October 31, 2014

Maria was eating an apple outside the Coop. She was wearing a hoodie and, incongruously, a mink coat. A gentleman with a Duck Dynasty style beard, Indio, was introduced to me as her husband. “You’re her husband?” I asked. “I take care of her,” he said.

Because of the paucity of shelter caused by the closing of the Long Island Shelter, I asked Indio what their plans were for the winter. “Heading down to Raleigh,” he said. Apparently Raleigh, NC has an enlightened attitude towards the homeless. “Maybe out west.”


I didn’t get a chance to talk with Maria, who didn’t seem to be the talkative type anyway, because as soon as I set up a drummer of the plastic bucket and miscellaneous cooking utensils variety set up behind me and starting banging away. He was quite good and some of it reminded me of gamelan music. After I finished painting I chatted with him a little bit and asked him if he’d ever heard of John Cage. “He wrote a lot of music for prepared piano,” I said. “What’s that?” he asked. I said, “He put little bits of metal, forks and washers, things like that, under the piano strings and then played the piano. Your music reminded me of his a bit.” “You’re shittin’ me!” he cried. “What do they call that kind of music?” “I guess it’s classical, but back in the day it was called ‘Avant Garde.'” He found a John Cage video on his smart phone and started to watch. “His most famous piece is called 4’33,” I said. “The performer comes out and sits in front of the piano for exactly four minutes and thirty three seconds without playing a note.” “No way!” he exclaimed.




October 26, 2014

I buy a Spare Change News from Frank almost every week. He was standing in front of my office last Saturday when I came out and eagerly agreed to pose.

Frank is 63. He told me he had been an artist himself but nearly tore his thumb off when he punched a wall in a fit of rage and he could no longer draw. His brother, he told me, is a well known artist, and indeed he is–a successful comic book penciller when I looked up his name on-line.

Frank was in Viet Nam and spent several years as a POW. We discussed his career options–he had been offered a job handing out the free Metro newspaper, but preferred “making my own hours” as the much-less-lucrative Spare Change vendor. “Plus they check up on you. The manager comes around and makes sure you haven’t just ditched your papers.” Like John, he was intensely interested in and (from what I could see) unwelcomely forthcoming with his compliments for passing women. Frank didn’t like his portrait.


Nathan and John

October 13, 2014

Nathan is the son of my good friend, Joey. This is two sittings, which allowed me to bring the painting to a more finished state than my usual.


I set up a mirror so he could watch me paint. He was actually a pretty good model.

I also painted what may be my last panhandler painting of 2014–I’ll try and get out this week but it’s getting cold. I am actually very happy with this painting.


This is John. He volunteered to pose after I was turned down by his buddy–my second rejection of the day. John  sipped discreetly from a beer can otherwise hidden behind a trash can, alternated with a clear liquid drunk from a soda bottle in his other hand. He said the cops didn’t bother him; he was too good at hiding his liquor.

John was mostly mumbling to himself, but also enthusiastically appreciating the passing examples of female pulchritude. I said, “I used to work in a grocery store and when a pretty girl walked in we had a code over the intercom: Check out the ice. ‘Check out the ice in aisle three!’ You’re checking out the ice.” “I’ll have some ice,” he answered, “and some Pepsi too.”