giant art and good people

I wake up just as the snow starts to fall outside the bus windows. A mother and daughter from San Antonio marvel at the first snow. The worn foothills and austere towers of yellow sandstone contrast the vibrant pine trees surrounding them. We pass a grazing herd of mule deer as the hills fade to white. Aside from a magical few inches in New Orleans, I haven’t seen a real snow in years. It reminds me of sledding down our hill out back, always trying to avoid avoid falling into the stream. If you did get dunked, everybody laughed as you ran inside to warm up. “It builds character.”

I See What You Mean - Denver

he's just a big curious guy

The snow falls thick as I leave the bus depot to find Denver a deserted wonderland. I joyfully ramble around the city, admiring the profusion of statues and murals. Denver requires big projects to devote 1% of their cost to public art. I always smile when I see the three-story blue bear peering into the convention center entitled “I See What You Mean.” On a trip to the airport, I finally see the infamous “Blue Mustang,” a 32 foot tall anatomically correct stallion with electric red eyes that glow evilly at night. Many residents of the city hate it especially because it’s unavoidable when going to the airport. Reported to be cursed because it killed the artist when a piece of it fell on him, it’s stirred up controversy immediately, perhaps the true reason for art.

very anatomically correct

A haiku poetry slam devoted to the sculpture contained this entry: Anxiously I fly, apocalyptic hell beast fails to soothe my nerves.

At the Denver Art Museum, a small room contains a big sign reading “What is Art?” Blue sticky notes cover the walls and litter the floors with the many answers:

art is emotions put down

art is my uncle

art is a story

art is the creepy guy standing behind you

art is a shopping bag in the wind

art is all around you

As I stand there, a handsome young Latino man posts a note saying, “art is the expression of that very personal passion in the human spirit.” My definition: art is what I say it is. What do you say? Comments appreciated.

After hours wandering in the majestic snow, I finally meet up with my friend Pema at the Denver Library. We met on the March to Tibet where she worked on the media team while walking with us through dusty north India. A beautiful girl with Tibetan and Assamese roots, she’s now working on a masters at the University of Denver in International Human Rights. Passionate about human rights, I’m proud to call this young woman my Tibetan sister, an important bond in that culture. I know she’ll spend her life fighting for the rights of others. A wonderful host in a small homey studio filled with good books and a spoiled cat who likes to bat at my feet while I sleep.

We spend the snow day at the house of her friends, Steiner and Paul. Extended snowball battles, beer drinking , snow angels and two frisky white bichons bouncing around ecstatically in the snow make for one of my favorite days of the trip. The guys live in a house formerly inhabited by an artist who drew crazy paintings on the floor of the attic and hung dozens of flashcards on the wall, simple elegant drawings with the word in Spanish underneath. When they moved in, Steiner and Paul installed a shuffleboard and setup two tables for beer pong. I crashed here a few times after late night deep conversations with Steiner, trips to the Irish pub and a party they threw.

I spend the days wandering the city by myself, exploring Broadway and the grittier Colfax Street. They meet near Civic Center Park, a hangout for the large homeless population. Friends tell me that the good services available draw the homeless here but both times I sat in the library to work, I saw cops harassing guys who spend their days in the park. I also meet a church group handing out free chili and cookies. Pretty good chili too.

I meet up with Joe, one of my favorite people from college and a Bodhisattva of enthusiasm, at Civic Center Park for the weekly bike soccer tournament. He started it when he moved here a few years ago and now it’s swelled to several dozen people with short brimmed biker hats, big beards, u-locks in back pockets and some sweet little fixies with spoke cards from alley cats (bike definition corner: fixie – a gearless bike with the pedals always moving when the back wheel is moving, allows for standing in one place, pedaling backwards and skid stops, a bikers bike; alley cats – illegal bike races through the city often with drinking and strange objectives for extra points). They play bike soccer in a concrete ring surrounded by tiers of stone benches while brides get photographed underneath the the Grecian arches surrounding us. The competitors use their bikes to try and hit a field hockey ball through the goal. If your foot touches the ground, you have to go back to your own goal and slap hands to sub another teammate into the game. Filled with great crashes and a halftime show of fixie tricks, it made me sorely miss my first fixie that I built with Joe’s help. Some asshole stole it from outside Grand Central just before I left NYC for India. I vote capitol punishment for bike thieves.

Joe and I walk back to his place talking nonstop because he’s one of those friends where the conversation picks up again like the last interaction was hours ago instead of years. We spend most of our time on the big questions. We agree on how to live your life but not the purpose or power behind it all. At his house one day, I watch Crimes and Misdemeanors and find a similar dichotomy of opinion. Benjamin the rabbi says to Judah the ophthalmologist, “It’s a fundamental difference in how we see the world. You see it as harsh, empty of values and pitiless. And I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t feel with all my heart a moral structure and real meaning with forgiveness and some kind of higher power otherwise there’s no basis for how to live.”

He takes me to a service at his church, Scum of the Earth. The message: “the dividing line between spiritual arrogance and humility.” The pastor begins, “We are idiots.” The crowd titters nervously as they do again later when he talks about suckling from the breast. “You can’t remove the speck of dust in your neighbor’s eye without removing the plank from your own.” The dividing line between arrogance and humility is knowledge of the word of God. “You must know the word to hear the voice because you don’t know if that voice in your head is the pizza, you, your parents or God.” I like him for his straight talk, humility and bringing a sword on stage to demonstrate a point. Almost all churches leave me feeling more atheistic but Scum did not. I like their vibe.

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Lex Pelger

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