I don’t think it’s considered stalking when it’s not about sex. I mean, yes, there are some sex-crazed guys out there stalking, I’ll admit. But that’s not at all the way I feel about the cartoonist Michael Ridion. I’ve been reading his strip since I stopped teething, and when I found out he lived right here in Baltimore and came downtown to the Enoch Pratt Free Library nearly every day—well, given the fact that I really know him after reading him all these years, how could I keep away?
It’s true that I’ve been observing him for going on three weeks now, since before the start of this very last spring before the calendar rolls over to 2000, since the Ides of March actually, if that doesn’t sound too ominous…that’s just the first weekday I could do it after hearing his interview on Charlie Rose the Friday before, which was pretty high-profile for a cartoonist, even if it was just Public Television. Over the weekend, I decided I had to check it out, and I was there first thing that Monday morning and back most weekday mornings since. Hey, it’s a free country. Hell, it’s even a free library. I have a right to come in here and stand at any bookshelf I want. To look at any patron I want. As long as I’m discreet. I’ve learned when Michael Ridion comes in. I know what tables he likes to use. I know which newspapers he picks up. I can even tell you if he picks his nose (once, very subtle, behind a tissue). These are observations. Facts I’ve accumulated. It’s not stalking, see. It’s journalism.
Whenever Michael Ridion grows tired of reading, he doodles in a small leatherbound notebook. Sometimes he does little character studies of those sitting around him. More often, he sketches the various women on the library staff. He’s nearly as circumspect as I am, but not quite. I don’t think he’s noticed me; he certainly hasn’t drawn me. I’m good at dodging his glances.
Some days he works out various hand movements in the notebook, for he frequently complains to interviewers that he “can’t do hands worth a damn.” I think he’s too hard on himself about that, though maybe he just says it to gain our sympathy, the way that pirate in his strip likes to do.
Using a collapsible silver spyglass that belonged to my grandfather, I can wedge into an open space in the stacks to get a closer look, especially from the P-Q aisle in Reference. I can see perfectly whatever he’s sketching. Believe me, there’s nothing wrong with his hands. His hands are fine.
When he seems particularly distracted, he frequently draws the same four images, either separately or in an elaborate tableau: a wineglass lying on its side, a plate of half-eaten spaghetti, a man in a business suit whose head appears to be a lump of vaguely formed clay, and a woman’s face.