We are lived by powers we pretend to understand.
— W. H. Auden
I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.
— Christopher Isherwood
A persistent shimmer sears my clenched eyelids: my fitful slumber violated. Out a south-facing window, Saturday’s excess of sun mottles the nodding spines and lax foliage of Mimmu’s fig bushes. Finally and fully wrecked, my assaulted sleep abdicates to an obstinate sun. I am me, awake.
Hauling my contorted person from the wad of stale bedclothes, I adjust to a vague spasm from the prior night’s drubbing. I stand or attempt to, determining the naked Giacometti teetering in the mirror is myself, erect, a waving limb marking daylight and shadow, hardly different from the fig branches out my window.
My senses wrangle to parse space and time, trying to devise a semblance of a here and a now, other stirrings imposing an unheralded order on the swirl of bright and dim. A young man, maybe seventeen, fair as a Persian prince smiles the other side of the pane. Possibly, I was dreaming.
Precipitously I awaken fully. All of the light is forced out of the moment as the boom of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances crackles and bellows a crushing racket from a warped speaker of a tiny radio in the barn where I presume Mimmu is awake and working.
Grabbing Mimmu’s robe, a billow of paisley silk, scarlets, greens, and blacks envelopes my skin and bones nearly twice around. At a glance, I am a rococo Christmas ornament endeavoring to locate the door to greet the young man who I begin to recall through my self-wrapping and travel to the door.
He is one Augustu “Gus” Matranga. Mimmu and I met him a week prior at Club Scheherazade. The Persian prince took heed of Mimmu down front, alone sketching Big Bettye as she extemporized the whisper of a melody over the piano man’s fingertips, glancing seemingly above the white and black keys at the Scheherazade. The place transformed: no longer a hazy dive but for a solitary moment, even the stale smells of old beer and wet cigarette butts became those of incense and bees’ wax candles.
In the year I have known Mimmu and the months I have cohabited with him at his farm, he sometimes abruptly walks away from me to sketch on a napkin, to take a note about something he has observed, or simply to study a thing like a variety of plant or tree or the moon in the daylight sky. I gleaned early on in our friendship his taking small vacations from normal social interaction as the cost of romantic involvement with a visual artist. Rather than feeling disclaimed, I love his egresses from “normal life.” I love how Mimmu is so in love with the world. It is part of loving him.
In the bar, Mimmu sketched on an assortment of bar napkins pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle on the cramped circular bar table. From across the room where I sat, I watched Mimmu work oblivious to the crowd, the smoky room, and the dark chiseled, half-boy, half-man who followed Mimmu’s every line as the older brawnier man recorded his impressions with a stubby pencil on a sometimes uncooperative cocktail napkin.
Danny Cinquemani, one of the regular toughs always at the Scheherazade, barged up to Mimmu, slapping him on the back. Cinquemani was oblivious to Mimmu’s endeavor. Mimmu, nearly always good-humored, laughed and cajoled a moment with the gangster, then immediately returned to his work.
When Bettye had finished her set and the club resumed its usual cacophony of bottles, glasses, and guffaws, I stepped across the room to join Mimmu at his bar-table-turned-easel. As I crossed in Mimmu’s direction, the young man turned to me.
“He’s amazing,” he said.
“Yes, he is,” I replied. “Why don’t you join us? I’ll introduce you.”
“Oh, thank you.”
We both stepped up to Mimmu, and I said to him, “It seems you have a fan. Mimmu Finocchiaro, this is…I’m sorry I don’t know your name.”
“Oh, sorry, I’m Gus Matranga…Mr. Finocchiaro, I’m so pleased to meet you. I love your work.”
“Well, you, young man, have the name of an artist far greater than my meager talents. Are you a relation of Dante Matranga?”
“Yes, he was my father’s cousin. He’s why I am here, not here in the bar but here in the world. He’s somewhat responsible for my existence.”
It seems Gus’s father was Dante Matranga’s helper painting the murals at Saint Joseph’s Church. The woman who was to become Gus’s mother worked at the church.
Gus Junior attended St. Bonaventure High School and was to start a full scholarship to Georgetown in the fall.
“A radical jump,” Mimmu jibed, “from the Franciscans to the Jesuits!”
The younger man laughed out loud…
Click here to read the entire story on Ovunque Siamo.