The Nickname – A Short Short Story

 Drawing at Crystal Bridges

The origin of the drawing was a quick sketch at Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. There was an area of the temporary exhibition where people were handing out paper and clipboards and encouraging people to draw.  I took one and told them I would use my own pen but they said pens weren’t allowed.  So I used their pastels instead. I only took the black one, which they thought was odd. I did the quick sketch of my wife Linda gesturing like a spokesmodel on ‘The Price is Right’ to two paintings behind her and brought it home with me. I drew and painted it to completion this morning.



The Explainer - Gallery #9


The Nickname – A Short Short Story


Penelope hated her nickname.

Chapter One

She was excited to go to the opening because she really liked the artist. She wore a strapless dress and clunky heels.  She spent a fair amount of time at the opening explaining to her friend, Benita, different things about the paintings.  Benita listened but didn’t really care. She just kept thinking how glad she was she didn’t have that nickname, especially in this particular situation.


Penelope eventually moved away from New York. She landed in St. Paul, Minnesota and made sure no one there ever knew her nickname.

The End



60 things at 60

Hola Napkin Kin!

Turning 60

This past Saturday I turned 60 years old.  I’ve been thinking about this birthday for quite a while, for years actually. But I haven’t thought about it negatively.  Yes, there is a sort of fatalistic element to some of the thoughts, I am growing older, I don’t have forever, I wonder if I will live as long as my mother (died age 62, way too early) or my father (died age 96, just about right). I am working on the 96 assumption.  Gives me more things to plan for!  Of course I really don’t know, as do any of us, when my time to move on will come. I have been through enough tragedy and accidents to know it could happen any time and I am ok with that.  

Most of my thoughts about turning 60 have been very positive.  For example, it’s great to get up in front of the runners I coach and say, “I’m running a marathon at age 60. If I can do it, you can do it.”  I also don’t mind being able to run faster than 90% of the people I coach, many of whom are 1/2 my age.  It’s also a bit of a thrill to say I am 60 and have people stare at you like you are crazy because they just don’t believe it.  A little ego boost is a good thing at 60.

But there has been something deeper about turning 60 than just an ego boost.  It’s also about being at that interesting tipping point in life when you no longer have to prove or defend yourself, but you still have hopes that some of the most profound and important things in your contribution to humanity are still ahead.  You aren’t done, but you aren’t just starting either.  For example, I don’t have to try to convince someone I am an artist as younger people often do. If they don’t have an exhibition record or sales or a lot of work to show, then are they really an artist? Can they make it as one? Do their parents and family think they really are one, or are they just dabbling, is it just a phase?  

I don’t have to worry about that.  I started as an artist at about age 17. That was 43 years ago. I have 43 years of being an artist. I have years of teaching, selling, showing, etc.  It’s already a done deal.  That doesn’t mean I have been a great success, I haven’t. But you don’t have to be a great success as an artist to be an artist. All you have to do is create art. I’ve done that for a LONG time. I am an artist.

60 at 60

One of the things that came to me leading up to 60 is that I want to be more conscientious and deliberate about things I do.  To do that I decided to make a list of 60 things I want to do at 60.  Each thing is to be done in multiples of 6, preferably simply 6, 60, 600, 6,000, etc.

I haven’t finished the list, I am giving myself 60 days to do that. But I have some written down so far.  I know myself pretty well at age 60 and I am not making some grand proclamation that I am doing all of these. They are ideas I hope to implement. I think I will implement some completely, some partially, some not at all.  

Here is my list so far.  Feel free to contribute ideas in the comments below. 

  • Write 60 cards to people.  If you want one of these, send me your street address to my email,

  • Walk the dogs 60 times. I know, I know, don’t I already do that?  No, I don’t. So, sue me.

  • Sell 60 art pieces.  I already sold one this year. That one counts even though it was before my birthday. Why? Because I say so. If you want to buy a drawing, let me know!

  • Attain 6,000 average viewers a day on my blog and associated platforms.  I probably first should figure out my numbers as of now, ya think?

  • Add 600 people to my newsletter address book.  I have about 900 now so 1,500 total would be a good goal.

  • Give away 60 books.  I have a lot of books.  Most of these will go to Goodwill I think.

  • Delete 60 people from Facebook friends list.  I have 1,900 or so friends so 60 shouldn’t be too hard, right?

  • Book 6 paid speaking engagements.  I have given a lot of presentations over the years and need to organize and promote that better.

  • Finish 6 major website upgrades.  The first one is already done, that is a theme change that I implemented last week. 5 to go.

  • Do 6 pull ups. I was able to do 3 last year but now am back down to 1 (I’ve been lazy in the cross-training department)

  • Fix 6 things . I went to Virginia to visit my daughter last month and I did a ton of DIY stuff around her house. If I can do it around her house I can do it around my house too.

  • Build 6 things.  I built a cool bookshelf from our old piano a number of years ago. I want to do more things like that.

  • Cook 60 meals from scratch. I love to cook but most of the time I do more heating up than cooking. When I do cook it’s usually nothing special. I want to cook more cool stuff from scratch.

I asked on Facebook for some suggestions and here are some I think I might work on as well.

  • Melanie suggested 6 fish tacos 

  • Lauren said be grateful for 6 things when you wake up and 6 when you go to bed.  

  • Angelika offered 6 half marathons

  • Sex 60 times was Sam‘s recommendation

  • Byron thought riding my bike 60 times was a good idea

  • Jenny wants me to do 6 or 60 random acts of kindness

  • Jenny also thinks I should give $60 to someone who needs it or by $60 dollars worth of stuff for someone.

  • Jill thinks I can try 6 new food types each month

  • Janis wants me to wish on 6 or 60 or 600 coins thrown in a fountain

  • Robi thinks running 600 miles this year is doable.

  • Take pictures of 6 families who can not afford a photographer is Anna‘s offering

  • Judy has ‘pay it forward at least 6 times’ as her recommendation

  • Jill says a bubble bath for 60 minutes while I eat 6 chocolates and drink 6 (or 60) ounces of champagne should be on my list

  • Margaret concludes 6 affirmations said to myself and repeated 6 times for 60 days would be worthwhile

  • Cynthia thinks I need to do a top 6 countdown of something

  • Suzanne says visiting each grandchild 6 times this year needs to be done

  • Courtney wants me to donate $6,000 dollars to her 6 times in 2015

  • Chanting 666 on public transit until I get beat up is Julie‘s brilliant idea

  • Jeanne suggests 6 marathons in 6 states in 6 days

  • John wants me to back a big cake and cut it into 60 pieces and freezing them so I can bring one out every 6th day and eat it

  • Pam wants to hear me sing 6 songs from the 60s

  • Roxanne contributes 6 times a day for 6 days find 6 reasons to make 6 people’s lives easier

  • Sidney thinks I should breathe 60 billion times and keep count

  • John wants me to attend a concert with 6 musicians in it

  • Earl says I should do 20 push ups three times a day

  • Run 60 miles in 6 days is Brian‘s suggestion


I will keep you informed of my progress over the year. In the meanwhile, what are your suggestions?



Mary and Elizabeth – A Short Story


Mary And Elizabeth


Chapter One

The artist, Bethany, was having her first solo art exhibition in 3 years. She had done a series of paintings of nude biblical figures. The painting she was giving her gallery talk about was titled ‘Mary and Elizabeth’. It depicted the New Testament story when Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth after she found out she was pregnant and Elizabeth’s baby jumped in her womb when the two of them greeted on the road in front of Elizabeth’s house.


Chapter Two

Bethany was explaining why in particular she painted Mary, the mother of Jesus and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, nude.  The paintings had caused a lot of controversy, even having been mentioned on cable new shows.  Fox News had condemned the exhibition, saying it was disgusting and disrespectful.  Others had been not so opinionated but still said they didn’t think the exhibition was worth seeing.  “Unbiblical” was what one mainstream news outlet had said.  A satirical website had called the piece ‘umbilical’, which Bethany thought was pretty funny.


Chapter Three

The artist told the story of her own life, having been raised by nudist parents in California.  She said she loved being raised that way and that it taught her so much about not judging people based on outer beauty or style.  When she went away to college to major in art she was drawn to figure drawing classes. She hit upon the idea of painting biblical figures nude when she went to Europe and saw many allegorical, historical, and mythological paintings that included nudes.  She noticed however that paintings illustrating the Old and New Testament almost never had complete nudes in them. She decided to do a series on New Testament stories as a result.


Chapter Four

She had two of her friends pose for the piece.  One was KimLee who was raised in an evangelical family who would not approve.  They had met in college when KimLee had come into the Student Union gallery and looked at Bethany’s paintings.  They became friends. KimLee had already posed secretly for her a number of times. She had always been shown without her face or Bethany had changed her face so she wasn’t recognizable, which Bethany promised she would do this time as well.  The other was the Gallery’s assistant curator, Suzy, who had been pregnant with twins when Bethany came up with the idea.  Not many people knew it but Suzy had been an ‘adult entertainer’ in college. She loved the idea of being in the painting.  She wanted to be Mary in the the painting because she thought it would be cool if a stripper was Jesus’ mom.


Chapter Five

KimLee and Suzy met for the first time at the gallery talk.  It turns out their babies were born just two months apart a little more than a year earlier.  They hit it off while contemplating the painting after the gallery talk, comparing notes about what it was like to pose and to have their naked bodies out in public for all to see.  KimLee explained how no one knew it was her and Suzy explained how everyone knew it was her, including some former ‘clients’ who had come to the exhibition not realizing Suzy was no longer a stripper but a respected gallery worker.  They both laughed at how they had come from such different directions to arrive at the exact same spot.



KimLee and Suzy became great friends. They had playdates for their kids together, went to lunch once a month and eventually started a company together that had sales topping one million dollars last year.  Their sons became best friends and both became elementary school teachers.

Bethany’s next show was of self-portrait nudes. It led to her being kicked off the PTA.


The End



Making a Window Bench – A Napkin Dad DIY

Being a Grandpa

I am now officially Papa Marty.  I went to visit my daughter Rebekah after Christmas.  Her daughter, my first grandchild, Vivian, was old enough to call me ‘Papa’ and so it’s official.  Next year my Grandson, Mr. Otis, will hopefully be able to call me the same.

When Rebekah was young her Grandfather, Dwight Johnson, was around a lot. He was a fixer.  With an engineering degree 2 times over and a mechanic’s mind he could and did fix, install, repair, build and rewire most anything.  Didn’t matter if it was a car, a house, a washing machine or a wheelchair.  Didn’t matter if it was electrical, gas, water, air, big, or small. He would figure it out.  I learned a LOT from him over many years.

I also learned a lot from my own father, who was quite handy with a saw and drill, and from my own grandfather, Papa Powell, who was an excellent woodworker with his own beautiful woodworking shop in the back of his house.  I learned a LOT about how to use hand and power tools from them both.

So, when I went to visit Rebekah I saw a number of projects I could do to help them out, carrying on the Grandpa tradition.  Here are the ones that were the most fun.



The Table




This looks like a photo of a collapsed and broken table, and it is. But it’s secondary to the task at hand, which you can see on the far right, that white bench area.  I had been looking at the window bench area, thinking it would be cool to have a cushion there for Vivian or someone else to sit on. Their breakfast area is very small so an extra seat would be great.

We also were putting thin plastic over the windows to help insulate the house from the cold.  But, to get a good look at the bench area and to put up the plastic I needed to move the table. The table, unbeknownst to me, was in a precarious state and promptly fell apart when I moved it. Oops!






So, after putting the plastic over the windows I went to the hardware store and got some brackets to put the table back together.  I used the brackets (and glue) to attach the legs to each other and then to the table top.   Easy peasy.  Vivian approves!



The Window Bench

Now we could work on making a cushioned bench top for that space. It wasn’t something I had done before so I did what any good DIYer would do, I went to Pinterest.  I searched under ‘window bench’ or something like that and the very first item that came up was a ‘how-to’ on making a window bench. It took me about 5 minutes to read it (if that) and I was ready to go.

I needed the following material:

  • Peg board (or some other type of very thin, sturdy board – masonite of some sort basically)
  • Foam
  • Fabric
  • Fabric Glue

And the following tools:

  • Measuring Tape
  • Stapler
  • Saw
  • Scissors
  • Box cutter knife


First I measured the space and drew a drawing of it with measurements in all 3 dimensions.  Then Rebekah and I went on a shopping trip to find the material.




First stop was Home Depot where we found 4’x6′ peg board.  We needed it cut since it wouldn’t fit in the car.  We ended up getting 3 identical pieces in size, plus 3 smaller pieces. We brought them all home in case our first effort was a mess up.  Patrick, Rebekah’s husband, was also needing pegboard for his tool area in the basement so it worked out great.  We also got a stapler and the staples I thought would be long enough to go through the fabric and the pegboard effectively. We looked at foam at Home Depot but the pieces were too small and not of very high quality.

We then went to JoAnn’s fabric store in Fairfax.  When I was looking up fabric stores on Google the reviews of Joann’s had been terrible for customer service but they were fantastic when we went there.  The woman waiting on us explained why we should use a certain type of marine quality vinyl for the fabric.  They also had a large piece of high quality foam that we purchased.  They explained what spray on glue would be best as well.




Patrick and I worked on putting it together.  First thing Patrick and I did was mark and cut the pegboard to the right size. We used a handheld jigsaw which was pretty easy. It was a bit nerve wracking getting the measurements right but I felt confident we had, plus we had 2 extra pieces in case we blew it. Always nice to have a back up!

We then put the pegboard on top of the foam and marked it.  At the store the person cutting the foam for us had used an actual electric knife, like you use to carve a turkey at Thanksgiving. We didn’t have an electric knife so I used a box cutter knife. It wasn’t quite as smooth but it was sharp and did the job just fine.






We then put the pegboard and foam together and measured and cut the vinyl to fit. We were told by the woman at Joann’s that we needed at least 4 inches to overlap on the backside.  The foam was 3″ thick so it was a total of 7″ larger on all sides than the foam/pegboard.




Before we put it all together I took a test piece of pegboard and vinyl and stapled the hell out of it to see who well it would work. I found out I REALLY needed to press down on the head of the stapler or else they just wouldn’t go in. I also folded the vinyl over a number of times to see how well it would staple in that thickness. I figured it out through practice and it worked fine.

We took the whole thing outside and Patrick sprayed each section with the glue as I held the fabric out. We then quickly folded it over and stapled it.  We had to work fast since it was about 35º out and the glue was only suppose to be used at 60º or above. We tested the folds at the corners first before gluing and found we had a lot of extra material. We cut that all away before we sprayed and stapled.




And about an hour later we had our window bench done.  It looked and felt great, just the right height and the right amount of cushion.  




Here is Vivian trying it out for the first time, right before bedtime. The vinyl is durable and washable, something that was critical when you know a toddler is going to be sitting on the seat!




The next morning at breakfast she walked right over to it and tried to climb up. It’s going to be a perfect place for her to sit and eat and play.  Even though it was a simple project,  I think my grandfather, father and father-in-law would have all been proud!




The Tile Patch 

The other thing I did was patch some tile in the guest bathroom. It was crumbling right where I had to stand to use the sink so I went and got some patching material and fixed it.  The small tiles had been coming up for a while and I wasn’t confident I would be able to find all of them so I bought one 6″x6″ tile to cover the main area.  I wouldn’t have done that but they are hoping to completely gut and remodel the bathroom next year so a weird tile stuck in the middle of the bathroom is no big deal temporarily.






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