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The case of the double-sold flying person solved Eugene-style.

Byline: Bob Welch The Register-Guard

Could this story have happened anywhere but in Eugene?

I don't think so.

To begin with, no other place would have had a "flying people" mural - technically called "Flight Patterns," by artist David Joyce - at its airport.

But, of course, Eugene does and when the piece of art started showing its nearly 25-year age, the city's public arts folks decided not only to upgrade the mural of 130 people in various poses of flight amid the clouds, but to sell the time-worn photos that were being replaced.

The money - and this is a cool idea - would go to help re-create a "Survival Skills for Artists" class at Lane Community College, which the late Joyce had begun in the 1980s but was no longer offered.

Like many others, Michael Omogrosso, 60, bought himself - for $45 - at a city-sponsored Feb. 3 reunion of people who had been photographed by Joyce for the mural.

But Omogrosso didn't take himself home that night, deciding to return later.

A month passed. Isaac Marquez, the city's public art manager, worried that Omogrosso hadn't returned for himself because he'd been used as the "before" example of how much better the new, redone artwork looked; perhaps his feelings had been hurt.

But, no, Omogrosso said later, he just forgot about himself.

Ultimately, he called and set up a time to pick himself up. But just before the meeting, Marquez made a terrible discovery: He had accidentally sold Omogrosso to someone else.

Marquez had decided to have a second sale March 5 because there were still 16 people and a few clouds left. That's when Grisel Maria, 63, spotted the photo of the hippie-looking guy hanging onto his hat as he flew.

Maria thought she'd died and gone to Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of Love. Her eyes were fixed on Omogrosso at age 35 - long hair, beard, bell-bottoms and "Give Peace a Dance" T-shirt.

"It was just such an iconic image of the Eugene of the 1960s and '70s," says Maria, a self-proclaimed '60s hippie herself. (Never mind that the photo was taken in 1988.) "I wanted something unique and that was it."

Isaac sold it to her for $65. (Yes, Omogrosso's value had risen nearly 50 percent in the month since he had first invested in himself.)

"I immediately showed a girlfriend of mine, and she was drooling," Maria says.

Meanwhile, while tallying the books after the sale, Marquez realized the errors of his way: He had double-sold the man. He needed to get Omogrosso back.

Fortunately, he had Maria's number; otherwise, Omogrosso, like many '60s hitchhikers, might still be searching for himself.

Maria understood the situation, but shocked Marquez by insisting that she get something in return. In a counterculture twist to the 1980s Iran arms-for-hostages deal, she told Marquez she'd only give up Omogrosso for a '60s vinyl album, poster or T-shirt.

"She wanted a ransom," says Marquez, who wasn't laughing.

Indeed, Marquez, 37, was feeling the heat.

"These folks are the age of my parents," he says. "I felt like their kid caught in the middle."

He arranged a summit meeting - just the three of them, no media - at the library cafe. There, Marquez met the man Omogrosso had become since being photographed as LCC's student body president in the late '80s.

In the nearly 25 years since, he'd gotten a journalism degree from the University of Oregon; lobbied for student rights in Washington, D.C.; had a photograph of his published onEugene Weekly's cover following what he calls "The Charnelton Tree Massacre"; and served as "Om Circle" coordinator at the Oregon Country Fair - not to mention having become a husband, father, Kidsports coach, church tenor, community meditator, UO maintenance worker and, of course, "a strummer of the mountain dulcimer."

She was duly impressed.

"We spoke the same language," she says. When he offered her an album by English electric-guitarist "Mahavishnu" John McLaughlin, Maria buckled.

She gave Omogosso's former self to him.

"I'd kind of come full circle," he says. "I believe I was in that first 'Survival Skills for Artists' class David Joyce taught." And, now, his $45 would be helping to re-establish that class.

"It was a beautiful experience," says Maria, who got a full refund. "Magic was happening."

Alas, she worried about young Marquez. "He didn't understand," she says. "I told him this is all part of life's journey. But it all seemed like an overload to Isaac."

Indeed, the mix-up and mending stressed him out. "I had 30 e-mails and six meetings and I just wasn't up for the entertainment value she saw in all this," he says.

But when it was over, it was as if the clouds - yeah, the flying- people clouds - had parted and he saw it all so much more clearly. "I said, 'Dude, don't take yourself so seriously. The e-mails will be there tomorrow.'"

The power of only-in-Eugene art was at work on him. And, he realized, he, too, could fly.

"Or," he says, "at least slow down a bit."

Bob Welch is at 541-338-2354 or bob.welch@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:City/Region Columnist
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 20, 2012
Words:849
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