The routine had been the same since he first discovered his gift. Not wishing to tempt fate, he had kept it relatively unchanged for over 32 years. Every evening, around 8:00pm, Jake would leave his downtown flat, drive 8.2 miles out of the city to Chip’s Chinese Hut, and pick up his dinner which alternated between Buddha’s Delight (extra spicy) or two orders of Krab Rangoon with a side of brown rice. Next with his dinner riding shotgun, Jake drove to the Kwikmart where he would buy one can of Piña Pineapple Flavored Soda before returning home. Once there, he would put on his lucky pajama pants (the ones with rockets & mustard stains on them) and eat his meal. After cleaning up from dinner, Jake would do a few quick stretches before going into his studio where he made sure he had a fresh canvas prepared and his brushes, paints and other items were in order. Once his studio had received an adequate amount of attention, Jake washed his face, brushed his teeth and got into bed. Hitting the play button for his stereo, he would then listen to R.E.M.’s Daysleeper 3 ½ times before turning it off and falling asleep.
Once he was asleep, that’s when Jake really got to work. Sometime during the night, Jake would rise from his bed, walk to his studio and in a matter of a few hours would paint some of the most beautiful scenes you can imagine. All while he was completely asleep. Curious about his gift but not wanting to tamper with it, Jake had stopped consulting with doctors after his first year of developing his odd nocturnal occupation. All they wanted to do was poke and test him, and Jake worried that any deviation from his routine would result in losing his abilities.
His gift had come one unexceptional night when he was 19 years old. That night had been like every other, the only slight variation was his choice of dinner, the new place up the road, Chip’s Chinese Hut, and his decision to grab a Piña Pineapple Flavored Soda instead of his usual Dr. Pepper. He had fallen asleep listening to his new favorite song by R.E.M. and remembered hitting repeat twice before nodding off in the middle of the third playback. When he awoke the next morning, there on his kitchen linoleum was a recreating of Picasso’s Sunflowers (Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers) painted with various condiments and foodstuffs from his refrigerator…primarily mustard, by the looks of it.
Jake’s first thought was that a burglar with an odd inclination towards edible finger-painting had made the mess/masterpiece all over his floor. But then, as he reached for some paper towels, he noticed that his pajama pants and his hands up to the elbows were covered in drying Dijon, spicy brown and yellow mustard. It wasn’t possible. He didn’t have a creative bone in his body! Was this someone’s idea of a sick prank?
Going about his usual day, Jake couldn’t stop thinking about what he had found on his kitchen floor. Not convinced he was the artist responsible, he decided to recreate the previous night to see if his inner-artist would make a second showing. Before going home, Jake swung over to his local craft store and purchased some paints, brushes and a pre-stretched canvas. Before running back out to get dinner from Chip’s Chinese Hut and his Kwikmart Piña Soda, Jake set up his new supplies in a corner of his bedroom.
Throwing on the same pajama pants, Jake jumped into bed as Daysleeper started its first play and he hit ‘stop’ before it completed a third play back. The next morning, the results had been the same, only instead of mustard Picasso, a perfect rendition of Renoir’s Bal au Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre was now drying on his canvas.
Now, 32 years later, Jake had learned to harness his gift and mostly painted original works these days. Over the span of his unusual career, he had also gained a good amount of fame for his talent, but more so for his extraordinary method. Jake had made dozens of TV & radio appearances, including a spot on 60 minutes. They had even done a SNL spoof based on him. With all his new found fame not to mention the money coming in, the quiet and unassuming 19 year old soon morphed into a self-inflated, pompous middle-aged douchebag. But, as far as he was concerned, things were going well for Jake, he had it all.
Until that Thursday.
Following his ritual to the letter, Jake had gone to bed without a care in the world that Thursday night. He had just landed a huge commission, and once it was completed, he would be set for life. Giddy with excitement, Jake was finding it difficult to fall asleep. When several more hours passed and he still lay wide awake, Jake began to grow anxious. Just as he felt his heavy lids closing, the rat-atat-tat-tat of a jackhammer outside jolted him back awake. Although he was exhausted, Jake brushed the unproductive night off as a fluke, probably due to jitters. As 8:00pm rolled back around that evening, Jake was beginning to get a little uneasy as he drove to Chip’s. He had to start work on that commissioned job tonight- he had a deadline after all. And to do that, he had to sleep.
Thanks to the previous sleepless night, Jake collapsed into his bed and was asleep almost instantly. He would remain that way for less than an hour. Falling asleep and then waking up off and on the entire night, Jake never managed to stay asleep long enough to connect to his inner-artist. Another night, wasted.
Things went on like this for weeks. Only sleeping for snatches of time, here and there, Jake soon became a bleary-eyed shell of a man, and his art? Well, there was no art. His golden commission was reneged, and with no other clients in sight, Jake was growing desperate. Finally, after six months of nothing but sleepless nights and blank canvases, Jake accepted a job at Dinky’s Zoo, painting faces. It was the lowest point in his life, but at least his creditors had stopped calling.
“Now Jake, I need your best work today. We have three birthday parties coming in this morning, back to back. You gotta be on your A game today, got me?” Mr. Dinky leaned over Jake until his pink polka-dot bow tie was almost hitting Jake in the eye.
“Yes Sir, Mr. Dinky. Don’t worry, I can handle it,” Jake attempted a weak smile. He had to keep Mr. Dinky appeased, after all it’s not like an aging face-painter had many prospects… plus Mr. Dinky hadn’t been such a bad boss these past four years. He almost didn’t mind his work painting grubby little faces anymore. Five hours later, Jake had now decided that his job was the worst job on the planet… he had painted more butterflies, daisies, unicorns, tigers, Spiderman, poodles and pirates than he could count. On top of that, an especially irksome little girl with bright red pig-tails had insisted on having all nine Disney princesses painted on her sticky little cheeks. He needed a raise. Knowing that was unlikely, Jake settled for taking a breather. Hanging his “I’ll be back in 15 minutes” sign on the back of his chair, Jake walked further into the zoo to find a cool and quiet place he could rest.
As he walked past the alpaca enclosure, he noticed that Betty (the alpaca) was not currently in residence. “Hmmm,” Jake thought, and he arched his aching back, “I bet no one will bother me in there.” Walking through the open gate, Jake found a nice fresh heap of sweet hay and sat down. “Ahhh, now this in nice,” he said with a sigh as he leaned back further into the hay. Before he knew it, Jake was asleep. Several minutes later and not noticing the sleeping face-painter, Betty’s handler guided her back into the enclosure and without a second look, locked the gate and went home for the evening. Curious about her new visitor, Betty sniffed Jake a little before plopping down next to him and promptly falling asleep.
Jake woke with a start. Something had jolted him from his slumber, but still being a bit disoriented, Jake couldn’t place what it had been. Stretching a bit, Jake looked down at his watch and jumped up in alarm as the date displayed was no longer the 2nd, but the 3rd… it was the next day. Panicking, Jake collected his face paints, that had somehow fallen out of his pockets are had been flung everywhere, and rushed out of Betty’s enclosure. Looking up from her breakfast, Betty watched as Jake left and still chewing, snorted before returning to her meal.
Hoping that no one had missed him during his extended absence, Jake took down the “I’ll be back in 15 minutes” sign just as the zoo gates were opening for the day. The morning passed without incident until about 10:00am when Jake noticed a growing crowd around Betty’s enclosure. Not wishing to return to the scene of his ill-scheduled nap, Jake decided to stay away. But when a local news crew shortly arrived thereafter, Jake couldn’t contain his curiosity and wandered over to see what all the hubbub was.
To his shock, as he peered over shoulders and between heads, Jake immediately saw what everyone was so excited about. There, covering about two thirds of the concrete floor of Betty’s enclosure was the most beautiful sea scape Jake could recall ever seeing. Rolling waves, crashing into white sands (you could actually see the individual grains!) with a majestic white lighthouse in the background. It was breathtaking. “…joining me now, is the zoo proprietor and owner of Betty the Artistic Alpaca. Mr. Dinky, did you know Betty was such a special animal?” The reporter’s words cut into Jake’s reverie like a knife. They couldn’t possibly believe an alpaca of all things could create such a work of skill and mastery. Surely this was a joke.
It wasn’t. People loved Betty. There were Betty T-shirts, Betty shot glasses, Betty bed sheets. Betty even had her own line of paints coming out next month. The country had caught Betty fever. Flabbergasted at first, Jake couldn’t believe his misfortune. As he watched the fanfare and hoopla that now surrounded the unsuspecting Betty, Jake decided he was better off. He had lived that life, and the fame had ruined him. So, swallowing his pride, he remained silent. Content that his gift had returned and he could once again sleep for more than an hour at a time, Jake continued painting children’s faces at Dinky’s Zoo for another 16 years by day… by night, he worked on his secret masterpieces.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: It seems ridiculous, but the main theme of this story was based on my desperate need to take a nap today. Ever have one of those days where the minute you are out of bed you are immediately thinking about the moment you canget back in it? That was today. I found myself fantasizing about curling up on the couch, pulling my blankey up to my chin, letting Joey (the dachshund) get settled in the curve of my knee, and then entering that magical land of Naps-ville. This fantasy was soon taking over my day-dreaming tendency and before I knew it, it was 4:00pm and I hadn’t the faintest idea what to write about today. Ugh… I didn’t want to write! I wanted to nap, dang it! What if I didn’t have time for both??? The horror. Luckily my fear of missing my afternoon nap led me to a story idea. And don’t worry, folks. I got my nap in too.
TWO: I wore pigtails to work today… kinda. More like two poofballs at the nape of my neck, but whatevs. They were the inspiration behind the bratty kid who HAD to have all the Disney princesses painted on her face. Every time I wear pig-tails I feel a little bit like a little kid who should definitely be given her way.
THREE: Jake mumbling about needing a raise refers to some good news I got today. Thanks to my AWESOME boss, and after almost 8 months of begging & pleading, SAM got a RAISE!!!!!!!!! I know, I rock.
FOUR: Jake’s dinner of Chinese and Piña soda from the Kwikmart may or may not refer to my dinner of choice tonight… and I may or may not have eaten all the Krab Rangoon in the car before we got home. I admit nothing.
Love & Squirrels.