The Execution vs. The Idea
Make Something No One Else Can Remake—Or Would Dare Make
A short story before the big story, then I’ll get to my point.
You seldom see really excellent, really old jewelry. If the stones are sizable and good quality they’re always being popped out and reset in newer pieces. The gold is always gold or silver or platinum so it’s always reusable. When people talk about the Hope diamond, they’re talking about a stone that’s been cut and recut and stolen and carted around by people for a long time.
However, you see tons of jeweled items created by the famous workshop of Gustav Fabergé. These are boxes and brooches and whatnot for the most part commissioned by royalty as gifts for royalty. The most famous of which are the tricked-out Easter eggs the Russian tsars gave to their tsarinas. Tastes change, but—unlike jewelry-jewelry—no one pops the gems off a Fabergé geegaw and melts it down for the gold. How come?
A rock hound friend tells me that Gustav and his son, Carl, chose to use only lesser quality gems. Flawed diamonds. Watery pale emeralds. But they chose to create pieces of such fantastic workmanship that the finished piece would always be worth more than the components. With all of Fabergé’s intricate casting, engraving, and enamel work, any piece would lose most of its value if it were broken down for the basic gold and jewels. Each Fabergé egg or box is worth more than the sum of its parts.
Keep that in mind as I tell you another true story.
In 1996 the aquarium in Newport, Oregon took possession of a killer whale named Keiko. If you’ve seen the movie Free Willy you’ve seen this whale. The whale had been the star of that 1993 film, and then been returned to languish at a Mexican aquarium in a tank that experts considered too small, in water too hot. There he developed a worse skin condition and began to look like a goner. Not that his pre-stardom life had been much better. In 1979, at the age of two he was captured near Iceland, named Siggi, and sold to an aquarium there. Under the new name Kago, he was sold to Marineland in Ontario, Canada in 1982. His skin lesions were already beginning, and he was bullied by older captive whales, and in 1985 he was sold to the aquarium in Mexico City and renamed Keiko. In 1993 he made his movie—then it was back to the little tank of too-warm water. Doomed by his dying skin.
Enter a friend of mine, a marine biologist who was part of the rescue team who whisked dying Keiko from balmy Mexico to frigid Oregon. I’ll call my friend “Bill”1 for his own protection.
You see, in Newport Keiko was a hit. Until his arrival, our only resident movie stars were Bruce Campbell2 and Ginger Rogers,3 and then she died. Keiko was a huge draw. Everyone paid to see the Free Willy whale, and the aquarium was doing big box office. All the trouble and suffering of Keiko’s captive life had reached a happy ending. Even his skin was clearing up. What did it matter the cost and the effort, if the whale’s story culminated in a happy ending?
That was the problem. As per my friend “Bill,” as told over too many beers at too many parties, the whole whale thang had hit a snag. Bill worked at the Newport aquarium but drove into Portland for weekends. Not to beat around the bush, but the whale masturbated. Constantly. Guys in prison call this “killing it,” and they try to jerk it so they splat a guard. Whales, well, according to Bill, Kieko’s favorite spot to hump was the underwater viewing window. It made sense. The window was slippery smooth. As per Bill’s account, the window was always crowded with kids. Entire grade schools of kids. Kids on vacation. Field trip kids. And they’d watch spellbound as the big whale wanger squeaked back and forth against the glass, squeaking and squeaking until it reached the inevitable twitching, geysering money shot.