In the early ’70s we lived on Acacia Tree Lane in Irvine. I don't know how old I was in the following memory, but I'm guessing three or four. If you went into the back yard, out the gate and down a small hill across the sidewalk, you'd be on another street that was probably the better half of a mile away by car, but only 30 feet as the crow walks. Such was the anomaly of the town's circuit-board-like layout—a poorly planned planned community.
The house directly behind ours, both half a mile and 30 feet away simultaneously, belonged to a very old couple probably in their ancient 50s. (My parents were merely Really Old in their early 30s.) The ancient couple were not friends of my parents that I can recall, though everyone in that time and space was friendly and neighborly enough. I used to toddle down the hill and ring their bell to visit on occasion. They would always invite me in and were nice to me. I don't think they knew what to do with the young neighbors' wandering child—the house wasn't particularly child-friendly, no toys or anything eye-catching. I don't know how this got started, but I went there to punch holes. They'd give me several sheets of blank paper and a hole puncher and I would happily sit there for what seemed like hours to me—and probably seemed even longer to them!—and punch little holes in paper.
We must have had a hole puncher at home, but I don't remember ever zen'ing out making endless little circles there. The joy in hole punching was intrinsically tied to the old couple's house. I didn't have any particular interest in the boring old farts; I was in it solely to punch holes.
Eventually mom asked me not to go bothering the ______'s anymore. I don't know if they complained to mom about me, or if she felt bad that her kid was popping by unannounced. (I'd have admonished my 3 y.o. to stop bothering elderly neighbors myself.) I remember briefly mourning such a riveting pastime, snatched away. It was on my little kid circuit, after all, like a cat on its stupid cat rounds. A routine pilgrimage that had its significance simply because it was part of my autonomous toddler plans.
I don't remember the old couple's names or faces; I have no recollection of the blueprints of their hole punching haven house nor its décor or furnishings—I can only see a sheet of paper with hundreds of holes in it, punched so closely together as to reap the greatest number of circles without breaking the honeycomb structural integrity of the sheet of paper. I didn't know if my goal was to render the most holes I could into a little pile, or erode as much negative space as physically possible and still have one contiguous sheet of paper. Both were crucial, probably—a dedicated multitasker at age 3. Fugues and counterpoint years before I would know those words.
In 1997 I remembered the hole punching house, and I began making paintings playing off the simultaneous positive and negative space of hole punching to render the image I had in mind.
No particular point to these ruminations, other than a mental shout-out to the _______'s for their kind patience when an uninvited, seemingly autistic little weirdo would come a-calling.
I'm sure they're dead now (though if either of them are still alive, I'd love to send them a painting), but I hope they had a nice, quiet, hole-free dotage.