matthew vollmer
writer. teacher. editor.
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The Ghost of Bob Ross Paints Shit Town

(originally appeared in Sweet Fancy Moses [now defunct])

Let’s start with a little charcoal and a little white and just a touch of crimson. Just a little bit of charcoal, a smidgeon of white, and a touch, just a touch of crimson. You just want that crimson to just kiss the brush. Yes. There. There we go.

Why all this black? I don’t know. I guess I’m just feeling a little down today. You know, even though I’m very happy being dead, it sure isn’t easy. It’s a little lonely. Just a little lonely. When I was alive, I used to imagine I was painting paradise. Now that I’m here, I don’t know if I got it right or not. But I don’t need to tell you what it’s like here. You’ll be called soon enough. Soooon enough. Yeees. There we go.

Why all this darkness? I don’t know. Maybe there’s a big thunderstorm. Maybe it’s just the happy little smoke clouds from the factories that give the people in this world the money to live. Maybe it’s the end of the world for these people. Whatever. It’s your world. You’re in control. This may be the only world you’re in control of. But that’s okay. That’s the point. It’s yours. Here, you make all the decisions, and nooo one else.

Let’s take a little brown and mix it with a little gray and just a touch, just a little dab of cadmium. Then we’ll just crush the brush onto the canvas like so, not to hard, just enough to make some patches of grass. Maybe an old blind dog will lie down here. Maybe an unsupervised child will touch himself on this ol’ grass. You never know.

Then, a little more gray for the pavement. For the happy little streets. Maybe there’s some broken glass there. A couple of teeth. A happy little beer can or two. Maybe there’s some discarded lottery tickets, I don’t know. Maybe this is the end of the road, here. Isn’t it nice sometimes to come to the end of the road?

And maybe, in our world, there’s a happy little river right here. Maybe somebody’s septic tank has overflowed and it’s spilling down the street. And this septic tank water, this nice little brown stream, is meandering quietly through the neighborhood. Meander. Mmmm. Don’t you like how that’s a word? I guess it’s a word. I’m not sure.

Tell you what. Let’s make us a nice little duplex right here. Not big, not tiny, just right for two, three, heck, maybe ten people. I don’t know. It’s your world. You decide. Maybe twenty-five people live in your duplex. Maybe this duplex came down the highway in two pieces. Maybe this duplex has a few dead bushes out front. Maybe it has a hornet’s nest hanging from the gutter. It’s up to you.

You know, when I was alive, I used to paint pictures without people. Now that I’m dead, I kind of miss people. So let’s put some happy people in this painting and see what happens.

Maybe in this world there’s a happy little ice cream truck. Let’s make it an old ice cream truck. Let’s make it a van. With tinted windows. And maybe there’s an old man driving this ol’ van. Maybe he’s a foreigner, or a poor man, or just a pervert. It’s okay. Nobody knows. He doesn’t want to hurt anybody. No. He just wants to see the smiles on the children’s faces. He just wants to give them some ice cream and then go back to his basement. Back into his own little world.

Let’s add another little man right here. A happy little man. Maybe he’s a child who’s running out into the street to meet the ice cream man. Maybe he’s going to play with his friends. Maybe his parents are arguing. Maybe they don’t care. You decide. You’re in control.

Maybe this little boy has a rat tail. Take the brush and just make a gentle slash. Barely touch it. Just graze it. Just caress it. Just push so you get a little bit of paint over the ridge of the bristles. Gently. Gently. Just the slightest suggestion of a tail. Maybe in your world he has a mullet. It doesn’t matter. Do what makes you happy.

Remember, we don’t make mistakes. We have happy accidents.

Tell you what. Let’s have some fun today. Let’s have some fun. Let’s add a fat lady. You know I have to have a fat lady, out on the porch of the duplex, with her old blind dog with three legs. Yes. Isn’t that nice? You know, somebody wrote me recently and told me, you made this beautiful painting and then you went and put a fat lady in it and ruined it! Friends, if you don’t want a fat lady, please don’t put one in. It’s your world. I want you to have your own ideas. I’m only showing you one way of doing it. I want you to make your own paintings. I hope you have more ideas than I’ve ever had.

Shoot. You know me. I need a little midget here. Don’t want a tall muscular man. Just a little guy. With the suggestion of a backwards hat. Sitting on the roof of his house. Surveying the lay of the land. Watching the fat lady and the little boy and the ice cream truck.

Just a little guy. Yes. Just a little guy minding his own business who, if we happened to be passing by, and he was out on the street, might run right out in front of our car. We might accidentally run him over, but that’s okay. We’d pick ‘im up, give ‘im a band-aid, some CPR and send him away. Catch him another day. That’s right. Ooh. Look at that. That’s nice.

And maybe, in this world, some other people are wandering through our little neighborhood. Some people we may not like at first, some people that might even scare us. But they don’t want to hurt us. They’re just looking for the same things we are. Just look at everything and decide where they should live and drop them in.

Am I painting too fast? I hope not. It’s not easy to tell about time here in the afterworld. If so, I’m sorry. Sometimes I lose myself in the painting.

Look at this. More people. Who are they? It’s not important. Maybe someday we’ll meet them. Maybe they’re on their way to my part of the world right now. Maybe walking down the street, there’s a guy who looks a little like me, a funny lookin’ guy with a brown afro wearing light green scrubs, and maybe he’s being chased by a bearded man on a moped with a parrot riding on his shoulder, and there’s a couple of remote control wheelchairs behind, and maybe there’s a blood-stained teenager with purple hair and lip piercings and a young woman with a tiny silver pipe and a black patch over one eye, and maybe in this world there’s a toothless woman sitting Indian style, levitating above it all, smoking a menthol cigarette because, heck, she’s not afraid to die. Maybe she’s dead already and knows what those ol’ black clouds mean. Maybe she knows why there’s a river of shit flooding the street like a miniature Ganges. Maybe she’s the only one that knows. Maybe she’s the Spirit of Destruction. I don’t know. It’s your world.

You’re in control.

Well, friends, my time’s up. I hope you’ve had fun. I certainly do like these little paintings. Until next time, I’d like to wish you happy painting, and God bless, my friend.