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Thursday, June 17, 2021


by John Van Dreal

The modal jazz—a soothing sound in my earbuds. I navigate 
the determined roots of a white oak clawing their way 
through a sidewalk fracture then stumble and glimpse at the 
edge of the bridge, tucked just under the concrete steps 
leading to the park, a man resting, shrouded in a blue plastic 
tarp. A garbage bag sits, spilling soiled socks, tattered 
underwear, a pair of truly distressed denims over the damp 
grass. A Starbucks paper cup, stuffed with candy bar 
wrappers, lies next to his hand. His sleeping bag is strewn 
over the stair railing, drying in the sun. A few feet away, a 
shopping cart adorned with strands of decayed ivy, wet rags, 
an orange safety cone, a dog leash, and silver tinsel leans 
against a bridge post. The tinsel doesn’t make sense.
My mind mutes the tune—its moderate, melodic tempo 
transposing to the smell of dampness and urine. It reminds
me of the high school locker room when I was fifteen. It’s 
not a nostalgic smell.
Compassion fatigue. I’ve become numb to these scenes—the 
new normal in my city.
In the past, I was acutely concerned. Each person living on 
the street advising me on guilt—their threadbare accessories 
and refuse a reminder of my failed humanity. I often felt 
compelled to do something, but secretly wished they would 
return to the trees, out of sight.
I know there must be a middle ground, between passion and 
I head back to town, through the park, focused on the music. 
Miles reminds me that it’s just blues. That’s all it is. My 
thoughts turn to a book on Andrew Wyeth. My life has 
always been a painting composed collaboratively by the 
gods of biogenetics and my parents but left for me to add 
color, value, form. Now, my kids add glazes of translucent
monochromatic tone, like thin, colored slices of stained glass 
held over the entire canvas. Each layer subtly unifying the 
whole. There is an awkward aesthetic, but so far it is 
working. It could have been different, though. It still could 
I look back at the resting man. That’s me in a different 
universe. That’s any of us.

A third-generation artist, John Van Dreal began painting and writing at age seven. He earned his formal education in Fine Arts at Humboldt State University and Brigham Young University and educational psychology at Brigham Young University, maintaining careers in both fields while writing. A musician and award-winning artist with work featured in collections throughout the Pacific Northwest, Van Dreal uses his creative vision and accessible writing style to explore both the darker and quirkier sides of human behavior. He resides in Salem, Oregon and is currently composing his first novel.