Besides being a poet, Sally Cook is a professional painter and portraitist whose pictures hang in several museums. Her work is sold widely, and she is often called an artist of "Magical Realism." She began her career in New York City in the 1950s, where she was associated with the Abstract Expressionists who met at The Cedar Tavern. An on-line gallery show of her work can be accessed at the Society of Classical Poets website.
Jerry was a local restaurateur in the 1970s and 80s, in the city where we lived. His restaurant was always on the cusp of innovation, hung with paintings, mixed-media pieces, and other art. A sculptor had designed an abstract phone booth and incorporated Jerry’s lobster tank. If you were going to have a lobster, Jerry always insisted that you choose your lobster—not the most pleasant thing to have to do, but he liked to play games with his customers. Jerry was a tall, thin, white- bearded and eccentric fellow, with a propensity for love-hate relationships with artists, so I sensed that when he hired me to decorate the back dining room (which he planned to call “The Peaceable Kingdom”) there would be trouble.
Having done a four or five foot ceiling painting of nymphs and Cupids (all the nymphs were me), I painted a frieze of animals around the entrance, including an old goat who looked remarkably like Jerry. Then he suddenly requested a tall panel to cover an extra door that he didn’t use, which led to the kitchens.
"I want one hundred animals in this dining-room painting!" said Jerry. Fine—I knew I could certainly find one hundred animals. I planned the long, narrow painting to have an oval grassy area in the center, and in the middle of that, a picnic table holding a basket of fruit.
I started on the outer edge with dinosaurs and an archaeopteryx, and continued on through the lizard family, various birds, and then rhinos and an elephant with a flamingo on his back. I went on until I reached ninety-nine, where I got stuck. I only needed one more, and thought and thought but couldn’t come up with anything else. Anteaters? No—I already had one, and one is enough. Sloths? Rabbits? Horses? Dogs and cats? Too prosaic.
I had run out of animals. I thought to myself He will never count the animals, and even if he does the count will get lost along the way. One hundred is a lot of animals.
I took the finished painting to the restaurant. It fit perfectly in the space, and Jerry liked it. But then I noticed that he was on his knees, counting. Thirty-nine! Forty! He stood up in a crouch. Sixty-four! Seventy-nine! Eighty! Ninety-nine! Now he was standing with hands on his hips, and a triumphant look on his face. He turned to confront me and said "Aha! How can you expect me to pay for one hundred animals when you have shorted me one animal, Missy?" Alas, he knew the truth.
But perhaps he did not. Quick as a wink I said No, Jerry—there are one hundred animals.
"WELL—WHERE IS IT? SHOW ME THAT HUNDREDTH ANIMAL!" He knew I couldn’t, and yet I did.
With complete assurance and aplomb, I answered "The hundredth animal is the fruit fly in the basket of fruit. "
An indisputable fact cannot be disputed. Jerry pulled out his checkbook and paid up without another word spoken.