What does a woman want for her birthday? Flowers? Jewelry? Shoes? Dinner in a nice restaurant? An intellectual girl may like an interesting book. A musically inclined one would prefer a ticket to Metropolitan Opera. In spring, a romantically inclined girlfriend would want a trip to Paris.
But, what does a woman do if she has already tried all of this boring stuff and she is searching for something new and exotic, unique and different?
If the woman in question is Yvonne, she will ask her boyfriend (i.e. your humble servant) to accompany her to a four hour workshop on…
ANTHROPOMORPHIC MOUSE TAXIDERMY
Honestly, I had no desire whatsoever to go there. My interest in mice = my interest in taxidermy = 0. My interest in mice wearing human-like costumes approaches absolute zero.
Still, it was Yvonne’s birthday and saying, “no” was not an option. So, at 5.30 pm, I embarked an A train on a long journey to the end of the world, i.e. central Brooklyn.
We walked into small building on the corner of Union and Nevin. It looked like it started as a warehouse a few dozen years ago, then was abandoned, then acquired a second life thanks to the Brooklyn revival. A assortment of science fiction posters on the walls, a incomplete set of moose bones in a cabinet, a bunch of random arts and crafts books on the shelves and rusty one foot thick white pipes running along the ceiling made the place, “Oh my God, it’s so Brooklyn”.
A short forty year old woman named Sue ran the workshop. Numerous tattoos over all her exposed body limbs hinted at one of her professions. In fact, she did work for a while as a tattoo artist before moving to Massachusetts. However, since the American Freedom state banned tattooing, so she migrated to taxidermy. Oh, well the loss of one becomes a gain of the another. Along the way, Sue figured out how to cut corners and expenses making taxidermy a surprisingly simple and affordable endeavor. She also fell in love with an original Victorian taxidermy master who specialized in stuffing animals to look like humans.
Hence came Sue’s workshop on the antropomorphic mouse taxidermy.
Sue explained it all while her assistant was bringing the mice. Twenty five of us, taxidermists-in-waiting, were crammed in a 500 square foot room with five tables. Numerous props, brought by Sue and her ex-students filled shared the space with us and with taxidermy tools.
At first, Sue established the rules. “I am very serious about this,” she said. “Make sure that the mice look classy. I will not have a Lady Gaga mouse in here. Use the props to create timeless and inspiring art, be thought provoking.”
“I used to teach children with special needs, till I burned out,” Sue explained her presentation style.
We mulled around the props, picking up tin castles, coffee cups, and various dresses. I looked at all of this stuff feeling completely lost. Why the heck did I come here, I wondered… Suddenly, my muse whispered into my ear. I saw a candle holder and I knew what I wanted to make.
Then, Emily, Sue’s assistant arrived, carrying a tray with two dozen dead mice. She walked around the tables handing out a mouse to each student, like an appetizer at a cocktail party. I carefully picked it up. The white, frozen, mercilessly killed cute little thing with closed eyes and a drop of dried blood on the tip of the nose lay listlessly in my hand. I gently pet it on the back.
“Play with the mice a bit till they warm up. But, don’t handle them to much – they’ll get too gooey,” Sue told us.
She borrowed a mouse from one of the students and started demonstrating the art of taxidermy. Following her, I slowly cut the skin along the back and gently pulled it off.
“Be careful when you get close to the belly,” Sue said sharply. “You really don’t want to cut the shit sack. The smell is like, eh, really shit. We will have to evacuate the room and ventilate it for an hour.”
I was careful. I removed the skin all the way down to its tiny mouse feet, the base of the tail and the base of the skull. The body hung down like a purse (the skin was the handle). I used the scissors to cut the body off and pulled the tail out of the skin. Then, I cleaned all the meat and brains from the head and removed the eyes. Now, I had a perfect empty husk.
As builders use steel reinforced concrete for construction, I stuffed wire reinforced clay into the mouse and sewed the skin together on its back. My little pet acquired a proper shape and a surprisingly strong body. I carefully attached the mouse head down to the candle holder with the tail proudly sticking towards the sky.
Finally, the most difficult part approached me. I needed to make a flame. See, the mouse was supposed to become a candle. The most tempting idea was just to glue some fabric to the tail and burn it. Like a modern art style installation in action.
I still think that I should’ve done that, but the peer pressure from my student neighbors prevented me from taking such a drastic albeit expressive action. So, I disassembled one yellow and one red fake flower and sewed a flame out of their petals. My little candle proudly stood on its head. Its mischievous eyes (two small black pins) looked sideways. The fake flame was almost burning on the wick aka the mouse tail.
Meanwhile, Yvonne finished her project, a fat 007 bow-tied mouse lounging in a designer chair playing with a gun.
It was the most impressive birthday party I’ve been to, in many years.