Joanie DiMartino and Annmarie Lockhart are working on an anthology the sale of which will raise funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy that caused such devastation along the southern New Jersey sea coast. This story has been written in hopes of inclusion in their book due out in late 2013.
A Jersey Story
I told you this story. I told it a thousand times so I know I must of told you.
Okay, the first time I painted her I was about sixteen. No! It’s not that kind of a story. Nothing artsy fartsy. I has two hundred hours of community service to perform for the court. Don’t ask, that’s a different story. My mother didn’t want me on a road crew picking up trash all summer, and I’d be damned if I’d wash police cars every Saturday for a year. The only other choice (and it wasn’t a choice, it was something my mother’s brother Angelo arranged) was to paint her. No! She wasn’t no girl! I told you it wasn’t that kind of a story. She ‘s an Elephant! Big grey one six stories high, down by the beach. Her name’s Lucy. Lucy the Margate Elephant. I had to go up on the ladder and paint her because the regular guy was too old to climb up.
The regular guy, well really there were two. Sallie and Benno. They’d sit there on milk crates with a quart of beer in a paper bag and yell. Tell me how bad I was doing.
“Hey kid, what ya doin’ up there painting your toe nails?”
“Yeah, paintin’ them like Benno’s fruit cake cousin in Philly!”
“Who? Jo-Jo? Jo-Jo, he got no feet!”
“Kid, hey kid, you got no feet like Jo-Jo the swish?”
“What ya doin? Ya did that side!”
“Twice ya did it and what, still nothin’ on top?”
They could go on like that for hours, walking around and pointing at spots I missed or
where the paint wasn’t even. Finally I was so mad I came down and made them show me on her leg how to paint. Those two miserable old bastards yelled and cursed, but
by God I learned how to paint. How to cut in the edges nice. How to use the whole brush, flat, tip, and side. By the end of my two hundred hours I could paint pretty good,
and you know I was hooked and stayed on. Sallie mostly, he taught me about the paint.
The colors, how to mix my own and get it just right. What ever you wanted, glossy or flat, think or thin, whatever. Benno, my God, that crazy old man Benno. I never to this day meet anybody who could use a brush like him. He taught me all the tricky stuff, like how to paint shadows that aren’t really there. We painted the stairs inside her together.
He gave me some of his old brushes and taught me how to do the fine work. On the bottoms of the steps he painted pin-up girls. I was too embarrassed to try that so he had me paint religious stuff. I painted Mother Mary, and Jesus, and I think half the Saints under those stairs.
Next summer I came back and painted her again. Summer after that I was in ‘Nam. By the time I got back, oh my God you should have seen her! What a mess. Sallie and Benno both gone. They died when I was over seas, and the City’s got no money to hire a painter, so I did it. I painted her for free. Uncle Angelo still had pull at City Hall so he
got me the paint. All the years I painted, her or anything else, I never payed a dime for paint. It all went on the City’s tab. It was my thing, painting her. Last week of July, every year. That’s what I’d do. It was my vacation painting her! Rest of the year I’d paint what came along; condos, beach houses, stores, apartments, anything at all. Painted up at the casinos too. Good money, all cash, but I didn’t like the people. Acted like they were better than everybody else. I told the guy up there, the head guy in charge, I said “You
never painted no elephant so you don’t mean shit to me”. And I quit. The hell with all of them. I’d rather stay down here where I belong and work small. Just people I know. People and one elephant. Sure, the neighborhood’s changed over the years. Everything’ different now. We been through a hell of a lot down here. This last storm, you wouldn’t believe the mess! So much damage, so much gone. But she’s still here and so am I. And know what? Come last week of July I’ll get her all dolled up again.