Sunday, May 13, 2007

With Special Thanks to NOAA Biologist Mary Hollinger

"Mortimer, could I ask you a question?"

Standard stuff, except that she looked so genuinely frightened. And a frightened teenage girl is never a good sign in this town.

"O.K," I replied.

"Could you help me with something?"

"Tell me about it."

She did.

"I'll see what I can do," is all I said.

At first I was a bit annoyed that she'd given me such a scare. Later that day, however, I could see it in a much more humorous light. This was great! She really is such a sweet little girl. Sweet, I tell you!

For all she wanted was a Mother's Day present for her (you guessed it) mother. Simple as that. The woman, you see, is crazed about turtles. Yes, turtles. Driving along a market road, if a tortoise is seen by the wayside the car must be stopped and the reptile adopted on the spot. Cool, huh? So, for Mother's Day, it was thought appropriate by my creative young friend that her mom should receive an original piece of art depicting a baby turtle hatching from its shell. But alas, she could not draw! But she was delusional enough to believe that I had some talent in the area. So she offered to pay me for the commissioning of a piece. I, of course, snubbed the idea of money. I also refused to promise any results, saying only that I'd see what I could do. That seemed to at least satisfy her and as she walked away she was no longer shaking bodily.

A few words about my "talent": I have none. Of course, I actually have many talents, but I do not possess what most people seem to view as an artistic talent. The stereotype of an individual sitting down with a pencil and paper, making a few sweeping strokes, and rising with a work of artistry simply does not and will never fit me. Then again, it didn't fit many of the "great masters," either. Some would reduce their subjects to grids so as to isolate individual angles and relationships; some would even project entire scenes onto canvass by means of a camera obscura. I use neither technique, but I will admit that virtually all of my sketches began with my finger on a cameras shutter, and that the end results are a product of careful labor's trickle and not artistic inspiration's flow. It has been said that my drawings are more forgeries of my photographs than they are actual art.

None the less, Alice (as I shall call my young acquaintance) had some sort of faith in my ability. And she may have been justified, for a week later she had the finished work in her hands. After plans to take my camera to every nearby herpetological establishment in search of baby turtles (I figured I could draw the egg perfectly well without a real one frame), I finally settled down in front my TV screen and, to the dialog of Bringing Up Baby [1938], produced a Red-Eared Slider leveraging its way from its shell. (I'd neglected to ak Alice her mother's favorite turtle breed, and so chose my own--I always wanted a red-ear as a boy.)

Alice gave the gift the day she received it, and some hours later I received a letter by courier explaining that

Even when I try hard, I can't give a gift on time. I wish I had cash to pay you, but sadly I'm broke.

None the less, a dollar bill jumped out of the letter as I unfolded it, making this my first monetarily commissioned work of art. I'm a pro!

And, according to the letter and the family (I'm better friends with Alice's dad than I am with herself), the gift went over quite well.

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