by Ryder W. Miller
“You can get it if you really want it. You can get it if you want, but
you must try, try and try, try and try, you succeed at last. Persecution you must fear. Win or lose you have to get your share.
” Jimmi Cliff
Jed had to die. They would be more interested in his art if he was dead. It
was the sad truth, but it was the way of the world. He could produce art his whole life, but why should anyone care. There
were a lot of people who produced art. Why should his art be any different or any better? If he was dead he would have a better
chance. He lived for his art, but it apparently had been not enough.
He wanted to say, without saying overtly, that the great American dream was
not for everybody. Not everybody could move to America and become rich. Not everybody in America could become rich and famous
as a result of their own ingenuity. The California Dream did not work out for everybody. He had to die first, as the people
around him let him know. He had the potential to be a legend.
If he was dead more people would remember him and be interested in him. More
people would take notice. “Who was that man?” they would say. What did he have to say? What was his thing? They
would remember him from certain places, and would be curious. If he was alive they would be more likely to wait.
Jed created canvases with worn down cities and old abandoned neighborhoods.
There were neighborhoods that had become industrial and everybody moved away. They were like the end of the world, places
that seemed empty and unappreciated during the weekend. They seemed barren and unused. But there was art to be found there.
There was angst, solitude, painful awakenings, and public exposure. These streets were empty and when one walked by there
were not many cars. They were lonely, but introspective.
Jed had to do something unusual. He had to say “this was the way thing
were.” If he was alive who would want to listen? There were so many artists like him. There were so many artists that
didn’t make it. Why should they listen to him? Why should he stand out?
Those who were around him thought he would be more successful if he was dead.
There would be more people who were curious about his work. There would be more people who would want to know what he represented?
Maybe he could say things he would like to say, but would not be able to say while he was alive?
His grand finale would be his “All Gray” show. Every painting
would be gray. People would laugh, but the truth of the matter was that life was gray. People wanted it to be white and black,
but it was not as simple as that. People had to struggle to survive, and therefore had to do “gray things” or
live in a “gray” way.
He wanted to let people know that America was about struggle, about not always
achieving what one wanted. That not everybody made it, that success was not available to everyone. It was a truth that it
was worth his life to let people know. In the words of the rappers “Its just like that, and that’s the way it
is, huh.” But there were joys in the struggle to make things better. There were defeats, but there were also victories.
There were good times also.
He did not know how to die, but he would learn. He would look for a book to
read. He would think about what he needed to do and plan out the eventualities. For now, Jed produced gray cityscapes that
dwelled on the subject that community did not always exist in America. The aloneness was painful, the days were too long.
Some of his paintings would also have vibrant, hopeful colors.
He had been such a “character” that his friends hoped that he
would be successful.
Some of his friend enjoyed the stunts he played. They weren’t that thrilled
with his art, but they liked his parties and the practical jokes he played on others. There was the time where he threw pie
at some soldiers and ran away. He would also paint graffiti on some businesses locations. He also climbed down the front of
his apartment building with mountain climbing hooks. Jed had a party where only the naked were allowed to come. Often he would
serve one type of drink, but there were also the parties with the keg, and when he was out of money he would throw a bring
your own beer party. He lived brightly. He shined and he had been noticed. But he had not yet been able to grind his axe.
He was remembered as a prankster rather than a serious artist.
He only had one art opening so far, and many were there because there was
free beer and wine. Nobody could afford the art, at least that’s what they said. The reception was mellow. He dressed
as he sometimes did, in a suit which had paint on it. It was his way of saying he was also needed to be a businessman. He
would wear this suit when he painted, and people would laugh about him saying that he needed to be a suit in order to survive.
But he was doing it for the whole neighborhood. He would take the blame for
the parties. He would be the one cleaning up in his own way. Years later, he would be the one laughing when his local community
was giving him the blame. He thought he could get off with just a smile and a laugh. He would have to avoid some people, but
his philosophy was that people were allowed to have fun. Fun was necessary. Most people understood that. Sometimes people
got hurt when others were having too much fun, but it was a risk that people had to take. People having fun also needed to
know how to be careful.
He did not know how to tell his friends that he would no longer be there.
He would be giving up the rest of his life to let people know that struggle was necessary, that fun was worth fighting for,
and that pain should be understood and could be avoided. People found him funny, but he was disturbed by the ways of the world.
His last exhibit would be a scream. It would be a statement.
They found him the a few days later, lying dead in his room surrounded by
his paintings. A note said the paintings were his last testament. The paintings hopefully said what he needed to say. It was
apparent that the event was staged. It happened during the scary months of the Fall. There were cold winds, and dead leaves
on the ground. His death was no ordinary event.
His death was spectacular. His death was viewed as a piece of art. He was
found dead, after overdosing.
Jed did not have a girlfriend with the keys to find him the next day. He left
the front door open like he usually did so his neighbors could inquire. But he was left dead on the floor for a couple of
days. Finally, after a few days, with people in the neighborhood noticing that he had not been around, a friend came to inquire.
A single mother, Sena, and her younger daughter Alice, walked into the apartment
to find out what was going on.
“Jed, Jed, where are you?” said Alice.
Sena noticed a funny smell in the small flat.
“Maybe he is painting,” said Alice.
Sena walked into the room where he painted and found Jed lying on the floor.
An empty bottle of whiskey was on the floor next to him, and a bottle of pills. The room was packed with paintings, and smelled
The paintings were of cityscapes and Sena was amazed. They were so dark and
gloomy, but there were also bright hopeful colors in them. The gray cityscapes were foreboding, but there was also life. Sena
found herself focusing on the paintings rather than Jed lying on the floor.
“Jed, Jed, wake up!” Alice.
Jed had a strange gray complexion. His eyes were shut.
Sena reached down to touch his neck to feel for a pulse.
“Go in the kitchen,” she said to Alice.
“Jed, Jed, wake up,” said Alice.
“Go in the kitchen Alice,” said Sena.
“Why won’t Jed wake up?” asked Alice.
Sena took her hand and walked her to the kitchen.
“Wake up Jed!” Alice yelled from the kitchen.
Sena walked Alice home. She called a friend of Jed, Ted, and then the police.
When the police arrived the body was missing. A few of Jed’s friends
were there now looking at the paintings.
“Sena said he was dead,” said Ted.
“No body though. Another practical joke?” said Sal.
“Sena checked his pulse,” said Ted.
“Look at these paintings. Amazing,” said Carl.
The policeman looked very annoyed. “Do any of you know the location
“It wasn’t here when we go here,” said Sal.
They could still notice the odd smell in the room.
“How long have you been here,” said the police officer.
“Only a few minutes. Jed plays practical jokes. This could be one of
his jokes,” said Carl.
“Sena told me that he was dead on the floor. She checked his pulse,”
said the policeman pointing to the pills and whiskey. “These things would have killed him.”
“We have no idea what happened to the body,” said Carl who was
sad, but slightly amused. “Maybe you should ask the neighbors?”
The neighbors said that they had not seen him for days. Sena repeated the
story she had given. A few days later the police learned that money was taken from Jed’s account at nearby ATM machine.
Ted, Carl and Sal decided to throw a farewell party for Jed. It would be a big art opening show where everybody was invited.
Carl joked that maybe Jed would show up. The police after exploring the apartment agreed that he deserved a final show. Maybe
someone who knew what happened to the body would show up.
Carl printed out a flier “Jed’s Last Show” and hung it around
the neighborhood. Some of the proceeds from the show would be contributed to local social causes, so the police decided that
it was okay to have the show in Jed’s apartment. They had examined the apartment and found dead samples of Jed, but
Jed was nowhere to be found. Meanwhile money was being taken out of his bank account.
A few days later someone said that they had seen Jed walking down the street.
He did not know that he was dead and there was a police investigation so he decided not to stop him to find out what was going
“He looked like Jed,” the man said. “But he was far away
and I did not call out to him.”
Jed’s mom decided to go to the show. Jed was the only child and the
father had died years earlier in military combat. Sena and Alice would also be there. The police put out an alert that he
was being looked for, but there was only one questionable sighting so far. The police would also be at the opening in case
someone dangerous showed up.
The night of Jed’s art opening was cold and dark. It was a cloudy night
with no moon. One could hear the wind through the walls. The paintings were spread all over the apartment. Carl bought a few
spot lamps to illuminate a few of the paintings in the corners, but the hallways were dank and full of shadows. Ted bought
a keg for the party and others brought cases of wine. Also invited were a few staff members from some fancy galleries downtown.
When they heard about some of Jed’s exploits they decided to come to the opening.
The small crowd found safety from the elements in the flat. Young Alice was
allowed to the opening, but Sena would take her home early. Carl tried to cheer people up, but the mood was solemn.
“Jed was about fun, Jed was about hope,” Carl said, to perk things
up, but he was only partly successful.
Sena was amazed by the paintings. She found joy and hope, despite despair.
She brought candy for Alice, who was crying that Jed was gone. Sena tried to cheer her up, but she decided to take her home
Most of the crowd did not stay long. They said the space was too small and
they would stop by another time. A few downtown art dealers stopped by and left their cards to be contacted at a later date.
The core group who stayed was Carl, Ted, Sal, Mom and the police officer.
Most people stopped by and had a few drinks and left.
There were stories that were told. Though people were sad there were a few
“Do you remember the time Jed had us take a picture of him jumping through
“Do you remember the time Jed ran around the block naked?”
“Hey, don’t start telling those stories while his mother is here,”
“Oh come on, remember the orgy where we all had to wear hats?”
“Do you remember the time he climbed down the front of the building?”
Carl was laughing now, but some looked uncomfortable with all the humor.
Ted looked solemn and tried to remind people that few people were as alive
“He was such a lightning rod. He was like a Greek God or something,”
“I wanted him to be a geek. I wanted him to be practical,” said
“If you ask me he was living in his own world. People are not allowed
to live the way he did,” said the police officer.
Just then the night grew silent, but there was a set of footsteps up into
“Where’s the art,” someone familiar was saying.
“Is that Jed?” said the mother.
“Jed?” asked Sal.
“Where is the great art?” the strange voice continued.
A few members of the party, including the mother and a few of Jed’s
friend watched as a heavy figure made its way up the stairs.
“That’s Jed. Jed?” asked Carl.
“I am here for the party. I am here for the art,” Jed said.
Jed’s skin was gray now, and his eye’s were glazed and he did
“Baby, is that you,” said the mother.
“Thanks for showing up mom,” he said and moved over to give her
“Don’t honey, you smell,” said the mother.
“What is going on?” said Sal.
“I woke up and went on a vision quest,” said Jed.
“You were dead. Sena said you were dead,” said Carl.
“I planed to die,” said Jed.
He was at the top of the stairs in the light now. His skin was gray and pealing.
There was an uncomfortable smell that emanated from him. His eyes had yellowed.
The police officer was nervous.
“We were told that you were dead,” he said.
“He smells like he is dead,” said the mother. “When was
the last time you took a shower?”
“I went on a vision quest. I thought I was dead, but I woke up and went
for a walk. I walked all the way down to Stockton. I slept off the side of the road and then walked back. I realized I did
the wrong thing. I should have been more patient. I gave up too early. I should have stuck around longer,” said Jed.
“Stockton is eighty miles. In the cold?” asked Sal.
“Sorry to change the story, but your art is great,” said Ted.
“I can’t hear as well anymore,” said Jed.
“Can I feel your pulse?” asked the police officer.
“I am dead. This isn’t heaven?” said Jed.
The cop reached over and took his arm to feel his pulse. Jed didn’t
“No pulse,” said the police officer.
“You mean he is really dead? Dead?” said the mother who began
“Look at this,” said the police officer showing them some of the
flesh that rubbed off
Jed’s arm when he took the pulse.
“I don’t feel very well,” said Jed.
“You are going to have to come with me,” said the police officer.
“What do you mean?” asked Sal.
“Your friend broke the law. It is illegal to commit suicide. He was
also a vagrant. I am going to have to take him to the station,” said the police officer.
“This was the best stunt yet,” said Carl.
“This is serious. You have to come with me. I don’t think it would
be good for your health to struggle,” said the police officer.
Jed started to cough.
“You should have been more patient,” said the mother.
The police officer walked him to the car in the cold winds of the night. Jed
was sentenced for 7, but he did not last long in prison. He fell apart in a fight with an inmate. The downtown art dealers
didn’t like the art, and he was not allowed to produce any art in prison. Only his close friends, and his mother, bought
pieces of art, but Jed didn’t get any of the money. They did not visit him very often because he became strange in prison.
Jed did not become famous, even after his second death.
Carl wrote a book about him that he could not publish.
Before he died for the second time Jed wrote a post card to his mother.
He wrote that he had given up too easy. He needed to live longer for his art.
Sena was happy to hear when Alice decided to become a business lady.