"How are you doing?"
It's not an easy question to answer sometimes. When your mentor, your father figure, your friend, asks you in a public place and your life isn't quite where you want it to be, you might not have a ready response.
"You know what they say... strikes and gutters, Barry. Strikes and gutters."
Maybe I've been watching too many Coen brothers movies lately. But because he's all those things to you... the reason he's all those things to you, he understands.
Wednesday night I had dinner and a long talk with Barry Moser. For those of you that don't know, Barry is a well known illustrator, an extraordinary wood engraver and a maker of fine press books. But that's a poor description. He is, above all, a teacher. He was a Methodist minister early on in his life, but that didn't last long. Soon enough, he realized that often people have difficulty reconciling their scripture and their prejudices.
We spoke for a long time... of art and politics... of the sacred and profane. He let me in on something that I'd guess he's told fewer people than he could count with one hand. He told me of his plans for his 70th birthday as well. It's something that is at once glorious and juvenile and makes me wish I could be there to see it. I have a hard time believing he will really be seventy years old this Fall.
"I began the Bible fifteen years ago. I don't know if I have another fifteen years left in me."
He often jokes that he's mortal and won't always be here. I don't buy it.
"I'm cutting your fucking head off and freezing it just like Joe DiMaggio's," I replied.
I aspire to be like Barry. I don't mean to be a celebrated illustrator. I have neither the talent or skill for that. But to be a man like him. He is not perfect, but it is in his flaws that I find comfort. The mistakes that he's made and his stumbles along the way that remind me that it's just part of the game. Like the ghost of George Plimpton said, "Show a little grace if you should fall."
The evening wound down. We walked out and stood on the porch in front of the restaurant a little while.
"If you ever need anything, you let me know," I told him.
I say that a lot to people, but it rarely carries the same weight as when I say it to him. I've only ever had one chance to truly do something for him; to give a little bit back for all of the things that he's done for me. We both stood there and teared up a bit and promised to see each other soon.
Walking down the street in the dark I felt I'd been baptized.
Strikes and gutters.