Drawing for Dummies
In my 2nd grade class, there were just a few key things that would make a kid cool. And I’m talking legitimately, board-certified, officially-stamped cool:
1.) The best stuff
2.) The longest hair
3.) The fastest at running
4.) The best at drawing
Now let me show you how I measured up.
1.) Stuff. My parents were the Ingalls. They called sidewalk chalk “toys.” And my mom made a backyard water slide out of gardening tarp. It’s safe to say that in a three-way runoff against the kid with the trampoline and the kid with the pinball machine, the kid with the gardening tarp didn’t fare well.
2.) Hair. My hair was the consistency of dried seagrass. It tangled if I so much as roller skated too fast. Chronic knots under the top layer assured I’d be forever bobbed. And my mom made certain it could be quickly sheared in the case of head lice.
3.) Speed. I know it sounds like bragging, but I was the second fastest girl in my class. I just couldn’t seem to beat Jodi the Gazelle. While I had a good showing during preliminary recess runs, I choked during our field day race (when it really counts) and came in second. And second didn’t mean diddly. It meant the adorable Charlie wouldn’t even look at me. He was the fastest boy. Naturally, the fastest boy liked the fastest girl. I don’t make up these rules, that’s just the way it is. It’s like Darwinian, it’s like race horse siring.
4.) Drawing. Here is where my coolness manifested. I could draw like none
other. I could draw like the wind! No, really, I drew the wind as a cloud with puffy cheeks blowing on a kite. It was brilliant. But the fact that I drew that, along with excellent people in colonial garb, didn’t really matter.
Because what really set you apart back then had nothing to do with original artwork. Rather, a kid could really go places if he could mass-produce replicas of cartoon characters.
I drew Garfield so well that Bil Keane might’ve slapped Jim Davis across the face out of spite for his total irrelevance. (Which would’ve been rather pot-calling-kettle-black of Bil Keane.)
Jodi the Gazelle never hesitated to say I didn’t draw Garfield right. This particular day she said his eyelids were missing. She said this as she pointed to my drawing of Garfield lunging toward a pan of lasagna.
“Garfield always has eyelids,” she said as she tapped on my white construction paper.
“I know, but not when he’s surprised, not when he’s scared, not when he sees lasagna,” I retorted.
“Yes,” she nodded, “He always has eyelids. When he’s surprised and scared and when he sees lasagna, his eyelids are always there. They’re just really small then. They’re just like a tiny lid around his eyeballs. They might be small, but you can still see they’re there.”
The debate continued for several minutes as I grasped in vain for a tangible bit of proof to shove down Jodi’s gullet — say, a computerized information superhighway, something that could instantly and visually recall all of the Garfield strips of the past decade. Alas, this was 1982. So I instead prayed that the following Sunday would feature Garfield lunging for a pan of lasagna.
All of this arguing occurred during the quiet time reserved for our mathematics worksheets. We were smart enough to know by then that math wouldn’t take us far in life.
Our teacher Mrs. Miles overheard the bickering. She turned toward us with a stare that bore clear through our vitals. Usually that meant you were dead. I was certain she was always looking for a reason to kill off her students. If it were 1902, we would’ve right then been frantically searching for her nerve tonic.
Mrs. Miles looked, sounded and acted exactly (exactly!) like scary Captain Lewis from the Private Benjamin movie. She was terrifying. I was Goldie Hawn in this scenario, by the way.
“Angie thinks Garfield doesn’t have eyelids when he’s surprised or scared or when he sees lasagna,” Jodi eagerly blurted out.
I waited for Mrs. Miles to respond with something like, Who the hell cares. Now get back to work before I cut off your stumpy little fingers with the sharp side of my ruler.
But this time she seemed generally interested in our discussion. At least, until we ceased amusing her and she could resume with the bodily dismemberment.
Instead, Mrs. Miles nodded emphatically and responded in the definitive tone that was usually reserved for miscalculated subtraction tables. “That’s right, Angie. Garfield always has eyelids.” And then, I swear, had she been standing close enough, she would’ve circled my Garfield’s eyes with her red ink pen.
Oh, the look on Jodi’s face. Beaming, such tremendous self-satisfaction. It was all too much. I gritted my teeth so hard they nearly shattered into a fine powder — a fine powder that might’ve softly fallen like snow to my desk, blanketing my drawing of Garfield and thereby disallowing the chance to further critique my genius.
“What did you just say, Angie?” Mrs. Miles had heard me.
Oh, God. She heard me. Poop. Poopety-poopety-poopy-pants-poop.
“Angie said,” Jodi repeated loudly, “How would you know anyway.”
I felt my lungs collapse. The room closed in. My eyes caught Brian mid-pick of a booger as he waited intently for the carnage to ensue.
Holy crap I’m dead. Holy, holy crap. Sweet baby Jesus, save me from an early death that would come well before I could see a Hall and Oates concert. Tell my parents I love them. Tell my brother he still owes me the last Pop-Tart. Tell my cat I’m sorry for the bike basket mishap. Good bye. I’ll see all of you and the Care Bears on the other side.
But, in a shocking twist, Mrs. Miles stayed completely, eerily calm.
And I even think, by the look on her face, she was genuinely hurt. It’s easy for me to see this now of course. Now I know that, when confronted about one’s deficiency in basic Garfield anatomy, even the mighty ones fall to their knees.
“How would I know? Well, I don’t know.” She paused and thought about it. “I suppose because I have two sons.” Then she scrunched up her face like an injured Wile E. Coyote and looked down at her desk.
That sort of reminder, that your teacher had kids, that they knew about kid stuff, that they owned a pair of jeans, it always shattered your world for a moment.
But I was quick to recover from the jolt of seeing Mrs. Miles as a human before me. Because I was mad. Mad as hell. And because I knew I was right and had no means to validate it. And that was something from which I never fully recovered. Still to this day. Still to this day and every time I glance for more than two seconds at the Garfield strip before moving on to something actually funny.
That is, until now.
Thank you, computerized information superhighway.
(Jim Davis, I take back what I said about your irrelevance. Though I find your work tired, repetitive and unamusing, I appreciate you kindly backing me up.)