Monday, April 19, 2010


With a vibe I'd recalled from some Zen retreat, maybe a restaurant in Big Sur, it stands around the corner from where I live and buy gas and get Starbucks and I'd been by it for twenty years, wondering what it was, this white structure with the wide-terraced entrance.  Sandwiched between a mid-modern apartment complex and a day care center, it's a doctor's office, and I was in it today, referred from the medical center that had diagnosed my bumpy-head, red-blotched burning scalp and forehead as shingles, a nerve inflammation caused by a virus that crawls up nerves from it's dormant hiding place in the spinal column and fires up tingly sensations and more. 
Not serious, unless it gets near the eyes.  Where mine is.  And that's where it gets interesting.
Ophthalmologists, they work here.  They examine eyes and perform surgeries and help people, in this quiet sanctuary with a lure that I couldn't identify but could vaguely feel.
When the doctor came in to check my eyes for the virus that he said traveled on the same nerves that blotched my forehead and scalp line with habanero-like fire, I mentioned that I'd been living in the area for over twenty years, always wondering about the white structure linked with wide terraces.
He said it was an artist's studio at one time.
It belonged to Millard Sheets, he said, and I recognized the painter by his name.  He's one of the California Plein Aire watercolorists, with a distinctive bold hand.  
I zeroed in.
Sheets, I said, that's a name I know.  This place has a vibe, you can feel it.  The doc pulled the machine over he'd use to test my eyeballs, black and menacing, levers and springs and hinges and a place to rest my chin.
Right here, he said, and I leaned in.
Milfred Zornes, Sheets, renowned artists, I said, and the doctor said he'd known Zornes, too.
He just died, I think.  A hundred years old, I said.
Dr. McDermott said Zornes was a patient, he knew him well.  Said he'd seen him a couple of years ago at a retrospective show downtown at a gallery, he said. I knew the place.
He was in poor eyesight, McDermott said, and I let the irony slip away.  Talked to him, sharp as a tack, he was all there.  Couldn't see very well.  Died a couple of months later.
Zornes, Sheets, two local painters who put Claremont on the art map with their style, use of color, scenes of boats and cars, trains, not just oak trees and ocean, but unusually brilliant images of local flavor that resonate if you live here.  Local beauty, sometimes so close you don't see it until someone puts it up front so you really do see it.  That's the art.
My eyes were fine, he said.   
Come back in a week, and we'll make sure.
The woman at the front counter said the dilation would wear off in about 4-5 hours. 
And when I went outside, the brilliance of the noon-day sun was super-saturated, an overexposed movie, sun-drenched scenes that lasted for hours and coming from the zen retreat of the doctor's office that I'd never identified, knowing it had a connection to a great painter and the hundred year old Zornes was a friend of the doctor, the bleached out mid-day turned into a psychedelic exposure that burned like my skin, white hot and harsh, but satisfying and cool. 
Sheets and Zornes, around the corner in my mind and in my neighborhood, I can see it now.  
And I'll see again. 
The retro-Zen structure with terraced walks, big heavy door with the brass handle.
It let me in.

1 comment:

Timecheck said...

Nice piece on a scary experience. Anyone over 60 who hasn't had a shingles attack, pick up the phone right now and make an appointment to get the vaccine. Going without is not a risk you want to take.