Gary Lehmann - Author

Author's Publications and Upcoming Appearances

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Some new Creative Non-Fiction

The Testimony of Ida May

Gary Lehmann

Ida May: Every evening when I get home, your Honor, I put my key in the lock and wait just a second as the door opens to hear Freddie’s, you know, hi-fi in the next apartment. They’re not real apartments, just rooms I suppose you’d say. He keeps it too loud, but he turns it down when he hears me come in. I turn on my television real low so I don’t bother him too much. While I’m making dinner, I hear him open and close the refrigerator, and I guess he hears me do the same. He generally listens to his music until late, and I watch my shows. Then I get up and run my broom a few times over the kitchen wall. That’s the signal we have agreed upon. He turns off his music when he gets finished, and I turn off my television. Then, I hear the springs as he lowers his Murphy bed. I generally go to bed about then, sitting up late most nights reading the Racing News ‘til midnight. I fill out the form till I go to sleep. That’s how it goes most nights.

Judge: So, what happened on the night of the murder?

220 words

The Death of the Painter, Michael Sweerts
Gary Lehmann

The painter, Michael Sweerts, had his brains fried in the hot desert sun of the Persian Plateau in 1662. He came to realize he was living a lie and that everyone on this Missionary Expedition was lying to themselves as well. That pompous ass, Father Rene Brunel, just came along to find a field where he could set himself up as a dictator. Bishop Pallu only organized the Expedition to prove to his younger brothers, all highly accomplished, that he could do something creditable before he died. Now that they could write died leading a mission to China on his tombstone, he has lost all interest in the expedition and its problems. Father Rene found his chance to take over.

Everyone lies. Sometimes it’s harmless, even beneficial as in when you tell a small lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or when you give reassurance knowing full well that the situation is desperate in order to maintain order, but then there’s the most hateful lie of all. This is the lie you tell yourself because you must make it so, like the one Michael Sweerts told himself before signing up for this mission. The state of Europe is so terrible that there is no point in going on as a painter. I’ll do more good by dedicating my painting skills to God and to the heathen who can use my pictures to see the one true faith. It was a shining illusion, burned away by the hot desert sand and the relentless sun. Now he faced facts, but what was he to do about it?

In the desert, surrounded by nasty camels, millions of flies and people whose motives are unraveling as quickly as the desert sun rises, Sweerts learned that there is no holy place to go. These missionaries were either running away from their failures in Europe, as he was, or hurrying to make a profit from the sale of Christian artifacts, Bibles, and paraphernalia to the newly converted in China. It is a sorry selfish world and acting pious makes it no better. Sweerts started to curse the Bishop and Father Rene and the whole lot of them separately and collectively in a loud voice that would not be silenced. Hour after hour, he revealed their secrets and the sham it kept hidden. Finally, Rene complained on behalf of a deputation of others and Bishop Pallu, by now Rene’s puppet, gave in.

Sweerts was supplied with a camel he did not know how to ride or feed, some water, and his own clothes. He was sent off alone. They may all be deluded, and some of them may be coming to understand their lies as he had come to understand them, but officially the mission would have him no more. It must march on in its own cloud of unknowing. It would not do to have some lunatic telling the truth when their mission was already set. They handed him over to the Love of God from which he perished in the Portuguese coastal town of Goa. It was a mercy that he even arrived there alive after so many days in the desert with no guide. Yet, he did arrive, and with help from some Jesuits, he managed to eke out a marginal existence for another two years before some Oriental disease, from which he had no defense, cut him down before he ever learned its name.

The Lazarist Mission that expelled him into the desert proceeded on toward China and disappeared from the record of history.

597 words

More real than the real thing

Gary Lehmann

Minnie Clark, the artist’s model, was the picture of health and beauty. She sat by a grand piano, her hair drawn back, wearing an elegant black dress of chiffon. To this day, the woman in the painting by Thomas Wilmer Dewing conveys a sense of youthful strength, command, wealth and privilege. She is the very image of emerging American womanhood. Her picture said to the world, “I am the new powerful woman who is ready to beat down all obstacles and win.”

In 1890 in the artist’s New York studio, nothing could have been farther from the truth. Minnie Clark, who sat with her lovely back arched away from the keyboard of a grand piano, was just putting on a show. In fact, Minnie couldn’t really play the piano and had been holding that pose for several hours as the painter labored to capture her beauty on canvas. The painting does not reveal the cold of the unheated studio or how sore her muscles became straining to remain still.

In truth, Minnie Clark was just another working girl. She was not even American, and, as a 28 year old Irish immigrant, she was hardly a girl any more. A widow, she modeled because she had no other skills with which to support her two children. She looked the very picture of youthful vigor, but she was in poor health and could not afford the medicines she needed. Her family lived in a series of tenement houses from which she moved frequently when the rent came due.

She was beautiful and in reasonable demand, but could only command $1.50 for a morning’s work from artists who had little cash. Occasionally, she found a job for as much as $30 a week, but mostly, the work was erratic and women like Minnie struggled to escape from it into more respectable occupations. Many others were forced to work as actresses or chorus girls to make ends meet. Eventually Minnie married an architect and vanished into the American middle class.

Still, when you see the image of a Gibson girl from the Roaring Nineties, laughing and throwing her hair back so the gentle winds could tease her admirers with its display, think on Minnie Clark, and know that the person whose bold and sassy image stares back at you is in fact that of a strong and remarkable person, but not for the reasons the painter has struggled to suggest. The real person who posed for the busts and nudes of the Fin de Siecle were braver than you could know.

438 words


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