On the wall in my studio, I keep a photo taken when I was six years old. The photo is of a group of ten children - boys and girls - sitting in front of a tilting table full of elaborately decorated cakes. Next to them, sits a man on a stool. He wears a jacket emblazoned with a big letter “F” on the front. The jacket looks similar in style to those worn by men in bowling leagues in the nineteen fifties. In the photo, the man smiles, has dark thinning hair, and also wears a tie. The occasion of the photograph was my appearance on the popular children’s television show – “The Freddy Freihofer House” sponsored by the Freihofer Bakery of Schenectady, NY. To see this picture on my studio wall, one would never guess its significance. Like Hans Castorp, who - in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain – was the only one who could possibly know the true meaning of three pencil shavings saved in an envelope in the corner of his desk, I am the only one able to recognize the hidden enormity of meaning in the smile on the face of the small girl with curly hair sitting in the top row of this photograph. Its significance has to do with the elaborate plan I devised, at age six, to reveal myself to the world as an artist – live and on air!
Cartoon characters were the show’s main attraction. “Miss Flowerpot” - a duck who wore a flowerpot for a hat - was my favorite. She appears in many of my childhood crayon drawings. On the show - after the cartoons - children celebrated birthdays and “Freddy” entertained them. At home, I watched the show religiously. I waited for one particular moment - the segment when “Freddy” would awe the group of children by drawing for them. In every episode, a child was asked to scribble on a board. From the child’s hand, large, black amorphous squiggles would appear, then “Freddy” took over. With great panache, he swooshed the marker over the squiggle, and – miraculously - it became transformed – into an octopus or, perhaps, a snake. Even though I was only six, I felt competitive with “Freddy” and his ability to perform this trick. I believed that drawing was my domain and that my talent for this magic had to surpass the talents of a grown man to make things up with a pen. Therefore, when invited to accompany my neighbor – Emily Louise Cleveland – to appear with her on this show, I began to hatch a plan to reveal my undiscovered artistic talent to the world.
It would take place in the drawing segment of the show. I would contrive to be the one selected from the group to make “Freddy’s” squiggle. I then saw myself making such an obtuse and complex mark “Freddy” would be stumped and unable to perform his usual drawing magic. Then, in my imagined scenario, I would take the pen and transform the impossible squiggle into a gorilla as fantastic as King Kong.
The plan was reviewed in my mind night after night as I lay in bed. When the day came for me to actually be on the show, everything seemed different than how it appeared on television. The room where the show took place was big and dark. There were adults everywhere manning large machines – television cameras and sound equipment. Thick coils of cable crisscrossed a scuffed and dirty floor. What was worse, the cakes on the tilting table were fakes. Also, the segments in the show proceeded in a different sequence. At one point, when all the children became restive, “Freddy” thought to settle us down with some squiggle drawing. For some reason I knew the cameras weren’t rolling so when “Freddy” asked who wanted to make the squiggle – raise your hand – I sat on mine. All the other children waved their hands frantically. Of course, looking sullen and standing out from the rest of the children who squealed enthusiastically – Pick me! Pick me! – I was the child “Freddy” chose. All my plans collapsed as I made my squiggle. It proved to be nothing more than ordinary.