Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I want it to be this or that. One or the other. But it isn't.

He's an interesting old man. He truly loves a certain set of painters and paintings and he has beautiful books. When he sets one in his own cookie crumbs, he's nearly frantic - dusting them off with puffy hands, fussing and clucking about how those bits of flour and sugar will embed. He opens the books, one by one, handling them like treasure. Shows us the plates and talks about how only a truly fine artist knows how to use white, how the artist didn't like the subject of this particular portrait, how he was sad when he painted another. His passion for it keeps my hands folded and my gaze attentive.

He's a tyrant and a snob. He's worked this promised donation of books (many of which our library already has and some of which we don't actually want) into several years of attention. He's demanded that someone catalogue the collection. We send a student to list the books. He's called repeatedly, wanting to lecture formally. Truth is, he's not qualified. But he's been so insistent that he's involved everyone from the president's office on down to the library.

The informal presentation - tea and cookies in the library - several art history professors, the president, the dean, the secretary from art history and myself volunteer to be the audience. There are occasional exchanged glances. Although the dean acquits herself like a pro, the rest of us lurch and stumble, surreptitiously check our watches.

I give myself a generous number of brownie points for volunteering. At the best of times, unless I'm obsessed with something, I don't do sitting still very well. But my boss, who agreed to this over groans and protests, is out sick - and nobody, least of all the staff member who dealt with him in person before, wants to do it. So, I'm taking it for the team.

And I'm taking it for an old man who wants to talk about a powerful, sincere love.
And I'm taking it for an arrogant, snobbish old tyrant who bullies and pushes and can use up the time of people who have no time at all.
I'm taking it because the tyranny alone is an interesting study and because maybe, some day, I'll be an old tyrant who fears that no one will love the magic I saw in something.