Merry California Christmas

Juan sat next to the door to his studio apartment. The faded and cracked paint betrayed the excessive cost of living on Venice Beach in sunny Southern California. The building looked more like an old warehouse than a luxury apartment complex. A faded palm tree mural against a teal blue wall was highlighted with Christmas lights connected around its two-dimensional fronds.

Juan loved this time of year. He could take a break from his day trading, and come outside and people watch. The locals were easy to spot. They showed up early during the day to get their shop fronts opened and ready for business. Surfers showed up when the best waves arrived. Tourists with rented boards would come any time for a chance to ride a two-foot swell.

Pedro was Juan’s childhood friend. They had grown up around Marina Del Rey. Juan loved numbers as a kid, and Pedro loved to create. They survived most of their education either helping, or cheating, off one another. Once Juan got his apartment in Venice, Pedro would come and setup his easel outside of Juan’s building to sketch the tourists. The people who sat across from Pedro had no idea he had paintings hanging in The Getty Center.

Juan was soaking in the sights and sounds on this mild sunny Christmas Eve day. Pedro walked up and setup his easel. “Dude, just chillin’?”

Juan smiled and said. “Yeah. The waves are nice, I may do some surfing later.”

Neither man needed to say anything else. Both watched the throngs of people begin to arrive. Pedro didn’t need the money, but he had this philosophy that you never forgot where you came from. Before celebrities and museums noticed his work, Pedro would come to Venice alone and earn his rent and food money sketching. It was a struggle, but he stuck with it. Now, he gave his sketch money to charity.

Juan noticed the man first, and glanced over at Pedro. He hid himself behind his easel, smiled, and shook his head. Juan rolled his eyes. An east coast tourists was walking their way. They could pick them out anywhere. Eastern tourists always overdressed for the location, or under-dressed for the weather. This guy was a little of both. He had on expensive shorts that were freshly pressed. The cut on them appeared tailored, and he wore a short sleeve button down. His Bahama hat and leather sandals with white socks finished off the outrageous outfit. The man appeared slightly grumpy. Juan thought that was likely due to the sixty degree temperature and cool Pacific breeze hitting the stranger’s body.

The man walked up with an attitude as loud as his outfit. “Either of you bums selling anything?”

Juan slowly stood up and extended his hand. “I’m Juan, Pedro over there is the best sketch artist on the beach.”

The man ignored Juan’s hand and turned to Pedro. “You, what’s your name?

Never one to miss a chance to give a tourists a tough time Pedro responded, “Dude, I’m like, Pedro.”

“My name isn’t Dude, young man. You may call be Mr. Botello. I want a sketch done. If I like it, I’ll pay what I think it’s worth.”

Pedro shrugged and replied, “Bitchin’.”

Mr. Botello sat down and scowled. “A simple ‘Yes’ will suffice, thank you.”

Juan sat back down, this was going to be the best show of the day. Pedro started his sketch with a smirk, and after a few lines ripped it off the easel and restarted. Juan could not see what his friend drew, but he was sure Mr. Botello would not approve. After two more times Mr. Botello was losing his patience and mocked Pedro. “Can you do a simple sketch? I thought you were the “best on the beach.””

Juan sat up, wondering what his friend would do next. Pedro’s eyes narrowed, and he focused on his easel.

Mr. Botello looked over at Juan and spoke. “What’s your story? You just sit outside and bum off the tourists?”

Juan decided to have a little fun. “Dude, like I totally relate to that.”

The easterner smirked. “All you beach bums are alike. You sit around, swap drugs, bum money, and surf in your dirty water.”

“Dude, I totally get into trading with my bros.” Juan had to keep snickering when he responded.

The man put his nose up a little. “What is wrong with you people? It’s Christmas time. It’s more blessed to give than receive. Maybe you should try getting a job and helping out people who aren’t able to work instead of being bums.”

Juan was about to tell Mr. Botello what he really thought when he caught Pedro subtly shaking his head. Instead he responded. “No way, dude. People just need to totally hang at the beach. Then they won’t be bummed.”

Mr. Botello’s hands clenched into fist and his face started to turn red. His raised voice responded. “That is the stupidest excuse I have ever heard. Look at yourselves. Look at that stupid wall with those stupid lights tracing that stupid palm tree painting. You don’t have a clue about life, neither of you. Maybe you should step away from the beach and see what is really going on in this world.”

Juan shrugged his shoulders. “Why?”

Pedro jumped in. “Mr. Botello, your sketch is ready.”

The stranger reached over to take the sketch. He looked it over and smiled. “That’s more like it, and you were even polite. There maybe hope for you, but not your drug trading friend over there.” He closely examined every inch and nodded his head in approval. Then he stopped, and his eyes stared at the signature on the bottom right hand corner. “Hey, you have the same name as that artist I saw at The Getty Center, Pedro Juarez. Did you know there’s a famous artist with your name?”

Pedro smiled, picked up his business card off the easel, handed it to him and said, “You may want to put this in the frame.”

“Why would I?” The tourist’s mouth stopped talking while he read Pedro’s business card. “Hey, you are that artist! I love your work, what are you doing here?”

Pedro shook his head. “I’m glad you like my work. I’m here because this is my home, man.”

Mr. Botello shook his head, trying to understand. “But, why sit with a drug trader.”

Juan jumped in. “I’m not a drug trader, I’m a day trader. You just assumed that.”

The stranger’s face turned red with embarrassment. “Gentlemen, I am so sorry. I have made an ass out of myself.”

Juan smiled. “That’s the first good thing you’ve said since you walked up.”

The man nodded. “I suppose I deserve that.” He turned to Pedro and tried to hand the sketch back.

Pedro put up both hands. “I don’t need it back. That’s for you, don’t you like it?”

“Oh, I love it. Thank you for making me look like a local in a tank top, I feel so foolish in this outfit. I just can’t afford whatever it is you charge for your art work.”

Pedro laughed. “No, dude. It’s Christmas. It’s on the house. I’m doing this for love and Jesus.”

Mr. Botello stammered. “Oh, I see. Well, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas to both of you.” He started to back up and accidentally bumped into another tourist. They awkwardly apologized and he turned to walk away. He stopped a few yards away, turned back around and hollered. “Merry Christmas!” Pedro and Juan waved.

Once he was out of sight Juan looked up and down the sidewalk and back at Pedro. “Tourist.”

“Tourist.” Pedro responded. Both men laughed.

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