It was getting near the end a hot July in Athens, Georgia, and in a few weeks I would receive my college diploma, whether I liked it or not.
The thought of attending a graduation ceremony and having a rolled up piece of paper with my name on it shoved at me, just didn’t seem like the kind of of recognition I was searching for as an artist. Short of fulfilling the requirements for graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in drawing and painting, I hadn’t actually distinguished myself in any remarkable way, although I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was somehow destined for something great once I got to New York City, although I wasn’t sure what that might be. I think I thought I was going to be some sort of famous artist and sell my work for large sums of money in art galleries. I have always been a dreamer.
My friend Ted, whom I had met a year or so earlier when we were both on the University of Georgia Studies Abroad Program in Italy, had already graduated in June, and along with twelve water turtles, was still residing in his upstairs apartment on Broad Street in downtown Athens.
For want of having nothing better to do, I decided to take a walk over to his place and knock on his door. I stepped out from the coolness of the Jim Herbert Mansion into the hot dusty Georgia Summer sun, nodding at one of the resident hippy chicks who was busy hanging Professor Herbert’s bluejean ensemble, which she had no doubt washed by hand, on the clothesline in the yard. She looked up for a second and then went back to what she was doing. It reminded me of the way that a cat on a front porch swing might regard a stray dog who chanced to walk across a distant corner of its owner’s property.
After a block or so, I passed the Tree That Owns Itself and slowed my pace for a step or two out of respect. Then I made my way down the hill to the commercial district of Athens, opened the door to leading up to Ted’s apartment and rang the doorbell with the name Lannom on it. Ted came out to see who it was and motioned for me to come upstairs. I think he may have been on the phone. After a minute or two of talking about I don’t remember what, we decided to go downstairs to the bar on the ground floor to discuss our future prospects.
I liked Ted’s work. He made large realistic acrylic paintings of trains on Masonite®. I guess you could say Ted was obsessed. His particular obsession was Transportation in general, and trains, specifically. The previous summer, I had watched in amusement and wonder as he ran across a grassy hill in England in pursuit of a steam locomotive. I was impressed with his passion for trains. He was clearly chasing a dream and I could relate to that—still can.
It was dark in the bar and we hadn’t been there more than thirty seconds when one of the patrons, turned around on his barstool and recognized Ted. I did not know the man. Apparently, he had been one of Ted’s art teachers at the University, although I confess I do not know how they knew one another. The important thing is, though, he was some kind of artist who was older and had more experience than either of us, and when such a person engages you in conversation, you pay heed.
As he spoke to Ted and I stood back and listened. “So, Ted….you’ve graduated….what are your plans for September.” I remember thinking, “That’s just six or eight weeks from now.” Ted answered in a rather unenthusiastic monotone. “Oh, I don’t know…University of Illinois….University of Indiana….” “What about you, Rick…?”
Startled that he could see me in the darkness of the bar and even more impressed that he knew my name, I blurted out, “I was kind of thinking I wanted to go to Pratt Institute….” “Pratt Institute!”, he repeated. “I can get you into Pratt Institute!”
While I contemplated that suddenly I wasn’t too sure I still wanted to go to any school that someone could get me into that easily, and was rather put off by this stranger who seemingly knew nothing about me or my work, being able to get me into a school I had only heard about years earlier, although I think I had applied to it as an undergraduate and been rejected, Ted blurted out, “Can you get ME in, too?”
And so a few minutes later we found ourselves standing in the hallway of his apartment while he made a phone call to Dr. Ralph Wickheiser, the Dean of The Graduate School at Pratt Institute. Ted and I stood looking at each other not talking but unable to make out much of the one-sided conversation. The phone call only lasted a few minutes. Then he hung up the phone and walked into the room where we were waiting for him with open eyes and slightly-open mouths.
“Well, you’re in.” was all he said.