In college I used to check the bulletin board of the art department for odd jobs, and I'd take anything, even if I wasn't sure I could do it. One day there was a post for three caricature artists. I made a call and was instructed to bring a beret and art markers to a theater a few nights later. "Look like a French street artist, if you can," they said. $50 for the night.
The job was to sit in the lobby for a reception after a ballet. Two other students showed up, and we sat on stools in our silly berets, and easels were set up for us with giant pads of paper. I had never done a caricature in my whole life, but I was about to do them for the next two hours. Mortified.
I really don't like berets at all.
Ladies in jewels and furs kept sitting on a stool across from me, and I slapped out one picture after another. I'm sure I captured the likeness of most people, but they were not exaggerated at all like a real caricature. Some of the people seemed pleased as they took away their drawings, but several were outright rude, saying the drawing wasn't really a cartoon or didn't look like them. They said this to each other in my presence, not to me. At one point someone was talking about my clothes a foot from my ear.
I was really discouraged. Something I was excited about, though, was learning that Rudolph Nureyev had been the attraction of this ballet, and halfway through the night he appeared and everyone flocked around him. He looked exhausted, kind of sick, but he carried himself through the room with perfect posture---he was like a lovely movie star. I'd wanted to be a ballerina when I was really little, so he was, of course, a legend.
I heard some whispering around me, "He has AIDS." "He should retire." "He looks terrible."
But the very same people climbed up their own butts in excitement as he passed by and shook hands.
After he made the rounds he stopped next to me, watched me finish up a drawing, and he said it was nice. Then he sat on some steps a couple feet away and asked how it was going. I said I was doing a terrible job and people weren't very happy with my cartoons, and he shooed the crowd with his hand, "Don't listen to those people. Are you having a good time?"
We talked for a few minutes, and he confided that he was indeed really tired, and he hoped he had done a good job. I said of course he had, but I wish I could have seen it. I said if I had a program I'd be excited for him to sign it. He gave this big sparkly smile, got up, and he came over to my easel. He took my marker and did a huge signature across the page. "There you go!"
Then he disappeared behind a nearby door for the night.
He did, unfortunately, die of AIDS a few years later, but after such a great life. I have his big signature rolled up in my attic somewhere, but what I really keep from that night is a picture in my head of him smiling at me, trying to put me at ease in a room full of people who wouldn't speak directly to me.