Another in a series of occasional posts of fiction about art and artists
It was so nice of you to come by. You comfortable? Can I get you some coffee, soda, anything? No, no, it’s OK, I really don’t mind not being able to drive anymore. I can’t remember recent events so good, but you know, stuff that happened in the seventies… that’s another thing. Did I ever tell you about my cousin's kid, Steve the artist? No? well, for quite a while, he made his living by producing these little tabletop replicas of buildings--houses, mostly, with the occasional commercial property creeping into the mix-- out of clay. It was perfect for him. Few people would have the patience to reproduce every fricking detail like that, but Steve was a pretty literal guy.
Oh yeah, this is a good story... One day, he gets a call from someone who says he wants to have a model made of his business, in honor of its 25th anniversary. OK, Steve says, fine, no problem, send me photos, architect’s drawings, I’ll get started. No, no, the guy insists, come out and see it, and gives Steve the address. Meet me there at 1, OK? He hangs up. Steve realizes he doesn’t even know what the business is. Still, no problem. He gets into his truck and drives over there, and what does he find? A hot dog stand. It’s a standard drive-up building on a paved lot with parking, ugly as sin like everything else that was built out in the western suburbs, but it’s called Mr. Mighty Dog, and there are these two crazy-ass giant hot dogs standing on the roof.
One is wearing a lion skin across its hot dog chest and the other is—well—a girl hot dog, and she‘s ogling the first hot dog’s, um, biceps. Steve can’t believe it. It’s awesome, it’s breathtaking, but he’s thinking about the technical problems those hot dog figures might present when the guy pulls up and jumps out of his car, full of pride and enthusiasm, checkbook in hand. It’s a matter of minutes and a price is agreed on, the deal is made and Steve has a deposit in his hand. So he goes home and, pretty soon, he gets started.
He has plenty of pictures to work from—taken from every possible point of view, even up on the roof. The guy has clearly been taking photographs of the place for years: in some, the dogs are wearing holiday outfits—you know, Mr. and Mrs. Claus—but in others, they look like Elvis impersonators. Stuff like that. One even features the two of them in graduation gowns. As Steve puts the parts of the building together, piece by piece, he thinks about how the owner will be able to get little costumes made for the model too, dressing it up, you know, seasonally.
Finally, the model is finished, and the guy comes over to see it for the first time. But he’s not happy, not at all, because the hot dog couple is kneeling on the roof instead of standing up. What the fuck?- he screams. Steve tries to explain, reminding the guy that he told him from the get-go that clay has limitations and some things just aren’t possible, but the guy isn’t having any of it and he leaves pretty abruptly.
Naturally, Steve is beside himself. He has spent quite a bit of time on this piece and the rest of the money is obviously not forthcoming. He has bills to pay, a wife and one, no, two little kids at this point, a mortgage—you get the picture. He and the hot dog guy shout at each other on the phone a few times, but nothing gets settled. Steve doesn’t want to go to a lawyer—that could be expensive—but months have gone by, it’s August now and nothing is happening. He tries calling his friends to see what they think he should do but everyone is on vacation.
Suddenly, almost literally out of a clear blue sky, a freak bolt of lightning from a passing late-summer thunderstorm knocks the big hot dogs to their knees. Zango, just like that. Just like the model, that is.
The next day, a check for the balance due arrives at Steve’s studio by messenger. While he is standing there staring at it, the phone rings, and it’s the guy, calling to tell him about the lightning. Just before the owner hangs up, he says, - I understand a warning when I get one.
One of Steve’s kids wanders in. As the little boy throws his arms around his dad’s legs, he looks up at the photo of the Mighty Dog restaurant, still pinned on the wall. Daddy, he says sweetly, didja ever notice that dog is god spelled backwards?