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Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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I held the Last Picture Show at the Library on January 4th. Four people showed up and we watched "The Wrong Box" and "Wuthering Heights" with a passionate Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. We had seen some wonderful classic movies and the whole program was a success as far as I was concerned. But I wasn't sorry to end the series for it had been a long commitment. These days, it was much easier to run up the hill to Phil's where we were always welcome and to watch movies on TV in a more congenial atmosphere.

The year started with Carol and I living in a state of armed neutrality. We were spending more and more time apart and were both getting involved in as many outside projects as possible. When we were together we tended to argue incessantly. Extreme poverty was putting a lot of pressure on the relationship for neither of us earned any income for weeks at the start of the year and any money we did have seemed to go on our cars . The West Virginia country roads and the winter conditions was very hard on our vehicles and at times it seemed as if we were working to keep our cars on the road so that we could go to work to keep our cars on the road. Sometimes it seemed that it would be easier and wiser to stay at home and to let the cars sit out in the road and just fall apart. But then of course we'd both have to stay at home and deal with one another and at that point, anything seemed preferable to that. I had a couple of little jobs, one of which was baking once a week at the Uptop Cafe in Lewisburg which was a friendly little establishment run rather unambitiously by some nice women I knew. I often worked as sound engineer for Phil's band "Stratton Alley" too. Phil had high hopes of taking the band on the road and being bigger than The Beatles although I had my private doubts on that score. But I've always enjoyed being around the music business in some capacity and although "Stratton Alley" didn't really play my kind of music, I wanted to support Phil and my local rock n' roll band. Besides it got me out of the house and that was a priority at that time.

My forty-third birthday came and went and I managed to add to my reputation as an eccentric (or maybe I mean sociopath!) by not showing up at my own birthday party. Birthdays have long been uncomfortable times for me and though I've thought about it often, I really don't know why. I don't think that my advancing age has anything to do with it for I honestly don't worry much about that and am actually rather proud that I've managed to survive for so long. Perhaps its the attention and focus on me that I'm uncomfortable with, for I am still a rather shy person and hate the spotlight at the best of times. Or perhaps its all because I remember that celebrations like Christmas and birthdays tended to be rather tense occasions at home when I was young. My mother was always anxious that they should be Great Fun and great Family Occasions and my father never seemed to be quite there. I remembered them as being somewhat stressful times and I think that feeling has stayed with me ever since.

On St. Valentine's Day, I made a quick trip to Washington D.C. to take down my batik show at the Textile Museum where only one piece, my "Buick 88" had sold to a collector in California. But I had already set up a show at Gallery 1897 in Lewisburg and had decided to frame all the pieces myself this time which was a mammoth undertaking of course. Elliott and Carol, my new friends in Lewisburg, were tremendously supportive and I was spending a lot of time at their house. It was in their garage and basement, with Elliott's help in return for a batik, that I finally completed that undertaking. I must say that the batiks looked better framed.

About this time, I was referred to a specialist doctor in Roanoke who carried out a colonoscopy on me. He told me what I had already suspected. There was no sign of anything wrong with my intestines. My illness the previous December had been a severe virus infection and that I did not have Crone's Disease. That was quite a relief but I still resolved to loosen up a bit and to work a little less compulsively. However I was stuck with huge hospital bills that I would end up paying off for years to come.


My next show opened in Lewisburg in April on the same day that a late savage snowstorm hit the area and dumped several inches of snow on top of us. The turn out was poor but my "Old Stone Church" batik sold to two sisters who wanted to donate it to the Church. I finally went on to sell several more pieces from the show.

I was looking for a new creative project to get involved in and remembered a trip Marie Luz and I had taken to Holland ten years before. Our friend Phillip had flown into Amsterdam from Bali and we had driven up from Ibiza with his girlfriend Ana to meet him there and to bring him back down with us. One night, we had all gone out to the famous "Melkveg Club", The MilkyWay multimedia club, which was situated in a huge old milk processing factory in the middle of the city. I had one of the most memorable and exciting nights of my life there. You had to pay about $5 at the door to get in and once in, you were free to go anywhere and to stay there all night if you wanted to. The building had three or four floors and there was something different happening in each room. There was a really nice cafe with food and drinks, an area with stalls selling clothes, books and records and, this being Amsterdam in the permissive Seventies, a room where drugs of all kinds were openly displayed for sale. There was a candlelit room full of cushions and low tables for the customers to enjoy their drugs in. Next door, a small cinema showed a festival of old Buster Keaton movies. Upstairs there was a small theater where an avant- group were performing and the hilarious American comedian Jango Edwards was putting a show on next door. A Jazz band was playing upstairs and there was room for people to dance too. We all spent a wonderful night at the club and I'd thought about it often since.


In Lewisburg, our German friend Helge owned a whole building on the main street where he rented out rooms and spaces to various different people and groups. The UpTop Cafe was situated in the building as was the Trillium Dance Group who had a great dance studio on the top floor with an adjoining outside deck on the flat roof of the building. I came up with the idea of turning the whole building into a Club every month and putting on mixed media events and performance art there on a regular basis. Some of the people involved took a bit of convincing but in the end, everyone thought it a great idea as a money raiser. The first event was planned for the end of May. It wasn't easy to agree on a name and we went through quite a few ideas like The Atomic Cafe (my choice), the Human Condition, Multi Media, The Womb etc. etc before we agreed to call the event "The Paradise Club".

"Paradise Club #1" was a great success. It was the talk of the town for weeks and even got a write-up in the local paper. There was a really good turn out for the event, always a problem in a rural area like ours where people have to come long distances and where the weather can sabotage a show quite easily. Local people were notoriously casual dressers but everybody was dressed to the nines for the evening. Some people even went so far as to change into new fineries halfway through the evening and we awarded a prize for the best-dressed guest. Our local clown and mime artist, Glenn, gave an absolutely hilarious show, the "Trillium Dance Group" performed a new piece, there were video movies in one room, massage in another and the UpTop Cafe was open for the night. We ended up with a Disco dance with a good lightshow. I got to be the D.J. and a rather reluctant Compere for the evening. We followed it up with #2, "You are the Show", a month later and did just as well. This time various people gave slideshows, "Trillium" premiered new work and we had another Disco, which began to be a regular feature of the Club. We ended the evening with the late appearance of a modern jazz group which was appearing at the Greenbrier Resort at the time and came on to play at "The Paradise Club" afterwards.

Meanwhile I wasn't neglecting my real work and worked steadily away all summer. I sold another small piece at the White Sulphur Springs "Dandelion Art Show". A complete stranger who was apparently passing through the town, stopped his car to run into the show for a moment, bought my batik and then drove off again.

In July, I accompanied Carol and her brother Gary to the Ripley Arts and Crafts Fair where Carol sold her bags at a stand under the name of "Bag Lady". It rained heavily the whole week and as we were camping out there, we got pretty damp and muddy before we were through. I sold another batik,"Tractor and Snow", through a show at the Woolery in Marlinton where I stood in the front shop window for a week demonstrating the batik process to the public. And I was somehow roped in to do the sound for an amusing little review for the West Virginia Postal Service called "Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman ".

Then it was time for "The Third Annual Spring Creek Festival" which didn't do nearly as well as the previous two years. The more conservative elements in our group took it over that year and pushed it as "The Family Festival" with heavy security and no alcohol of any kind allowed on the site. A lot of people stayed away figuring that a music festival without beer was like a swimming pool without any water in it. Once again I organized the food and sold burritos at the concession booth and kept myself busy the whole weekend. If the same faction organized the show next year, I resolved not to get involved.

I advertised " Paradise Club #3" as an evening of "Gorilla Theater" and it was almost my last show. Various members of the Gesundheit Institute wanted to perform pieces and a theme of Sex for some reason started to emerge. I had no problem with that and figured that a little bit of controversy would attract a bit of attention which probably wouldn't do us any harm.

So, on a hot night in early August, we opened the most ambitious "Paradise Club" yet, with five or six acts and an expectant West Virginia crowd. Eva was the opening act and somehow managed to get things moving straight away with everyone on their feet "kegeling", that is tightening and then loosening their buttock muscles, to the loud music of ZZ Top. It was actually a healthy form of self-massage designed to loosen up the pelvis but most people there were pretty baffled. Kristin came on next and delivered a little lecture on the importance of Safe Sex in the Terrible Age of the Plague. I thought that she had done much better in rehearsal and was obviously rather nervous in front of an audience. As she delivered a slightly dry lecture about Aids, standing there dressed in a rather severe suit outfit, I projected some sexy naked slides of her that I'd taken about eight years previously on top of her. The effect was quite bizarre and not at all erotic. The climax of her show was when she blew up a condom like a balloon and pulled it over her head. She then threw dozens of condoms out into the audience and invited them to do the same. The act ended with people batting condom balloons backwards and forwards and was a bit poorly paced, I felt. The Trillium dancers did their obligatory improv performance and they were followed by Diane and Helge. They had been upset by Kristin's act and were making some kind of retaliatory gesture, I realized. Diane was heard to say that sex wasn't supposed to be safe and then performed some rather slow and tedious little ceremony in which she blessed different elements. She had a rather round, even portly shape and the supposedly erotic "Tantric" dance that followed was comic rather than provocative. The act went on much too long, well over the allotted ten minutes agreed upon. At this point, J.J. made a quick entrance dressed in one of Patch's gorilla suits. It was a touch that I just hadn’t been able to resist. Charlie and friends ended the show with some very amateurish buffoonery, which definitely defused any excitement that a show about sex might have built up. We had the usual movies and a dance afterwards but from an aesthetic and professional point of view, I thought it was the worst show yet . The video that I had filmed of the performances confirmed my opinion though that didn't stop Diane stealing the tape at the first opportunity, presumably to add to her collection of erotica.

I was rather glad when the night was over and was completely unprepared for the outcry that followed the next week. I'm told that condoms were found on the street outside the Club. Stories immediately circulated that we'd had a live sex show upstairs and that afterwards couples had been seen copulating in the street. The owner of the local health food store which was situated next door claimed that the show had severely damaged her business although we all knew that she'd been struggling for months. And some ladies who ran dance classes for kids in the Studio upstairs, claimed that mothers had taken their children out of their classes because of the bad reputation that the "Paradise Club" was giving them. I must say that I preferred to believe that the fact that a new dance studio had opened up the street, run by a local woman rather than the hippies upstairs, had contributed to poor class attendance. There was a strong move to close down the "Paradise Club". It took all my considerable persuasive powers and my glib English tongue to talk the reactionaries around to letting me continue with what had become my new creative outlet. I loved producing the shows, loved the process of having an idea and then finding some way of getting artists or even total non-artists to perform and realize my concept for me. But I don't think that we ever tried to put on anything too controversial at the Club again. My programs were monitored a bit more closely from then on although that didn't stop me trying out a lot of interesting new ideas. Helge, who owned the whole building was always very supportive and became my partner behind the scenes in the "Paradise Club". Besides, everyone needed the small amounts of cash that the Club generated.

Later that month, Carol and I somehow found ourselves with a booth at the State Fair again. I guess we couldn't bear being thought of as wimps and desperately needed whatever money we could make. But once again it rained the whole week and profits were slim.

Around about this time, we started to see a lot of a new couple, Craig and Brenda, whom Carol met originally up at the Spa in Snowshoe. They were from Ohio and came down to West Virginia looking to buy cheap land and a house in the area. He was an old rock and roller, an excellent drummer and had a sound engineering business and lots of excellent sound equipment. She was pregnant and expecting their first baby. They were a lot of fun and a relief from the sometimes claustrophobia of the small mountain community. We were able to put them onto a good deal of a house and acres near to us off Lobelia Road. They would show up periodically and were slowly getting their scene together in the country while still living a life in Warren, Ohio. Craig had big plans of putting on rock festivals locally and I wished him all the luck in the world. By now I knew how hard it was to really challenge and stretch the slow quiet fabric of rural existence.

Eva and J.J finally got married on the Gesundheit land at the start of September that year. They threw a huge non-stop three-day party with over three hundred guests and two nights of dancing to DJ Jonathan and local bands. Craig brilliantly provided superb equipment and expertise in sound engineering and we set up the new Gesundheit three-story building as a party palace for the weekend. Actually Gesundheit was doing very well by now, with extensions made to the original shack, yurts and trailers springing up all over and the enormous wooden workshop building well under construction next to the newly-dug artificial lake. The festivities were great fun and the wedding was held outside and performed by Patch wearing a short hair wig and a very convincing English parson disguise. But first, an obviously pregnant Eva and J.J. acted out the story of the Frog Prince on a stage in front of a huge audience. Her son, Josh played the role of cupid dangling from a rope high above stage and shot arrows all over. There was a wonderful moment when young Josh was swung up and out in front of the crowds below and suddenly beamed a fabulous big smile at everybody as he realized where he was and what he was doing. Finally Doug with the 180o revolving camera lined us all up and took a big group photo, which I still have and cherish.

On the Marriage Front, Carol and my situation was definitely deteriorating with constant bickering and rows that sometimes escalated into real anger and violence. I knew that we had to separate as soon as we could. I put up fliers all over town which were a parody of typical Lonely-Hearts Club advertisements and said:

"Shy, sensitive, European male, artist and fanatical music lover, thoroughly house-broken, desperately needs inexpensive living and studio space as soon as possible, anything considered".

I didn't get any serious replies and everyone laughed at the adjective "shy" to describe me. It was interesting to see how others perceived me. Apparently, my off-times timidity was sometimes seen as some kind of arrogance by others. Oh, to see ourselves as others see us!

Meanwhile I was working hard at home to get some new batiks ready for a new show at the Allegheny Highlands Arts Center in Clifton Forge, Virginia which was to open in October. And I had a new idea for the next "Paradise Club" which kept me busy all that September.

I had wanted to feature live music at the Club for a long time. I decided to try and put a band together from scratch, rehearse them and have them perform in public, all within a short period of time. I'd long had a belief that almost anyone, under the right circumstances and with the right motivation, could learn to play an instrument well enough to perform before an audience. I had even thought of writing a movie script in which the hero, a regular, middle-aged guy, picks up the cello at the age of forty five and within ten intense, highly directed and motivated years, performs a successful concert at Carnegie Hall. I believed that it was possible and tried out a little experiment locally. I invited a bunch of disparate and unconnected local friends who all dabbled with music and instruments to form a group and to commit to performing at the "Paradise Club" within a month. Jan was the best musician, a local country and folk singer and guitarist, but she had never played in a rock band. The others that I got together were reggae and heavy metal fans and Jan knew nothing at all about that kind of music. But finally we got a basic band together, Jan and Raymond on guitars and Andy on drums. Nobu, a Japanese boy living at Gesundheit that summer who had serious rock star aspirations but was a terrible musician, was on bass. But he looked good and we named the ensemble "Music Therapy" and the three women backup singers which included Carol, the "Chanterelles", after the mushrooms which had just appeared again like magic in our garden. The new Gesundheit building became a rehearsal studio at night and practice started in earnest three weeks before the date that the show was to take place. "Music Therapy" must have broken up and reformed ten times during that intense month leading up to the Big Gig. I often privately had doubts about the validity of my theory. Picking the right material was very difficult. Jan was willing and eager and could sing and play the guitar but mostly only knew weepy country standards. But she wrote some nice songs of her own while Raymond only wanted to perform the Bob Marley Songbook and his own thrash metal compositions like "Death King" and "Monsters of War". Poor Nobu kept on looking good in tight jeans and leather but had difficulty playing the simplest bass patterns. The "Chanterelles" surprised us all and sounded really good, Carol had a real feel for harmony singing and would sing anything given to her.

"Paradise Club #4" was held on September 25th and featured a young local actor David. He did a rather risqué comic turn which everyone, to my surprise, enjoyed and applauded. Condoms were apparently a bit too real while openly sexual jokes were quite permissible . Glenn, our excellent local mime and clown premiered his new act which featured him on a hobbyhorse. He was as brilliant as ever although he felt acutely upstaged and threatened by young David and I had to practically threaten him to go on at the last moment. Ah, these sensitive, insecure artistes!

"Music Therapy featuring the Chanterelles provided the dance music at the end of the evening and didn't do at all badly considering. For about six songs towards the end of their act, they really kicked in and sounded tight. The singers were fabulous, Nobu looked every inch a star although he still couldn't play the bass and everybody danced like crazy. I couldn't help but notice a young woman introduced as Catherine who arrived really late but danced until the end. She kept herself to herself but was pretty good dancer. It was a memorable night at the Paradise Club and I felt that my theory had been well vindicated.

Then a solution suddenly materialized for our living arrangement problem. Craig, who had got his house habitable but who was still living in Ohio, offered it to Carol until he and Brenda had their baby and could move to West Virginia. It was a perfect arrangement for us and Carol packed up her possessions, moved down the road to Bruffey's Creek Road and into Craig's house. Lest she should ever say that I had come out of the marriage better than she, I gave her my good little Subaru Station wagon. Her own VW Bug wasn't too reliable. Two days later, she ran the Subaru into a truck while taking a corner on the wrong side of the road. It was only a quiet country lane and she wasn't going very fast but the Subaru was a complete write off.

So, feeling decidedly relieved but rather shell-shocked, I found myself single again. I didn't have a penny but that wasn't an unfamiliar experience. It was obviously time to review my options once more. Brother Philip called from England to ask me to come back and see the family and that seemed like a good idea. And my friend Jennifer, a long-time faithful correspondent, invited me to come and visit her in Texas where I'd never been, which sounded intriguing.

In mid-October, old friends of Kristin's and mine, Steve and Debbie, came to visit from New Jersey and brought their new baby, Jonathan, with them. We all went out for the day and drove up to Cass, a little old village where history was faithfully preserved and where an old steam train took passengers up into the hills to look at the incredible Fall foliage. We had a fun day together and took the train ride although the trees. But they didn't look as beautiful as they did back on Lobelia Road.

That night, Phil came by and asked me to come to a "Stratton Alley" rock n' roll gig at a little bar near Lewisburg called the Oakwood Inn. I wasn't terribly keen to go out but Phil said that he needed help with the sound engineering and that it would do me good to get out of the house. I really wasn't interested in another night of rock n' roll but Phil was insistent. Later that night, I found myself at the Oakwood, mixing sound for the band and telling myself yet again that this wasn't my kind of music and that I ought to be home in bed with a good book. I was sort of twitching to the music as I stood there when I noticed that young woman Catherine again, dancing right in front of me. I've always loved to dance, couldn't resist dancing next to her and pretty soon we were dancing together. One thing lead to another and soon, when the band took a break, we sat down and started to talk together. I realized that Catherine was really nice, very friendly and extremely bright. She was a little overweight I thought and I wasn't particularly attracted to her at first, but I did like talking to her. I found out that she was a Vista volunteer and was working at the local domestic violence shelter in Lewisburg for a year. We spent the rest of the night dancing and hanging out together and made a date for her to come to my house the following day to go for a walk together. Things were looking up again.

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