Tag: BYU

Drawing Karen Part 2—The Portrait


Part two.

At the start of my Senior year, I thought having a mall job was cool, even though it was washing dishes at the food court. On my lunch break, I’d browse the record store and meander through Hickory Farms to get cheese samples. I’d drop by the fabric store to see my friend Tricia. She was slender girl with thick brown hair that fell to her shoulders in bouncy curls. She had an olive complexion and green eyes that sparkled when she smiled. Even though I was secretly attracted to guys, I liked Tricia a lot.

“Hey Trish, how’s everything at the Fabric Barn?” I said.

“Busy! Girls are getting their formals ready for the Homecoming dance at BYU. That reminds me.” She paused and priced a remnant of lavender gingham. “Are you taking me to see the Carpenters?”

“They’re coming?”

Tricia nodded. “Tickets go on sale Saturday morning.”

“Yes, I’m taking you!”I jumped and down. “Shoot, I have to get back to work. See you tomorrow at school.” My hand grazed the bolts of tulle, and taffeta as I dashed out of the store.


That night, I stormed in the house. “Mom! Mom, guess what?”

“You didn’t wreck the car, did you?”

“Of course not.”


“The Carpenters are coming, and I’m taking Tricia as my date. I’m going to camp overnight if I have to, and I’m going to need the car!”

“Lower your voice. Daddy’s asleep,” she scolded in a whisper. “Have you been smoking something?”


“Who’s this Tricia?”

“Tricia Thomas. You remember, her parents teach at BYU.”

“Oh yeah, but aren’t they Democrats?”

“What if they are?”

Mom clutched her chest, and let out a heavy sigh—as if she’d learned that Tricia was a stripper, or a Catholic. “Billy, haven’t we taught you anything?”

“Mom, she’s nice. She even told me that she likes guys that are artsy.”

“I’m just teasing,” she said. “What’s this about camping?”

“I want to be the first in line, so I can get front-row seats.”

“Can’t you just go early in the morning?”

“Not if people are lining up the night before.”

Mom shook her head. “It seems so silly—spending good money on a concert. You can listen to records at home.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am serious,” she said. “You know they’re going to play the same old songs.”

“Mom, they’re called hits, besides, it’s Karen!”


I did camp out all night—with a parking lot full BYU students who got there first. They had tents, blankets, and sleeping bags. I brought a pillow to sit on, a bag of Jolly Ranchers, and a Coke I’d smuggled in a root beer bottle. At that time, caffeinated beverages were strictly forbidden at Brigham Young University. I sat on my pillow at the end of the line. Scattered laughter, ghost stories, and Mormon hymns, echoed through the parking lot until 10:00 pm when the Campus Cops told everyone to shut up.

Hours of silent boredom. Green apple, grape or cherry. What if I drew a portrait of Karen Carpenter, and gave it to her after the show?  Maybe it would be a way to get backstage. Whoever is in charge might be impressed with my labour of love, or feel sorry for me—I didn’t care. The thought of meeting Karen Carpenter made me too giddy to rest my eyes. The hours passed and the students slept soundly. I gradually scooted myself closer to the front of the line. At the first hint of dawn, the asphalt became speckled with dots of rain. The sleepers woke as the rain turned into a downpour. Many were prepared with umbrellas. Some crowded into tents, and others gave up; giving me the opportunity to move even closer up the line. My pillow had become a burdensome sponge. I was soaked, shivering, and needed to pee. I popped my last Jolly Rancher and reminded myself that Karen was worth it. When the ticket office finally opened, I handed the cashier a wet twenty, and scored two third-row seats.

A week before the concert, I purchased some Canson paper and fresh chalk pastels from the BYU bookstore. Then I sequestered myself to my bedroom until the portrait was finished. I pushed aside all my homework and even missed an episode of The Waltons.

“Look Mom, what do you think?”

“It’s the smart one from Charley’s Angels—Kate Something-or-other,” she said, looking over her reading glasses.

“It’s supposed to be Karen Carpenter!”

“Why don’t you draw someone else for a change? Marie Osmond is pretty, and she’s right here in Provo.”

I realized that my imperfect portrait would have to do since I didn’t have time to make another one.


IMG_2251Tricia and I took our seats early. I stored the rolled up portrait under my seat.

Tricia was studying her ticket stub. “Who is Steve Martin?”

“Who?” I said.

“The guy that’s opening the show?”

“I’ve never heard of him,” I said.

Steve Martin, a goofy man with salt and pepper hair, took the stage and made us laugh non-stop for forty minutes. The audience gave him a standing ovation. We had no idea that two weeks later, he’d host Saturday Night Live, and become a huge star.

Richard Carpenter was the next to appear on the stage. He thanked everyone for enduring the rain, and then he took his place at the keyboards and started to play. Then suddenly, as if a cosmic portal had opened, Karen appeared like a heavenly apparition. Dressed in all white, she sparkled in the spotlight. The audience cheered.

“It’s her!” I said. “She looks amazing!”

“She’s thinner than me!” Tricia said.

Wearing a rhinestone-studded culotte suit, and white leather boots, Karen Carpenter moved confidently about the stage, singing her latest single, “A Kind of Hush.” Her stage presence was polished and elegant. The Carpenters performed their greatest hits flawlessly. Richard played the Warsaw Concerto. Karen performed an impressive drum solo, and had five costume changes, but it was over too soon.

We stayed in our seats after the lights came on.

“Tricia, see that guy on stage with the dark glasses and bushy sideburns?”


“I’ll bet he’s in charge.”

I grabbed the portrait and approached the stage.

“Um, excuse me,” I said to the man on the stage.

“Yes.” He looked down at me suspiciously. “What’s up.”

“Are you part of the crew?”

“I’m the road manger,” he said.

I unrolled the portrait. “I was wondering if you could give this to Karen, or maybe let me give it to her.”

He rolled his eyes, looked at the portrait, and back at me.

“This way,” he said grumpily. “But only you!”

I motioned for Tricia to join me. Karen and Richard were already greeting VIPs and radio contest winners.  Richard turned to us and noticed my rolled up paper. I didn’t rehearse what I might say to to Richard Carpenter. It never occurred to me to draw him, let alone speak to him. My mouth hung open.

“Great show,” Tricia said, breaking the awkwardness. “That Warsaw Concerto was wonderful!”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” said Richard.

Karen finally turned to us.  Her silky brown hair fell loose and straight on her shoulders, as if all the curl and hairspray had been brushed out. A lock of hair fell in her face and she combed it back with her fingers.

“Hi, what’s your name?” she said, reaching for Tricia’s hand.

“I’m Tricia,”

“Nice to meet you, Trish. And you?” She reached for my hand and shook it firmly. I could feel her jewelry, loose on her slender fingers, almost sliding off as our hands parted.

“I’m Bill,” I said. “I made this for you.” I handed her the portrait and watched her unroll it.

“Wow Bill, this is really good.” She said my name. “You’re quite talented.”

“Thank you for being so amazing,” I said. “You’re so beautiful. I love your music. I loved your show.”

“Thanks! We have a lot of fun. Can I keep this?” She rolled up the portrait tightly and held it up like a diploma.

“Yes, it’s for you,” I said.

“My Mom will love it. She can put it in her collection portraitures.” She raised her brows dramatically and fluttered her lashes like a diva. Then she looked right at me with her big brown eyes and said, ‘Thank you, Bill. Thanks for being a fan.” I wanted to stay in that moment forever.

We said goodbye and backed away as Karen Carpenter was swallowed by the crowd.

Karen Sketch

The following week I made this sketch when I should have been studying for my Math test.

 Drawing Karen Part 3 — I’ll Say Goodbye to Love

Drawing Karen Part 1 — Monster’s End



Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.






Drawing Karen Part 1 — Monster’s End

This is Part One of a three part series about my early obsession and love for Karen Carpenter.
Before Karen Carpenter, I drew Dracula; I drew monsters. I drew the Wolf-man, Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, copied from monster magazines. As I sketched, I would imagine them coming to life to torment the bullies who were tormenting me at school. Charcoal on snow, chalk on black paper. Each stroke, a slap or a slug. A blending of fears to wash over my enemies, like it washed over me, each morning when the bus swallowed me up. “Faggot,” or, “Big fat queer!” came with a shove or a smack on the head.

“Lunt the cunt,” stood on its own.

At the end of each class, I would stare at the second hand of the clock until the bell rang. I’d imagine my monster friends beside me as I darted out the door. This never prevented an attack; it just got me to the next class.

One Saturday, I was at the neighbourhood Seven-Eleven, buying some candy and a magazine. Brother Briggs from church, a handsome man, much younger than my Dad, saw me leaving the store.

“What have you got,” he asked, pointing at my rolled up magazine.

I proudly revealed my latest copy of Famous Monsters. After browsing a few pages he shook his head in revulsion.

“This is the work of Satan!” he said, handing it back to me. He examined his hands for signs of contamination. “You shouldn’t be looking at this filth. Get rid of it. Burn it!”

No one was going to burn the Mummy Madness issue, which I bought with my own lawn mowing money. I just stood there.

“See you at priesthood meeting?” he said, getting into his car.

“Yep,” I said, and bit a chunk off my red licorice rope.

Later that day, I was at the mall with my Mom and younger sister. A poster at the record store advertised the Carpenters in concert, at Brigham Young University. The tickets were only three dollars, so I bought two and invited my friend Pete.

On the day of the concert, my Mom dropped us off at BYU’s Marriott Centre. We took our seats which were on the second-to-the-last row. Pete brought his hunting binoculars and we watched the place fill up with BYU students wearing their Sunday best. After the opening prayer, the lights dimmed to black. Then, out of a drumroll, a voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Carpenters!” The music began and the stage lit up.

Long ago, and oh so far away,

She glided across the stage in mint green.

I fell in love with you/

Before the second show.

Graceful and flowing, but sometimes her movements were clumsy, as if to convey, “I’m a real person. I’m just like you.” Maybe she was like me. Maybe, somehow I could find some kind of value in my own life; discover a talent or gift that could outshine my imperfections. Her brother at the keyboards, in a suit white as pearls, dimmed in Karen’s radiant cast. The boys in the band, like cardboard props in a school play stood easy in their supporting roles. Nothing out shined Karen, except for the occasional flash of light reflected on a swaying saxophone. Her velvety low notes swirled around the arena like chocolate filigree, and found me on the eighty-ninth row, smitten, clutching the binoculars so tight the image shook. Song after song, she enthralled me. I wanted to be closer, on the front row and I didn’t want the concert to end.


We lingered after the lights turned on. BYU students, solemnly headed for the exits. Pete and I made our way down to the main floor and watched the roadies wind up cords and pack instruments. We sat in two empty front-row seats until BYU security came to clear out the stragglers. Pete and I evaded them by hiding behind a big piano case that had a Carpenter’s logo stenciled on it. From there, we saw a small crowd forming around a back-stage door. I had nothing but my ticket stub. Pete reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and a chewed up pen. I grabbed it and wiggled myself into the crowd. When the door finally opened, it was Karen, beautiful and radiant, as if the spotlights were still shining on her. The Homecoming Queen shook Karen’s hand and presented her with a gift; probably a Book of Mormon with her name engraved on it. Everyone was taller than me. I waved my crumpled paper in the air to get her attention. She reached over someone’s shoulder and took it from my hand. “Here you go,” she said, handing the paper back. She kept Pete’s chewed up pen to sign more autographs. I trembled with excitement.



Scan 1

Vampires and monster magazines faded into Karen Carpenter.  Each day, after school, I’d play Carpenters records on a hand-me-down record player in my room. I would sing along as my freshly sharpened pencil struck the page in wispy, circular strokes, building layer upon layer of what would be Karen’s hair. I loved drawing hair. Time blurred out. I escaped into a fantasy world where I was tall, slender and had lots of friends. I pretended that I went to a school surrounded by palm trees, somewhere in California, where I could actually learn stuff; not just survive the day.

One Sunday after church, Brother Briggs confronted me in the foyer.

“We miss you at Scouts Bill,” he said.

“No you don’t,” I replied.

“We really do! Why haven’t you been coming?”

“I’m bad at sports, and I have more important things to do.”

“Like what,” he asked. “What could be more import than sports, I mean Scouts?”

Not getting called names, I thought.

“Drawing,” I said. “I like to draw.”

“Draw what?”


“What stuff?” He pressed.

“Umm, lately I’ve been drawing Karen Carpenter.”

He glared at me.

“She’s pretty,” I said, “and I like her voice.”

“Bill, you’re in the eighth grade. You’re much too young to be thinking about girls,” he said. “There’s plenty of time for that after your mission.”

“But she’s special,” I said, “She makes me feel good, she makes me feel like…” I couldn’t find the right words.

“But Karen Carpenter isn’t even a member of the church!”

“Maybe she’ll join,” I said. “She’s got a Book of Mormon.”

“But she’s not the Saviour, she didn’t die for your sins, and she can’t lead you to Heaven.”

“I don’t expect her to,” I said. “Thing is, she gets me out of Hell every day.”
Shocked that I said the word Hell in the Lord’s house, he looked around to see if anyone was in earshot.

“Idolatry can lead to more serious transgressions.” He fumbled in his scriptures, looking for the right verse.

“I gotta go.” I said. “My family’s waiting.”

“She’ll let you down some day.”

I pushed glass door open. “You wait and see,” he said, as the door behind me clicked shut.



I drew this long after the story took place. After obsessing on the hair, I’d rub graphite all over her face and erase highlights with my kneaded eraser.

Drawing Karen Part 2—The Portrait


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