Monday, August 16, 2010


Last Saturday at the Slave Market in the Plaza de la Constitucion three artists had their displays and were offering their works for sale. One artist was decidedly different from the other two. He lives his life dressed as a woman. Roberta or Robert does local vignette pencil drawings on paper. He is "different". Where he is not different is that he is an affable, pleasant person who is accustomed to the stares and chooses to go through life unencumbered by what others think.

What does this have to do with the late actor Barry Nelson (who had no cross dressing issues that I know of) ? It has to do with an encounter I had in NYC in the late 80's. I was online ( different meaning then ), as they say in New York City, at the Broadway and 72nd Gray's Papaya. Two hot dogs and a coke was about $1.95 in those days.

Standing behind me was an "old guy" and his younger female companion. His straggly ginger colored hair stuck out under a corduroy snap brim hat. Under a long rumpled coat he had a bright wide faded floral tie and a yellow with age seersucker vest. His companion was one of those zaftig gypsy Stevie Nicks types with a cape and scarves.We started talking and he introduced himself as Barry. "You're Barry Nelson the actor!" I said. "Guilty", he replied. At one time,this guy was everywhere on the big screen as well as television. He generally portrayed the "nice guy" second fiddle to the lead actor. If you wanted to cast but couldn't get Eddie Albert you would try Barry Nelson. The couple joined me at the window counter where we ate our meal. I embarrassed myself when I asked him if he was in costume for a play. Laughing good naturedly he told me that he likes vintage clothing pointing out that his hand painted tie was over fifty years old. His companion was draped in a bright antique Balenciaga silk boa scarve. He told me that he has been retired for years and no longer "acts". I remember telling him that I didn't know that actors retired. He lived near there and had a home in the South of France as well as Pennsylvania (so he must've saved his Hollywood money) He now traveled and collected antiques going to shows around here and Europe. Mr. Nelson was not boasting , just good naturedly answering questions that I now realize might have been intrusive. He was just like the roles that he played...nice easygoing guy. It was hard to picture this guy as the first James Bond on film. He told me that occasionally, at these antique shows he is asked by security to produce his entry pass being mistaken for a homeless bum. He never took offense and complied thinking that it was humorous.

Here's my point. We many times make our whole judgement of a person by appearances alone. I am guilty of this when I see someone wearing this on their t shirt. I'll stick with my intuition on that but we all should try to go a little further before snap judgements, beyond skin color, national origin, religion or any label. I have heard such venom directed toward the transient homeless who sometimes inhabit the Plaza de la Constitucion. These guys are not there most of the time but they are high profile when they are there. Sleeping under a tree ( Horrors!) or panhandling is considered bad behaviour by most. The police on the beat will tell you that it is manageable and is actually less of a problem than it was say three years ago. A little fine tuning to the ordinance will soliciting near an ATM or parking kiosk that accepts money.

I was once approached one evening by a woman as I had my art display set up on seven 70 dollar easels with my inverter for electric lighting. The conversation went like this:

Lady: " I don't have any cash to give you but I have this lottery ticket that's a three dollar winner."
Me: (Confused) "What? " I said, taking what she was handing to me.
Lady: "I'm sorry, that's all I have on me." ,said the lady as she walked away.

I was really taken aback , and realized that I skipped shaving that morning, but I was wearing clean jeans and a nice white t shirt. I was baffled and came to the conclusion that this well meaning woman reads the local paper and made the assumption that everyone in the Plaza was a needy, homeless person. I once complained to Senior St.Augustine Record reporter Peter Guinta about his stories covering the visual artists and aways within the story, a reference to the transients as if it were the same issue. Labels make it easy to identify something but perhaps should be used referring to objects not people. SUVO

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