On a blue-sky Fall Day in 2012, with the sun shining overhead and the cold weather still weeks away, and having no particular place I had to be, and, feeling a slight need to get out among my people, I gathered up some colorful computer prints from my Sidewalk Superhero series and a few prints from my Comics You’ll Never See Series plus one or two other things and drove down to Congress Street in Portland, Maine. I parked my old car over on State Street and walked a couple of blocks to the corner of Congress within sight of the Portland Art Museum. I think they were having a show of Winslow Homer paintings at the time. It may have been N.C. Wyeth, who can keep up with these things?
Two men sat smoking on a bench in Congress Square and paid no attention to me as I knelt down and arranged about fifteen pieces of artwork on an old army blanket I had bought at the Church Sale in New Jersey. I had to admit, the prints looked good in the 97 cent plastic frames I had bought at Walmart® and I was eager to maybe make a few dollars, perhaps enough to fill up my gas tank on the way home. But I have always been a dreamer.
A couple of people passed by and glanced down at my exhibit without slowing their stride. I guess they weren’t in the market for a large drawing of a man with a green face and deep-set sunken eyes. If only I could have charged by the wrinkle, this piece would have been quite expensive, but I was willing to let it go for a mere $75 dollars–a steal!
The previous year, I had carted it with me to the Maine Comic Arts Festival where it had been commented on by that year’s Guest of Honor, Jeff Smith of Bone fame. But Jeff Smith was nowhere to be found that afternoon.
After about an hour and six or seven more people had passed me by, I saw an old woman approaching from the direction of Paul’s Food Center. She was pushing a shopping cart with her belongings in it. She stopped in front of my exhibit. Gesturing at the large green-faced, snaggle-toothed version of Phantom of The Opera, she spoke up after a minute or two of contemplating each tiny wrinkle. “That reminds me of my father, ” she offered rather off-handedly. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing and smiled an understanding smile, but she wasn’t looking at my face, but at the green one with the blood-red background. I was a bit taken aback at the notion that there might actually ever have been a real life counterpart to any of my drawings, much less this one, which seemed more grotesque and creepier than my usual offerings. It never crossed my mind that she might buy it and my suspicions were confirmed when she grabbed ahold of her shopping cart and slowly shuffled off.
Several more people passed by without stopping. In short order a little grey-haired man stopped in front of the big drawing. He looked as if he had just stepped off a Greyhound Bus from somewhere in New Hampshire where the motto is “Live Free or Die”. He looked as if he had decided to do the latter. The stub of a cigarette dangled from his lower lip and as he spoke, it jiggled up and down once or twice for each of his words which he addressed to me: “Is that a self-portrait?”, he asked, quite pleased with himself.
A normal person would have smiled and allowed him to have his joke, even if it was at my expense. But I am not a normal person. I am the funny one and I do not like to be run-through by someone’s cutting sense of humor. And I suppose I was a little annoyed that I had been standing out there in the cold for over an hour, offering such great masterpieces to the world and had no takers. So something mean and cold from deep down inside me took control. Before I knew it, an idea, a response to his jibe formed in my grey and slightly balding head. My lips began moving and I heard myself say to the man, “No, but your daughter was by here a little while ago…” Of course the man had no idea what I was talking about.
But I knew.
I have always been my own best audience.