Burritos in the Belfry
Above are images of the attic space and belfry of a Julian Morgan cathedral located just east of Lake Merritt in Oakland. I was graciously lent space directly below this attic area for a number of years to use as a studio. I was always intrigued by its strangeness marked by the aspects of the architecture and items left behind by its founding Sweedish immigrant members. Below is a piece of writing from the period of time I used this space.
I pulled the chain and nothing. I pulled it again. Nothing. Again, and this time with force. A dull hum of light came to both ends of a fluorescent bulb then vanished. I pulled again to reset into the presumable “off” position. I yanked it again and the line went limp. Nothing. No light. It was still dark and I was left with a limp chain in hand. It had broken on the inside ("pull-switch" the employee at Ace Hardware would later inform). Frustrated, I pulled out a ladder and climbed atop to unscrew the various components that would allow me access to the inside where I could inspect the conundrum. This would not be a quick fix.
Perhaps it's part of getting old or simply being inexperienced with electricity, or maybe its just being old enough to posses that self-aware voice speaking “you have no idea what you’re doing." I didn’t always have that voice. There was a time when I would stand on top of the ladder, not thinking twice of the danger I was putting myself in. It might just be that I’ve grown out of tune with my body. I used to be very balanced, agile even, and now I eat really really good food. Artisanal bread and cashew based ice cream for starters. Fried Tilapia is a main course. Mac-n’-cheese gets a lift with spelt pasta and a mixture of truffle infused cheddar and gouda. What about burritos? I like to pretend that I know Spanish while I order at the taco truck : "Yo necesito un grande niño, con todos por favor!" When I receive a burrito with everything on it I recognize it has the candid likeness of a small infant. I like to cradle it my bosom all the way home where I then cut it in half and share it with a friend.
Life is all about balance. For me, these days, it has more to do with moving around the attic of an old Julia Morgan church without falling through the ceiling. I know the far reaches of that space and have breathed deeply its particulates. This attic is the middle space that separates my studio from the open air belfry. The belfry is where I’ve set up a table for wood working. Whenever I build something up there, I build it in small parts so that I will be able to send it back down through the trash can size hole that provides access to this space. I'm outgrowing this. I'm not so nimble anymore; my clothing becomes frayed on the splintered wood, my joints ache, and body bruises more easily. Still, I am thankful to have had a space at all.
But, I destroyed the light. Precariously seated atop a ladder I found the pull-switch on the inside of the fixture and proceeded to repair it. I pried it open and it exploded. A tiny spring with a coil the size of a thread catapulted itself from my station and into the abyss of my studio floor. That's what held the whole thing together. I would have quickly entered a search upon hand and knee if it were not for the sparks caused by the positive and negative wires now touching intermittently. Negotiating disaster, I was forced to splay my body, hold the dangling fixture in one hand and keep the wires separated in the other. It occurred to me at this point that I could really hurt myself here.
My studio now resembled a scene from a Michael Bay flick, complete with apocalyptic flashing lights inside a torn out office structure and a questionable protagonist stuck in mid air. Wind blew in from the trash can size hole scattering papers and building supplies, adding dramatic effect. It was precisely at this point when I decided this was not what I wanted to do with my day. I had a painting to get to. There was a fixed amount of time but here I was expending old body energy on a damn light fixture.
So, I loosened my grip, let the fixture dangle precariously and separated the positive and negative wires as best I could. I descended the ladder and proceeded to work, painting solely by light provided from a yellow stained glass window and a hole in the ceiling. I got maybe an hour in before my wife called me up and asked if I’d like to get a burrito. Of course I said yes. Afterward, I spent another couple hours working before there was absolutely no more natural light in the studio. My day had to be finished at this point. It reminded me of an agrarian life I've never known. To finish a day's work by dusk.
The next day I found a pull switch at Ace Hardware. When I got into the studio I faced the new problem of locating the circuit breaker. The only breaker box I could think of was located on the exact opposite end of the some 3500 sq. ft. building. To locate the correct switch I had to flip each breaker and then run between the box and my studio to determine its effect. Only after attempting every switch, and running out of breath, did it become clear: the switch I needed was not on this box. Some deeper investigation into the bones of this old Julian Morgan cathedral, built prior to 1900, were required to discover the switch was actually a glass fuse, located in basement (of all places). I cut the power. The fix was easy after that. All I’m left with is a mangled pull-switch.