While I was drawing this a woman came out of the house a few meters away, and for a few moments stood by the drivers side of her car, one hand on the handle, one on her hip, watching me.
‘My uncle’s an artist,’ she said when she finally approached and stood staring down at me, ‘but he doesn’t sit in the gutter painting.’
I paused my *podcast but left my earbuds in, because there was something about this woman’s tone and her hip-length grey hair and tie dye tee shirt and pick-up truck that I did not like, so I was hoping she wouldn’t stay long.
‘That’s pretty.’ she said of my drawing, and though I could have slapped her for the adjective, I lied and thanked her for her compliment, and made small talk about the weather until my easel blew over, my hat blew off and she walked away.
Eventually the wind and cloud stealing my light put me in a foul mood so I packed up my equipment and walked back toward my car.
On the way a man from the house opposite my car called out: ‘2 kinds of painters painting houses today.’
The house next to his had the painters in and I called back to him: ‘Yes, but only one of them is getting paid for it.’
The man, who was standing at the edge of his garden with a shovel in his hand, told me he had been watching me for a while, and that he had watched me walk to the corner, stop and look at the house, cross the street to look at the house from another angle, and then choose and sit myself down.
‘I was looking for the light,’ I told him, ‘But the weather’s not SoCal perfect now, the June Gloom in March so I’m lucky to get an hour and a half of drawing in.’
The man, who had a hair style like Benjamin Franklin, a stubbled beard, rough read face and small brownish teeth, looked to be around 65, laughed.
‘The weather comes whenever it wants to now,’ he said to me, ‘it’ll be sunny again next week.’
Then he told me that the drought of the last few years had given him a reason to let his grass die, until someone had dropped a couple of rocks on it at which time he’d decided to make a garden.’
‘This is my first.’ he told me, turning away from me to look at the garden.
He seemed so pleased with himself and eager to show it off, that I crossed the street to have a look at it.
‘The first garden of your whole life?’ I asked him, and he told me yes, his whole life.
His garden was a wide corner lot featuring several small areas of plants surrounded by rocks.
The plants were succulents of various kinds.
‘I can see your a succulent man,’ I said, tilting my head toward a large jade plant that was growing up out-of, and along, the ground.
The he pointed out the different kinds of plants he had.
‘See this here,’ he said, pointing to a cabbage plant and then leaning over to touch a leaf, ’99 cent store. This one a cut-off, this one…who’d have thought it would grow so big?’
‘That’s what happens when you feed living things,’ I told him, ‘They grow.’
The man laughed.
‘I get rocks from all over the place, plants from all over the place, cut-offs from friends.’ he said.
‘Do you like cactus?’
‘Cactus?’ he said, ‘No…not really. I don’t like anything spiky.’
‘Whaaaaaa?,’ I said, ‘you don’t like a cactus?’
‘Which kind?’ he asked me.
‘I don’t know the names exactly, but there’s the one that produces a large white flower at sundown. I got a huge arm from a friends plant.’ I told him,’ Glorious!’
Then I went on to tell him about my cactus garden, and how I keep it in pots in the carpark in the old motel where I live because there’s only tar, no soil.
Then I told him he’s welcome to come and have a look at my cactus garden.
‘Oooh, I’d love that,’ he said, and smiled.
‘Oh, my name’s Larry, by the way,’ he said, and I told him mine, and we told each other how nice it was to meet each other, and then he asked me what I was going to do with the drawing and I explained about the 100 houses project and he said- ‘Oh, great.’
Then we chatted about some other things and ended up on the topic of him being a videographer, and an artist he had filmed who had been someone quite famous at some point but who was no longer alive.
‘He passed from us 5 years ago,’ Larry told me in a serious tone, ‘and the longest film ever shot of him was 7 minutes, and I just found some videotape of 30.’
Having no idea of who or what he was talking about, I said, ‘Oh, okay!’ and left it at that.
And then, because I’d been standing there in a shirt as windproof as Kleenex, with my hands full of drawing equipment and a cheap straw hat blowing around on my head, I told Larry it was time for me to go.
‘It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.’ Larry said, and it had been a real pleasure talking to him, too, but nowhere near the pleasure it had been saying goodbye to him and crossing that street and getting out of that nasty wind and back into the driver’s seat of my toasty car.
*Today’s Podcast: I Have to Ask Josh Barro