Sacred & Mundane
artifacts of contemporary culture
How to Make a
by nick neely
“How you doing, o;cer?”
I’m kneeling on a sidewalk
in Riverside, Rhode Island, and
a squad car has just pulled into
the nearest driveway. My >
ngers are incriminatingly spattered. All the evidence—brush,
paper, and body—is laid out
“Fine,” says the o;cer.
“But the question is: What are
“Well, as you can see, sir,
I’m painting this squirrel.”
The o;cer leans out his
“I pulled him o= the center
stripe a few minutes ago be-
cause of the rushing cars. I’m going to
make a print. This is art.”
A scurry of squirrels is chattering and
?agging tail in the big-tree backyard behind us. I imagine that this one—warm
and pliable, perfect for printing—was formerly of its cheery, quick-limbed company.
“You’re serious?” asks the cop, matter-of-factly, as he steps from his car.
“Yes, sir. Roadkill prints. I’ve done a
number: fox, raccoon, bird . . . I’m hoping
for a deer, eventually. You haven’t seen
one lying around, have you?”
Another cop pulls to the curb and
parks. I’m surrounded now.
“What’s this?” asks the second o;cer,
closing his door. He quickly surveys the
scene and sees the tiny, untimely victim.
“Oh, good God, son. You’re touching
that? And you’re not using gloves?”
“Well, circumstances suggest he didn’t
die of disease,” I o=er. “He must have felt
rubber only a minute or two before I
came across him.”
The >rst o;cer: “Do you have some
I fumble for my undergraduate credential, hoping it will license my creativity.
“I don’t know what . . . well, frankly . . .
I mean, I’ve never dealt with anything like
this before,” says the o;cer, sizing up my
prom picture. “I’m not sure about legality
here, but this just looks wrong.”
called you in,” he continues.
“People are disturbed. You’ll
have to move this o= the
Only a few minutes before, several SUV drivers
had slowed and looked down
at me askance, cell phones
“You can’t do this here,”
says the cop. “Take it somewhere else . . . put it behind
your car . . . some place less
out in the open.”
“What if I move the squirrel to that side street?” I
inquire. “Or I could just take
him to go, if you prefer, and
wrap this up at home.”
“Either way,” says the cop,
“but you do something with
that, while I call in and make sure there
aren’t any warrants out for you.”
It’s November and cold, and the squirrel warms my hand when I lift it onto my
printing board. The second o;cer chaperones as I round the street corner, carrying
the squirrel as if on a tray. Resuming my
work, I smear a hairy tail with a thin layer
of ink. The cheap sponge brush is sticky
and picks up coat: long, coarse bristles,
like pine needles; downy underhairs, thin
and light as lint; short, tapered threads, all
shades of brown, red, black, and gray.
Meanwhile, the ?atfoot supervises.
“I feel bad for it,” he murmurs. “Don’t
you feel bad about what you’re doing?”
I look down at my furry quarry.