Michael Oyster sprouted into his 20s with a delicate frame and a taste for cheap alcohol. With his gangly limbs and penchant for gin, he stumbled upon fame like fast cars find roadkill. No one would have guessed that by age fifty he would be one of the richest men alive.
His grotesque wealth was acquired through accidental talents. One morning in July, he was drinking his daily glass of two percent milk when an advertisement jumped at him from the newspaper, it simply said: “Come visit the Liberty Zoo!” A jovial cartoon monkey holding a banana like a gun accompanied the declaration, Michael felt intrigued and threatened simultaneously.
He hopped on the first train he could muster up $15 for (the money took him much longer to scrounge up than it should have) and ended up at a pair of gates guarded by massive stone flamingos. Briskly walking through the Liberty Zoo in his best suit and matching bow tie, exotic animals jeered at him from every direction. Rhinos winked at him from under lavish grey folds, brightly-colored birds displayed their plumage as if trying to impress Mr. Oyster, and great slithering snakes moved to flit their tongues defiantly in the air as he passed by.
While Michael experienced great joy from all the exotic creatures, none appealed to him so much as the young giraffe, Lula Bell. He became transfixed with the elegant animal. To the dismay of the zoo’s janitor, he lingered at her habitat as long as he could, forcing the man’s cleaning crew to stay a tad later than usual.
With a spring in his step and a dazzlingly white smile on his face, Michael left the zoo that first day and went to a convenience store, where he purchased dozens of disposable cameras. Over the course of the next three days, small town gossip would confirm that Michael took several thousand pictures of Lula Bell.
There were pictures of her stretching her neck to eat leaves at the bottom of tall trees, photographs of Lula going to the bathroom, pictures of children staring in awe at the spotted creature. As the days marched on, it deeply pained Michael to think of being separated from the gentle brute, so he emptied out his meager savings account and rented an apartment nearby that was owned by an elderly Jewish couple. While at first the duo was delighted to have such a seemingly nice young man on their premises, the pair was quite angry when during a routine inspection, they found that he had replaced the nautical wallpaper in his room with pictures of the blossoming giraffe.
Things went on in this fashion for several years. But then the couple passed away and left the apartment to Michael, because they had no children of their own. Michael missed having Sunday morning coffee with the couple, so he framed a picture of the two and hung it in his living room. After several days of mourning, he decided life was simply too splendid to spend it in sadness.
He created a jacket to wear to the zoo, which featured his favorite photos of Lula on the back of it, and had a seamstress in town embroider the words “Luv Lula.” Shortly after, he bought a ball cap and pair of shoes that featured beautiful black and yellow spots.
Michael was wearing this outrageous outfit on Thursday, January 15, 1995 when a woman at the Liberty Zoo took interest in him. She was wearing a red suit, they shook hands, chatted briefly, shared a churro, and went their separate ways. A postcard addressed from New York City showed up at Michael’s door the following Tuesday. The woman in the red suit owned an art gallery and wanted Michael to come share his work while the city’s socialites sipped champagne. Although he had never been particularly comfortable in social situations, Lula had grown older and he decided she was adult enough to tend to herself for a few business days.
The art opening was a tremendous success and art lovers from all over the East Coast came to purchase the strange giraffe photographs. It’s safe to say that no one understood why they were buying the art, but they did, and even went as far to hang it in their homes. This initial success is what funded Michael’s trip to Europe.
It was first in Spain where he spent many long nights roaming the streets and searching for inspiration. Cobblestone alleys occasionally acted as a cot when Michael had had too much to drink. He purchased a small house and was known for having lavish parties with themes along the lines of “Eucalyptus Lovers” and “Jungle Fever.”
More time passed, and more wealthy acquaintances sought him out. Not surprisingly, Michael had a natural eye for photography, and he regularly took pictures of strange things. He gained great riches by selling prints of ugly children gripping the strings of red balloons, tractors parked haphazardly in the middle of busy streets, and bar stools with wart-covered toads on top of them. The name “Michael Oyster” was recognized with respectable jealousy throughout several major continents, and it was accepted that he spent his days doing things that would be frowned upon if performed by anyone else alive. Although, if the masses were conscience of the fact that Michael was special, he himself certainly was not.
At local grocery stores he would peel back the lips of milk cartons, and greedily suck down the white gold inside. Disgusted stock boys would watch in horror, but after realizing who he was, would dismiss the act as a charming eccentricity. Likewise, sunny days would find him lathered in oil, perusing the streets of the France in the nude, with only his sunglasses clinging onto his gangly body. Children would point and snicker at his low-hanging fruit, while parents quickly swatted at their offspring, telling them to “hush.” Because of the public’s ability to quickly look the other way, it never became clear to Michael that he was odd. However, many sensed that even if he had known, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Michael was living in Italy when he took a lover. A slender woman with thin lips, she would compliment him on his scent at every opportunity. Frequently she’d ask him to “bottle himself” up for her. However, Michael found his scent dull, and at the very least found that colognes of all kinds made him sneeze hysterically. In fact, the scent the thin-lipped woman was referring to was just the aftermath of his morning ritual. Before leaving the house each day, he would slice a lemon in half, and rub its juices all over his body.
His lover, convinced he had created a cologne (simply because he was rich and had pull in the fragrance world along with every other world) gushed to everyone she knew about Michael’s new smell and when asked what it was called she simply said “Lemons for Oyster”. Men would buy lemons from the supermarket as soon as they came in but were too embarrassed to say so. Everyone believed “Lemons for Oyster” was so exclusive that they themselves could not find it in stores, and to admit to rubbing citrus on one’s self would be humiliating.
It was after several years of gallivanting through some of the most decadent cities in the world that it happened. A hazy summer day in Croatia, Michael was walking barefoot through the streets of Rijeka when he dropped his wallet. Stooping down, feeling the hot stones on his unprotected flesh, his eyes rested on a woman leaving a nearby café. She was tall and lean, wearing a dress littered with giraffe spots.
A lump formed in his throat as he gathered his belongings and suddenly felt the need to follow the spotted lady. He dashed across the road, muttering, “Excuse me” under his breath and heading full speed into oncoming traffic.
Almost instantly, a large vehicle struck Michael down, and before his eyes closed for the last time, he locked eyes with the woman in the giraffe dress and mouthed the word, “Lula.”
The art world was sent into a frenzy after his demise, and with no family or close friends to leave his estate to, it seemed his riches would go to ruins. But immediately following his funeral, a check arrived at the Liberty Zoo, written out in the amount of $877 million. The zookeepers were puzzled by the large donation, but elated nonetheless.
However, it did not go unnoticed by the staff that special care was to be given to the giraffe exhibit. Lula, by now living out her final days, was pampered with treats, new toys, and extra blankets during the harsh winter. Although no one could ever say if she knew what impact she had on Michael, it was believed that when they hung a plaque with his name on it outside of the giraffe habitat, she bat her great long lashes, and ducked her head low to the ground, as if bowing in respect.