On the worst I have ever smelled.

On the worst I have ever smelled.

A Frank in a SwampA recent graduate from our local track & cross country teams is an artist, just now begun his freshman year studying photography in Vermont.  Despite being the fifth fastest 800-meter runner in our moderately-sized state, Peter often did his recovery runs with me.  A very biphasic runner: extremely fast on his workout days, slower than his teammates on his jogging days.

I’m not certain what it is about running that enriches for math & science people, but artists are often underrepresented on our teams.  Naturally, this meant that I would chitter nonstop about art on our jogs together.  On one uliginous 89-degree day, air flickering opaque as it threatened to condense (or perhaps that was merely my eyesight flickering due to incipient heatstroke), we ran to the husk of a defunct grocery store so I could show him my favorite graffiti in town.

Bloomington has some decent graffiti, especially considering the town’s small size.  It can’t compare to the Mission district of SF, or to any of the hotspots in Miami, but alongside the anarchy symbols and ACABs and YOLOs and whatnot we get some good work.

My recent favorite, the piece that Peter & I stood and drippingly admired for two minutes before turning around and hoofing it back to the high school, is shown below, poorly stitched together using the automated algorithm on Photoshop after I snapped a few pictures with my brother’s phone.  I believe credit is due to “II PAS,” wherever you are.  Strong work: beautiful interplay between the cement’s topology and the schematized depiction of aging.

Paint by IL PAS.
Paint by II PAS.

A few months before I showed him that graffiti, we arranged for Peter to take an author photograph of me.  Midway through a run, I noticed a small pond with a decrepit stairwell descending into the water.  It looked straight out of a fantasy novel.  Sunlight iridescent across the surface of the pond.  Dried plaits of algae dangling over the limestone steps.

My imagination leapt immediately to the bombastic: me emerging from the water, dripping, notebook and pencil in hand, beginning to ascend the stairs.  On a bright day my skin would gleam, each bead of water articulate as it fell.

Peter decided we’d do the picture in the middle of the night.

And the nearby retirement community had turned on a pump: that “staircase” was apparently a waterfall.  We still attempted a few shots with me walking up or down the waterfall, but soon progressed to a more Swamp Thing aesthetic.   I was told, “Okay, duck under, then wait a second before you come up.”

I didn’t mind.  Given that my brother and I have spent several hundred hours playing the Creature from the Black Lagoon pinball machine, I’m rather enamored of swamp monsters.

But the oleaginous, unfiltered liquid of a PLEASE NO SWIMMING retirement home water feature is not conducive to good health.  The risk to my garb was fine — I was wearing a long green furry bathrobe evocative of a skinned Muppet, a castoff that even Goodwill had shunted to a discount rack — but it’s surprisingly difficult to spring menacingly from a pond while enswathed in many pounds of sodden fabric and an unfortunate quantity of slime.

Also: while splashing through the pond, I tripped on and then excavated a disquietingly large trash can.  It was nearly empty, which may have explained some of the rubbish I was flailing theatrically amidst.

Maloderous glop clung to my clothes.  Dried cattails pierced my hands.  Sludge got into my eyes and up my nose.  My skin stained brackish.  And dreadlocks are not known for ease of cleaning.  For the next two weeks, each time my hair got wet it dripped grey.

A few days later, I found a spray mister of lavendar essential oil while dumpstering (college students pitch such treasures!), but even with compulsive thrice-daily misting until that bottle emptied, I still smelled unmistakably of pond for the entire month.

Peter was happy with some of the photographs, though.

Peter's favorite photograph from our rank shoot. See more of his art here. https://www.snapwi.re/user/petervoskuil
Peter’s favorite photograph from our rank shoot. See more of his art here.