If you spend any time there, you quickly learn that at the heart of the bike shop where I work, there is a life blood that fuels and nourishes the remarkable individuals there, creating an atmosphere so enticing and welcoming you can’t help but feel encouraged when you step in the door. This life-blood is coffee, which explains why I was walking to Wendel’s Cafe the other day, wearing my work apron full of tools.
Focusing on my posture as I always do, I made my way past the numerous colourful storefronts which despite their dynamic paint-jobs seem to become negligible, if not invisible, the more times you walk past them. With my head in the low clouds, then, I nearly tripped over a little boy, about 5 years old, kneeling on the sidewalk, scribbling furiously on a piece of construction paper. Sitting with one leg tucked under him and his other knee propped up as a sort of chin-rest, he was surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colored paper, markers, and loose change. As my shadow passed over his sidewalk studio, he looked up and blurted something that sounded urgent and rehearsed. I asked him to repeat himself and it became clear that he was selling his artwork. It was also clear he had either an English accent or trouble pronouncing his R’s. It was Tiny Tim with a Crayola Washable, selling his artwork for “One dullah and two dullahs.” Unwavering in my priorities, I promised the crippled peasant child (he wasn’t really a peasant, nor was he lame, but I like to pretend he was both) I’d be back after I got some coffee.
Coffee in hand, I strolled back over to Tiny Tim and it appeared some of his works had sold in the short time I was away. Some heartless soul must have bartered with the young fella, however, for the loose pile of change beside his knee consisted mainly of nickels, dimes and pennies. “All right, what have we got here?” I asked, surveying the diminshed selection of art, now down to two pieces. Tiny replied in what were mostly fragmented vowel sounds. Switching tactics, I asked again how much they cost. “One dullah and two dullahs!” He motioned towards the images as if to showcase the impressive features that allowed him to demand such a price. Out of curiosity, I asked him how much it would cost if I bought both of them. He looked up at me and squinted. Perhaps the sun was in his eyes, or he was struggling with the math, but the glint in his eye and look on his face could only be described as mischievous, as he replied, “Um, foh dullahs!” Thoroughly entertained, I shelled out the foh dullahs and scooped up both pieces.
The first piece features a flower in the center of a garden on the crest of a colourful hill. It obviously represents the dogged nature of the human spirit, growing defiantly, even spitefully, as the massive drop of water, symbolizing our wants and needs, which in small amounts bring life, but death when taken to excess, looms ominously nearby, ever present yet distant.
The second piece, with a rainbow focal point, a strong tree on the right, sunshine, and raindrops throughout, is a fine example of the persistent force of nature, steadfastly enduring, even as Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, sits mockingly atop the rainbow, poised to attack Earth. The dark side of the sun in this image is reminiscent of the latest Transformers sequel, which I can only assume is terrible.
I didn’t buy these pieces of art to boost Tiny Tim’s confidence, though it may have. I didn’t hand over the foh dollahs so he could buy some bread, or a bowl of gruel, or a pop, or an ice cream cone, though that may have happened as well. I bought them because I envied his brash confidence and devil-may-care attitude with which he cranked out pictures on the sidewalk outside his family’s storefront. He had an idea, he went out, and got down to work. Sure, his parents may have told him to draw outside in a bid to get him out of the store, but the fact remains he was out there, putting in time. And he wasn’t apologetic about any of it either. He was slightly difficult to understand, but I didn’t hear anything that sounded like “You see, suh, I’m having a terrible time of it on this here cobbled walk, and that’s why me drawings look like absolute rubbish!” No, Tiny set about his business as though it were the most natural, logical, and practical endeavour, requiring no explanation whatsoever.
Too often I set about apologizing for myself preemptively, highlighting and explaining aspects of my behaviour that I feel require some accounting for. In a bid to overcome this habit, I’m working on being more like Tiny with his street art, refusing to apologize for things I’ve said or done, for fear they could be interpreted to my detriment. With his chin on his knee, one hand holding the paper, and the other scribbling his art in a haze of colour, Tiny Tim was putting himself out there, literally and metaphorically, on the sidewalk. Instead of dreading and validating the imminent judgment of passersby, he focused on his work, did the best he could, and laid it out as such with no apologies, footnotes, or disclaimers. I need to remember, but more importantly, believe and trust that as long as I’m out there, trying new things and doing the best I can with the old things, there’s no reason to be worried about how I’m coming across.
And any reminder of that is easily worth one dullah, two dullahs, or foh dullahs.