One of the constant themes of my new novel, “A CANARY FLIES THE CANYON” is my theory that very little in life is random. The older we get the more it becomes apparent that patterns have formed, woven into the tapestry of our lives. Seemingly “random” or “chance” events, viewed in retrospect, fit nicely into a whole cloth fabric that would be unfinished and meaningless without them, including the less than pleasant occurrences that might have seemed ruinous when they happened. Every thread carries meaning; every slub or irregularity adds texture and carries purpose in its being. The perfect parts are beautiful but pale in comparison to the unusual, imperfect areas where mistakes were dealt with and learned from….
The heroine of my novel, Annie, born an artist with a no-nonsense’ practical flip-side as well, experiences a life of loss, loneliness and conflict underneath the wrapper of her creative passion. She encounters three men who become pivotal in her romantic life; each offers experiences that will paint her life with indelible lessons.
Annie also meets a woman named Kerri who becomes a friend to her, filling in those blanks when she needs to confide in a woman and laugh about life as only two crazy kindred spirits can. This woman, Kerri, owns an art gallery and offers Annie the position of director; of course Annie accepts and thus begins an adventure that will spice her life with fascinating people and situations, rippling out into the future for many years to come.
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 18 – The Slim Chance of Randomness, where Annie begins her new job.
The Slim Chance of Randomness
Lessons keep repeating
Until you pay attention.
Everything comes back again in another form.
Nothing disappears without a trace.
New faces and old traces;
Haven’t I known you before?
By early fall of that momentous year of 2002, coming on the heels of 9/11/01, being laid off in early January of ‘02, then my mother’s death in April and my daughter’s wedding in July, plus the consistently disturbing issues with Blake, I had gotten a new job and removed myself from the unemployment list. I interviewed for gallery director position at a very successful gallery in the upscale mall near my neighborhood. I got the position and was instantly thrown in with a small but fascinating group of people who changed my life forever and made me giggle again. I felt that I had been sprung loose and rewarded after doing hard time in the world of finance with the slick financial advisor for six damn years.
The owner of the gallery was a larger than life woman named Kerrigan Jones. Hers was a name I had heard several years before in Denver art circles, and she had also heard of me because of my art. We had actually worked for competing art companies at that time and each of us had huge respect for the other. Her mother, Martine, initially interviewed me, with another person, a young guy named Troy, who worked in the gallery. It didn’t seem like an interview; it was like three people talking about art, laughing and trading insider stories. I felt right at home and in my element.
Several days later when Kerri came home from her trip to South Africa, she met me at the gallery looking all tan and safari-ish, blonde hair flying and blue eyes twinkling (not unlike my own) as she walked toward me. She sort of gave me a half-hug which reassured me, without saying, that she was in favor of adding me to her payroll. I was curious about her, wanted to know her better and I immediately had an inkling that we’d be great friends. After talking for an hour in a very un-interview sort of way, about our backgrounds and our current situations she gave me her stamp of approval and I was in. I knew it was the beginning of something lasting and important in my life.
We had been raised with similar values and in similar situations – country homes – mine in Indiana, hers in Colorado. Our fathers were forces of nature, heart-stoppingly handsome and in charge, married to curvaceous blonde, blue-eyed women who adored them, for a time, until it ended abruptly. Kerri and I had dovetailed memories of our wild and independent youths, not just riding our horses, but racing them at breakneck speeds across vast expanses of fields, hell-bent on getting nowhere in particular as fast as we could. We were each given great childhood freedom as we grew up; and we willingly took it. When we looked back, it seemed to border on parental neglect, but we didn’t know it at the time. Our parents, well, there was plenty of drinking, some infidelities by our fathers, divorces, fathers remarried, my mother did not, hers did. Did I say plenty of drinking?
Kerri was married, by just a hair, to a man named Max with whom she fell in and out of love and hate as if he was a bad bad movie with one unusual scene she could not stop watching. Their marriage changed as fast as the weather in Denver. Their marital climate bordered on, no it frequently arrived at verbal abuse, weekly it seemed, and I could not understand it, I could not keep up with its volatile nature and I was exposed to the toll it took on Kerri all the damn time. In my opinion it was irreversibly damaging to her. She had been robbed of the person she used to be; the confident woman who had big dreams and shining aspirations. I guess I was the only one who could help her find her true self again. She told me as much. We were kindred spirits.
The gallery was perfectly located, just outside the second floor entrance to Nordstrom and directly across from a busy wine bar/restaurant. I considered the position a cushy job. It took me five minutes to drive to work and I understood the business so well, from the inside out, what my duties and responsibilities were and where to get started. I felt confident and enthusiastic. On the days when Kerri and I worked together we bonded quickly, talking for hours on end and defining our vision for what the gallery could become. She had a wicked cackle of a laugh and I could always make her use it. I loved her like a long lost sister – she was smart and funny and she had been around the block of life a couple or three times at least. She was no fool. I could look across the gallery at her as she was making a sales pitch to someone and know instinctively when it was wise to interject a comment that would leverage the strategy she was using and help her close the sale; she could do the same for me. We also used eye contact and gestures back and forth during the day to remind each other of sales points and key words that we used successfully when we were dealing with customers. We were a team. There is an art to selling art; it is a delicate dance; people like to know how, where and why they need to make an expensive art purchase. It is a highly subjective decision but any sincerely delivered advice proves effective time and time again in swinging a customer from indecisive to certain. When big money is involved, as it usually is, long deliberation is the norm.
I thought Kerri’s mom was an interesting study. She was an aging beauty, a little worse for the wear, highly eccentric, constantly nervous with several tics she kept repeating as she spoke – a cracking of her neck to one side, a thing she did with her shoulders that went up and down and a tendency to lick her lips excessively. Perhaps a bit unstable and hair-triggered, I thought. Rather impulsive; a reactionary personality. She loved men and she hated them, exactly like my own mother. I could not quite figure her out but I certainly did not want to get on her bad side for any reason real or imagined, and I had a slight suspicion that could happen at the drop of a hat. Her mood swings came and went twenty times a day. She wore things that wrapped, she was always swaddled in a bunch of fabrics of varying color and pattern. I had no idea where she was inside all that. She looked like she was running a fever for lack of ventilation. She was perennially flushed.
The guy, Troy, who shaved his head and oiled it up until it was shiny chose his words carefully so as not to appear stupid, and was so obviously in love with Kerri that it hurt to watch him. She was entirely out of his league; he would have cleaned the floor with his tongue for her. I liked him, but he seemed unsophisticated and naïve, yet we needed him because he was our muscles. He made himself useful with framing, doing any heavy lifting and art deliveries for clients.
Then there was another employee named Sandra who was a lady wrestler in her off time, with an alias lady wrestler type name which cannot be repeated here. She was a little hard looking, tatted up and muscular but she could sell art til’ the cows came home. In fact she could not stop talking, but in sales that is sometimes a plus. After I began working there I found out that she was sort of on probation, in danger of losing her position, because she was a little on the undependable side. Her boyfriend Chung was a rock star in the world of wrestling, with his giant chiseled body, long lanky hair and dozens of piercings. He was a scary dude. Having him in the gallery occasionally to pick up Sandra was both an attraction and a detriment – crowds of (also pretty wacked out) wrestling fans who recognized him quickly formed a gang asking for his autograph but then other potential art buyers, more cultured and refined, bolted for the door. It was never a dull moment in there. Psychos to the left of me and freak show on the right, stuck in the middle…welcome to the art scene. It sometimes reminded me of the bar scene in one of the original Star Wars movies, and if Jar Jar Binks himself had walked in to apply for a job or purchase a painting I would not have given it a second thought. Thank you very much, I thought, glad to be back. This is going to be entertaining. Is it cocktail hour yet?
Kerri and her staff all put a lid on it and managed to look normal-ish and respectable on the surface while working in the gallery. But in the world of art the existence of an underbelly was not unusual at all. It was all part of the game. Kerri herself was my type of gal. We laughed at the same things, which was most often stories about the men who had come and gone in our lives, mostly come. She was taller than I, bosomy and blonde. At one point in her life she had modeled lingerie, and she still looked the part. At another point she had lived in L.A. and sold fine art to film stars and professional athletes, requiring flamboyance and show-biz tendencies. She knew the Stones and had spent an entire night with them in the bar of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver after their concert, telling stories and talking about Africa. She always swore she hadn’t slept with any of them, but, well, I mean if any girl like Kerri or I ever had the chance to sleep with one of the Stones… you know. Who wouldn’t? ( I guess a lot of people wouldn’t, you are probably thinking.) Whether she did or not remains a mystery even to me. Ahem.
She had purchased the gallery because it was a screaming good deal based upon a track record of sales approaching a million for the two years prior to 9/11. Gallery sales in that range were unheard of in the Denver area at the time. But Kerri had charisma, the gallery had a large client list and she could sell art like no one I had ever seen. I also had that talent so we were unstoppable…for a while anyway. We were always working the phones; our strong database of customers kept coming back and we had the networking skills to grow it by leaps and bounds.
Kerri owned a large parcel of land in South Africa with her uncle Rob, a bold, adventurous man who I admired very much. He had been a helicopter pilot in the Viet Nam war, then a bush pilot in South Africa after that. He had many secret missions in his past and a list of friends in very high places in South Africa; he ran in the same circles with Nelson Mandela and his associates. He was snapping up real estate there and had homes in Cape Town and up near Kruger Park. Kerri traveled back and forth to and from Africa and I held down the gallery fort while she was away. She would sometimes call me on her cell phone while out in the bush sleeping in a tent and hold the phone out the tent opening so I could hear the lions huffing and roaring as they began their nightly killing rounds. We shared this love of all that was raw and primitive in Africa; I showed her clippings and articles I had been keeping since I was a small child in preparation for the trip I would someday take. Remember the film Born Free about the pride of lions? I watched that movie time after time in the same way that little girls these days watch FROZEN. We both liked to go where the wild things were, both figuratively and literally. We were a different breed of women.
I had never met anyone with whom I felt more connected, and certainly no one who could make me laugh as hard as Kerri. She had a devilish tendency that meshed nicely with her irreverent view of life; I had a tendency to take on life with a humorous slant, like a color-commentator at a sold-out sporting event, filling in the nuances around the main events. I must say that we made a unique “funny blondes with brains” team. On the days when we worked together we had a great time and sold a ton of art. When you can sell that much fine art and have such an extraordinarily hilarious time doing it, hang on to that. Under any other circumstances we’d still be making money hand over fist in that gallery. But shit happens.
By the time I was hired it was almost a year since the twin towers went down, and times were hard. Business fell off all over the country. Businesses in our mall were floundering and management refused to work with anyone on rent reductions. Shops were dropping like flies and closing their doors by the beginning of the holiday season in 2002. Our gallery rent was over ten thousand a month and it became impossible to cover that expense with our loss in sales. Art was the last thing on people’s minds after 9/11.
Kerri’s mom Martine proved to be a wing-nut and during my first holiday season managing the gallery when every person is needed on deck to make sales, she took off with only her toothbrush and some maxed out credit cards in her car headed north and west for parts unknown. It was a knee-jerk reaction to something that Kerri had said, some minor infraction of an unknown rule or expectation that the woman held in her mind, to which no one was allowed access. We knew that by the time she got twenty miles outside Denver she would have forgotten what it was that had so infuriated her, because according to Kerri this dash for the door and disappear thing had happened many times before. She was a serial escapee. She had actually been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder which I never understood. Bordering what? She seemed full blown to me, tipped completely over any kind of border. This time she didn’t return for a couple years, but constantly requested that money be sent to her for stuff she needed, like toothpaste and cars.
Troy, melancholy over Kerri’s lack of affection, attempted to kill himself by hanging in his apartment, after shaving off all the rest of his bodily hair and so he was also out of the picture. The fact that he was unsuccessful in his suicide attempt was so like him. Never quite able to get things efficiently done, sad as it was. We felt very badly for him and his perplexed parents, but Kerri could not offer him his old job back with that event on his track record. We were so lucky he didn’t try to do that in the gallery some night after everyone had left. We quickly lost track of him after that.
Sandra left too; we found out years later that she had been working in a monastery in the mountains outside L.A. with a bunch of intentionally mute monks who had taken vows of silence. What?? Her?? We only discovered that because while she was there she read one of my books and found that she knew the author, me, and one of the contributing writers, Kerri. The wonders of the so-called “coincidence” never cease to amaze me. So let’s get this straight – a hard-ass lady wrestler who could not stop yammering decides to live and work in a monastery where the monks take a vow of silence and yet she happens to be given a book I wrote many years later only to discover that she not only knew the author of it but also one of the contributing writers who was her old boss at a gallery in Denver during the time of 9/11. Seems a bit far-fetched to me, but it is true.
After that series of upheavals Kerri and I were left with one single woman employee who was timid and fear-based, unknowledgeable about art and downright mousey in appearance. She wore dowdy clothes and ultra-sensible shoes. She had originally been hired to work behind the scenes doing bookkeeping. She would sit at her backroom desk, one bony leg wrapped completely around the other one so that her foot was in front again; meticulous, near-sighted, nose to the computer, working on the books. One day we had to pull her, befuddled and horrified, out front to help with sales at a frantic moment when we just needed a person with a pulse who could write up several sales in a row as Kerri and I closed them, and she somehow stuck. She was unthreatening and ultra-shy which sometimes swung a sale or two in her favor, because her kind of customer instinctively sought her out.
Working that closely with Kerri and I in the front of the gallery was a shocking turn in her introverted career. She thought we were a couple of otherworldly wild and crazy women who had no moral compasses and no brain power whatsoever. She listened to our phone conversations, watched the parade of men coming and going who were not in the least bit there for art; we were not whores of course, but we were bold and flirty if it would make a sale for us. She was appalled on a daily basis, yet quite intrigued with her sudden entrance into a parallel universe she had never known. Her name was Dotty, poor thing.
We were fighting to keep the gallery doors open and one of our tactics was to bring in some new artist’s work. We wanted to attract a more varied clientele. I was sitting at my desk in the front one afternoon when Hans walked in the door. I. Could. Not. Even. Speak. He looked remarkably great, well of course he did, and I have to say that it was a day when so did I. We smiled rather largely at each other. He had to speak first, because I was mute as a monk with surprise.
A CANARY FLIES THE CANYON by Jo Ann Brown-Scott is earning 5 star reviews on Amazon and Kindle
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