Discover more from Carrot Cake
I dashed off to Scituate to meet a pal for a surf a few months back. I was traveling with two surfboards. My everyday stick, a hot pink soft top that catches everything but makes me look silly and a thousand dollar performance board that is harder to operate but looks much cooler.
I found a parking spot, stuffed myself into a wetsuit, and tucked the big money board into my armpit. I met Roger on the beach as he was washed ashore by heavy waves and a vicious current. There were a bunch of guys charging the leftovers from a hurricane that had passed the day before. It was big, clean, and relentless. The paddle out was going to be a bitch. Roger was winded after getting stuffed on his first attempt at getting out. After a chat and a couple of moments to catch his wind, he was ready to try again. We tip-toed down the rocks to the “go in” spot and waded out. The current quickly separated us. I wouldn’t be within shouting distance of Rog until we were back on dry land.
After 40 minutes of catching zero waves, I was washed ashore about a mile down the beach. I did the walk of shame back to where we started. Rog was already on the beach waiting for me. He was pissed off at himself.
“I fucked us man. This is the wrong spot. It’s probably perfect in Hull and I don’t have time to run over there.”
“Rog, take it easy on yourself. It was fun. No big deal” I said graciously. It was easy to be gracious knowing that I had the perfect window of time to sneak over there.
Rog angrily peeled off his wetsuit and headed home. I left mine on and drove 18 minutes to the other spot. I took a quick look, grabbed my less cool board and hopped over the sea wall. The paddle out was much more mellow than Scituate.
I set up a bit further out from where the waves were breaking so that I could sit on my board and catch my breath. The sky was putting on a show. Sunny one minute, partly cloudy with beams of light punching through the next. Rog was right, the waves here are chest high glass and peeling in such a way that you could catch a wave, trim down the line and have enough time to make a sandwich and check email before the ride ends. There were three other guys out. I found myself in easy chatter with a younger lad who made the drive from Nahant.
Mid sentence, I see a wave that I like, so I turn and start making some gentle strokes to reposition myself. As the wave arrives underneath me and stands up, I take two last hard digs until I feel the board accelerate and the moment arrives to get to my feet. I have my best ride of the day traveling about 8 miles down the line and almost back to where I parked. As my ride ends, I decide that’s enough for today. I always struggle with this part. There’s a fine line between knowing when you’ve had enough and the “one more” part of your brain. It’s the same feeling that I used to struggle with in my heavier drinking days. “I’ll just have one more.”
I stumble onto the rocky beach, un-velcro my ankle leash and start trudging back to the truck. I’m vibrating with the post surf high. On the walk back, I see an artist set up in front of an easel, positioned in a way where she’s working to capture the scene that I was just a part of. I stow my board in the bed of the truck and lumber over in my rubber suit. I normally wouldn’t dream of bothering a working artist but something told me to “go on.”
“Hi. I say gently as I encroach. Would it be rude to take a peek at what you’re working on?”
“No. That’s fine,” she answers. (I think it’s not fine but she’s too polite to say.)
I swing around to stand beside her. I’m looking at the canvas and then the scenery. The canvas, then the scenery. “Wow, I say. It’s stunning.”
“Oh, thank you, Susan replies. The light is incredible today. It’s hard to keep up with the changes in the scene but it feels worth it to try.”
Ignoring the voice in my head to move along and stop bothering her, I press on.
“Is this one going to be for sale?” I ask.
“Oh, probably,” Susan says.
“I’d like to buy it when you’re finished. Do you have a card or a website or an Instagram?” I’m starting to get the signal to get out of there so she can finish her work.
“I’m much more active on Facebook, here’s my card.”
We introduce ourselves and I promise to reach out. I’m guessing this happens a fair amount and she rarely or never hears from well meaning potential patrons. While I’m warming up in the truck, I fire off a Facebook message so that she has my contact info and I ask her to let me know when the piece is done so that I can buy it.
I don’t hear from Susan for a couple days and then my phone bing bongs with an unfamiliar notification tone. It’s FB messenger. The painting is almost done and will need to dry. She shares a picture and asks when I want to pick it up.
At this stage, I’m definitely buying this piece but a very small part of me is terrified that it will cost 2500 bucks. I’ve never bought a piece of art like this. THANKFULLY, when I ask “how much” Susan replies with $425 instead of 2500.
We set up a pickup plan for the following week.
On pickup day, I climbed into the truck amidst a persistent drizzle. I was headed to Susan’s house. They had flipped their detached garage into a workshop gallery. I pulled up and parked and tentatively walked down the driveway.
I got to the garage and gave a light knock and turned the knob. Susan is inside tinkering with a painting or a frame or a light switch as I come in.
“Hi! Tom?” she asks.
“Yes. That’s me.”
“Nice to see you again! Thanks for coming by.”
“Susan, this place is amazing. Truly.” I’m looking around and there are 40 or 50 finished paintings of various sizes on the wall and in stacks, leaning against the wall.
“Oh thanks. We converted the space during covid to a gallery and have had a couple of showings. The pieces you see over here (she gestures with a sweep of her arm) are mine, and the ones over there (arm sweep in another direction) are my husband’s. We’re both artists.”
“Wow.” I’m now doing the gallery shuffle which is a little dance where you take very light quiet steps with your hands clasped behind your back. You waltz around in slow motion making pleasurable oooohs and ahhhs and inserting a thoughtful question about a piece.
I ask a couple bigger questions about her process and it feels like she cracks open. Sentences and memories come pouring out of her. I settle into my best listening posture and take in some of her life’s story.
She’s been teaching art at a school in the Metro West for 25 or 26 years. The last year has been brutal, she’s been teaching over Zoom.
“God, how have you done that?” I ask.
“It’s been hard, but the kids have adapted.”
She asks about me and I share the Cliff Notes.
She tells me about her marriage, going all the way back to their first date at Boston College. They’d been in art class together and every other week they’d show up for class and paint a nude model. There was mutual interest and light flirting between the two of them, so Susan waited for him to ask her out. Back then, she tells me, women never asked men out.
Weeks go by and nothing happens.
She comes back to the dorm one day and there’s a sticky note on her door.
This was the answering service at the BC dorms back then. The common area phone would ring, someone walking by would answer, and if it wasn’t for them, they’d scratch out a message and stick it on your door.
She tells me about the “oh shit” moment when she realizes she knows three Pauls.
She takes me through the first date in detail. A movie date. They waited in line together, struggling with small talk. Paul was a quiet kid. When it’s their turn to buy tickets, they step up to the window only to have the metal grate come slamming down in their faces. Sold out. They walked to a different theater where they’re able to score two tickets. Halfway through the movie, the projector shits the bed. She thinks maybe they weren’t meant to see the movie. After some more uneasy small talk, they ended up back at Paul’s place sharing a joint (which helped) and a chat deep into the morning. There was no fooling around she tells me.
I ask about a painting over by the door and Susan settles into a more somber tone. It’s a beautiful young girl engulfed in an ocean of sunflowers. Her daughter. They lost her when she was 14 to a heart condition. Susan tells me about what that felt like and how that destroyed her and Paul. They tried to help each other through the dark days of grief and despair. They ended up separating for a while. Some of that heavy sadness seeps into my body. My vision gets a little blurry as moisture pools up in my eyes.
Susan looks off into the middle distance and talks about getting deep into yoga and learning to surf and riding on the back of motorcycles during this time.
Ultimately, they got back together and repaired as best they could and poured themselves into their art.
They travel to paint together. Hull, Marshfield, Acadia. They drag an off road wagon filled with oil paint and brushes and canvas into the woods, set up shop and try to capture what they see while the weather and the light allow it.
As gently as I can, with a looming video meeting, I tell Susan that I’ve got to run. I count out a tidy pile of cash, she gives me a receipt, and I walk back to my truck with my first oil painting and a new friend.
Susan is working on a website refresh but you can see her work on Instagram at: @susanfuscofazio.
And here’s the piece that I bought.