(Photo stolen from rynie on Flickr)
I majored in graphic design in college, and, while I no longer draw or paint, there was a time I did a lot of artsy-fartsy things, poorly. But I had never learned to paint with water colors.
"Really?" asked Nick, as I drove us home to his house from wherever we'd been that night. "You've never tried water colors? Well, I'm pretty good at it," he boasted. "We should paint tonight." The opportunity to do something creative and childish in the middle of the night was just too much to pass up, so I agreed. Nick disappeared into his closet to find his art supplies; he emerged with paints and brushes, but no paper. We looked everywhere for a substitute, with no luck.
"Let's try Safeway," I suggested. A brand new Safeway had opened near us recently, and it was, at that time anyway, open all night. Since it was after 1:00 a.m. or later, Safeway was as good as we were going to get. So back into the car we went, and we putted over to Safeway for paper.
Up one aisle and down another, no water color paper to be had. I would have been shocked to find real water color paper, but I was surprised that the nearest substitute we could find was typing paper. So, with no better option, we picked up the typing paper and got into line. The store manager himself was at the helm of the only open cash register. I don't know why he was there at that hour, but he didn't look too pleased about it. There were a few people in line ahead of us.
Nick was very interested in some ugly ball caps hanging by the register, and he tried one on. Nick was somewhat drunk, but it was a condition I was used to. There under the glare of the fluorescent lights in the pristine new store, Nick's buzz was glaringly inappropriate. And I came to understand two things simultaneously: the cranky store manager was watching us, and Nick was going to steal one of those caps.
At first I thought I was just reading Nick wrong. He wouldn't really steal, would he? Of course not. He was just a little drunk and very silly, and probably needling me. But the manager didn't see it that way, I could tell. He had his eye on us.
Nick was busy bending the bill of the cap the way he liked it. "Nick, you're bending it," I said.
"Yeah, it's better this way." I knew he didn't have much money, and wasn't foolish enough to buy an ugly cap he didn't need, so why on earth would he bend it all up? Unless . . .
"You're not getting that hat," I stated flatly, as if I had any control.
"Yes, I am," he purred. One nice thing about Nick: he argued with a smile on his face and a bedroom voice.
"Then you'll be walking home," I said, knowing that he knew that I knew he intended to steal the hat, not buy it. After some more posturing by Nick and the pretense that he no longer liked the hat, it went back on its hook. The watchful manager rang up the paper and we left without incident.
(Photo stolen from jabmechtech on Flickr)
Back at Nick's house we broke out the paper and the paints. Nick gave me a few tips about how to use water colors, none of which I remember and all of which were probably wrong anyway. We turned on a little music and sat on his bedroom floor, painting happily. Having no idea what I was doing, I sketched a piano in pencil, then splashed on a little paint. As we worked Nick told me that he had once been offered $3000 for his study of a flower in a window; recalling P.T. Barnum's mantra I simply nodded and kept working. I was really enjoying myself, and even though my piano painting was awful, I went over it with ink pen for some texture once it had dried. I was completely absorbed.
A silence in the room made me look up. Nick was staring at my hideous painting with a baleful expression. "What?" I asked.
"You're really good," he said sadly. (Read: You're better than I am at something -- ANYTHING.) I looked down at the unfortunate rendering. "You're kidding, right? This stinks, Nick!"
"No, you're talented," he said, and just like that the fun was over. We cleaned up the paints and called it a night.
Nick loved to teach me things -- darts, pool, liars dice. We made a great team at bar games when he called the shots and I did what he told me to. But if I were to outdo him in any way, it was no longer fun for him. His volleyball game was in no danger of being shown up by me, nor were his surfing skills. But I had beaten him in the arts without even trying. We never painted together again.
And I never took him into Safeway again, THAT'S for sure.