Wentworth Tradd is indignant. A small green lizard pauses halfway up one of the white porch columns as if to listen to him rant. “Why would people say my name is made up? There’s a lawyer up in Columbia named Thornwell Forrest Sowell, III. His wife is this total babe and people say he is a really good lawyer. Do you think they say he made up HIS name? of course not. The guy who wrote all those operas- called himself Giuseppe Verdi? You know, the one about Egypt that Elton John ripped off? Well, somebody told me that Giuseppe Verdi’s family called him plain old Joe Green. Does that take something away from being such a good composer that people are ripping you off a hundred and fifty years later? I don’t guess it does.”
“You can take a five day old mullet and call it a rose but it’s still gonna stink. I’ll tell you what really stinks. I had a gallon of this latex semi-gloss go bad somehow and it stunk something terrible. It didn’t really hurt the paint and it didn’t stink after it dried, but I tell you, when you opened the can you had to stand back. It was a great color, though, just the shade of the underside on a oystercatcher’s beak.”
The lizard has lost interest and has jumped from the column to a camellia bush. Wentworth seems to calm down a little as he thinks about the colors of birds’ beaks. He readjusts his overall straps and goes on. “The thing is, I made a big mistake. I figured I’d be making so much money that I needed to incorporate. Now THAT was a mistake. Now I’ve got the Secretary of State and the IRS and the whole world breathing down my neck. Do you know how hard it is to concentrate on painting fish scales with the Man looking over your shoulder?”
He watches the lizard puff out his chin. I had a girlfriend called me ‘Wentie’ for a while . People really call me Went less and Worth more, but they sometimes call me Worthless, come to think about it. I really don’t care, as long as they buy some pictures. If somebody don’t buy something soon, I’ll be worth a whole lot less.
Wentworth Tradd is broke. “I had some automotive repair issues and a couple of other projects haven’t quite panned out like I’d hoped they would, so I’m selling a few of my paintings that I’d hoped to pass on to my children.” The fact that he is well over 40 and has no wife, much less children, does not seem to strike Wentworth The Testator as even slightly odd. He is in full-sell mode and he has to raise cash.
“I remember when I painted that alligator- it was the longest painting I’d ever done at the time, and certainly one of the most involved. I had to go to three different Big Lots stores to get enough plastic alligators for that frame. Sometimes, if the light conditions are just right, the teeth will glow in the dark, but that’s on purpose. I wouldn’t want people to think it’s possessed or anything. If I was in New York, I’ll bet you somebody would give me two or three thousand dollars for it, which is a good thing, since it cost me about five thousand dollars the last time I went up there. And that was for three days. Of course, it wouldn’t have cost so much I hadn’t had all of those automotive repair issues. ”
Wentworth pauses and jiggles the ice in his drink as he recounts the trip north with its parade of disasters: “I think the problems started when I let that yankee man take that dispensary bottle off that grave. Next thing I know, they’re calling me to come to New York because they can’t get the skin tone right on the Wentworth Tradd Inaction Figure. Now THERE was a mess. I had to watch those people the whole time. They kept trying to give me a bunch of those little under limit GI Joe leftovers from his Honey I shrunk the Soldier Toys period. I mean, would you want a doll made to look like you that wasn’t but six inches tall? The INDUSTRY STANDARD is 12 inches. It would be like selling Wentworth Cola in nine ounce cans. You could do it, but why would you want to? I mean, it would be a sad Saturday night in the toy box, standing four and a half inches shorter than Barbie. And then they never could understand about the clothes. They wanted to hire somebody to make sure all of the random paint stains on his khakis were in the exact same place. Do you suppose the people at the Yankee Toy Consulting Company never heard the word RANDOM growing up? Or was it just a random coincidence the guy they wanted to hire was dating the account executive?”
“My mama calls them Wentworth Voodoo Dolls and I won’t tell you where my ex girlfriend stuck a hatpin in the one I gave her. You’d be surprised at how long a grudge can last over a little thing like having two dates on New Years’ Eve. She was ready to believe it was a business meeting until that girl from the Yankee Toy Consulting Company had to show everybody her thong. But I’ll give her this much, she sure can swing a nine-iron at a piece of automotive sheet metal.”