Saturday, December 4, 2010

Trax in Technicolor

"Do you draw people's faces?"

I glanced up, a little surprised by her question.

"Yeah," I answered after a moment. "Yes, I draw people."

"How much do you charge?"

"I don't know. I've never been paid for my drawings before."

She jumped from her seat and sat next to me. "I've been trying to find someone to draw my family. I want someone to draw me, my son and my daughter-- my other two kids are up for adoption. I just got my son back, you know, he was in state custody. And I told him, you stay in school, you stay, because I am going to do everything I can to get you back. Last year, for Christmas, he was in foster care; this year he will finally be home for Christmas. I was paying the state two eighty for child support. Only in America. Only in America do they separate the family. I was adopted from India, by a family in Washington; I know a family in Washington that all of their kids do this," here she made drawing motions with her hand. "They own several businesses now, very successful. Hey, so, you draw people's face?"

"I don't go much for realism these days," I answered quickly. "I am very stylized with my drawings. You can see if you'd like."

I handed her my sketchbook, knowing full well that I did not keep any 'realistic' studies in those pages. It wasn't so much that I couldn't draw realistically; it's that I don't enjoy taking the time to do so all that often. She flipped through page after page of ridiculous drawings, many of which were caricatures of people who didn't exist (not in my life, anyway).

"Ah, very good, good," she got about halfway through what I currently had in my book and handed it back. She continued telling her life story to me, then suddenly grew quiet. Turning to someone else on the train she asked, "Is this 2100 south? Oh, this is my stop. It was nice talking to you."

Bidding her the same, I turned back to my sketchbook and picked out a new crayon color.


I enjoy pulling out a baggie of crayons and baffling the people sitting around me. They rarely say anything, but I can see their eyes slide over my lap occasionally, watching the quick and juvenile strokes I make as they form a bright, almost painful to look at doodle.

Last week I got on a crowded train car, miraculously found a seat, and quickly drew on a note card the image of a tree and a large bird and handed it to the little girl sitting across from me. I imagine that little girl-- though she was quiet and shy-- fully understood the joy of crayons as she watched me make this gift for her.


My grandmother, very recently, gave me well over two hundred new (some gently used) crayons in boxes that she had found around her house. Tonight, when I went over to help her decorate for Christmas, she presented me with yet another large box of 120 crayons that she had found in some dark corner of her home. Somehow I can never find it in me to say, "I have enough." Instead, though I have a perfectly acceptable collection of used crayons in my work bag, I accept the wax sticks of color with a smile and gratitude.


I drew this fellow a few weeks ago while riding the train. The lady sitting across from me tried very hard to hide her interest, but she frequently looked at what I was doing. I still wonder what she would have said if I had followed my curiosity and asked, "so, do you like it or hate it?"

I always wonder what people would do if I took my drawing and gave it to them as I walked off the train.

(What would they do with a quick sketch done in crayon?)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Impromptu Day Off

"Can I spare a dollar?"

Shoulder-length red hair, a mustache, and an overall unkempt appearance suggested that he was a vagrant. It took longer to decipher the incorrect grammar and determine what he was trying to say than it did to appraise his appearance.

"I— I'm sorry," I replied, looking away. "I don't have anything."

These days it's been harder to justify expenditures. Especially since, when I showed up to work this morning, both of the individuals I rely on to feed me projects were working from home and had emailed to say they didn't have anything for me to do.

I worked for half an hour and clocked out.

I wandered aimlessly for a little bit, explored a very small section of the LDS Church property, then headed to the Trax station.

The next train to come, that will decide where I'll go.

It was a University train, so I hopped on and rode up past the stadium. On the way I noted a church marquee stating, "The King lives— and we don't mean Elvis."


All over Salt Lake City I spotted these trees. They bristled with large leaves, like pointed ellipses (or rounded diamonds, if you prefer), that varied in waxy shades of deep green; the trees also bore a small red fruit, perhaps the size of a nickel. I have no idea what kind of tree it is, but I thought it was quite lovely. Maybe I should add botany (the study of plants), or rather dendrology (the study of wooded plants), to my list of things I should pursue in my so-called 'free time.'

I have difficulty coming to grips with the idea that some people can choose one main pursuit and stick to it for the rest of their life.


I made it to campus and started walking. At one point I walked past a group marching in a hairpin oval shape; they were dressed in orange shirts, carried signs on posts, and were all participating in some indiscernible call-and-response yell. I could tell it was English but, for the most part, no matter how I tried I could not quite grasp what they were saying.

It's always a strange feeling to acknowledge that one's own native tongue can seem so horribly foreign.


Eventually I made it to the library, where I proceeded to find the fourth floor in order to examine their book arts exhibit. Whenever I see letterpress work in particular a corner of my heart gets giddy. Someday I will be able to design and print such beautiful work; someday I will fully be able to convey the feel of typography, the richness of paper and ink.



It's amazing how remarkably alone one can be in a crowded area. It seems like nobody wants to pay attention to each other; we all want to follow whatever unspoken law has forbidden us from interacting in public.

All over the University of Utah campus I saw examples of people engaged in hurried conversation with just one other individual, perhaps a quick 'hello, how are you?' to people they cross whom they have met in a different social sphere, but for the most part the masses will sit or stand or walk or brush by each other without so much as a nod or a smile or any sort of recognition that another person is there at all.

On the trains the exact same behavior is repeated.

In grocery stores, in malls, in movie theaters— we are all intently avoiding contact.

Is it some sort of preservation of emotional energy? Is that why we refuse to interact?

I attended an LDS religion class on the campus today; mostly because I knew I'd be able to find a class schedule and I was confident that I would not be kicked out. There, too, I saw the careful social avoidance that has become the hallmark of our society.

Admittedly I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to avoiding social contact; yet, how much more interesting could life be if we tried to make this world a less intensely individualistic place? How much bother could it really be to smile at someone, to make some sort of comment, to attempt to break just the tiniest bit from the social grind?

Sometimes changing pace can be the best cure for depression.

While Matt (see former post) didn't teach me anything new, he certainly stands as an example of something that could become socially acceptable. Perhaps it is an experiment we could try; perhaps we could change our own attitudes about the world simply by trying to change the way others notice and perceive what is around them.


On the ride home I noted one thing I did not recall on the trip up. That was this: Jimmy John's sandwich shop. A neon sign posted in their window proudly advertised 'free smells,' and the rotating double-scoop ice cream cone above their logo was painted completely black.

Almost makes me wonder if the owner of the place has that sort of humor sense, or if it were done for convenience.

Maybe, on another day off, I'll stop and find out.

Friday, October 29, 2010

An Introduction

I almost made it to 33rd before I realized that I had forgotten my security card.

Rummaging through the pockets of my bag I discovered that I had also lost my UTA pass, and there was nothing for it: I had to go back four stations, get in my car, then drive back home. As the train slowed to a stop at the Millcreek Station I stood, exited, and called my boss to say that I would be late. He was understanding, mentioned that there really wasn't any work for me to do that day, and offered the option of not bothering to come in at all. Truth of the matter is, I'm just an intern; they've been getting by without my help for years.

Still, there were a few things I could do at the office; besides, I needed to go in to the travel department and get a replacement for my lost UTA pass.

A couple of hours later I was back on the train and headed into downtown Salt Lake City.

Matt (or so he introduced himself later) got on the train at least one station after I did, settled his bike into the stairwell, then made some unnoticeable comment. I was absorbed in paying attention to how much more the train seemed to bounce and sway now that there weren't as many people on it, as compared to rush hour. My pencil skittered unsteadily over the surface of my sketchbook.

"Must take a lot of practice, to draw on a train." Matt smiled, nodding toward my doodles.

"Keeps my mind occupied," I replied, intending the conversation to stop there. He, apparently, had different ideas.

"Are you a student?"


"Oh, what are you interested in?"

"Everything." That was mostly true, but perhaps leaning toward hyperbole.

"Everything, huh? Do you really mean that you have an interest in everything? I mean, I have interest in math but I don't like to do it."

The conversation drifted toward opinion, psychology, and social expectations; he mentioned he was of a radical political view, that people seem to be afraid of each other, that society is compartmentalizing and causing us all to pursue a single expertise rather than a broad knowledge, that he enjoyed writing and drawing — I mentioned standing to face the rear of elevators (an infraction of unspoken social rule) and the assumed reality of perception.

Here it seemed that I had met a 'Great Trax Conversationalist;' the kind of person who, without the obvious aid of mental illness, honestly wanted to engage a complete stranger (a stranger in a public space, no less) in a discussion about anything and everything that would come to mind. The kind of person I find interestingly bemusing.

He exited one station before I did, just after we finally got around to introducing ourselves to each other.

Jane, one of the world's most valuable secretaries (right up there with Ro, the secretary of my art department at Uni), told me yesterday that the angels must have kissed me. At least, that was the translation of the Swedish word; she couldn't remember the English for 'dimples' at the time. So, I tried to say the Swedish word; German training notwithstanding, I couldn't quite get it right. She told me to give her another word, she'd tell me the Swedish for it, and I could try again.

Pickle. "Gurrrrken."

I was dismayed. "I can't roll my r's."

"Arrr!" she smiled. "Like a pirate. Arrr. That's the sound the Finnish use to train their children. Put your tongue in the r position and blow air hard across it. You try that, practice that, you will be able to roll your r's in no time."

"Ar—" I laughed and shrugged. "Before I'm twenty-five, Jane; you bet I'll be able to roll that pesky letter."

"Have a fun weekend," Jane smiled as I was heading out the door. It was early, but there was nothing left for me to do today. "Are you seeing anyone?"

Strangely enough, I have been asked that question at least three times this week by various adults. "No, Jane; I've never seen anyone." I smiled. "I blazed through school, then realized afterward that I was probably expected to have a relationship in there somewhere."

"Well, I'm good at picking out the weird ones." Jane waved a hand. "But, I got really good at flirting, back when I was your age and interested in such things."

"That and rolling r's, Jane; I'm no good at either."

"Learn how to open doors with a smile," she advised, "and practice winking. Say your arrr's like a pirate and practice winking in front of a mirror; just don't do it when anyone can see you."

Saying goodbye, I slipped across the floor to the travel department and obtained a new UTA pass. Exiting the building, I made my way through the construction walkways. I noted the Halloween costumes a few passersby were wearing and remembered the group I had seen earlier below my window: a princess, a ninja, and mickey mouse were all with their mother — it seemed like the beginning of a joke at the time, one that lacked a punchline and was strangely out of place among the downtown construction.

As I exited one section of walkway I was greeted by a construction worker.

"Hello, ma'am," he smiled and said something else softly.

I gave a small, confused smile in return and kept walking.

At the Trax station I was approached by a foreign couple who wanted directions to Trolley Square. I gave them the best advice I could, but acknowledged that I wasn't really sure; this wasn't my city.


So many people talked to me today; so many strange, curious, fascinating people. I admit that Salt Lake City isn't the largest, isn't the most controversial, isn't the number one place to live or take a vacation. Still, Salt Lake City is my new home &mdash I intend to watch and learn.

Welcome to my world in the public sector.