Osama bin Laden dislikes kelloggs frosted mini wheats

The gloriously unambitious world of John Patrick McKenzie, who doesn't care that he's a rising star in the visual arts. And who, as it happens, is autistic.

The United States strikes back at Sudan and Afghanistan

Safeway Store is already shut down for a long time in Ocean Street

Bill Clinton likes Klondike Vanilla Ice Cream and Neapolitan Ice Cream in Safeway Store in Sixteenth Street

Creativity Explored Executive Director Amy Taub with 
the clients.
Paul Trapani
Creativity Explored Executive Director Amy Taub with the clients.
Ed McKenzie once thought his son's artwork was "the 
darndest thing."
Paul Trapani
Ed McKenzie once thought his son's artwork was "the darndest thing."

Other times, the pieces seem to be cultural critiques, like this excerpt, from a window:

Osama bin Laden dislikes kelloggs frosted mini wheats

Osama bin Laden dislikes making love American style

McKenzie has a savant's knack for remembering birthdays, and has invented classifications for people born in each decade. People born in the '30s are called "beatniks." Born in the '40s are "cold turkeys." "Whipper snapper nerds" were born in the '50s, "spring chickens" in the '60s. "Fresh chickens" in the '70s, and "freshers" were born post-'70s. McKenzie's writings often describe the power dynamics between generations, each of which is in some way doomed to unhappiness. The younger generations are envious of the power of the older generations, and the older, of the beauty of youth. And they all have dietary restrictions.

Most non cold turkeys and most non whipper snappers like meatless spaghetti

It takes weeks of beggingand pleading to get into the McKenzies' apartment. Though in the past John's parents enjoyed entertaining -- they have invited their son's favorite art instructors to dinner -- of late, they complain that the house is "topsy-turvy" and not fit for visitors. The two younger daughters -- Christine, 33, and Kareen, 25 -- moved back home over a year ago, and are camped out in the living room. The official reason: They are saving money to buy their own homes. A protracted family argument over the state of the living room must first be resolved before any visitors are allowed inside.

The McKenzies' two-bedroom walk-up is decorated in a Kermit-the-Frog-green color scheme and crammed with John's mother's silk flower arrangements, religious statuary draped with rosary beads, and layers of doilies covering the furniture. An electronic cuckoo clock chimes "Edelweiss" on the hour.

"I like to decorate," says John McKenzie's mother, Myrna, a striking woman who was crowned last year's Queen of the Lady of Lourdes Catholic beauty pageant. She is an affectionate woman with a melancholy air. When discussing John, with whom she is close, she often gets misty-eyed.

John McKenzie sleeps in his parents' former storage room, amidst plastic containers of sweaters, racks of his parents' clothing, and extra rolls of toilet paper. His old bedroom is now used to store his sisters' things. When asked, half jokingly, how he feels about his sisters' appropriation of his bedroom, John answers, "Lousy?"

John's father, Ed, a former corpsman third class in the U.S. Navy who saw action in the Korean War, now works part time for Hertz, returning dropped-off rental cars to their offices of origin. Bearded, with lively eyes, he is an opinionated, quick-tempered man with almost overbearing paternal largess. It is impossible to escape an encounter with Ed McKenzie without being fed -- Ghirardelli chocolate bars, mountains of Filipino egg rolls called lumpia, or anything else that might be on hand. Ed McKenzie likes to show off the official certificates his family has earned, framed on the living room wall -- from the girls' college diplomas to his own retirement plaque from the Navy.

None of John's artwork hangs on the walls.

The lack of personal space in the cramped apartment has frayed the nerves of the McKenzie family. Ed has executed a hostile takeover of the sun porch, where Myrna once grew orchids, and now uses it as a personal storage area for piles of odds and ends, including broken wicker baskets and Sammy Davis Jr. CDs. "We used to sleep back here when it was warm," says Myrna wistfully, looking at her now-dead plants. "It was really nice."

Though the attractive McKenzies senior look far younger than their 70 and 63 years, respectively, they have been ordered by their doctors to slow down. Ed had to cut back on fried goodies following a heart attack, and Myrna has difficulty cooking or lifting things because of chronic back pain. She wakes up at 3:30 every morning, tortured by anxiety.

Surprisingly, it is their autistic son who supplies the oil that keeps the household running relatively smoothly. Every afternoon, he returns home from Creativity Explored at 2:30 and helps his mother with chores -- vacuuming, dusting, washing dishes.

"John -- the forks!" his father barks at him, before dinner. He noiselessly springs up to perform the task of setting the table, without a hint of displeasure.

"John -- the plates!"

"Paper plates?" John clarifies, his hand already reaching inside the cupboard.

No, glass.

He obligingly shuts one door and opens another.

"John -- make some coffee!" his father orders, after dinner.

McKenzie pops up again, and carefully measures out grounds with the plastic scoop.

"He always remembers where the can opener is," says Myrna's sister, Zeny, who lives in the neighborhood. "It's very convenient."

Every night, McKenzie says the rosary by his mother's side, and he accompanies her to mass at Mission Dolores on Sundays. His chief activity besides chores and making artwork is eating -- which he does heartily and with great enjoyment.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.