A Starving Artist

Illustrator: Will Hanson

I once met a man who viewed not only himself, but everyone around him as a cartoon character. His name was Lloyd and he claimed that this was the way it had always been.

In the whimsical world of Lloyd’s imagination, every person from every memory embodied an alluring animation—they had explored the world around them and embraced the world within them. And every second of every moment encompassed a timeless vibe in which magic was as real as music and illusion was as imminent as identity.

In his refined reality, Lloyd was the character of all characters. He was the superhero, the savior, and the star. Childish as they may seem, his holy trinity of attributes was actually quite the opposite. I’d listen closely as Lloyd told me of his travels.

As a superhero, Lloyd flew many places—some familiar and others unfamiliar. “The road to self-development,” he told me. “Is not a road at all. Rather, it is a maze.” I eyed Lloyd with wonder.

“Though this maze is where we lose ourselves,” he continued. “This maze is also where we find ourselves once more, and believe me, the best parts of who we are don’t need to be rescued. They will simply resurface time and time again.” I nodded my head.

As a savior, Lloyd touched many souls—but not in the way that one would expect. On a note, his advice seemed foolish, but on another note, well thought out. “People take life so seriously,” he told me. “I respect the struggle—don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, it’s either funny or it’s forgivable, right?” I thought about this for a second as he pressed onwards toward his next point.

As a star, Lloyd shined in a way that made the dismal reality around us fade. “If you feel yourself,” he told me, “And I mean truly feel yourself, everyone around you will feel you too. After all, a self-assured aura can be felt. And, if you believe that you’re special, then by God, you are! Use this to light up the world of those around you. Many people need it.”

Over time, I learned a great deal about Lloyd. It seemed that the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Lloyd was an artist—a homeless artist that is. He was 63 years old, yet the way that Lloyd lit up when he saw someone he knew made him seem young. And, it seemed that Lloyd knew everyone!

As we walked down the street together, he waved to the owner of the print shop handing out coupons, bumped knuckles with a local tattoo artist dragging from the day’s first cigarette and opened the door for a mother and her son running errands. “Thank you so much sir,” said the young mother looking flattered and impressed. “You bet,” Lloyd said with a wink. His eyes were warm and soft. They led the way to wrinkles that appeared to have formed from laughter, and they hung framed by curly gray hair that had seen better days.

Walking down the street, you wouldn’t have known that Lloyd was homeless. In fact, he dressed quite nicely. On this particular day, Lloyd wore Timberlands, dark wash jeans, a button up shirt, a sweater and a trench coat. In addition to this, he dragged behind him a brief case in which he stored all of his art supplies. Paper—some of it wrinkled and torn—pencils of all colors and types, newspaper clippings depicting various people and places that he hoped to draw, cigarettes of course, and more recently, business cards! He used to just take requests in person, and though they were simple—portraying a picture that Lloyd drew, followed by his name and number—Lloyd’s business cards were quite the game changer. He started receiving calls from individuals with special requests, which he’d take from his prepaid flip phone after answering with grace and class.

“I can draw all kinds of things,” Lloyd told me as we continued our walk down 14th Street. It was especially cold this afternoon and though I enjoyed my interactions with Lloyd, I was looking forward to getting home. “Could you draw Prince?” I asked him, thinking about the poster awaiting me in my warm and cozy bedroom. “Psssh, Prince,” he replied, “I went to high school with Prince.” No way, I thought to myself. “You knew Prince?” I asked him excitedly. “Yes,” he replied matter of factly. “We were pals.” How do people end up on such different paths?

Illustrator: Will Hanson

I looked down at the path that Lloyd and I were taking and watched as he hobbled along. Lloyd walked with a limp, but he seldom used a cane. He claimed that would take away his super powers. I guess that Lloyd noticed I was watching him limp.

“Oh honey, don’t worry about that,” Lloyd said, pointing to his foot. “I’m great!” he continued as he began to shuffle in place. “Check it out,” he said, raising his palms to the sky. “I can still dance!” Students heading to school walked around Lloyd, looking annoyed that he was blocking the sidewalk, while I stood in place, also blocking the sidewalk, taking in the marvelous moment in front of me. “Here’s some Purple Rain right here!” he said, moving his fingers freely.” I couldn’t lie. He had great rhythm.

We walked to the end of the sidewalk and I looked at Lloyd sadly as we stopped in front of my apartment. “Time to go make some money!” he said tapping the pencil behind his ear with a mischievous grin. I got the feeling that Lloyd never wanted me to feel bad for leaving him. “Goodnight Lloyd!” I said as we parted ways. “And good luck!”

Lloyd’s masterpieces typically went for $20–$100, and people bought them all the time. After all, it’s hard to say no to a starving artist. Often, those that didn’t buy his work bought him a coffee or bummed him a cigarette instead. A lot of people did both.

The city had come to know Lloyd, and many had come to like him too. The bus drivers, for example, let him ride for free. The train drivers too. He spent the past twenty-plus years without a home and the past ten of those riding the bus all night long. Though he was glad to be warm, he wished that he slept better.

When Lloyd yawned, I was reminded that he was missing a few teeth. I wondered whether this stemmed from a lack of dental care or from using drugs.

I asked Lloyd about his family and he told me they’re all dead. Later on, however, I learned that Lloyd was the father of seven daughters. I wondered why he didn’t see them. Furthermore, I wondered why they didn’t see him.

I was aware that Lloyd had issues. He drank whisky every day, for example. On one occasion, he gave me a small bottle of my own. I told him that he shouldn’t have, but Lloyd told me not to worry because he stole it. I told him that he definitely shouldn’t do that, and he told me that in his world, he is completely free.

As time went on, I began to see more of Lloyd. He started stopping at my workplace every day to say hello. I started packing two lunches and we began having an afternoon date of sorts. According to Lloyd, he used to woo all of the women. I thought that this was funny. I listened to Lloyd’s stories, and I understood why a woman would fall in love with him.

Lloyd told me about the time he stole a car. A Volkswagon to be specific. “I didn’t know how to drive a stick,” he told me. “The cops had no problem pulling me over. I was being jolted back and forth by the start and stop of the gears. Ohhhh, my mom beat me real good after that,” he said with a laugh. I could see the thrill in Lloyd’s eyes as he described the incident.

Lloyd also told me about the first time he picked up a pencil, the first time he smoked a cigarette, and the first time he drank alcohol. In my mind, I pictured each scenario. The more that I thought about it, the more that these habits seemed to reflect Lloyd’s self-proclaimed trinity of attributes. I suppose that there is a good side and a bad side to all of us, or an animated side and an authentic side, in this case.

Just yesterday, Lloyd stopped by my work to deliver a gift for me. It was a picture. Scribbled out in purple, yellow and black, there he was, Prince! I couldn’t believe it! I thanked Lloyd profusely and promised to hang it in my home. As I stare at Lloyd’s abstract rendition of Prince (which is indeed hanging on my wall), I am reminded of Lloyd himself. The more that I think about Lloyd and the things he told me, the more his animated persona makes sense. To have charisma is to be a character—in all senses of the word. And sometimes, the only way to be something is to see yourself and others as exactly such.