Last month my dad got sick and then ended up in the hospital for a low blood count. As his discharge neared, my family went into red alert mode and started sorting out which sibling needed to be where for coverage when he came home, and oh, he was coming home with a catheter. I volunteered to come on the weekend, and although I can be squeamish, I am also a mother, so honestly, my squeamishness is probably more of a state of mind than a real thing. But he’s my dad, so, I volunteered and got assigned … art show pick-up duty.
Wait, wha? Luckily my friend had texted me a week earlier saying her mom really liked my dad’s art show. And I was like, what art show? The art show itself wasn’t unusual, he paints a lot and does 1 or 2 shows year. It’s just that he usually tells us about it. I couldn’t decide if the sickness had made him forget, or he’s 90 years old, or, most likely, is the worse artistic self-promoter on the planet.
In any event, my coworkers were giving me weird looks and repeating slowly, “So your dad’s coming home from the hospital and you have to leave work early and drive to another state to … pick up his artwork?” You could almost see the thought bubble above their head, “Don’t have a medical emergency with that one — sibs only trust her with inanimate objects.”
But, the show must come down, so my sister also volunteered, and soon were emailing with the woman who coordinates the space. It’s in a common room in an assisted living, and she said there were 16 or 17 pieces.
Um, OK. I have a Toyota Corolla, but my dad packed and brought the paintings himself in his car which is not really any bigger than mine, so we decide to drive his car. Yeah, we got this!
Of course the artist was feeling better and giving very pointed directions on how properly stack and transport the paintings to anyone in earshot, whether they were picking them up or not. It involves card board separators and stacking them back to back, then frame to frame. Saturday arrives and of course, it’s raining — a hard, steady, gonna-get-your-pretty-paintings-wet rain. Nature can be a real jerk sometimes.
The sit-com shenanigans began the minute we arrived at the assisted living lobby.
“Hi, we’re here to meet Jane,” I said brightly to the receptionist.
“So am I,” she responded in a slightly exasperated tone. “She’s late!”
I was a little confused, but I thought, well, maybe Jane works there and coordinates the art. A few moments later, Jane, a tall blonde woman in her early 30s swoops in with the rain, shaking drops from her rain coat.
“Jane!” the receptionist and I exclaim together. She quickly apologizes to the receptionist, and then turns slowly to me, with a blank look on her face.
“It’s me, Sandy and my sister.” Nothing. “We’re here for the art.” Nada. “Are you Jane White?”
No, of course she isn’t. And just like that, they pay no more attention to us. OK, then.
Not long after an older, white-haired lady shows up and it’s our Jane. Great. I’m just happy to have someone who knows the ropes, because the people here don’t seem to know anything about Jane or the art. My sister is looking at her wondering how this little old lady is going to help us at all. Jane goes off to find the luggage rack she usually uses to stack the art, and my sister and I head upstairs to start taking down the pieces. We end up making a good team, I take the art down and put it in a large trash bag to keep the rain off it. I was too impatient to do more than just fold the end of the bag over, but my sister happily, and I might add, painstakingly taped each bag closed. That rain was really not going to get in.
After a while Jane came back. She usually takes the shows down during the week — we were taking it down a few days early because that’s when we were available. It seems because it’s the weekend, the large rack she usually uses is nowhere to be found, and no one seems to know where it is. She did find a smaller one that seems kind of rickety, but it’s all we have, so we’ll make do. We chat while we’re working and we learn she is 86, and yet she keeps saying what an inspiration my dad is because he’s 90. I think they are both pretty inspiring. My dad, however, can be a mass of contradictions and is stubborn, and even in the face of other artists telling him they like his work, he continues to deny it’s any good and he’s terrible with people. Yes, that’s why they ask you to have a show, because you suck and they hate you. We explain this side of him, which of course is news to her. It always is.
She seems like a nice, positive person who has a sense of humor, so I decide to throw my dad under the bus.
“He didn’t tell us he was having an art show.” She of course then lists all the things she did to promote the show, including sending a PDF flyer to him to send to friends and family. I assured her at least her newspaper and other promotions worked because my friend’s mom learned about it and came to see the show.
We have stacked most of the 17 art pieces upright like books on a shelf onto the rickety cart. Jane and I start to push it carefully to the elevator to get it to the first floor. There are a few people sitting in easy chairs on our way, but no one challenges us. I joke with Jane that we’re like two art thieves making the big heist, pretending to be the gallery coordinator and the artist’s daughters. We both start laughing about that. I decide I want to be like Jane when I grow up.
We manage to get the cart outside. The good news is the walkway to my car is mostly covered, protecting us and the art from the rain; the bad news is the walk is really long, especially when you are pushing a too small cart, loaded down with your father’s treasured art. We’re laughing and struggling, and just before we get to the end, the cart falls apart, and half the paintings slide off. I manage to hold them upright with my body and start laughing even harder. Also, hooray for the plastic bags. Jane joins me because, at this point there really is nothing you can do except laugh. Well you can call your sister upstairs and say with a barely straight face, “Um, can you come down here? We have a situation.” I was so grateful Jane was so good-humored and not anxious or upset. As I waited for my sister to come down and stared out into the rain, I thought, this would really suck if Jane weren’t so cool.
My sister comes down and it takes her a minute to realize I am holding up the entire contraption and art with my body. We switch places, and I back up my car just to the end of the walk.
Of course, it’s still raining hard.
But the art is securely taped up and soon we have it loaded into his care and in her car, and I’m wrangling the cart back together.
We decide that we can do better to take the remaining pieces ourselves and leave the little cart where we found it, so it can collapse under some coats or luggage. The “little old lady” has a number paintings with frames under her arms and is marching down the stairs with them.
We wave goodbye and head back to my dad’s house. He is impressed with the secure tape, and believe me he’s not easy to impress. He seems happy the art is back. He had the cheek to comment how no one from the family went to see the exhibit. See why I threw him under the bus? Just so I could defend our honor. “Jane said she sent you a flyer to send to family and friends; I can’t go to an exhibit I don’t know about,” which sent him into a sputtering admission that maybe he hadn’t sent it out. I told him my friend’s mother did read it in the paper and saw it, and he was genuinely surprised. You gotta love this guy.
In the meantime, another friend of his came by to pick up art she wanted for a show she was putting together. This guy doesn’t need a home health aide, he needs an art coordinator. He claimed he didn’t have any more art shows in the making, but I don’t believe a word of it. I set my Google alerts for any mention of John Deden exhibitions, so I’ll be ready for the next art heist.