Friday, January 11, 2008


Today, one of the interns at work was looking at an article for one of our magazines, whose name was something like "Radha Amir," or something to that effect. When he said, "Man, that's a weird name," I didn't correct him on his ignorance of people that speak languages other than English. Instead, I was immediately reminded of an experience from my first season in the glamorous world of amusement park caricature artistry, when I was fifteen. This is also a story that I relayed to pretty much every rookie I ever trained, in relation to my rule that you shouldn't write names on sketches unless someone specifically asks you to.

Drawing identical twins sucks, and it sucks even more for first-year artists. It might not seem so, but there are several factors that can contribute to your eventual failure. First, when you're a rookie caricature artist, and you're just trying to hold it together so your sketches don't look like the mutants from Total Recall, you're basically tasked with drawing the exact same sketch twice in a row, like it's some sort of test. Then, there's always the backseat drawer aspect of the parent(s) watching, and assuming that you're some sort of hack because you don't see the tiny facial anomaly that differs one twin from the next, like an ear freckle, or a slight cowlick on the back of the head, or a half-inch rat-tail, or some other such nonsense. Most times, the kids are going to look exactly alike to you, because, for some reason, parents of twins have the somewhat sadistic tendency to make sure their kids dress exactly alike and sport the same hairstyle. This actually also applies to kids that are pretty close in age; my brother and I are thirteen months apart, and my parents fell susceptible to the same temptation. This is pretty hilarious, as I've always been about five or six inches taller than my brother, and, given my impressive head size, it looked like my parents were constantly traveling with a tiny ventriloquist act.

So, yeah. Anybody remember Tomax and Xamot from G.I. Joe? No? They were twins that could be easily differentiated, as they parted their hair on different sides and one had a hideous facial scar. Caricature artists are never that lucky, but I digress. The first time I drew a set of twins, as soon as I collected myself mentally and did some breathing exercises, I fumbled my way through drawing these poor kids, and, thankfully, their mother didn't know enough about facial anatomy to hate my sketch. "Oh, I LOVE it! Could you write their names on it?"

"Uh, sure. What are their names?

"Orongello and LaMongello."

Keep in mind that the spelling is approximated at this point. Now, I try not to judge people for the ridiculous things they do to their kids, because they have every right to raise their children in any logic-confounding way as they see fit. This includes names. My name, James William, is really about as conservative as you can get, so I feel like I'm on one end of a spectrum, the other end being, say, "LaDainian" or "Anfernee". When my family lived in Tennessee, we lived next door to religious zealots who did their daughter the service of naming her "Thankful". Thankful used to come over and try to play with my brother and I, and trust me, trying to mesh Dukes of Hazzard action figures and David and Goliath figures into a coherent plot line isn't all that easy for first-graders. "Oh, no! Goliath and Boss Hogg are trying on top of the General Lee back to their base in...uh...Damascus. Um, Uncle Jesse and Jesus be praised...?"

We've all been in situations of immediate stupefaction when someone tells us something, and we wait for that person to tell us that they're kidding, and when that moment never comes, we realize that we're just staring at each other. This was not an exception for me. But believe me, this isn't over. I, of course, had to ask how to spell the names so I could write them onto this jumbled collection of irreconcilable facial features that I had just drawn. The mother spelled out the first:


If you have friends that have kids, and then they tell you that they've named their firstborn Ethel or Gertrude or Morris, and you tell them it's a good idea, chances are it's because you don't really care what the hell their kids' names are, or at least you don't care enough to tell them that it sounds ridiculous. We like our friends enough, that if we feel like their signature on that birth certificate is a huge joke, we don't tell them. This isn't even close to being an issue for me anymore.

At that moment, from then on out, when my friends tell me what they've named their kids and it sounds ridiculous, my immediate mental response is, "Hey, at least they didn't name their kids after FUCKING JELL-O." That's right, this woman had named these poor little bastards Orangejello and Lemonjello, word for word, letter for letter. 

I didn't react. I put the sketch in a mat, threw it in a bag, rang her up, and sent her on her Jell-O loving way. Even if I wanted to, I don't think there is a constructive way to tell someone that they probably shouldn't name their kids after food. Can you imagine trying to get a job later in life?

HR Person: "Thank you so much for coming in, but I think we're going to go in a different direction."

Orangejello: "I...I can understand that, but, as you can see from my resume, I'm already vastly overqualified for this position."

HR Person: "I've looked at your resume. I actually passed your resume around to every person in this office, and then I Googled you to make sure you actually exist. Even then, I thought I was being pranked by Ron down in Accounting."

Orangejello: "I don't see how that makes me a poor candidate for this job."

HR Person: "It doesn't. But the CEO had the entire office cram into Security right now to watch me tell you--here, wave at the camera--'I'm sorry, but you don't fit the mold.' Good luck, Jell-O."

So, the next time someone tells you that they've named their kid Oglethorpe, just think of poor Orangejello and Lemonjello. Sure, names are just names. But some are also novelty desserts. 

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