Bands of Color

My world view while growing up was a Pyramid to the West, and Mt. Everest to the East. In relative distance that would mean I was raised in the land of Sumer, Iraq.

In reality, I was raised in San Pablo, and the view West on my street, ended six blocks away, in a four story aluminum pyramid, some sort of industrial storage faculty. I never knew exactly what was stored there, it had been shut-down for years. All I knew was the profile standing starkly in the setting sun. A Pyramid at the end of the world.

My street ran almost perfectly east to west. At the eastern end the street just disappeared into a maze of buildings, but on the horizon there was the mountain. It was as far as Mt. Everest, although it never seemed to have snow on the peak. It was the highest thing you could actually see, and it became the obsession of every neighborhood child. We must have an expedition, and climb the mountain. 

Oddly enough, from the top of our eight foot fence in the backyard, I could see in the far distance, another mountain in the West. This was a volcano which could erupt at any second. My friend Jack and I kept several buckets of water handy in case of emergency. Okay, maybe it was just shaped like a volcano. I had binoculars, we had “smoke watch” whenever we thought about it.

For some reason the backyard view of reality was different from the front yard, and the street view held primacy, couldn’t see the volcano from the street. 

The first expedition of our gang was to the West. We were on 19th, the Pyramid was on 13th street. It was officially four blocks further then the legal limit of exploration. 

The neighborhood had borders, we could walk or ride our bikes only so far. To go further was unheard of, and only on rare occasions did this happen. Halloween was one exception, but it was dark then, so we never really saw the Pyramid up close. 

It must have been summer, the long days, with moments of boredom filled with exciting future plans. We made plans for the Pyramid.

Somehow the idea came up that all of us would hike to the Pyramid to get a closer look. There were about six of us, but three were too young, and we couldn’t take the risk of taking them that far over the border. The rest of us felt that we could handle the dangers of the trip, and also the punishment should we live to return. 

Outfitting was easy, we gathered all the Army web gear, and the canteens, and packed sandwiches, the binocular, some climbing cord, the Bowie knife, and off we went. 

Crossing the border was not as difficult as we had imagined. The houses looked different in the daylight, but we recognized them from driving in our parents cars. The Pyramid began to get larger as we approached, within a few short minutes it loomed in front of us. 

It was on the other side of a busy street, with no crosswalk, and no traffic light. We had no other options left to us. Crossing the street was over the top risky. Far greater than the problem of going past our parents border. We were way beyond redemption should we venture further. 

The Pyramid was silent, no movement in the yard, no movement on the Pyramid. We were close enough to see the conveyor belt that ran up the slope of the Pyramid, to the little door in the small structure at the very top.
Apparently things were thrown on to the conveyor belt, and then they rode squirming to the top, before falling into the black interior, where there were stacked in clumps. A Pyramid of sacrificed flesh. Or maybe cardboard. We never knew. 

We had to get closer, climb the conveyor belt to look into the interior. We made the break and crossed the road. 

Somehow, the locked chain link fence with barbed wire cured our curiosity. We did discover that it was a four sided Pyramid, not the classic three sided, and that it was apparently vacant with no signs of activity, sacrificial or otherwise. 

We backed up and crossed a side street to get a better view, and then discovered a treasure trove. We had backed up into a pile of broken pottery. Actually it was broken molds from the bronze casting factory. 

A bizarre collection of colors and shapes, all made of some sort or sand-like material. We could draw with the pieces, or grind them together to make piles of colorful sand. We loaded our pack with a variety of colors, and marched back home with our loot. 

The pack was heavy and we had to rotate it several times among the three of us. It wasn’t long before we met in my garage with the entire gang and distributed the pieces with the six of us. Pieces were broken and rubbed together. Piles of colorful ground sand were scattered around the floor of the garage. 

One of us found a half-dozen Mason jars and we carefully poured in several layers of colored sand. It wasn’t  long before we started to grind the sand directly into the jars, changing color every few minutes to create a layered sediment. 

We had created some very beautiful pieces of art, delicate fine layered bands of color. We even traded the Mason jars with some small flower vases. The sand paintings became gifts for our parents. 

Everything was great, until my father asked “Where did you get the sand?” Innocently, I explained the grinding process with some pride. I explained the shifting color choices and the additional artistic choice of how thick the band was going to be. He then asked “Where did you get the pieces to grind?”

My life flew before my eyes. I could always lie. “In the alley, behind Jack’s house”. Could I get back there to plant a few pieces before he went to look? Umm, “some kid traded us for some of the apricots on our tree”. Were there any apricots left?

Or I could tell the truth. So I chose to say nothing. The awkward silence spoke the truth. “You got them from the foundry at the end of the street. I hope you were careful crossing the road.”

And that was that. The decorated glass bottles lasted several years before the bands mixed together to create a muddy brown. 

It was my first art.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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