Flashback to Art History

As I was heading out for lunch, Director Tunello laid a thick envelope on my desk marked “Confidential.” This was per usual, as was his timing, right as I am to leave.  He had to know that my stomach was growling and that I was nauseous from too much coffee and too little nourishment . Do I go out for a quick lunch and come back to face the fire, or drop everything and open the file immediately, as his pacing suggested?

“Winters, If I could have it by this afternoon. Three o’clock.”

“Of course.”

He peered back around the corner of the door before leaving, “It’s the heavies.”

If you’ve never heard of the heavies, and you saw Tunello’s face right now, you would be alerted immediately to matters of a serious nature. You would stop dead in your tracks, freeze in silence, like a scared rabbit in the woods. No extra motion, no extra sounds. This is how I conducted my work when Tunello was in a closed-door meeting with the heavies, the unofficial officials. Tunello was not to be disturbed, and on occasion, I never saw the heavies.

This disturbed me for quite some time before getting up the nerve to investigate. That, and of course, and having the opportunity to do so. It was rare for Tunello to leave his office unlocked unless he was there working. Whenever I was in his office it was when I was called in. This is not to say that we didn’t have a comfortable working environment. We simply had unspoken, unwritten boundaries.

It may have been due to his military background, some kind of Special Ops. I’ve only heard it rumored, because although I’ve seen everyone’s file in this organization, I’ve never actually seen his. My access to his file is blocked and I decided to leave well enough alone. I wouldn’t want to be caught breaking our mutual trust and respect. I know he will come forward with information when necessary.

But when it came to the heavies and their mysterious comings and goings, I could not keep myself contained. Once while in his office, Tunello caught me staring at the oil painting behind his desk. I knew what it was right away, a flashback to my Art History 101 class in college.

“Still Life with Vegetables and Fruit,” van Gogh

It was this particular painting, van Gogh’s “Still Life with Vegetables and Fruit,” that was on the big screen when the professor flew into a mad rage. I remember thinking nonsensically how silly it was he was upset about a couple of pieces of fruit and vegetables. The professor blew up, a departure from his typical disposition, a flat, solemn monotone that carried me and the rest of the class to a slumbering stupor.

It didn’t help that it was an 8:00 a.m. class in a mostly empty vacuous hall with dim lighting, perfect for meditation. You felt slighty drugged and a little heady with the influx of fresh knowledge and imagery, hoping to retain anything at all. Most students fought the nod off, and one in particular that day, a student close to the front and in the professor’s plan view, did just that, only he snored.

When the professor caught sight of him he threw his pages of notes across the stage, shouting “Why! Why! What’s the point?” as if questioning his metaphysical reason for existence.

He got up, crumpled a piece of paper in his hand and flung it at the snoring student. It was one of those bad professor moments that could have resulted in some bad press. If it would have happened today, I’m sure someone would have recorded it, if anyone was awake, and splashed it into the media wave. At the very least, his notoriety would have gained instant art aficionados, or perhaps, a fan base wishing and hoping he would lose it again.

Staring at the painting above Tunello’s desk prompted me to retrieve this morsel of information as if it were data originally planted for this specific point in time. It was pressing on my mind, but its significance unclear.

Tunello noticed me peering at the painting.

“That’s a lovely painting,” I offered.

“van Gogh,” I think,” he sniffled. ” I prefer Renoir,” turning his back to look at it. “It’s a little dark for my taste.”

For the splinter of a second his eyes darted at the painting, I had a hunch it wasn’t just the colors that made him uneasy.

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