The Rest of the Story

by Nick Brady

Chapter 4

Brian and Lanny settled in well with Mrs. O'Malley and her little mother-in-law house. It was very comfortable for them and Mrs. O'Malley seemed to enjoy having them around. They came and went quietly and found that their landlady was generous with her kitchen output, especially on Sunday afternoons.

"I made a nice roast chicken and vegetables, but have no space for the leftovers," she would tell them. "Can you use this?"

They gratefully accepted her offerings and soon were simply invited to share her Sunday meal when they returned from church. She set a nice table and they sat down to join her most Sundays.

"You are a wonderful cook," Lanny said. "You are spoiling us."

"Nonsense," she would reply. "I like to cook and when my boys were home there was always an extra friend or two at mealtime. I don't know how to cook for only one. Besides, it is too quiet in this house and I enjoy the company."

They offered to reimburse her several times but were brushed off. They agreed that the arrangement was mutually beneficial and counted their blessings. As time permitted, Brian worked on her garden and Lanny found some fix-it projects.

Now that the spring semester was in session, they were busy with course work, each carrying fifteen hours. With both enrolled in the Classics program they typically had several classes together and several others related to their minor were separate. When the classes were together or at different times, Brian's car was shared. On the odd occasion when they went in separate directions, they shuttled each other, or Brian rode his bicycle. It worked out.

During the week, if there was a little time, they found themselves back at the Montgomerys for dinner and encouragement. Sam and Ben always hoped that Brian had time for them, and with his help they had reached Life Scout. It appeared that after another summer Scout Camp they would have everything they needed for Eagle Scout. The path was clear except for their service projects.

" It's not too early to be working on that. It doesn't have to be the last thing you do, but a lot of guys put it off until last. You both have to have your own projects, you know," Brian reminded them.

"What if we have a really good one that we work on together?" Ben asked.

"I don't think that's the way it works," Brian said. "You have to demonstrate your ability to plan and provide leadership. You each need your own project for that."

"What if there were two separate projects in the same place and at the same time, but we each had our own?" Sam asked.

"How would that work?"

Sam smiled. "I was talking about that with Father Hoover and he had an idea."

"I see. I guess if he has an idea it would be worth listening to. What did he suggest?"

"He said that the church has some property over on Lake Fort Gibson that needs some improvement. They would like to have a set of camp sites with picnic tables down along the beach. Plus, the beach is slowly eroding away and he had an idea for a retention project."

Brian nodded, "I think i can picture campsites and picnic tables. Tell me about the erosion."

"OK, here's the deal," Sam explained. "He thought if we used old tires and cable to put a layer of tires against the part that is eroding, that it would hold things together."

"Would that work?"

"He said that that's what the Corps of Engineers does in some places. It would be worth a try."

"And Sam can do the erosion retention and I can do the camp sites," Ben suggested. "Those are two different things but we could do them on the same weekend, or over spring break if we needed more time."

Marco laughed, "You guys have this all worked out."

"We didn't expect Brian to come up with a project for us," Sam said. "We just wanted to know what he thought about it."

"So, what do you think?" Marty asked.

Brian shrugged. "Actually, that might work. I don't think there is anything wrong with having the same troop working on more than one project at a time. You will have to get the scoutmaster to agree to it and then get it past the Council Eagle Committee. If they are OK with it then you're golden."

"It sounds like you have a sales job ahead of you," Marco smiled. "You will need to do the preliminary planning and lay out the details for them."

"We're working on it already," Ben grinned. "Can you help us with this Brian? In an advisory capacity of course."

"Sure, but only if I talk to you one at a time, Brian agreed. "I want to keep you honest."

"Hey! Scouts are honest, right?"

"Of course Ben. I would never doubt you."

Lanny had sat quietly listening as the negotiation took place. "I missed a lot by not being in Scouts. I'm impressed with you guys."

"It's a great program," Marty said. "By the time these guys reach Eagle, they will have learned a lot."

"I can see that," Lanny smiled.

"Excuse me for changing the subject," Brian said, "but when are you going to show your paintings in Europe, Marco?"

"That's in April. The week after Spring Break. I should be able to be here for the Eagle projects, if Sam and Ben can get them approved in time."

"I bet we can, Sam said optimistically.

"Better get cracking," Marco told him.

"Are you going to be ready for the big shows?" Brian asked.

"I hope so," Marco replied. "I have about twenty paintings ready now and several others that I'm completing. I need to have them professionally packed and shipped two weeks before the shows. They will go to London first, then on to Paris the next week."

"Will you have any left after the first show?" Brian wondered.

"I doubt that they will all sell at the first show. Mr. Vandergraff has helped me set the prices on them and he is very optimistic about what they will bring. Besides, I will not show everything in London show so I will be sure to have some new things for Paris. We will see how it works out."

"How much are you asking for them?" Brian asked.

"A lot," Marco smiled rather mysteriously. "Actually, they sell in what amounts to a silent auction with a minimum starting price. I should do quite well."

"Wow!" was all Brian could think of to say.

Lanny had been listening quietly. "Your paintings are gorgeous from what I've seen, but I know that at some level they may be purchased as investments. Under those circumstances the price is whatever the market will bear."

"That's right," Marco agreed. "That was why the minimum price is so high. I shouldn't give the impression that they can be bought cheap. Sometimes if a person Isn't sure what the value of something is, they will go for the more expensive choice assuming that it is better somehow."

"Sounds like a racket," Ben said.

"Don't be dumb," Sam scolded, "If somebody will pay a million dollars for something, that's what it's worth, at least to them."

Marco laughed, "Don't worry. I'm not going to sell anything for a million dollars. But it will be fun and should pay for my trip."

The family settled down in the living room to watch TV. "There is a pro soccer game on tonight," Sam asked. "Does anybody want to watch it?"

"I wouldn't mind," Lanny said. "Soccer is the only sport I ever played and I like to watch it. Who is playing?"

Sam looked at the TV Guide. "It's Spanish League Soccer. Seville playing Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Madrid."

"Is he good?" Ben asked.

"I guess he must be," Sam replied. "They pay him a lot of money."

"I think that was your point Marco," Marty chuckled.

"Yup," Marco smiled.

Brian and Lanny watched part of the game then excused themselves.

"You have an interesting family," Lanny observed as they drove home.

"You think so?"

"I do. You talk about things and really interact with each other. My family just did our own thing or watched TV."

"We aren't bad for a bunch of gay guys huh?"

"I don't know that that has anything to do with it. Besides, are Sam and Ben gay too?"

"I don't know. I don't think they know," Brian shrugged. "I guess that's to be determined."

"If they are it won't be because they have two dads."

"No. I don't think so. No more than me."

Lanny sighed, "This is so tough for my father. I guess it isn't such a shocker if your parents are gay."

"Nope. They are very accepting," Brian agreed. "But they knew about me when I came to live with them. It wasn't a surprise."

"But if it turns out that Sam and Ben are gay, it would be easier for them to come out. I mean, Marco and Marty would understand."

"They would be, although I'm not sure Sam or Ben would know that. It would still be stressful for them."

They let themselves through the side gate into their small house behind Mrs. O'Malley and flopped down on the sofa..

"Do you think Marco is about to be famous?" Lanny guessed.

Maybe an American Picasso," Brian chuckled. "You taking a painting class. How us that coming along?"

"I suck," Lanny said glumly.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that my attempts at painting are amateurish and boring. I just don't have the talent. All I can do is copy somebody else and I don't even do a good job of that,"

"That's pretty harsh, Lanny," Brian said. "I think maybe you are being too tough on yourself."

"I'm just being honest. My painting class did a little student exhibition and asked people to comment on what they saw. I got very few comments and those I got were negative."

"I think a lot of artists start out copying another painter. That's how you learn,"

"No. The truth is that I suck at painting. I'm just not an artist, and never will be," Lanny said glumly.

"Don't a lot of artists struggle for a long time and then finally become successful?"

"A few, I suppose. Most get the picture and give it up. I don't feel like beating my head against the wall."

"But you do other things besides paint. Louisa said you sculpted and wrote some good things. I liked that poem you wrote about the autumn color. That was good."

Lanny shrugged, "What you don't know is that I worked on that sonnet forever. I don't know how many times I revised it before it came out half-way decent. It fit the form eventually, but there was nothing really original about it. And my attempts at sculpture look like a kid with a stick of modeling clay. I suck at that too. Louisa was just being nice."

"I don't know what to say to you, Lanny. I'm no judge of art. Before you give up, why don't you talk to Marco. Bring some of your stuff over and ask him about them. He knows a lot about painting. He might be able to advise you."

Lanny shook his head, "Marco is a nice guy too, and he knows you love me. I don't think he would be honest for your sake."

"I think you underestimate Marco," Brian disagreed. "If you ask Marco for an honest opinion, he will give it to you."

Lanny was unconvinced. "I don't want to put Marco in an bad position."

"I can see that walking in with a sample of your work and asking him to critique it would be kind of awkward for you," Brian agreed. "How about if I took some of your things to him and tell him honestly how discouraged you are. If I do that, I think he will be honest."

"I don't care. You can if you want to," Lanny said. "You can tell me what he says."

"OK. Then pick out what you think is pretty good and I'll show it to him. I bet he will encourage you."

"I bet he won't, but you can ask him."

"If he does, will you believe him?"

"I don't know, to tell the truth. I suppose so." Lanny was despondent.

It took Lanny a day or so to sort through his work and offer several for Brian to look at.

"I don't have all that much to choose from, but I guess these are about the best I have," Lanny told him, There is a landscape and a still life that are kind of OK. I tried to do some things with people and animals but I don't draw well enough. Why don't you pick something."

Brian looked them over. Some were sketches, some were done in oil and acrylic. One was of a young man, "Who is this?" he asked.

Lanny took a minute to respond. "It was supposed to me you."

"Oh. Sure, I see now. It does kind of look like me. Can I take this one?"

"Take whatever you like." Lanny said reluctantly and went into the kitchen.

The next day, Brian called Marco and gave him an idea of what was going on with Lanny. "I guess the deal is that Lanny would like to be an artist, but feels like he isn't any good at it. Could you look at some of his stuff and give an honest opinion?"

"You realize that you are putting me in a pretty tough spot," Marco told him. "I don't want to hurt Lanny. I like him a lot, and so do you."

"I know I am. You don't have to do this if you don't want to. But if you don't, Lanny will take that as an answer. He figures that you will be honest with him, and that you are a good judge of this sort of thing."

Marco sighed. "OK, OK. I wouldn't do this for anybody else, you know. So what if he's right and he isn't all that good at this. Won't that hurt him?"

"In a way," Brian admitted. "But he is trying to figure out if he's on the right track. If this isn't right for him then he wants to know it and maybe go in another direction. He wants you to be honest."

"Why don't you bring them over tomorrow and let me see them. Let's see where we are with this," Marco said."

While Lanny was in class, Brian took the samples of his work for Marco to see. Marco sat down with them and looked at each one for a long time, picking up first one and then the other. "How long has Lanny been drawing?" he asked.

"I don't know. I didn't think he wanted to paint seriously until he started taking this class. Is he any good?"

"It's hard to answer that just by looking at these few samples," Marco said. "I would have to admit that they don't really knock my socks off. It could well be that with a lot of study and hard work he could do something interesting. Maybe so, maybe not."

"But he isn't there yet, right? Is it like with a little work he could get a lot better, or is that way down the road?"

Marco looked at the paintings again. "These aren't terrible. They are just not, well, not that interesting. With some good instruction he could improve, no doubt, but he has some work to do."

"What's missing?" Brian asked. "I don't know that much about art. Why is one painting interesting and another is not?"

"A good painting will catch your eye. It will show you something you haven't seen before. Either because the subject matter is unusual, or the colors and composition strike you in some way. It has to appeal to your imagination."

"These don't really do that, do they?"

Marco shook his head. "Not really. I will guess that this portrait is of you, right?"

"I didn't recognize it as me until he told me it was," Brian admitted

"It's not that good a likeness. The eyes are dead and the proportions in your body are wrong. If he wants to do realism he needs to draw better. Even those who do abstract art need to have good drawing skills, along with a sense of composition, balance and color. To assume that abstract art doesn't require good skills is a mistake. To be honest, the thing that's missing here is creative imagination. It doesn't pull my eye back to it and make me think."

"So, he sucks."

"No. I would never tell him that. But if he is serious about this he has a lot to learn. You might say that he's pretty far back on the learning curve. If he was starting as a young boy, I would say that he had plenty of time to learn and grow. Does Lanny have that luxury?"

"I don't think so," Brian said quietly. "I guess he's a little old to be starting out from scratch. I don't know how interested he was in painting before the trip. But you should have seen him in some of those art museums we saw in Europe. He was like a kid in a candy store. He was so excited to see these old paintings by famous artists., and modern works too. He was writing little notes to himself, reading every card on the wall. It just blew him away. Maybe that's what inspired him to try and paint."

Marco nodded, "Maybe so. I got a lot of inspiration from seeing really good art. It's a shame he didn't get inspired much earlier. But look. I don't want to write this guy off on the basis of three samples. There are really fine artists who floundered around a lot before finding the right niche for themselves."

Brian looked a little lost. "What do I tell Lanny?"

Marco looked puzzled. "Why are you and I having this conversation anyway? I should be talking to Lanny. Why are you acting as the middle-man?"

"I think he was afraid to talk to you because he figured he already knew what you would say. I was trying to make it a little easier, I guess."

"Lanny sent you over the get my take on his work because he was afraid of what I would say, right?"

"Right. He picked out the things I brought and is waiting to hear from me," Brian agreed.

"That means that even though he was imagining the worst, he still wanted to know what I think, right?"

"That's right."

Marco smiled, "That means Lanny hasn't given up on himself completely. So, how do we turn this situation into something positive that will encourage rather than discourage him?"

'Well..., uh. Try to get him interested in something else?" Brian floundered.

"Maybe in a way," Marco said thoughtfully. "He doesn't need to be an artist to be immersed in the arts. He has a love of good art. It makes him excited. He could share that excitement with others."

"Like, teach?"

"He could teach, he could work in a museum, he can deal in art and encourage others to achieve their goals. He obviously understood the logic of pricing my paintings. He can do more things than I can think of," Marco looked enthusiastic. "Think about this. He has a good eye. That's why those museums excited him, and that's why he recognized that his own paintings were mediocre. It takes an honest man to admit that."

"I think you're right," Brian agreed. "He's disappointed that he is not going to be a painter but he hasn't given up. He needs to look at some other options."

"Why don't you guys come over here for dinner Saturday night and we can talk about this. I would be more comfortable talking to Lanny directly."

"We are always up for your cooking," Brian smiled.

After supper on Saturday the family gathered in the living room to chat with Lanny.

"Are you enjoying your classes?" Marty asked him.

"I am," Lanny replied. "Brian and I are taking Humanities together which is nice, and I have an Art History class that's very interesting, Then there is my painting class."

"How is that going?" Marco asked quietly.

"Not so good. I think Brian showed you some of my attempts."

"He did. He said you were a little discouraged about them."

Lanny shrugged, "I suck as a painter."

"Is the class designed to turn you into a great artist, or is it to help you understand some of the problems faced by an artist?"

Lanny smiled, "It is definitely not going to turn me into a great painter, but I guess you can say that it's acquainting me with some of the problems."

"Is that a bad thing?" Marco asked.

"I guess not. It's pretty disappointing though."

"What are your expectations? Where do you see yourself going with your interest in art?"

"I should be good at something, shouldn't I?"

"You don't have to be a great artist to appreciate great art, or to recognize what works and what doesn't," Marco reminded him.

"That's true, I suppose."

"Brian was telling us how excited you were when you visited some of the great art museums in Europe. What was it that appealed to you so much?"

Lanny thought for a moment. "I guess it was the diversity of art that we saw. So many very different styles and techniques over so many periods. I kept trying to understand what the artist was trying to get me to see. Brian and I talked about that a lot."

"I think I got more out of our conversations about what we saw than I did by just seeing it. I really didn't know what I was looking at until Lanny explained it," Brian said. "He got me excited about a lot of things I never knew existed."

"Are there opportunities in the world of art for someone who is not an artist himself?" Marty asked.

"Well sure. There is a whole world of activity that surrounds the artists ," Lanny admitted.

"Are those people failures, or less important?"

"No. Of course not. But the artists are the stars. Nothing happens without the art."

"And nothing much happens without the supporting cast," Marco said. "I'm getting ready to show some things at shows in London and Paris. How do you suppose that happens?"

"I guess someone was familiar with your paintings and invited you.," Lanny said.

"And that happened because I had been invited to other shows, critics saw my work and wrote revues about it. Dealers agreed to help me market them and make the public aware of them. Later some good museums like Woolaroc, Gilcrease and Crystal Bridges purchased my works and put them out for a lot of people to see and appreciate. There are a lot of writers, critics, curators and dealers who surround the artist. We couldn't do much of anything without them. They are what makes it work," Marco explained.

Lanny nodded, "I think I understand what you are telling me. Maybe I am limiting myself."

"Of course you are. In a way, the artist is like a skilled boxer. Without promoters and trainers his options would be the occasional bar fight. I don't want to struggle by myself. I need a community of people to support me. We all do. What part of that community would you like to be?"

Now Lanny smiled. "I'm beginning to get the message. Maybe it's OK if my paintings suck."

"Be a hobby painter. Paint for your own enjoyment but don't hook your future on that," Marco advised. "There is a whole word of activity surrounding art. You should explore that world and figure out what most excites you about it. Focus on whatever that is and go for it."

Marty added, "Or check it out and later you might decide to do something completely different. No education is ever wasted. Marco had no intention of doing art when we first met. I had him on track to become a computer programmer. That would have been a waste of talent."

"Don't sell yourself short Marty," Marco said. "You have been very successful in your chosen career. You are a Director over four managers of application development people."

"But realize that I started out as a programmer. I was OK but not outstanding." Marty went on. "My talent was in recognizing the skills of others and laying out projects in an efficient way. I needed to understand the process, but I didn't need to be a super star to facilitate the work of others. The programmers are the artists. I help pull things together and make them work. It's a different skill set."

Lanny smiled, "Thanks. I think I hear what you are saying. I need to look around and see the bigger picture. This has been very helpful."

Sam and Ben had been listening quietly and decided that this was a good time to ask about desert. "Did Marco make a pie?" Ben asked

"I did," Marco laughed. "Is everybody ready?"

On the way back to their place, Lanny asked, "Is there anything you can't talk about with Marco and Marty?"

"If there is, I haven't found it," Brian chuckled. "They are great at picking you up when you stumble and pointing you in the right direction."

"It really felt good that they took my situation seriously and took an interest in me."

"You're a good guy, Lanny. Marco and Marty would probably try to help you anyway. But now that you and I are together, you're part of the family," Brian explained.

"I see why you feel like you are lucky to be part of them. It's a nice family to belong to."

"Welcome to the family," Brian grinned.

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