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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Give It Away Give It Away Give It Away Now

A fellow painter invited me last week to be one of four artists at a South Beach corporate event. Live painting feels a bit like being a monkey with a brush, but there are worse ways to earn $500 in 3 hours.

Each artist was asked to create a 5’x3′ S. Beach themed canvas which convention guests could enhance as their hearts desired. My cocktail glass filled with ice had the working title $20 With a Straight Face, which is what the shameless bastards charge around here for a vodka & tonic.

I asked guests to fill in their own ice cube. And the midwestern banker crowd dug in with surprising gusto. Some stayed inside the lines. Others made a childish mess of the template. But all enjoyed getting out of their ledger heads. The result was a far more colorful and sloppy affair than I foresaw: purple polka dot cubes, golden striped cubes, etc. I planned to take the work back to my studio, paint out the mess and turn it into something I would actually sign my name to and sell for a couple thousand bucks.

At the end of the night, I stood washing my brushes in the hotel kitchen, when a uniformed busboy walked past amidst a group of other kitchen help. Mid 30s, latino, with an earnest face, he asked in a slightly embarrassed, lightly-accented voice, “What happens to the paintings out there?” “I imagine the artists will take them home,” I said, extracting the last of a bright pink from the bristles. “They really are so beautiful,” he said cheerfully, though I detected a hint of disappointment. “Which one is your favorite?” “Oh, I love the one with the ice in the glass.” “Oh yeah?” “Yes. I think this one is the best one.” He smiled big.

I shook the fistful of brushes a few times to remove the excess water, then looked at my friend and said, “Follow me.”

My very first job was busboy at a country club. I know what it means to be low man on the totem pole. We weren’t even allowed to eat the leftover, uneaten cantaloupe. I’ve always said thanks when someone fills my water glass ever since.

We walked together back into the banquet room and approached the large canvas. “Here,” I said, removing it from the easel. “Really?” “I want you to have it … It’s still wet … mojado,” I said, placing it in his hands. “Is it true?” “Enjoy it.” “Thank you. Wow. Thank you,” he said, looking from side to side, as if to see if others were witnessing this.

I imagine that guy (I never caught his name) started in a third world country and is now running the early miles of the American dream marathon. Probably lives with his extended family in a single room somewhere. Maybe a few religious pieces on the walls. I highly doubt he ever bought a painting, though he clearly has aesthetic passion. Now, he has a 5-foot tall original metaphor for his life – cool, colorful and ready to be filled to the brim with whatever he can manage to pour in. Not my best work, but it spoke to him. And that’s enough.

I hope each time he looks at this, he feels that kindness exists and that hard work begets good luck. And that he deserves to be surrounded by the beauty he appreciates.

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