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John on his motorcycle

Strange Days

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 8 Mar 2023



Painting by Arvydas Martin, reminds me of Rob Coolins work with half- hidden figures

Now on to other denizens of the warehouse. Next to me lived Rob C. I was at the end of the long hall where the ‘L’ began and he was one into it. He was a very talented abstract painter. His father had been an early and famous ‘Modernist’ and friends with Jackson Pollack. He was my age, tall, skinny, dark haired, wild, almost rabid at times, fitful and over-emotional. I liked his paintings. They were large canvasses with bright colors and all contained hundreds of objects which you could make out, though distorted in a Picasso-like manner. But Rob was even more subtle. You had to stare at his painting a long time until more and more objects became clear and finally a motif, sometimes a story revealed itself. He had about ten of these large canvasses spread about his room and would keep going back to them and add little details and more meaning as an idea occurred to him. So each of his works were the products of months of thought. His floor was covered in spilled, bright oils.

He often incorporated small objects into the pictures, making them 3-D. My favorite was one where he had the bottom half of a female manikin, (life sized) butt up, naked and legs half cut off, one up and one down, flying at a sharp angle into the canvass, into a wild and dark nighttime city scape. The shape stuck out three feet and was held there by almost invisible wires, a wonder to behold.

He should have been famous. He had one showing in S.F. at a famous gallery a few months before I met him. He was the minor artist of the show, with just a few pieces on display. The show went well and many were impressed by his work. But then he did the unpardonable thing and was blacklisted by the art dealers, a tight clique that controlled everything. After the show he sold a few of his other pieces behind their backs, without their commissions and they found out. But he was irascible by nature and a coke head. He didn’t try to apologize. He decided to quit.

That fall, just as I was moving out he threw his whole collection of paintings in the back parking lot of the warehouse in the rain. As they sat and rotted there for a week and seeing others pilfer a few, I took one for myself, a large one. And it became quite a conversation piece for months as it hung on our living room wall when I lived with Dave and Lindsey three months later. Dave would occasionally pick up his Uzi, (always conveniently at his side) and put a bullet through it and each time he did he said he’d improved the painting, and maybe he did. It was a large 6 x 4 daytime city scape of a ghetto but amazingly colorful, with hints of pedestrians and of dogs chasing cars.

While we didn’t term him our friend (although John Seebach made friends with him and spent hours in his room), he was our fellow housemate and we did kindly put up with his screaming antics. Once, when he wanted to get more work done without distraction he begged me and Jim H. to lock him in his room from the outside for several days. He had a dead bolt and slipped us the key under the door. We honored his request. Not twelve hours later he was screaming and banging so loudly all the other residents of the hall were upset, mad at us when they found out the details. They formed an angry mob and we capitulated. Once the door was opened he went to the bathroom and then quietly back to work in his room. That was Rob.

John told me the story that when he was spending time in Rob’s room, watching him paint and chatting, Rob had a T.V., often on. He decided one day it was a distraction from his work so he took a can of spray paint and covered the screen in white. But he sometimes kept it on at low volume because he liked background noise. One evening they were both in the room and the first episode of the ‘Mod Squad’ came on. They both paid no attention at first but little bits of the dialogue started catching their ears, more and more, making them both wonder “what the hell is this show”. It was too crazy and improbable to be real. Curiosity got the better of them and Rob started scraping off a little portion of the screen with a spoon, a few inches in the middle. Then they heard more insane dialogue and when they caught a glimpse of ‘Mr. T.’ they were captured. They quickly scrapped off the whole screen and watched the show, wondering what America was coming to.

One other thing I remember about Rob was that he was handsome and charismatic and had several cute girlfriends. We all had a master key to the front entry downstairs and after ten each night it was locked. There were no buzzers to rooms and it was so far away you couldn’t hear people knocking. People could get out but only residents could get in. The other thing about his cute girlfriends was that they too loved coke and wanted to visit him late at night when they scored. But he always disconnected his phone for sleep. Their only recourse was to throw tiny pebbles at his windows, repeatedly, form the sidewalk fifteen feet below to wake him up and sometimes this worked. The problem was that my windows adjoined his and from the street you couldn’t discern where the one room started and the other stopped. So I was sometimes woke by these repeated, annoying tappings, crawling out of bed to open the window to look down at a pretty face I didn’t recognize. I’d stumble downstairs in my jeans to get a closer look and invite the babe in to knock on his door, all the while proposing that if she couldn’t wake him she could visit and share with me. I was always met with a cold rebuff, except once.

It was five a.m. I convinced the sweet, blond tart that if she sat with me a few hours and share a few lines on my coffee table he’d wake up and she could have her tryst. She agreed and did manage to get into his room at seven, after loud knocking. But he had poor taste in women, looks and lipstick and little else. I enjoyed sitting close beside her and talking away at one point holding up her hand to admire her fingernail paint. But the conversation was so insipid I was glad to see her go.

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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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