If this is your first tune-in to the blog this week, we’re dipping into the archives in search of material for a writing contest with a 5 PM Friday deadline. Today’s contender is actually a continuation of yesterday’s offering: I thought it only fair to give you the rest of the story, although it would need a new intro to work as a stand-alone piece.
The Second Career of a Breakfast Icon
My 30-year old-stuffed tiger has a new face.
The episode with the vacuum cleaner left me so inspired that I immediately sat down and typed out the previous chapter, shut down the computer and sighed contentedly. Clearly, now, I could put the entire matter behind me and send Tony off to his Happy Hunting Grounds in good conscience. Somewhere between garbage can and closure, however, former CIA agent Robert Barron added the rescue of a famous breakfast icon to his resume.
A newspaper write-up on Barron’s post-CIA career had grabbed my attention the previous week. Already, the piece had secured his status as my new favorite twenty-first century artist, but it was his choice of canvas that became the inspiration behind the biggest comeback in the history of elderly stuffed tigers.
By trade, Barron had been a disguise specialist. Our government paid him to render operatives unrecognizable to anyone in their family, circle of acquaintances, or, if the assignment required, race or gender, either. Accordingly, Barron’s palette consisted of the startlingly lifelike ears, eyes, and noses he expertly crafted. His canvas was the human face.
When he retired, Hollywood came calling, but, like many true artists, Barron isn’t following the money trail. His chosen work is too important.
Today Barron painstakingly rebuilds faces lost to accidents, fire, and cancer. Neither his palette nor his canvas has changed since his CIA days, but his mission has taken a 180. Barron used to work to conceal identities, but now he rescues them. His masterpieces are the salvaged dreams behind the illusions of flesh that he designs.
Art, I tell my students, communicates.
Barron’s work is about loss, but says more about hope. It’s born out of endings, but paves the way for new beginnings. His art is about using your gifts and talents for something a little bigger than yourself. It’s about living the adventure you were put here for, even if it means coming out of retirement to do it. It’s about preserving life and dignity and grace. It’s about resurrecting dreams. It’s about having the courage to confront the dreadful and transform it.
Like all good art it is very, very beautiful. And, for some reason, in the moments after I disposed of Tony, Barron’s work was all I could think about.
I pulled Tony from the trash for the second time in a week, rounded up as much spongy burnt orange stuffing as I could, and carefully matched the jagged edges of his facial tear. I slapped a sturdy piece of clear packing tape across the seam and, viola! Tony’s not only back in the game with his back-alley plastic surgery, he’s got a new gig. Of late, he’s been tooling around town with his head poking out of the top of my writer’s bag as a poster tiger for my latest book project—a cheerful rebuttal to the utter downward spiral Sir Isaac Newton promised us in our grade school science texts.
Tony’s brush with mortality is a reminder that anything at all can survive if you put a new face on it.