Normal History Vol. 453: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

When I arrived at my parents’ (mobile home in a mobile home park) to drive them to my brother’s for dinner they were sitting in the living room. Mom (97) asked Dad (92) who it was, and Dad said, “It’s Jeannie!”

I’d just talked to her on the phone as I was leaving to drive the 45 minutes out there and she said she hoped we’d have a nice time at my brother’s and there wouldn’t be any arguing. There’s never any arguing, so it was weird (in a way that I’ve come to understand more about over the last few years). It is meant to get a rise out of me. A reaction. In the same way that asking me if I’ll come and live with them instead of them going to an assisted-living facility intends to get a reaction. I tried to leave it at “no” but elaborated, saying how much I like my life, how happy I am.

I’m standing just inside the door. It’s not like she doesn’t recognize me because it’s been so long. I saw them about two weeks ago. Somehow she’s surprised that it’s me. I know she knows it’s me, but she asks Dad if it’s the lady who comes to give them their baths. This is to prove that she’s muddled up, which she may be, but this is also something else. Dad assures her it’s me. I’m standing right there. She has excellent eyesight and … she knows it’s me!

She says, “Why do you look like that?”

“Like what?” I ask. I’m wearing red pants (from H&M … not freakish red … nice orange-y red) and a sweater that’s a great murky red with a black pattern.

She says, “You look terrible!”

I laugh and get on with the things I’m there to do. Hem the pajamas I got Dad and take a look at sweat pants I got Mom in May that she claims are too big for her. I show her the drawstring at the waist and the elastic at the ankle. I help her put them on and she seems to like them. They fit. She’s been living in light-blue (deeply filthy and torn) sweat pants I gave her some years back, so this is a big deal.

In the summer, she gave me a bag of clothing to drop off in a charity bin. “Don’t look!” she warned. Of course I looked. There was the colorful top I gave her for her last birthday when she said she wanted a colorful top, and the loose cotton trousers of mine that I figured I see again one day, and several other things she’d indicated she needed. Wow! It kind of did hurt my feelings, and it’s deeply symbolic of the whole thing. Zero validation has been her longstanding m.o. with me. How I look, my “little” band, my friends—she doesn’t like any of it. She does, however, like my paintings, although she can’t work out why anyone is buying them.

“Are they Mecca Normal fans?”

“No, not really,” I say.

“Are you getting paid in real money or internet money?”

“Yes, Mom,” I say. “It’s real money.”

“How Many Now?” from Jarred Up (K, 1993) (download):