Sage Advice

Brian J. Sullivan

The intense heat felt near the edge of the fire pit drops off sharply several feet away. The once roaring fire has all but gone out with the last departing person. I alone remain. Now, only white ash and embers glow brightly in the crisp night air. Occasionally a pop, followed by a hissing sound, bursts forth, caused by the release of any remaining moisture within the wood fibers. Smoke, in wispy blue-grey patterns, rises upward, then stretches out horizontally just below the tree tops, signifying the conclusion of another day. Above, the full moon shines brightly in the clear night sky. Mosquitoes and biting gnats buzz around me in an annoying persistence, trying to land at any opportunity.

I am about to retreat back to my camper, when out of the shadows steps what appears to be a rather thin old gentleman, hunched in the shoulders. He walks towards me with one hand extended, the other secured around a cane. A large chrome belt buckle holds up his worn blue jeans.

"Hello" he says in a slow southern drawl. "My name is Joe". His grip is shaky but firm.

We exchange pleasantries. He takes a seat next to me near the fire pit. In the dim light of the glowing ashes, Joe's weathered face reveals years of experience with each wrinkle. He appears to be near ninety, but has a youthful twinkle in his eyes. His arms are dark brown and leather-like from years in the sun. Thick bushy silver hair covers his head. Snakeskin cowboy boots cover his feet. He tells me that his wife had died many years ago but he never remarried, preferring to do the art fair circuit by himself along with a little white dog he calls "Skip."

I make some comment about my frustration in doing the art shows, living on the road, and not making any money. Through it all Joe just listens. When I have exhausted myself, he asks, "Would you rather be working a nine to five job every day under constant supervision cooped up in some office somewhere? Or what about never being able to take off when you want? Don't you like to travel and see different parts of the United States, learn about its history and meet all kinds of interesting people? Or be outside breathing fresh air and sunshine? And what about the opportunity to follow your dreams, to create things that give you satisfaction? To see people's faces as they purchase something that you have created? The sales rush? Or that you are your own boss? And what about meeting old friends year after year all across the country? Or seeing the newest artistic techniques and processes all under one tent?"

"Yes, that’s all fine," I say, "but I still have to pay the bills."

Joe is an old time veteran of the art fairs with probably 40 years of experience. Despite his age he is fiercely independent and lucid. Slowly and deliberately he continues. "When I was younger, my daddy would always take me along when he went fishing. Some days we would sit all day in the boat and not catch a thing. But he never gave up. The next day we would be right back out there again, day after day in all kinds of weather. Over time I learned some valuable lessons. He would say to me, 'Son, always go to where the fish are biting, use the bait that the fish like, and cast multiple lines out until you find what works.'"

I am confused. Are we talking about the same art fair thing? With his watery eyes, Joe gives a slight wink followed by a thin smile of pearly whites as if to acknowledge my confusion. He continues, "Believe in your art, show the customer the benefits of owning it, show them how they can pay for it, and finally, plant seeds for the future." With that Joe gets up, says good night, wishes me good luck with tomorrow's sales, and walks back into the shadows of the campground. Just before he vanishes between the campers, he turns and says, "Remember, the cream always rises to the top." And with that he was gone.