surviving very well. She recognized enough of her symptoms to be able to commit herself to a hospital when her life went out of control each time and her condition might well stabilize as she got older. Ten years later, she's still alive and well and living in Seattle.



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