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20. My Covid Adventure

Adventures have a beginning and mine began with a request for a day off from work to attend a 9:00am New Member Artist Group Meeting on a Friday morning.

Any request for time off at my job is usually met with some kind of crushing reprisal. On this occasion I was scheduled to work from 1:00 to 10:00 pm for the three days prior to my day off, which meant getting home at 11:00 o’clock every night and going to bed close to 1:00am.

I arrived at my 9:00 o’clock meeting half asleep. The meeting was a blur, but more importantly I felt I was about to have a major breakdown, a significant crash. It came two days later when I couldn’t get out of bed and called in sick for work. A couple of days later I began having a persistent cough. I called in sick again in order to give myself a week to rest. In the year I had worked at my new job I had taken only one sick day off, so this was new territory. 

A few of days into my week of rest I began having chills. The first bout started one evening around 6:30pm. I shivered so much that I had all I could do to pile on a sweat suit, a hooded sweatshirt, slippers, a fleece hat and a down jacket. I sat in my reading chair until the shaking stopped. 

Tylenol helped mitigate the chills, but ultimately resulted in uncontrollable sweating. This was the pattern for several days. Sometimes my shivering began in the morning and repeated later in the evening. Shivering and sweating, shivering and sweating. That was the routine and it was exhausting. What made it worse was that I was getting weaker. I didn’t realize how dehydrated I had become. It got to the point where I felt I wouldn’t survive if this continued. 

Finally my sister intervened and insisted I visit a doctor at City MD in Manhattan.

When you call the office they tell you that you can get a Covid test after having an “interview” with a doctor. 

It was a Tuesday morning when I decided to pick myself up and walk the 10 blocks from my home to the City MD office. 

The only problem was that picking myself up wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be. I was far weaker than I realized. 

I used to run and cycle long distance. When you train for events like that you engage your brain in ways not always apparent to you at the time. I drew on that mental discipline Tuesday morning as I tried to get dressed. 

“You will get up now, find your socks and put them on,” I told myself. Sounds simple.

Ten minutes passed and I told myself the same thing. Finally, I got my socks on. Then it was on to pants and a shirt and shoes. All of it took a very long time. 

Now I was ready to walk the ten blocks to City MD, twice almost falling down my lobby stairs. 

It took me a total of five hours to get to City MD, where I got to see a doctor. I told him what I had been experiencing and that I came to get a Covid test. 

“We don’t have any Covid tests,” the doctor told me. 

I feel certain that if I had been a little closer to the doctor and a lot stronger I would have attacked him. I was beside myself with anger. 

“Do you mean to tell me that I spent 5 hours getting here and you have no Covid tests? That is not what your receptionist said.”

They rebuffed me and there was nothing I could do. If they didn’t have the test my anger wouldn’t change anything. 

They began taking measurements: my temperature, my blood pressure and my blood oxygen levels. They told me they wanted to take X-rays of my chest. I acquiesced. I didn’t care. I felt half dead. 

20 minutes later they told me I had pneumonia and called my pharmacy with two prescriptions.  

As I slowly began putting my clothes back on I addressed the doctor once again. 

“I have to say how disappointed I am that you have no Covid tests.” I said.

The doctor looked at me and said, “What do you think this is?”

“What do you mean?” I responded.

“This is Covid,” the doctor said. “that’s what this is.”

In the week that passed the medicine I took for my pneumonia helped a great deal. The chills stopped and so did the bouts of sweating. I napped a lot and spent most of my time in bed. I have no idea when I will have the energy to return to work. I take one day at a time. 

Conclusion: It took six weeks for me to get better and I now have antibodies. Donating plasma may come next.

19. Point and Shoot

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                            North Woods, Central Park (Abstracted)

Post-op

In time I found a decent job designing kitchens, but the hours were terrible. It was a schedule good for a hermit. Luckily this hermit had a guitar and the music of Bach to play on it. There came a day however when, thanks to a shakeup in management, I got laid off. I had just had hernia surgery and was happy to have the time to heal. It was December of 2009 and I cashed in some kitchen vendor points to get a tiny Canon point and shoot camera. The Powershot was my first digital camera and I took it with me on my convalescent winter walks in Central Park.

There was a real innocence to those walks, because I no longer thought of myself as a photographer. It had been roughly 15 years since I had taken any photographs, so I took pictures like a beginner. I was just enjoying myself while I recuperated. Then something nice began to happen. I remembered  how much I loved photography and why I pursued it in the first place. My digital camera opened a new world for me, so a sense of excitement started to build. I was also having fun.

I started shooting almost every day and came home to see what I could do with the images in Photoshop. I had been using the program since 1993 and had several versions on my computer. The earliest ones had some very wild filters and tools, so things took on a whole new dimension. The North Woods image above was originally a normal picture of trees, but I modified it into something completely different. I love it, but creating it required a real leap into the void. You can’t create an image like that without going out on a limb, at least I couldn’t. Working in that space is similar to the Jerk mode I mentioned earlier, where every day reality has to be abandoned for a while.

A New Perspective

The more I played with my new photographs, the more I realized my outlook had changed. If making 3D illustrations taught me anything, it was that I had a sense of humor. My black and white landscapes never revealed that. Shooting still life with and 8″ x 10″ camera was too big a production to take lightly. But 3D allowed me to loosen up. Creating a bird cage, a clover castle, or a drunk Absolut bottle on a sidewalk got me to operate with a different part of my brain. My new cerebral real estate opened a perspective which allowed for images like the North Woods. There is no way I would have produced an image like it in the “old days”.

Landscape photography, like the image below,  has always had a grounding and restorative effect on me. It fuels me to try other things. In short, it’s alright to travel if you have a home to come back to. Landscapes are my home. Places like the North Woods are where I go to explore.

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                                     Fall at Rockefeller State Park

18. Life with J.S. Bach

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                                       Gas Pump

Life as a Kitchen Designer

One day my friend Rita told me Home Depot was hiring and that I should apply. I had no idea what Home Depot was. This was going to be their first venture in New York. When I told one of my 3D buddies that I was going to see about a job at HD, he told me that they designed kitchens for the public using a 3D software program. He told me to mention my 3D skills when I applied and I took his advice.

Home Depot hired me and taught me their kitchen design software 20/20. It was fairly simple and easy to learn. After adjusting to the transition from 3D hermit to 20/20 kitchen designer surrounded by lots of people, I became a worker bee.

It was fun designing kitchens and making new friends at Home Depot, but beneath it all I was sad and depressed. I had worked hard to build my studio along with my photography and illustration skills.  Now those things didn’t matter any more. I sold prints of my work here and there and I did get illustration jobs periodically, like the one above, but I felt fundamentally lost.

Gas Pump

First I will tell you the story of my Gas Pump illustration because it’s kind of cool. I was asked to do the cover of a trade publication called “Convenience Store News” and the art director told me she wanted a scene with an old gas pump. I researched gas pumps and found a picture of the one above and then built it in 3D. I thought a lamp by a roadside would provide the elements and mood my art director wanted. Then I added some dirt to illustrate the passage of time and some grass growing by the side of the pump to make the scene look more realistic. The cover illustration did not have the  house or the oil drum and signs. Those came later.

What prompted the house was a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where there was an exhibit of photographs by Walker Evans. He had taken a picture of an old store in the South and he also had pictures of road signs, like one from Route 66.  When I was 18 I  hitchhiked 5000 miles around the United States and had fond memories of Route 66.

After the magazine cover was published, I modified the  image for my portfolio. I added the house, signs, oil drum and tire to give the scene an abandoned look I had seen so often on the road.

J.S.Bach

Despite making images like the one above, I had it in my head that my days of making illustrations were over and I needed to focus on something else. The question was what?

My money situation was not great.  I almost never went to a movie or a restaurant and I avoided my friends because seeing them invariably meant spending.

If I had to withdraw, I decided I would do what I always wanted to do, so I started memorizing the lute music of J. S. Bach on guitar. It is some of the most beautiful music on the planet and, while hard to play, it is also a joy to play.

I had studied classical guitar for five years, but had sold my classical guitar and not played any of that music for a long time. Now, I picked up a copy of Bach’s Lute Works and took out the only guitar I had which had strings light enough to pluck with my right hand. It was my solid body electric Fender Stratocaster, with light gauge metal rock & roll strings. I sat on my bed with my back against the wall and measure by measure began memorizing  pieces I had listened to so often. The only problem was that the metal strings were chewing up my right hand fingers and finger nails.  I wouldn’t be able to sustain this, so I began looking for a new classical guitar. I knew I couldn’t buy one, but I looked anyway. It was soon apparent that I had no idea of what to look for, because it had been so long since I played a nylon string  guitar.

“I Just Sold Ten of Your Prints”

That’s what an art consultant I knew called to tell me.  I suddenly realized I might now have enough money to get an instrument I could play. A guitarist I knew put me in touch with John Lehmann-Haupt, a great classical guitar player, and with his help I found a very nice instrument.

Now I could really start to memorize. My cat, Pookie Bear, always a big music supporter, was usually right next to me. I began with Bach’s 4th Lute Suite, well aware that if I were taking lessons a teacher would never let me begin with the Lute Suites. They reqired too many technical skills.  I didn’t care. I just wanted to immerse myself in Bach. The pieces I composed after my mother died had forced me to improve my technique, consequently I was better equipped to take on this project. If I had started earlier my hands wouldn’t have been ready.

Other Motives

There was another reason I wanted to learn Bach. I wanted to give myself new musical ideas. I felt that if the muse ever returned and I were to compose music in the future, having Bach’s music in my head I would be a great resource to draw on. That said, playing Bach is its own reward.

17. Healing Art

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Games From The Garage: Croquet

Some time on my hands

My studio closed some months after 9/11 and what I couldn’t sell or wanted to keep was put in storage. The studio in which I could produce high quality images was no longer a part of my present or something I could build on for the future. It became something I would look back on and tell stories about going forward.

I felt a need for the kind of solace art often provides and decided to create a new image.

I thought about the croquet set I had as a boy. It was kept in our garage. In fact, all the magical things of my youth seemed to live in our garage. We never had a car, so the garage was used for storage.

“Where’s the this or where’s the that,” I would say. And the answer my mother or father usually gave was, “It’s probably in the garage.”

My croquet set was one of the things I saved from the garage after we sold the house. I kept it in the storage loft of my photography studio and now it was in my apartment sitting on the desk next to the computer. I always wanted to photograph it, but never got around to making that happen. I had learned how to use my 3D tools, though, and as I looked at the box and its contents I decided to create a 3D version of the the photograph I always envisioned. I would build my  croquet set and put it on a sweep of black plexiglass in a virtual environment.

I was inspired. I took calipers and measured all the parts. The sizes were written down and then I laid out everything the way I wanted it to look in the final scene. It was a rough layout. The final one was in my head. This would require total immersion, much like a deep sea dive when you leave your boat and dry land behind.

There must have been mice in the garage, because something had nibbled away at the box. Parts of it were also warped because the air had been damp. With temperature fluctuations as the seasons changed, the dovetails of the box corners were out of alignment too. There was dirt on everything and the croquet gates had developed a patina. Those elements gave the game pieces character.

I began building my models using Form Z software. The shapes were pretty basic: a box, spheres, the gates and mallets. Not so tough. The challenge was to make everything look real and believable.  In 3D everything is perfect. So it was up to me to offset the dovetails. It was up to me to add the wood grain and look of dirt over the “paint” of the balls, mallets and box. I loved the process. It was the closest I had been to my croquet set in many years.

I then brought all the modeled objects into my Electric Image software, because I knew the scene would render most beautifully in that program. One of the big challenges was to create the look of a plexiglass surface for the pieces to sit on. The plexiglass had to have just the right amount of reflection to appear realistic.

It worked. The final image came out just the way I wanted it to and there was great satisfaction in being able to honor this old friend with a portrait, if you will, which captured its essence. I felt unburdened too, because I had wanted to do this project for a long time and I finally got it done. I think it is one of my more successful 3D illustrations.

16. 9/11 and Change

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                                            September 2001

The Setting

In the years prior to  2001 my studio took up the whole side of a floor –  the side that had the only access to a fire escape. One day my landlord was pressured to create public access to the fire escape, so he had to cut my space in half. One side would remain my studio shooting area and the other had my office and darkroom. As I became more involved with 3D illustration I rented out my shooting area and then eventually gave it up, because I stopped using it. I kept the darkroom/office side. My darkroom tenants covered the rent for the darkroom/office area and their presence also provided me with some company.

In 2001 I was doing freelance Photoshop and 3D work. The 3D was usually done for POP, or Point of Purchase, companies where I would build 3D models and sets to show what a newly designed POP unit would look like before it went into production.

9/11

On the morning of September  11, 2001 I was on a bus to such a freelance job in New Jersey. I had worked at the company for several days and when the bus dropped me off all the employeees were out on the front lawn. When I asked what was going on, they pointed to the smoke coming from the World Trade Center off in the distance. The office was in chaos. People didn’t know whether to work, watch the TV news in the manager’s office or leave.  There was no way for me to get back to Manhattan that night so several of us stayed in a hotel room one of the company’s Boston salesmen already had reserved. Joe Soucy and I still speak every year on 9/11.

After 9/11 all my magazine clients retrenched. They brought their artwork needs in house and so, effectively, business stopped for me. My darkroom tenants did something similar. They seemed to vanish overnight. Looking for advice, I called my accountant and asked him what he thought I should do. His answer was: “Close the studio”.

So that is what I did. I sold everything I could – all the darkroom equipment I studiously  bought over many years. I had stored family things in my studio loft and all of it had to come home. I had had my studio for 19 years and now that phase was over. I had no idea what would be next.

Like so many other people, I was in shock. I sat home with boxes everywhere, all taken back from the studio. I sold darkroom enlarger lenses, my motorized Besseler and many other things as best I could.

Then I took my first full time job in 19 years building POP, or Point of Purchase, models in 3D and after six months the company had problems so they let me go. I wasn’t used to having  a full time job, much less loosing one so soon.