I sat at my table reading the morning news in the paper. What a waste of 75 cents. Not a thing to read except ads. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the glimpse of a headline: "Mona Lisa Disfigured." I read the gist of the story. Someone had broken into the Louvre, and had altered the portrait of the Mona Lisa by adding a pretty strong pair of minus lensed period glasses.
From the picture with the news story, I could tell that the artist had gone to a great deal of trouble, and work to do the alterations. The addition of the glasses had been tastefully done, and the artist had really changed the appearance of Mona's eyes to make them look significantly smaller, and he, or she had made the sides of her face sink in behind the lenses, just as it would look on a very nearsighted person in real life. I wondered how they had managed to find the time to do all this work in a place with security as massive as the Louvre?
I covered my face with my hands, as if to hide my face from the world. I didn't want this to have happened. Oh, the first time it had happened, I had laughed with glee at the humor of the situation. Someone - or persons unknown, as the paper had reported, had slipped into the National Art Gallery in Ottawa, Canada, and had added a really great pair of thick lensed drop temple glasses onto the portrait of Margaret Thatcher Trudeau ( Maggie being the ex wife of a former prime minister of Canada, the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau) which I thought much improved Maggie's looks. Then a few weeks later, at the Susan B Anthony Museum in upstate New York, someone had added a pair of strong minus glasses to Susan's portrait. These items had found their way into the news in a minor way, but I don't think anyone other than the perpetrator, and myself had noticed the significance. Then a few weeks ago Whistler's Mother had had a pair of high minus glasses added to her portrait. The art world was outraged, and security had been beefed up at all of the art galleries, and museums in the world. Now Mona Lisa had been modified with the addition of high-minus glasses, and no one could figure out how it could have been done.
Well, I think I knew how. Through a group devoted to eyewear,I had met a really interesting guy on the internet. We corresponded a lot in the beginning, and I wrote a few short stories, and sent them off to him for reader acceptance feedback. I really enjoyed this, and we were both having a lot of fun getting to know each other. Finally we had revealed our true identities to each other, and our correspondence had become quite regular. But, with the publication of my first few short stories, another of our group had contacted me and had asked me to send him the stories I had written for proof reading, and possible publication on an internet site he was starting. I was flattered, and I did start sending the stories I wrote to the other gentleman. Summer came, and I had a lot less time for internet correspondence. My original friend fell by the wayside, and although I never stopped thinking about him, my correspondence with him dwindled to nothing.
I knew that my first friend was an electronics expert, as well as an accomplished painter. He relished painting girls with high minus glasses in what appeared to be a realistic form. The lenses he paints show the correct amount of patina, and the faces are as true to life in the paintings as they could possibly be. Had my lack of correspondence given him the extra time to do these deeds?
No matter. What was important was that I immediately contacted him and inquired why he had done this. No, in my mind it wasn't a question of if, but rather why. I was in a bit of a panic about him, because if he was caught, it was only a matter of time before the FBI would follow this lead back to me, and the others from our internet group. And, I don't know how some of the others would feel about having their interests, and real names plastered across the pages of several newspaper, but I knew that I couldn't afford to become a laughingstock in the eyes of my friends, co workers, and family at this stage of my life.
I immediately sent off an e mail advising him that I knew that he was the " Mystery Glasses Artist," as the papers had referred to him. I apologized for the lack of correspondence on my part, and I promised that since I liked him a lot as a friend, I would do everything I could to help him out of this predicament, and to find other ways to pass his spare time.
It was a couple of days before he returned my mail, but I was totally shocked when I read what he had written. " It wasn't me, but we have got to meet in real life to get this stopped."
I sent him my phone number, and within a couple of hours my cell phone rang. I was going to be in Birmingham the following day, so we agreed to meet there. I didn't know what to expect from a visual point of view, as through the internet you can get a completely different idea of a persons appearance. He was an ordinary looking man, tall, and a bit thinner than I am. We sat down for breakfast, and immediately began a discussion about the problem at hand. And, as usual, when I go looking for ladies wearing glasses I often find nothing of interest, but here in this little restaurant in the middle of nowhere, where a more pressing problem was at hand, we had a waitress that was wearing a pair of smallish plastic framed high minus bifocals from which she was squinting her eyes. And for two guys that have a strong interest in these ladies it was a chore to keep their mind on the task at hand - well, no need to tell you where our eyes, and the conversation drifted to.
He again assured me that he had not done any of the glasses alterations on the paintings, but he floored me when he told me that the paintings that had been altered were paintings he had done. I couldn't believe him. How could he have painted these pictures, and not had the authenticity of them questioned when the experts had examined them to try to determine who had done the alterations. He suggested that the authenticity had not been in question. The only thing the experts were trying to find was the style of the artist who had done the alterations.
"OK," I said" When did you do these paintings, and who did you do them for. How did they find out about you, and what explanation was given for asking you to duplicate these paintings. Didn't you find it suspicious that you were asked to do portraits of Susan B Anthony, and Maggie Trudeau?"
"Give me a chance to answer one at a time" was his reply. " I did all of these paintings over two years ago. I have no idea why they came to me, but I was asked to do this by a group of Asian gentlemen. I guess they found out about me when I first started my internet site showing many portraits, and landscapes I had done. And the money they offered was too good to turn down. I hadn't even heard of Maggie Trudeau, and Susan B Anthony was only a dollar to me."
We decided that the glasses were added prior to the paintings being switched, but we could find no possible explanation for the glasses being added. It was our decision that the best thing for us to do to protect ourselves, and our internet group was to go directly to the FBI.
We made the call to the local FBI office, and were advised to stay where we were. Soon a couple of men drove up in an older 4 door plain jane car. There were no decals needed to tell us that these were the agents we were waiting for. They questioned my friend, and suprisingly enough seemed satisfied with his answers. They left us standing in the restaurant parking lot wondering what would happen next.
We went off on our separate ways. It was a pleasure to meet someone else from the internet in person, but the circumstances were less than perfect. I regretted not finding the time to meet with my friend prior to this forced meeting, but what was done was done.
We were soon to find out the reason for the alterations. The following day a large optical frame company from Hong Kong introduced a new line of very attractive eyewear, and they returned the original unaltered paintings to their proper places, and I was sure that the resulting publicity would certainly mean increased sales for them.
Specs4ever ( with special thanks to Mac Man and my proof reader A.J