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

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CHICAGO BLUES: Dust my Broom...

 

Our mail finally caught up with us at this point and I got some cheques from Germany where some Batik had sold in my show in Cologne. So I was solvent again but my poor old tired workhorse of a Chevy Station Wagon badly needed some work done on it before it could move on again. An old friend of Carol's, Roderick, lived in Chicago and had a small house cleaning business there. Carol talked to him and he invited us to come and stay with him and help him out with his work. Some steady work was just what we needed, so we loaded up the VW bus and left Wichita at the start of October. As usual, the Baldwin/Evans combine functioned best while in motion and in spite of heavy rain, we made good time to Des Moines. We finally got into Chicago at three in the morning, found Roderick's flat and crashed. When we woke in the late morning, we found that the bus had been broken into and we lost a stereo, some tapes and a movie camera. Oh well, easy come...

Roderick seemed very nice, was openly gay and had been a close friend of Carol's first husband, whom it transpired, had also been gay. He was tall and dark with a goatee beard and dressed rather flamboyantly. I think he was very pleased to see us and needed the help as badly as we needed the money. But before we started work we had a few days off and had a look around the city and checked out the art museum and gallery situation which was pretty good. Chicago was an intriguing place and as capital of the Mid West, was a great center for commerce of all kinds. There was a street of small modern galleries which was especially interesting and I thought of trying to get a show of some kind together. But first we had to get down to work and help Roderick out with his house cleaning. It was a job that I turned out to be rather good at. He only needed one of us at a time so that we took turns to work with him at first. We each had one day on then one day off which left us free to get into art projects too which worked out very well.

Or at least it looked as if it should work out very well for us both. This was a situation in which my anal compulsion and attention to details came in really useful. Roderick took me out with him to help him do his weekly clean of a local restaurant and then to do an apartment and although I couldn't honestly say that I enjoyed the work, it was familiar and easy. I think I performed my chores efficiently. We got back to Carol in one of her depressed and unpleasant moods and this went on for a few days, the two of us alternating between housecleaning for eight hours a day and days off when we could work on other projects or go out to explore the city. Carol continued to be in a bad head and was obviously not liking the situation. After two weeks, Roderick announced that Carol wasn't a conscientious enough worker and that he didn't want to work with her any more. So it was just Roderick and me from then on, which was eventually quite stressful. Usually we cleaned the same houses, apartments and restaurants every week and soon the routine became quite familiar to me. I got quite used to getting the bad jobs like cleaning bathrooms and toilets but started to form bad opinions of the people who just threw their things all over the place. They never picked up or cleaned anything but preferred to pay invisible elves to slip in during the days to straighten out the chaos and clean up the mess. Deeply embedded in my conditioning was the idea that we should all take responsibility for our own stuff, which was hardly the right attitude to have if you were being employed as a housecleaning service. But I learnt to keep quiet and to do my job the best I could. We needed the money, I liked Chicago and usually managed to work on automatic pilot.

One house stood out from the others however. Firstly it was enormous, five or six vast high downstairs rooms including a great library and at least the same number of huge rooms upstairs. It was apparently owned by a gay Hospital Administrator and his lover who ran a gay Adult bookstore and heavens knows what else. In the garage, I found a giant wheel like a torture rack that was designed to have people strapped to it. One room was full of whips and clamps and strange looking instruments of one kind or another while another had walls covered in rank smelling black leather. In fact the whole house smelt of funky leather and there were gay porno photos and paintings hung all over. Or should I say well hung all over. There was a large impressive full figure portrait of the owner hung above his desk. He looked to be a small, neat looking man but had been painted naked with his penis massively erect in his hand. The atmosphere there was both confused and charged and the smell of thousands of books was mixed with an odour of decadence and debauchery. I am not a homophile but felt acutely uncomfortable there after a few visits and cleaning sessions there. I certainly didn't want Carol to come and work there for I knew that she would have hated it. Conversely, I used to look forward to going to clean the Scott family's house up near the University for they always fed us and used to hang out and talk with us while we did the cleaning. The family always treated us like individuals unlike most of our clients whom we never even saw. It was a pleasure to work for them.

Meanwhile we managed to get to some good concerts in the evenings. Ebenezer Obey and his Nigerian JuJu Music stood out as a fantastic evening of African culture with an incredibly dressed audience and some frenetic dancing which we took part in. The Municipal Art Institute was a wonderful place to hang out and we went there at least once a week. We saw a very interesting show by an elderly lady called Elizabeth Layton there, a woman with a history of depression who had taken up pencil drawing at a late age and was producing some startlingly original pictures of herself and her life, full of humour and truth and meaning. But generally, I was starting to struggle in Chicago. I had started to loath the work with Roderick and found myself with almost no quality free time. I would stagger home each day after another day cleaning toilets to find a bored but energized Carol dying for some action. And I had stopped making art completely. I had neither energy nor time for any kind of art and actually didn't even know what medium to work in. And as always happens to me when I'm not making art, I began to lose my sense of personal identity and didn't know who I was any more. Carol seemed to have no sympathy for my predicament. I only knew that if I saw her coming back broken and depressed from work every day, I would have made an effort and would have taken some of the burden off her. All she ever wanted to do was to go out and party in the evenings, which I was less and less up for.

Meanwhile our VW bus was in poor shape. It had never been in great shape in the first place. Carol had bought it very second hand from a friend and had spent quite a lot of money fixing it up. In a moment of quasi-inspiration, she had had an old transverse Corvair engine which also fitted a rear mounted VW body, put into the bus. The only drawback to this was the fact that Corvair engines hadn't been manufactured in years and there were only about five garages in the whole country which knew how to work on them. So we had to take the bus a long way to be worked on. But there was a lot of work to be done before it would be safe to take on a long trip. Carol decided to fly back to Wichita to spend Thanksgiving with her family and would drive my Chevy back to Chicago so that we'd be free to move on. My attitude towards the cleaning work had begun to show itself in my efficiency and Roderick wasn't as pleased with me as he used to be. The day that Carol left for Wichita, Roderick told us that he wanted us to move out when she got back, which was fine with me. Meanwhile, I went back to work with him and somehow found myself doing the most horrible jobs imaginable. One day, I spent literally eight hours down on my knees cleaning wax off a long long hall and collapsed with a broken back at the end of the day. There seemed to be long, endless walls to be washed, dozens of sinks to be scrubbed and thousands of toilet bowls to be cleaned out and left polished and spotless. Perhaps this was Roderick's revenge or was he trying to break me? Somehow I hung in and kept on working. I took to wearing headphones and listening to my Walkman stereo all day which definitely helped the situation. Towards the end of that awful week, Roderick's attitude towards me softened somewhat and we started to get on better. Carol got back with my car at the end of the month to save me and we packed up and got ready to drive East. A sudden bitter winter snowstorm held up our departure for a day but we finally decided to take off on the first of December. We ended up saying fond good-byes to Roderick and I gave him a nice batik before we left. So, driving two laden vehicles, we left Chicago on a freezing winter day with snow falling and an icy road and headed East towards Virginia and the Gesundheit Institute once again.

 

 

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