Failure of Invisible Force Field
Saturday I went to the art supply store near where I live, because art supply stores are for me like what cooking gadget or hardware stores are for other people: a place of comfort and mental repose.
The store occupies what I guess are two adjacent storefronts, with a couple of open doorways between them. Most of the crafty things are in the first room and then all the painter’s supplies are in the second room. I walked in and there was some sort of workshop being conducted in the middle aisle of the first room, by the calligraphy pens, like maybe someone (a calligraphy teacher perhaps?) had brought her students into the store to discuss supplies. I saw a slightly built older woman in probably her middle to late sixties, holding forth with great animation to a couple of other women. Beyond this I paid no mind; it is why God invented iPods, people.
My whole time in the first room of the store (Do I want to draw with a Japanese brush? Do I have one? Where is it? OK, maybe I’ll get the brush, wait, do they have a new palette here? Ooh! A deckle-edged paper cutter! Alas, Waterman brown ink cartridges! I will never see you more! Etc.) I could hear this woman’s voice. “…that was when I was sick… the only one I could find is this one and you can see it’s too heavy to hold…” relentless chirpiness. I ducked into the painter’s room and hid out by the pencils. I added a couple more unnecessary items (I’ve never tried these before, I know it’s not a small sketchbook and a small sketchbook was what I came here for but it’s cheap and I like the color of the paper so maybe it’s OK). So after some 20 minutes or so of such happy noodling, the lecturing lady’s voice sort of ebbing and flowing in the background, I was ready to leave.
The lecturing lady was now at the register. Her workshop students had apparently disappeared, and now she was still talking, talking to the cashier, who was this youngish black woman with close-cropped hair, pleasant to talk to, and she was just sitting listening to the woman with that polite frozen expression of one who is helpless in a conversational onslaught. The chirpiness was not a bit less relentless, the animation had not abated either, and the subject had not changed. She was still explaining about the glue bottle and the calligraphy pens. When it got to the bit about how it was for her niece’s wedding I realized that I had slipped through some sort of wormhole in the universe where time did not matter: “…works at a nonprofit… wait till she finds out about the glue… I haven’t told her yet… I’m surprised, very expensive stationer… pens… asked her old aunt to do it… ha ha ha…” GOD ALMIGHTY.
Another cashier appeared and rang up my purchases. By the time she was finished with me my lady was headed for the door, talking nonstop the whole time, and I was still only catching the bits of it that came through the iPod. My mistake was in hurrying so carelessly to the door that I caught up with her just as she finally had it open and at the very instant when she stopped talking to the people behind her in the store.
She caught my eye. “Did you get that?” she asked me. To do a little Coleridge/Sir Mix-a-Lot mashup,
She held me with her glittering eye
And I do not lie.
“No,” I said. Oh, what difference would it have made? If I had said yes the outcome would have been the same. I heard it five times by the time we got to the parking lot: how it was like that episode in Seinfeld (which she appeared to regard as autobiographical material) when Georg’s fiancé dies after licking the glue on the envelopes for the wedding invitation; how her niece was getting married and had asked her old aunty to do up the invitations with calligraphy; how the glue wasn’t sticking properly (which was surprising as it was a very expensive stationer); how she had been to three—pause to count them—no, four art supply stores looking for glue and all she could find was this and as you can see the bottle is too heavy for that many uses; and wait till her niece finds out the glue doesn’t work! Oh boy!
I threw out polite complimentary remarks whenever I could. They were not very insightful but they seemed to be what the situation demanded. “Good thing she has you to take care of these kinds of details!” etc. and could only marvel at the prompt avidity with which they were consumed. It was like having someone visit your house and eat all the candy in the candy bowl, in fistfuls. You don’t care about the candy, but you marvel at the appetite. “I’m a very nice aunt hahaha.” We got stuck on the glue, as it were. At last I suggested that possibly the glue wasn’t working because some manufacturers of stationery didn’t use animal glues any more because people object to them.
She liked that and instantly became convinced that it was so, a mystery solved! I kept telling her that it was just a guess, a possibility, but she loved it. Well, now she could tell her niece, who was very environmental! On that happy thought, she set me free.