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A Pencil Point
By Gregory Ross
...Jazzman is an artist who creates unique line drawings. He has a sense of the absurd, of the macabre, yet almost always makes people laugh. Or, at least he always makes his friend Scurveface laugh and Scurveface makes Jazzman laugh as well. In some ways, neither of them have much to laugh about so on the occasional occasions that they interact, there is always lots of laughing and it feels good to both of them.
Jazzman likes black, thick and thin pointed markers. They make a bold statement. They are definitive and yet Jazzman can be subtle with his drawings. You have to look closely. First, the drawing punches you in the head with its boldness, it's unusualness both in line and subject matter. You have to study the drawings; sometimes you have to close your eyes and see the imprint on your eyelids to get it, to see the subtle line that makes Jazzman's work so interesting.
Jazzman has a singular and somewhat twisted sense of aesthetics, of humor in his drawings. Personally, he looks like a normal guy. A subtle disguise. Scurveface shares this disguise. Jazzman's drawings can be shocking, but not in a puerile sense. His drawings can be juvenile but, in that good way that a young person has of being both naive and universal.
Scurveface cannot draw a good circle even if he traces a jar lid. He likes to write and hopes he is good at it. At least as good as Jazzman is at drawing. He also likes to punch people in the head with his words. Or, on occasion make them cry. Sometimes, if he can, make them laugh.
Now and then, it is best to close your eyes after reading a poem, story or memoir of Scurveface's creation and let the thoughts it brings up run across your eyelids. Perhaps, there is a subtleness there too. One thing that Jazzman and Scurveface have in common—a thing that hinders their laughter, their joy, their ability to move comfortably in this world without a disguise—is a war. They can laugh with each other because they are not shocked by the often unnerving and to some alarming, content of their creations.
As they have learned, most of those called enemy, were carbon copies of the two of them. Even though those called enemy do not look the same, do not talk, walk, sit or shit the same; nonetheless, they are damaged by war the same. Scurveface has never seen Jazzman do a drawing about war. Scurveface writes a lot about war. At least how it affected him. Or, it's macabre nature. Certainly, it's cruel absurdity. Rarely, but occasionally even the humor. Often, only Jazzman laughs without nervousness, without a sense of concern under the involuntary expressed emotion.
Scurveface has to go to a clinic for help. He needs a lot of help with a lot of things. Physical things that require medicines and medical machines. Soul things too. Some of these things he has been healing on for decades. He has to go to a Veterans Administration Clinic. He and Jazzman do not talk much about that part of war. It makes them both uncomfortable, and then they do not laugh.
Scurveface is starting to cry again about war. He thinks maybe Jazzman does too on occasion. They have never cried together because that is not what they do; they laugh. They both need to laugh because war will make any sane person sorrowful. And, all indications to the opposite that they themselves or the larger society might believe: Jazzman and Scurveface are often two of the sanest people in the neighborhood; they can still laugh; they can still cry.
Soon, Scurveface will begin to work on his crying. Experts have told him that if he looks it in the face, if he confronts it, embraces it, holds it both close and at arms length, if he enlarges it, engulfs it, miniaturizes it, scrutinizes each line, each word, if he closes his eyes and lets it play across his eyelids, crying will change. It will not go away, but maybe he could stop crying, not always, not forever, but maybe he would not have to wear a disguise all the time. A disguise that is getting harder to pull off or even put on.
Today at the VA clinic Scurveface found a red, white and blue pencil with the name of the clinic printed on it. He took it home, sharpened it to a very sharp point, held it both close and at arm's length, and then, wrote these words: There is an artist...
Gregory Ross was in the Navy, serving in Morocco, Six Day War (1967), Philippines (1968), and Vietnam, 7th Fleet, Gun Line (1969). Published in Anthology: "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace," edited by Maxine Hong Kingston.