Sigmund, The Starving Artist Who Went On A Hunger Strike In 1974

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Things weren’t going well for Sigmund, a caricature artist who lived above the bicycle shop downtown. He had very little money. He had no one to love or to be loved. And no one wanted to buy his art.

“Quite frankly, it stunk!” said priest and part-time art critic for the Neighborhood News, Father Flanagan of St. Agnes Church.

He explained. “When you’re a caricature artist who depicts customers in a way that doesn’t look anything like them, well, you’re not going to win too many people over. Also, Vietnam was still going on, and back home there was an oil crisis that made people wait in long lines to get gas. Folks were running in circles even when they were standing still.”

But Sigmund didn’t pay attention to current events like most artists do. He thought the world revolved around him. Proudly he displayed his art in the windows above the bicycle shop, his art of course being about a dozen caricatures of people from the neighborhood who never bothered to come and pick them up. Frank Lovello was one of Sigmund’s subjects.

“Aren’t you afraid someone’ll recognize you hangin’ up in ol’ Sigmund’s bedroom window?” asked Vickie DelVeccio of DelVeccio’s Floral Shop & Polish-Italian Deli on Granger Road.

“Who the hell’s gonna know that’s me! I look like Marlon Brando up there, and as you can see, I don’t look like Marlon Brando down here!”

So people laughed at Sigmund, told him he shouldn’t quit his day job.

“What’s that, oh this is your day job? Well then don’t quit your night job!”

Sigmund knew he needed to gain attention, but how? Well, he was barely eating, so going on a hunger strike wasn’t a stretch. Of course he would have to give up Pop Tarts. He loved Pop Tarts, practically lived on them! He would definitely make a statement by not eating Pop Tarts.

Beanie, the grocer at the top of the street, was the first to tip off the cops.

“I think you better check in on Sigmund. He hasn’t been around for his Pop Tarts in over a week!”

So the cops went over and knocked on Sigmund’s door. BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG! Sigmund had a very loud door.

“Sigmund, open up! Are you okay in there?” asked the cop named Mike.

“Go away! I’m fasting!”

Fasting? Fasting for what? It’s not Lent, Sigmund. Open up, we just wanna talk.” said Mike.

“No! I’m on a full-blown hunger strike!”

“Sigmund, you’ve got one minute before I beat down this door and shove a turkey pot pie down your throat!”

That was Phil. He was Mike’s partner. Of the two, Phil was more likely to play the bad cop whenever Officer Mike and Officer Phil went good cop/bad cop on somebody.

“But you don’t understand! My art cries out for customers, but…but…but they all run away!”

“Maybe he needs to find customers who don’t have legs,” Mike whispered to Phil so Sigmund wouldn’t hear.

“I heard that!”

“C’mon Sigmund! If you don’t eat, you’ll die. And if you die, a lot of people ‘round here will be sad!” said Mike.

“Like who?”

“Beanie, for starters. Who’d you think told us about you?”

“He’d just miss my business. I buy all my Pop Tarts from him.”

“Yeah, we heard. By the way, he wanted you to have this.”

Officer Phil slid a Pop Tart under the door. A moment of silence on the other side was followed by the sound of paper unwrapping, then bites and chewing, dry lips smacking. Sigmund swallowed and leaned against the door to collect his thoughts.

“Uh, Sigmund?” said Mike.

“Oh hell, tell everyone the hunger strike is over!”

“They’ll be happy to hear that, Sigmund! By the way, Sigmund?”

“Yeah?”

“My wife and I are celebrating our 5th anniversary next week. Think we can come over and have you draw us?”

“I have a thing against drawing guns, Officer Mike, but you’ve been so nice…”

“Sigmund! It’s for me and my wife. She has a thing about guns, too. I’ll be in my street clothes.”

“In that case, call me tomorrow and I’ll pencil you in for a sitting.”

“Alright Sigmund. Eat a good meal. We’ll stop by later to see how you’re doing.”

After the officers left, Sigmund ate a box of cherry Pop Tarts he had stashed in a cabinet the day before his hunger strike started. Then he started drawing pictures of George Washington, which for some reason just came to him out of the blue. His hunger strike lasted 7 days. He did some of his best work during that time. He even sold a caricature of his mailman, who looked nothing like the guy in the picture. The mailman liked it anyway, because Sigmund gave him more hair than he had in real life, and a lot less fat around the middle!

Illustrated by Audrey Sajovie

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