RISE and FALL

RISE AND FALL

On August 24, 2015, a man by the name of Ryan McDowell tagged me this photo on Facebook. The focus of the photo is the fading sign on the side of 1226 Military Avenue, Baxter Springs, Kansas. I once owned that building and it was home to my Body Art Studio, Skin Art Creations Tattoo Emporium. Ryan attached this caption to the photo: “There isn’t much left of the sign, but it still shows were Baxter started to fall. When the sign was new the town was growing but as it decays so does the town.”
My business was in Baxter Springs from 1990 to 2012. When I first opened on Military Avenue (downtown), the business district was all but dead. Very little retail, a few service businesses and a couple of restaurants. For the most part most business buildings sat empty. At that time the city of Baxter Springs had been operating in the red for several years. Within two years of opening Skin Art Creations Tattoo Emporium every business building along Military Avenue was occupied and the city was operating in the black.
Business for me had been good as I was the only Body Art studio in the region. I gave back to the community by having charity drives and heading the Chamber of Commerce joint Historical and Beautification Committee. I promoted the first ever Tattoo Show in Kansas and donated artwork to raise money for flood victims. I created a moral studio with high standards and integrity. I became a proud member of the community.
The sign on the side of the building had been my billboard along Interstate 44 right before exit one in Missouri, the Baxter Springs exit. When the contract on the sign expired the sign company let me have it and I mounted it on the side of the building. The sign proudly stated; “WORLD FAMOUS, AWARD WINNING, SKIN ART CREATIONS TATTOO EMPORIUM – ON ROUTE 66 BAXTER SPRINGS, KANSAS – (316) 856-5938 – WWW.UBTAT2D.COM
In 2000 I decided to expand upon my business enterprises. After an expensive remodel I moved the studio to the 2nd floor of my building and opened a small, friendly Beer Bar. SPUNKY’S TAVERN – WHERE YOU CAN HAVE A DOG GONE GOOD TIME. Opened in January of 2001. The tavern, named after a beloved pet, that had passed, was an immediate success. We served light food, beer and music on Saturday nights. Three TV’s supplied sports entertainment on Sunday’s. We had $1 FUBAR (For U Beers Are Reasonable), Monday’s. Dart Tournaments on Tuesdays. Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament on Wednesdays. We had two pool tables with tournaments on Thursday nights. Karaoke on Friday nights finished out the week.
We purchased the building next door, 1228 Military Avenue and began renovations. The apartments upstairs were offered to our employees and the downstairs was converted to an entertainment venue. We had plans for weekly concerts but alas that only happened one time.
We went to great lengths to make sure that Spunky’s was family friendly and We did not tolerate drunks. We would cut people off that had too much and that was the beginning of the end.
One Saturday night a gentleman that had too much to drink and who we had cut off threw a beer bottle at a waitress. When I escorted him out of the building, he tried to force his way back in. We had to call the police. His friend, a local newspaper reporter, begged us not to call the police but we had been left with no choice. The police showed up and told the reporter to take his friend home. The drunk swung at the officer and said F*** You. He was arrested.
Monday’s newspaper contained an article written by the reporter that claimed that the police chief said that the police were called to the tavern every night. When I talked to the chief he was highly upset as he had never said that, just the opposite. He had said that we handled situations well and that they were seldom called. The article also stated that the Presbyterian Minister, whose church parking lot was across the alley from Spunky’s, had to chase drunk people out of her parking lot every night.
I went to the church to talk to the minister, but she was on vacation and not expected back until the next day; she had never talked to the reporter. I went to the newspaper office and demanded a retraction and the Editor refused stating, “My reporter doesn’t have to tell the truth he just needs to tell the story he wants to tell. I don’t care what he says as long as it sells papers.” I went to city hall and requested to be put on Tuesday’s agenda; I was going to demand a public retraction and apology from the newspaper.
Tuesday afternoon I talked to the minister and showed her the newspaper article. She was upset and said she was going to go to the newspaper office and give them a piece of her mind. She also said she would be at the city council meeting that night to set the record straight. That night when I stood before city council the chambers were packed. Word had gotten out.
The police chief spoke first and verified that what the paper had reported was not true. He told the council what he had actually said. It was then my turn to speak. I told what had actually happened which was verified by the arresting officer. I then demanded the retraction and apology from the Editor and he refused. It was then the Presbyterian Minister’s turn. She cleared her throat and said, “People like the George’s are responsible for teenage pregnancy, unwed mothers, the assassination of JFK and the crucifixion of Christ.” With that one sentence she destroyed all I had worked for in my business wiped out all the community involvement and good I had done. She continued to rant and rave about how our establishment was the devils playground and how it should be destroyed immediately.
Now I could tell you about all that happened over the next year after that city council meeting. I could tell you about how the minister filed charges of verbal abuse against one of her parishioners because he said, “If you think you accomplished something you are crazy.” I could tell you about how the minister got the local council of churches in an uproar and how they were preaching sermons against me on Sundays. I could relate stories of people that left those sermons disgusted or of the teenage girl that lost the right to babysit children at her churches nursery because she waxed our floors once a week. I could tell you how the city turned against us and tried to pull our business license and the state of Kansas had to send a representative down, twice to tell the city to cease and desist. Or maybe I could tell you about the city attorney with the conflict of interest because he was also the local ACLU attorney. He was the one who tried to pull our licenses. I guess I could relate how the attack on our small quiet tavern made national news, but you get the picture.
By the end of 2002 I had enough. I had fought hard, but I was tired and I had become a pariah. It all rested in the lap of a lying reporter, an unethical newspaper editor, a city council run by good ol’ boys and a mentally unstable and hypocritical Presbyterian Minister. The reporter lost his job when the editor sold the newspaper. The city council was re-elected and showed no signs of changing. The minister had been dis-ordained by the Presbyterian Council for “actions adverse against the George family and actions affecting the integrity of the church and the congregation within the community.’ A small victory but one that came to late. I was done!
On a November Tuesday night in 2002 I appeared for the next to the last time before the Baxter Springs, Kansas City Council. I stood at the podium and attempted eye contact with the council. Not one of them connected with me. “I will be closing my businesses here, selling my tavern equipment and listing my properties for sale” I began. “I will be moving my tattoo studio to Independence, Kansas. The powers that be there have indicated that we will be a welcome addition to their community.” I paused. “You think that my little tattoo studio makes no difference to the economy of this community; you are wrong! When I opened here 12 years ago military avenue was dead. You were operating in the red. Two years later you are operating in the black. Did you ever stop to ask yourselves why? Well, I can tell you.” I looked at the council then turned and looked at the filled to capacity city council chambers.
“It was because of my little tattoo studio. Shortly after I opened people started coming to me wanting to know how my business was doing. They talked to me about businesses they wanted to open and asked my opinion. I urged them to take the leap and they did. Some succeeded, some failed but Military Avenue filled up and you started collecting taxes off of those businesses.” I stopped to let that sink in.
“I tattoo over 1,200 people per year. Over half of those are return clientele. From that half two thirds of them come from all across the United Sates and other countries. They rent motel rooms when they are here, they eat in the restaurants they shop in the stores. Four hundred plus people that would never come to this community otherwise come here to see me, spend their money in the community and increase the tax base. That is not even to mention the other 800 people that come to see me that shop and eat here. You don’t think my studio makes that big a difference to the economy of this community? That only goes to show how little you know.” I let that sink in for a moment.
I cleared my throat and looked around the room one last time. “I have a prediction for you. One year from now Military Avenue will be just as empty as it was when I came here in 1990 and the City of Baxter Springs will be operating in the red.” I turned and walked out.
I opened the studio in Independence, Kansas and business was good. Almost a year to the day I received a phone call from my former next-door neighbor. He informed me that a newspaper article had come out the day before stating that for the first time in twelve years Baxter Springs was operating in the red. He went on to tell me that the business district was all but empty, even losing it’s two restaurants. I hung up the phone and called Baxter Springs City Hall and requested to get on the agenda.
I stood, for the last time before the Baxter Springs City Council. Just like when I had been there a year previous the chambers were packed with people wanting to see what I had to say. The council members looked down and did not make eye contact with me. I let the silence hang in the air for a moment then said, “I told you so!” Without another word I turned and left the building never looking back.
In 2004 I received a phone call from the new mayor of Baxter Springs. She told me that the good ol’ boy network of the city council had been totally replaced by all women. She asked if I would consider bringing my business back to Baxter Springs. I said, “No! Once bitten, twice learned. Baxter has a bad habit of cutting off it’s nose to spite its face. I wish you luck but you will have to find your way without me.” She said she understood and thanked me for all I had done when I had been a resident there. I wished her luck.
Baxter Springs, Kansas has a long history of hurting itself economically. From turning back cattle herds from the railheads because of a unfounded fear of hoof and mouth disease. Being too overconfident and allowing Columbus to get to Topeka first to file for county seat. Turning away Sooners and sending them west. Not embracing Route 66 and creating stops. Allowing its Mayor to give permission for US 400 to bypass the community because “It won’t hurt my business.” To what they did to me and my business.
I do not wish Baxter Springs ill; Just the opposite. I sincerely hope that the new generation that is there will continue to revitalize the community, learn from the mistakes of the past and move towards a brighter future. Only time will tell.
 
-The GYPSY-
www.ubtat2d.com
August 24, 2021

THE LAST GIANT

THE LAST GIANT By: J.A. George AKA; The GYPSY 

His name was Matthew Dillon Ceratotherium Simum. We just called him Matt and he was just 15 years old when he died. Matt was also the last of his kind. Matt was the last wild caught Southern White Rhino and he was my friend.

Matt stood 6’ at the shoulder and weighed in at around 5,000 pounds. Captured in southern Africa when he was just a year-old. Matt was shipped to the United States to the San Diego Zoo in California as part of a conservation of species program. After his capture international restrictions were implemented that kept any more Southern White Rhinos to be exported from Africa.

Matt eventually was loaned out to El Paso Zoological Park in El Paso, Texas. The hope was that Matt, whose bloodline was unique and not found in any other Southern White Rhinoceros in North America, would breed with the two female Southern White Rhinos also on loan from San Diego. The Two Females were Miss Kitty, a 17-year-old female who stood 5’ 6” at her shoulder and weighed in at around 3,500 pounds and Daisy May. Daisy was a young and vibrant 10 years old and weighed in at a trim 3,000 pounds and was a petite 5’ at her shoulder. Of the 3 loaned Rhinos Daisy was the most social. But Matt was King.

I received my introduction to my 3 charges when I became lead Keeper of the Hoof stock area in June of 1983. I was used to dealing with small and large species alike. Having come from Abilene Zoological Gardens in Abilene, Texas I had helped birth a Giraffe that was born breach. I had assisted the Herpetologist in getting the 10’ Alligator Humpy back into his enclosure numerous times. Humpy had a Gypsy Soul and liked to wander. My life had been saved by an Asian Elephant 9a story for another day), and I had assisted walking 3-year-old African Elephants around the Zoo Grounds. There are numerous more examples I could give of my work with large species, but you get the idea.

Yet when I was first introduced to these 3 giants, Matt, Miss Kitty and Daisy, I do not think that I was prepared for the welcome I received. The Zoo’s Vet Tech, Claudia Newman, did the introductions. As we walked up the long drive to the central Hoof Stock barn, I could see the 3 Rhinos watching us from their enclosure to our left. This enclosure was large. It swooped down from the central barn towards a lower gutter that sat at the base of a 10’ concrete retaining wall. At the top of this wall and protected from the edge by a short fence and planter that surrounded the hoof stock exhibits the public could look down into the Rhinos curved 100’ x 50’ x 30’ exhibit.

The exhibits substrate was caliche dirt, commonly called desert concrete. This dirt was ideal for Rhino’s with one exception. Miss Kitty was allergic to the dust from this dirt.

As we entered the hoof stock barn the 3 Rhinos rushed up to the stockade fence. This fence was made from concrete anchored wooden utility poles. The poles showed wear from the Rhinos need, like overgrown cats, to rub against them. In this stockade barrier there was a cutaway that was 4’ high and just wide enough for two Rhino heads and that is what greeted us as we walked up to the opening, two Rhino heads belonging to Miss Kitty and Daisy.

Looking at Rhinos from a distance is not like being a foot away from them. It is a little disconcerting at first being nose to nose with a head that is almost as large as your entire body. Claudia made the introductions; This is Miss Kitty, and this is Daisy. Both animals snorted at the sound of their names. That, she indicated the large male Rhino standing back away from the females is Matt. I laughed, “Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty and Daisy?” Claudia nodded, “Yep, the saloon girl.” We laughed and it seemed as if the Rhino’s laughed with us.

Claudia showed me how to apply the Hydrocortisone cream around Miss Kitty’s eyes to help with her allergies. Miss Kitty was used to this routine and stood still as the cream was applied. Daisy nudged her big square upper lip against my forearm. “She wants you to scratch her nose.” I scratched her nose and she purred. I gave Claudia a look. “They are as intelligent as dogs but have many mannerisms like a cat.” She pointed at their wallow, a pit containing their urine and feces in the middle of the exhibit. “They always do their business in the same spot. They rub on things to scratch and leave a scent. They purr and…” Claudia scratched Miss Kitty behind the ear. “They love to be scratched behind the ear.” Miss Kitty half closed her eyes and purred.

Suddenly Matt moved forward and shoved the two females out of the way. His mass made Miss Kitty and Daisy look small. He laid his head on the fence and snorted stamping a rear foot once. “He let’s the females get attention first but when it comes to who eats first the Marshall of Dodge City is first up to the table.’ I laughed and said, “Being from Kansas and being a fan of Gunsmoke I can totally understand the Marshall exercising his rights.” Matt seemed to like the statement as he turned his head towards me and snorted.

Claudia handed me a bucket of sweet horse and mule feed and I held it for Matt as he happily chowed down. When he had enough, I repeated the scenario with Miss Kitty and then Daisy. The hierarchy was obvious, and it would be a scenario that was repeated twice a day in the upcoming months. We took a bale of alfalfa hay from the large stack in the center of the barn, broke it apart and threw it into the exhibit. Claudia said, “Time for the shit cart.”

We rolled the large metal cart into the exhibit and down to the wallow. Using pitch forks we began cleaning out the feces and throwing it into the cart. (I bet you thought a Zookeepers life was all glamour and playing with animals.) At one-point Matt approached us snorting and stomping. Claudia picked up a dirt clod and chucked it at Matt hitting his thick hide on the shoulder. The dirt clod exploded in a rain of dust and Matt ran back up to where Miss Kitty and Daisy were enjoying their breakfast. “Sometimes he likes to show his dominance, but dirt clods shake him up and put him back in his place. He is really a gentle giant” Claudia explained. “Let’s hope I never run out of dirt clods.” I said.

We dumped the Shit Cart in the Zoo’s large dumpster, hosed it out, put up our tools and moved on to care for the next animals; White Tail Deer, North American Bison, Dromedary Camel, Nilgai Antelope and Ostrich. This was my morning routine everyday but twice a day I got to spend quality time with the Rhino’s, and we became close.

June turned to July. July turned to August and August turned to September. Matt and I became close. He started liking the type of attention Miss Kitty and Daisy craved. I no longer had to use dirt clods to spook him; I had learned his language. When he challenged me, I challenged back. I stomped my foot and snorted. I commanded him, “Matt, Get Back!” He would turn and retreat. I had exercised my dominance. Matt was King when I wasn’t around, but I was King when present. But it was more than that. I had developed a deep respect for Matt and the females. I believe with all my heart that respect was returned in kind. In short, we liked each other.

Now do not misunderstand what I am saying. Rhinos are wild animals, and it should never be assumed that they are domesticated in any way. There is an old Zookeeper saying, “Never Turn Your Spine On A Bovine.” In other words, never let your guard down and I never did. One day Matt became agitated because of some unruly children in the public viewing area. His agitation was beyond my control to spook him back. I had to run up the 10’ retaining wall, a trick I had learned as a way to save my life long before parkour was a part of the English language. This skill would again come in handy at a critical time in the relationship between me and Matt.

It was shortly after Labor Day of 1983 that Robert Fulton, the Zoo’s Director, called me to his office. I had been at the Zoo for 3 months and was enjoying every day. I prayed that I was not in trouble. When I entered his office David Benavidez, the Zoo’s Foreman and Claudia were already seated. Mr. Fulton invited me to have a seat and I inquired as to what was happening.

“San Diego wants the Rhinos back.” I was stunned. “What? Why?” Mr. Fulton sighed. “As you know Matts bloodline is unique. We have been unsuccessful in our breeding program. San Diego is upping their program and they want them back. We must send them; they belong to San Diego.” I was stunned. The thought that I would ever lose my friends had never crossed my mind. Rhinos have a lifespan of up to 50 years in captivity and at the time I thought we would all grow old together.

Mr. Fulton informed me that 3 Rhino sized crates were being delivered the next day from Grand Prairie Animal Park. They would be lowered into the exhibit by crane and it would be my job between then and October 10th to get them accustomed to the crates.

So, the daily routine changed. They no longer got their sweet horse and mule feed at the stockade cutaway. Instead, I would pour the feed on the floor right inside the crate. Miss Kitty and Daisy would follow me and had no problem eating their feed in a new way. Matt was more wary. He would snort and stomp and wanted no part of these new arrangements. He missed eating from the bucket in my hand. But even with the trust that had developed between us I could not risk getting up close and personal with him without a barrier. So, I came up with a plan.

The crates had a double layer of bars at the back. There was enough room between these bars for a man to stand. Also, a man could get in between the bars but a Rhino could not. The reason for the spaced bars was to give a animal handler a means of escape or to give a vet safe access to the animal once they were crated. I started standing at the backside of the crate in between the bars and feeding Matt from that side. After a tedious week of on again, off again trust in these new arrangements Matt trusted me and easily came to the bars for his feed.

Since Matt was now use to the crate, I began introducing the feed into the crate. I started at the process at the open end of the crate and day by day moved the feed in deeper. I did this for all 3 animals, and it worked. Soon they were stepping into the crates to get their horse and mule feed.

October 10th came sooner than I wanted it to. The day broke bright and sunny. Fall in the high desert brings a mix of warm and cool breezes intermixed with each other and this morning was no different. The Zoo was closed until all 3 animals could be captured and loaded. Only 3 people were allowed in that end of the Zoo that morning; me, the transport driver and the Veterinarian sent from Grand Prairie Animal Park. The vet’s job would be to administer a tranquilizer if needed and to be with the Rhinos on the long trip to San Diego.

Zoo Staff mingled, anxious outside the zoo’s commissary. They could see down the driveway where the flat bed truck and crane that would load the crates sat. The transport driver had positioned himself on top of one of the crates. He was laying flat, out of sight of the Rhino’s, ready to drop the bar in place after a Rhino entered the crate. The Vet sat on the wall with a dart gun ready to tranquilize if needed. I stood in the driveway, a bucket of Horse and Mule in hand, ready to betray my friends. A mix of feelings filled me, nervousness, anxiety and fear. But mostly my heart was filled with sadness. I steeled myself and entered the exhibit.

Miss Kitty was first. I had treated her eye earlier and I had felt bad that I had not been able to feed her or the other two. They had been fasted since the night before so that they would be hungry and hopefully move into the crates quickly to be fed. I walked backward into the crate with Miss Kitty following me in her big square mouth trying to get the bucket of feed. I stepped between the bars, dumped the feed and as Miss Kitty lowered her head and started to eat the transport driver dropped the bar in place, I exited out the back and tossed a bale of alfalfa into the crate as the transport driver secured the crate.

Daisy and Matt watched with curiosity. Who were these strange people in their home? Why was Miss Kitty sealed in that box? Daisy was a little more wary when it came to her turn, but she entered the crate and was secured. I cannot tell you the feeling of being in a confined space with an animal that could stomp you like a bug or crush your internal organs with the hairy horn on their snout. The saving grace is that within the crate they cannot charge and if spooked they are more likely to back out than lunge forward. So it was with Matt.

As Matt entered the crate, he became anxious. He looked at me, he snorted his anger at being betrayed and backed out as the transport driver tried to drop the bar. Matt ran out into the exhibit and stood snorting and stomping. As I exited the crate Matt charged and I ran, right up the 10’ foot wall. I yelled at the transport driver to stay put and he gave me a thumbs up.

Mr. Fulton came down to see what had happened. We conferred with the Vet and decided we would wait a half hour and try again. We took a break to give Matt a chance to calm down. However, the second attempt to lure him into the crate was just as unsuccessful as the first.

The decision was made to tranquilize him. The idea was to give Matt just enough sedative to make him groggy then the Vet and I would use cattle prods to guide him into the crate. I exited the exhibit as the vet took aim and fired. Twenty minutes later Matt was still not showing any effects from the tranquilizer. He was stomping around the exhibit and letting me know that he was incredibly angry with me and the current situation. The decision was made to administer a second dose. The sound of the air rifle echoed off the steel beams of the barn as the dart entered Matts gray right shoulder just above the first dart.

The effect was almost immediate, and Matt started staggering around the exhibit. The Veterinarian and I entered the exhibit with our cattle prods. The Vet on one side and me on the other we goaded Matt into the crate. All the while I talked to Matt telling him how sorry I was that it had gone this way. The bar was dropped into place and Matt was crated. The Vet entered the backside of the crate where the double bars were located and administered an antidote. I threw a bale of alfalfa into the crate then I kneeled in front of the collapsed Matt.

I was crying and I asked Matt to forgive me for being his Judas. Now before you say that I was being too hard on myself please consider this; I had just broken the trust and respect I had built up with these animals. They had no way of knowing that we were not harming them. They did not know that they were being transported to the home they had once been at with others of their kind. They had no idea that they were going to live their lives under the best care any animal could ask for. They did not even care that they were possibly one of the pieces of the puzzle for the survival of their species. All they knew was that their trusted human had betrayed them. I had turned Judas for the 64 coins I earned daily for my pay.

I said goodbye to Matt, Daisy and Miss Kitty in turn. And as I cried my friends were craned onto the flat bed, secured and made ready for the trip to San Diego. Mr. Fulton stood next to me as we watched this final ceremony in the time that these magnificent creatures had spent at the El Paso Zoo. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go home.” I did not argue. I walked up to the commissary, clocked out and mounted my motorcycle but I did not go home.

I followed the transport and its 3 crates of precious cargo to the New Mexico border 20 miles away. At the sign that stated, “Welcome To New Mexico Land of Enchantment” I pulled over and watch my 3 friends disappear towards the horizon on Interstate 10 that would carry them to California. When I could see them no longer, I said, “our time together was enchanting, and I will miss you. I then turned my motorcycle towards the upper Rio Grande Valley and spent the rest of the day riding the sadness away.

I arrived at work early on October 13, 1983 to a gray day. A rare desert storm was threatening to hit, and I wanted to get my outside duties done quickly before it rained. It had been 3 days since I had said goodbye to Matt, Miss Kitty and Daisy. I thought about them often and knew I had to finish the clean up of their former exhibit and get it ready for whoever the next occupant would be. I had been putting it off because it pained me to look at it. I could see the indentations of the crates and though the wallow was cleaned out and dry it would need to be filled with dirt. Looking at these things brought an overwhelming sadness to me, but I knew it must be done.

I had finished my morning duties and had just hauled the first wheelbarrow full of dirt down to the wallow when Mr. Fulton appeared at the gate. The usually jovial Director was sober and serious as he asked me to step out and talk with him.

“I just received a call from San Diego. Miss Kitty and Daisy arrived safely and are being acclimated.” I suddenly felt my chest tighten. “What about Matt?” Mr. Fulton lowered his head looking at the asphalt floor of the barn. “Matt died in route, right outside San Diego.” I sat down hard on a hay bale and started to cry. “No! What? How?” Mr. Fulton ignoring the crisp freshness of his three-piece suit sat down beside me. “The Vet only administered enough antidote for one tranquilizer. Matt never recovered from the second dose.” I jumped up and looked at Mr. Fulton, “So they killed him?” The Zoo Director stood up brushing off his slacks. “It was an accident.” I was furious. “An accident? How do you accidently forget to give enough antidote? Bull Shit!”

Mr. Fulton acknowledged that it would seem to be neglect. He told me that San Diego was not happy and launching an investigation. “They are not happy?” I shot back. “I am not happy but what good does that do poor Matt?” I started crying again. There was silence in the barn. After a few moments Mr. Fulton cleared his throat and said, “For whatever this is worth San Diego sent a team of Vets out to the transport which was stopped at a rest area alongside the interstate. They harvested Matts testicles while they were still viable. Matt may be gone but his legacy will live on through his offspring.” I looked up at Mr. Fulton and said, “But they are not Matt.”

Mr. Fulton said that he understood how I was feeling and suggested I take the rest of the day off. I said, “I have work to do.” I grabbed the wheelbarrow and went for another load of dirt. Mr. Fulton left leaving me to my work, thoughts and sorrow. As the rain started to fall and I wiped away all traces of my friend it was hard to tell whether my face was wet from the storm or the memory of my lost friend.


You have just read the story of one of the hardest moments of my life. It has been over 37 years since those events took place. Now here we are in 2020. A horrendous year where so many have died so needlessly just like Matt died needlessly. Human or Animal a needless death is still a needless death. It causes us to reflect on mortality, that of ourselves and others.

As 2020 was ending and the last week approached, I was trying to decide on a final painting for this year; a painting that would sum up what this year has meant for me and others. I was coming up short for a subject matter and so likewise was my time coming up short to do a painting before 2021 arrived. With only 4 days to go I saw a photograph by National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Ami Vitale. She has traveled the world over to show us not only violence and conflict but also the beauty and humanity of the natural world.

The photograph that I saw that Vitale took on March 19, of 2018 was of Sudan the last male Northern White Rhino left on earth. The photo was taken at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Northern Kenya, the emotional photograph shows Joseph Wachira, Sudan’s friend and keeper comforting The Last Giant moments before he passed away. It is not hard to imagine the impact this photograph had on me. Grabbing my canvas, paint and brushes I set to work.

Some of you have seen the photographs of my dog Kato Kite watching me work on this painting that is not only a statement on 2020 but also a tribute to Sudan and my friend Matt. It seemed fitting that I have a current animal friend with me as I remembered another animal friend from long ago.

I am an interpretive artist. I do not do photo realism. Though I can see the realistic aspects in a photograph that may serve as my inspiration I paint from the heart. I may overemphasize certain aspects of reality to bring forth the emotion I am feeling or trying to convey. Though my paintings have a base in reality, emotion is the base of my paintings. I could bore you by relating the creation process, but I won’t. What I will tell you is this; as the clock counted down to midnight on New Years Eve and the 1963 Classic Comedy Movie “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” played on the television I signed the finished painting.

I generally will allow the viewer of my work to interpret the painting in their own way. But in this case, I want to explain its motivation. This past year, 2020 caused a lot of pain and sorrow for so many. Such as the pain and sorrow me and Joseph Wachira experienced at the passing of our friends. Both animals were the last of their kind; one the last wild caught the other the last on earth. Both passing’s were traumatic and an immeasurable loss. Yet just as Matts testicles were harvested so that new generations of Southern White Rhinoceros may once again populate the earth so too was Sudan’s testicles harvested so that the great Northern White Rhinoceros may, hopefully, once more roam the earth.

The story of these two Last Giants so far apart yet so intricately linked together can serve as a lesson for mankind. From the travesty and traumatic crisis, the year 2020 has been we can harvest from it hope for a new beginning for future generations. All we must do is harvest the lessons we have learned and push forward into the future. From our pain joy can take root and grow.

I envy Joseph Wachira. He was able to be there in Sudan’s last moments and say goodbye. I could not be there in Matt’s last moments to say goodbye. I have however given Matt a proper send off by sharing with you his story. May this tribute to The Last Giant serve as my goodbye to 2020 and the hope for a brighter better future for us all.

-The GYPSY-

 

 

 

NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE DAY

I Firmly Believe That Gypsies and Native American’s Sprung From The Same Well Source; One Going East The Other Going West. With That In Mind I Would Like To Recognize…

NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE DAY

Thank you to our Indigenous communities and their ancestors. Without them and their rich heritage and contributions, there would truly be no America. Let’s celebrate them as the proud, noble people they are.

Historically and Archeologically it is believed that around 12 thousand years ago the people that would become the Native Americans started their long migration out of southern Asia which is now present-day India. They headed east through Eastern Asia, across the Bearing Straight and into North, Central and South America.

Along the way they bred with other races and picked up certain genetic traits that can still be seen in them today. Take my wife for instance: She is Inuit (Eskimo), she has certain traits that are shared not only with southern and eastern Asian people. Most notably almond shaped eyes and dark Corse hair. She has light cooper colored skin but being Inuit when she is separated from the sun her skin pales and takes on a light amber tone.

Because the America’s were basically isolated the people, as they bred with each other started developing what we recognize today as Native American Features. The Native Americans eventually settled in certain regions and became tribes and subtribes. Some of them were migratory.

My wife also has Potawatomi blood and there are several subtribes of the “People of the Fire”. Her tribe is the Citizen Band Potawatomi.

Around 9 to 10 thousand years ago the people that would become the Romany started their long migration out of southern Asia which is now present-day India. They headed west through central Asia, into the middle east and into North, Central, western, eastern and southern Europe.

Along the way they bred with other races and picked up certain genetic traits that can still be seen in them today. Take me for instance: I am Sinti Romani and I have certain traits that are shared with southern and western European people. Most notably hazel eyes and dark hair that was thick in my younger days and thinned as I got older. I also have the stout frame and muscular build of the Germanic people. My skin is perpetually Olive toned in color and I share the hairiness of the southern Asia people.

Historically and Archeologically it is believed that around 12 thousand years ago the people that would become the Native Americans started their long migration out of southern Asia which is now present-day India. They headed east through Eastern Asia, across the Bearing Straight and into North, Central and South America.

Along the way they bred with other races and picked up certain genetic traits that can still be seen in them today. Take my wife for instance: She is Inuit (Eskimo), she has certain traits that are shared not only with southern and eastern Asian people. Most notably almond shaped eyes and dark Corse hair. She has light cooper colored skin but being Inuit when she is separated from the sun her skin pales and takes on a light amber tone.

Because the America’s were basically isolated the people, as they bred with each other started developing what we recognize today as Native American Features. The Native Americans eventually settled in certain regions and became tribes and subtribes. Some of them were migratory.

My wife also has Potawatomi blood and there are several subtribes of the “People of the Fire”. Her tribe is the Citizen Band Potawatomi.

Around 9 to 10 thousand years ago the people that would become the Romany started their long migration out of southern Asia which is now present-day India. They headed west through central Asia, into the middle east and into North, Central, western, eastern and southern Europe.

Along the way they bred with other races and picked up certain genetic traits that can still be seen in them today. Take me for instance: I am Sinti Romani and I have certain traits that are shared with southern and western European people. Most notably hazel eyes and dark hair that was thick in my younger days and thinned as I got older. I also have the stout frame and muscular build of the Germanic people. My skin is perpetually Olive toned in color and I share the hairiness of the southern Asia people.

Because Asia, Europe, Africa and the middle east were not as isolated as the America’s we were not an isolated people. However, we started to isolate ourselves in some instances and bred with each other. We started developing what we recognize today as Romani Features.

We eventually settled in certain regions and became tribes. Some of them were migratory (not all Gypsies are migratory despite popular belief). My main Tribe who I identify with is Hummel, The Bee. George and Clang also run in my blood.

One of the most interesting things that the Romani and Native American’s share with their very distant Southern Asian relatives is all are Artisans, Craftsmen and Artists. You might say it runs in the blood.

-The GYPSY: 27 November 2020-