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I got catfished by a Craigslist weirdo selling Black Jesus art
Trust no one.
Those who know me often see me as this sort of Jane Austen character, or an Alicia-Silverstone-in-Clueless type of person. I’m always meddling in my friends’ affairs, trying to lead them to choices I know are right for them. Sometimes they listen and are rewarded with fabulous, carefree lives.
So when my coworker sent me this Craiglist ad (still active for now!), featuring artwork that apparently had to be sold because of a racist girlfriend, I considered interfering with this person’s personal affairs not only a pressing obligation but part of an ongoing mission.
The best black Jesus set in all of Texas. Exhibited at the MOMA as well as at the UT Harry Ransom Center. Invaluable, but… gotta girl I’m working, a white girl, and she ain’t having the art. Says she’ll toss it where it belongs. Not if you take it first!!! That’s why I’m asking virtually nothing for it. We have to keep our communal art alive so our childrens can know. What we be going through and all that. Jesus Saves.
Since I had such an ambitious goal—namely, to free the seller from the confines of bigotry and draw him into the light of my unconditional acceptance, opening his heart to a love that was not hindered by vitriolic prejudices—I had to start off easy, or “play the professional,” if you will. Masking my ulterior motives, I feigned interest in the art itself:
I live in Austin and came across your listing for your art set. It’s a great set, and I’m curious if you’d like to discuss the set and your situation in more detail.
I’m a reporter for The Daily Dot, and would like to feature your listing on our site. I could just send you a few questions, and you can provide as much or as little information as you’d like. Ideally, the feature could help you sell the set, and for more than what you’re asking!
Let me know if you’re interested. You can also contact me at 254-855-XXXX.
I am interested. Email me back an we can discuss the details. A very interesting story lies behind the pieces. The trucker Black Jesus has no prints, remaining the only one on the planet like it.
I had Rick Cabrera’s interest! So far, so good. Now to bombard him with questions, making sure to slide in some inquiries about his girlfriend. How much would he disclose?
Great to hear!
I am interested in the story behind each piece, if you bought them together, where you found them etc. Anything you find of personal interest, or you’d think the public would be interested in.
Do you know when they were featured at MoMA or the HRC? How do you know that the trucker one is the only available print in the world? How rare are the others? Have you had them appraised?
Can you further explain why you’re getting rid of them? Your ad indicates a woman you’re interested in doesn’t like them—how serious is it? Do you know why she doesn’t like them? Did you try to convince her of their value?
Why are you willing to get rid of them for virtually nothing?
I realize I just kind of bombarded you with these questions. I understand if some of the line of questioning is too personal. Feel free to take your time!
Thanks in advance for your willingness to share your story.
To start with: They were purchased separately. My grandmother began collecting them years ago and actually placed the trucker Black Jesus in my room as a child. I grew up with an appreciation of this genre of art, although she believed deeply that Jesus was black. My grandfather drove rigs and died while delivering crates of bibles to a church very close to the Twin Towers. Grandmother had faith that Jesus was with him and ushered him into heaven. She passed away soon after and left the Trucker Jesus to me in her will. I was informed, and still believe, that it is the only one in existence because she had it commissioned with a certificate of authenticity included. She claimed that the artist was very old at the time of the commission and was hesitant to paint it. I feel confident that nobody has since commissioned a velvet
Black Trucker Jesus painting.
I was contacted by the Harry Ransom Center in 2004, which found out about the collection from a professor in the Art Department with whom I was in a bowling league with. They wanted to purchase the collection, and despite the money offered, I couldn’t part with them. The trucker was especially meaningful because of its sentimental value as well as it being one-of-a-kind. I agreed to let them exhibit them instead. They were actually placed next to their permanent exhibit of the Gutenberg Bible during the exhibition. Imagine that!
I am getting rid of them because of love, as fluffy as that might
sound. Her father was a trucker, a white one, and she thinks it’s
disrespectful to have a work of art depicting a black Jesus who
divinely watches over the trucking community. I have told her that the painting is invaluable, to which she responded that she agrees. “It’s worthless,” she claims. She believes the painting is cursed and should be destroyed as not to ruin the lives of those in possession of it. I caught her trying to pull it out of its original hand-carved ornate frame in order to burn it, I assume. She wanted to keep the frame to place an original Detroit 1978 Ted Nugent concert poster inside of it. She says it was the first concert her parents ever took her to. I love the woman, but I think she has a misdirected position on what qualifies as art. I am willing to give them up for so cheap because Christ would not have wanted to be exploited by capitalism. I am not a religious profiteer. I felt that I must place some price on the post to allow it to reach more people (I must admit that I have very little experience with Craigslist). I was told by a friend that somehow this price would be more appropriate than giving it away for free. But it is essentially free, like Jesus would have wanted it. I’d most likely frame the dollar to remind me of what I had to give up for love.
After reading the backstory of Rick Cabrera’s trucker Jesus piece and how close Rick was with his grandmother, I just knew that girlfriend had to go. How could she not empathize with him? His grandfather died on 9/11, for (black) Christ’s sake! And to blaspheme his family’s name with a Ted Nugent poster, of all things!
I needed to speak with Rick Cabrera immediately. Again suggesting more interest in the art than a girl who clearly did not deserve the affections of this brave and sentimental man, I replied asking about meeting in person so I could see the set. (Read: “swoop in and save Rick from racism.”)
Wow, that truly is an incredible story.
Are you saying that your grandfather died as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11?
What’s the name of the professor in the Fine Arts department who you knew through the bowling league? Do you have the dates of the HRC exhibit, or the name of the exhibit that the HRC included your pieces in? If not, no worries, I actually work on campus, and have contacts at the HRC who could locate this information for me if needed. Do you mind disclosing to me the amount that the HRC offered you?
Would you be opposed to possibly meeting and showing me the set at some point?
The exhibition included pieces on urban spaces and multiculturalism. The center thought that the transport industry was an example of this, and, if I remember correctly, the “compression” (that’s what they kept saying: it means nothing to me) of space through modern transportation, or of the urban church as a meeting place for racially diverse communities. Honestly, it all sounds like art critic mumbo-jumbo to me. I felt like they were unknowingly being a little racist and insensitive. White people have a tendency to do that. Think they are being progressive but actually end up really being patronizing. The primary painting was just something my Christ-loving grandmother left to me. I was a little disappointed with how they turned it into some bizarre art-speak and expected me to understand what they were getting at. I just didn’t want to sell it to them, but they made me feel obligated to provide the art with a place to be seen. Spread the word of Jesus. My life revolves around his love. I kinda wish the professor didn’t say anything to them. He was a nice guy but I feel he intruded a little bit and put me on the spot. His name was Cruz and he moved to Brazil or Florida or something because he wasn’t offered a long-term job there. I clearly remember him being angry about that. Something about some committee rejecting him. I don’t know. It’s all ivory-tower stuff to me. Didn’t really know him well. He came over for beers only a few times but was fascinated with the art. Ill see if any of the guys from the league have his email or phone number or something. As for meeting, that would be tough. How could I explain to my girl that I’m meeting someone about an interview
on the art she despises? She doesn’t even know I’m selling it. She
thinks I’m trashing it. The only reason I can talk to you is because I
know she won’t read your website. And yes, Grandad was a victim of the attacks. God be with him.
Again with this terrible girlfriend! Did her malice know no bounds? I had to rescue Rick! I decided to back down a bit and ask for phone interview. I didn’t want this girlfriend to take away his Internet privileges. Still, I didn’t understand why he couldn’t meet me if he was trying to sell the art. I suspected the girlfriend had him on a tight leash.
I’ll reach out to my HRC contacts to find out more details. Do you recall the time period that they were exhibited? If you can’t meet, then how about a short phone interview? Also, if I’m interested in buying the pieces, how would I get them from you?
Good. They would know more than I can remember. I was consumed by a sad divorce at the time, with a woman who wanted to take more than I could give. But Jesus helped me through it. I unsuccessfully tried to find some old correspondence and I think it might have been 2004 or 2005. Something about spaces, like I said before. Most were photographs, so I thought including mine was quite strange, but they had their reasons, I guess. I should have kept up with the details of all that, because it would have likely made the paintings more valuable for some, making them willing to pay at least a dollar for them. I haven’t had any serious offers, meaning people that I believe respect the art enough that would make me willing to give it to them. Given my history with the work and it’s sentimental value for me, I’m sure you can understand why I’d like it to go to someone who deserves it, rather than someone who wants to make a joke out of it or see it through the sad eyes of irony. It has meaning. Personal and public I believe and I appreciate your interest in it. I hope your story will help it get the attention it deserves, as well as possibly spread the word of Jesus in these troubled times.
At this point, I didn’t respond. I couldn’t. He’d caught me faking artistic curiosity! I was humiliated. I thought for sure I’d never be able to help Rick Cabrera. That is, until he responded again, without any prompt from me.
I have a few potential takers, as they have impressed me somewhat
with their connection to the work. I hope the article is going well.
Can’t wait to read it. God bless.
I appreciated his concern for my “article,” but, naturally, I continued to feel an overwhelming desire to meet Rick. I’d already searched his name but had come up with no leads. In this last piece of correspondence, however, his actual (not Craigslist) email was listed in the quoted reply: [email protected]. This led me to his website, an archive of him lying to people online for sport. I hoped and prayed it wasn’t true:
This is your site, correct?
Are you talking about this site???
I had not in any way prepared for this possibility. I never considered the fact that someone could deceive me over the Internet in order to ridicule me and expose my personal information. I mean, never. Not once. Not wanting to appear too emotional (I was crying while I drafted my response to him), I simply asked him to remove my phone number, as I didn’t want the masses of his dedicated following harassing me.
Would you mind censoring my last name and phone number, please?
I did. Do you still want the art?
I provided a hint of emotion (I’m not a robot) with the word “sad” and again asked him about removing my phone number.
Sadly, I don’t actually believe you’re in possession of it.
And you clearly didn’t hide my number. I feel like that’s a fair request.
That’s highly disrespectful. I might joke but I don’t lie. Just think
of it as a text based installation on loss and absence. Speaking of
textual works on the beauties of loss and absence, here’s my black
trucker Jesus with Samuel Beckett. There’s another of him posing with another piece of art my grandmother left me.
This email came with two photos. We have to externally link to the (NSFW) first one, unfortunately, but, ironically, I also own a version of this (NSFW) timeless relic. We really aren’t so different, Rick Cabrera and I.
Here’s the second one:
Phew—so at least he really owned the trucker Jesus, an unquestionably profound piece of work. It looks like it has a nice place on his wall, undisturbed by the hands of a racist girlfriend. (For those wondering, Rick Cabrera threw in the “Go Bobcats!!!” because he had seen one of my alma maters listed on my Facebook page—he friend-requested me, but I am too hurt and unwilling to ever trust another human again). Defeated by Rick’s ruse and his stubborn refusal to remove my phone number, yet not wanting to show it, I eventually sent him our last correspondence:
Wow, well that CL photo did not do this work any justice. Truly stunning.
Thanks for sharing!
So, with my final message to Rick (our last few exchanges didn’t make it to his site, for some reason), I finally came to accept the reality of the situation: “Rick Cabrera” is simply a mean-spirited, less funny David Thorne. Remember him? He humorously manipulated people over email, but if I remember correctly, he did this without appealing to gross tropes or code-switching in order to provoke. But hey, we can’t all be great at doing something someone already successfully did seven years ago.
Photo via Argya Diptya/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Jené Gutierrez is a reporter whose work focuses on feminism, politics, and internet culture.