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Janice Harper Headshot

Three Chairs to Rattle My Walls

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When my daughter asked me for a new pair of shoes I had to tell her the truth. "We can't afford shoes until I get a job or Bob Dylan dies, whichever comes first." She wailed about the injustice of it all and went away, as teenagers tend to do when parents are around. But I hoped that Dylan wouldn't die because I'm waiting for his next CD and I rather like just knowing he's out there, to keep Maureen Dowd in line.

A new pair of shoes, I figured, was a reasonable request. After all, neither of us have had a new pair of shoes since the Bush administration, and what with her uncontrolled growth that started at birth and my throbbing bunion that started at mid-life, we both hobble around wincing like nineteenth century Chinese dowagers wearing shoes the size of thimbles. But unless I can tear the ruby slippers off some dead witch I happen upon, I just don't think shoes are something I should trade money for because, after all, feet walk by themselves.

If things had been different, of course, I would have bought my little girl a new pair of shoes, and maybe even thrown in a trip to the circus, but once I lost my job and the sky started crashing down all around us, before I could say pass the food stamps, we'd been downsized. The big house was replaced with a small apartment, the furniture shrunk to size, and the cathedral ceilings replaced with walls not much higher than my head. The only thing missing was a beaker that read "Drink Me" to give me hope there might be an escape route.

In search of an escape route, I took inventory of what little was left. I've never known much about money other than for some it grows on trees (until they get chopped down). But once I started reading about what to do with what was left so that it might grow into lush abundance, I realized not even Suze Orman could save us. That's when I stumbled upon the Dylans.

The first one was innocent enough. I came across it one evening in a moment of self-defeating despair, while following the internet trail from social media sites that measure my worth in virtual friends to a little art gallery in London that measured my worth in social pretense. There were only a couple of them left, one that looked like the desperate scribbling of a gloomy ad man, but the other, a blast of color to rattle my walls. Three chairs, standing empty in a hotel room bright with flaming orange and magenta. Not much else. Just a painting of three chairs. We'd lost so many chairs.

We certainly couldn't afford it. But there it was, a painting by Dylan for less than the cost of a house. Indeed, less than the cost of a window. It wasn't an original painting of course, that would cost a trailer in Tacoma, but it was a collector's print, numbered and signed by Dylan himself, and I figured the signature alone was worth more than my bank was paying me in interest. So in the click of a mouse, I'd bought it, then went into the kitchen to boil some cabbage and beans and ponder the rising price of designer vinegar.

I found the second one in a gallery in Scotland. The third back in England. The fourth... well by then there were no more walls, what with the other paintings and prints that have landed on our walls over the years, where they've become windows into intimate worlds of familiar mystery.

The flames may be dancing at our feet, but my daughter knows. The Dylans are here to stay. The roof might cave in, the floor be yanked out from under us, but it's the walls that enclose and comfort us. The walls have become our home, where with a single, tender gaze our eyes might slip into other spaces, other times, places where memories and fantasies linger in the shadows and lines of color brought to life. And once there inside the paintings on our walls, what better place to pull up a chair and smile.

(Bob Dylan will be releasing more of his artwork from the Drawn Blank Series on January 28, 2012.)