Ty, the Rambling Artist
The art of making drawing smiles and making connections, anywhere in the world.
I'm just now getting my land legs. Yesterday the travel day started at 5:00 a.m. I was one of the first crew members debarking the ship. We landed at midnight. My luggage beat me home. The rest of the travel day kinda goes the way as you might imagine. Gate change in the last hour to a terminal across the airport. As we were taxiing to the runway, my notice of gate change chimed in. Then when I unpacked my easel from its own case, padded by dirty clothes, it had a broken leg.
Today was a day of rest and reflection. I drifted in and out of naps. In addition to the entertainers I met on the ship, I thought about a friend of mine and his jazz trio. I imagined that a few of my best event entertainers friends were on the gig with me. My friend and his jazz trio, being the center of the groove that became the soundtrack of my reflective thoughts. Wouldn't it be great if I could book a whole menagerie of my talented friends on a cruise ship? I know from my experience that I could have used a dozen other caricaturists. I was that busy. My lines were that long. Just think of the fun and the joy we'd make. It would be a beautiful time.
I imagined that the greatest sleight-of-hand magicians that I know where casually roaming the ship in and out of crowds waiting for the next seminar. They would be entertaining before the big shows, sharing laughs, making smiles, and creating the wonder of joy with their well planned "small performances." I could see, in the background, the plethora of street performers I know wandering around, playing casual games. Creating acts of crowd participation moments, thus causing childlike joy in everyone around them. I imagined walking in and out of the many evening events and seeing my musician friends setting the mood, creating the groove that flowed from deck to deck on the ship. And of course, I remembered the exact moments of interaction I had with the entertainment crew. Lee, the Cruise Director, Monroe, the Entertainment Director, and the rest of their teams. The brilliant group of outgoing young people I met from all over the world. Entertainers who were not only coordinating all of the events on the ship but also facilitating joy, memorable moments, and most importantly, fun. I watched Lee and his team battle off the boredom of more than 3,000 people for 8 days at sea, and 4 days in and out of ports in Hawaii. Imagine, if you will, the dangers of boredom setting into 2500 senior citizens, 500+ younger generations and a few hundred youths. The lack of things to do with near complete internet silence on a cruise ship, day after day at sea, is a boiling pot of mutiny. The job of fending off such a sea monster is a battle that I do not recommend for the weak performer. Perhaps that is why I imagined my own favorite entertainers that I know. Thinking of them gave me a little extra strength. I called upon that extra energy within to handle and manage the expectations of hundreds of people waiting for me to begin my "Draw-a-Matic" routine. These people waited several hours before I even showed up for my shift. Often times, I felt as if I failed miserably. In reality, I know that I did quite well and gave all that I could provide during my allotted time. I can only draw so many smiles in an hour. "Five to seven minutes a person" I would tell them. That is about as quick as I can comfortably draw for about 4 hours at a time. I have always been outnumbered hundreds to one every shift I worked on the ship. I was humbled and proud and slightly horrified by that continual popularity.
It was a brilliant gig, by the way. Artistically I had game. In regards to likenesses, I was remarkably accurate. This is the equivalent to an MLB pitcher hitting the corners of the plate in all his innings. Except for the day that we encountered rough seas. 8-10 ft. waves. The ship was moving from side to side, up and down pretty well. I felt as if I was just letting the waves push the marker across the paper. Still, I seemed to have satisfied everyone. Mingling with the guest of the cruise, I was delightful, engaging, and found my unique skill of connecting with people from all walks of life, way above my natural levels. I have such a high input strength in my personality that I am genuinely interested in everyone I meet. On the ship, I treated each guest, crew members from all over the world as if they were my lifelong friends. It's what I do when I'm on stage. And similar to Disney, on a cruise ship, you are on stage at all times. I had people asking me to draw them while I ate dinner. "All the world is a stage," Shakespeare said. He was not kidding.
On this 2 week cruise to Hawaii, I drew a couple of honeymoon couples. One couple eloped and got married in Hawaii. Their moms were greatly disappointed. Their fathers seemed to be relieved, they said. I felt so honored to be a small, but memorable part of their adventure. I drew many anniversaries. The most extended anniversary was a 55-year celebration of love. I drew a gay couple from British Columbia who celebrated 20 years together. They were one of the early gay marriages in Canada and one of the first gay couples to adopt a baby boy. They turned out to be the youngest grandparents on the cruise. Having received their first grandchild just months before the journey. (In their 40's) I like being a part of each and every one of those couples celebrations. I know for sure that by being there, getting to know them in that short time together, my encounter with them becomes a valuable part of who I am. I am grateful beyond comprehension for those moments. I love drawing couples in love. Long term relationships, short term relationships, they are a delight. I find the second or third attempts to love even more encouraging. They have found each other, and that is a remarkable story of trials and tribulation from both of them. They are, as John Pryne says, "The big door prize" to each other. Love wins. Love is love is love. And I get to commemorate their love in a little simple light-hearted sketch. How fortunate am I?
Every person I encountered, regardless of just visiting with them or drawing them, Taught me so much. Hawaii was my 49th state, so most often one of my better ice breakers in conversation is, "Where are you from?" It is a given that I can insert some form of universal relation by saying, I've been there. Or I've been to a place near there. Everyone will have something to say about where they are from. From there, the conversation becomes a light banter of humor about our shared experiences. Most often good, a few times not so proud, but that just opens the door for a little fun.
I want them to gain trust in me. Humor helps achieve that first step for to be okay with the drawing. Heres a fun fact; all humans are more alike than a select few would like us to believe. All humans love something, someone, or someplace. All humans smile. All humans laugh. All humans enjoy life. Some more than others. Even the ones that can't seem to see the light or the fullness of their glass will have moments that brighten their lives. If they have sat in my chair and I am allowed to draw their caricature, chances are, I'll add to their brighter days.
In some cases, I may have even created a crack in a wall they have built around themselves. This crack I've created in their darkness allows some other light in at a later time. A good smile can plant a seed of happiness to sprout elsewhere. Even if we are not around to see it, it will happen. I enjoy that opportunity immensely.
In my days of advertising and being a designer of corporate brands and rebranding campaigns, I became a keen observer of organizational cultures. To me, it was a requirement to understand what I was interpreting into a brand fully. A design. A logo or mark. It has become something of a part-time hobby of mine to sit and watch a cooperate culture when the opportunity arises. My contract for this opportunity to draw smiles on this two-week cruise had a last-minute glitch. I was to have guest quarters on the ship, but due to guest bookings, the only room available to me was a crew cabin. Smaller, blander, less desirable to save a descriptive here. I was given two options. One: I was to take the crew cabin and continue with the contract as planned. Two: I could have taken the check and aborted the opportunity to draw smiles on this particular cruise. Obviously, I can make jokes and a slight sound argument for taking the money and run. In this time and place of our world, I suspect many reading this will call my choice stupid for NOT doing so. To them, I provide this reasoning for why I said: "No problem, I'll be happy to have the crew cabin."
First and foremost, Hawaii is now my 49th state to visit. Alaska is in my target sights. Maybe I’ll strike a golden opportunity and be a part of an Alaskan cruise in the future. Anything is possible. Secondly, going back to my fascination with corporate cultures. By accepting the crew cabin, I was allowed an inside observation point of the heart of the cruise industry. I saw things. Great things. The impressive professional interaction of a team. An excellent group. This crew clearly new the mission. They understood what was at stake. They had a clear comprehension of their role in the task. Together, they all performed their job as expected. They lived in a very tight spaced community. A Cruise Ship. A small luxury hotel in the middle of the Pacific. And it's raining. I never heard anyone complain about nothing more than the rough seas three days coming back to LA. That and missing family.
This whole "part of the crew" thing was fascinating. Fun Fact: the crew on this particular ship represented over 85% of the world's countries. I bet Lee, Your Cruise Director has those actual numbers and countries off the top of his head. He could do a song and dance number while he gave you that information. He's that brilliant.
I had conversations about what I do for a living with the engineers. I ate the majority of my meals with people from all over the world. Eating I'd hear a dozen languages in conversation. All at once. And all of them knew English. I barely understand English. I'm from Texas public schools. Now I know people from half the worlds countries. (I don't know everyone in the ship). I do know the painters in the elevator. I would be in my gig clothes riding with these guys, playing nothing splotched out of their buckets and onto my stylish attire. The fire control guys with buckets and boxes of who knows what. My steward from Bali. Great kid. Some name I can't pronounce. Tipped him every day. A few times, I added a watercolor postcard. The sales ladies from the Ships Mall. They invited me to a midnight crew celebration in the Dance Club on the ship. I looked at them, smiled, and said: "I'm as old as your grandfather. Goodnight kids."
This experience opened my eyes. First hand I was part of the world nations. Working together with a Common Goal. To give the guests the best time of their lives. I learned so much from this crew. Particularly the entertainers. Lunch with the comedians was priceless. I asked hard questions about what they do and how they do "what they do." And I got reliable, serious answers back. It was a professional entertainment business lunch. I've already stolen some of their material. Musicians from Croatia, Argentina, Bulgaria, Australia and exotic places like Omaha Nebraska, just to name a few. All of this would not have happened if I had a guest cabin. I've learned long ago that taking the road less traveled is often the pathway to the greatest adventures. This experience confirms it. Wow, what an adventure this was. Yes, I'll go again if I can have a guest Cabin. One with a balcony. On my way to Alaska. I'd like to experience that trip now.
The last two weeks. Stories of me walking from Ho'okipa Beach to Paia. (3 miles) Only to be picked up by one of my favorite guest couples from the ship. They asked if I was lost. I replied, "Yes, but on purpose." Those that know me, know I love a good hike. I spent the day with these two. They both were on their second marriage. They are retired Orange County sheriffs. He was a veteran Marine Recon Leader. He now mentors young recon Marines. He loves to draw and keeps a sketchbook. Picture this, me the chronic asthmatic, former advertising creative director, the epitome of "wimpy civilian," hanging out with this guy who could kill with his thumb. A real action movie bad-ass. A complete Teddy Bear. "Call me, Doc." He said. I know caricature artist named Doc. Then we started exchanging stories. We both came from opposite sides of life and instantly became great friends. We traded sketches. I loved our time exploring Hawaii, and I can't wait for them to meet Real Crystal instead of #FlatCrystal. See my Instagram or Facebook page for the photos of #FlatCrystal adventures. People treated me like we have known each other for years. It's truly something magical when strangers from around the world become friends. The kind of folks we would be delighted to see each other on future Journeys.
I traded sketches from our sketchbook with a Mom and daughter from Denmark. As the cruise went on, guests would recognize me and shake my hand, tell me stories of when they met. How they met. Why they are on the cruise. What is great. What's not. I'd get all this, and all I wanted was the pepper. Stories of the joy of entertaining people with my talent. It's what I do. I'll miss the musicians from all over the world. They embrace the value of engaging people. Making positive experiences. I'll never forget those conversations. They are worthy of my Disney Passes. I can't wait to see them. They should audition for Disney. This ship has the best teams of smile makers in the Carnival Company. I created smiles with the watermark of smile makers in Cruise ships. I would draw a crowd of smiles with this team anytime. Anywhere. (Provided we go through the proper channels of agents and front office people, of course) The happiest hardest working man I ever met, Monroe, the Entertainment director. He took a risk to have me be a part of his team. I believe we achieved great success drawing smiles on the ship. I was the first caricaturist to be on the Splendor. I'm happy we increase the guest's experience with art. Speaking of Art. The Gallery hung all of the auction items all over the ship. It was like an eclectic collector showing off. Just wonderful.
And a bonus. Hawaii. I finally experienced Hawaii. I did not do any of the planned excursions. I felt that it best that I return with real Crystal, not #FlatCrystal. Together we will share the greatness Hawaii. I did, however, rent a bike in Honolulu and biked through downtown. I feel like I got a robust taste of this beautiful city. I rode six miles from the port to Diamond Head National Park. The last mile went from Zero elevation to 200 feet in elevation. A severe challenge to this flatlander from Florida. Then I hiked to the top of the outer rim of Diamond Head. That would be 700 feet in elevation. So many stairs. Turns out to be the most spectacular view of an ocean shore I have ever seen. It was worth the exhaustion. Then I hiked back down. Rode back to the ship. Albeit, more wobbly on the return.
I saw a large heard of green sea turtles on Ho'okipa beach. I hiked from the port in Hilo to Rainbow Falls. About six miles. On the way, I visited with a local as he prepared his outrigger canoe for a morning paddle. My hike to the falls took me through several parts of the town that others did not see. I collected reference sketches and photos for future artworks. When I arrived at Rainbow Falls, the weather was not ideal for the namesake effect. I went up on top were to the river met the falls. I hike about an hour up the river. I hopped from rock to rock among the rapids. Rushing water at my feet. Nice.
I walked back through town and shopped for souvenirs for the family. I was not able to go to shore in Kona. That day became a sunny watercolor day. I created a few watercolor postcards. Sketches and a few large (9x12) watercolors. For the first time in years, I got sunburned. I tan well. This time my Chickasaw blood did not protect me. One day I will learn to use sunscreen. I am satisfied with Hawaii. I'll do it with real Crystal. There's a cruise to Hawaii in January, our anniversary month. (* Hint Hint.) We will be celebrating 26 years. She should get booked on the ship as the Haiku artist that she is. See her website ( www.thevintageverse.com <http://www.thevintageverse.com/> )
Finally, I must say thanks to the agent of record on this adventure. Rich Brown, http://richcaricatures.com <http://richcaricatures.com/> an exceptionally talented caricaturist himself. He made all the arrangements for this adventure to happen. He handed me an opportunity of a lifetime, and I can't say thanks enough.
I look forward to being sent on a Cruise gig again. I could quickly fill my calendar with such fulfilling gigs. Like I said earlier, anytime, anywhere.
I am settling into my routine here in Orlando. I am prepping for my next gig drawing smiles. A wedding in Key West this weekend. My June and July and August are pretty open for engagements and bookings. For those that are interested. I'm open to proposals. Let's change the world one smile at a time. Please, and thank you
I have been known to wine that I have written a hundred “last Chapters.” And, I seem to find myself on some other new remarkable encounter with so another extraordinary ordinary person. I could make another short book of short stories about notable moments with ordinary people, but I must finish this one first. With that I think I’ll share with you the moment that I realized I was here to do this simple thing, to draw smiles, for a reason.
I was recently performing at an event. Caricaturist and storyteller role. I draw smiles. I was there to draw a crowd of happiness at a Bat Mitzvah. The father is a City Leader and a brilliant orator. His wife, the genius child's' mother, is also an artist and a brilliant visionary herself. The family is full of brilliant geniuses. All of them excel in all their streams of life. It is always a joy to share little moments of laughter with everyone in the family. Families like this one, my work becomes my honor. I love these people. From the immigrant Slovakian Great Grand Parents. Jewish immigrants were running from persecution to the generations of youth dancing and playing on a foundation of heritage. This family not only met my travel per diem as expected, but they spoiled me like a Diplomat. My accommodations at The Southernmost House Hotel were simply exquisite. Here is their website https://www.southernmosthouse.com I loved reading the Hemingway letters on the wall while eating breakfast there. Did you know; I’m speculating by observations, but did you know that e more he ranked, the more slanted his handwritings became on the pages? There were ending at a 45° angle on some letters. Great stuff.
Now that work is over, it is time to play. I’ve learned the cost of adding the kayak to the top of my 27-year-old suburban (’91 Last year of the simple barn door box backed suburbans.) I’ve learned that taking an extra day on the way home and paddling in the natural areas of the place of work is minimal. The kayak is light and is no more weight than a passenger. There are no fees to “putting in water.” The only fuel you need to purchase is what you eat. Live bait is always a luxury option. I like to buy bait from the small independent vendor, rather than the marinas. It’s a character thing.
So off I go, adventure time in the Keys. The greatest fishing, diving, snorkeling, playing in the water, in the North American continent. Again, I am an extraordinarily thankful and blessed individual. I love drawing smiles, and nature. I like to fish, I can survive under a hot sun. And I can’t wait to get on the water in my Kayak. I got trail mix and sandwiches and water, lots of water.
Not much different than Santiago in Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea,” I too had the adventure of a lifetime. Well, only there was no great catch of a legendary fish, nor was I fighting off bad luck, but I had the adventure to date since I began kayaking. In the video attached you’ll learn that it so happened to be an air show at the Key West Naval station at the same time that I was to enjoy my day of smooth, silent paddling in the Key West waters. This video attached is also the last communication my wife would have from me for the next 20 hrs. I was to be home by 11pm in Orlando. I got home at 3 in the morning. Here’s what happened….
There is a video posted on my Instagram page. That relates to all of this.
If the link does not work, on Instagram I'm TytheArtGuy. You'll find it.
Here is what happened after that video was posted. I decided to go with it and accept that on occasion today there would be loud disruptions of fast fighter jets showing off throughout the day. Like, Duval street with people during festival time, but different. The waters here are so perfect that I considered it a welcomed coincidence. The air show and my tranquil all day paddle in the keys. An excellent paddle adventure I had up and in and around these mangrove Islands. Paddling in the shallows gives you a perfect view of life on the ocean floor. A variety of grasses and sea life, types of coral, invertebrates and unusual creations. Sea cucumbers, snails, nurse sharks, young barracudas, rays, and small damsels, and snappers. The list goes on. Then the current trench that snakes through all of these keys is so deep, and well defined by both sides towering walls of coral. Divers go up and down these walls of coral reefs all day long. I’d position myself from the trench wall and the current and wind in such a way that I’d drive across the flats on top f the channel containing walls, hoping to catch a barracuda snacking in the flats. And as mentioned, the roar of powerful fighter jets scream through the air.
As luck would have it, by the time the Blue Angels were to appear and do their show, I drifted into a chain of mangrove islands that just happened to be in the flight path of the Blue Angels show. I was not aware of this until it was too late. You see, I parked the kayak under the shade of the mangroves. Seeking shade from the 3 o’clock sun is a big deal. You take what you can get. I could hear the Blue Angels screeching and flying around at the air show, off and on. I got out my phone to see if I could add more video to my wife feed. She would love the air show, more than the kayaking. I wanted to show off since she decided not to come with me on this trip. I wanted her to see what she was missing, so I got out my phone and started taping a video. I selfied and told her how much I missed having her on my adventures with me. I showed as much as I could of my beautiful natural surroundings. I bragged about everything my weekend had been. Brilliant, joyful, kind, and beautiful. And then I heard the Blue Angles again. I started panning the sunny blue sky with the phone, searching for them. Then in an instant two Blue Angels flew over my head. They came from my direct backside overhead at such a high rate of speed and so low that I was pushed by their pressure cone and capsized my kayak. The pressure zone (Wikipedia it) hit me so quickly that I had no idea. It was like Zeus snapped his fingers, and then I was flailing my arms and legs, splashing about, searching for grounding and not drowning the 4 feet of water. The bottom of the bay was soft. About up to my knees in soft sandy decomposed ocean suet. The crystal clear sea water was now a milkshake of soft sand, micro bits of decomposed plants, animals, shells and coral. I dropped my phone and frantically began searching the deep muck I stood in with my hands. Ducking my heading this murky soup to reach the bottom with my hands. Thus causing more murky soup mixing to the point, it looked like the beginning of a pancake batter. I accepted my loss and bellied myself onto the kayak. Drenched and in shock from “how did that happen? What Happened? “ moment. I reached for my paddle. What paddle? That's right, I also lost my paddle. I frantically searched for it. There was no sight of it. The surface and the murky pool of muck I was surrounded had hidden it from me. I was so frantic that I capsized a second time. This time it’s all on me. I should have known better. So I bellied up on the kayak again and this time stayed on my belly and began to paddle back to where I put in, just off of A1 about 2 miles away. This paddling by hand return was much slower than I wished for and by the end of the day, I made it back to the shore. I found some guys fishing under the bridge and asked them if I could send a message to my wife. They laughed after I told my story and handed me a phone. I sent an email because the number for Crystal in my mind is “Hey Siri, call Crystal.” I have now written all the significant phone numbers on a piece of paper and laminated it and put it in my wallet. Just because. After the message sent saying I’m okay and on my way, I felt relieved and began my 8-hour journey home.
Meanwhile, Crystal never received the message of "I'm okay and safe and traveling home." At some point, we’ll get her to pipe in her side of this adventure. And while I’m on the subject, I want to make it clear that none of this would have happened had she accepted her invitation to join me on this trip. The agent event went out of her way to get us a prime Key West Weekend getaway room. The event and the room were at the Southernmost House Resort. The room was a second-floor room that overlooked the pool and the ocean from the southernmost round current. My shower had 4 massaging shower heads. I know, she really missed out of a weekend of relaxing bliss. Not to mention she could have had the biggest “Told you so” on video had she come with me.
As I was saying, she has another perspective on this story that I should let her share. I will say this till her input arrives, that she was distraught when I got home at 3 am. 4 hours from my expected time of arrival. Not angry, but upset because I died, kind of upset. Oh, mercy I felt horrible for her, and how could I have thought the message never came through to her that I was okay? I always assume so much, in favor of the woodside of things. She does too, but as I progressively became late, so did her assumptions of my fate take a nosedive into the dark depth of possibilities. Most probably scarier than the deep channel trench that snakes through the hundreds of keys. Like I dais earlier, her perspective of this adventure something to hear. Together we are hilariously in love. Our tales of our lives together intertwine like a 4 part harmony song. It's one of the reasons we are so good at our “Vintage Verse” performances. Vintage Verse is an event act where she writes Haiku’s for your guests on an old typewriter and me, if not drawing Caricatures, will put a little ink drawing to your haiku, known as Hagia.
When I did capsize and finally accepted my safety on the kayak without a paddle, I laughed. I pondered a few things the Rabbi told me the night before this moment. We laughed, and he gave me some advice on gaining and learning patience. How appropriate. And of course, Crystal will claim I’m just clumsy. I got smiles to draw, y’all have a beautiful week. Please and thank you, Ty.
Lesson 9: Everyone has a Story.
For me, one of the most important things about life is my ability to give back to the people that occupy this earth with me. I don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to donate or even hundreds of hours to donate but I still try to do what I can to brighten the existence of some that need a hand up. I’ve been there and I’ve received help from kind friends and even kind strangers. I’m not sure where my family and I would be today if we hadn’t had some help, encouragement and even a few handouts along the way. I think that a big part of being happy in life is the knowledge that you are helping others. It’s how we’re made. We are social creatures and there is a great peace that comes from helping out our neighbors. I think that if we dig deeply enough we can all find someone to help. For me, I have always felt a certain kinship toward the homeless. Maybe it’s because I myself have almost been in that same situation. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through enough hardship to know how easily the easy life can slip away. Or maybe it’s because of Mr. Cooper. Mr. Cooper is a man I never met, and yet one who has inspired me for decades. Even though I have never seen his face, I picture him in my dreams. I wish I knew where he was and that I could tell him how much he had affected my life. I first “met” Mr. Cooper back in the early 1990s. At the time I was living in Fort Worth, not far from a large train yard. When I needed to get away from my work and clear my head, I would ride my bike through my neighborhood toward downtown, around the train yard and back. I was always a little fascinated with the graffiti that certain communities would paint on train cars. There are some great stories behind that as a form of communication so I like to photograph some of the cars just to study the art. On one particularly hot summers day, I was riding around the unhooked boxcars when I noticed something on the ground. As I drew nearer to it, I realized that there were a couple of items. One of these items was a spiral bound journal and the other was a dusty, well-worn King James Version copy of the Bible. Everything was tattered and worn but you could tell that it had been well loved and well used. I picked up the items, dusted them off and thumbed through them, unsure of what I was holding in my hands.
In my hands I was holding a scattered mess of a man’s journals. His “Good News Bible, very well used by the way. A bunch of torn pages from a beat up old, again, very well loved sketchbook. Or books. Who knows. Pages littered the train yard. I found a voter’s I.D. card from Rockport, Illinois. I found an E.Z. Tax form with an address that turned out to be local homeless shelter. I looked at one point, but nothing. One social worker did remember him, gave a kind and heartfelt description of him. She new he was taking classes at the library to learn to read and write. That’s where most of this stuff came from we figured. He disappeared one day. Just never came back. That happens all the time for her. It’s part of the job.
So, thats the beginning of the story for Mr. Cooper. His is the story of one simple idea and a homeless man who helps others by bringing kindness into the world. As his confidence grows, so does his idea itself. And then, one day, something amazing happens. Anyone, at any age, who's ever nice for someone, will walk away with the feeling of self growth. It's a story to inspire you to welcome that idea, to give it some space to grow, and to see what we can all do with a little kindness. There’s more to his story, I’ve got catalogues of his materials. I ‘m thinking that will be a completely different book, providing support for such a project should develop. In the meantime, it’s filed and saved and back-up for another time. I do have a couple of photos of the original works from a small show a did about Mr. Cooper back in the day. You may have to zoom in on poor quality images to get the words of his works. I suspect the originals are all lost, probably thrown away by the original owners because they look like a homeless guy did them. I’m going to believe a few of them survived and they remind people who see them that something bigger than us all is more important than whatever the current situation may be.
When you really think about it, the power of a story is remarkable. Everyone has a story and they seem to all be remarkable in one way or another. This is my favorite lesson of all. Please and Thank You, have a wonderful blue moon weekend.
Here are the first two slides to help introduce mr. cooper to the internet community. I suggest zooming in on these so that you can read, or attempt to read his “First Essay" and his “prayer Hand” .
The writings from the “Prayer Hand”
"This - is - a - praying - hand - Jeese - spoke - to - all - the - men - in the - world - no - matter - what - races - color- in - our - crew - he- said - i - am - the - way - the - truth - and - i - the - life- no - B - all - come - to - the - father - but - by - me - a - men - thease - are - the - words - of - Jeses - jest - read - nt - from - the - Bible. “
The writings from the “First Essay”
April 19 - 92
"William - Earl - Cooper - A speech - on - December - 4 - 19 - 92 - I - came - down - town - to - fourths - works - public - library - and - started - taking - lessons - learning - how - to - wright - i new - how in - three - day - cent - then - I - wrote - Christmas - speach - New - Years - Speech - Lincon - Birthday - speach - Valentine Speach - Speach - Martin - Luther - King - speach - The - next - speach - I - write - will - be - spring - time - speach - to - me - spring - time - mean - windy - and - rainy - someday - sun - shine - and - hot - the - next thing - is - the - Lord - is - sending - plenty - of - whether - down - here - on - earth - to - make - the - grass - grow - so - people - poor - can - get - a - job - cutting - grass - making - money - amen - the - next - thing - is - good - friday - that - the - day - the - lord - die - and - rose - Sunday - witch - is - Easter - God - Bless - all - of - us - Amen - The Ball - Park - Jobs - started - Friday - that - will - put - the - homeless - men - back - to - work - 1993 - it - will - stop - the - street - walking - amen. "
Please and thank you.
Somehting that is never lost on me is the realization that my wife and I changed course, jumped off the cliff, switched gears fairly late in the game. I know that friends of ours thought we had lost our minds. Many of them were settled into careers with a vast field of stability laid out for them well into retirement. Our decision to do this never struck me as odd because of our age. Something I’ve known for most of my life is that it’s never too late to do something new or to find your passions. Yes, we’re here for a limited time but the expectations of where we should be at any given point in our lives is merely a product of society that thrives on “norms”. When you’re working at Walt Disney World, a lot of people tell you their dreams. A very common one goes something like this: “Someday, when I retire I want to move her and be a Disney bus driver!” I never knew that there were that many people who wanted to drive buses at the most magical place on earth until we moved here. And make no mistake, we have many many bus drivers who did exactly that. They retired and had the opportunity to start a “second career” They moved to Florida and now transport guests all over Walt Disney World. But if that is really your dream, is there anyway that you can make it happen sooner? What if you never get the opportunity for that second career? I suspect for some, that would be okay. Being a Disney bus driver is not as big of a dream as they sometimes feel when vacationing here. But for others, they’re quite serious. What if they never get that chance? What is making you put off your dreams? Is there anyway you can overcome those thoughts that are stopping you? Your never too old to find your passion but eventually we all run out of time. What is stopping you from doing it now, or at least sooner?
One of my favorite stories from the easel was that of Herb and Irma. Herb and Irma were vacationing at Walt Disney World and, like so many others, they were doing it to celebrate something very special - their 45th wedding anniversary. Herb and Irma were both in their late 60’s and as vibrant and fun as any 30-year-old I’ve ever met. They had met in school and had gotten married in their early 20s. They had lived a typical suburban lifestyle, raised two kids, of whom they were quite proud and had ended up becoming exactly the empty-nesters that the world expected them to be. They spent a few years traveling and enjoying the extra income that comes from not having kids at home but they could never quite get past the feeling that they needed something more to occupy the whole that had been left by their kids moving out. And so they decided to volunteer. Giving time to other people was surely going to be more fulfilling than what they had been doing. Their passion was an had always been young people. When their own kids had been young it was their house that had served as the respite for their friends who needed to get away from their own circumstances for a while. It was their house that always had the good snacks and the parents willing to accept anyone. Everyone was welcome in their home and once everyone had moved on to college and lives of their own, Herb and Irma felt a little lost. So when they started looking for opportunities to fill their hearts and their days, it didn’t take long for them to find the organizations that help to take care of kids with challenges and they jumped in with both feet. As they started working more and more with many of these young people, they learned something that was very sad. While we like to think that kids who have severe health and/or physical challenges are always well loved and cared for by their parents, who learn to cope with the situation, the truth is that many times, parents can not handle the toll that these kind of circumstances put on them. Kids with these intense special needs are all too often abandoned in hospitals and homes and become reliant on the state for their care. Herb and Irma started spending their time going into these places and taking care of these kids who had been abandoned - in many cases to live their shortened lives being cared for by strangers. As they grew attached to these young people, this began to bother them more and more - the idea that these children did not have homes or parents or any of the protective environment that their own children had grown up taking for granted. And so, instead of just thinking about it, they decided to do something about it. Herb and Irma begin to adopt some of these kids, kids who in many cases had not much time left on this earth, just so that their last remaining weeks, months or occasionally years could be lived in a real home, with parents who loved them and cared for them. Every year, Herb and Irma brought their family (however it looked at the time) to Disney World. About this time, a young woman, Herb and Irma’s biological daughter Janna, I learned walked up pushing the chair of a young man who looked to be about 12. He was in a wheelchair and could barely move and could not speak. His condition caused his heart to stop so often that their was an Automated External Defibrolater attached to the back of his chair and I learned from Herb and Irma that they had sometimes had to use it more than once a day. But when they brought him to Walt Disney World, something truly magical happened. He relaxed, he occasionally smiled and not once, while on property, had they ever had to use the AED to restart his heart - and they would stay for weeks at a time. Disney had truly become a magical place for them and their family. Sometimes dreams do come true. I had to finish their anniversary caricature with tears in my eyes. And as I thought back on this extraordinary couple later I thought about how much of their impact on the lives of these kids meant and how, if they had gone with the “norms” of being empty-nesters, these miracles would not have happened. They pursued the desires of their hearts and, as a result, gave peace and happiness to some who might have never known it otherwise. You are never too old to start something new. You are never too old to pursue your dreams but you also should do it as quickly as possible. You never know how the impact of you doing exactly what you were meant to do will change the world.
As with anything we do in life, finding our purpose and our passion can be a daunting affair. with a road that is seemingly endlessly fraught with potholes and steep ledges - just waiting for us to fall into or off of. I make no secret of the fact that what moved us from Texas to Florida was nothing more than desperation - a feeling that we had nothing to lose. I didn’t start drawing at Walt Disney World because, at near 50, that seemed like a great career move. I did it because it was a way to survive. And at first, I will tell you that I was probably not much different than many caricature artists who have a skill and use that skill to create income for themselves and their families - and make no mistake, that is a noble and necessary objective. But as I was nearing the half-century mark, I was anxious to find something more in my work. I had always known that it was possible and that there was something more to be gained from these moments I had with people who sat down to be drawn at my easel. I have always looked at each and every encounter as a potential to make a connection with another human being. I knew it was possible for that few minutes to be more than just me drawing a cute picture, but I had no idea how much more until my wife and I made that crazy decision to, not just fall off that proverbial cliff, but to jump off, arms flailing and screaming with joy the entire way down.
I think a willingness to sometimes jump off the edge is what separates those who find their passions from those who do not. It’s just a key element, being able to do an about-face and change course when you need to. I’m not advocating tossing everything away and blindly leaping into an unknown void with no support system. If you’re going to jump, you have to have something soft to land on, especially if you’re going to jump holding hands with people you rely on you. For us, those people were our sons.
Since the great recession hit and advertising budgets had been slashed and corporations had cut event and entertainment budgets back to almost nothing, my well of work had virtually dried up. Had I been on my own, this wouldn’t have been nearly so scary . I had faced homelessness at times in my life, although then I was young enough to consider myself an artistic troubadour, untethered by the chains of society, but when you’re married with a family, that mindset doesn’t work. I was tethered, happily, to a wife and two boys. My wife and I had to find a way to survive. We were on that road with the potholes and the ciliffs and I think we always knew that we would need to eventually jump, we were just looking for that soft place to land.
My wife, feeling like she had reached a place in life where she was unemployable, had, as so many people do, returned to school. Her efforts to hone a sellable skill landed her in culinary school, something she had always wanted to do. Another great thing about having nothing to lose is that it eliminates a lot of excuses you make for not doing the things that you’ve always wanted to do. This was a great opportunity for her but as she was in her 40’s, it was also a scary time for her. She was filled with the self-doubt that all of us experience and, although she learned quickly and was one of the top students in her class, her time there was almost immediately overshadowed by the requirement that she get an internship before she would be able to graduate. It was this task that plagued her nights and never left her consciousness during the day. She hadn’t really worked in years. Why would anyone take a chance on her when the world was full of young, hotshot 20-somethings to hire. And so when she was walking through the halls of her school and noticed on the bulletin board that recruiters from Walt Disney World were coming to conduct interviews for their culinary internship program, she knew that this might be her shot. She came home that night with the news. You may be wondering what it was about this opportunity that made her feel slightly more confident. You see, she had a history with Disney. In 1989 as a Sophomore in college, she had been selected to participate in the Walt Disney World College Program. This program took selected kids from around the globe and brought them in to work and live at Walt Disney World. My wife was an advertising major at the time and worked in the Magic Kingdom, selling Mickey Mouse watches on Main Street USA. She was also able to take marketing classes from Disney executives and even obtained her “Ducktorate” degree - “graduating” with the highest honors from the College Program. And when she left, she did so reluctantly. She had fallen in love with the company and how they operated but college could not be put on hold - her parents wouldn’t hear of it. And so she returned to Texas, vowing that someday, she’d fine her way back. And then life happened. She got out of school and took a job in Fort Worth, she met a great guy, had two kids and lived life. That dream of working for the Mouse seemed like nothing more than a childhood fantasy. So some 25 years later when she saw that flyer on the billboard at her school, I believe that her reaction to it was much deeper than “Hey, I bet THEY will hire me”, which is how she broached the subject with me. I just think, that like so many desires that we have, she didn’t realize that her soul was pulling her toward this for reasons she didn’t yet understand.
To sign up for an interview with the chef recruiter, Crystal had to go online and fill out a Culinary Program application. Of course, on this application, she noted that she had once worked with the company and had received her “Ducktorate” degree and that she’d always wanted to return. She thought that they would soon call her and set up an interview during the time that they were at her school - more than a month later. Disney did call but it was not to schedule an interview for the next month - it was to schedule a phone interview for the next day. Her suspicions had been right, she was a viable candidate for their internship program. The next day Crystal sailed through the phone interview, answer endless questions about the safe temperature of various foods, something called “HACCP” (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), which I don’t really understand to this day, and “What does sage taste like?” An abstract question she quickly answered with, “Thanksgiving”, making the recruiter on the other end of the line chuckle. When the call ended, she was relieved and hopeful. She suspected it had gone well. Her suspicions were confirmed a few days later when she received the email titled “Welcome to the Walt Disney World Culinary Program”. This took a huge weight off of Crystal’s chest. It was only September and the program wasn’t to start until May. Her biggest fear about obtaining an internship had been allivieated an it was only September! She had 8 months before the internship would start.
During this time, we often talked about the future and what it looked like. She would be gone for 14 weeks, living in Disney housing and the boys and I would hold down things in Fort Worth. We would miss her but we would survive and she would then return and get a job somewhere in the area, hopefully providing a pillar of stability that we so desperately needed. But as the months wore on and we found ourselves edging closer and closer to that cliff, the conversations started to shift from “What is” to “What if”. I remember the day that she first mentioned the “What if”. It was a few months before she was to leave and we had learned that our home was, most likely, going into foreclosure. Like so many, we had been unable to make those payments for the past few months and, while the bank, had been patient for a while, it looked like we were going to have to let it go. “What if we jumped off the cliff?” Crystal had posed to me as we were driving down a busy street. I knew what she meant but was unable to really process it. Crystal was the sane, responsible one in our family. If SHE thought it might be time to jump, things must really be bad, and they were. The truth is, that, while it seemed in the moment like we were discussing some insane ideas, we were edging close to the cliff and instead of falling off, we were realizing that we could jump on our own terms, and Crystal had spotted a soft place for us to land.
Within weeks, the plan had gone from an abstract “What if” to an actual strategy. Crystal would go to Orlando in May and live in the housing that Disney provided. I would stay behind with the boys and allow them to finish out the school year. In early June, the boys and I would throw what we could into our car and either store or sell the rest and we would head to Florida. When we got there, we’d find a place to live and I would get a job with the company that provides caricature artists for Disney - just until I was able to build up my own business again. Disney had become our soft spot on which to land.
Crystal had also hypothesized that having my best friend, Al in Florida would help cushion the landing as well. Al is a friend who is more like a brother. We’ve been through a lot together and he was even the Best Man at our wedding. Shortly after we married, he had returned to his Miami roots and was working as a caricature artist in that area, and doing it quite successfully. He was yet another lifeline we had to hold on to if we were going to survive the landing.
It’s important to note that, at this point, we had not even brought this up to our teenagers. We wanted to know (as much as it’s possible to know) how things would work. Our boys had veto power over the idea. Sometimes you have to make big life choices and your kids just have to live with them. That is a fact, but this was not one of those times and we knew it. We didn’t HAVE to do this and if they were completely opposed, we would have slammed on the breaks. I’m not sure they every realized they had that power but they did. We had always attempted to protect them from the troubles that we had faced as much as possible but when it came down to this moment, it all hinged on their reaction. And so we called a “family dinner” one night. Crystal made their favorite dishes, just to ensure that everyone was happy. When the meal was finished, Crystal was the first to dive in. “So how would you feel about moving to Orlando?” (she was never one to beat around the bush). The boys sat silent for a moment and looked confused. She then continued, detailing out our “soft landing” plan. We knew that the biggest obstacle was going to be our older son, Collin. He was a high school baseball player, heading into his sophomore year. We knew he’d be tough sell. Luckily, Central Florida is a great baseball area and there were many great schools with great teams, including the High School that was currently sitting at #2 in the nation. Crystal knew this an threw it in for good measure. By the time she finished her spiel, she had made quite the case for adventure. The boys both agreed. We were leaving Texas - something we’d thought we’d never do. This was happening!
The time from that point forward seemed to race by at break-neck speed. There were so many things to do, things to sell, things to pack, things to store and so many friends to tell (we quickly had to come up with a “short version” of the story). And then there were the goodbyes. We had grown excited about the future and hopeful that things were finally turning around but we had lived in Texas for more than 40 years and had developed some roots that ran very, very deep. If we described this time as “bittersweet” then it was because of the goodbyes and I’m not sure that until Crystal got on that plane, I would have deemed the bitter to be worth the sweet. But it was happening and I knew that coming to terms with the leaving was a key part of being able to enjoy the new. It didn’t help that when the day came for Crystal to fly out to Florida and begin the first phase of the adventure, she was a nervous, excited, sad mess. The tears flowed freely as she said goodbye to the boys and I, knowing that she wouldn’t see us again for 6 weeks, the longest we had ever been apart. And when I stood in the security area of Love Field in Dallas and bid her farewell, I was a little sad too - not only because she was leaving but because I knew what laid ahead and what I was about to leave behind.
The next six weeks were a whirlwind of goodbyes and getting our truly treasured items into storage and letting go of the rest. There was little time to worry or do much of anything. During this time, Crystal started working as a culinary cast member at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort. She immediately liked the people she worked with and was relieved when her roommate, Claudia, turned out not to be a 20-year-old sorority girl from LSU but a 40+ year old wife and mother who, like Crystal, was pursuing something new. Crystal’s primary objective was simple: Do well enough that she could get hired on permanently. That meager hourly income and the insurance benefits that came with it were going to be the backbone of making this work and she knew it. The stakes were high.
Many people, when relocating, have the luxury of scouting trips. Learning the area, finding a place to live. We did not. Not only did we not have the money required for any of this, but Crystal was working so much and did not have a car with her in Florida, meaning that scouting the location was next to impossible. The boys and I were heading out, not even knowing where we would end up once we were in Orlando. It was a little scary but it was mostly exciting. Once we had wrapped our heads around the idea of moving, the initial worry was superseded by plans and anticipation. On the second Sunday in June, we woke up at crack of dawn, put our duffle bags, television, art supplies and dog, Crockett into our Honda Fit and headed east, letting go of what had been and head toward what would be. And what would that be? It would be whatever we made it. At this point, I didn’t have all of the answers but I was positive that we would survive and maybe even thrive.
The trip to Florida was mostly uneventful, filled with a lot of music, some typical road games and moments of me being the only one awake. The boys were excited and got noticeably more so when they saw the first palm tree along our journey. For me, our objectives were clear, get to Orlando, find a place to crash and see my wife. Nothing else really mattered beyond that. We arrived in Orlando on Monday afternoon and we were road weary and in need of a shower. I found a hotel near downtown that allowed pets and would charge us a weekly rate. At the time, I had no idea how safe the surround area was (it wasn’t!) but I knew that it was a place to spend the night. We took our bags and our dog in, cleaned up and laid around a bit. The hotel room was small but it was clean and were here. In this adventure we knew that we were going to have to learn to appreciate the little things - because there might not be big things to appreciate for a while. It was going to be a difficult journey and we knew it. All of this raced through my head as I stood under the hot shower, thankful for the moment and anxious for more.
That evening when Crystal got off of work, we were there to surprise her. The tears flowed again but this time, there was nothing but happiness. The first big obstacle, leaving Texas, had been handled. It was now time to play. We headed to Disney World for the first time since 2001 and decided to focus on some of the good things that were in our immediate future. Little did we know that back at our hotel, a little of the bad was creeping in.
When I tell you that we handled leaving Texas quite well, I’m talking about the boys and I. I am not talking about our dog, Crockett. While Crockett never seemed to be agitated or upset, the stress of leaving combined with the long road trip had left him tired and confused. On that day that we had headed to Disney World, he had stayed behind in the hotel room and we never thought much about it. He was often left on his own at home and had always handled it well. He had food, he had water and he had been walked. But this was different. Being left in a strange place had been too much for him and his anxiety kicked in. By the time we returned to the hotel, he had scratched the bathroom door to pieces. Have you ever seen Monsters, Inc? So you remember how Boo’s door looked at the end when it was in shards? Then you get the idea. Not only had our sweet puppy destroyed hotel property but he had made enough noise to concern the neighbors - who had alerted the front desk. When we returned to he hotel - just a few hours later, security was waiting as we packed up our belongings, paid for the door and were sent on our way.
One of the many things that I’ve learned on this journey is that there really is something to the old adage that “everything happens for a reason” Knowing this has gotten me through a lot of ordeals that would have otherwise seemed unbearable. In this case, that hotel was not where we needed to be hanging our hats for any length of time. It was a long way from Disney and although we didn’t yet know it, was in a very unsafe part of town. We had made a bad decision in choosing that hotel and Crockett had unwittingly given us the opportunity to rectify it. As we looked for a new temporary home, we decided to find a place much closer to Disney. We drove up and down the main drag of Kissimmee, looking for a decent hotel that would allow pets, charge by the week and be a place we could stay for a few weeks. It wasn’t long before we settled into what would become our home for, not the next we weeks, but the next couple of months. A man, two boys and a dog in a hotel room with two queen beds, a TV, microwave and mini-fridge. What had we done? Crystal had elected to stay in Disney housing until she completed her internship (I couldn’t blame her) but we knew that in a few weeks, she’d be joining us as well. Our goal now was simple, get an apartment before school starts in the fall.
As I look back on that time, I’m amazed at how well we all adjusted to it. They boys were champs and I think it taught them some valuable life-lessons. It also taught them that they never want to eat Cup-O-Ramen again but as a family, we grew closer. We only had each other and we thrived on those moments that made us laugh, we thrived on our relationships and the things that would happen outside of that hotel room. We remember the funny moments. These were moments that my grandmother used to describe and “if we didn’t laugh, we’d cry moments” Like the time the upstairs neighbor tossed a lit cigarette over his balcony. The cigarette landed on the top of a nearby palm tree, which promptly ignited, turning into a flaming ball of palm fronds - quite the spectator sport for those of us watching,
For me, my one and only personal goal was to get a source of income. And that turned out to be by drawing smiles at the Walt Disney World Resort. I had no idea the impact this would have on my life. I truly thought that it was just a temporary jumping-off point for reestablishing my free-lance and character career. And make no mistake, it did all of those things. It gave us the money that we needed to live and to eventually move into a real apartment near the high school that my son wanted to attend. That job was a life-line for us and even more importantly, it allowed me to rediscover what I loved about caricaturing - something I had gradually gotten away from in Texas as I began doing more advertising and design work. That job is what reminded me of how much I loved to draw smiles.
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.