Albrecht Durer art


By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 15 Mar 2023



A Durer woodblock

My friend Steve was visiting Boston for a month and kindly offered me his flat while away.  This was a few days before I left the warehouse and Nikki forever.  He rented the bottom flat of a dilapidated Victorian house, two blocks away from the Starry Plough, my old, familiar turf.  

A few days after I moved into Steve's empty pad, I received a visit from Mike. I wanted quiet and complete privacy and no drugs. And I stuck to near sobriety for a week, only a little wine, and I did recuperate.

But I must say this was one of the few visits and conversations with Mike where he repaid me richly for two years of mostly unpleasant or at best middling and rambling talks. I half-enjoyed his company when he taught me music, and didn't mind his company at parties, when it was diluted by others around us. But here's the humdinger, recorded in my journals.

I had an amazing conversation with Mike last night, with insights that dazzled me. This is one of the fine cases where my association, my continued friendship with a person almost everyone else hated, paid off richly. He never told this story to anyone else, (except perhaps Laurel) and he told it to me as his one confidant. In the same way Chuck told me many of his great ideas and no one else, so I gained all the riches of his odd intelligence, well worth the grumpiness I had to put up with, and Mike’s boastfulness.

It started with dinner and him telling me vivid stories of his Tucson days of drug dealers, girls, and cops, and the whole desperate and fast life he led. I was struck by the color and power of these stories so much, I tried to convince him to record them before he forgot them. Then, naturally, we discussed the dangers of writing down such delicate and incriminating information. While we were pondering these hurdles, I began to see the whole nature of what makes descriptive writing (and more important, living) intense. The mind-blowing experiences propagate, demand, the brain-excited stimulating descriptions that story telling aims at, and this is the product of this excitement, a re-living of the event.

If you want to write a great story, long or short, you have to pick the most fantastic series of events that beggar credulity, but which really could happen, the craziest juxtapositions of opposite characters in every way, low and high, thrown together by freak events and forced to cooperate to get through them. This describes ‘Crime and Punishment’ perfectly. I’m not talking about ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, which surpasses credulity. But situations which could happen and do.

I wondered how Mike told such detailed tales as vividly as if they happened yesterday, though he was going back five years in time. He packed in such tiny circumstances, with such an eye for color, the expressions on people’s faces at critical points, the words said, the clothes worn, he brought the story to life in my mind.

He still had the woman perfectly pictured, the names of the streets and stores, details down to footsteps, all these bright scenes recurring to him because they were life and death situations, causing an intensity that had never stopped playing out in his mind. His eyes were rolling in the recounting, his look, feverish.

Compare this to the average talk of daily life, dull, monotone catch phrases and rant, names and commonplaces with no imagination, no uncommon variation worth remembering. But Mike was in an energized state, life times ten, his memory and thinking apparatus as sensitized as if a loaded gun were pointed at his head.

This is what I craved. It explains all my risk taking, my befriending street people and druggies, and gutter explorations and drug experiments to dangerous degrees (paralleling adrenaline rushes), all in a quest for greater awareness.

Most people seek dulling pastimes. They prefer non-action and feed their laziness. They never write. They have nothing to write about. The lucky few with active minds get a taste of the thrill of the fast lanes of experience and desire it more and more, sometimes killing themselves by overdoing it in various wrecks but hooked on the thrill, thirsty for life, with unquenchable passion, like me.

And writing is an amplifying force, magnifying its discovered details, painting and preserving the experience, and unifying it with possible answers, continuities, revelations.

As I told this to Mike he was overwhelmed. I came up with a simile: Many people are overcome by too much input and emotionally drown in a sea of vivid perceptions, like seeing a tidal wave come at them, they freeze. But he was a survivor, a swimmer, propped up and propelled by the wave, maybe even a surfer enjoying the ride.

Life is full of injustices and atrocities. Most people recoil, react to them by looking away or become callous in heart and feel no pain. You see it in the steely, vacant glare of veterans. But some digest the pain, slowly comprehend it and become more human after all the inhumanity witnessed. Mike was one of those, trying to make sense of his own ‘Apocalypse Now’. And my listening to him wholeheartedly and encouraging him to unknot the riddles of those wild days was to him the light at the end of a tunnel. A chance to climb out.

I couldn’t imagine a more intense conversation. It was remarkable and we both knew it and could hardly contain ourselves. It fuelled us both, stoking an ever greater fire with phrases that illuminated more and more of the whole experience as he went on.

The story that he told me, and which set us off was this: He'd gone from Arizona to Florida on a drug deal and found himself holding a briefcase from a shady character that contained some very old woodblocks, supposedly by the Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer. It was his mission to sell them fast for cash and he spent a day frantically going to antique shops trying first to determine their authenticity. He told me of an old man in a bookstore, describing him and his pretty blond assistant in detail and then the woodblocks themselves, as all three poured over them with two large magnifying glasses, rapt in wonder more and more the longer they gazed at the amazing intricacy and beauty they all saw as they examined them, their heads ever closer together and closer to the case, speechless all, as they gazed down. He saw visible objects in the tiniest windows of castles, and then how he parted with them for a modest sum of money, shaking his head in recounting the deal, as if it happened yesterday and was the worst mistake of his life.

I told him to his delight that this story and his experience vividly recorded would be just such an intricate, beautiful piece of art as those engravings and the only thing that could redeem and compensate for all his trauma. He said he hardly ever told this story to anyone, just Laurel and me. She sympathized, I understood. Others he attempted to tell were incredulous.

They are incredible, so he harbored them. But he told me last night several times over how relieved he was in telling me, to a sympathetic, understanding ear, getting them off his mind where they tossed and tormented him for years.

After this first night of Mike’s insightful conversations, I did find the peace and solitude I needed. The next six days I had few visitors. I was also stoked that in this rare instance of a great conversation with Mike I was not on speed or drinking more than a beer or two and resolved to throw all my energies into writing full time, soberly, and become an author.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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