By Al Graham
The Sandman is a self-taught artist. His canvas is the city sidewalks of Coronado. Using sand and dirt, he creates colossal images which he calls “dust formations” — a giant panda, pig, clown, dog, cat, elephant, or other animals. However, if you ask him to do something specific like a horse, he will tell you that he cannot. “The Angel tells me what to do. I have nothing to do with it.” On the other hand, if you ask him to create a get-well message for an ailing friend or a happy birthday greeting, he will show up at their house and in a few minutes will leave behind a precise formation of a heart and/or flowers along with an uplifting word.
You will find his work all over the town. If he comes upon a pile of rocks, he will soon transform them into a “rock snake” or a “stone bird.” No patch of unused land or a dirt lot is immune to his art.
He is often at odds with some city officials and maintenance workers, and in particular, the city street sweeper who often obliterates his work such as a twenty-foot-long dinosaur adorning the streets and gutters. Sandman takes this very personally. After his work has been erased, he offers a few choice comments and casts aspersions upon all of those responsible. In his mind, he has a short list of “Haters” but vows to continue, come hell or high water.
Soon he is back at it with a vengeance — a forty-foot galactic mural of stars and planets is revealed by the morning sunrise. The Sandman has worked feverishly all night long in the cul-de-sac between the Coronado Shores condominiums and the Hotel Del. By morn, the glorious sunrise floods over his creation like some epic motion picture in a vast open air theater.
Today I went to see what he had created during the night. The sun had not yet risen, so I used the headlights of my car to light the way. This time he had left the single largest mural I have ever seen, and its precision was impressive. It was a monster-size teapot, encased by an even larger flower, and a single, ten-foot number three, the significance known only to the Sandman and his Angels.
The Sandman speaks with absolute certitude. “The Angel taught me how to create my art; and when I broke my right arm, he showed me how to do it with my other one, and now I do it better with my left arm.”
He talks to the Angels constantly, and sometimes he will tell you the conversation as he works: “Hey! I was making a giant cake, but the Angel said, ‘No! Paint a giant pumpkin head instead.’” He laughs gleefully at the thought and then returns to work with a renewed vigor.
The street sweeper appears. Sandman is alerted without even seeing him. He hears the brusque sound of the machine’s brushes. “That guy has a brush made of steel wire, and he is always ruining my art with it.” He turns his attention to the “Evil Machine.”
The operator revs his engine and begins his sweep. The Sandman focuses his eyes on the driver as the brushes scour the gutters for trash. The steel brush spins at high speed creating a grating, high-pitched whine. Sandman tenses and seems ready to fight, or worse. “If he touches my art, I will have the Angel stop him!” The truck inches closer, and Sandman is motionless save for a pair of flashing eyes, which are issuing an urgent warning to the driver. The tension is as thick as molasses as the two engage in a mental wrestling match. At the very last second, the driver swerves away, leaving the Sandman’s work intact.
As the sweeper disappears, Sandman stands victorious. “I told the Angel to stop him and he did!” He giggles maniacally before returning his attention to his art.