Our church was holding an outdoor street fair for the community, and I looked at the list of volunteer opportunities. “Hmm,” I said. “Face painting. I never did that before. I’ll give it a try.”
I thought I’d just have to stick stickers on kids’ faces. But no. There was more to it than that. It involved paint and talent.
“What do you want on your face?” I asked the first little boy.
“I want a three-dimensional Optimus Autobot Transformer.”
I paused, paintbrush in midair. “Uh, no. You don’t want that,” I said.
“Yes I do.”
“No you don’t.”
“Oh, yes I do!” he said, his voice rising. “I see it in the facial-art catalogue on the table here.”
“Who put that there?” I muttered to myself. Aloud I said, “No, no, no. Sit back down. You don’t want a three-dimensional Optimus Autobot Transformer. I’m going to paint something very special on you. I have learned how to paint a carrot. You’re getting a carrot.”
“I don’t want a carrot,” he said.
“Well, you have to take a carrot. That’s all I practiced. Now sit down and give me your face.”
The boy began to cry and emit other shrill sounds of dissatisfaction, accompanied by transparent eye fluid. He ran to complain to his mother.
“Next!” I called.
A small girl walked up to me. “And what would you like, little girl?”
“I want my name. In cursive. Pink, purple, and white, with dark beige shading plus silver and gold sparklies.”
“Right,” I said.
“On my cheek,” she said.
“Un-huh. Your cheek is very small. What is your name, anyway?”
“Hmm. Right. That name is long. You’ll take a carrot. Hold still. This will only hurt for a second.”
Onomatopoeia-Lucille screamed and ran away to complain to her mother.
“Next!” I shouted.
The next kid didn’t want a carrot either, so I offered him a black spot. “Like Billy Bones in Treasure Island,” I said, figuring a black spot would be about as easy to make as a carrot. But this kid wasn’t impressed. He never heard of Billy Bones or Treasure Island. No black dot for this kid. No carrot either. He stomped away and complained to his mother.
By this time, all the mothers were angry with me, and they all took their kids to the spin-art booth, the bouncy house, or the suspender-snapping contest. So I was alone with my brushes and hand sanitizer. I sat there for several moments, wondering what I’d do for the remaining three hours of the fair.
I stood up and walked to the nearby convenience store. I bought some kiddie stickers. When I got back to my booth, I changed the sign from “Face Painting” to “Face Stickering.” The children, gradually and cautiously, returned, and each received a sticker or two on the cheek or forehead. Smiley faces. Birds. Flowers. Spiderman villains. Grateful Dead logos. Things like that. The kids began to smile instead of cry.
Flipping through the pages, I saw that I also had some Bugs Bunny stickers. “Yes!” I cried. Bugs was holding a carrot.