About Me

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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Friday, March 18, 2011

In the Eye of the Beholder

I'd had it in the corporate world, at least under the circumstances in which I was working. I'd come to my executive position after years of very liberal employment in a labor union. I felt strangled for a number of reasons. Assistant to the Executive Committee sounds quite lovely, and I had a glorious office in a beautiful new custom-constructed building. But the place was owned and directed by people who were rather . . . whimsical. Since no one on the Executive Committee wanted to do anything . . . unpleasant, those sorts of tasks fell to me. On the rare occasions when the owner would drop in, her constant-canine-companions would get a little distressed for some reason. Every time. They were enormous, well-fed dogs. I was expected to clean up after them. We didn't have a custodian, just a night-shift cleaning service. It fell to me to "counsel" young women (who were barely paid a subsistence wage) when they didn't dress in Jones New York career wear. And when I wanted to wear an outfit with transparent pantyhose, I was asked to first apply a bandaid to my very discreet tattoo so no one would see it. You may think none of that is justification to leave a job, and I'd usually agree. But I was 3 months away from turning 55, when my monthly pension would start and I'd have some supplemental financial stability. After years of advocating for employees, I chafed against being directed to treat people badly in the name of their employment. I needed to start looking for a different situation.

The newspaper advertisements were full of potential, and my resume was ready to go. I got up early, took on some coffee and hit the phones. By midmorning, I was deflated. I don't recall that I ever spoke with one actual human being. I listened to a number of recordings telling me to fax, e-mail, U.S. mail or drop off my paperwork and if I looked acceptable, I'd be contacted in the future and blah, blah, blah. Hey, I was on the job market! I wanted to meet a person and hear about the job they offered and convince them I was their woman if I thought I'd be a fit. I only talked to one such person, though the ad was two stoplights beyond borderline for me: "Entrepreneur Seeks Personal Assistant". Oh, it sounded Las Vegas-y to me! I didn't like to wonder what kind of personal assistance might be needed, but the man sounded very legitimate, his office was in a location that sounded safe to me, and I had no better prospects. Besides, I'm not usually opposed to "go find out what it's all about." The person was David, and I ended up in what has - so far - been my happiest and most rewarding employment situation in life. However, that's not precisely what this post is about.

I pulled into the small, off-street business plaza and found the suite I wanted. There was no company name on the door. I stepped inside and asked for David. "Sure, have a seat for just a moment and I'll get him for you!" I wasn't sure there was a seat for me, but I didn't want to appear to be nervous or about to bolt, so I finally perched on the edge of a chair and looked around the place. It was a rabbit warren of hallways and small, interior offices, stark white paint and no names on any of the doors except one: A1 Carpet Care. Oh, I could figure that out! Otherwise, I didn't know. There were a lot of busy workers. They didn't seem to be doing anything relating to carpets. Well, no harm. I'd know soon enough.

The reason I'd had difficulty finding a seat is that every square inch of floor, wall and countertop was taken up by miles and miles of truly shitty "swap meet art". The air reeked of oil paint. Some of the stacks were precarious, so one wanted to scoot sideways between the rows or tuck in the tummy or rear while navigating between piles. If one could find a seat in a chair, leaning back against the wall was inadvisable for concern of knocking pictures off the walls. The smallest of the paintings was larger than I, the largest of them, larger than my apartment. Most of them appeared to be celebrity studies. Muhammad Ali and Oscar de la Hoya, some NASCAR guy, a couple of Muhammad Ali together with the early Beatles (what?) which didn't impress me at all, Beatles notwithstanding. "Geez," thought I, "who in the world . . . no matter how much blank wall space you needed to cover up . . " "Leslie, come on back to see David!" I spent the next hour interviewing and when I left the place I simply shuddered at all that "art" and went on my way.

I started work at A1 the very next morning. In and out of the office each day, my purse and leather tote bag in my hands, I learned quickly when to swing a hip or do-si-do to avoid a stack of paintings on the way to the break room. The oil paint odor simply became part of the landscape. I know what to do if my surroundings don't smell like a flower field.

For my first several months of employment, David and I shared a very small office space, practically knee-to-knee beneath the desktops. He wanted me to learn that business by watching him run it. It was effective! I learned. Our office doors were glass, so others could see when we were in. Since the other office doors were usually closed, and the entire place a beehive, people often came in to visit us for a chat, a laugh, a breather. I'd been there only a few days when David's partner, George, stuck his head in our area to say "Steve's here." David glanced my way. We already understood one another pretty well. "He's the guy who paints these pictures," he told me. I thought to myself that we really needed some more of those stacked up, but said nothing. I figured we might owe him $100 from the swap meet last weekend and I kept working.

When he came into our presence, he filled the room. He was 6'7" or 6'8", a loud speaker, and just as comfortable delivering his monologue of the day in our office as he was at home in the Bronx. When I was introduced, his eyes never tracked an inch. I did not exist, no molecules taking up any space in the room. His bellowing voice attracted the men of the place and soon there was standing room only. He name-dropped shamelessly, as if no one else in the room ever knew a Las Vegas big-timer . . . and when he was finished with us, he left, all the men following after him like the Pied Piper. All except David. I stopped writing, as I'd been pretending to work during the "show", put down my pen and slowly raised my eyes to meet David's. "Go ahead," he almost grinned. I blew. I'd rarely met anyone who could offend me at just about every level of my person in so short a time. "Sexist, ignorant, insensitive, benighted . . " I sputtered. "I agree. I think part of it is that people just inflate his ego so he believes he's that wonderful."

I shook my head and got back to work. David got busy clacking away at his keyboard. He gestured for me to come and look at his monitor. There was that big rascal who'd just left our company! "Oh, I don't want to look at him!" He asked me to hang on and read just a few lines. Hey, he was my new boss. I'd read. "What? Assistant to Andy Warhol? Completed Warhol's unfinished work when the artist died? Commissioned by the Pablo Picasso Academy of Fine Art to paint a portrait of Picasso? Recognized by the Nevada Congress? The only American artist ever awarded the Pablo Picasso Ring? Painted the portrait of Van Gogh used in the Van Gogh Museum's logo? WTF?" David clicked to another webpage. The reader would be shocked to see what one can charge for a large piece of shitty swap meet art. My jaw dropped. David grinned. "I should have told you. I was just so focused on getting you trained." I nodded. I let him know that, absent any other choices, I'd recently put my purse on top of one of the stacks while I was in the ladies room. I could as easily have accidentally put my foot through one of the canvases. Yow.

The paintings were appropriately cataloged and moved to a secure storage location. The artist died unexpectedly. David and his partner own a fine stock of paintings valuable for many different reasons now. Those in the "beehive" contact private collectors and galleries daily, looking for the perfect match of knowledgeable collector to fine art. Oh, me? I have something to do, as well. I am to write a comprehensive, well-researched biography, for none exists. While the artist is well-documented in gallery show announcements and photo ops with celebrities he painted, for humanitarian causes he supported, and for a small vanity coffee table book he published containing his own autobiography, there is little independent, verified information about him in print. That's my job. Oh, come on! I don't understand football, but I know who Tom Brady is. And I know how to learn.

In my ears right now:
Because this is just the way it feels right now ~


  1. Can you start with, "sexist, ignorant, insensitive, benighted...uniquely talented artist"? Is that horrible to say now that he's passed away?

  2. Oh Les - glad it's not just me with a healthy disrespect for art!

    Made me laugh - I guess he had a right to his arrogance.

    Well, you've certainly had some experiences - learning and a half.

  3. @ CramCake ~ Actually, two days into this, I already have so many positives to say about his WORK (don't yet know enough about him as a person except my own few, brief experiences) that he will likely come off like every other human being in biography - a mixed bag of greens.

  4. @ Rachel ~ Oh, my friend, I'm pretty good at sticking my foot into my mouth. But I have broad shoulders, so when it's time to shrug them and say, "Well, OK," I can do that, too. I'm certainly learning a lot about pop art. It still isn't a big hit with me yet.

  5. Is that the one where Ali knocked out McCartney? Egotism and talent seem to go hand in hand.

  6. @ Tag ~ Oh, very good, sir! Yes, that image among many, many others.

  7. How much am I allow to say here?

  8. @ Kirk ~ Go for it! It's fine now that I've told what the assignment is. ;~}

  9. OK, as I told you privately, I found the pictures entertaining enough, but don't believe they advance the cause of Pop Art one iota. And the reason I find them entertaining has absolutely nothing to do the art. If you show me a picture of the Rat Pack just by itself, without the wild colors added, I would find it entertaining. The colors add nothing. The same holds through for Elvis and Marilyn. Brittney and Madonna smooching is inherently provocative. The artist didn't make it more so. When Andy Warhol and the other Pop Art pioneers painted this kind of thing almost 50 years ago, they were asking us to look at our culture in a new way, in a forum (serious art) usually off-limits to pop culture. That way is no longer new. This artist is merely cashing in on nostalgia and the omnipresent celebrity culture. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing to be egotistical about either, at least not artistically.

  10. @ Kirk ~ I am glad you rang in again! Truly. First, I think you have more foundation from which to speak than I do. After all, I'm having to research both him as a person AND pop art. I don't disagree with one thing you've said here. I'm just glad I'm not having to be an art critic. I just have to tell his story. BTW, I've already got a good quote and a pretty good feeling about him when I looked something up. OF COURSE, people got right up in his face to say "You're derivative of Warhol." He had a pretty philosophical response to that. And I also like that when he completed Warhol's unfinished works (some not even completely sketched by Warhol) and some suggested he sign them "Warhol", he said "Uh-uh." Mixed can of nuts, like every other human being, I think.