I brought my paint stuff with me to work on a Friday planning to cut out early and get in a painting, but that did not pan out. So I left my stuff there and caught the 9 am train to Boston on Saturday with a spare canvas. The first thing I painted was a little spot I had spotted inside Harvard Yard:

Outside Wigglesworth Hall

Wigglesworth Hall, Oil on Paper, 5″ x 3″

While I was painting a disconsolate middle-aged black man dragging two suitcases on wheels behind him walked up and down the path several times. At one point he abandoned his luggage for several minutes and disappeared, but he came back. As I was finishing up I asked him what was the matter and he told his tale of woe: his daughter had been invited to an international conference to be held at Harvard University and they had flown in from Burundi the night before. They came here a day early to scope out the place and his daughter had asked a security guard for directions as to the location of the conference. She had followed the security guard away and not come back, and now he was looking for her.

I found a call box for the Harvard police and described the situation for them. After a few minutes a cop appeared and the African gentleman described his plight once more. A call came in; the daughter was found, and was waiting just around the corner. Problem solved, good deed performed, I dropped off my painting equipment at the office, grabbed something to eat, then came back to paint a panhandler portrait.

Once again I had some trouble finding a suitable subject. I spoke to one of the panhandlers doing the walk-through-traffic-and-knock-on-people’s-windows-at-a-traffic-light shtick. He wasn’t interested but told me to be on the lookout for Burton. He was concerned about Burton because he had had a stroke and should not be walking around in traffic.

I found Burton, who was both very happy to pose for me and actually, proactively posed too: kind of a pleasant experience after so many wandering eyes and bad models (I know, I bring it on myself).


Burton’s speech was almost incomprehensible but he liked the painting very much and thanked me profusely. Since I was similarly thanking him for posing, our conversation went like this:

Me: Thanks so much for posing.

Him: Thank you very much!

Me: No, thank you very much.

Him: Thank you very much!


I ran into Kitty on the subway headed into Cambridge. She had just arrived from New York and was fully equipped with backpack, sleeping bag, and a monstrously huge dog wearing saddlebags whose name I forget but was, she told me, half Rottweiler and half pit bull. “Am I headed to Harvard Square?” she asked me. Yes, I told he, she was. We got off and she asked “where people my age hang out.” I suggested the Pit by the T stop but she was accosted by Dirt (“Dirk?” I asked; “No, Dirt,” he corrected me) who assured her he would show her a good time. I headed down the street but didn’t see anybody I hadn’t painted already. (Why is that? I see dozens of panhandlers I’d like to paint on weekdays when I have to work. Do they all go home for the weekend? God, I hope so.)

I headed back up Mass Ave and found Kitty and Dirt sitting on the brick pavement next to the T stop. They had been joined by Joshua. I gave my usual spiel but told them I couldn’t afford to give them each ten dollars. That was no problem, they said. I ended up giving each of them $5.

Of the three, Dirt (the one in the middle) seemed the most presentable, with a neatly trimmed beard and college boy haircut. However, he turned out to be the most out of control. His act seemed intended mostly to startle passersby—suddenly singing patches of song in a loud raspy voice while banging his arms violently against his sides. He also told the same joke over and over (“What’s a pirate’s favorite letter?” “R?” “No, because of his love of the C!”) and challenged people to “rap battles” for articles of their clothing. Kitty pulled out her ukelele and gave a mercifully brief non-performance.  She asked Joshua to pick her up some gold and silver wire at the art store–there seems to be a lot of homemade jewelry-making and selling on the street these days—which involved a trip to Central Square. When he agreed she pulled out a thick wad of bills and peeled off a few for his use. I thought to myself, “I hope she doesn’t do that too often,” and then I realized what the dog was for. Indeed, many people stopped and wanted to pet him. “Is he friendly?” they would ask and Kitty would answer, “No, he isn’t friendly.” He was, however, very well-behaved.

When I finished the painting Kitty got up to take a look. “Wow, that’s a lot better than I thought it would be,” she said. “I hope you aren’t offended.” “Why should I be offended?” I asked. “That was a compliment.”


Kitty Joshua and Dirt


July 13, 2014

Sunshine is almost exactly my age. She has three children and several grandchildren. When I was had finished I asked her, “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me your real name?” but she assured me she had had it legally changed some time ago. I said, “You’re too young to be a hippie,” but she’s rather proud that she is one.

Sunshine’s main gripe was the chirpy, cheerful clipboarders shilling for Planned Parenthood the whole time we painted. She feels they grab attention from the panhandlers and I tend to agree. I asked. “Should I kill her?” but Sunshine felt this was excessive. As I packed up and left the nearest PP shill said, “Would you be interested in–oh, never mind.”