Tuesday, August 22, 2017

* Rudolph



                  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sculpture with the painted red nose, which Paul Keane created from the Hoffman tailor's press.                

 Paul Keane: Beauty is





when we look for it

Published 1:42 pm, Tuesday, August 22, 2017

  The Ugly Duckling, Dumbo, Rudolph  ---- three stories about young'uns who got bullied because of their looks: black feathers, big ears, a red nose.

  Bullying extends to inanimate objects too.

  I have owned  a 500 lb. cast iron Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer for 57 years that has been picked on all all that time as a red-nosed pile of junk.

  I bought this Rudolph when I was 16. And it was then indeed in a junk-heap in front of the feed store next to my church.

  But I saw something in it which nobody else did. I saw a sculpture.

  It was being sold as a machine. It had been a dry cleaning tailor’s press made by the Hoffman Company and it had five pedals that were used to run the machine. Its dry cleaning “pads” were missing.

  Nobody wanted the machine because it was manually operated and in 1960, when I was 16, the rage was for everything to be electric.

  Poor old Hoffman.

  In fact, with its five pedals I called this machine “The Tails of Hoffman” (for the opera The Tales of Hoffman).

  My parents thought I had lost my mind. I’d even paid my entire week’s salary of $15 from Stop and Shop ,where I worked as a bagger after school. That’s how much I wanted that crazy object.

  As I said, my parents thought I was nuts until I painted the Hoffman tailor’s press “deer” tan and white and gave it a big red nose.

  Suddenly my parents saw what I saw: It was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a 500-pound cast iron version, but Rudolph nonetheless.

  Keep in mind, the carol says, “All the other reindeer wouldn’t let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games.” In other words, he got picked on.

  My parents didn’t pick on him exactly, but they didn’t “see” him till I painted his nose red.

  Others did pick on him.

  He stood in my parents’ yard in Mt. Carmel from 1960 to 1992, when my father died.

  I had Rudolph moved to my Vermont house that year along with my parents’ furniture and he has been here ever since.

  That’s 32 years outdoors in Connecticut weather and 25 years outdoors in Vermont weather for a total of 57 years outside in the elements. The snow has actually reached up to his chin in Vermont.

  I said my Rudolph got picked on. The moving company charged me $75 extra to add him to the moving van. The driver called Rudolph “that thing” and dropped him, breaking one of his “antlers” ( made from a cast iron arm for the dry cleaning “pad”.)

  The real estate agent in Vermont who sold me my house called him “Rudolph the red nosed junk heap” and over the years many passers by have asked me what is that “thing” in your yard?

  Like my parents 57 years ago, the minute I say “Rudolph” they “get it”.

  It’s ironic isn’t it?

  Rudolph in the Christmas story was picked on for having a red nose. My sculpture is picked on until his “red nose” is pointed out and unlocks his identity.

  Like those three children’s stories, The Ugly Duckling, Dumbo, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, my sculpture has been picked on for his looks for his entire existence since I created him.

  And let that be another children’s story with a lesson: If you appreciate art, you will see reindeer when others do not .

Paul Keane grew up in the Mt. Carmel section of Hamden. He lives in Vermont where he retired after teaching English for 25 years.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Thanks Dad.

The Prince and the Power Mower

For the Valley News
Saturday, August 19, 2017
I have had a recurring thought ever since June 2, 1953, when I was 8 years old and saw the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on my black and white TV in my parents’ home in Mt. Carmel, Conn.

When I saw a queen step out of that golden carriage, I realized without having the adult words to say so, that there were two kinds of people in the world: those who are taken care of and those who have to take care of themselves.

This thought about royal people became especially irritating six years later when I was 14 and Queen Elizabeth’s son, Prince Charles, was 10.

That was the year my father took me to the hardware store, bought a Toro lawn mower and told me I had to go out and line up lawns to mow and pay him back the $88 he spent.

I got about 12 lawns and slowly paid him back over the summer. It was so long ago that the lawn mower he bought didn’t even have a retractable pull cord. It was just a rope with a knot on one end and a pull handle on the other.

I hated that work, especially since my father had simply laid it on me like a straightjacket.

It was then that my observation about royals became the first of a lifetime of repeated thoughts: “I’ll bet Prince Charles has never had to push a lawn mower in his life.”

Ever since then, I would notice Prince Charles in the news: as a teenager relaxing on the royal yacht; on a royal beach; when he went off to college; when he married Lady Diana riding in that same golden carriage his mother had used for her coronation; when he became a father; when he divorced; when he remarried; and now, as the Duke of Edinburgh, his 96-year-old father, retires.

Every single time I have seen a photo of Prince Charles over the decades, my teenage thought returned to me: “I’ll bet that guy never had to push a lawn mower in his life.” And by “had to” I meant that if he didn’t, the lawn wouldn’t grow out of control and the world wouldn’t know he was lazy and undependable, as it would about me if my lawn(s) were left to go to seed.

This recurring thought may sound petty and childish, and, yes, obsessive. (Psychiatrists, feel free to weigh in.)

But in my opinion, something else is going on here.

When my father bought me that lawn mower in 1959 and set me up in business, he was creating an adulthood ritual for me to undergo (a kind of capitalistic bar mitzvah) in which I had to prove to him, to the neighbors and myself, that I could be reliable, accomplish adult work and make money to pay debts.

Every time I saw Prince Charles from that point on, I was reminded of that ritual and grudgingly acknowledged my father’s wisdom in making me grow up and take care of myself.

I was reminded too that my father knew there weren’t any princes in America. That in this country, our wonderful democracy where every boy and girl can create a self-made business, I couldn’t grow up to smell the roses, unless I first grew up and mowed the lawn.

Paul Keane lives in Hartford.