Tuesday was a woman intent on enjoying life. She approached every experience literally wide-eyed. The intensity with which she focused on every word I spoke was nearly unbearable. She greeted each joke with sincere laughter, and every sob story with sincere sympathy. This was how she approached everyone, but I was smitten.
I spent most of my free time in Margaret’s and Tuesday’s dorm room, usually at one end of Tuesday’s bunk and she at the other, Saint Janis hovering above her head. The more infatuated with her I became the deeper I disappeared into my black notebook. I wrote about nothing, which is to say that I wrote about Tuesday but in such a cryptic and disjointed way that the notes make no sense thirty years later.
Meanwhile, Margaret grew more infatuated with me and more obsessed with the contents of my black book. “I know you’re writing about me,” she’d say. “I know you love her.” But this wasn’t enough art school drama, so the ladies’ next door neighbor, Connie, developed a crush on Tuesday, too.
And so on any given evening one could find Margaret and Connie making awkward conversation inside Margaret’s mosquito net while Tuesday and I giggled and scribbled from our perch in her top bunk, and all the while the stereo blared and other kids wandered in to hang out for a bit.
Classes were fun. My Introduction to Illustration professor was a frequent contributor to Playboy and was a “that’s what she said” man way before his time: “I like where you’re going with that piece, but you’re being too cautious. Go ahead and hit it hard. That’s what she said.” His other favorite phrase was, “Hey, let’s blow off class today and go to the beach and sleep with somebody.”
Beginning Drawing was okay, but a bit of a drag. The class was designed for students who entered art school unable to draw, which wasn’t my problem. I was (and am) sort of a doodling chimp: I can reproduce an object or photograph relatively well provided that the source material is in front of me.
I learned in this class that this was an accident of birth. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’s Betty Edwards laid out a compelling argument that lefties won the genetic lottery when it comes to drawing, thanks to the right brain controlling the left hand. This is where the spatial problems are solved, and that’s really all that drawing is.
In other words, when I study an eye I see lines and shapes and contrasts, and because my drawing hand is controlled by my right hemisphere it interprets them as such. However, right handers draw with their left hemisphere, the letters and numbers side of the brain. They see the same lines and shapes and shadows, but the left brain says, “Oh, I know that one. That calls for the ‘eye’ symbol. Hand, jot down the football with the circle in it.”
Or something like that. I haven’t read the book since, but I’ve recommended it to countless frustrated drawers (people who draw, not places to store socks). Anyway, my point is that I didn’t pay much attention in Beginning Drawing.
No, my energy was focused on Three Dimensional Design with Pete and Intro to Illustration with That’s What She Said. This was art school — learning about the symbolic power of the diagonal, the strength of the triangle, how to make things pop with a cast shadow. I gave it all I had. That’s what she said.
But the Savannah College of Art and Design was an accredited school, and that meant general eduction — non-art classes. That first quarter I signed up for English just to get it out of the way. Professor Russell Barclay was the instructor, but he was really Russ. All of the instructors at SCAD went by their first names, but some obviously weren’t happy about it. Some wanted the distance and respect that came with a title, but Russ was really Russ.
“SCAD,” he said. “What a terrible acronym. It’s too close to ‘scab.’ When the school earns a reputation people will pronounce each letter, like UCLA. People used to say Ew-Cluh before their ball team earned national attention.”
“What about the Rhode Island School of Design, Russ? That’s the biggest art school in the country and everybody calls it Rizz-Dee.”
“Who said that?” Russ asked, and a student near the back raised his hand. Russ tipped his chair back on two legs, and with a barely perceptible flick of the wrist launched a piece of candy to the kid. He flinched and caught the missile through sheer luck and reflex and Russ laughed. The tone for the quarter was set.
“Okay, there are some things we have to do, but I know you’re artists and not writers. My plan is to make as many of the assignments relative to artistic fields as I can, starting with this one. I want you to pair up and collaborate on a script, I don’t care what about. You can stay here or go have a coffee in the bookstore or sit in the square or the library. Just bring me three pages by one o’clock.”
The pair-up, variations on the same theme since kindergarten: first the friends, then the roommates, then the pretty people. Pair-ups are no place for a neurotic kid with social anxiety, even if he’s unaware that he’s a neurotic kid with social anxiety.
Once the obvious pairings left the room what remained was the Island of Misfit Toys, and I was the Charlie in the Box. Staring at me was Hermey, the dentist elf, but a swarthier version — dark hair, dark eyes, a welcome “let’s pair up” smile and forward posture. I gave him the “sure” grudge, and off we went like a couple of Republican senators in a men’s room.
“What should we write about?”
The next couple of hours passed quickly, the two of us cackling our way through a parody of a seventies medical drama starring Wayne Rogers. The scene opened on a darkened Los Angeles street in the midst of a CHiPs-style car chase that inevitably ends in a horrendous crash. Onloookers rush in to help. “We need a doctor!” someone screams.
Cut to a low angle of a black Chevelle rolling to a stop. A white Tom McAn shoe steps from the car and onto the wet pavement, followed by a ruddy hand gripping an alligator skin doctor bag.
Flash forward. Emergency vehicles crowd the scene. The driver, once near death, sits on the bumper of an ambulance, his thumb bandaged. “You’re lucky someone was on the scene to help,” the paramedic tells him.
“Yeah, who was that guy? Where did he go?”
Cut back to the Chevelle, the white Tom McAns stepping back into the car. Pan up the rust-colored leisure suit to Wayne Rogers’s goofy face. “Larry Spragg, Night Doctor!” he says, and we cut to the title sequence.
Dave and I probably laughed harder at Larry Spragg, Night Doctor than our little scene deserved, but I hadn’t had so much fun with someone since Lee G. I’d met my first true art school friend.