The drawing appears to be an intimate portrait of my father in the shower. Above the image is the logo of the Lathrop Insurance Agency of Westerly, Rhode Island, which would put us in Watch Hill for a few weeks in the summer of 1961. I remember nothing of Watch Hill beyond the improbable episode of being bitten by a pelican in some sort of local petting zoo, but the drawing is memorable for the anguish it provoked and significant because my father actually framed it and had it hanging in his bathroom until the day he died. I can no longer remember whether I or my brother drew the portrait. Over the years I've managed to convince myself that my brother did it, but in all probability it was my work, as I was the “artistic” one, even then.
Some time after we returned to New York that summer this snippet turned up and my father asked which of us had made it. Dad's delivery could often seem a bit forbidding – a trait I admit to having inherited – and a perfectly simple question could easily become fraught with dark implication by its tone alone. Thus, the two of us glanced briefly at one another and I waited, as I always did, for my brother to speak first. Being older and therefor wiser, and given that the image in question focused on my father's crotch, my brother quite appropriately denied having anything to do with it. Sensing trouble and taking my cue from him, I, too, demurred. At this we were led upstairs to my father's study, made to sit side by side on a low, embroidered prayer-bench and told that we would remain there under incessant interrogation until one of us told the truth. This was the incipient moment from which my father developed his theory that the lie superseded the act, a theory we would reject time and time again in ensuing years, opting always for the lie first and the grim truth as a last resort. On this sad afternoon we were steadfast; neither gave an inch as the hours crept by, despite our mother's frequent, sobbing transits through the room an my own wet pants. This ordeal, of course, resolved and, though I've blocked the facts of it, I suspect my brother may have confessed – rightly or wrongly – in order to end the stand-off and proceed to the whipping.
In my work as a house painter my partners and I are often compelled to move furniture around. I'm rarely shocked anymore by what these maneuvers turn up, but you'd think people might make an effort to inventory their intimacies prior to our arrival in order to avoid that sinking feeling upon realizing they'd left the spicy little devil-suit under the California King. I've come upon at least two of these in my career: one complete with horns, pitch-fork and a label that read “Fredrick's of Hollywood”. Before the computer age brought erotica into every household I'd routinely discover stacks of Playgirl and Penthouse amidst the dust-bunnies and detritus and these discoveries couldn't help but change the way we regarded our clients.On one occasion, forced to remove the drawers from an impossibly heavy bureau, we discovered each drawer packed with thousands of erotic, Polaroid selfies. So prodigious a cache, in fact, that one was forced not only to reflect on one's own paltry sex-life, but to wonder where on earth these people found the time and energy to create such a massive trove. Perhaps they were only pausing, briefly and breathlessly, to have their apartment painted; although, it must be said, very little painting got done that afternoon.
Yesterday Harper cornered a porcupine in the hedgerow along the cove. I was fussing with something on the mower and noticed the dog fixated on a spot in the gorse. I figured it was a tennis ball somehow out of his reach and eventually went over to fetch it for him. There, wedged between bayberry and rugosa and only a few inches from Harper's muzzle was the sleek, salt and pepper back of a young hedgehog. Curled up like that and facing away from Harper, she was about the size of a soccer ball, presenting her back and protecting her tender bits. Grabbing his collar, I dragged the dog back to the house and picked up a shovel, the first thing that came to hand on my way back down the hill. I prodded at the poor thing, not at all sure what I was going to do, what I was capable of doing. She turned in her logy, sleepy way to face me and our eyes met. She had beautifully soft, brown, Beatrix Potter eyes. And there we stood, sharing an intimacy that must only exist between the executioner and the condemned while, from behind me, Suzanne gently intoned, “You're only protecting your dogs. You're only protecting your dogs....”