Ho! I bet you thought when I said I’d write about that other important 11th-Grade teacher later, you were wondering how much later. Well, not much at all, Dear Reader, ‘cause here it is.
I’ve often heard that the highest compliment you can give a teacher is to break into his classroom. Mr. Abarenbo – this is not his real name – I salute you now, as I did back then through my supremely complimentary act of breaking and entering. Thank you for not calling the police or hurting me.
I have written about this act of juvenile delinquency before, but I will briefly relate the tale again. Who knows how in may all come out this time? A good story always evolves, true? No pun intended. Truth, well, hmmm. For me, the problem is the death of brain cells. Lots and lots of them. At my age, I can’t remember anything anymore anyway, so truth, well, yeah right. Good luck to me.
But before I rehash my close encounter with life behind bars, let me say this.
Shelley was driving. This made me nervous. She was a bit young for the job, I thought.
It was still dark out when we pulled up to the lei shop. Patti had turned cartwheels trying to score us a first-class maile lei, but her persistence won the day. The lei was gorgeous and smelled like victory.
We’d decided to split both the cost of the lei and that of the car rental, although I thought Patti should have paid for all of it since she was the oldest of the three of us. However I did not push the issue, because I wished not to irritate her and feel the full rath of her Korean temper.
The flight to Maui was quick and painless, for Patti and Shelley especially so, since they did not have to suffer sitting next to me.
We picked up the car that Patti should have paid for, and again Shelley played the role of chauffer. I had to admit, for someone as young as she, her abililty behind the wheel was quite good, but she is Patti’s sister, so I would expect nothing less.
I once gave Patti a driving lesson. I taught her that when she was turning left, she should look to the left, then to the right, then to the left again. I learned this in my driver education class. Too many people look left, right, and then take off. Statistics point to the need to look left again, because a car will often have approached you without your peripheral vision catching it as you pivot your head right. Catch?
I had a bad feeling when, as we drove out of the Maui Airport. I said, “Eh, where the hell is Mr. Abarenbo’s sculpture of Maui capturing the sun?” We looked, and looked, but we didn’t see it.
“Geez, this place is sure screwed up,” Patti said, as we wove our way through all of the construction barriers and detours. “Maybe they took it down for all this stupid renovation.”
My bad feeling increased further when Shelley drove us into a dead end. However my faith in her driving flagged only briefly, as she eventually got us out of the airport and on the road.
There was still tension, however, since we needed to find an open photocopy place at that early hour. The first place we went to said on Google that it was open. It was not.
The knot in my stomach grew tighter. We had to be at his house for lunch, and we were surely cutting it close.
Luckily, the second copy place was open. The project was this. Patti and Shelley were putting together a kind of scrapbook of photos, memories, and messages for Mr. Abarenbo, our high school art teacher.
We’d decided, finally, after talking about it for a few months, that we wanted to visit our mentor at his home on Maui. He was born there, and he’d retired there, now well into his 70s.
For some reason, he’d agreed to our request to invade his privacy. I guess we’d not been as obnoxious as I thought we were when he taught us way back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
So the scrapbooks were just about done. On top of the need to make copies, however, Shelley was taking a good long time to pen her message to Mr. Abarenbo. I was concerned because every time I looked over at her she was either staring out the window, pen to lip, or she was shaking her head No at what she’d just written down.
Finally, however, the deed was done. And then, it was off
to buy donuts.
I admit, this detour was all my fault. I’d mentioned a few days before that I’d heard of this interesting donut place I wanted to check out if we had time. We really didn’t have a minute to spare, but the kind sisters wanted me to fulfill my donut fantasy, so we stopped there.
A long time. The sisters wanted to keep talking and talking to the woman who ran the place. So that delay was on them. I could not complain, however, because they did let me acquire my donuts. They bought some too. We hand-carried those babies with great care back to Honolulu, and after all that hassle, we all agreed the donuts sucked. Oh well.
So now we decided to call Mr. Abarenbo because for sure at this point, we were going to be late. Go Junior Bows.
After getting off the phone, Shelley said, “Eh we better hele on over there. I think they got lunch waiting for us already.”
And they did. And we were late. And boy, did I feel guilty for the whole donut detour. Had I known how lousy the donuts would be, I’d have never suggested we stop. Then we would have been on time. That was really all on me.
Anyway, after we all greeted and hugged each other, we sat down to a really super lunch. Mr. Abarenbo did not cook at all, we discovered. His partner did all the cooking, and he told us that if it were up to Mr. Abarenbo, we’d all be eating burgers and fries, or Taco Bell.
This surprised me. Mr. Abarenbo looked so young, and he had always been in great physical shape. He’d practiced yoga and jiujitsu back in the day, and I figured, by looking at him, that he not only still exercised, but that he must adhere to a strict diet.
Mr. Abarenbo admitted that his partner was correct. He did like fast food. Mind blowing.
As lunch proceeded, we all fell into a kind of camaraderie that you think you could only have if you’ve known someone for a long time. The funny thing was, however, that even though we’d known each other a long time ago, we’d not seen each other very much if at all in the intervening years. And I don’t think any of us had met Mr. Abarenbo’s partner before.
True, though, I’d returned and taught at the Lab School, had been there when Mr. Abarenbo finally retired. So I’d seen him quite a bit after high school. Still, it had been long years ago for me anyway, but it was as if all of us had been close friends over all that time.
After lunch, the conversation turned with greater focus to art. True to teacherly form, Mr. Abarenbo gave us a Master Class in his passion: digital art. He showed us an extensive collection of what he’d produced on computer, and we were all duly impressed. Everything he creates is impressive.
It’s amazing. Mr. Abarenbo is an accomplished artist in ceramics, sculpture, and painting. He’s done massive projects around the State, including that statue of Maui in the airport there, and the Gift of Water sculpture at the State convention center. Additionally, he produced the two hands throwing a ball to each other at the UH Stan Sheriff Center, and a tiled mural wall at Sakamaki Hall on the UH campus as well.
He’s world famous, his pieces have been collected by museums and celebrities, and now his computer art also adorns art gallery walls online and around the world, and has won some prestigious awards.
I mean this guy can do it all.
I asked him if he had done anything in the ceramics, sculpture, or painting field recently.
He told us this.
“What drew me to art is the ability of various media to allow me to express my imagination in different ways. But it takes time realize an idea in clay, or bronze, or when I’m painting a watercolor. I could never render my thoughts as quickly as they came to me. However, when I discovered programs such as Photoshop, I found what I’ve needed to find all my life. Nothing lets me express myself at the speed with which ideas flow through my mind the way the computer can. I do nothing now except digital art exclusively.”
The same was true for his partner, who’d been a weaver. It had become full on digital work.
“What?” I said, “not even throwing cups or tea bowls?”
“No,” he said, “not anymore.”
Then he sat down at his computer and demonstrated some of the Photoshop features he likes to use. Once a teacher, always a teacher.
It was getting late, and we had to get to the airport. We all hugged goodbye, and I missed him already.
What I should have done, really, to round out my life with Mr. Abarenbo, was let Patti and Shelley go home while I waited outside Mr. Abarenbo’s house. After he’d gone to sleep, I would then break into his house and start using Photoshop on his computer. He would then come downstairs, see it was I who’d broken in, ignore me, and go back to bed. That would have been a perfect story arc.
Why, Dear Reader, would that have been so perfect? Because back in Fall of 1970, several weeks before Christmas recess, I’d broken into the art room to do work.
I was hand-building a huge pot for my mom as a Christmas gift. To finish it, bisque it, glaze it, and fire it, I knew I needed to get going on the pot because all of this would take some time.
One Saturday morning, I wandered casually down to the art room, looked about to make sure no one was around, and then forced open a fortuitously unlocked window above the row of throwing wheels. I was young then, and I shimmied through the slot almost gracefully, even though with that particular style of window, it was only a partial, slanted opening.
Once inside, I took down a stool from one of the work tables, and began rolling my coils, big ones, working them one after another into my growing masterpiece.
It’s interesting about making art. When you get into it you lose yourself. You lose track of time. You even stop thinking, in a way, as if you’ve entered another dimension of time and space. The next stop up ahead . . .
A key turned in the lock. I looked over to the door. It was Mr. Abarenbo. Panic struck me like I’m sure the hand of Mr. Abarenbo might.
The good news was first, that he hadn’t seen me, and second, all the stools still sitting atop the tables were a pretty good screen.
Mr. Abarenbo was a very quiet man. He reminded me of a ninja. Reserved would be a good work. He’d stand there watching you work and maybe, maybe, he’d say a word or two. Often, if he had nothing to say, he’d move on to another student. You wondered what he might be thinking, but believe me, I never dared to ask.
As he walked in he was whistling. I can’t remember the tune, but it was quite upbeat. He stripped off his shirt – you would never ever see him do this if he knew I were there – put on his blue denim smock that never seemed to get dirty – then went out to the clay barrel and scooped up forty pounds of clay like it was nothing. I watched him work it with ease into a huge cone on the wedging table. Then he brought it inside and slammed it down on the Robert Brent wheel that sat by his desk for his use exclusively.
That was also working in my favor. I was sitting nearer all the Kempo wheels that students used, and if he’d gone to one of those, he’d have surely seen me, no matter how hunched over I might be and willing myself to be small.
He went to the sink to fill a bowl with water, set it down on the side of the wheel, and then began, effortlessly, to throw a tea bowl. His throwing technique was flawless. It never looked like he broke a sweat either, and if one of us were throwing, we’d get water and slip all over us. Not Mr. Abarenbo.
Suddenly, alas, what I feared most of all, he got up and headed for the shelves that held the bats. He needed a bat on which to store his bowl. What was bad about that was that the shelves that held the bats were right behind me.
As he passed me I looked up and smiled, kind of.
“Ah, Lanny, working hard, I see.”
He grabbed a stack of bats and returned to his wheel. I watched him throw perfect tea bowl after perfect tea bowl.
Well, since I wasn’t going to go to jail, or even apparently get a lecture or be thrown out on my ass, I went back to work. Gradually I lost track of the world again.
The next thing I knew, Mr. Abarenbo was talking to me.
“Lanny, I’ve set the lock. All you have to do is shut the door. And please make very sure all the windows are locked.”
He smiled at me, that whimsical smile of his, and then he was gone.
The following Monday Mr. Abarenbo gave us a key to use to get into the art rooms. He also gave us a letter addressed to the campus security guards, stating that if any of us were found there on nights or weekends, he had our permission to be there.
Boy, you’d never see that happen nowadays.
So we were in fact in there at all hours of the night and on weekends from then on. Sometimes if I were firing one of the kilns on Friday or Saturday, I’d stay into the wee hours, or even until after sunrise.
Yeah, no, I didn’t stand out in his yard until Mr. Abarenbo went to sleep. The three of us winged out way back to Honolulu to discover how bad those donuts were. I don’t know how much I trust Yelp.
This then has been a brief sketch of Mr. Abarenbo, the other teacher to whom I dedicated my doctoral dissertation. It truly is amazing to me that I met two of the most influential teachers in my life at exactly the same time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had other phenomenal teachers, but these two gentleman were not just great teachers. They also were, still are, great friends as well.
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Aloha #WriterFriday. Today’s #WritingPrompt is
Use it to inspire a piece of writing, and then post that piece somewhere I can read it. I’d love to see what you came up with : )