Traveling the same route to work on most days, I often listen to hear who is playing what instrument or singing to some pre-recorded accompaniment as I make my way from the train to the subway. These artists tend to occupy strategic spots on the underground route to the various trains criss-crossing New York City. Sometimes it’s the guy singing doo-wop, other times it’s a string quartet, often playing selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Other times it’s a gospel singer or even more unexpectedly, a teenage beauty sporting a micro kilt and belting out some unknown piece on her bagpipe.
This past week a particularly prime spot of real estate – a corner facing an unobstructed view of a high percentage of hustle and bustle, was tenanted by someone in a cardboard frame. I say frame because what was originally a box was split open lengthwise and the top and bottom cut off. The dimensions of said frame were approximately four feet by five feet – just wide and deep enough to shield its occupant from prying eyes. As I walked by I peered over my shoulder to see if I could espy the occupant. Could not see a face but noticed that the form was in a recumbent position. For additional privacy the cardboard frame was flanked by an overstuffed shopping cart on one side and more “stuff” on the other. Undoubtedly, the tenant of said frame was not yet ready to greet the day.
Passing the same spot the next morning, I noticed that occupant was bright eyed and bushy tailed. And her cardboard frame was now turned inside out – the walls of her dwelling was a canvas no less … with gorgeous scenery and all manner of artistic things drawn and colored in blues and purples and reds and greens and all kinds of other eye catching colors. An artist in residence – who knew! The picture was quite beautiful and as I walked by, hurrying to catch my train, I grabbed my phone and hurried back to take a picture of this artist and her mural. I wanted a picture of both because she was as colorfully adorned as her canvas.
I asked permission to take a picture. She hesitated and then said “yes, for a donation.” “Of course,” I said. I had already reached into my purse and had two crisp dollar bills at the ready. I stretched out my hand to her with the folded bills. She looked at my hand. ” No dollar bill” she said. “It’s two dollars” I replied. She paused for a minute and then said “No.” I put the bills back in my wallet and walked away. In a hissy fit. She started to say something but by this time I was too far away and it was too noisy for me to hear exactly what she was saying. Something about the 99 cents store – maybe that what I was offering her was not even enough to buy something from the 99 cents store?
To be honest, I had intended to give her $5. But when I checked my wallet, I had two singles and a $20 bill. I needed the $20 to buy lunch and other incidentals. So, I had offered to give her what I could spare. I kept thinking about the incident all that day. Should she have been grateful for the $2? I was only asking to take a picture. What was I going to do with the picture anyway? Other than look at the details of her artwork more closely, I probably would have included it in one of my posts — as an example of “street art” from around New York City – as the pictures in this post are.
Should I not have been surprised that she demanded more? Was I rude in offering what was evidently to her, such a paltry sum? Was I insulting her work, or more to the point, her artistic value and worth as a human being? Living in a city where panhandlers abound, I have given more, the same, or less to a number of them over the years. How much is a “worthwhile” donation? Lord knows, one or two dollars cannot buy much in New York City – not even in the 99 cents store. But, as an old Jamaican proverb says ” one one cocoa full basket.” $1 + $1 + ……. On the other hand, maybe I should alter my way of thinking and consider that if I am in fact going to make a donation, it should at least be an amount that an artist lady can actually use to purchase one or two items – from the 99 cents store or anywhere else.