That Picture My Wife Did Of My Stuff

My wife Kimberly did this painting, His Stuff, in 2003, during our year living in Moscow, Idaho. It was a new place, and we didn't know a lot of people. We had no children. Things were kind of slow.

Wifey thought it would be nice to set up a still life to work from, the same way some people think it would be nice to let a jigsaw take over a table for a little while. The objects chosen for the painting are all just things that have to do with me. There is no greater philosophical unity to the piece beyond "his stuff".

Lemme tell you 'bout these things.

The airplane in the background is a United States Army Air Corps C-47 (military version of the DC-3). The white stripes on the wings and fuselage are marks that every Allied aircraft in Europe got for D-Day and beyond. When I was a sophomore in high school I worked at an amazing used book store in Arlington, Massachusetts, and I homeschooled. I was living the dream. My mom let me take over an entire room for myself as a study. Inside the room I created a little fortress using bookcases and a table. Books on military history were piled everywhere. Military maps were tucked into odd places. Books on World War Two predominated. I had found a book in which each page was a tear-out poster of a different warplane, with side, front, and top view illustrated. There was a Zero and a Val and a Hurricane and a Bf-109 and a Flying Fortress. The walls were covered. The F4U Corsair had pride of place, of course, since it's so much better than the P-51 Mustang.

When we moved to Florida I boxed the posters up. I don't remember if they were in our apartment in Florida before Kimberly and I went to Idaho, or if they were in my parents' house. Two had survived the college years. I put them on foamboard for durability's sake. I took them to Idaho. Of course, I have no idea where they are now.

My favorites, I'm sure, were the first to go. The C-47 is a cargo plane, which is hardly exciting. It made it all the way to 2003, and perhaps beyond. I was born in 1978, and I've seen DC-3s in active civilian use with my own eyes. That poster, by dint of the plane it portrayed, deserved to last longest.

The book on the bottom, the green one, is a Kenneth Roberts book. I read all his novels, and still occasionally reread Rabble in Arms and Northwest Passage. They're all that's best about New England. They helped forge my American identity. I love Kenneth Roberts. And I hate the book pictured in the painting. Much of Roberts' writing is set during the Revolution. Oliver Wiswell is the only one set outside of New England, and the only one with a Tory protagonist. It's mind-numbingly boring.

Kimberly, however, did not care. That was the book she wanted in the painting. She does this sort of thing often to me.

Lemme tell you a little story, lemme give you a little example. She likes to hang her paintings up around the house for a while, just so she can decide if she likes them, if she's finished with them. Early on in our marriage, when we were still learning our way around the sacred bower of our marital bed, she hung a painting of a saggy wrinkled old woman over our bed. It was a nude. When I mentioned that it troubled me, she was offended. The piece was, in her opinion, technically excellent. That thing hung over me for months.

So even though I disliked Oliver Wiswell, it was going into the painting.

The compact disk case at the front is Midnight Songs in Time of War by The Wednesdays, a Christian punk rockabilly thing I had stumbled across and loved.

I liked every single song on the album, and rockabilly wasn't even my thing. The last non-secret track (remember secret tracks?) on the album was the best version of The Battle of New Orleans you'll ever hear. You know, the one that goes "Well, in 1814 we took a little trip up with Colonel Jackson to the mighty Mississip. We took a little bacon and we took a little beans, and we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans." That one.

The album cover featured that iconic shot of an East German soldier, Conrad Schumann, escaping into the West during the construction of the Berlin Wall, while it was still a barbed wire checkpoint. Thirty-seven years after escaping, and a year before the album came out, Schumann hung himself in his orchard.

Kimberly chose albums that I loved, but picked books I had little interest in keeping. The beige book was Walter Duranty's I Write As I Please.  It's a reporter's man-on-the-scene account of Allied interference in the Russian Civil War after World War One. Boy, did Walt love the Soviets. Later on he would write a defense of Stalin's purges. I chose that one for the painting because I liked the title. The red book was a collection of writings from great military leaders of yore, published in 1943. I remember that Hitler was included in the anthology. So not so much "of yore". I hope I still have the beige one stored away somewhere. I can't find it.

The pipe was a little Dr. Grabow that I'd picked up in Idaho. I'd gone out there for school. I was in my mid-twenties, hanging with eighteen-year-olds, studying Wheelock's Latin and playing Everquest. Although raised a pseudo-pentecostal Baptist, I had never had any issue with alcohol. I was a lover of beer. I could drink beer. These kids couldn't, at least, not legally. But they could, and did, smoke pipes. It had never even crossed my mind to try tobacco. I hopped on board. I was still a dabbler, and would remain so for years, but the fire that would eventually be stoked into a YouTube bonfire was first lit then, and immortalized in this painting.

The bowl of that pipe is currently tucked into my desk, second drawer on the right-hand side. I eventually gnawed a little hole the stem, causing it to crack. Maybe one day I'll get a new one.

The shades cost me five bucks. They were brown and yellow instead of black, and made my 25-year-old self feel young. And badass. Let's not forget badass.

The red album is Belle & Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister. It was the first Belle & Sebastian album I'd ever heard, freshman year of college in 1996. I hung out at The Common Grounds right when they moved into that place next to the wing place, where 1982 is now. They moved out of there fifteen years ago, but in '96 they'd just arrived. The older people there, who were, like, thirty (!), liked the Pixies and The Smiths. The slightly less older people, those who were more than twenty, liked Blur and Belle & Sebastian. I thought the Pixies and Blur were okay, but I loved The Smiths and Belle & Sebastian. I was playing basketball and hanging at Baptist Campus Ministries by day, and by night I was writing poetry and being twee as a mother-effer.

I had Belle & Sebastian on constant rotation when Kimberly met me. I got a job tending bar at the same place, and after getting off work at three or four in the morning I'd pedal up to the house on the old property of North Central Baptist Church, where I and some other guys lived rent-free in exchange for doing some landscaping. When I got home I'd call her. This was before I told her we were going to marry whether she liked it or not and she told me to get lost. She loved it when I called at four in the morning.

The second record was a musician I'd just started getting into at the time the painting was done. The record is Lyle Lovett's Anthology Volume One: Cowboy Man. The record included the song L. A. County. I had moved out to Idaho in 2002 without my wife. I'd left her with my parents while I "got things ready". I was lonely and got a kitten. The kitten and I would sit on the bare wood floor in the empty house late, late at night, late enough for Laura Ingraham to come on a talk radio station in 2002. What a warm voice that woman had. At that time, for reasons obscure, her show opened with L. A. County. It seemed the perfect song for the time of night, and definitely was a right song for my mood. I like to think that I enjoyed Lyle Lovett before I met Laura Ingraham's voice, but I can't deny that it was our nights together that made me passionate about Lyle. The cat's name was Brerie. After we moved back to Florida she disappeared. Kimberly remembers her as a great cuddler, I remember her as a stone cold killer of lizards.

Those, ladies and gentlemen, are the objets in the objet d'art. If you have not known me for fifteen years, you know me better now. And I hoped you enjoyed reading this, because I might do a couple more of Kimberly's portrayals of me.

It's good practice for my memoir.


  1. Thanks for sharing. I was using Wheelock's Latin in class a few years ago. My professor said we would be the last class to use it as the layout was getting a bit dated.

  2. Great Story, Great albums! I have always loved planes, my grandpa flew as a gunner in WWII and worked for Grumman aircraft after the military.

  3. Dude, I heartily agree with your ranking. Nothing beats an F4U-1D, unless of course you're lucky enough to score an F4U-4.


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