Bill Moeller Commentary: I Was Just Thinking … Again

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I’m sure you’ve deduced from the headline that this column consists of a jumble of items gathered from various sources including my own thought processes.

I could have called it a “potpourri” but that would only be an attempt to show off.

For instance, even though the state mask mandate has changed, do you feel as guilty as I do when I walk into our Safeway store without my mask to pick up a copy of the Sunday edition of The Seattle Times? 

Sure, I can legally do that — I have received my two shots — but I can’t get over the feeling that others who are wearing their own masks are chastising me.

Do you get the same feeling?

That leads me to a note I wrote to myself, paraphrasing one from Mark Twain, that “having a cat on your lap on a Sunday morning is a tribute to a pleasing relationship.”

My cat, Sam, has taken on his share of that lately but it might be because I fill his food bowl three times a day.

I found myself turning to channel 21 a couple of times lately. That’s the channel that features reruns of 30- or 40-year-old TV shows.

The expected feeling of nostalgia was overturned by the terribly “wooden” acting in many of them. So many actors appeared to be just standing around reciting memorized lines. It was below the level of most high school productions I’ve seen.

Why did I get that impression? 

I don’t know, but as many of you do know, I’ve studied acting for most of my adult years. It may seem pretentious, but I firmly believe — and have used this guideline throughout both my amateur portrayals and, later, my somewhat professional performances — that an actor has two choices: either mentally become the character he or she is portraying or just simply recite the words.

Changing the topic again, let me take you back about 90 years to a time during The Great Depression when a few talented men (always men to my knowledge) made their living as sidewalk artists.

They’d set up an easel on a downtown sidewalk in cities of larger populations and spend the next half hour or more painting a scene from their imagination using pretty much the same method and technique that was popularized by Bob Ross on so many TV shows in later years.

When finished, he’d transfer the painting from his easel to a wooden frame, mostly in the dimensions of 22 inches wide and 10 inches tall. The paint would still be wet, mind you, and I never saw a bag or anything else used to protect the buyer from that paint and I never saw a painting that was not sold to a person standing patiently by, watching and waiting for it to be completed.

I’ve searched for information about that specific era of sidewalk art but the whole thing seems to have been forgotten.

I’m assuming that the activity was only undertaken in the larger cities on the West Coast such as Seattle, Tacoma and Portland, but that’s only an assumption.

Maybe someone has written a book about the history of that specific creative movement in Americana but I’ve never seen one. I’d love to write another column about that ingenious way to make a living in tough times if such a book exists. I’d even trade my copy of volume one of General U. S. Grant’s autobiography — signed, dated and dedicated by Grant 30 days before he died — for such a volume! For now, I’ll have to settle for “personal recollections.”

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Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at bookmaven321@comcast.net.

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