The things I learn ...
Rambling about the art of making little magical moments.
Last night I was doing my typical saving the world one smile at a time routine and I had the pleasure of meeting the Assistant Chief of EMS of Washington DC. Now, there's a true hero. Our conversation quickly turned to me admitting my shame of making a mockery of real heroism by pretending to "save the world with a smile" antics. After all, this man has risked his life saving citizens in life and death situations most of his life. I'm just a clown with a pen.
To add to his greatness, his wife is a teacher of 22 years. She currently is dedicating her services to teaching underprivileged children in the inner city district of DC. There, my friends is a true super hero. Imagine, this woman has the opportunity to do whatever she wants in the education world and she has chosen one of the hardest paths anyone can imagine. That my friends is pure servitude.
It gets better. Their son is a fireman in the same firehouse of his father. The Assistant chief's father was a fireman and his great grandfather helped organize the fire department of some comminity I fail to remember. These guys are true first responder legacies. An entire family history of heroes.
It was a delightful and very interesting time with them. Yet, I felt silly as they seemed so much more interested in what I was doing with my smile making abilities. I continued to attempt to turn the conversation towards their remarkable life saving services and duties, but they seemed to shrug it off as if what they do in life is nothing at all. Remarkable people.
It's families like this that teach me so much. It's families like this that keep me hungry to reach out and give more of myself for others.
In other news.... Ty The Art Guy is now bonded and Insured.
I guess that means that if a kid should swallow one of my markers or someone I draw suffers a life threatening paper cut, I'm covered.
I also have background checks available.
It was after closing hours. The guests were settling into their rooms. The parks, the restaurants the attractions were closing up. The wash down crews and maintenance teams were starting their shifts. Cast members from all walks of life were making their routine stop at the Gas station before they commuted home. I myself am waiting in line to pay for my milk, cookies and a tank of gas.
In front of me is an older man in his formal waiter attire. He's probably in his sixties. He has about five of those "certified foreign language badges on his name tag. "Luisao" it says on his name tag. He, like many cast members is joking with the cashier. They laugh, he leaves, I make nothing of it. I pay for my after work snack and gas and make my way to pump 14.
On pump 13 is Luiso. We both pumped our gas listening to the piped in pop music. He looks up at me and says "This music, it's pathetic. It has nothing." I agree with him and reply that there is no thought in the lyrics. There used to be real meaning in the lyrics. He stares at me and gives me the international shrug of approval. "In my car, I have Pavarotti." Was his reply. I told him all I have in my car is the jazz radio station. He smiled.
He then asked if I was a cast member. I said no, I'm just a caricaturist at some of the resorts. I quickly followed it up with a prideful, "but my wife is a chef in Epcot." Then he told me he was a waiter at Monsieur Paul. " I serve happiness. I've been there 30 years. Which restaurant does your wife workh at?"
"The Garden Grill, in the Land Pavillion. I like that you serve happiness, I like to say I draw smiles for a living. " he smiled at me warmly and chuckled.
Luiso put his pump handle back into the pump and stretched his hand out for me to shake as he said "We are lucky people, you, your wife and I, yes?"
"Yes, Luiso. Yes we are. Travel home safely. There is much more happiness to make tomorrow." I shake his hand. Put my pump handle up and as I'm getting into my car, I hear Pavarroti drive off into the night.
*first draft, pardon the boo boos.
I’m pretty certain that in any industry, occupation, or what have you, that we have all encountered a few customers whom seem to be lacking in intelligence. Now sometimes this perception of ours can be unjust. After all, Einstein said that you can’t compare how well a monkey clibs a tree to an elephant climbing a tree, or some nonsense like that. My point is, sometimes people may appear to be dim witted in our view, but they most probably have redeeming values of greatness in skill sets that we may never see. Think about it, most encounters with our customers or guests are slivers of moments in comparison of the big picture of life itself.
I’ve had the pleasure of drawing a plethora of people from all walks of life in my career as a street artist. Recently I was drawing a crowd of smiles at a museum fundraiser. A gala event full of acedenmic types. Professors and u oversight department heads from all over the state were at this event. The casual uplifting banter was delightful and on a cerebral level that I was the moron. I may have been the most happy enjoyable Moron. These brainiacs have ever encountered. Who knows what stories of my idiotic perceptions they may be telling their colleagues at the water cooler. It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess.
There have been times to note that I was the cerebral heavyweight in the room. Ponder that for a moment, yes, me being the smart one in the room. It’s a sad state of humanity when a street artist is the goto guy for wisdom. One particular event that this occurred happened a while back. I was a young adventurous art guy drawing smiles at state fairs around the country. It’s tough work to be a “carney”. There was decent money to be made, but tough work. The travel from state to state amounted to long days on the road. For me, my long road trip traveling days were done in a 1972 Volkswagen Westfalia. No air conditioning, leaked a little oil. Sometimes the left speaker would go out. This vehicle is still by far my favorite former vehicle I’ve ever owned. Not for its mechanical ability, good god something was always breaking down on it. This big white shoebox design was my favorite vehicle because of all the memories and adventures I had traveling from one state fair to another.that Volkswagen bus took me to almost all the national parks in the western states. It was a sorta safe shelter in some horrendous weather. On those long empty highways between lower badlands of Utah and the civilized cities of Salt Lake, it was my companion. My only companion on the road. Very much like the volleyball was to Tom Hanks in that movie where he was stranded on an island. My bus was my Wilson.
My Volkswagen I shall now name Wilson and I were working the fair circuit one year. This was the last year of drawing crowds at state fairs for me. I felt it coming. It was burnout. We’ve all experienced it in one form or fashion. I was ready to move on to something else, like a nice art director job. Which actually I did move into. More on that later.
Where was I? Oh, yes, I was suffering from the early stages of burn out while working the state fair circuit as a caricature artist. A Carey who drew crowds of smiles. What a wonderful time it was up to the burn out. Then it got ugly. Just everything seemed to fit wrong with me. It was me, not them, not anyone, but me. My attitude plummeted to the desire to be a hermit. Actually, I guess I kinda was a hermit, traveling in my little Westfalia home on wheels. Setting up art displays at state fairs. Working long hard hours from sunrise to late after midnight in most cases. It was tedious work. The Carney life is a hard life. It’s fun for a little while while you find amusement in being set up to a guy who has a conspiracy theory for everything. Crazy Carey’s set up their booths on your isle can prove to be brilliant entertainment t, but it to begins to wear on you. When you catch yourself buying into the conspiracy theories about the Aliens from outer space and John F. Kennedy not being assassinated, but just going back to his home planet, then it’s time to get out of the fair circuit.
Not that that actually ever happened….
I remember one fair I was done. My soul had a spiritual departure from my body a week before this particular moment and the fair had another three days to go. I was at my caricature stand watching the crowd of people flow back and forth down the vendor isles. The a family of people stopped in front of my stand and just starred at my displays. Mind you, have you ever seen the TV sitcom “Night Court”? There used to be this hillbilly family that would show up in the court from time to time. YouTube it, you will find them. Well, this family in front of my stand was the living parody of that hillbilly family. Straight out of the ozarks. The mom, the dad, the kids. Maybe mom and dad were sister and brother. It could have been possible.
They just stood there looking at my samples and signage. I had front view samples. I had side view samples. I had prices for front views. I had prices for side views. I had prices for couples and groups. I had prices for color or black and white drawings. I could understand how this was overwhelming for these folks. I would make attempts to interact with them. I’d ask questions like “Can I help you?” Or “What would y’all like to be drawn doing in your caricature?” Or “Y’all have the same ears, y’all must be cousins.”
Crickets. Nothing. Natalie. Absolutely no response or acknowledgement that I was there. They just kept to the,selves very quiet with an occasional whisper to one another. Until finally the one that I presumed to be the father or Older brother, or both came up to me and asks. “Hey, what’s a front view?”
This was the exact moment that I knew it was time to quit the road. I paused and looked at his blank stare and I calmly replied “two eyes, a nose and a mouth, sometimes a chin, pending on the subject.”
One of my favorite moments drawing a crowd of smiles came way back when I volunteered to draw at Grief camp. This was a camp for kids who had lost one or both parents through illness or tragedy. It was a wonderful operation run by some fantastic people and backed by the Camp Fire Girls organization. I was always flattered to be a small part of it. Each time that I performed at this event I would pack up after I was done and go to my car. There inside the car, all alone, I would burst into tears. After several minutes, those tears would run dry and I would smile a little, then chuckle at some of the things the kids would say while I was drawing them. That is when I knew it was safe to drive without the tears to muddling up my vision. Driving home I would recount the conversations I had with these resilient young people.
The kids were allowed to come back to camp every year until they were eighteen. So, many of these kids would come every summer. They loved it. They loved how special they all were to one another as this unique group at a summer camp just for them. You could tell who the first year kids were compared to the veterans. It was so obvious, and rightfully so. Imagine losing your mom and dad in a fire or auto accident when you were only twelve. The first year kids always had a counselor with them as their buddy throughout the entire camp. I learned later that this was by design and brilliantly orchestrated by a team of young well-trained councelors.
I was brought in on the last big night of the summer camp to draw a crowd of smiles at their big camp dance. It was a street party celebration on the tennis courts. I was always surrounded by kids asking questions about art and drawing and being creative. The common ones, such as “How do I know what to draw?” “People are so hard to draw. Aren’t they?” and “When did you master this?” I would always answer while drawing someone at the same time.
“I’ve just learned to see differently.” Id tell them. “I like to start with the eyes. ”
“Because the eyes have it. And yes, people can be difficult, but some of the most wonderful things in life are people.”
And so on.
One year, one of the these kids I drew was a first-year girl, about twelve, who had just lost her both of her parents to cancer, within a year of each other. She had then been adopted by her mother’s brother, who had gotten her involved with the great folks at the El Tosoro Grief Camp. To her this was a scary, wild, out in the middle of nowhere place and she just wanted to be alone, it was her natural comfort zone to be withdrawn deep inside herself. Her body language showed she couldn’t cave into herself enough. Her counsellor/camp buddy was a young college student who was working on her masters in Child Psychology. She was a future super hero. She did all the talking for this young girl. I drew as gently as I could, careful to make my lines clean and simple. I didn’t want to clutter this up or make anything confusing to the eye. I wanted to make a simple clean line drawing of this young girls face. She was so sweet, and pretty with her huge brown eyes and soft features. She had soft golden-brown curly hair that rested on her shoulders. You could just tell by looking at her that there was someone special inside her shell. She used to be someone who was a walking embodiment of sunshine and joy.
I had finished the drawing and before I showed her, I noticed that we had drawn a crowd of quiet, smiling on-lookers of kids and counsellors. They all seemed to silently give me a look of “well done” so I turned the drawing around to show my little subject and her camp buddy. There was a paus, then the councelor smiled and winked at me. Then the little girl looked up with some encouragement from her camp buddy. She stared at the drawing, then slowly her eyes got a little bigger and brighter. A smile started to grow on her face. A warmth begin to fill her face. A little tear escaped the corner of her eye and she said “I look like my mom.” I got a big hug from her and a very enthusiastic handshake and hug from her camp buddy. She said to me In a whisper in my ear “That was the wedge we’ve been waiting on all week to crack her wall open. Thank you.” Then they walked off to have a what I assume a wonderful little visit.
I went on to finish the night drawing more kids, not too many first year kids, but a bunch of bright, brilliant and resilient young people who are all tackling enormous personal tragedies together. It was one of many remarkable nights drawing at El Tosoro. I’ve drawn a lot of special groups in my four decades of drawing smiles, but never have I been so personally rewarded with my work than drawing at grief camp. That little girl changed me, more so that I helped her. She helped me in ways I will never be able to describe. So thank you young lady. You were my wedge into my wall around my heart. I shall continue to make this world a better place for others as often as I can. I think I owe a large part of that motivation to you.
Through Social Network a very good friend asked her audience this question. “What was the best thing that happened to me last week?”
My response to her question was this little random tidbit. This little moment was a bright little surprise moment in an already wonderful road trip. I have little moments of greatness with stranger while drawing a crowd of smiles, but this one caught me on my day off. I love those moments the best. Let me know what you think after reading this, I’d like to hear of others and their experience of making a special little moments throughout their day. Have a wonderful week.
“What was the best thing that happened to me last week?”
I had a wonderful walk on a paved walkway through the Everglades National Park with my wife yesterday. A very simple “Lowest common denominator public educational walk”. Now mind you it was such a small path in such an enormous place that you honestly don’t expect to see much. A few grasshoppers, a few buzzards overhead. Lots of circled fish tending to their nests in the water below. Occasionally we’d encounter a few good size alligators. (6-8 ft). We would be tipped off about their existence from a very excited young person that had ventured up ahead of us.
Seriously, our expectations of wild encounters of greatness were mild at best. Yet we didn’t seem to mind. It was something on our life lists. To share a walk in the Everglades with each other. Check. And it was lovely.
Time with my wife is always my better choice of spending my time. Rarely does anything top it for either of us, but something on this walk did. I enjoy meeting intelligent strangers in life. I seek them out like trophies. I never expected to meet a violin maker from Gainsville, Fl. The only violin maker in Gainsville I would suspect. He was from a South African Village with no electricity. Dutch heratage. Got his masters from University of Michigan. Was a lawyer in his younger days. Looked like the Owner guy in Jurasic Park.
I found him on this little scenic walk falling behind his group of friends. He was looking overheated so I gave him my water. He was very pleased that I did so. We chatted, smiled and laughed a little at each other’s humor. He was there in the Everglades enjoying a weekend visit with a new owner of one of his violins. A Cuban twelve year old boy from Miami. He and his family, (his dad the professional photographer, mom and little sister) we’re hosting the old violin maker and his wife of over fifty years to a weekend in South Florida. It was a neat little group of people there. There in the middle of a walk on a public path in the Everglades.
From Ty Walls:
After four decades drawing smiles I often encounter remarkable people. I've learned to create little special moments for people from all around the world with my simple smile-drawing skills. But sometimes, life creates little magical moments for me. This blog is my attempt to share them with you.