My Inner Caricature

Some old friends, Gladys and Kevin, who lived five hundred miles away, offered to drive six of my over-sized art pieces across the state at the close of a recent exhibit. Intrepid travelers, they routinely manipulated an unwieldy Recreational Vehicle, the kind I hated being stuck behind on the road, all around North American highways, including Alaska. In a month, they had business in my town so it worked out well for all of us. I appreciated their kindness and happily anticipated seeing them again.

Much to my regret, I hadn’t visited my buddies for a decade; they’d been on the road, as usual, when I’d attended my exhibit opening. Every year we meant to get together, but never managed it. My excitement mounted as the day drew near. They planned to deliver my work at four, the next Sunday afternoon, to my home where I’d transformed the master bedroom into an art studio. I was so eager to see them, I scrubbed my floors, hung new art to show them, vacuumed twice (to clean the throw rugs on both sides) and washed all my windows, a bizarre level of cleanliness for me. On Sunday morning, I called the guards who manned the front gate of my fenced-in neighborhood to make sure they would let an RV through. The guard said, “Sure.”

 I also invited my son, Jon, and a family friend, Clarice, to join us for dinner at a nearby restaurant. Gladys had provided ongoing sympathy and help to me during the five years I’d had surgeries, in efforts to conceive Jon. She’d been a mainstay during my difficult pregnancy and his birth and she became his godmother. This reunion meant a lot to me and Jon, now a robust man of thirty, towering over us at six foot three. Clarice had known Gladys for over forty years and while they had always enjoyed each other, they kept in touch through me. They both looked forward to catching up. 

Clarice and Gladys had been my close friends for almost fifty years; in my mind, they loomed large. I often forgot that they were physically diminutive and, with age, had shrunk. Gladys might be five feet tall at best, but she exercised and maintained good muscle tone. Clarice, while a few inches taller, probably couldn’t push the scale over ninety-five pounds, even sopping wet. Her family worried about anorexia, but when with me, she eagerly consumed a loaded plateful of food when we ate. She must have missed a lot of meals, for she remained skinny as a feral cat. Over the years, she never varied in weight and her health seemed good, so I’d decided this must be her norm and stopped worrying.

Gladys and Kevin mentioned they might need help unloading since they’d stored some of the art in the RV’s rafters.  Jon’s muscle power and height would help us all.

Precisely at four on Sunday afternoon, I received a call from the community’s gate saying Gladys and Kevin had arrived but security couldn’t allow a RV in on a Sunday. They explained I should have gotten a specific permit on a weekday with a certain administrator, Gayle. Instantly, I learned two new life lessons. A guard could impart false information. And an RV could be a vehicle non grata on a Sunday. I found myself in a pickle.

I thought fast. A nearby local high school had acres of parking that could surely fit a RV.  I imagined Gladys and Kevin impatiently waiting at the security gate and I rushed. With fumbling, nervous fingers, I googled the name and address of the high school, then texted it to them with an apology for the snafu. Next, I texted Jon and Clarice, hoping they would notice their messages in time as they drove toward my home. What a mess. While striving for perfection with my precise plans and excess cleaning, I felt, instead, like I’d tempted fate to undo me.

I raced to the high school and took a deep breath of relief when I spotted the largest RV I’d ever seen: gold with painted brown and orange undulating ribbon-shapes adorning it, appearing to blow in the breeze. I didn’t know RVs could be that vast; if it were armored, it would be a tank. Kevin had been a heavy equipment operator on construction sites in his youth, then became an airline pilot until retirement. I imagined manhandling RVs were akin to his former occupations driving steamrollers, bulldozers and airplanes. 

Gladys and Kevin beamed when they saw me while I laughed and waved. To my amazement, I noticed Jon had just arrived and Clarice appeared in my rear view mirror following me into the parking lot. Hurray for google and texts.

As we drew up our cars, all SUVs of differing sizes, we formed a semi-circle on one side of the RV. I felt like my posse had arrived at the OK Corral to save the day. Tiny Clarice drove the world’s most gigantic SUV. I’m vague on car brands, but fixated on a little automatic step ladder at the driver’s door that helped her climb in and out. I drove a medium-sized SUV I used to haul most of my art. At five-feet, eight inches, I got in without the help of a step. My tall son drove a small SUV, what we used to call a “station wagon” fifty years ago.

Amazingly, everyone seemed in high spirits, undeterred by the last minute change in plans. Amidst an orgy of hugging, Kevin chortled about the nice long conversation he’d had with the security guard at the gate, “My new best friend,” he said as he grinned. Apparently Gladys and Kevin were used to having their RV rejected from places.

Because we couldn’t unload at my home and some of the paintings were too large to fit in my car, I felt extremely thankful for Clarice and Jon’s aid.

While this excitement lit up the air, I noticed, with sadness, how much my friends had aged in ten years; Kevin, now a healthy, but bent and thin, eighty year old with Gladys three years behind. Their small, stooped figures in the giant RV tugged at my heart.

We unloaded the RV and distributed my art between Clarice’s huge vehicle, my mid-sized SUV and Jon’s small one. I might have overdosed on Happy Pills, I soared so high on the joy and support I felt from my dear friends and family. But it was also an emotional chop-suey, stirring delight into the heartache of seeing my friends visibly aging, and mixing in the relief that, in spite of a major mistake, we had all found each other and united together in our job with bountiful good will.

In this suffusion of feelings, all at once I felt overcome with a stereotyped vision of us. My mind’s eye instantly sketched us in a cartoon style. Finished with our work and ready to head to the restaurant, for a moment, like characters on the stage set of a corny play, we stood beside our vehicles, which I realized were, in each case, an inverse of our body-size and strength: Gladys and Kevin, the oldest and weakest, drove a tank. Little Clarice looked like a child climbing into her monster SUV.  Like the middle bear of Goldilocks’ Three Bears, I embodied Ms. In-between, both in car and biomass, the boring midway point, an artist’s worst fear. But brawny Jon, stronger than the rest of us combined, drove the smallest car. 

This was a rare and precious moment. Normally, I maintained the self-image of a dignified and unique person, so I couldn’t imagine myself and my loved ones as ridiculous figures, except on Halloween. Luckily, I considered flashes of the absurd to be nuggets of treasure and I savored this clown-like, yet true vision of us.

I giggled at myself and my loved ones. These caricatures tickled my funny bone, but didn’t diminish the love and gratitude I felt for these dear people. Perhaps when I’m eighty-plus, I might look like a baby bird and would need to commandeer a humongous vehicle to literally give me more strength. At a future time, perhaps that choice would be the best one. I hoped to remain open to possibilities, even if I became the occasional cartoon-like figure.

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