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John Nippolt
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Post Valentine Number One
     I’d had it with women. I didn’t mean never having anything at all to do with them. Turning up the heat in the name of mutual gratification? Not out of the question.
     It did mean there would be no commitments or engagements. No deals, no entanglements? Uh-uh. Marriage? Not again, no more, no way, no how, nada. That territory was verboten and off limits for this boy.
     Those were the thoughts running through my mind when I got home from surfing that day, gearing up for the evening ahead. I put my board in the rack and headed for the cold ones waiting in the refrigerator by the front door. I opened a beer and stepped back out onto the front porch, where I like to sit on occasion and take in the view.
     I stared across the stream at Arthur’s studio, studying the elaborate deck I had just finished building for him.
     It was because of me that he was able to rent that place. Soon after he moved in, he got permission to build a deck in his backyard, provided it wouldn’t be attached to the house. He hired me to design and build it with parts that included raised platforms, (one for his outside bathtub) built-in seating and planters, and an extension around a very large mango tree growing near the edge of his side of the stream.
     The tree also provided shelter for a storage room and two more platforms under its canopy.
     I had met Arthur while doing graduate work for an MFA at the University of Hawaii. During that time, we had studios at the art department complex on campus and both of us worked out of our separate, private studios in different locations of downtown Honolulu. We enjoyed each others company, got drunk together, engaged in lively conversations, and shared mutual interests. As artists who respected one another’s efforts, we stayed in touch. Over the years I’d come to know one very important aspect about my friend Arthur. He threw outrageous parties; guaranteed there would be an abundance of women for tonight’s festivities.
     The energy I got from being in the water all day had worked its way into my psyche and I felt as if I was in perfect synch with everything going on around me. Although I liked energy levels to be high when I went out to party, being around single women this soon could be dangerous for me. I would have to control myself and be careful not to drink too much. I was feeling so good when I got out of the shower, I had to remind my reflection in the mirror, “Nothing romantic, keep your hands to yourself.”
     Near dusk, I walked up to the highway, crossed the bridge, and took a short cut that would lead me to Artie’s back door where I could “materialize” in the party through the kitchen. I made my way through meandering clusters of people to find an opened bottle of wine and poured myself a glass.
      Many of the guests were from town (Honolulu) and most rarely visited this side of the island. I recognized a few friends who were wandering about the studio, taking in Artie’s latest creations. The party was in full swing; loud conversations spiked with laughter drew me toward the crowded living room area. Unexpectedly, I found myself standing in front of a woman I didn’t know. She was looking directly at me.
     Her stare wasn’t meant to make me feel uncomfortable; she had just never seen anybody with a face as sunburned as mine. I didn’t wear my hat while surfing that day and I forgot that I looked like someone who had just stepped out of a pressure cooker. She was distressed about the severity of the sunburn my brick red face presented. I told her not to worry about it, that it was common for me to look like that during the summer months. Still, I was moved by her honest concern.
     My empty wine glass needed a refill so I asked my new acquaintance if she would like to join me for a drink. We worked our way back into the kitchen; I found a clean glass for her, poured our drinks and remarked that we would probably find more room on Arthur’s new deck. It began.
     Isn’t it curious how strangers meet and find some reason to share details of their private lives? What is it that allows them to have discussions about things they might not reveal to friends or relatives?
      We found a place to sit outside making ourselves comfortable while others strolled by or sat down to take in the evening. We started easily, exchanging our names and background and how we knew our host. Trouble from the start, I liked her name.
      It turned out she had come to the party with a good friend of hers, who was also a good friend of mine. In fact, her friend happened to be the very person who had set up my first art exhibit on Oahu, at the Territorial Savings Building in downtown, Honolulu. Uh-oh, heavy co-incidence.
     I was recognizing too many traits in this person that I admired and respected. She was smart. She had a great vocabulary and we had a wide ranging discussion. What was going on here?
     We talked of art and artists and I asked her if she would be interested in taking a look at one of my portfolios that contained photographs of carvings that I had done. “Yes, very much,” she replied.
     I rushed to my studio, this time via the stream, and returned with the photo album. Normally, when I showed one of those albums to people, they would flip through the pages as if they were racing to finish it, not taking a minute to note a detail, or to pause for reflection. I was used to it. There have been many whom, after viewing twenty years of my hard work in an instant, would hand the album back to me with an air about them that seemed to say, “What else can you show me?”
     Then, the unthinkable happened. She opened my portfolio and she placed her hand on the first page. I watched in disbelief as her finger traced an outline on the picture of the carved figure she was looking at. She didn’t turn the page and asked me a question about a woodcarver, a German I believe, one who I had never heard of; she studied the work on those pages while we talked. She turned to the next page, and the next, examining each one slowly and deliberately. What was she trying to do to me? For the first time that I could remember, someone was gauging my work with enough authority to offer intelligent criticism.
     I spent the entire time at Arthur’s party that night luxuriating in an informative, stimulating conversation with a woman I had spent most of my life longing for. The funny thing was, now that I found her, I wasn’t looking; I mean, I didn’t even see it coming.
     Earlier that evening she had offered me an opportunity to meet the wife of a well-known artist and friend to young artists, who she thought would be delighted to see my work. So, I didn’t let her get away without promising to call me, and if she didn’t call me, I was going to call her. I couldn’t believe it; it had happened again.
     Our first night together ended when our mutual friend joined us out on the deck, “It’s a long drive home, and it’s probably a good time to leave.” Without a look back, she was gone.