I’m actually on the bus with my husband tonight. He came into town and we ate Chinese in the city together (there are a million restaurants in New York City but Saul only wants to eat at this one Chinese restaurant EVERY SINGLE TIME he visits.)
“What should I write about?” I asked him.
“What about our discussion the other morning?
“Ah yes…the penis portraits.
When I met Saul, he was a hard-working English teacher. He taught devoted immigrants from countries all over the world and was often a gateway to their new life in the United Sates (This was before America was great again. Thank goodness, we are getting back to the time when there were no immigrants and we all lived in harmony in our tee pees)
Speaking of tee pees—back to Saul’s and my discussion….
One day about three years ago, Saul decided he wanted to dabble in painting as a way to get out of his head. Being the good boyfriend I was back when I was angling for that ring (that I finally got and promptly lost), I bought him a paint-by-number set.
BUS UPDATE – I JUST LOOKED DOWN IN THE CAR NEXT TO ME AND THE GUY HAD HIS PHONE ON THE DASHBOARD IN FRONT OF HIM AND WAS WATCHING A SHOW WHILE DRIVING AT LEAST 70 MPH. I MISS THE SIMPLER TIMES WHEN PEOPLE SIMPLY DROVE DRUNK)
Saul took to painting right away and finished his paint-by-number while I was only a fourth of a way though my own. He went on to what I call freestyle painting –painting without numbers and basically left me in the dust. This same thing happened when I was a child. My mom bought me a little organ to play with numbers on the keys and a music book with corresponding songs. I played I COULD HAVE DANCED ALL NIGHT from My Fair Lady and WHY DON’T WE DO IT IN THE ROAD by the Beatles over and over never quite comprehending what exactly the Beatles wanted to do in the road. Then my big brother Greg took over the organ and taught himself to play and read music like a pro.
Speaking of organs—back to Saul’s and my discussion.
Saul began to paint flowers and girls in fashionable dresses and idyllic scenes of people in fields. His early work was primitive but everyone was impressed with these quaint drawings and noticed right away he had a unique style. Then one day when his dad was visiting NYC, and commented that Saul didn’t know how to paint faces, Saul began drawing faces every day after that. There is something to that—drawing every day. I make sure I write every day and I’m telling you, if you practice any skill every day even for even a half an hour you will get better.
(BUS UPDATE—I AM PRETTY SURE EVERY DRIVER ON THE HIGHWAY IS ON THEIR PHONE. GET ON A BUS AND LOOK IN EVERYONE’S FRONT SEAT! WE ARE ALL DOOMED. WE ARE GOING TO ALL TEXT AND CRASH EACH OTHER INTO EXTINCTION.)
Then Saul progressed to bearded men. Saul likes beards. On our first date, he told me a discussion about shaving his beard was a non-starter. He hates when I’m clean shaven which is a cruel reminder that he doesn’t just love me for my intelligence and endless wit I am pretty certain his love for me is superficial at best but at this age I will take it.
Then Saul stated to draw and paint nudes. I told myself Michelangelo does nudes. Who am I to criticize? But I have to admit I had mixed feelings. Michelangelo didn’t have coworkers and nieces and nephews on Instagram. It’s unnerving when a coworker is looking at her phone and blurts out “Wow Saul did a nice penis this morning.” It’s hard for me not get alarmed.
I can’t deny that sex sells and we have a mortgage to pay. Saul can paint any number of women, but the minute he draws a naked man and posts it online there is a bidding war for it. The only paintings and drawings of his that do as well are drawings of his cats. So, let me amend my previous statement—penises and cats sell. Remember that if you go into business
The day of our discussion I woke up bothered. Sometimes I wake up mad at Saul even though he has done nothing in the time since we said goodnight to the time I opened my eyes. But my brain goes into overtime in the mornings. “I fell love with an English teacher and now I’m married to a nudie peddler?” I said to myself. “This is grounds for an annulment.
I stormed downstairs where Saul was having his peaceful cup of coffee.
“We need to talk!”
Saul hates when we need to talk. His first instinct is to run and that is a healthy response.
I told Saul want my problem was but once I was done, I really wasn’t sure what I was asking him. Did I want to be the guy to say don’t express yourself artistically?
I have to ask myself why am I bothered? I’m all for “be free and be yourself and go to naked yoga if you want.” But I worry that friends and coworkers will see his drawings and think to themselves or gossip to each other “Keith’s husband is a penis painter.” And honestly, I feel a flush of shame. Penises should be kept in the dark!
There is another part of me that worries about Saul as an artist. I feel he is really, really good. And even though naked men sell, I worry he will be branded as the naked guy artist and people will overlook how good he is. And what is the line in the sand? What if the man he is drawing is “excited”? What if Michelangelo’s David were “excited”? Would he still be standing in the Louvre?
Am I homophobic? Am I worried the girls who loved me in high school will judge me for being so gay—not Paul Lynde witty, harmless gay but a gay man who is sexualized? On the other hand, do I want to think of them as sexual beings either?
Is it wrong of me to be bothered that so many gay men seem to lead with their sexual identity first? So many gay men’s Instagram and Facebook pages are littered with shirtless selfies.
Everyone says you need to have a platform these days and have a large social following. That’s how Saul began selling his art. If I want to get my book published they are going to be checking out my social following as much as my writing. But Instagram and Twitter and Facebook Live is so public that lots of people see lots of things all at once and it can feel very exposing in many ways.
What are the rules?
And what are the rule when you are married?
What would Dear Abby say if she were alive today? Would she tell me to relax and let Saul follow his muse and paint all the male members he wants?
Or would she just say “Follow me on Instagram and Twitter and like my Dear Abby face book page?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR—Keith Hoffman drew a picture of Loni Anderson in high school art class and got an A.
Below is one of his drawings discreetly cropped.