I stepped out into the driving rain and pulled my oil-skin tightly around my neck and up to my cheeks. Not those cheeks, you sicko – the oil-skin was not nearly that long. Anyhow, I swaddled myself right up and headed down the street to Limpy’s Place, late for my traditional nightly meeting with my brother Pat.
After the short stroll to my traditional watering hole (“always buy a house close to the watering hole”, my father had once told me. He had lived for five decades in a house just across the street from a delightful little gin mill that changed its name every six months or so. Mother did a lot of needlepoint), I opened the door to Limpy’s to see that Pat was already ensconced in his traditional spot – right next to my traditional spot. He was drinking his traditional single-malt with some unpronounceable and traditional Scottish name, and he had ordered up my traditional martini (stirred, very dry, straight-up, and with a single, un-skewered olive stuffed with traditional pimiento – I detail this for your benefit and mine, just in case I come to visit your area and you wish to buy me a drink), which was waiting for me on the traditional bar mat. Pat greeted me with his traditional greeting.
“Hey, what’s up? You look thirsty.”
“Absolutely parched, Pat,” I said, slipping off my oil-skin and handing it to Limpy, who looked at it suspiciously. I watched as he took it in back and a small dog started whimpering. “How was your day?”
“Horrendous,” he said. “I had to give a graphic artist the sack.”
“The sack of what? Some kind of grain or something?”
Pat looked at me with a blank expression. “No, Tom,” he said, after several agonizing moments, “I had to fire him.”
“Ahhh…I see. Why? What happened?”
“Well, it was kind of tragic, really. The oaf had been working on a presentation for a new aquatic entertainment facility that we are doing for a zoo up in Saskatchewan – 60,000 acres dedicated to showcasing the Richardson ground squirrel.”
“Do Richardson ground squirrels spend a lot of time enjoying aquatic entertainment?” I asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Tom,” he said. “This is for the patrons of the zoo. Canadians love synchronized swimming, I’m told. Best of all, we have one entire outdoor pool that has an expandable liner. In winter the whole thing freezes over and they can use it for ice hockey, curling…whatever.”
“Fun for the whole family,” I said.
“Sure,” Pat said, going on. “Well, as it turned out, my graphics guy…”
“Former graphics guy,” I interjected.
“Yeah. Former graphics guy. Well, he had put together a fairly decent piece of work, and I just said something to him about the kerning. He tilted his head at me, opened his mouth, and walked out of the office. He came back the next day. It was awful.”
“Well, when we sat down to look over the presentation one last time, I asked him if he had taken care of what we had talked about.”
“Well, the long and short of it was that the guy wasn’t really a graphic designer. He had a degree in botany or something from some school in northern Wisconsin or Norway or somewhere. He just had a good eye for lettering and knew how to use the right kinds of software. He had been stealing little bits of artwork here and there. That’s why our graphics have had the unique ‘ransom-note’ feel to it for the last year or so.”
“I always kind of liked that,” I said. “I just thought you were being avant-garde.”
“Yeah, I did to.”
“So what tipped you off?” I asked, draining my glass.
“When I asked him about the kerning, he had no idea what I meant. He thought I said ‘gurning’. “
“Yeah,” Pat said, “gurning. The art of horrendously disfiguring your face using only your muscle control.”
“You have got to be kidding me…” I said, flagging down Limpy for another round and to ask him if the dog was all right.
“Nope. There the poor schmuck sat, sticking out his tongue and bulging his eyeballs out of their sockets, all the while trying to puff out the tops of his cheeks and frown at the same time. It was awful.”
“I can only imagine.”
“Well, we all sat there in a really uncomfortable silence for a minute or so. Finally Woody, our landscape architect, cleared his throat and said something about going for a smoke. Woody being an orthodox druid with only one lung, I figured a serious nerve had been struck. I had to go for the nuclear option.”
“How’d you break it to him?” I asked.
“I just told him that we didn’t need his services anymore.”
“That’s it?” I asked as our drinks arrived.
“Well,” said Pat, “I did warn him that if he did that too often his face would stay that way.”
“You do have a heart, Pat. Here…drink up.”
“Thanks, Tom. And you know, I started researching gurning after that.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I was thinking that if the whole writing thing doesn’t work out, there could be a future for you there.”
“Thanks, Pat,” I said, rolling my eyes back in their sockets and sucking in my upper lip. “Here’s to health.”