The Grit catered to Athens’ older clientele in an even older building, with a silver tin tile ceiling, a black and white tile floor, and bright, bold works by local artists hanging throughout its two dining rooms. The tables were filling up with an early dinner crowd. Jules recognized three or four faces. Someone she’d met at a poetry reading. Someone she’d danced with at a party. Someone she'd photographed in a previous life.

The guy with the steel wool hair near the corner looked like her old figure drawing professor. She couldn’t tell for sure until he turned and she saw his face. Yeah! That was him. That was a fun class. If nothing else, it was nice to feast her eyes on nudes. Jules loved it when they hired the middle-aged yoga teacher to model. He could strike a pose and really hold it, so she could study, with pleasure, every facet of his body, drawing with such enjoyable attention to detail. She savored the freedom to feel so lascivious with a perfect stranger.

And the professor with Brillo hair – she could never remember his name – but his sex scented sketching exercises were unforgettable. One day he brought in two grad students, a man and a woman, to model together. That spiced it up a bit, but it got even better when he herded a couple of Weimaraner dogs into the mix. Those sleek, curious canines with their shiny pelts and long noses sniffing where dogs usually sniff had the class tearing through the newsprint. It was scintillating, trying to catch the essence of dogs and man, constantly moving, changing values. As for the quality of Jules’ work from those sessions, the best that could be said for them was that they triggered her memories of the sessions themselves. She got a thrill every time she looked at them, even years later. 

    Figure drawing helped Jules develop a sensuous relationship with newsprint, in contrast to the cut and dried reporting courses of journalism school. News writing was all about the facts. Figure drawing was all about how those facts made you feel, expressed in new and surprising contexts. It wasn't just about genitalia in places you don’t normally expect to see it.  It was about how anything can have something to do with anything else.    

For another memorable sketch session, the wiry professor brought a box of Varsity hamburgers and chili dogs to class and set them out on the bean bag chairs where the models usually reclined.

“You never studied the anatomy of a hamburger. That doesn't mean you can't draw one," he said. Students gently shaded those soft white buns, the long franks and meat patties glistening under the lights. They made 20 sketches each of those supine samples of what was once a familiar staple. Each drawing came from a different direction.

"Make this one … serene," the wiry professor coached. Then two minutes later, he switched. “Okay, make this one .... Violent! Angry dogs! Make those dogs MAD!”  He cheered them on to greatness. "See? You can draw anything! You don't need any special knowledge. Just vision!”

Her burgers were works to behold, and even her brother had to admit, the chili dog series was an improvement.

    How ironic, in years to come, whenever she had to cover completely unfamiliar subjects with less than an hour to get the story, she didn't draw on what she knew from Journalism School for guidance. She drew from what she'd learned in art class. 

     She'd expected inspiration from her journalism classes. She was ready to be the detective. To expose evil. Right the wrongs. Join the Justice League. She’d signed up for an investigative reporting course, prepared to skulk down dark alleys and dig underground for hidden sources of corruption. What a disappointment that first class was. Professor Hough handed each student a short guidebook from an accounting firm, titled, How to Read a Financial Report.  Excruciatingly dry stuff. They would focus the first three weeks on that? And then just do business stories? It robbed the romance from her calling.

    Two decades and 3,000 stories later, Jules knew that simple financial booklet was the best lead she ever got. Everything has something to do with money, and money has something to do with everything. Reporting was also a process of looking at a familiar subject in a new context. Follow the money. In light of profits, everything takes on a different look.

Excerpt from The Red and Black Breed, a murder mystery, by Molly Read Woo


Nudes and Dogs, an excerpt from The Red and Black Breed

Nudes and Dogs

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