october 31, 2001

at the denton, texas greyhound bus station....again. this time with a bus ticket to providence, rhode island. this time another forty hours and two thousand miles. this time east.

november 2, 2001
friday at 7:00 am
new york city, port authority bus station.

there is a big difference between west coast bus drivers and east coast bus drivers. east coast bus drivers have a certain finesse. a certain finesse of brute force. a certain finesse with the creed of "if it don't fit, force it."

at least the one that got me from washington d.c. to new york. honking like a madman roaring through every intersection.

while we were departing the bus at the port authority bus station he stood by the doorway and meekly told everyone to "have a safe trip."

i noticed the irony in his smile.

i only had about four hours before i had to continue on to providence. i really had no desire to go to ground zero of the world trade center sight, so i started drifting toward times square then up to central park where i bought an apple off a cart. sat on a park bench for awhile and just listened and watched.

november 2, 2001
about 10:30 am
new york city, at the corner of 8th avenue and west 44th street

my big backpack was weighing me down. expecting cold weather i had packed more clothing. i dropped my pack on the ground and sat on it for a rest.

moments later a bum stumbled up to me. he was about forty years old with dark weather beaten skin. he was wearing a leather jacket.

"excuse me," he said, "but have you seen my wife? i've lost her again."

"no," i said.

"she's wearing a leather jacket, just like mine," he said while patting his jacket.

with that, he began telling me about how hard it was to keep up with a woman, that ever since him and his wife moved from out west seven years ago to new york, she keeps getting lost.

after he finished his alcohol soaked soliloquy, looking up and realizing that i was still there, he asked "hey buddy, can i buy you a beer? really, it'll be on me."

i told him thanks, but that within a few minutes i would be leaving the city.

later i wondered if the bums in new york were all that friendly and generous. or maybe, as i looked down at my bus crumpled clothes and backpack, he thought i was a fellow bum.

november 3, 2001
sometime saturday morning
somewhere on a street in providence, rhode island.

in texas, there are no dramatic season changes. from summer to winter we skip autumn. we wake up one morning and the leaves have suddenly turned brown and fallen to the ground.

from winter to summer, with a flick of a switch, someone turns the green back on. but only for a short time because someone else cranks up the heat scorching everything back to brown.

so i was really digging the post halloween autumn streets of providence as i continued my zig zag method of drifting.

reds. yellows. oranges.

blowing my texas mind.

november 3, 2001
sometime saturday afternoon
rhode island museum of art.

my drift led me up to the steps of the rhode island museum of art. a cool discovery since i had no idea that it existed. like my san francisco trip, i started out with no plan. no idea what i would be doing and no idea what i would be looking for.

giving myself over to providence.

in turn, providence offered me up a gift. inside the museum was a show by adrian piper, a performance and multi-media artist that i had studied back in my college art school days. the piece that i was most familiar with was from 1974 called "the mythic being: i / you (her).

the show inside the museum was called adrian piper: food for the spirit. it was a series of about twenty black and white photographs arranged in a room that was square in shape. the photos circled the entire room with no obvious starting point or ending point. the lighting in the room was very low. very mystical.

the images were all self-portraits, very typical of her style. each photo was taken in the same setting, a room that was dimly lit. the method was simple. adrian would hold a camera at about navel level, point to her image that was in a mirror, and snap the picture.

same pose. same picture.

yet i found something very extraordinary in her work. i kept circling around the room, from photo to photo, looking intently at the slightest of changes. sometimes she was completely nude, other times she was partially nude. there were slight variations in lighting, bouncing from dark to dim back to dark. never any bright lights except for an occasional splash from a random reflection. some of the images were so dark i could barely make out the outline of her figure.

very protean.

like the greek sea god proteus, prophetic, yet not willing to give up secrets easily. like proteus, changing shape right before my eyes as i grapple to reveal her secret.

so i continue to circle the room, first one direction, then another, sometimes crisscrossing the room back and forth choosing works in random order. i did this for about an hour.

she never gave up her secret.

after i walked out of the museum, i realized that i had been the only one in the room for the hour or so that i was there.

very spiritual.

very cool.

and strangely i felt like i knew myself a little better. i realized that i've always been the protean type, very guarded in what i reveal about myself, even to my own self sometimes.

which is probably why i've always been drawn to artists like adrian piper, laurie anderson, and cindy sherman. always changing shapes, defying anyone to define them.

november 3, 2001
a few minutes later
around the corner from the museum of art.

i discovered a weird sort of apocalyptic array of jack-o-lanterns in front of a house. there were five in all. four jack-o-lanterns and one jill-o-lantern. jill was all alone out front with edvard munch-like scream carved and drawn as a face. the four jacks were huddled several feet behind, cowering against a wall. their faces melted, black with rot. unrecognizable.

so i asked jill, "what did you see that was so horrible?"

she just looked at me and silently screamed.

november 3, 2001
a few more minutes later
down the street from the four jacks and one jill.

i discovered another strange jack-o-lantern scene. this one a loner jack, staring out behind some iron bars.

so i asked jack, "what evil deed did you do to land you in the pumpkin slammer?"

he just stared back at me with a silent toothy grin.

"protean too, eh?" i said.

Chris Oller was born in Alexandria, Louisiana on May 18, 1959 and grew up in Tyler, Texas. Moved to Denton, Texas in 1977 and graduated from North Texas State University in 1982 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing. Made his gallery debut at the Hadler-Rodriguez Gallery in Houston during the Summer of 1982 at a show called "New Talent". His favorite painter is Francis Bacon. He minored in English and was first exposed to Beat Literature while taking the class called "The Songs of Bob Dylan". Other works that influenced him during this time was the book of poetry by Patti Smith called "Babel" and the book by Richard Brautigan called "In Watermelon Sugar". It was in the Summer of 1996 that he got fully hooked on Kerouac and the Beats when he read the book "Dharma Bums". During the summer of 2001, he travelled to San Francisco to particpate as a reader in the marathon reading of Kerouacīs "Big Sur". He currently lives in Denton, Texas. His email address is: