It was warm outside with that slight breeze that makes you walk to a rhythm. To me, it’s the time to be in Chicago. The winters can be brutal and I’m not into brutality of any sort. I stood waiting at the crosswalk as this brother slid up beside me with something in his hand and smooth words in his mouth. Another hustler was the thought that came to my mind. As he waxed on quite eloquently, I thought as I fake listened. “This guy’s pretty good.” But you can’t run game on a runner. I hung on the conversation as the amen corner. He went on to tell me about his music and how he doesn’t charge for his because that’s a gift.
I saw an opening, a moment, a gap in his corral and whipped out my silver with a simple “Why?”
“Because”, he began with the confidence that ran neck and neck with a story told many times over. “It’s like…my grandmother had this ruby, this precious ruby given to her by someone special as a gift. She gave it to her daughter, my mother. She then passed this precious stone on to me. So now, I have this ruby. This thing of great value passed down to me. It’s a gift you can’t replace. What would I look like selling it? It would be disrespectful to sell it. Dishonorably even. That’s my music bruh. My music is the gift.”
He had that, I ate the whole damn pie look on his face, replete with serious but ever so slight grin. I let him lay in it for a second or two.
My response, “I hear you but the ruby is the thing, the physical thing. You don’t sell the ruby, no. You sell the shine. People pay you to enjoy the shine. I’m an artist, a visual artist. When I sell a piece, it provides me with the revenue to buy supplies to make more art pieces, and that keeps growing. Plus, I gotta eat, and sleep somewhere, and get from place to place, and the list goes on. I’m still producing art, I’m the producer selling the product. All This is an exchange of energy. They get the art they want because it does something for them, and you get the money that serves you. It’s a divine cycle that allows for each one to continue. That’s the essence of life. I’m not selling my ability to make art. That would be to say cut the goose open and get all the golden eggs kinda nonsense. We the geese bruh. We sell the golden eggs. Besides, I don’t see my ability as an artist as a gift. When you work at a grocery store or the post office and you get that check on the first, you don’t thank that man for the gift. You earned that. You weren’t born with a freakin’ keyboard or synthesizer attached from your fingers any more that I was with a paintbrush growing outta mine. We put the time in honing our craft with practice, practice, practice. We worked at our interests and gained, earned the expertise. That’s no gift bruh.
A brief silence entangled him, hand to chin, pulling on a baby beard to be. His eyes met mine in a look of comprehension. “I never thought about it like that, for real. For a minute he was stumped. Not to prolong the moment I bought one of the stickers he was clutching to sell. He thanked me and invited me to an event on the South Side. Then got distracted by some shorts going by. We parted and I headed on to my studio, looked him up and sure enough, the little brother was on the up and up; talented to the hilt. I was glad I’d invested in him, in more ways than one. At the end of the day, or the beginning, or middle, this is America. Grandma told you, possibly the same one that gave you the ruby; get yo’ money, Black man.