No, that's not fair. That's a gut reaction. Clark is right; he has a dirty job that someone's probably got to do.
Trophies from the hunt are a big business, and Clark has a way to get a second one from every kill - not just a stuffed snarling, furry thing, but its skull as well.
He'll be glad to clean and polish it up for you, using elbow grease to get rid of bear grease, taking out every tooth, cleaning around in there and gluing them back.
A bear skull costs $40 to $80, depending on size. Squirrels, otters, rabbits, skunks and turtles are all $25 a head. A skull mounted on a pedestal with its mouth open, that's $35 extra. There's an additional charge for adding missing teeth. For $10, he'll replace a mountain lion's canine with a bear tooth.
"People want to sell me bear skulls for parts," Clark said. He said he didn't want to get in trouble with the law, which prohibits possession or commercial use of body parts of any animal identified as being endangered in New Jersey. Bears, however, aren't.
Clark, who also works as a contractor, said he was not quite breaking even after refinishing 70 or 80 skulls in his first five months, but figured he should be after the fall hunting season.
So why heads?
Clark said he always liked bones when he was little and used to collect the ones he picked up while hunting. He was a childhood fan of natural history museums. And he wanted a business he could operate out of his home.
Besides, Clark believes there is demand out there for skulls.
Terry Ehrlich, publisher of Taxidermy Today, agrees. He said the market for skull refinishing was growing because recently there are more hunters and fishermen, more wildlife and more taxidermists.
"People are just wanting novel things, such as skulls for interior decorating," Ehrlich said.
Despite the 55-gallon drum in his back yard, Clark seems like a regular enough guy - short hair, clean clothes, suspenders over a T-shirt, a former straight-A pre-med student. A family man who built most of his house and has it decorated with yellow ribbons, wooden geese, cross-stitch pictures and a really tall bear. He's a hunter, and he said he and his wife ate everything they killed or else gave it away.
He used to do some work at Rib's Taxidermy in Turnersville, and saw a need for skull refinishing. He is not a licensed taxidermist - he doesn't stuff anything - but most of his clients are. They hear about him in publications such as Taxidermy Today and send him skinned heads.
"It's overall quite unique," Ehrlich said. He said there were a handful of skull refinishers around the country; only three or four advertise in his magazine.
"What it boils down to is the individual taxidermist has to stop and go through a fairly involved process to do just that part of it," Ehrlich said. ''Sometimes, it's easier if a person is doing just that. . . . There are some specialized skills in the cleaning of skulls, bones and putting them back together the way they're supposed to be."
Greg Rib, owner of Rib's, used to turn skull jobs away. "It's just a time- consuming thing a lot of guys don't want to do," he said.
But he has no doubt that there's a market for them. Some hunters, he said, need clean skulls so they can be measured accurately - if they have bagged a record bear, for instance. Then there are the ones who want them as decoration.
Clark has his own style of decorating. The neat workshop behind his house on West Branch Avenue in Pine Hill has camouflage skirts hanging under the counters, hiding supplies.
The windows have curtains in a complementary camo. A stuffed fox squirrel holds the business cards. Neighbors call it the Dead Zoo.
Skulls are all around - sent via United Parcel Service from as far away as Maine and California - in various stages of repair, some with jaw fragments stored in eye sockets. Two fly swatters, one red, one blue, hang by the sink, near the baby bottle his young daughter left behind. Besides his three children, Clark has two cats and seven turtles. None of which is a future specimen, he said, believably.
Clark pays his 16-year-old neighbor and baby sitter, Brandi Hewitt, $10 or so per skull for cleaning. After she boils them, Clark heats the skulls in a laundry-detergent solution for a couple days, then soaks them in peroxide overnight. Then he sprays on a sealer and airbrushes them a whitish yellow.
"I'd like to find the baboon to show you. It's really neat," he said, rummaging through a box of skulls ready to ship out. "Here it is. I'd like to get ahold of some primates. They're so human."
He paused to reflect on his previous lives, as a pre-med student and a salesman for Nabisco. "This guy could've done what I was doing there," he said, his hand still affectionately on the baboon skull.