FELIX part 1
Wednesday I started in Times Square, 48th st. around 6:30. After making one portrait I was approached by an officer who told me I couldn't draw where I was till after 11:PM when the theatre crowds started thinning. I told him I had been told this spot was legal, the side streets were good, the avenues were off limits.
"who told you that?" He demanded.
"The officer on duty at the precinct" I said.
"See these stripes?" he pointed to his shoulder, "these mean I'm a sergeant. I've been in times Square for fifteen years, and I'm telling you to move. What officer told you this was legal?"
"I didn't get her name, sir"
"Well I'm telling you to move." I started packing my things. "You need to be east of 7th Ave." he pointed.
"Officer," I said, "since you're the one who knows, where exactly CAN I set up North to South, East to West?" He Seemed quite put out to have to talk any further, but answered nonetheless.
"Nowhere between 7th and 8th Ave including Broadway from 42nd to 57th street." (streets in NY go E. and W., Avenues go N. and S.)
"Thank you sir, it's very good to know that."
I finished Packing and took a walk down to 41st and set up just East of 7th Ave. I immediately got one customer and then sat for an hour as people hurried by to the subway. In an attempt to attract attention, I found a picture of Douglas in my wallet and began to draw it. It wasn't long before I felt someone watching over my shoulder. I turned. It was a short man in a baseball cap. He seemed quite enthralled. He smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I pointed at him, "you want one?" He shook his head no. I went back to drawing. I could feel him watching just as intently, so I drew very confidently for another 30 seconds and turned again. He nodded and frowned with one eyebrow raised, pointed at the drawing, and gave me another thumbs up. "you like?" I rhetorically asked, waving toward the drawing (which wasn't good enough to show here). He stepped back and did the Italian Perfecto fingertip kiss. I was just starting to think 'this guy sure doesn't like to talk' when he pointed to his ear and mouth and ear and mouth. "Ohhh, you're deaf" I said. He made a small noise and pointed at his mouth. "And you can't speak" I said, repeating his motions. He nodded. He pointed at my drawing again and then pointed with an 'over there' point in the direction I had moved from. "Yeah, I got kicked out," I said, and then asked "Do you read lips?" He looked at me puzzled. "Do you read lips?" I pointed at my lips. He nodded energetically and mouthed the word 'Mute', rubbing his throat. Mute. "No, no" I shook my head, "do you" pointing at him, "read" pointing at my eye "lips?" My lips. OHHH! he mouthed, and held up his fingers to show a little. Again he pointed at my easel and then did the 'over there' sign and made a questioning gesture. I was getting it. He wondered why I wasn't over where all the people were. I tried to say I'd been moved but my charades were not working. He closed his hands like a book and made the follow me sign. I pointed to my wrist where a watch would be then held up my fingers, 10 and one. He closed his hands like a book and did the 'come, I know where, follow me over there' signs. I said "Not until 11:00" He pointed at my easel, closed his hands like a book, and did the 'I know a spot, this spot no good, come follow me, over there' signs. There was a charm in his persistance. I said "OK, why not, I'll pack up." As I broke down and packed my setup he made grand gestures at my art and poked fun at the trend of militant salesmanship of the chinese artists, pulling back the corners of his eyes and stomping around with a pretend portrait to see if I knew their crowd. I nodded and laughed and tried to sign that I preferred to work alone. After 3 attempts he got it and made the sign for no money. I laughed again, it was certainly true. The most money I had made in a night was working with Habib (who I still haven't told you about). I got my stuff together and we began to walk. I stopped him and mouthed 'What's your name?' He pulled out his wallet and showed me his ID. Felix. I gave him mine and then we continued walking. At every street corner, regardless of the lights, Felix put out a hand and stopped me while he intently looked for traffic left and right, explaining every time that he couldn't hear and needed to look. We walked past many artists, a lot of whom he knew, tapping them on the shoulder, interrupting their drawing, giving them the thumbs up and praising the beauty of their clients. The charm of his signing seemed to dispel their annoyance at having their concentration broken, and we proceeded happily from one acquaintance to the next. A few of the artists I knew already by sight, and all of them were set up on the forbidden avenues. Reaching 47th and Broadway where the artists thin out, and where I'd set up twice before, he motioned that this was the spot. I was happy; it was right in front of a Starbucks whose coffee I can palate with enough half and half. So I set up again, while Felix signed with the hot dog vendor. I then went into Starbucks and ordered a 'large' coffee with an extra cup. They call it a 'Vente', but I like my own language for coffee.I poured half the coffee into the second cup and proceeded to fill both to the brim with half and half. Giving new meaning to the term. Coming back outside I found Felix in animated discussion with a father and two girls, pointing at my portrait. On seeing me, he lit up like 'Ah, here he is.' I couldn't help smiling. "You want a portrait done?" I asked. "We don't know, how much does it cost?" The girls smiled tentatively. Felix interjected drawing on the air, pointing from me to them, gesturing invitationally at the seat. They smiled politely at him and I grinned. "Thirty dollars a person" I said. "How about for two on a page?" the father asked. "45" I pulled out of the air, "You two?" I looked at the girls. "Yes" they looked hopefully at Dad. "Go ahead" he nodded. I sat one down and began to draw, while Felix chatted up the other two. The girls were about 18 and 19. I did a fine job and by the end another couple had been pulled in by Felix who often drew their atttention to the fine quality of my drawing. So much so they began to call him my advocate. The picture I made was for the girls' grandparents. When I finished the father said "Now let's see if you can repeat the performance" I looked at him quizzically. "We need a picture for the other grandparents" he explained. So I drew the girls again, with smiles this time, while Felix kept the onlookers from boredom. The girls both in turn asked me if Felix always helped me. "I just met him tonight," I admitted. "He's very nice" was their rejoinder. The father and the second couple had become fast friends when I finished the girls and being so well entertained it took hardly a raised eyebrow to convince the couple to be drawn as well. They asked in turn if Felix always worked with me. "I just met him tonight" I said. "Oh!" they each exclaimed "He seems really nice!"
Now it's been a week since this all happened and I've been writing the story on the back of my business cards. I would stop due to the sheer length but it gets more interesting.
Felix to this point had not left my side for about an hour and a half. We stayed in that spot for another 1/2 hour with no customers. He suggested we move and I didn't hesitate. We re-established outside the theater playing Aida (music by Elton John) where about 7 other chinese artists were holding court. I began drawing the picture of Deborah Cox who plays Aida while Felix drummed the crowd. Only two artists had customers and the rest swarmed like flies on anyone who flicked an eyelash toward the drawings. Felix, it turned out, had a soft spot for pretty ladies.