Saturday, October 30, 2010

Flyin' High on Aviation Art...

I have just returned from the Air Force Art Program presentation of paintings, held Oct 20-24 at the National Museum of the USAF, Wright Patterson AFB, Dayton, OH. Seven artists from our group with their guests presented paintings, though only four artists from the membership attended the gala, by my count. Still, it was a pretty darn good turn out considering the change of venue. I have to admit, I never had any doubts about not visiting DC which has been the venue since I have been part of the program. Wright-Patterson, AFB? Dayton? No more DC Mall crawling, no more Virginia, no Brandywine, no more Georgetown?

Yes, but no more one night stands either. At the museum, our paintings will be on display at the Museum in Dayton until the eleventh of January. No more 24 hour shows at Bolling AFB which no one can see! Thousands can now see our artwork!

The proceedings this year were without incident. It began with a tour of the restoration hangar, just chocked full of airplane bits and pieces, all with a history attached. It is like a giant hobby store with models that are at a 1/1 scale. We then were given a tour of the presidential hangar, where there are many historical aircraft used by various presidents throughout twentieth century. The Museum complex itself is beyond any military museum I have ever seen anywhere. There was really not enough time to see everything in the entire museum, and I had over three days to see it. But, what I saw was grand.

At the invite of Mickey Harris, an artist that I have known for years but spent six days with at Barksdale, I received a special second tour of the restoration hangar to investigate further the restoration of the famous "Memphis Belle", B-17. Mickey, being from Tennessee, was instrumental in having the Belle sent to the museum for complete restoration and display. Our tour guide was Retired General Metcalf, ( the guiding force of the museum and the main man overseeing the restorations. ) who gave Mick and I the special treatment. His unique insights into the many projects and his own dynamic personality was well worth it.

This is the sixtieth anniversary of the Air Force Art Program. The presentation dinner was held Friday, October 22, in one of the main halls of the museum. A formal affair, we were seated under the wings of a B-52 and a C-124, where we given a very spirited and beautiful rendition of the National Anthem.  We were entertained with chamber music while we dined by Huffman Prairie Winds, which is a local group and a nice change from the U.S. Air Force Strolling Strings. The menu included seared Beef Loin in a Sherry sauce paired with a goat cheese stuffed Chicken Breast with a herb glaze over a a Potato Zucchini Cake. A mixed green salad with almonds, blue berries. strawberries and cherries mixed in a raspberry vinaigrette. For desert with coffee or tea, we had an assortment of tortes, mousse, white chocolate strawberries and such.

As mentioned in my personal blog,, the five hour ceremony ended all too soon and, in spite of my every effort to hold on to the good times, great art and good friends, we reluctantly left the museum with our plaques, seat favors and, soon to be, memories of a great night.

Of the many galas I have been a part of over the last thirty years, this one was my very own personal favorite.

For pictures, please go to:
These pics are personal property of mine, Elsy and Andy Moratoya, Norm Siegel, or the United States Air Force. All artwork was shot or scanned at 72 dpi and no larger than eight inches wide or tall and is the property and copyright of all artists involved or the property of the U.S. Air Force Art Collection. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Knowing Full Well That These Moments Are Fleeting...

Knowing full well that these moments are fleeting, I tried to savor every moment. From left to right, Schmoe ( aka real name Norm "Gawd Forbid" Siegel ), Captain Mike Gregston, me ( code name: Curly ) and Larry ( he's got the curly hair ) Mickey Harris. Schmoe, Curly and Larry are three of the six artist team that invaded Barksdale, AFB in Shreveport, LA. The Stooges spent most of the trip learning how many ways there are to die, "Gawd Forbid" in a B-52 before taking off for a five hour tour over the Midwest, which included a simulated bomb run and a actual mid air refueling. All went well and we took some really incredible photos from the flight... And we didn't die!

Captain Mike Gregston was, for most of our stay at Barksdale, our host. He also helped me set up the photo shoot for one of my paintings entitled, "The Global Force Strike Command"and posed as the central figure in it. He also posed with my finished painting... without me!

Thanks Mike for all your help and to all the great folks at Barksdale, AFB including the crew: Zach "Samson" Miller and Mehul "Verde" Brahmbhatt, Schera "Charly" Bowden, Scotty"Shadow'' Sproles, Chris "Skype" Gregory and last but not least, PR man, Captain Tim Miller for your hospitality as well as protecting our right to be liberals, conservatives, independents and uh... Artists!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On to the Air Force Museum... SPIT, SPOT!

Well, my hair is cut and groomed, my face is shaven. I've a crease on my pants leg, my shirt is crisply starched. My shoes are tied and polished and match the color of my belt. My colors are cool and coordinated. My tie is straight and correctly fits my collar. My bags are packed and ready for flight. My briefcase has my orders as well as my formal invite.


Friday, October 15, 2010

I'm Not Sure I Know How to be a Friend...

I haven't heard from this friend of mine since I last visited Los Angeles in November of 2008.
I was there a week for the SILA/Air Force event at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and coincidence being so"happenstancicle," he had just recently landed a job that was in a building directly across the street from the Renaissance Hotel, where I was staying.

Though we haven't worked together in years, whenever I get in town, I immediately try to get in touch with him to catch up on the biz, LA, our families and, of course, the Dodgers. It always made me feel good to hear his voice with a distinctive accent that sends me back to simpler time and to hear him say so genuinely, "Ben, how ya doin? What are you doin' back here in LA?"

The nature of what I do for a living makes sincere friendship, the kind I wish I had more of at this point in my life, nearly impossible. Whenever I am with a "client," I am not relating to them as a friend, but as a business associate. Most of my friends are just that and yet, it is so much more. This particular art director has kept me busy enough over the years to provide me with a pretty good income and, in turn, I'd like to think I helped him sell his ideas which kept his boss and clients happy and him, employed. This symbiosis is not unique to our relationship, the advertising business or any business. It happens all the time all over the world.

Still, Mike is one of the many clients that I have worked with together all day and throughout the night, seeing sunsets from large picture windows that overlook the expansive LA basin, sharing coffee and cold pizza on the roof top of a building as the sun rises, meeting crazy deadlines and sharing similar goals. Like the long lost uncle that one sees only at Christmas or when there's a death in the family, when the job is complete, I am gone and not seen until the "next debacle." It was so rare to set up and keep a lunch or dinner date with my art director and writer friends because we were always too busy or distracted. Therefore, I never got to know them well enough to really be able to call them friends. Sometimes, I felt I spent more time trying to set up a dinner date than the time I spent actually having dinner with that friend.

The big difference between Mike and all my other business acquaintance friends is that he is, like me, the ultimate New Orleans Saints fan. A tried and true"Who Dat," who was born and reared in New Orleans. He moved to Glendora, CA after high school and has spent most of his adult life in LA. Mike was constantly bemoaning the state of the Who Dat Nation long before that term was popularized. We would run down Wilshire Blvd. and catch a quick lunch at Sizzler or McDonald's and in horror, dissect the latest Saints lost and plan celebrations for the upcoming win... whenever that was. For over twelve years, we have spent countless hours wondering how great it would be to just get passed the "49ers and win just one playoff game. We conjured up all kinds of conspiracy theories which would explain our hometown team's inadequacies including everything from Mafiosos infiltrating the NFL to voodoo and
God 's Wrath. Certainly, it would have been blasphemous for us to even try to form the word, "Super" from our lips. Other creative colleagues at the agency would just shake their heads and laugh at our loser antics.

In our 2008 luncheon visit, which included subjects I have little interest in... politics and religion, we shared a glimmer of hope that the team would bounce back from its Katrina soaked losing ways and rebuild. Or, just give it all up and move to San Antonio or LA. In the following year, the Saints started to put it all together and with each passing nail biter, I hoped Mike would call me instead of the other way around.

I never received one call.

It got to the point where I surmised, that like me, he didn't want to put a hex on the team by changing anything, like calling his "best Who Dat friend" and boasting. I could not believe how great our season was going and as we got into the playoffs and I could no longer excuse Mike from sharing the joy.  Surely, if we win the Super Bowl, he will call me, but I got nothing so far, so why should I expect anything more? BECAUSE IT IS THE SUPER BOWL, MAN!

Maybe he is going through the same hard times I am and doesn't care to talk about it. Cool, I got it!
Well, damn if we didn't take it all and actually win the Super Bowl. The black and gold win the Super Bowl. Whoa!

I was on a trip for the Air Force in the sports bar of the Shreveport Hilton Hotel watching the game with fellow illustrators when I thought of Mike. Although my friends here at the hotel bar were mostly pulling for the underdog Saints, they really had no idea what we southern Louisianians have gone through the pass 43 years. But Mike would. He probably would have understood the strange schism between northern LOU-si-anians and the southern LOUIE-si-anians which is not unlike the NoCal and SoCal rivalries that include not only athletic, but social, political and religious differences. So, I shared with my friends and bar mates the shear elation of our victory and later that night celebrated over the phone with family and friends. I even got congratulatory calls from some of my SoCal friends... but no Mike.

It is now a new NFL season with a whole new excitement brewing as we try for the first ever "Two Dat". I will be there, but will Mike? Does it matter? Do I need his continued friendship after all these years? Are we too far away, now? Is all this concern too wussy? As one man to another, maybe I should tell him to "eff off" and just move on. Turn the page, it's a new chapter. It's not that important, is it?

One night, years ago while I laid in bed trying to either wake up enough to get up out of the darkness and do something productive or try to go back asleep, I got an idea. I get so creative when there are no distractions and no light, but like those floaters that bounce inside of one's closed eyes, ideas are all ever so fleeting.

Catch 'em while you can...just don't turn on the light.

Because of my strange AADD, which stands for, ARTIST ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER, I've gotten pretty good at writing and scribbling in the dark. Well enough to be able to read it the next morning. I had a thought for a painting so personal it would have little meaning to anyone but me, which, for a change, was perfectly okay. It was a very large canvas just full of colored and overlapping names in various styles and sizes acknowledging the people I love, of friends I needed, of teachers who inspired me, coaches who encouraged me and taught me value losing as well as winning, of the heroes and villains in my life, of people, who in some large or small way, affected me. If they come to mind, they are valuable to my life and therefore, valuable to this painting.

It would probably be a very large painting.

Well, even if I only produce the painting in my mind and whether or not I ever make the call to, once again, together cheer on the Saints... or tell him where to shove his fleur di lis, Mike's name will always be a part of my life and therefore, a part of who I am. In the end, it does really matter to me if for no other reasons than the selfish ones. Besides, it is probably as much my problem as anyone's because I find it hard to have people come into and out of my life. I expect more from me and my friendships than is ever possible here on earth. Maybe, most of my acquaintances don't feel the need to validate a friendship as often I might. It could also be that my definition of what a friend is, is too narrow. Maybe it's time to redefine the meaning and give it some space to grow. It's not like I am collecting friends like some do on social web sites though those sites do make it nice to reconnect with old friends and buddies. Maybe, after all these years, I just don't know what to expect from a friendship anymore. Or maybe, I just don't know how to be a friend.

Then again, maybe it's just time to put on a game face and say, "Geaux Saints"... Two Dat!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hey Buddy, You're OKAY?

Two weeks ago, I went on a bike ride trying to get myself back to form. Originally, I was kinda training for a Muscular Dystrophy fund raiser, where you spend two days completing a seventy-five mile per day route for sponsors, complete with an overnight stay, free food and medics just in case you have any problems. My best distance, never mind the time it takes, was forty-five miles. I felt pretty good about my chances of participating... two months ago!

Well, on that day, I completed a thirty-four mile ride but not without some problems. Besides the normal dogs chasing me until I zap 'em with my trusty, never fails, sonic Dazor zapper, I ran into a pretty stiff north wind that brought a welcome cold front to the region. It gave the countryside a beautiful morning, but made my biking harder since, at least, half of this adjusted route ran north/south. Two and a half hours into the ride, my shoulders started to really ache and I could not sit up straight on the bike to relieve the pain because the wind was forcing me to continually pedal... or stop. So, I stopped for a five minute break, not once, not twice, but three times. Somewhere between stop two and three, my left quad cramped up. I had plenty of water, so I knew I was well hydrated, but nevertheless, the next two or three miles were no fun at all and I started to cuss myself and everything else I could damn praying it was only a cramp and not a pulled muscle.

Ben, it seems, no matter what you do, you always turn it into a job. This is supposed to be fun, I thought to myself. It didn't take too much longer before I was actually vocalizing my frustration to myself and anyone within hearing range as I continued to peddle. I also noticed my heart monitor registering a constant 148 bpm, but I only now had about eight or ten miles left to go. "What an ass!" Once again, you are turning this into another famous Ben Bensen slog!"

Slogging through this bike ride seemed a complete metaphor for my life. Slogging is what I define as doing something, anything with a negative attitude. You know, doing things that need to be done, but you just do it 'cuz you have to. You could put on a happy face and maybe it would make it better, but instead, you bitch, you moan, you acquiesce, you reluctantly get the job done. That's slogging!

As I continue peddling closer to the finish, I am now verbally abusing myself. " You shouldn't have taken such a long route... What made you think this was a good idea? Why do you continue to set such stupid, unrealistic goals? A true Capricorn. Butting my head up against anything just because it is there. It is not necessarily in the way. It is just there, so why do I feel he need to bust through it. What's on the other side making it all worth while? You're an idiot. No one cares whether you win or lose. Why do you turn everything into a competition... especially with yourself. "What a maroon, just get your cell phone, make the call and have Therese come pick you up," I said to no one, but me.

Slogging through a few more miles I finally make a decision."Okay, okay, I give up. I can't go on. But I am not calling for a ride home. I need to stop for a while... just a while. As I parked the bike along the side of the road, I started to feel nauseated. "Great, just what I now need... Upchuck City...Great!"

I found a shady area next the culvert, sat down and took the last couple of gulps from my second water bottle hoping it would help me not lose my breakfast. I then worked on my gimpy quad trying to unknot the damn thing and in the process ended up laying down on a bed of pine needles and pine cones. Once I dislodged the prickly cones from my back, I looked up to the beautiful fall sky and heard that breeze ( it was now not a wind but a beautiful breeze, at least, in my mind ) wafting through the pines. I laid there for about a minute watching a red-tailed hawk couple dancing high above me in the breeze and realized how strange it was that they were flying above me on a street named Hawk Road.

After five minutes or so, I remembered how once I hit the wall twenty-four and half miles out during my first marathon in Scottsdale, Arizona. I remembered how my gait turned into a walk, then a stop and start for another few hundred feet and then, I sat down resolving to return back on track to finish the last mile and a half to finish the race.

A car passed by and I waved him on by, and then another and then another. "Hey man, ready to give it up, you look spent!" " No, I replied, I'll be fine, thanks!" But, I wasn't fine. I literally hit the wall... Big Time! I remembered that try as I may, I could not get up. My entire body just seized up into one big knot and I wasn't gonna finish this race...

Just then, an old Chevy pickup circa 1970's drives by and stops at the stop sign.   A man with a red cap, brim turn up and a cheek full of possibly chaw says, "Hey Buddy, you okay?" Everything's all right?" I quickly sit up and tell him that I was fine and that I just needed to take a break. As he drove by, I laid back down because it made me feel less nauseous, but a minute later a woman in a blue compact stopped at the stop sign, turned left, and then, backed up to inquire about my condition. After the third car, not wanting to concern any more drivers stopping at that corner and fearing that, once again, as it did in my first failed marathon, my body would seize up, I decided to sit up.

A black lady in an Explorer inquired, a man in a pork pie hat driving a Jag, stopped to ask. Some mexicans ( or hispanics, from one country or another, ) stopped with a truck bed full of compadres to ask if I was okay. All in all, within twenty minutes, eight cars of completely different ages, styles and makes, with people from all walks of life, showed their concern for a total stranger's well being at the side of the road.

Rejuvenated by the rest and not wanting anyone else to show concern for my welfare, I got back in the saddle and slowly peddled off. With less than a half mile or so to return to Gus's in Folsom, where my car was parked, I thought, "Is this still a great country or what!