Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Notes on Tall Truths

The three previous posts are based on events that happened to me in three different decades of my life. I was in my 20s when I sat down to an Invisible Picnic. I was in my 30s when a baby Smile warmed my heart on my last day of clowning around. I was in my 40s when I began my journey down the Endless Road.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Endless Road

I have trouble sleeping.

I can go days with little sleep.

When I do sleep I see nightmares.

After my divorce I had night-terrors.

The following story is about night-terrors.

This is a true story as best as I can remember.

This is an imagined story as the truth is imagination.

Art and work was my life. My youngest son Micheal had moved out of my apartment after he graduated from high school and I was living alone for only the second time in my life.
My oldest son Mark was moving from Kansas City Missouri to Minneapolis, Minnesota with his girlfriend Jennifer. Mark asked me to help with the move because I had a Mini-Van.
Everyone called me Mister Soccer Mom until they needed me and my van to move.

I was glad to help my son Mark move. We were never the same as father and son after the divorce. I love Mark and he loves me but we picked apart each other. We knew how to push each others buttons and we did.

I got off from work on a Friday and the next day I would help my son move. I came home to my basement apartment in Lee's Summit, Missouri. This was the second time I lived in this suburb of Kansas City Missouri. This time I lived in a nice apartment in a better neighborhood.
The phone rang and I answered it.

"Dad are you ready to go tomorrow?"

"Yeah Mark, I got a full tank of gas on the way home. Do you want me to meet you in North Kansas City?"

"No, it's going to rain by the weather forecast. You know you get lost on overcast days. I'm going to swing by Mom's house and say goodbye, then I'll come by your apartment and you can follow me back to my duplex."

"Around 8:00 then?"

"8:00 sounds good. See you then, thanks dad."

I hung up the phone and looked at the wreak that was my apartment. What did Mark call it?

"The Empire of Junk."

His voice echoed in my memory. I had to clean the apartment before he came over.
I had hundreds of books, a few items in the frig, glasses, dishes, an office chair, light-box and a computer. Everything else was my Art or my Empire of Junk. Over 40 large foam sculpture in every shape and color filled the apartment. Thousands of concept sketches and all kinds of junk used in the sculptures filled the gaps in between the art. I found some trash bags and filled them up. As I flung the trash into the dumpster I thought about Toni and her brothers. Did I do the right thing. It's a hard thing to know that you broke up a family even if it was for the right reason.

I stuffed all the rest of the junk in cabinets and closets. I didn't have a clean apartment, I had a clean private Art Gallery. 11:00 p.m. and there is a knock at the door. Damn! I forgot about the party next door. I didn't go to parties, I hated parties. I didn't drink alcohol or smoke anything.
The next door neighbor always had parties on Fridays and at 11:00 p.m. I let her and friends tour my Private Art Gallery. I opened the door.

"Wow you cleaned the place up!"

"Just for you and your friends" I lied.

"So we're ready to make payment."

"Oh yes, I forgot. Wait here."

I left the group at the door and went into the kitchen and grabbed a handful of 3-D puff paints in little plastic squeeze bottles out of a cabinet. I handed the bright colored paints out to my guests.

"You know the drill go ahead and paint."

"I'm new, my name is Sally. What's the drill?"

That name again. I never saw Sally after I left that first apartment. Did she die alone?

"These two tall multicolored blob are called Brother and Sister. To see the rest of my art you must add color to these sculptures. Men paint the Brother and Women the Sister."

They all had fun painting the sculptures. I made silly jokes as I showed them my weird and wonderful art. Maybe my art was just part of my Empire of Junk but sculpting your emotions and giving them color seemed to touch people. On the walls for all to see was my Love, Hate,
Fear, Friendship, Pain, Lust, Courage and Joy. Freestanding sculptures were harder to name as I tried to think of nothing when I sculpted those.

By 12:30 a.m. the party moved back across the hall. I needed some sleep. I turned off the lights and got in bed. As I closed my eyes the car wreak in a blue and gray vision played out. I stood by the side of the road watching the car flip end over end with me in it. I woke in the back of an ambulance. I tried to get up but the paramedic with a big mustache and a 70's haircut pushed me back down. The world was in vivid color. Most of my dreams were in monotones. Was this a dream?

"Its all right, you're not going to die."

He was right, I had already died and came back. I swam in darkness for a moment and then the sound of laughter. I opened my eyes and was in an emergency room. As I propped myself up on my elbows I saw most people in the room were laughing. The doctors and nurses were laughing and many of my high school friends were there and laughing. I saw my ex-girlfriend Gail talking to her sister Ann. They weren't laughing. Then I heard myself tell a joke. It was as if someone else was telling the joke. When I was unconscious I had told every joke I knew. I swam in blackness again.

I was alone in my hospital room. I sat up in bed and my head felt gigantic. As I stood up to go to the restroom I felt like a living bobble head. I looked in the mirror and saw an elephant man version of myself. My left eye lids were the size of a grapefruit and the area of my scalp had ballooned to the size of a small watermelon. My nose was a blob with nostrils. Behind me a monster appeared in the mirror. Its face was a spiral of horns attached to a body of yellow wedges with red slashes. Its arms and legs were made of cow bones with rusty wires. It had no hands or feet. In the mirror the arms reached out to me.

I woke screaming. I looked at the alarm clock, I had only been asleep five minutes. My visions of the car wreak had never turned into a Night Terror before. I couldn't sleep. To be honest I was too scared to sleep. I couldn't do any art or I would make a mess and I didn't want my son to see even a hint of the Empire of Junk. I worked on my computer. I worked on my most positive movie script. I didn't try to work on the story about God, love and redemption. I was a nervous wreak and just concentrated on finding typos.

4:30 a.m. and I was still wide awake with little hope for getting any sleep. I turned the computer off and went back to bed. I faded into the darkness of my room. I was dreaming that the darkness of the void had swallowed me whole. I was very small, a wisp of nothing in a maze of atoms. I was at peace with myself and then the monster came out of the darkness.

"I am the Demon of the Night in the River of Darkness your fear has summoned me."

I was in my bedroom staring at the ceiling when an evil, empty of light fell upon me. Four glossy mantis like forearms ripped out of the black orb. The claws clenched my torso and carved into my ribcage.

I woke screaming, jumping out of bed, slamming against my bedroom door and then falling to the floor. I was somewhere between awake and my Night Terror. I stood at the door screaming trying to open it. I was turning the knob but pushing in instead of pulling the door open.
Suddenly I heard an echo of a memory in my mind.

"Dad you're having a nightmare! Wake up and pull the door open!"

I was alone in my bedroom. I was alone in my apartment.

It was the memory of Mark waking me from a Night Terror after the divorce. My left hand began to twitch and my face contorted. I felt the pressure in the back of my mind. I fell to the floor and had a seizure. I thought to my self, "better now than on the road". It didn't last long.

It was dawn. I got dressed and went out for breakfast. I got a Denver omelet just because I like the name. It was 7:30 a.m. by the time I got back to the apartment. I wished I hadn't drank the orange juice as I felt it sour in my stomach. I heard a knock on the door.

"Dad open up it's me."

I opened the door and my son Mark walked in.

"Do you have some window washing fluid? Its misting outside now."

"Sure Mark, I've got some under the sink."

I opened the cabinet under the kitchen sink and junk fell on the floor.

"Tried to hide the Empire of Junk from me, didn't you?"

As we walked out the apartment, Mark asked for one of my abstract sculptures. I pulled it off my wall and put it in the front set of the van. I followed Mark to his old duplex in North Kansas City. The overcast day made me see all the floaters from damage to my left eye. The cloud of black specks made driving hell. We loaded my van with the larger items and hit the road.

We got on I-35 North and by the time we made the Iowa boarder the rain was coming down hard. Between my floaters and the heavy rain I'm having trouble seeing Mark's car.
Somehow I keep up with Mark and we pulled into the first Truck Stop we saw. Mark bought gas with a credit card but I was using cash. I ran to pay the clerk and fell in a big puddle of water.
I got back to my van with a swollen ankle and soaked pants. As I cursed my luck I realized the sculpture in the passenger seat was the torso of the demon of my Night Terror.

"I'm a superstitious fool"

I said out loud as I thought how my subconscious mind and Mark had picked out the most striking of my Wall Art. Just an accident of timing. The road went on forever through Iowa.
Rows of corn, heavy rain and lack of sleep were a bad combination. For a second I fell asleep.
I had to take my mind off the boredom of the road. I thought about my sons when they were three and six years. Those were my favorite memories. Mark was born a little old man.
He is an old soul if ever there was one. When he was six years old he taught me more than I taught him. He taught me a better way to mix paints. He taught me how to whistle.

The best thing my six year old son Mark taught me, was how to fly in my dreams.

"Father do you fly in your dreams like Superman?"

"No son I've never flown in my dreams."

"Oh Father, you must fly in your dreams. Nothing is better than flying in your dreams."

"Well son, you either fly in your dreams or you don't."

"No Father, thats not true. I can teach you to fly in your dreams. When you go to sleep think of flying like Superman and I will come to you in your dreams and teach you how to fly."

I went to sleep that night thinking of flying like Superman. That night six year old Mark came to me and spoke to me in my black and white dreamland of New York City.

"I will tie this tread to the button of your shirt and then I'll fly you like a kite."

Six year old mark took a spool of tread and tied the loose end to the middle button on my shirt.
He ran away from me letting the tread run off the spool. Then he clenched the tread in his hand and I was airborne. Higher and higher Mark pulled me into the sky. Soon I was higher than the Empire State Building. Six year old mark was so tiny below me.

"I'm breaking the tread Father. You can fly like Superman because its a dream."

Mark broke the tread and I flew like Superman. I weaved in and out of the 1930's skyscrapers and did loops through the clouds. It was the most fun I ever had in a dream and I woke up laughing. Strange, thinking of my favorite dream was helping me stay awake.

Rain, corn fields and the road. I was so tired. I needed to stay alert.

Micheal, my youngest son. My son with the big heart. He was a difficult child when he was three years old. He had the most beautiful curly blond hair. While Mark and I got on each other nerves, Micheal and I didn't seem to have much in common. I love Micheal so much but I'm not sure he knows it or believes it. That little boy of three that I nicked named BAM BAM was more strong willed than I could have imagined a child to be. It wasn't the Terrible Twos with Micheal but the Terrorizing Threes.

I was having trouble keeping up with Mark. Why did he drive so fast in this rain?

Micheal was always breaking things at three years old. He didn't seem to have any fear at that age. We let him watch a Martial Arts movie once and he kicked a hole in a wall. Micheal woke me up one morning by pulling a bed slat out from the box frame and hitting me across the face.
For six months he refused to go to sleep in his bed and would sit in the middle of the floor wrapped in his favorite blue blanket swaying back and forth trying to stay awake. When he could no longer fight off sleep he would till his head back looking directly at the ceiling and scream at the top of his lungs. He would fall over on the floor mid-scream passed out. I remember turning to my wife Jackie after one of those episodes and saying;

"Do you think he was a Viking Warrior King in a former lifetime?"

There was one moment that Micheal of three years of age forever became a legend in the Vollrath family history. When my boys were three and six years old our family lived in a duplex complex in Lee's Summit Missouri. In the center of the complex was a picnic area, playground and swimming pool. On Saturdays when my wife had to work I would hire our summer weekday baby sitter to watch the boys for three hours so I could get some artwork done. Ginny would watch the boys at the playground while she talked to other teenage girls in the duplex complex.
My wife came home early one Saturday and I still had an hour without the kids. We made hot tea and just sat at the kitchen table and talked.

Finally the Minnesota boarder. The rain was letting up but my vision was taking on a fish eye lens reality. Stay awake, keep thinking about Micheal and the bully.

Jackie and I had just finished our tea when someone began to pound on our front door.
I opened the door to find Ron the twelve year old neighborhood bully. Half of the boy's left eyebrow was missing. It looked like someone had sliced off the half of eyebrow from mid-brow to the left side of the face with a sharp knife. Blood was dripping down his left side of his face and half of his white T-Shirt was soaked with blood.

"Your son did this!"

He said as he pointed to his bloody half brow with his left index finger.

"Mark wouldn't do that, he's the most peaceful child I know!"

"No! Not Mark, your son Micheal!"

"How could Micheal a three year old do that to you?"

"He hit me with a board with a nail in it! I just came to tell you I'm going to kick his ass!"

"Now wait a minute! It's bad enough you've bullied my six year old son but if you touch my three year old boy I don't care if you're twelve years old, I'll kick your ass!"

Ron the bully stood there not knowing what to say. Every time he pushed six year old Mark to the ground he would say; "You can't do anything to me I'm only twelve years old."

"Go home Ron and have your Mom take you to a doctor. I'll come by and talk to her tomorrow."

Ron didn't say another word as he turned and ran back home. I shut the door and turned to my wife.

"We're going to get sued."

"How our we going to get sued? Ron's been picking on our son Mark, a child half his age for months now. Micheal didn't know what he was doing. Besides we've both talked to Ron's mother about his bullying and all she would say was; The kids will work it out!"

"This is too weird! I just threatened a 12 year old that was picking on my 6 year old who lost half a eyebrow because my three year old attacked him!"

"Claim down Robert. We need to talk to Ginny and find out what happened."

"I guess we are beyond the kids will take care of it phase."

I saw the abandoned Aircraft Museum on the right side of the road and the big log lodge Sportsman Store just beyond that. In front of the store was an oversize sculpture of three stags.
Those landmarks told me I was getting close to Minneapolis but my eyelids were so heavy.
I had to finish the story in my mind to stay awake.

Another knock on the the front door. This time the knocks had a lighter touch. I let Jackie answer the door. Ginny our sixteen year old baby sitter was at our front door holding Micheal on her left hip. Micheal was laughing, like he new he had just mutilated a bully that was four times his age as he defended his brother who was twice his age. I saw Ginny's teen age friends standing behind her trying to hide their smiles. Six year old Mark ran into our duplex out of nowhere.

"Micheal did it, I never touched Ron! I'm not making it up!"

Mark ran into my arms.

"I know Mark you're not in trouble."

"What happens if Ron comes after me now?"

"He won't, I'm going to talk to his mother tomorrow."

"That never stopped him before."

"It will this time, I promise."

Ginny put Micheal down in the doorway and he ran into his mother's arms.

"Micheal, you can't solve all your problems by breaking things and hitting people."

Micheal just giggled at his mothers words. Ginny looked back and forth between Jackie and I as she spoke.

"It all happened so fast my friends and I couldn't stop it. Ron kept pushing Mark down and Micheal pulled a board out of the shrub fence by the pool. He hit Ron before we could get to him."

I handed Ginny her baby sitting money and told her it wasn't her fault. The next day I talked to Ron's mom and all she said was;

"I told you the kids would work it out."

The rest of the time we lived in the duplex I never saw Ron bully any of the neighborhood children. When Ron saw me he would always rub the scar of his half brow and just walk away.
I sometime imagine Ron as a grown man in a bar somewhere and someone ask him what happen to his left eyebrow. I can't imagine he tells them the truth.

We crossed the city limits of Minneapolis at sunset. I yawned as I pulled into the parking lot of Mark and Jenifer's apartment. I helped Mark unload my van in a zombie like trance.
I tried to fall asleep that night on a couch too short for me. Jenifer's black cat stared at me from a chair across the living room. I tossed and turned and the cat with her yellow eyes remained motionless on the chair looking at the foolish human on the tiny couch.

I woke with the cat on my chest. I couldn't breathe as I saw a glowing mist coming from my throat. The cat was breathing the mist in. I was having a dream. I woke up.

I sat up on the coach having an asthma attack. My subconscious was telling me to wake up because I was breathing in cat dandruff. The cat was staring at me from the chair because I was sleeping in her bed. I'm allergic to cats and the couch was the cat's bed. What was the cat's name? I looked at the cat and her name came to me.

"Annie lets you and I change places."

I sat in the chair watching the cat sleep for the rest of the night.

The next morning Mark and Jenifer took me to see a large format movie at the Minnesota Science Museum in Saint Paul as a thank you for helping them move. I got back on the road by 1:00 p.m. and the lack of sleep was causing me to see spots.

The next part of the story is a blur. I don't know what is Rest Stop nightmares and night terrors and what is real. I don't remember crossing into Iowa. I remember driving like a manic, trying to get away from the Demon of the Night. I don't remember the sun going down. It was just dark.
I remember the Demon tearing into the top of the van as I tried to sleep in the back and I woke
up screaming, fighting off a monster that wasn't there. Everyone at the rest stop looked at me like I was insane. Maybe I was insane from lack of sleep.

Then I was back on the road driving south into the night on I-35. I saw an exit sign and turned off not knowing why. The sign said Birthplace of John Wayne and The Bridges of Madison County, Winterset 13 miles. I think I drove through two little towns on the way to Winterset.
One was called Patterson and the other was a blur. I came to Winterset and they had one of Covered Bridges relocated to the edge of town. I parked the van beside the bridge.

"This is the wrong bridge."

I said to myself not knowing why I would say such a thing. I began to aimlessly drive around Madison County trying to find the right bridge. At 4:30 a.m. I found a covered bridge out in the middle of nowhere. As I drove around a large curve leading up to the bridge I saw a white pickup
stopping twenty feet in front of the bridge. Two men got out. One of the men had a red gas can and the other had some papers or rags in his hand. As the curve straighten out my headlights pointed directly at the two men. The men got back in the pick up and drove off kicking up gravel as they did.

"They would have torched that bridge if I hadn't been here."

I said to myself in stunned disbelief. Just an accident of timing? I drove back to the bridge in town. I parked the van and crawled into the back and fell asleep. I was in a black void facing the Demon.

"That's the last good deed you'll ever do!"

Screamed the Demon in a voice that sounded like grinding teeth.

"I'm not scared of you any more."

The Demon laughed and said;

"Of course you are. It's all too easy to take your life. Just to make it fair you can call on any two memories of warriors to fight with you."

Six year old Mark appeared to my right and three year old Micheal appeared to my left.

The Demon laughed as Micheal lifted the board with the nail in it above his head.
With one quick flick of the wrist Micheal flung the half brow into the void off the nail and charged the Demon. He had the war cry of a Viking King. The Demon didn't laugh long as Micheal shattered one leg and then another. Mark tied a piece of tread to the button on my shirt.

"Fly like Superman father."

Up I went like a kite on a string. The tread broke and I was flying. Micheal was in trouble as the Demon was the same size as him now without his legs. The creature was matching the warrior toddler blow for blow. Mark tackled the Demon mid-torso and the head and arms of the creature went flying. Micheal shattered the arms in midair and turned into eight-teen year old Micheal.
Mark was 21 and walking away with a piece of artwork I gave him.

As the young men that were my sons disappeared into the void I flew down and caught the Demon's head.

"You'll always be a coward!"

"Not of my own imagination."

I flew over Iowa and dropped the Demon's head on I-35 south where trucks and cars smashed it into nothing.

I woke in the back of the van and it was daybreak. I've never had a night terror again and I've been traveling down the endless road of my imagination with a bright future ahead of me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Invisible Picnic

I once lived in a suburbia ghetto. Surrounded by expensive homes I lived in an Island of low rent apartments. My wife and I had part time jobs and not enough money to buy food, much less pay the rent.

While I was taking out trash to the dumpster I found two young boys inside looking through the garbage for something to eat. To my horror the taller boy was licking the juice off a broken pickle jar.

"Don't do that, I'll get you something to eat."

I helped the two boys out of the dumpster. As I set the feet of the second shorter boy on the ground I noticed a girl standing beside the dumpster.

"My name is Toni, will you feed me too?"

Toni told me her brothers names. Her youngest brother was Joey, he had dark curly hair and was very shy. The middle brother was Jimmy, not as shy as his little brother, he would speak but only in a whisper. Jimmy had short blond hair and was the thinnest of the three.

Toni was seven, Jimmy was six and Joey was five. Toni said her brothers would go through the dumpsters and when they found something good they would throw it down to her.
She didn't want to get her dress dirty and wouldn't go in the dumpster.

When Toni told me this I could sense proud in her. The cheap purple cotton dress was little more than a long T-shirt but Toni couldn't have been more proud of it as if it were made of silk.

I promised the three children I would give them any extra food I had if they promised me to stay out of the dumpster. The two boys shake their heads yes and Toni said; "I promise."
I told them to wait in the yard in front of their apartment and I would come back with something to eat. I ran across the street to my apartment building. Racing up the steps I did two steps at a time. I was worried the kids would run off if I took too long.

When I got in my apartment and looked in my refrigerator I found it near empty. I checked in the freezer and found four Eskimo Pies. Chocolate wrapped in ice cream on a stick would be the best I could do. I left one frozen treat for my wife and took the other three back to the children. I handed the Eskimo Pies one at a time to each of the kids going from youngest to oldest.

When Toni had the final ice cream bar in her hands all three children ran off. I think Toni said "thank you" but I'm not sure. I thought the children would gobble the food down in front of me. I was a stranger, what did I think would happen? Should I tell the apartment manager what happened? Should I find out who the children's mother is and talk to her? What would people think of me, giving food to kids I don't know?

I decided to talk to my wife when she got home from work before I talked to anyone else. When my wife came home from her morning part time job I told her what happened. We decided it would be best if she talked to the apartment manager as we didn't want to have a confrontation with the children's mother. That night I went to my part time job as a dish washer at a Pizza and Pub. As I washed the metal plates in the near scalding water I thought about those three hungry children.

How could I help them when I'm barely making it myself? Two years before I was in collage with a bright future and now I was a lowly dishwasher with no future. My wife and I had part time jobs and expecting our first child. I think she was two months pregnant at the time. I had a good paying job at a coffee warehouse a few weeks before but had to leave that job when I found out drug dealers were using the bags of coffee beans to smuggle illegal drugs into the country. My life was a mess, how could I help those three children? I had to help those three starving kids in any way I could. To do anything less would be wrong.

My wife picked me up after my shift ended and I told her I had to keep my promise to the children. My wife Jackie had talked to the manager that evening and told me there had been other complains about the children getting in the dumpsters but no one had saw them eating out of the garbage bins before. I told Jackie I would ask again to get a cook's position at the Pizza and Pub. A full time job would solve a lot of our problems.

The next day while Jackie was at work I had a seizure. Everyday since my car wreck in Dec. 1975 I had seizures. Most days they were twitches in the left side of my face or the flinging of my left arm but sometimes they were my whole body flexing. After a big one I would see a vision of my car wreck.

The vision was always in shades of blue like the color of my 1969 Mustang that I had the wreak in. My face would smash into the steering wheel as I flipped end over end down a small embankment. Then I would be outside my body standing on the side of the road watching my car go upside down and backwards through a barbwire fence. As the car flips upright it pulls two fence posts out of the ground. The barbwire snaps and the momentum of the fence posts wraps the wire around the car.

The car slides backwards to a stop. I stand by the road looking down at my body. I have no emotions as I look at my bloody self. The 69 Mustang had the seat belt and the shoulder harness separate. I only had the seat belt on and the first impact slammed my face into the steering wheel with enough force to bend the upper part of the wheel to the steering column. When the car hit the fence going backward my unconscious body hit the back of the bucket seat so hard that it bend down against the back seat. My body lays in the car.

My face bloody and swollen. My shirt covered in blood. I ask myself, "Am I dead?"
Someone is behind me on the edge of the road. I turn to look and see a shadow of an entity made out of impossible colors. The vision ends.

"The car wreak ruined my life. I could have been someone if not for the wreak."

I new better than that but I said it to myself anyway. The tiny apartment was closing in on me, I needed some fresh air. As I walked out the front door of my apartment the three children were waiting for me. Toni didn't waste any time.

"Do you have some food for my brothers and me?"

I went back in my apartment and looked in the frig and found a package of hot dogs. Bread was on the counter. God bless Jackie she bought some food while I was at work last night. I microwaved the hot dogs and wrapped them in bread. This time when I gave the three children the food I clearly heard Toni say "Thank you." Jimmy said "Thanks" in a whisper and Joey just waved his hot dog at me as he turned and ran home. Jimmy and Toni ran after him back to their basement apartment.

That was a Tuesday and by Friday Jackie and I had ran out of food.
What little food we gave the three kids was still more than we could afford to give.
Friday morning we went to a supermarket and shamelessly ate all the free samples we could.
The little cubes of ham, cheese and sausage was fine but the free sample of shark meat didn't taste like chicken, it tasted terrible. I couldn't drink enough tap water to get the taste out of my mouth.

That afternoon Jackie went to work and said she would get a co-worker to buy her lunch and she would pay her back the following week. She was eating for two so I was glad she had a friend to help her out. When she got off at five we would go to my parents house for a meal and to ask them for money to hold us over to the next pay check. I watched my wife drive off to work and turned around to go back inside the apartment. The three children were standing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of me.

"What do you have for us today?"

Toni said it but all three kids had the same sweet smile. My heart sank in my chest. I had nothing for the three beautiful children or did I. I lost my academic skills in the car wreck.
I was never good at making money or keeping it but I had one great gift. My imagination had always served me well.

"Have you ever been to an Invisible Picnic?"

Toni said "no" as the two brother shook their heads no.

"Well first we need to lay out the invisible blanket to have our picnic on."

I mimed the unfolding of a blanket and threw it out into the air as it gently fell to the ground.
My hands were clenched as if I was holding on to the edge of the blanket. My hands touched the ground as I let go of the invisible cloth.

"Joey and Jimmy would you straighten out that side of the blanket. Toni would you help me put food out on the picnic blanket?"

Maybe this is more cruel than kind, I thought to myself as all three children began to giggle at the silly Invisible Picnic. The children loved the play acting. Joey the youngest took the play acting the most serious as he carefully ate an imaginary drumstick. Jimmy took great joy in eating invisible pies, turkey breasts and bowels of mash potatoes in single growling bites. Toni always the little lady ate her imaginary food with an invisible fork. When I asked her what she was eating she just smiled.

I began to tell the children the power of their imaginations. How you could go anywhere and do anything with your imagination. That your imagination could be a shield against the harshness of life.
I suddenly felt someone behind me. Someone was looking at me acting like a child, preaching the virtues of the imaginary world. My empty stomach churned as I turned to see who I made myself a fool in front of.

It was Sally my upstairs neighbor. Sally was in her early seventies and a widow. We became friends because I love hearing stories from older generations. Sally who told me stories about her life with her husband in the 1940s, 50s and 60s was the last person I wanted to see me acting so silly.

"I was trying to teach the kids about... I... I was...."

"I know what you were doing Robert."

I was so embarrassed I didn't notice at first that Sally was holding both hands behind her back.
She showed the children and I what she was holding in her hands. In each hand was two paper plates with a piece of chocolate cake on each plate. A white plastic fork was stuck in each piece of cake.

"I thought you might like some desert for your picnic. "

The children's eyes got big as they each took a piece of cake and began eating.

"Sally there's no cake for you."

"I baked this cake for my friends. You are a friend and this is your picnic isn't it? I have friends coming over later and I'll eat a piece of cake with them."

"Thanks Sally."

I took the piece of cake and began eating. I was hungry but the best thing about the cake was it washed the taste of the shark meat sample out of my mouth.

"Toni, Jimmy, Joey! I need you back home now!"

I looked in the direction of the voice and saw the top half of a woman's face in the stairwell of one the basement apartments. Two of the eight apartment buildings has stairwells outside on the side of the structures. These were the older cheaper run-down buildings.

"You're almost finished with your cake. Take a few more bites and then go to your Mother."

I was surprised Sally told the children to ignore their Mother. The three children quickly ate the rest of the cake and handed the empty plates to Sally.

"Toni! I want you and your brothers over here now!"

Toni was the first to go, licking her fingers of icing as she ran. Jimmy ran after her trying to lick icing of his right forearm as he went. Joey seemed unconcerned he had a circle of chocolate icing around his mouth. He was just trying to keep up with his brother and sister with his shorter legs.

"Should I talk to their Mother, Sally?"

"No, let her have what little pride she has left."

My wife came home late in the afternoon two hours before I would go to work. The new neighbors began to fight in the top apartment across from Sally's. Their two month old baby began to cry. The Father began to yell louder and then the Mother screamed!

"Never touch our baby like that! You never shake a baby! I'll show you what happens when you shake my baby!"

I heard the door slam and the footsteps of the young mother running down the stairwell.
The baby was crying as loud has she could. Jackie and I looked out our second floor window and saw the Mother holding the baby with one hand and smashing the front window of her husband's car with a hammer in the other. Finally she vented her remaining anger by breaking off the side view mirrors with the hammer. She set the hammer on the hood of the car and carefully climbed on the hood herself with the baby. She told her baby that her daddy would never hurt her again and she would always be there to protect her.

"Maybe I should go down there and see if she needs help."

"Robert, you can't save everyone. Call the police and let them handle it."

"What if the police arrest her for wreaking the car. What would happen to the baby then?"

"We'll tell them what we heard. Please stay out of this. You could get yourself killed."

A black pickup pulled in front of the apartment and seconds later we could hear the husband running down the stairs. As he came out the front door of our apartment building the Mother grabbed the hammer and held it up to defend the baby. The husband talked to the Mother.

"I shook the crib not the baby you...."

"Come back when you're a man."

The husband got in the pickup truck of his friend and drove off.

"I've got to go talk to her."

"Please Robert let me call the police."

"No, let me handle this. I can't let that baby get hurt."

"The best thing you could do for both of them, would be to let me call the police."

I should have listened to my wife Jackie but I didn't. The young Mother sat the hammer down on the hood beside her. She had a shocked look on her face. I walked out to her and said;

"I saw and heard what happened. If you ever need any help I'm in apartment 2B."

"I can take care of myself and my baby."

I turned and began to walk back towards the apartment.


I turned and looked back at her getting off the hood of the car with the baby.

"Thanks anyway."

Jackie drove me to work a few minutes later. That night at the Pizza and Pub I got my first chance to be a cook. The first two pizzas I made were mistakes. I got the toppings wrong.
I was put back to dish washing. To save gas I walked home that night. I put my Pizza and Pub hat in my hip pocket so I could feel the summer breeze through my hair. I must have had a sour look on my face because all I could think about was I blew a chance at a dollar more a hour and full time work. I was looking down at my shoes only a block and a half away from my apartment complex when I heard footsteps coming towards me. I looked up and saw two preteen girls running toward me. When they saw me they screamed and ran back towards the apartment complex.

"That was weird."

I said out loud as I went back to looking down at my shoes as I walked. Then I heard a voice.

"Hey you, what are you doing in this neighborhood?"

I looked up and saw an angry mob of thirty people looking my way. Ten of the men in the mob looked like body builders. One guy in the mob had brass knuckles. In the center of what reminded me of every lynch mob from every western movie I ever saw, was the woman that asked the question. Two huge German Shepherds were on a leashes she held. She had short blond hair, a big purple sweatshirt, baggy yellow shorts, long skinny legs and running shoes.

"I'm walking home from work."

I said as I reached for my hat in my back pocket to show them the Pizza and Pub logo but it was gone.

"Two twelve year old girls said you chased them down the street."

I keep walking towards the angry mob.

"Never happened."

"Are you calling my girls liars?"

"No, I'm saying they let their imaginations get the best of them."

"Stop right there or I'll put my dogs on you."

I stop walking. The big guy with the brass knuckles speaks up.

"This pervert lives in our apartment complex. I see him giving three little kids food all the time."

This made me angry and I forgot I was scared.

"I found those starving kids eating garbage out of a dumpster. Did you see that too."

I start walking.

"I work at the Pizza and Pub on Langford and I live in apartment 2B in Building C. I did nothing wrong. My name is Robert Andrew Vollrath and if you still think I'm a pervert tomorrow Mr. Brass Knuckles come see me. "

The mob splits in half and I walk between two groups of slack jawed people. I never looked back
and walked as slow as I could. I told my wife what happened and we decided she would give Toni and her brothers the extra food from then on. Jackie looked at me with a puzzled face.

"Anything else you want to tell me?"

"I lost my hat so my next paycheck will be five dollars short."

The next morning we were getting ready to go see my parents when the yelling started upstairs.

"The husband is back?"

"He came back two hours after you went to work. I knew if I told you last night you wouldn't get any sleep at all."

Just then he started screaming at the crying baby. Then silents. No yelling from the Mother or husband. No crying baby.

"What happened?"

"Robert don't let your imagination get the best of you. You don't know what happened."

"Maybe he killed the baby."

"We both need a good meal. Your unborn baby needs a good meal. We have to go to your parents house now."

We drove to my parents house in my old Ford Station Wagon and I tried not to think about the baby. I tried to think only about my unborn baby. We got a good meal and so much needed money from my parents.

Three days later I called the police and they checked in on the family and found the baby alive and well. Because of my call Child Welfare put the baby into Foster Care. A Judge returned the baby only after the couple divorced and the father gave up all visitation rights.

Both my wife and I got full time positions and we feed the three kids more food and bought them ice cream every time the ice cream truck came through the apartment complex.

Jackie gave Toni, Jimmy and Joey their ice cream bar on a stick covered in chocolate. The three children ran back to their basement apartment as they always did, but this time was different.
Their Mother left the basement apartment curtains open and I saw her for the first time through her living room window. She was over 300 pounds and the three little angels were handing their ice cream bars to her. The Mother ate each ice cream bar and handed Toni, Jimmy and Joey back the sticks. Each child licked the sticks clean. I began to cry.

"Robert you don't have to call Child Welfare, I will."

Long divorced now I'll always remember this as our shining moment as husband and wife.

Another two weeks passed before Child Welfare came to take the three children away. In those two weeks Jackie and I never let the children take the food back to their Mother no matter how many times she yelled at them to come home.

I was in the apartment doing artwork when Child Welfare came to get the children to put them in Foster Care. Jackie told me the children were coming to say goodbye and I went outside to see
them. Jimmy and Joey were getting hugs from Sally when I walked up to the boys.

"Well I guess we had some fun didn't we. Why don't you give me a hug before you..."

Both boys with goofy smiles backed away from me.

"Silly me, hugging not a very manly thing. I'll aways be your friend, take care of your sister."

The boys walked off with a Child Welfare worker to a waiting car. Toni was getting hugs from Jackie and Sally. Then like her brothers I was the last person Toni said goodbye to. Like her brothers she didn't say anything. Toni looked up at the Child Welfare Woman to my right.

"Robert, Toni has something very special to give you but you'll have to guess what it is. I'm sworn to keep the secret."

The Child Welfare Woman handed Toni a strange marker drawing. Toni held it up for me to see with both hands. I've never seen a bigger smile on any face before or since than was on Toni's face at that moment.

"Toni you drew my imagination didn't you."

Toni shook her head yes and handed me the drawing. As Toni walked away with the woman holding her hand I saw that her cheap purple dress was really made of the finest silk.

Next Post; The Endless Road

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Smile

Many years ago I was a very silly man. As a grandfather I'm still a very silly man but that's another story. In my twenties I was a clown. I rode unicycles, juggled and made balloon animals.
I worked for nightclubs, churches, company parties, malls and many birthday parties.
The more popular I got the less I enjoyed it and the more mistakes I made in my performances.
After one disastrous show I decided it was time to give up clowning. I agreed to one last show for a large church complex.

Before shows I would goof with people trying to get a smile or a laugh from everyone I meet. I went over to a young couple with a tiny bundle in the woman's arms.
I peeked into the tiny bundle and saw a small unhealthy baby. I made a funny face and then smiled at the infant. At first the tiny baby looked confused but then returned the smile.
The parents looked shocked. They looked at me as if I was an alien from another planet.
The glowing smile from the baby warmed my heart but the parent's strange looks unnerved me.

I moved on and began to goof with more people. The show was in the round and I wasn't the only clown performing. I jumped in did my gags and jumped back out of the circle letting others do there thing. I was happy because an old vaudevillian who taught me juggling was performing for one of the last times that day. I was ending my life as a clown with good company.

Then a friend was going to perform his puppets in public for the first time. The minister introduced him in a way he didn't like and he refused to do the show. The audience became upset and some of the children asked out loud "what happened to the puppet show?". As a gentleman hobo clown I had to save the show. I turned to a lady hobo clown and asked;

"May I have this dance?"

Music began to play as if a clown band had formed. We danced in a large looping spirals.
I suddenly realizes I'm hearing the puppet show music with two clown musicians playing over and matching the recorded music. We begin doing spins and throw each other around like rag dolls and the audience loves it. We exited the circle and laughed that our ad lib routine came off so polished. A few more clowns preformed and the show was over.

I was changing into my street clothes in the tent set up for the men clowns when I heard a young man on the other side of the tent talking to the minister.

"A clown made my son smile and my wife and I want to thank him."

"What my husband is trying to say is our son smiled for the first time today. He's six months old with cerebral palsy and we never taught him to smile."

"We always looked at our son with worry and pity but never joy. We realized our son can have joy in his life because a clown made funny faces at him."

The minister said he would help them find me but for some reason I didn't want to be found.
It was all too perfect. I left without another word as the clown world got smaller in the rear view mirror of my station wagon.

Sometimes when I'm sad I think of the smile and joy fills my heart.

Next post; The Invisible Picnic

Thursday, January 10, 2008

One Honest Comment

This is my 5th blog. I decided to delete my first blog and lost full control of three of my blogs.
I have a few comments on my other blogs but I asked friends to leave those comments so they don't really count. I even left a comment to myself explaining I was temped to ask a group of movie makers to leave comments. After that silly self promoting stunt I decided until I got one honest comment, I wouldn't add any new posts to this blog. The next time I checked this blog I found that one honest comment. Thanks Gloria for that first comment and the second one.
I was writing this blog to promote my artwork but now I'm writing this blog because I want to.

Writing the Endangered Truth

This blog had an earlier title called the Inflatable Studio and later changed to Inflatable Id Studio.
After some of my posts were removed I remembered an oil painting done by a friend where she got angry at the zoo where she was doing this work of art in front of the public. My friend was painting an endangered species of life and the zoo wanted her to stop. When she found out why the zoo management wanted her to paint something else, she painted the words
PAINTING THE ENDANGERED TRUTH on the top of her fine art. One of the zoo's greatest sponsor was building a strip mall on this species main breeding grounds which could have caused the extinction of this unique life form. The zoo was supposed to be the protector of all life, not the protector of the wealth of all its sponsors. My friend defaced her own artwork to tell the truth.
This blog is named after her moment of truth.

What is the Truth?

At the first of the year I wanted to tell the truth instead of holding back the truth on this blog.
This blog started out as an Art Portfolio but later became a Love Letter to my grandchildren after they were born. For Christmas my oldest son Mark gave me a DVD called Urban Explorers Into The Darkness. My son was interviewed in the movie and shot some video for the production.
I decided I would help promote the movie by telling how my phone was tapped after Mark got in trouble with his urban exploring activities. After that first post of the year I decided to tell some stories about my work on Begging for Billionaires, a movie that has yet to be released. BFB was a movie about political corruption in the city of my birth. I also posted a political cartoon. All five posts were removed from my blog. I tried to post the political cartoon a second time and it was removed within seconds. I had found the limits of what I could post on this blog. I can only guess that someone flagged my posts and Blogger took a look at those posts and decided I had gone to far.
I know my posts are true. If they were flagged, the people that flagged my posts know they were true. The people at Blogger have no way to know if anything I say is true.
I'll keep posting and you can decide what you want to believe.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

I Love Censorship

This might be my last post and I can't tell you why.

After a name change and a new direction for this blog, I think I've found a way to tell my truth by censoring what I write in a way people can read between the lines.

I love censorship because it makes you more cleaver in getting the truth to the public.

Scab Robots

Scab Robots from my Science Fiction graphic novel.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Censored by Blogger

Censored by Blogger on Jan. 6th, 2008 six posts.

Friday, January 4, 2008


Censored by Blogger on Jan. 6th, 2008

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Who is this Person?

Former Censored of Censored was a big part of the original edit of the movie BFB. As I'm no longer involved in the production or post production, I don't know how large a part she will play in the final cut of the movie. I have a negative view of Censored. Is my negative view justified?
I'm not sure.
I have never spoken to Censored but I have videotaped her many times. Once I had my camera only a few inches from her face as she cut in front of me in a crowd to escape hard questions from Censored. To her credit the body guard that protected her never threaten me for videotaping the Censored. Censored had a different experience than I did and was Censored by Censored when he tried to videotape Censored at a open meeting under the sunshine law. I wasn't there but I have no doubt Censored was telling me the truth. Perhaps the Censored and Censored over reacted to Censored style of camera work. Censored sued the Censored
for the Censored which lead to some of the best footage in the original edit.
During the time I was known as the Co-Director of Censored I had a morning meeting with Censored at his office. The meeting ended early and I began my long drive home.
I was 20 miles from Censored when I heard on my van radio that Censored was having a press conference that afternoon at Censored to announce her plans for an Censored downtown. Upon hearing this I knew Censored and I could get into the press conference because of his pending Censored against the Censored. At this point in the production I knew I had underbid the contract for the movie and gas money was the biggest dent in my budget. I drove a few more miles before I turned the van around. Getting the press conference on video was more important than my budget. Censored was still in his office when I got back but hadn't heard about the press conference.

"Do you really think we can get in?"

"Censored you have a Censored against the Censored, she won't dare stop us."

We got into the press conference and Censored asked Censored the last question.
It was a great question and she gave a condescending answer. Censored and I caught the whole thing on video.

After Emanate Domain was used to force the sell of many small businesses to the city to make way for the new downtown the demolition began. I was video taping the wreaking ball destroying the Censored building when I decided to get a shot from the observation deck of Censored City Hall. After 9-11 you could only go to the observation deck with a security guard. After checking in with security on ground level I was told go to the basement and wait by the elevators. As I waited for the security guard, Censored came out of one of the basement elevators. The last thing I wanted was to have the Censored think I was some kind of stalker with a camera. Video taping the Censored at a town meeting or a political rally seemed fair but this was just a creepy accident of timing. I held my camera at my side while turning the lens away from the direction of the Censored. I tried not to make eye contact as she walked past me towards the city hall underground parking lot. I didn't turn to look at the Censored until she was through the double glass doors. When I did look, she was on her cell phone looking directly at me.

"Great, security is never going to let me get my shot now."

I thought to myself as the CENSORED turned and disappeared into the parking lot.
The security guard took me up to observation deck a few minutes later.
He asked what I was going to use the video for and I told him the truth. As I left city hall with my shot on tape I decided not to press my luck and went to my van to head home. At the far end of the pay as you park lot, two CENSORED were standing by their trucks. The two were at opposite ends of the CENSORED scale of CENSORED. CENSORED was middle aged, short, fat and in a suit. He drove a CENSORED colored SUV. The other CENSORED was in his early thirties, tall, thin, wearing work boots, jeans and a CENSORED. He was driving a beat up old pickup in faded CENSORED and CENSORED with CENSORED showing through. I put my video camera in the back of my van and drove off. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the two CENSORED get into their trucks and followed me to Main Street. I pulled into the CENSORED shopping district and the two trucks followed me. I began driving south on CENSORED and the two CENSORED followed me. I know they were CENSORED because two weeks before I had videotaped a lone protester in front of the CENSORED building. CENSORED workers preparing for the destruction of CENSORED were taking jobs away from CENSORED members. The lone protester told me that the CENSORED had made a back room deal with CENSORED to let some CENSORED prepare the properties for transfer to CENSORED at greatly reduced price.
The two CENSORED wouldn't let me talk to their members on camera.
I was nearing the CENSORED Mall when the pickup truck raced past me and pulled in front of my van. At the same time the SUV pulled beside me matching my speed. The pickup driver slammed on his brakes as the SUV driver swerved into my lane. This forced me to violently slam on my brakes as I ran up on the right hand curb.

"This can't be happening!"

I thought as it happened again. When they tried it the third time I was in full road rage.
I decided to play their game and drove my van through the narrow gap between the SUV and Pickup. The SUV ran up on the left hand curb and the Pickup sped up.
I pulled beside the Pickup and made my right hand into the shape of a gun. I pointed my right index finger at the Pickup driver dropping my thumb over and over again like the hammer of a gun. My face was twisted in rage looking in the direction of the coward in the Pickup.
He looked so little as he turned off into the first exit into the mall parking lot.
I turned my attention to the SUV running even beside me. I pointed my mock gun at the fool in the SUV as he tried to ignore me. We stopped side by side at the next red light. I honked my horned my horn and screamed at the fat pudgy man that had tried to tag team wreak my van.
The light turned green and the man turned left peeling out as he ran over the curve.
I laughed as I drove home. My mini-van and a loaded finger beat two CENSORED, a SUV and a Pickup truck.
I know CENSORED didn't call those CENSORED.
She more than likely called the City Hall Security and the two CENSORED were just an accident of timing.
She is running for the U.S. CENSORED now.

I would vote for her if I lived in her district. Not because I think CENSORED would make a good
U.S. CENSORED. U.S. CENSORED would be good for the movie BFB.
A movie I worked so hard on and am getting so little credit for.

The back room deal between the CENSORED and the CENSORED is hear say and may not be true.

I self censored this post to get by the blogger censors.
Blogger has the right to censor anything they see fit.
I want to tell the truth in this blog.
I hope blogger respects free speech.

Censored by blogger on Jan. 6th, 2008.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Lost Cartoon

Censored on Jan. 6th, 2008 by Blogger. I wish I could say more about this cartoon.

What's in the green bag?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Urban Explorers

Censored by blogger Jan. 6th. 2008.
Photo of DVD removed by Robert Vollrath.

I had nothing to do with this DVD other than having a son that became a Urban Explorer.
I only went exploring once with my oldest son Mark and his friend Slim Jim. I was standing beside Mark when he shot some video of Slim Jim coming out of a tunnel that appears in the movie.
Slim Jim was a large part of the focus of this movie and the director couldn't have made a better choice. Meeting Slim Jim made me understand the positive side of Urban Exploring in a way my son couldn't. You can't help but like Slim Jim if you meet him and his charisma shines through in the movie.
Mark appears several times in the movie in a chopped up interview but I really don't know how much he contributed behind the scenes. Having a son that is a Urban Explorer can give you a few gray hairs. Mark was Censored under the Censored for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The movie tells this negative side of Urban Exploring in what was known in the Twin Cities as the Landmark Six. I didn't know Mark was Censored until after he was released 48 hours later.
While he was in Censored I began to hear weird clicks on my Censored and began to think I was being paranoid for no reason. When Mark called a day later he told me that the Censored had told him that my Censored was Censored because my Censored was listed on his Censored. The Censored knew Mark wasn't Censored but had to go through the motions. Thank God they gave Mark a heads up because a friend called the next morning who always made bad jokes about Censored. Before he could say anything I told him not to say another word. I meet with him later that day and explained what happened.
Urban Explorers Into The Darkness is a great movie. From a giant NASA rocket from a forgotten space age to the bone filled catacombs of Paris this DVD captures the best of the Urban Explorer subculture.

I have self censored my blog so I could get past the blogger censors.

Blogger has a right to censor me in any way they see fit.
I want to tell the truth in this blog.
I hope blogger supports freedom of speech.