Sprague Diary (Inspiration for "Witness")

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"Santana" 7/8/14 John deRoulet

"Butter tinted sunlight dripping thickly through dusty air. 100 degrees and dry except for the cellophane of moisture across my arms, face and shallow v-neck cut of my shirt. Jared and I stood outside the plastic green door of his studio on Sprague watching crackled wooden siding bear another beating from white hot rays. We started walking west and 10 blocks went by before we doubled back to approach a group of hyenas sheltered beneath a parking lot tree. The bus stops and convenience store stoops stood absent. Their people seeking somewhere cool.

We approach the group of 4 men and a woman. They eye us wondering our intent and I tell them that Jared and I are artists seeking somebody to paint. I tell them we have money and a little beer and his studio is just up the street. One man jumps up and says he will come.

He introduces himself as Santana. We find out his first name is Nick. He tells us he was a hydraulic systems operator in Alaska and a caterpillar driver. He hasn’t done either since he had to have his kidney taken a year ago and he shows us the scar. A foot long red line across the side of his bulk. We are about a block from the studio door and Santana says he has to take a quick break from walking. The kidney “you know?” He tells us about work waiting for him in Sydney, North Dakota. The oil fields need hydraulic specialists and the doctor says he is cleared to work.

When we get into the gutted upper floors of the Sprague era building, Santana takes a seat. Jared and I begin painting and Santana talks and sips his beer. He tells us about his fiancé who died right after high school. He tells us about his wife who he divorced and sent him towards Alaska for 6 years. He told us about his kidney. He tells us about his name. He told us how he was going to apply for work tomorrow at the place across the street.

I finish a small oil sketch and Santana has another beer. I start another piece on paper and Santana tells us more stories and some jokes. He keeps saying “you guys really are artists, I am having my picture done by artists” and smiles. We chat and paint and the heat slowly leaches away our energy. Santana gets excited and wants us to draw his tattoo. He removes his shirt and sits with the tattoo image across his back of his first fiancé and we agree she is beautiful.

It has been over an hour. Stewed tomatoes in a wood framed oven. Santana sits for a few minutes minutes more, but the heat and beer have taken their toll. His head droops to the side and all our faces are flush with venetian red. We take a picture and he asks us for what we promised him. I hand him bills and then Jared does. He hugs us and we thank him and remind him to be careful has we walks down the dilapidated stairs. 3 cans of beer lie on the rough wooden planks of the floor. The elegant carved chair sits against the backdrop of exposed lath ribs and piles of shattered wood and dust. Jared turns to me and asks if I was able to get a good picture because Nick was moving so much."

July 8th, 2014 - John deRoulet

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