I don't remember the exact date, but it was in the second week in January 1979. It was cold and I was broke and depressed. Very depressed. In fact suicidal. I had been out of work for months and three months overdue on my rent. I hadn't sold a painting in weeks. Like I said I even contemplated suicide. But believe it or not, I put it aside because of Ernie.
Ernie G. was my landlord. I lived in a duplex on 38th Ave in North Denver which was owned by Ernie. Ernie is one of the finest human beings living on this weary planet as well as one of the most brilliant artists I have ever known. I think of him as a living Vermeer and one of the best friends I have ever had. If I had committed suicide it would have probably been Ernie that would have found me and have to deal with the mess. I couldn't do that to him. He saved my life and never knew it. He never pressured me for the rent. Between him and Tony S. they kept me going. Tony would come over every afternoon and invite me to lunch. We'd end up hanging out until evening when he would invite me for dinner. He fed me for weeks and weeks. I had many friends at that time who helped me keep my spirits up. But right at that time I was at the end of my rope and hope was fading.
Until I heard the voice.
One night I laid down to go to sleep on my little mattress, when it happened. I was lying on my right side when I heard a voice. A quiet whisper. A woman's or feminine voice. I could even feel the moist warm breath on my left ear lobe. The voice said, “Give it to the Lord. Give it to Christ.”
I jumped up expecting someone to be there. Nobody. The room was dark but not black and I could see about. I was alone.
I sat there in the dark, wondering if what I just experienced was real, or another of one of my “altered states” that have been plaguing me since childhood. But this time it was auditory which had never happened before and it was specific in that it referred to Christ. To the Lord. On one hand it was kind of scary and on the other greatly comforting. Comforting because I thought it was an angel and it was telling me not to be afraid or depressed because “someone” was watching over me. I sat thinking about it for a long time. The most amazing thing to me was that I distinctly felt the warm moist breath of the voice on my earlobe. That told me it was real and not in my head. It was so vivid that I can feel it to this day as if it just happened a few minutes ago. Soon I fell into a deep and restful sleep. The next day I felt at peace.
A few days later, I received a phone call from a Mrs. Dillon. Mrs. Dillon was an 84 year old lady who was a good friend of Ernie's. I met her a few weeks before when she came to my door looking for Ernie. I told her he was next door but before she left she noticed all my art about the living room. She asked if I was an artist like Ernie. Of course I said yes. She asked if she could come in and look around. So I invited her in and surprisingly she loved my art. Usually older people don't get my work or simply don't like it. But she got it and loved it so much that she bought a piece called Aztec for $200.00. That was the last money I made for a long time. I might mention at that time that I hadn't started painting my Neo-Precolumbian work so this “Aztec” was a Metarealism piece and was one of my favorites at that time.
As I was saying, I got this call from Mrs. Dillon, and the first thing she said was, “Do you think the Lord works in mysterious ways?” She didn't even say hello. I looked at the phone and smiled
remembering the voice. I said “Yes.”
“Good. Do you need a job?” she asked? stunned, I said “Yes.”
“Good. I have a friend who needs to hire an assistant. It's only part time. Is that OK?”
“I'll take anything”, I said while my head was spinning.
“Good.” She went on. “His name is Marv Gassman, and here is his phone number. Tell him I sent you. Call him, I'm sure he'll hire you. Bye.” I never heard from her again.
I immediately called Marv, and got an appointment for an interview for the job. I got the address and was on my way to 72nd and Federal. For some reason he didn't tell me what the place of employment was or what the job was. When I got there I found out it was a monastery, convent, school, and church called Holy Trinity.
Holy Trinity is a Catholic facility, and Marv was it's maintenance man. I was hired on to be his part time assistant. I was the janitor. During the week I swept and cleaned the classrooms and bathrooms, but my most important job was to clean out the chapel every Monday. Now at this point in my life I thought I knew a lot of various religions and metaphysics but I knew nothing of Catholicism, except all the negative stuff from Protestants and ex-Catholics. I thought this would be a good opportunity to check out the “church”.
After being there a few weeks, I came to the conclusion that the Catholics were getting a bad rap. I liked them. I liked their reverence, their kindness and sense of purpose without arrogance or egotism. They never spoke bad of Protestants or other religions like the Protestants would do about Catholics. When the people of the church would have little social meetings for some reason or other they would sit around and socialize for a while. When they would get down to business they would stop, bow their heads and the priest or leader would say, “Let us bring forth the spirit of the Lord.” Then everything would change. A calm, reverence would settle in the room and then they would peacefully have their meeting. The ever present women in their shawls were lighting candles and praying. There always seemed to be one about in the corners or shadows. Now years later I too am a Catholic and I love it. But that is not why I am writing all this.
The reason I am writing this, is because of the following. Like I said my main job was the cleaning of the chapel every Monday after Sunday mass. The chapel was not too big with a moderate seating capacity. This alter area was interesting in that instead of a crucified Jesus on the back wall there was a large sculpture of Jesus in a crucified pose but without the wooden cross behind him. Instead there was a big yellow flaming ball or sun painted behind him. This church was emphasizing his resurrection instead of his crucifixion, which is quite unusual for a Catholic church.
In the back of the chapel, was a narrow stairwell that went up to a second floor room for mothers with noisy children. It was a small room with a large glass wall facing the altar with speakers up on the top corners of the room on the right and left so you could hear the service without disturbing it. At the back of the wall were three window sections.
Now, these window areas were each divided by three vertical windows in each section or grouping. The middle three windows did not open and were opaque. They let light in but you couldn't see outside them. The other two sections of triple windows were separated by a few feet of wall. The windows on
the right and left side had little cranks on the outside corner of each one. This crank allowed you to open the end windows. They would swing out to let in air or let you see the outside. The middle window didn't move and was opaque too. There was a window ledge for each section of windows that was about five or six inches deep.
As I said, my main job was cleaning the chapel, and this little room was a most important part of my job. It was also the most how do I say it...mystifying...weird...freaky part of the job. When I asked my boss about “it” he merely shrugged and smiled slightly and said nothing. Then he said “Don't worry about it. Just do your job.” Now bear in mind that this was during the months of January through March and was one of the coldest and snowiest years on record. This happened from the first time I cleaned this room until I left the job to paint murals in April of that year.
Every Monday, the last thing I did, was to go up the narrow stairwell and proceed to clean. Vacuum. Clean out the tiny bathroom. Pick up any papers or trash left about. Put away any books or missals. And the last thing was cleaning the shelves under the windows. And every time at the corner of every window that opened to the outside were piles of dead flies. They were piled on top of each other as if they were trying to crawl out through the crack that opened to the outside. But the windows were closed because it was too cold. Too cold for any insects much less flies. Sometimes the piles were four or five inches high. With a whisk broom I swept them into a circular trash can about twelve inches in diameter and they would cover the bottom of the can about one to two inches deep.
Where did the flies come from? When I was a kid I would over-hear the old people talk when they were at church saying that the sins of people left their bodies in the form of flies.