Living in a Painting

So, back in the early 1990’s, I hung out with the backroom guys in that law firm in Seattle, and I saw more of Mohammed’s paintings. Ambrosavage, the cartoonist, spoofed office life and dipped into political satire. “My sister’s in the FBI,” he said. “Don’t want to get carried away.” Ambrosavage drank constantly and encouraged everyone else to join him. We admired it, but couldn’t ever quite keep up.

On weekends, Mohammed painted more and more sprays of color, more figures of women reclining, more ladders connecting land and sky, more airplanes. I’d go visit his house where he and his wife Marcia, a solid socialist who was a kindred soul of my husband Gary’s, lived on Beacon Hill in Seattle. Mohammed worked in an unheated garage set against the hillside and we’d sit in there with a portable heater blowing. I’d sit on a stool and watch him paint. We’d drink beer and point to the images. “Like ’em?” Mohammed would say. Then he’d grin. Sometimes, at dinner, he’d goof around and pretend to poke a fork in his eye. The prongs would bounce off the lens of his glasses. Continue reading “Living in a Painting”

The Backroom

Q: What do you get when a painter, cartoonist, under-employed lawyer and a poet work in the back room of a flopped legal office?

A: Beer for lunch

At first, I heard the slamming of metal and rubber stamps, the stapler and some weird ass laughter. When I passed to and from my little office in the back room of that law firm in the Darth Vadar tower, I’d smile to the little group that worked at the table. They’d look up and say something like, “Hey, are ya having fun yet?”

After a few days, one of the guys came to my doorway.

“Hi there,” he said. “I heard you are a poet.” He put out a hand to the door frame.

“Yup,” I said. “I am.”

“Well, I am a painter.” He said it in a nice way, not braggy or obnoxious. It was like he was saying, “I work here too.”

I looked him over. A small man, brown-skinned, with round spectacles. He smiled and started fiddling with the zipper on his coat.

“Cool. I’d love to see what you’re up to—”

And the guy pulled a plastic sheath of slides from his jacket. “Here are some paintings,” he said. “See what you think.”

“Spring, Impatient Spring,”  1990.

Okay, seriously. If someone asks me to read his novel or something, I try to remain cheerful but I brace myself for drivel. But, when I held the slides under the desk lamp, I felt my blood surge. I inhaled too fast and coughed. The little squares gleamed with color. Figures of airplanes, ladders, big outlines of balls burst from the tiny frames. One had an image of two women, seated. Their hair became part of a garden with birds and planters and swirls of color.


The painter’s name was Mohammed Daoudi. And he introduced me to his friends. One was a cartoonist, John Ambrosavage, and the other was a young guy who had passed the bar but couldn’t find work. One of my friends, the writer Matthew Stadler, sold him a car for a hundred bucks. They chattered more than Mohammed did.

And, they all drank beer at Bakeman’s, the famous old lunch place on Cherry Street. White bread, turkey gravy, beer. A few times I joined them. In that stewy, vinyl upholstered place, I started to envision Mohammed’s homeland. We were a long way from Morocco. But, something in those paintings beckoned me away from the law firm, away from Seattle and my chilly, green landscape. I could start to see myself inside all those flashes of red.