After I wrote my last post on the series of illustrations about what I love about where I live, I was asked to exhibit them in the café down the street from my apartment. It was a perfect venue. Not only was the cafe showcased in the series itself, but like so many great coffee shops, it had become a hub for the odd mixture of people that belonged to the community. I loved the idea that the people who populated the very area depicted in the art would see these pieces.
A week before the opening, I pushed my son in his stroller, and plastered large posters announcing the show throughout the neighborhood. I was immediately approached by a passerby, who read the title "20 Things I Love About Where I Live," and laughed out loud. He was a middle aged white guy, with piercing blue eyes. I asked him if he was from here. "Born and raised," he answered proudly in a thick Brooklyn accent. The accent, so often used in movies and comedic stories, is rare in this neighborhood. He told me about the neighborhood when it was populated by "Italian Mafioso" and how you never went south of Wyckoff. He was relieved to see the area coming back. "I love this neighborhood," he said. I was ecstatic to meet him and urged him to come to the opening, but he shrugged me off. "Nah, I am trying to fuh-get about what I love so much!" Then he dashed across the street.
I went down Sydam Street and saw, to my surprise, that one of the subjects of my show, a mysterious and adorable barbershop, was open early for business. I met the owner, Lalo, who immediately saw the poster and put it in his window. He told me he would come to the opening and he would bring his "old lady" with him. I couldn't have been more thrilled if the Mayor of New York had shown up.
A few blocks away, I met a woman named Berta, carting her laundry, who stopped to read the poster. It turned out she ran a covert barbecue business just down the street. "I make barbecue all year 'round -- even in winter." I told her to expect my husband and I around February, when the taste of warmer days would be much needed. She told me to expect her at the opening. I walked the rest of the morning, posting posters, electrified by conversations with people. Finally, the art was talking back to me!
In the end, neither Berta nor Lalo showed up at the show, but it didn't matter. I looked out across the room and saw so many subjects of the art among the crowd: Rosa, who works at the grocery store, my friend Jose, my next door neighbor Barbara; the owner of the café, Christine. We ate cannoli from the 66-year-old dolceria also depicted in one of the pieces. It wasn't life imitating art -- it was the life that the art imitated, and it was wonderful.
Perhaps the best gift of the evening came when a woman named Theresa told me that the clothesline of pastel underwear I had seen last summer and drawn with so much affection belonged to her good friend, LOLA. I had drawn Lola's laundry line! Theresa, who had also lived in this neighborhood all her life (and who also had the wonderful Brooklyn accent) told me about seeing the picture and calling up her friend Lola: "'Lola,' I says, 'is your laundry line the front and center on your building?' 'Sure,' she says, so I says, 'I have a picture for you!'" I kid you not. That is actually how she told the story.
That night, I realized that I had created something I always dreamed of creating: something that not only made me feel connected to the world, but made others feel connected to it, too. I listened all night as this world told me their stories and I went home filled to the brim with more drawings I wanted to draw so I could listen and then draw some more.