Philip Larkin was right

16 Jan

Was he ever. But what are you gonna do?

After consulting a close friend who has had to navigate the mental-health system, I decided a brief get-together in a public place — specifically the Des Moines Art Museum, followed by dinner, also in a public place — was a reasonable way of meeting my parents halfway and avoiding a depressing confrontation (at best) or an ambush (at worst). My brother joined us for the museum, which turned only to be open for another 17 minutes by the time we all arrived, and for coffee afterwards before heading off to help his wife prepare dinner for his own family. (My brother, my parents’ last best hope at grandchildren, has produced two of them, who are the reason my Texan parents migrated north.)

Helping matters: A filmmaker who has been following my story since late 2010 for a documentary on art critics joined me for the drive from Chicago to Des Moines. Visits with my parents go better when someone else is around. I can’t think of any parents who could resist her warmth and charm, and this way Dad had someone to talk with about the safety record of chemical plants, which was probably the safest topic we could broach, especially after my parents revealed they caucused for Santorum.

Also helping matters: I got to see the last 17 minutes of Dario Robleto’s solo exhibition. (My Sunday-supplement cover story on Robleto, for which I traveled to San Antonio and Seattle on my own dime, coincided with my being made the Houston Chronicle’s full-time art-writer in 2008 — albeit a contractor at the time. I took more than 70 pages of single-spaced notes for that story, which may have been overkill.)

On the way to Des Moines, the filmmaker and I stopped by a jail for art where I captured three seconds of unauthorized footage of this breakthrough masterpiece.

Surprisingly, the painting, which truly has an awe-inspiring presence, looks greener in person than in reproduction or on video, but it really is one for the bucket list.

Another sight for the bucket list: a huge, ripped buff guy parading around in a tight t-shirt in the bitterly cold wind at a gas station in the middle of Iowa. I had never heard of the gas-station chain before, which is called Kum & Go. And rightly so: I nearly kame when I saw him.

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