So today at work, the God Lady came in.
The God Lady is…well, not to mince words, batshit insane. That would probably be okay, because if it wasn’t for the batshit insane, retail jobs would lose half their customers and all their amusement value. If she confined herself to telling my female co-workers to make “the boys” lift anything heavier than a single canvas, because otherwise they’d “strain their woman parts,” she would be merely an entertaining footnote to the day.
However, God Lady…well, apparently God talks to her. Gives her visions. She paints what God tells her to.
Now, far be it from me to question how anybody wants to experience the divine. God tells you to paint, it is not my job or my place to say you nay.
I just wish God didn’t require quite so much glitter. Leaving aside all questions of aesthetics, it gets in everything. We’re picking bits of divinity off other people’s art for days.
So today she comes in, which I discover when my framing cohort looks up, gets the deer-in-the-headlights look, mutters “Gottago–uh–uh–washmyhands!” and dives for the emotional safety of the ladies room. I look up in time to see a canvas approach, being carried by a traumatized looking coworker and God Lady.
I shall not describe this canvas, because I firmly believe that it is unkind to mock other people’s art when they mean well and find emotional satisfaction in what they do, but I will note–because it is important later–that much of it consisted of handfuls of gold leaf flakes dumped on the canvas, and apparently held in place by either static electricity or perhaps divine intervention.
And glitter. A LOT of glitter. And some twigs that had been sprayed with glitter and then glued down.
I began flinging butcher paper over the counter, like someone trying desperately to board up the windows in advance of a glitter typhoon.
They set the victim down. I looked at it. I looked up at God Lady. I looked back down at the canvas. I remembered that I had wanted to be a Vulcan as a child, and those hours spent practicing keeping a straight face. I looked over at my co-worker, who was making the frantic “Oh my god we’ve got a live one” eyes in my direction. I looked back down at the canvas.
“So,” I said. “You’re looking to frame this?”
“Yes,” she said, “but first I have to spray it with something to seal this stuff down. Otherwise I’m afraid it’ll come off if you turn it over.”
She waved a hand at the flapping gold leaf. “That’d probably be a good idea…” I said, having visions of picking bits of gold leaf off everything for the next six weeks.
“Well, then,” she said, to my coworker, who was trying to communicate, by the width of her eyes, that the woman was beyond deranged. “You wanna get me some of that spray stuff?”
Co-worker clearly debated between offering to show the woman where we kept our spray stuff, and the option of fleeing the scene. Flight won.
“I’m just gonna spray it right here,” the woman told me.
“Um,” I said, in a voice that meant “No.”
“Just a few sprays.”
“Uh…” I said, in a voice that meant “No, really. No.”
We are a small and largely unventilated shop. We have no windows and no vent. Somebody using the fume-ridden markers that put the fake cherry patina over the joins can drop our collective IQ a good twenty points. There was no WAY I was letting this woman start slathering spray varnish back here.
“I just need to tack this down…” She started pressing leaf down with her fingers. And then more leaf. And then more.
It occurred to me that she was planning on leafing the entire 24 x 48 canvas with one finger while I stood and watched, because she hadn’t bothered to adhere the gold leaf before coming. God had apparently forgotten to mention a fixative when she was taking celestial dictation.
Coworker returned with spray varnish. “I think this might work…”
“Ma’am,” I said, stiffening my spine, “I’m going to have to ask you to do that outside. We don’t have the ventilation for that in here.”
“Just a few sprays,” she said, trying to open the can. “Here, you open it.” She thrust it at me.
I began to feel like a condemned prisoner who is required to attach his own electrodes. “You will have to buy this if I open it,” I said. “Are you sure this is the right stuff?”
“How much is it?”
I looked at Coworker, who was lurking within earshot, because who’d want to miss a scene like this? “Eleven fifty,” said Coworker.
“Why so expensive?” demanded God Lady.
I spread my hands and opened and closed my mouth in the fashion of one who does not control the market value of chemicals.
“Well, fine. I’ll buy it, fine.” I got the distinct impression that I was cramping her style.
“Great, but I still can’t let you do that back here…”
“Just a few sprays…”
I sent Coworker off to find a manager. Manager John returns, looks at the canvas, blinks briefly as his finely honed aesthetic sense meets his sense of customer service, looks up at me, looks at the spray varnish.
“Ma’am, I can’t let you spray that back here…”
“Just a few sprays!”
“We’ll take it out back and you can do it there,” he said, with great authority, and hustled her and her canvas off.
My other coworker returned from a ten minute hand-wash, said “Is she still–?”
She handed me a bag of metallic foil flakes and said “If she gets too bad, throw this at her and run.” Then she went to hide behind the mat cutter, which made me think she probably wasn’t joking.
God Lady returned a few moments later, manager in tow, and sent him out to her car to bring in the other canvases. I had already entered the dimensions for her glitter-encrusted visual psalm and was able to tell her rapidly how much it would cost to frame, which was rather a lot, because it was A) a very large piece, and B) we’d have to handle it with biohazard suits to keep from fatal glitter inhalation.*
“Why so expensive?”
“It’s a big piece, ma’am…”
“Fine, then I just want a string on it.”
“What are we charging for wiring these days?” I asked, turning to my terrified cohort.
“Four bucks apiece,” she said, a number pulled completely out of thin air, but pretty fair, given the contortions we were about to go through with a big canvas that had to get wired without being flipped over.
“I used to get this for free…”
“Well, now we charge for it,” I said bluntly. She tried to stare me down. I used my Eye Of The Flounder kung fu, a blank look containing neither weakness, pity, or in many cases consciousness. She muttered “Fine.”
The other two canvases came in. They were also glittery, with glass pebbles attached everywhere. If you glue rocks to the very edge of a canvas, it is no longer framable except in “float” frames which are front loaded. She did not like those frames. Also, they were expensive. “Why won’t this frame work?” she asked, holding up one of our clearanced pieces.
“Well…leaving aside that the rocks are in the way, it’s the wrong size…”
This did not please her. I showed her the three inch gap on the sides that would occur. This pleased her less.
“Madam,” I said, after a few minutes of going around on this, when more gentle methods of explanation had foundered on the shoals of obliviousness, “it is not physically possible to do what you’re asking. We cannot DO that. You’d have to take off these rocks here.”
“Fine,” she grumbled. “Then just string it up too.”
“It’ll be just a few minutes!” Cohort said brightly. “We can come and find you when we’re–“
“But if you wanted to finish your shopping, we’ll have this done for you in just a–“
“I SAID I’ll pay for it! I’ll wait!”
Pleasantries thus concluded, Cohort and I got to wiring. Wiring a canvas to hang is a small, mindless, not-terribly-difficult task…unless it’s a very large piece that you can’t turn over. Then it becomes tricky. If you’re scared to hold it up past a 45 degree angle for fear of precipitating a gold leaf slide, it becomes particularly thrilling. You need another party–in this case our manager–to hold the thing up, while the two of us crouched down, electric screwdrivers over our heads, attaching the hooks.
We were like a well-oiled machine. We got it done. We set them down in front of her.
“Take these out to the car,” God Lady instructed the manager.
“It’s unlocked. If you want to open the trunk, pop the button.”
Desire to have her gone and out of our misery won over any other concern. Manager John grabbed the canvas and fled. She waited, like a devout and annoyed vulture, until he had carried out all three, then stalked off to the registers.
For one hour and twenty minutes worth of taking orders and explaining the laws of physics and economics, our store received the princely sum of twelve dollars and eighty-one cents. That should just about cover the amount of soap we required to get all the glitter and gold leaf bits off our hands.
*No, B technically wouldn’t add anything to the price, but we can and do tack on a nuisance fee for art that’s impossible to handle because, to use an example completely and totally at random, somebody didn’t tack down the gold leaf.