“It means ‘I am Jason.’ It’s a Spanish billboard.”
So does that mean we should call them ‘I am’ beans?”
I don’t want my life to be like a movie: movies are projections of other people’s ideas and I want to live longer than an hour and a half.
“I’m a painter,” I replied.
Her eyes lit up in violent delight; I knew that overeager look: like she believed I had the knowledge of every color, like she believed I contained expertise in the way her left-brained mind grasped aesthetics and design, like I could never let her down, not even if I suggested aurometalsaurus over the two swatches she was holding in her sweaty, sickly fingers.
This woman explained her situation, and I recommended the same color as the man behind the counter, except something about my dingy sweats must have possessed more diplomatic power than the man’s exotic apron, because her body sprouted into exhilaration. I may as well have regurgitated a million dollars. She was that happy. She was the kind of happy that my red-violet could never describe. She was pure primary yellow happy, a divine elation that can only be found in youthful innocence.
Colors had always been a cornerstone of my life. They always had something to say for themselves, but they spoke silently, of course, unlike the way people communicated, which I didn’t like. It’s not that I feared people. I had no phobia of humankind. It’s just many people I met annoyed me. People always spoke loudly, demanding attention, begging answers to all their insignificant questions.
“Did you need help?” the associate asked.
I shook my head. I knew why I was there, and I didn’t need assistance. In fact, I was almost sure I had my mission face on, which was an aura I would exude in times of determination: a bubble of intimidation and sureness to keep people at a long distance. This was not always, rather when I had an important project at hand. Exterior aggression allowed me to finish my work in a timely manner without people smothering me in questions of “why are you..?” and “how are you?” and “did you hear what Chandler did?” These things didn’t matter to me when I needed to put something on paper.
I had to obsess over the unorganized. I had to make the unordered orderly.
But colors fascinate me, they had always fascinated me. Through a lifetime of painting and drawing, I think it is possible I had a more inborn adoration for organization and color theory. Although, I have not always consciously recognized these appreciations that I have. More specifically, I have not always consciously recognized that most people do not have these appreciations that I have. That is, until I realized that most people considered my appreciations to be compulsions.
Towering stacks of sweet-smelling cedar brought the color orange to my mind. Orange was a strong color. Orange was a perfect color for a home improvement store. In all honesty, orange was the reason I preferred Home Depot to Lowe’s. Orange made a statement, Home Depot wasn’t passive. Home Depot’s orange said, “I’m here, dammit. Support me with your business.”
And it worked.
My favorite color used to change a lot. Every color has been my favorite, from cerulean to burnt sienna. They say different things, all these different colors.
I was always jealous of the aprons Home Depot’s employees wore. These aprons were not something a person could purchase at free will. Aprons as glorious as these came only from excessive wear, tattered in construction and work and knowledge about home improvement. These aprons were so exhausted from being orange that they showed it. Every employee had one, and every employee glistened with joy because of it. I had always considered becoming an employee at Home Depot to receive one of these aprons, to be a glistening associate like the rest of the crew, only to quit shortly thereafter and keep it to myself forever. However, my wishes conflicted because half the reason the aprons were so astonishing was because of how they made such a statement: clashing with every outfit every employee was wearing, screaming from behind the aisles, “I am an associate of Home Depot! I can help you!”, dancing and laughing, “I know the difference between beige and burnt umber.”
The paint swatch section was saturated with perfection. They must have hired someone incredibly obsessive-compulsive to organize those cards in perfect color sequence for hours. I loved it. It didn’t alert my obsessive-compulsion. Those perfectly sequenced cards hollered at my organization, reminding me how perfectly sequenced they were, and how easily I would be able to locate my to-be color. I wobbled between selections of plum to eggplant, wondering whether I needed a more red or blue in my violet. Red and blue were too different to make a quick decision. No, a subtle red in my purple would have held a quiet roar of aggression and strength. Such a hue would strangle a person peripheral vision, begging attention. Blue, it seems would have been more calming. Depressing, even, and although this event had been a depressing one, I didn’t hope to only remember it that way. Not forever, at least. If I were to paint my wall in a tone to echo this event, how could I choose a dulling hue? While the end had been a sad one, as death generally is, I could not remember her life as an unfulfilled shade of violet.
Red, I decided, a red-purple could only do it justice, as no other color could. I got in line behind a woman who was torn between two swatches.
I painted a lot. People say that they mow their lawns a lot or that they do a lot of Zumba, but I didn’t paint like that. I painted like people breathe. I painted like the sun comes up every day. Painting embeds some sort of neurological wiring that trains a person to constantly be seeking principles and elements of art in everything. This awareness kept me alert for inspiration. It allowed me to enjoy creating everything from a sketch of a hilarious comic to a charcoal drawing of sorrow and failure. Painting seemed to be a lifestyle, I noticed, because people that see, see. People that don’t see, don’t.
To the man behind the counter, she repeated that she was afraid of the bolder sienna, but the beige hue may ‘just not be enough’. She obviously didn’t hear the official tone in the man’s voice when he suggested the darker paint. She obviously didn’t see the orange apron, and how powerful it was, and how the color of it knew the place of all the other colors.
In drawing classes, we focused on “seeing” instead of “looking”. Broadly stated, people build symbols of objects in their minds, and tend to draw things as these symbols (“not-seeing” or “looking”). Once a person engages his or her right side of the brain, he or she should see the object as it appears, rather than as a symbol (“seeing”).
I probably released an impatient sigh that caused her to turn and look at me. The woman gazed at my paint-covered sweats, which must have allowed entitlement for her to burst my intimidation bubble with her ungodly words. I knew she was going to ask me a question. She didn’t care that I had to pay for my paint and hurry home to cover my dreary green wall with this majestic violet. She had to have a conversation with me.
“What’s this?” she motioned to my sweats, which were covered in layers upon layers of spots of hardened acrylic paint.
“I’m a painter” I replied.
I had always been a painter. The kind of neuroticism that is often associated with being an artist was always buried beneath my surface. Even in my youthful innocence, I stressed over disorderliness, and how I could perfect it. While my parents spent money on overalls and plaid shirts at the mall, I would remain wherever they placed me, steadily sorting the objects (be it stuffed animals, blouses, or sunglasses) by color. This would sometimes take me hours, but it didn’t matter; I had a mission. The employees of these stores called me “obsessive-compulsive”. My parents called me “organized”.