Focus Cocus Locus
Our topic this week is Cocus Locus, commonly known as Souvenir Coconut. We will cover its origin, history and benefits to mankind.
Today, no first rate tropical gift shop lacks a lobster trap brimming with hand-painted coconuts. Dolphin salt and pepper shakers, spoon rests with kitchen humor and shell door hangings pale next to large, burly nuts with piercing expressions. They are a 'must have' souvenir of a tropical vacation.
This was not always so. The first discovery of a painted coconut fossil took place in the Spring of 1922. Archaeologist Toho Bulafendi led an expedition in the Suternami cave region, seeking the fabled stone age chafing dishes of Atlantis. Instead, he stumbled on a Pleistoprene era painted coconut, thought to have beLoneed to a rich chieftain. Carbon dating and laser double dating, however, proved it to be a shrunken head.
Furthermore, ice age one liners carved on nearby ancient rocks, turned out to be really funny, causing one of the scientists to chuckle. Putting one and two together, Bulafendi concluded the shrunken head beLoneed to a Cromagnum court jester who made a bad joke. Apparently, stone-age jokes had to be really good, unlike today, when almost anything goes on TV shows like 'Hell's Funny Guys' or the edgy 'Please Tell Me When to Laugh.'
The first decorated coconut in the world happened by sheer coincidence. Of course, gift shop merchants had for years seen great potential in coconuts. The brown, knobbly surface virtually cried out to be painted with big black eyes, quaint noses and bright red lips. But merchants were too busy selling gold colored sand dollars and polished shark's teeth on chains, to do anything about it.
Enter Lone John. A local beach comber, Lone sidelined in Spanish doubloons and miniatures of Rembrandt's 'Woman at Half Door Cutting Her Nails.' On a dank, dreary morning he spied a lone coconut on the sand. The brown color reminded him of Old Rembo, whose painting was all brown and yellowish.
"If he did it with drab," Lone said, "I will do him one better." He immediately ran to the local discount warehouse and bought really bright 'whoops' paints at seventy percent off retail. Within hours, his creative side bursting forth like a waterspout, he finished the very first hand painted coconut in history.
The bright face he created on the nut looked grateful. It seemed to say "Thank you. You are my Pygmalion, and I am your Galatea. Or vice versa."
Lone counteredwith, "Drab's a drag, bright is right."
That sentence, now oft quoted in entrepreneur magazines, became the call to arms of frustrated wannabe painters, wasting away in 'Snoring Palm Fronds' seaside trailer park. Thanks to Lone John and the cottage industry he created, they now get up in the morning, put on their bathing suits and flip flops, grab paint pots of primary colors and work till sunset painting nuts, the larger and bumpier, the better.
Going back to 1922, when Lone John painted the first coconut, he first let it dry. Then he rushed over to Melvin, owner of Mel's Gift Shack. Melvin held some of Lone's Spanish doubloons and Rembrandt miniatures on consignment.
Melvin's eyes lit up.
"Lone John," he shouted, grabbing the coconut. "My retail dream has just come true."
"Will you pay up front," Lone was skeptical, "Or is this another consignment deal?"
He had Mel over a barrel. It was definitely a seller's market.
As any schoolboy today knows, the reaction to the nut was electric. Instead of the usual dribble of off-season tourists, Mel's Shack was mobbed with people demanding souvenir coconuts. A fight broke out when Mrs. Leisurey tried to purchase it, claiming its eyes had the same look as her granddaughter Ella. Mr. Strontis then grabbed it from her.
"This nut has my name written all over it," he shouted. The thick, red lips were the spitting image of Mrs. Strontis' mouth.
Mrs.Leisurey stood her ground. She picked up a nearby mako shark sculpture done in clear epoxy and tried to stab Mr. Codgerville through his new palm and flower leisure shirt. He retaliated with a gold edged platter inscribed 'I went fishing but all I got was crabs.' The plate broke against the mako's pointed nose.
Mel was furious, his policy being, ' You break it, you in heap o' trouble.' Mr. Strontis claimed possession was ninety percent of the law. Mrs. Leisurey claimed self defense.
The local police were summoned. After hours of haggling and bickering, it was lunchtime. Miraculously, the case was settled as follows: Strontis, a dealer in plastic flag banners, would sell Mel decorated banners at undecorated prices, a very generous offer.
Mrs. Leisurey and her husband, a six foot seven body builder, got the nut after everyone present was shown four wallet photos of Ella, including the one where she graduated from kindergarten. Her eyes in each of the photos, even the policeman agreed, had the identical expression as the nut.
When the now glowing Mrs. Strontis returned from a mud bath at the hotel spa, she insisted Mel get an identical nut painted by Thursday. The couple were leaving for a cruise around natural tar and asbestos deposits in an exotic archipelago.
"Think of the hours we can spend telling other passengers all about our custom made coconut with my lips," Mrs. Strontis said. Mr. Strontis recalled past cruises when he had nothing to say. He immediately put down fifty percent deposit, insisting on a signed receipt from Mel.
Souvenir coconuts have come a long way since that fateful day at Mel's Shack. They are no longer the luxury of a few. Gift shops proudly display them as close to the sidewalk as possible. Yet there remains a certain mystique about them. No one has ever been seen buying one. The nuts are everywhere - on restaurant walls, in tourist shopping bags, hotel rooms, even in upscale bathrooms as toothbrush holders? Are they bought on the sly, very early or very late, when the shops are empty?
Shopkeepers' daily inventories show all coconuts have been sold, new orders immediately called in to 'Snoring Palm Fronds.' Beachcombers feverishly scour nooks and crannies for fresh nuts. The 'life is a bathing suit' crowd moves to their post under a shade tree, brushing on paint on the bumpy surfaces till the sun sets or mosquitos cover their bodies.
Lone John retired to a stilt home made of, you guessed it, coconut skins tied together with wood pulp. He eats lobster tails every day. Wouldn't you if you got five percent commission on every souvenir coconut sold?
As in many human endeavors, there is a hierarchy here, too. Those who glue tufts of sawgrass, plastic rhinestones and rings dropping from quarter gumball machines onto the nuts, are called 'nut snobs.' They command higher prices and deal only with posh shops.
The sacred cow of souvenir nuts has to be the 'nut sculpters.' With nerves of steel, like diamond cutters making that first cut, they pierce the 'tabla rasa' of a prime nut. One false move, and it's all over. 'Nut sculpters' are so aloof, they don't say hello to 'nut snobs,' or frequent the same watering holes.
Regardless of quality or price, Cocus Locus are worth every penny. They are indestructible. After a severe hurricane or tornado, buildings are dashed to pieces and cars ruined. Yet, next morning, brightly painted coconuts bob merrily upon angry waves, grinning with flabby red lips and giant black google eyes.
"We lost everything," a husband would lament.
"No, dear, not everything. We still have our souvenir coconut.'
This pretty much completes our topic of the week. Don't forget to share your very own 'souvenir coconut story' in cyberspace. Be sure to attach an image. No one has ever duplicated a single painted coconut (not even the one Lone John made for Mrs. Strontis', although she claims it looks just like the one Mrs. Leisurelle got). The nut photo gallery could well be the start of an 'Expressive Cocus Locus Art Movement.'
Next week we get to create a blue-shell crab shaped ceramic soap dish. Next month Hiller Millicent Mauve, well known in anthropological circles, who successfully crossed over to arts and crafts, presents the holiday workshop 'Create Your Very Own Flamingo Shaped Toothpick Holder.'
Class dismissed. Oh, one more thing. On my way to mark papers with a large, black pencil, I saw a very gross sight on the campus. Under a palm tree, next to a barrel of ice water full of green coconuts, a man sat with a machete. Students clustered around him as he sliced the top of a nut, stuck a straw in it, and handed it to the next in line. Now that's tacky!