I was sitting at my neighborhood bar in September of 1998 when a smallish man with a nice gray mustache and a tweed hat sat down next to me. He looked to be about 60 and seemed pleasant enough, and I remember thinking that he looked like he belonged in an Irish pub instead of in a hipster dive bar in Portland. He was very quiet, but I was going through my divorce from husband #1, so solitude suited me. I said hello and returned to the beer and post-divorce angst that I’d been focusing on.
After a few minutes the gentleman pulled out a sketch pad and started drawing. I didn’t pay much attention to the (now artistic) stranger for a few minutes–it was pretty common to run into all sorts of characters at that place. You might find a street performer sitting next to a lawyer, who came in with a fisherman, who was buying custom-made art print light switch covers from an old hippy. Nothing seemed very odd in that little microcosm.
After another few moments though, I couldn’t help but notice that the fellow was drawing me. I must have shown my surprise in some way, because he noticed me (noticing him), introduced himself as Gus and asked if it was okay to sketch me.
“Sure, but I don’t photograph well, so not sure if that applies to being drawn,” I laughed.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s just a sketch. You have a nice face.”
I figured that I didn’t ask him to do my portrait, so I was off the hook if payment was expected. Hell, I thought, he might just be trying to pick me up!
After about 15 minutes he put down his charcoal pencil, smiled, and handed the sketch pad to me. I must admit that I was surprised to see a serene, lovely version of myself looking into nothingness. Was that how I looked to other people? I’m sure that my pleasure at the flattering work he’d done was apparent, and he offered to give me the drawing.
“Really? But don’t I need to pay you?”
“If you like, but I mostly do it for fun,” he replied. “Just give me $10 and we’ll call it good.”
At the time, the $10 was about all I could afford anyway, so I gave him the money, bought him a beer (which he downed in a few gulps), and said goodbye as he left shortly afterwards. I never saw him again.
I forgot I had that drawing until a few months ago, when I found it pressed between the pages of a book stashed in my living room. I looked the artist up and discovered that he died 13 years after he drew this, at the age of 70. I was surprised to learn that when I met him he was only about two years older than I am now. He seemed tired, and I remember thinking that it felt as though he were on some sort of quest. His obituary noted that he could draw anything or anyone…the beauty of his technique was outstanding.
Thank you, Mr. DeBock. The drawing is a bit smudged now, but that moment is clear. I hope you found whatever it was you were looking for.