The Tower was a teenager hangout in my hometown. The place had the kind of food we craved: big juicy hamburgers that gushed grease when you mashed them, substantial French fries, chili-cheese dogs, crispy onion rings and chicken in the basket.
It was a great place to pick up food if you and a hungry date were going to the “7,” a drive-in movie on Highway Seven. Every Friday night The Tower had a great special--six hamburgers for a dollar. And, you could bargain with the owner to substitute a couple of orders of fries or onion rings for a burger. The manager was a good guy and never made you feel like a cheapskate in front of your date.
One Sunday night after church a bunch of us went to The Tower to get some food. Several of us ordered chicken in the basket. As we were waiting, we heard the manger singing over and over back in the kitchen in mock-Italian opera style, “How many chicken in the baskets do you want?” So, I drew a cartoon on the check when it came of him with a chef’s hat on, chopping a chicken’s head off. When I paid my check, he laughed at the cartoon as if it were the funniest thing that had ever happened. “Danny,” he said, “can you paint that cartoon on the front window?” Of course, I agreed to do so.
I spent a fun Monday evening with my watercolors painting the jocund restaurateur slaughtering a chicken, singing his aria. In the weeks and months to come, he had me come paint other things on his window: specials, pictures of hamburgers, milkshakes, onion rings and whatever else pleased his fancy. He gave me a buck or two, or, if I wished, he would pay me off in food. It was a great, though not very profitable avocation.
And, word got around. There was a Mexican restaurant out on the highway owned by an kinsman of The Tower owner. He sent word that I should bring my watercolors and come to his place. I did so, and he wanted me to paint cacti, donkeys, adobe houses and vendors in panchos all along the top part of the windows. It took a long time. All I ever got out of it was a taco or two and a date or two with the owner’s daughter. Neither reward was terribly satisfactory, though I got a lot of experience painting cacti.
I only had one other window painting job and that was when I was in Germany in the military. A sergeant saw some of my artwork and asked me to come paint a Christmas scene on his window in base housing. I painted baby Jesus with a bluebird landing on his uplifted finger. I think I took the idea from a Christmas card. The sergeant and his family were pleased and he gave me five bucks.
I went back to The Tower after I got out of the service. The manager asked me if I were still painting windows. “No sir,” I replied, “houses.”
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.