Sometimes pictures I find on the street come like little gifts. That’s how they feel, at least.
Yesterday was a long, complicated day, and I didn’t get out of my building for a walk until 7 p.m. The moment I stepped outside, something caught my eye, like when you see a coin on the sidewalk or an airplane, glinting silver, in the sky: bright, exuberant pinks, yellows, greens, on a wall at the dingy gas station on the other side of 8th Avenue: a mural, painted graffiti-style. I took it in for a quick second, dazzled, then turned right around and headed back up to my apartment to get my camera.
I felt I had to take a picture now–I couldn’t wait. What if it were to disappear, be painted over, be gone by tomorrow morning?
Minutes later, camera in hand, I dashed across the street and went right to it. Four or five men were gathered loosely nearby; one could pick up their mood: a feeling of gladness, satisfaction, relief, so sweet, like the emotional equivalent of an icy cold beer on this humid August evening. They were burly, big guys–one of them, I picked up, was the gas station owner.
“I love it,” I said, “this is so beautiful. Which one of you is the artist?” The men pointed to a younger man, hanging back, leaning against a car. I approached him, holding out my hand to shake his. He stood. He was tall. “Thank you,” I said, “it is so beautiful, I love it.”
He was talking on his phone–Face Time’ing. “Hold on,” he said to the person he was talking to, then he showed me the face on the screen. “That’s my girl,” he said with a shy smile, “she couldn’t be here and wanted to see it.”
The pretty young woman on the little phone screen was smiling broadly. Now I saw my face in a box on the screen–she could see me. We waved at each other. “It’s fantastic!” I told her, “wait till you see it.”
He said goodbye to her, and patiently answered each of my questions. I told him how I lived in that building across the street, and how I’d seen it instantly upon hitting the sidewalk. He told me his name was King Saladeen.
“How long did it take you?” I asked the artist. “It wasn’t even here this morning.”
“A couple hours,” he said, as if it was no big deal, “just finished. It’s my, sort of, I don’t know, tribute to New York.”
I walked over to the painting and took in as much detail as I could, soaked it up, let New York wash over me, then turned back to the young artist. “I would love to take your portrait. Can I take your picture?” I said.
“Sit right there, with your picture,” I said.