I was devastated by the news of Roscoe Orman’s death. Orman, better known to most as Gordon from Sesame Street, had always been my favourite human on the beloved children’s television show. His acting had a gritty realism, uncompromising yet subtle, which complimented the Muppets perfectly. I determined to paint a portrait of Orman in his honour.
My grief at reading of Orman’s death was almost matched by my relief a few minutes later when I realised he was alive and well. The “news” I had been browsing turned out to be from an obscure satirical website that went all-out for hilarity and profound political commentary and achieved neither one. Still, I thought the portrait was a good idea.
With Roscoe Orman not half as dead as I had momentarily believed, that meant he could come to my art studio (the corner of my garage next to the washing machine) for the portrait—what an honour! Of course, he would have to agree to it. I assumed he lived in America, and I did not know his schedule, but I held onto hope. I made some calls but the closest I came to success was an answering machine message from the local chapter of a Sesame Street fan club. Very well, Orman would not be sitting for my painting. No different to any other day. No point crying about it.
After crying for an hour, I had a brainwave. My cousin Scott, who was staying with me at the time, could sit for the portrait in Orman’s place. With some clever lighting, and a pose that hid his neck tattoo, Scott could perhaps convey enough of Orman for me to paint the portrait. Scott agreed.
There were some difficulties at first. Scott entered the studio with Nutella smeared all over his face. “Gordon’s face,” he explained, referring to Orman by his character’s name, “is much darker than mine.”
“Yeah, I don’t think you can do that,” I said.
“Well, it’s like blackface.”
“Nutella is brown,” he said.
“Yeah, but I think people will still see it as racist.”
“I’m not racist.”
“Yeah, I know, but I don’t think we’ll get away with it.”
Scott looked at me strangely. “But you’re not going to be painting me with Nutella face. You’ll paint Gordon. No one will know.”
I thought about it. After making some phone calls (again receiving no help from the Sesame Street fan club), I decided against Nutella face.
The next issue was the hair. Orman has a famously bald scalp, while Scott has stunning black locks like Tom Cruise. I found the solution outside the box: in exchange for me doing his laundry for the duration of his stay, Scott shaved his head.
Scott taped some of his shorn hair to his upper lip as a fake moustache. “What do you reckon?” he asked. “It’s more like Gordon.”
I scrutinised the faux facial hair. “Hmm… Well your hair is already black, so it’s not racist. I’m just thinking it might be disrespectful. You know, a fake moustache.”
“It’s real hair,” said Scott.
“Yeah,” I said, “but I don’t want it to feel like we’re mocking him. This is serious. I mean, I thought Roscoe Orman was dead. And ideally, I’d like to unveil this painting when he really does die. Maybe they’ll put it on the news.”
Scott shrugged and removed the moustache.
He sat on the washing machine while I set up my easel. “What should I do?” he asked. “How should I pose?”
I closed my eyes and thought, breathing deeply. “Just imagine you’re sitting outside Hooper’s Store. Autumn leaves are falling; children are skipping nearby. You can see Big Bird strolling past Oscar’s trash can. Telly monster comes up to you, excited, and tells you that an octagon has eight sides.”
He nailed it.
In two short hours the piece was complete. Considering the imperfect circumstances, I think it turned out well. Rest in peace (when the time comes) Roscoe Orman.
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