The email comes out of nowhere. The man who sent it is one of the last people I’d expect to contact me. He’s the owner of a mushrooming network of music venues, cocktail bars, and vaguely chic eateries. It’s an invitation to meet. He says he might have some work for me. He asks, as an afterthought, whether we’ve met before.

It’s too left field not to follow up on. Also, a day or two before, a commission blew up in my face, so it would be unwise to turn up my nose at money. No matter the source.

I write back and we set a time.

The restaurant sits below a concert hall. It’s an old building that’s been tastefully semi-restored. There are intentionally unfinished walls and repurposed this and retro/vintage that. You know this place. If you live in an American city right now, you can visit at least a half dozen of these per zip code.

The man’s design director meets me before her boss shows up. We have an easy rapport. The job is to replace five shitty figure drawings in gilded custom frames. She and I brainstorm until he shows up. We’d both hoped the frames could be jettisoned, but no dice; he spent too much on them. My paintings will have to fit their long narrow dimensions.

He asks if we’ve met before. I remind him when and where. It was back when his empire consisted of just one corner bar. I don’t tell him about how I knew for sure back then that I could never work for him. Look at me now.

We agree on terms and I set to work. The job is a lot more fulfilling than many I’ve done for much nicer people. It makes me feel connected to all those painters, stretching centuries back, doing their best for truly horrible people. Maybe this is the way it has to be.

I don’t feel bad afterwards and I won’t feel bad cashing the man’s check. No matter what I think of him.