That's Eliot in The Wasteland and as I wander down to the rising and more-turbulant-than-usual Maumee, I think about the latest--my friend Dan Wittels, who died last week in Philadelphia, at 56. Again, I learned this from Mania, who daily fishes through the Philly obits, and has reeled in quite a few keepers lately. Dan was mostly a painter, though he later dabbled in music and for a while ran an art hauling business. I met him at Temple where we were both religion majors and taking DeMartino's Zen class. Dan--he preferred Daniel then to complement his bearded and ascetic look--ended up transferring to The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and became a painter, though that part of his career that became public, briefly, in the 1970s, identified him as the painter who suffered from Zen sickness. For several years we shared a large house in Germantown, along with two other painters, Mark and Vivien, and Fred who'd been a gymnast and then a dancer and then something of an environmental engineer. Dan eventually married Vivien (divorced a few years later) and lived for decades in a moldy appartment just off South Street. Always a painter, at times he took up body-building, psychoanalysis, drinking, philandering, hanging out at Dirty Frank's on Pine Street, the harmonica, and finally, dementia. I wasn't around for the final two, which was probably for the best. He claimed to be descended from the Vidals of Provencal, particularly Peire Vidal the 12th century troubador from Toulouse. As well as from an old Sephardic Jewish family from Provence. His mother owned an original Pissaro. When Mania shouted out the news of his death, we both immediately thought of the time when Magda was about 10 weeks old and we were out with Dan & Mark & Janet & and a few others and were sittng on a sloping green outside the Armory at Drexel University after a city-wide art exhibit, the highlight of which was a dog frozen in a block of ice that dripped throughout the evening.....It was dusk and Magda was nursing vigorously and Dan couldn't take his eyes off the sight, as if it were as frought with meaning as a pieta and he began to stroke Magda's laboring cheeks in a way that calmed her frenzied feeding. We were all a bit shocked--none more than Mania--but this led to a discussion about breast feeding. And how much he, Dan, longed to be breastfed. It didn't happen that night, but let's hope that now he's somewhere, sucking away to his heart's content, taking in, from the most perfect and gorgeously full breast--through the straw of the nipple--all the mother's milk he can possibly get.
Dan Wittels, 1981 (our wedding, Henry Braun in the background)
(click to enlarge)