We’re pleased to present an except from frequent Vol. 1 Brooklyn contributor Dmitry Samarov’s new book Paint By Numbers, which is available now in both print and audio editions. Read on for an account of pseudonyms, professional rivalries, and handball.
The stalker didn’t start out a stalker. He was a stranger, then an admirer, then an acolyte, then a friend. The horn player collected fans like flies. They ran after him like puppies. Hung on his every word. Close-read anything he published or recorded. Had bitter talmudic debates. Fought to ingratiate themselves to him at every opportunity.
The stalker thought art was his calling. He drew the female form from life. He often thought he was born the wrong century. It was a way to explain why nobody cared about his art. Why he wasn’t famous. He couldn’t allow himself to consider the possibility that he just wasn’t that good. Pull on that thread and you start questioning your purpose for drawing breath. He’d convinced himself when he was little that drawing was his thing. It started Saturday mornings, copying the nature art guy on TV. His parents, immigrants who were out of the house to work before he and his sister even woke up, didn’t encourage him. They didn’t know about Michelangelo or Rubens. When he brought his dad his latest, his dad could barely keep his eyes open, asleep in his chair with the newspaper in his lap, news- radio on. His mother said something vaguely positive, but mostly, he sensed, to placate him, getting him out of her way as she finished housework, dead on her feet. Nobody cared about his stupid drawings and nobody ever would. Until he met Carey.
They met on the handball court. Both were part of a loose group who met a few times a week for pick-up games. He idolized the older man and after a time began to think of him as a mentor.
He could never tell for sure what Carey thought of him except that he could tell Carey enjoyed being looked up to. Seemed less alive without an audience. That was okay.
So long as Carey paid attention, it was worth it.
The horn player’s name isn’t really Carey and the famous Chicago artist’s isn’t Orso, but, as you already know, there are lawyers involved, so that’s what I’m calling them. I could risk using the stalker’s real name, but that could get confusing. Might accidentally let other given names slip. So the only “real” name I use is my own.
You know the actor Timothy Carey? He was a sniper in The Killing, then towards the end of his life he was in a couple Cassavetes flicks. He always played unhinged maniacs. Imagine that face, but under heavy sedation, and you get what the horn player looked like the first time I saw him in the movies.
Because of how things ended between us, I can’t tell you his name. So, because I think it’s funny and know he’d hate it, I’ll call him Carey. The vain fucker would go apeshit if he ever found out. But he’s not much of a reader, so I’m not worried about it.
The Orso thing is a little more convoluted. In point of fact, bears aren’t the only subject of the man’s work, but in the interest of brevity, and, because he favors them, that’s what I’m calling him. Like Carey, he has no capacity to laugh at himself, so I’ll do the laughing for him. Artists are often ludicrous away from the easel. All that sustained creative focus skews us in the off hours. When you spend days, decades harnessing entire model universes, it’s tough to switch the god thing off. You hear your wife yelling at you to do the dishes and it makes no sense. Does she even comprehend who or what you are?
Anyhow, there’s Carey, Orso, the stalker, and me. Your main characters, in case you’re keeping score. It might not always be obvious who’s saying or doing what, but that’s okay. We’re sort of interchangeable.