The Dali Docent
“I’m beat,” he said. He was unaware, as he had slumped down next to me at The Moon’s bar that he was wearing his Dali Museum docent badge. “I’m getting to old for those people.”
“Oh, Braith, hang in there,” Jason said. She shook his hand. “Your usual, vodka soda, but want me to make you a stiff one?”
“Please,” Braith said. He grinned, as he playfully gasped with his tongue-out. “Pretty please, please.”
“Just got off work?” I said. I glanced down at his Dali badge.
“Yeah, but Rob just drinks Guinness,” Jane said. She smiled over at me. “I think he’s afraid I might take him to another planet.”
“You do have that penchant,” Braith said. He had a deep voice as chuckled with a horse cough. “She at least warns you.”
“I’m learning my way,” I said. I smirked at Braith.
“By the way, thanks,” Braith said. He unclipped the badge and stuffed it into his nap sack. “I’m Braith, not that my badge hadn’t already told you that, right?”
“What’re you doing at the Dali?” I said. “I like that place. You have an usual name.”
“Docent, My names Welsh,” Braith said. He slouched forward. “And just think, I volunteer for it. It was a busy day and all, end of February, gets nippy outside, we got a traffic uptick. I guess everybody needed a calm spot from the wind.”
“On your feet all day,” I said. I sipped my Guinness. “It was a bit breezy today, almost got a wind-burn.”
“Oh, yeah, be careful, sneaks up on ya,” Braith said. He had thinning gray hair, and a slight belly pooch. “But I still love it, it gets me out and with people. I think that’s important at my age, just get out there.”
“I think I’ve seen you here in The Moon,” I said. “Before, couple days ago, or so?”
“I’m a regular,” Braith said. He sat up straight on the wooden stool. “I tend to stay to myself, I’m not real opinionated, you know, I just need a quiet place, in a nice bar.”
“Be near humans,” I said. “Without getting hassled.”
“Yeah,” Braith said. “That’s about right.”
I thought his brown eyes told me he was lonely. I hoped I would live to Braith’s age, and I was quite aware that I had lived alone. But I thought Braith had been wise to have mingled with the world in the best way he could have managed, and not have lived in solitary confinement. After a few moments a spiky, gray haired, middle-aged man sat on the other-side to Braith. They seemed to have had known each other, Brad was kind enough to have introduced me to him.
“Erin, this is Rob,” Braith said. “Rob, I give you, Erin.”
“What’s it going to be?” Jane asked Eric. “Cab?”
“Yes,” Erin said. He unbuttoned his sport coat. He acknowledged me. He looked up at Jane. He talked in a hushed tone like an mc at a jazz club. “And I don’t mind if you get me drunk, I am your vessel.”
“I’ve got skills,” Jane said. She smiled. She patted her hand on the bar top, and backed toward the wine refrigerator.
“I walk in the Dali, occasionally,” I said. I glanced over at Braith. “It give me inspiration.”
“What are your favorites?” Erin said. He sipped the dark red wine, and set the glass back down on a white paper coaster. As he looked over at me, Jane partially refilled his glass.
“Do I get a guess?” Braith said. He smirked over at me.
“Fire away,” I said.
Braith studied my face. He looked back over at Erin for any thoughts as to my preferred Salvador Dali paintings.
“The Lincoln one,” Braith said. He snapped his fingers together. “Or, Homage to Rothko.”
“My guess, you look like a deep thinker,” Erin said. He pointed at me. He laughed. “The Hallucinogenic Toreador.”
I sipped my Guinness, I nodded back at them, as I had watched Jane creating a fancy cocktail, she had shaken it within a two-piece Boston shaker, and then poured the concoction into a chilled glass. I thought Jane had a pleased mad-chemist expression, as she served the drink to an unsuspecting tourist.
“Both, are obviously master works,” I said. “But when I walk inside, I always first go to, Homage for Watson and Crick, then the, The Slave Market.”
“Yes,” Braith said. He nodded. “The bust of Voltaire, and Dali’s interest in him from reading, the farce, Candide.”
“Candide?” Erin said. He sipped his wine. “Of course, farce would fit with Dali.”
“But now, it’s Birth of the New Man,” I said. I shrugged as I picked up the Guinness. “Actually, I tend to just roam, and appreciate Dali’s talent.”
“Birth of the New Man?” Braith said. He gazed up at the line of glass beer mugs. “I didn’t expect that one, why?”
“I had been to the old museum,” I said. I thought about a week earlier as I had observed the painting that depicted a long arm, and upper torso having cracked through an egg. “Perhaps I had missed it before, the new museum’s huge.”
“It was a magnificent addition to St. Pete,” Braith said. He grinned after he took a sip from his cocktail. “There’s a good reason they call the geodesic glass bubble, the enigma.”
“But I found that painting,” I said. “Now it sort of speaks to my current situation.”
Braith sat back, he placed his right forefinger across his lips.
“Starting over?” Eric asked. He adjusted his black framed glasses. “I take it.”
“Yep, “ I said. “Pretty much…”
Braith’s hand slightly tremored as he picked up his cocktail. He sipped it, he huffed and wobbled his shoulders.
“Jane, oh-my,” Braith said. He gasped, he licked his lips. He sat quietly for a few moments. “That painting was about Dali’s vision for post World War Two, it’s a positive painting. He believed a new age was coming with the United States, South America, and Africa.”
“That’s art, sorry, I’m a art school graduate” Erin said. He sipped his wine. “So, forgive me, it’s in my blood.”
“Understood,” I said.
Erin twisted up his wine glass from side-to-side, and he watched the Cabernet varietal’s legs stream along the inside down into a pool at the bottom.
“If you lack an emotional response,” Erin said. “It has failed.”
“But Dali was odd,” Braith said. “Weird dude.”
“He was massively talented,” I said. “But, weird.”
“I try to stay in reality,” Eric said. He coughed to clear his throat. “But some artists just view the planet, they see things that I don’t think normal people see, or feel, and then they convey it, in their chosen medium, I do respect their gift.”
“But, I do enjoy our new patrons taking tours,” Braith said. He chuckled. “It’s a lot of fun, they stand there staring at the paintings, completely confused, but then, I start to show them, and explain the painting.”
“I get it,” I said. I laughed. “I’ve seen it, they suddenly say ‘what in the world is that…’”
“Exactly,” Braith said. He chuckled. “It’s like, as they say, a light just went off, that’s quality entertainment for me.”
We sat together enjoying our adult beverages. The Moon was quiet and still, as Jane cleaned up the bar area.
“You know,” Erin said. “I’ve lived here my entire life, in a way, St. Pete’s like a Dali painting.”
“I get you,” Braith said.
“It takes time to see her, to appreciate her,” Erin said. He stared back over at us. “But the beauty is all around us.”
“I love the new Dali,” Braith said. “It’s a striking architectural achievement, but, I hope they don’t bulldoze the whole city.”
After I left The Moon that evening, I had zipped my jacket up tight, and had stuffed my hands into the pockets. I strolled along the concrete sidewalk past the seasonal tourists dining under tents, as they had been warmed by nearby tall free-standing propane gas heaters.
But I stopped to observe a mural along the west wall for The Moon. It was a bright, colorful impression of a smiling blonde haired girl wearing sunglasses, with the statement, Welcome to St. Pete. It was hidden within the brick alleyway just a few steps off busy Beach Drive, as I watched the cars and people cycle past.
And it had occurred to me from all my previous walks, and my bike rides up and down Central Avenue, or across the Pinellas Trail, or into Old Northeast, or from The Moon to my apartment, the Burg was littered with these unassuming murals. They were tucked in on side-streets, in the alleyways, or atop the back-side for modest buildings. As if the unknown artists medium were the old buildings, the trash bins, or any welcoming canvass, and it occurred to me as I stood there that over the decades, the entire area had been transformed into an independent art gallery collection with works that were sometimes thought provoking, or simply beautiful, or, just timeless.