Monday, September 04, 2006

Bagels, Skulls, and a Motorcycle

I’m waiting in line at my local bagel shop to pick up breakfast. I’m slightly aggravated due to the three people in front of me who have difficulty ordering bagels and then walking over to the counter to pay. It’s simple, really, but I guess certain people like complexity in their lives. To top it off they are now paying with a credit card. The ordering line is now intermixing with the waiting to pay line and these three in front of me are oblivious to the chaos they created. I wait patiently even though I can see my bagel neatly wrapped behind the counter, just waiting to be placed in a brown bag and then into my hands. I even have exact change. The credit card receipt is being spit out of the register.

While all this is transpiring, an old man walks through the jumbled lines. He has a scraggly white beard and is wearing a black and white striped blazer that while not unfashionable, hangs off his bony shoulders indiscriminately. He has a genial nature and a friendly voice. Somehow, he does not look nearly as disheveled as he should. He’s trying to give the cashier some money but the cashier is busy working the credit card machine. He looks at me and immediately reaches into the canvas bag draped over his shoulder. Out of the bag he produces a photocopy of a newspaper or magazine article containing a large picture of a human skull. I assume the picture is from Darfur or some war zone somewhere. He shows me the picture.

“You like skulls?” he asks looking down at my t-shirt. I am wearing a black tee with a skull on it. “That looks drawn on. Not a real skull.”

I am about to explain to him that the shirt represents a gang from the film The Warriors but he continues. “What’s that say? 'Rogues'? And there is a skull in 'Rogues'. You have two skulls drawn in.”

“Yeah,” I respond noting that the O in 'Rogues' is indeed a skull.

“My next painting is going to have skulls. Bush with skulls at his feet.”

I nod my head approvingly, indicating interest in the project.

“Bush and Cheney on a motorcycle in the desert with skulls on the ground and the Iranian oil fields burning behind them. What do you think of that?”

Finally, the credit card is signed and the three people leave. The old man pays for his breakfast. This gives me a moment to reflect on his next painting. I wonder if Bush and Cheney will be on the same motorcycle or each straddling their own hog. The old man turns back to me.

“I like it” I say. “But why the motorcycle?”

He laughs good-naturedly. A glint forms in his eyes, a glimmer of a past memory. “During Vietnam I drew a protest poster of Lyndon Johnson on a motorcycle. Sold for a dollar each, they did. They were big prints. 45 inches. Sold all of them quickly. Wish I still had one.”

He sips his coffee, bids me good day, and exits the bagel shop.