David Hockney, A Neat Lawn, 1967. Sold for $11,000,000. 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale.
In 1967, David Hockney depicted a residential building on South Bedford Street, in sunny Los Angeles. The painting reflects the artist's enthusiastic, stylized documentation of West Coast modernism, as well as his loving skewering of its potential superficiality. In this installment of our creative writing platform, "The Prompt," Beth Lisick imagines a dinner party within the neat apartments at the end of the neat lawn, capturing all the awkwardness—and joy—of being neighborly.
Written by Beth Lisick
Tim opened the oven and lifted the lid off the brick-red casserole dish, peered inside. It was something with beans and all the old parmesan rinds that had been making the fridge smell like a foot. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. “Coke Shorts is waiting.”
Coke Shorts is what we called our downstairs neighbor because one time I found a pair of shorts behind the washer in the laundry room and the front pocket was full of white powder that I’m absolutely positive was not at all cocaine. Tim gave me shit for checking the pockets before I threw them in the Lost and Found and wanted to know if I’d found money or a Rolex, would I have returned it? And how did I even know whose shorts they were? I didn’t answer the first question, let him wonder, but my process of elimination went like this:
- You think Koren downstairs wears giant white fleece shorts?
- Geoffrey the tiny fashion plate in #4
- His girlfriend Gabriella the stony goth?
Ergo, they were obviously Coke Shorts’ shorts.
The casserole was for the progressive dinner Tim planned. I registered my dissent. Why does everything have to be this way now? Political, I meant. He let his eyes gently drift to an imaginary spot on the wall before he spoke, which is how he won one Employee of the Month plaque after another at the copy shop. The patience.
“It’s cocktails in one apartment, appetizers in another, dinner in the next, and dessert in the last one. You progress.”
Start in your own backyard. Only we didn’t have a backyard, just a parking lot, and the front was full of fresh sod so we weren’t allowed to step on it.
These ‘70s California things really made him erect. Hot tubs, misshapen earthenware bowls. They allowed him to do what he called “analog time travel.” He also was hoping a dinner like this would increase morale in the building. God knows we’d spent enough time wigged out, sanitizing the mail etc., so this was a chance to start fresh with each other. That’s what an inspirational podcast he listens to said to do. Start in your own backyard. Only we didn’t have a backyard, just a parking lot, and the front was full of fresh sod so we weren’t allowed to step on it.
We turned the oven way down and walked into the party about ten minutes late, if indeed the party had started at six. I say that because when we pushed the door open with a hello hello it felt like everyone had been there for hours and were drunk already and we were some kind of party crashers. (Later, Tim said he hadn’t noticed any of that.) I filled up a glass with weird orangey punch and while I was making small talk with Geoffrey (“cool boots”), Coke Shorts’ phone honked. He waved it around the room and said, “I’m getting a FaceTime from my mom. Does anyone mind? She’s lonely.”
We all sort of shrugged and next thing you know she was there with us too. A tiny brown head and big glasses beaming in from her condo.
“We do this sometimes,” he said. “Just let her hang out.”
Soon enough the mom was getting passed around the room and when it got to Tim he goes guten tag wie geht’s even though she didn’t seem German. I asked her her name and all she said was, “I saw lilacs by the propane tank today.”
For most of the night she rode along in a pocket. She actually made the whole night more relaxed because when things got awkward, someone would ask Coke Shorts how his mom was and he’d whip her out for a while and show her what we were doing. It was funny. Like a running joke. In our apartment she took a gander at the casserole dish and said she used to have the same one in yellow which she pronounced yella.
Tim was drunk but when we went to bed, I told him I thought he did a good thing, coming up with that dinner idea. He asked me if I knew Coke Shorts’ real name was Ches short for Chester and of course I did. I’d always known.
The next morning I’m making coffee and I hear this whistle, like a P.E. teacher saying it’s time to line up for calisthenics. It keeps blowing and blowing. I look out the window, nothing. I check in on Tim, but he’s still asleep. I walk into the living room and that’s when I see her in the sofa crack. Ches’s mom. Blowing a silver whistle to get my attention. She’d been there all night! I pick her up and tell her I can’t believe she’s still on the line and you know what she says? No one mentioned it all night. There used to be a time when everyone noticed the spring.
Beth Lisick is a writer and actor from the San Francisco Bay Area, currently living in the Hudson Valley. She is the author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller Everybody Into the Pool, and co-founder of the Porchlight Storytelling Series. Beth is also the esteemed host of the Phillips podcast, Verso.
David Hockney 'A Neat Lawn'
David Hockney’s 'A Neat Lawn' is a seminal example of the artist’s California Dreaming paintings belonging to a series of monumental canvases painted in 1967. This masterpiece demonstrates one of Hockney’s first sustained experimentations on the dynamics of light and water.