Why For Art Thou

I started my career at J. Cunningham & Co. in the late 80’s. I worked there for about 4 years. 4 years of perms, 3 to 4 perms a day. God, the humanity.

Then a friend and I had the great idea to open our own salon. We got pretty close, we were trying to secure funding, and were about to tour storefronts. We even had some drawings in process, when for some reason we stopped. After the idea of a salon dropped (thank god-as future events proved, we apparently weren’t that good of friends, story of my life). Somehow after the salon fell through she convinced me that I should work with her at a J. C. Penny hair salon very near where my wife Laurie, new son William, and I lived. The thought of having a regular income, health benefits, and literally a 5 minute walk to work, was too good to pass up. As we often learn in life, something that’s too good to pass up, should often be passed up. I managed to convince myself that I wasn’t risking a downgrade in my work, and that I would be busy enough to make a good commission on top of the minimum wage I was being paid.

I learned a tough lesson on considering all of the angles. I’ll admit I am still learning the finer points of this concept, but at the time I was a naive, fresh faced working dad. The thing that makes J. C. Penny’s popular is their affordability. That means cheap. That means no matter how hard you try you can’t make enough money to earn commission and raise your pay above minimum wage. At least that was my experience. So at least I had the benefits, right? Well, sorta. If I earned enough money to justify full time sure. Ya, that wasn’t gonna happen. That commute looked better every day.

And so I took the last $400.00 left on my charge card out in cash for the first months rent at the Davis salon I would work at, and at times own, for the next 15 (on and off) years.

I stayed there for about 5 years I think. I was pretty happy, but that commute was taking its toll, and my Sacramento clients were really whiny about driving to Davis, so when a friend of mine opened her new salon in Sacramento I jumped at the chance. There you go again not checking the angles. I didn’t consider the fact that my Davis clients wouldn’t drive to Sacramento. I was shocked, I learned a lot about business, and the difference between work/friend relationships, I also lost almost half of my clientele.

I should have expected it. After 10 years working there I had heard hundreds of times, “Oh no, I never drive into Sacramento. I hate driving over the causeway.”

So I found myself with some free time on my hands. I decided maybe it was time for a change of careers.

I had enjoyed spending the last few years landscaping our cottage in east Sacramento. As it turns out I loath grass, and I won’t take care of it. It Reminds me too much of my step-brother and I mowing the lawn at 6 o”clock in the morning in the summers at our Mesa, AZ house. You had to get up early to beat the heat. It was usually about 80 something by 8AM. So the small putting green Pete and I acquired on the side of our new house became a rose garden, the back dog-run was completely re-landscaped three or four times over the last 20 years, we replaced the rose (and daylily by that time) garden with a patio and french doors of my design off the dining room (love those drafting classes), and so on. I had some failures, but felt I had actually become a gardener. Maybe if I enjoyed it so much I should become a professional. Do what you love, right? So I went back to school to study landscape design, and I really liked it. I loved learning about horticulture, I really enjoyed the people in the classes, I took drafting. I thought, “This might work”, until I had a friend use one of my designs for her back yard, but completely mess up the installation. I still have the original drawings. They felt like art to me, and they had been distorted in the installation to the point that I didn’t even recognize it. In that moment I knew that I would have to be in charge of the whole enterprise, a contractor. That wasn’t really what I had in mind. Fortunately I had decided somewhere along the way that it would be a good idea to learn some basics of drawing. Since I couldn’t even draw a very interesting line drawing I thought it would be nice to learn how to sketch at least.

I hated the teacher (don’t get me started, maybe later), but I loved the class. It gave me an excuse to draw, fail, learn from it, and grow.The true benefit of an art class, of any kind, is that it forces you to produce work that you might give up on in other circumstances. It allows you the permission to work on something that you know you will most likely throw away. It helps you push yourself where you wouldn’t normally go.

Well, despite what that stupid art “teacher” thought, it turns out I’m not bad. I had a rather jarring déjà vu moment at some point as well. I remembered the time I spent living with my Nana for about 6 months when I was 13. She was a painter, and I came across her paints and easel at some point and asked her to teach me to paint.

There had always been something magical to me about exploring my Nana’s houses; it always brought back the memories of spending summers and Christmases with my sisters and cousins at her two story house in Westwood (Northern CA, not Southern). The house had a truly magical, to a 7 year old, closet that went undisturbed from one end of the house to the other on the second story. There was another one on the opposite wall if I’m not mistaken. Those closets scared the hell out of me, and to walk from one room to the other was something I don’t think I ever managed. There was a large dark space from door to door; I don’t believe there were lights in the closet, actually. But that could have just been my sisters and cousins tormenting me as usual. So I would often ask my Nana to teach me how to use things I found. It’s the reason I asked her to teach me to sew. I couldn’t resist the antique sewing machine in the corner of my room. Well, though she seemed to do a good job teaching me to become a seamstress, she was a terrible art teacher. She set me up with the paints and easel (I couldn’t tell you if they were oil, acrylic, or water) in the back yard, and said, “Paint what you see”, and walked back into the house. I tried a few desperate stokes on the canvass, realized I knew zero about what I was doing, decided I was not a prodigy, and never tried another art project again until the day I found my talent. After a few figure drawing (the best class in the universe, I could easily sit in a figure drawing class for an 8 hour day) and painting classes (very close second, but I can paint at home, so…)  my painting hobby began. Unfortunately, I tend to be a little light on the manic and heavy on the depressive, so I don’t produce much. Shame on me, no talent should be wasted. But I have to be creative all day being a haircolor and make-over specialist, so get off my back.

I decided shortly after my fourth figure drawing class, and my third painting class, that I needed money more than school, and I ended up full time back in Davis. Within a year I purchased the salon and gave up on the art classes altogether. I have to stop letting women lead me astray (don’t get me started).


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