'Proverbs' writer moves to greener pastures

My -30- article at the Daily Texan. The -30- article is an unedited column that departing staff members write. Originally ran in the 5/10/05 paper. The original is located at [dailytexanonline.com]

‘Proverbs’ writer moves to greener pastures

By Al Sweigart

My genius was misidentified at a young age.In kindergarten, the class was supposed to enter an art contest for the local livestock and rodeo show. I didn’t realize how state-centric Texas was at the time and how that necessitated class time to draw pictures of cows and tumbleweeds.

I thought every state was like that; that if I traveled to the other side of the country, they too would have commercials screaming “New Hampshire truck month!” or “More Iowaians prefer Harper’s term life insurance.” There was no such concept as the tri-state area in Texas. If there was, it would include Mexico.

I suppose it was the fact that I wasn’t eating my crayons that led the teacher to think I had artistic talent. A kid named Travis was munching through his box like a stoner devouring a bag of Doritos.

Travis could not spell his own name, but I thought he was the next Einstein. All he ever talked about was his home state of Arkansas. He knew the state flower (the mushroom), state bird (the ostrich), and the state song (Happy Birthday). But what amazed me the most was that he could spell “Arkansas.” In my 5-year-old book, that made him a veritable encyclopedia.

I didn’t have Travis’ equivalent knowledge of my home state or my sister’s artistic ability. So when it came to the theme of cowboys and rodeos, I did what a non-Southerner would do when quizzed about Texas: I drew stereotypical cowboys doing stereotypical cowboy crap.

Of course, when you are 5 years old, the romantic ideals of rugged frontiersmen braving the lone ranges of the American West translates into an oval-headed stick figure with a top hat and lasso, standing in front of a barn and a multicolored windmill. To complete the demonstration of my historical and cultural ignorance, I drew in a cactus. Right next to the pine tree.

But the crowning achievement of this soon-to-be discovered masterpiece was the fence. I didn’t realize that there was no place for fences in the wide, open, pine tree-dotted plains of desolate Texas. The fence started on the left-hand side of the paper, stretching the entire length of what would be the foreground had my 5-year-old mind understood the concept of a Z-axis.

What the judges, my teacher, my parents and the friends of my mother to whom she gloated would all remark about was the use of perspective. The fence wound a smooth curve around the landscape, neatly and geometrically getting smaller the further away it became. It was incredible that a mere kindergartner would incorporate such a technique, and I won the blue ribbon.

What really happened was that, as I was drawing the fence, my hand began to cramp. So I drew the fence progressively smaller, not noticing my error until I was at the end of the right-hand side of the page. I guess this bit of serendipity is forgivable; after all incompetence and inattention to detail is what gave us vulcanized rubber.

I wrote “Albert Sweigart” in the corner, properly spelling the name that telemarketers always fail to pronounce. Each entry needed a title, and I gave mine the title of “Cowboy on the Farm”.

My mother framed my drawing with the blue ribbon, preserving evidence of my youthful retardation forever. Cowboy on the farm. Cowboys don’t live on farms. When they aren’t in whorehouses or passing out in a drunken stupor, they work on ranches.

What would a cowboy do on a farm? Wake up at the crack of dawn, put on spurs and chaps and milk the cows? Herd the chickens? Maybe my cowboy, the cowboy in the drawing with the lasso, would rope errant potatoes or use it to tame a wild, bucking pine tree.

I was so inspired by my ill-gotten ribbon that I put down “Artist” on the elementary school mini-biographies that would be displayed at open house.

In college, I majored in computer science, and although yuppie software engineer is about as damn far as you can get from artist, it’s where my passion now lies. And I figure that, judging from my past “talented genius,” it is a field from which I can do more damage.

Sweigart drew “Proverbs,” an award-winning comic. He also drew “Big Science,” but that never won us any sweet awards.

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