Nonfiction | Catapult Extra

Different Class of Propriety

Try Squinting

In an airy art studio, Jan Paulenson taught community college students four nights a week. Yookla alumnus Jan (pronounced Yaan) was a straight-male with a Robert Mitchum meets Santa Claus physique, a Santa Claus complexion, and a clean-cut mug. The courses he helmed were Painting (MW) and Life Drawing (TTH), of which there were no strict prerequisites. Show up, with art supplies, and you were welcomed. Ambience was key: only track lighting was used, bulbs pointing at varying spots on the ground where moonlighting art students would set up. During Life Drawing, the model stand was always illuminated. The overall aura Jan maintained was similar to an environment-controlled museum antiquities room. It was an ongoing lesson in chiaroscuro, often accompanied by the erudite music of Ahmad Jamal, one of Jan’s favorites to play. Critiques were generally bypassed in favor of process; results were irrelevant in the enrichment course since skill levels varied greatly. If needed, Jan always observed peacefully nearby, hands clasped monastically at his sternum, at the ready to dispense whispered guidance: “Shadows have warmth.” “See the warm in the cool.” “Try squinting.”

In theory, this effort was to set the tone for meditative art practice.

Students were assorted. Very few would move onto four-year schools, the rest used studio time as an after-work unwind of highbrow social activity. The same folks would re-register for Jan’s classes semester after semester, forging a camaraderie among art-horse benches.

Sounds ideal, eh?

Well, there was no shortage of layered intrigue in Painting/Life Drawing.

Starting with PG content, Jan’s girlfriend Trudy, last name unknown, was a constant presence. A middle-aged blond with understated elegance and Keds sneakers, Trudy first attended art class while seeking a hobby, and the hobby bloomed into romance with Jan. Nothing untoward; two 50ish adults liking each other. Trudy was discreet, to deflect attention from her involvement with Teacher.

In a more juicy broken triangle, Cliff Zepeda semi-stalked Jocelyn Medina. He gave her his cherished import singles—The Cure, Bauhaus—and soul-baring letters of devotion, revisiting this practice intermittently for a few years, stopping just short of a police report filing.

Cliff’s lustful cravings did not go completely unrequited. Frequent life drawing model Kacy Roderick, an alabaster Army brat with red pubes, made direct sexual overtures to Cliff. He was pleased to get physically involved with Kacy until she unleashed a fury of possessive jealousy and nutball threats, prompting Cliff to end the fling. In the aftermath, Kacy had a naked meltdown on the model stand. Jan started booking different life drawing models, like Bettie Page lookalike Maxine and Darius Pickens-Love with his twelve-pack abs.

Super-focused Thomas dangled a pentagram medallion around his neck. A skilled draftsman, Thomas would plunk himself in the first row when Darius posed, producing extremely detailed renderings of his penis.

Simon Loeb loved painting self-portraits. Tamara Fine—who attended class with her live-in boyfriend Michael, surname unknown—snickered that pasty, spectacled, pear-shaped Simon (a perfectly nice individual) was delusional because he depicted himself as an Adonis. What makes the cootie catcher of irony fold in on itself is Tamara could have been his twin sister. Furthermore, to indulge the narrator a laugh, Simon, Tamara and Michael all bore great resemblance to Larry Fine, the mellowest of The Three Stooges. Tamara’s gossipy comments seemed to open her floodgates for bawdy conversation: she was so horny, she was hot for the young stud pupils and Darius, how she had a zesty sex life with her boyfriend (who was oblivious to Tamara’s incessant blue talk). Naturally Tamara was a “skilled” erotic cake decorator.

One day, something happened with Jan: he broke his arm or had some kind of professional anniversary or both. With the subtle blessing of Trudy, Tamara Fine stirred up some sentiment among fellow evening students, and a plan was agreed upon.

She arrived to class with a ¼ sheet pan, covered, and set it upon a partially lit table. Tamara made a great stink to get Jan to stand away, while she pulled an adult-toy-store blindfold from her lumpy cleavage. Normally reserved Jan blushed with embarrassment, but allowed his eyes to be covered.

Class participants gathered round. Tamara called out for “a light,” and yanked off the cake pan cover.

There were a few gasps, followed by awkward murmurs, a couple tongue clicks. Tamara’s cake was sculpted in the female reclined form, spread eagle, with far less refinement than the Venus of Willendorf, but way more texture in frosting. Short phallus candles stuck out of each breast. An amazing confluence of red-icing lines gave detail to the crotch hair (“Recognize Kacy’s pussy?” Tamara said to a wincing Cliff), yet the rest of the cake could have been out of the lower, maybe middle, Paleolithic era. The figure head was a wonder of naïveté, expression on the cake face a cartoony voodoo doll terror, grimacing after the sloppiest icing-bukkake ever.

Tamara snapped her fingers at po-faced stoner-stud Dale. Dale approached the nude cake sarcophagi with a lighter, enflamed the wax genitalia. Tamara guided his hand to each candlewick, saying, “Oh yeah!” a few times with lascivious emphasis until Dale escaped her grip. With lit candles, the cake, as crudely as it was constructed, looked like folk art (edible X-rated folk art), and Tamara’s antics an unforgettable performance.

In the nudie cake hoopla, silent, blindfolded Jan was almost forgotten. He had remained still, arm in sling. Tamara pushed him at the waist toward the flaming boobs, now dotted with penis candlewax, then seductively pulled the blinder up.

Jan blinked, smiled with dimples creasing cheeks, squinting at what was before him. After an awkward but musical silence, he said, “You found the warm in the cool.”