Mike D’Angelo was doing his best with the drawing, but after that one where he really had it right, there was really no interest. In fact, they stopped his lessons. Some said the man in Recreation had quit, but Mike knew better. Mikey knew that his was a one shot deal. He had achieved genius one time and that was it. There would be no more scaling the pristine heights, or however you wanted to say it. The evidence was clear enough. Tommy had bought that one for ten dollars, and then Mike couldn’t even give him the best he had turned out over many weeks of struggle. He just wasn’t interested. Oh, he had said he was going to see that there was going to be an exhibition in the lobby of the hospital and that he didn’t want to be taking them home till more people could have the chance to look them over, but Mike knew better. Even at 93, when he got the ends of the hallway mixed up and often went to urinate in the ladies toilet, he knew when he was being conned. Tommy King just didn’t like the new work, and he was trying to let him off easy. After all those years during the Depression and even later when Mike and Ralph Perder used to spend their days at the Metropolitan, those years he worked in the glue factory and drew a bit on the side with no real instruction, choosing a dry medium because he didn’t have the money for canvas and oils, but drawing nevertheless, with not enough time for it, and then he got retired to this senior citizens hospital and had all the time in the world, and he just couldn’t get it right, excepting that one great face of a gentleman Tommy said was pretty much as good as Beardsley, if you liked Beardsley. Mike’s favorite man was the guy that did the Pietà in Rome, and the Sistine Chapel, a sculptor really, working out of his medium that time—the Pope had said to do it and he said let Raphael do it, that’s his medium—and he laid on his back for four years to get it just right the way Mike had done most of his work in the open door to the dining room where the light was better, not seeing that good anymore with the cataracts, working with the illustration boards his niece had brought in, for Mike himself was unmarried and had no children to shell out a dollar 49 a piece for something an old man could scrawl on.
There was quite a stir the first few days he started bringing them back from therapy, but that died out. He guessed they got used to it like anything else, all but Tommy who bought the portrait, and then even Tommy got sick of it, just plain tired of looking over second rate stuff. Mikey guessed there was just the juice there for the one drawing, unless Tommy was just wanting him to feel good by buying one. On the other hand, why would somebody with his job, just a nurse’s aide, shell out ten dollars for some art if there wasn’t some profit motive? Maybe somebody on the outside buying it back for thirty, a clean profit for the little bit of trouble it cost young Tommy King, who seemed for a time to be the only outlet Mike had for serious conversation but who had ignored him later when he had done his best work and had to be discarded.
But then the whole history of art was filled with tragedies. Van Gogh had sold maybe only one work that came dear enough to be called a sale, and then he cut at his ear and left a big mess right there, giving it to the prostitute, and then he shot himself in the chest, and then those same paintings kids threw darts at were going for somewhere in the thousands. Maybe if old Mikey had taken a trip up to the third floor and threw himself off the balcony they would have paid some notice. Maybe there would have been a big auction and he would have brought down a hundred a copy of the bar lady and the Judas drawing Tommy had said he wanted but never took home, even when he could have had it for free. Damn shame.
Well they weren’t going to make a martyr of Mike D’Angelo, he decided, soon enough. Not when he had three squares a day and a dry warm place to sleep and peace and quiet since they took him off the other ward where they screamed all day and night like barnyard animals and peed and messed themselves and even played in it times, and the most you could get out of them was a grunt or two, the talk going worse than plain crazy, just making no sense at all, disturbing really. And the smell that never cleared, and the stink of the food trucks, and the way the aides beat up on him. It had been good to be over here where it was sane. It made your life worth living. And even if he never sold another painting and they never sent him back to the Recreation art class, he knew then he wasn’t going to stir the waters, because old Mikey knew when he had it made, and if there was time the talent might get back into him and the juice he lost, and then there would be the big auction even before he was dead, and there would be reporters there and some of the big shots from the Metropolitan or even the Frick, and Mikey D’Angelo would go down in history just like his favorite, the man he could never recall for naming, easy as it was and reminding him of his own name if he got close enough.
That’s it. Michelangelo. The greatest sculptor in recorded history. Maybe the greatest painter. And Gauguin. And da Vinci. And Botticelli. And Rembrandt. And that list went on and went on, and none of those guys, Titian, Hopper, Watteau, Modigliani, died as long as there was a place to hang them up for dumb guys like Tommy King to see, Bosch, Bruegel, Klee, but Mikey D’Angelo had never heard of an artist who came down over the years, Wyeth, Marc, Chagall, came on and held with just one great painting to his credit, let alone one great drawing. And so he spent his mornings and afternoons summer by summer by the big open door to the dining room where the light was best and tried and tried for another, and then he had his second stroke and ended on Acute, and when they brought him back the world was glued on backwards and he couldn’t hold the boards anymore, let alone draw on them, and there was talk he was going back to 8-3 with the zombies, and his career was down the chute, finished, Mikey David D’Angelo. It had a good ring, but the time just wasn’t right. And then his niece came and took away his crayons and his pencils and the drawings he had left unfinished, and then he had his third stroke, and there wasn’t the juice left to even care what more they came and took away.