For This Job
by YVONNE GEORGINA PUIG
They hired me because I looked the part. Skinny, young, dressed in black. I was their new gallerina, and they thought I was perfect. The problem was that I was actually interested in art.
By the second day, I'd answered the phone without extending my "O"- Gooooowd Ahftahnoon, STICK-UP-THE-BUTT L.A. GALLERY, used the restroom without asking permission, taken a half-hour lunch, spoken directly to the owner when he was standing two feet away from me (for which I was promptly scolded), and shockingly, had a conversation with an artist, a photorealist painter whose work I admired. I will never forget the look of horror on the director's face when she saw me standing in the gallery discussing a painting. Horror and then ice. "Never speak to the artists," she warned me.
12 dollars an hour, 8 hours, 9 really, but they don't pay you for the lunch they essentially prohibit you from taking. No one questioned this, not even the other gallerina, a Naomi Campbell-type who took the opening of the mail to unheard of levels of pretentious.
I just couldn't get it right, my wrist simply wouldn’t flick with the same elegance as hers, and so I failed at opening envelopes. I asked too many questions. How dare I inquire about David Hockney. Never call him, she said, when I saw his phone number in the database, we never call Hockney directly.
I bought a new dress for this job. A black shirtdress from Banana Republic. 120 dollars. My first job out of college. All the effort had led to this.
The desk I was stuck behind was formidable. My eyes were hardly level with the top. This meant that whoever entered the gallery literally looked down upon me. I suddenly discovered I had pride. It wasn’t an emotion I’d ever had to summon in a professional situation before. For all I knew, I was fine with being bossed around. Turns out I wasn't, and I’m not, and this being glued to big bleak desk, eyes staring down on me, was really not okay.
Tensions grew with the director. She didn't like the way I asked about books. She was mean to me about eating. It was clear that she preferred I not eat at all. On the third day she regarded my not-black outfit with silent disgust. The cold way she spoke to me, then a moment later, pandered to Dale Chihuly about his room at the Chateau, reminded me how much I loved to write. I decided I loathed her. She became a character, a thing to observe, and eventually, to use.
It was a battle. Where on the first day she had been charming, thinking me malleable, she now despised me for my lack of complacency. Every word out of her mouth became pointed. She seemed to over-emphasize her British accent for stinging effect. I pretended not to care, though it stung. Naomi Campbell, noticing, tried to teach me her graceful way of complying, and I attempted, but over and over I failed.
My only reprieve was my short visits to the business office, where the accounting lady who had little interest in modern art but loved numbers would talk to me in a sweet voice. She was kind and her office had a view of the ocean. I remember staring out the window and internally dissolving while she spoke to me about W9s, convinced that a life in which I would be free to do what I loved would never be possible for me. I felt my stomach tighten and I knew, resolutely, that sort of freedom would be the thing I devoted my life to attaining.
By 5 o'clock on the last day of my second week the director called me to her office and sat me down. When she called I was about to call her. I quit the moment she fired me, and I left. We were nemeses. I walked to the beach and sat in the sand and felt like the freest, happiest person in the universe. I was angry and utterly broke, but I was free.
A little over a year later, I was working at Variety. Still pretty broke, but I loved my job. I was assigned to cover a schmancy museum gala honoring a trendy old man artist. By some fluke, the PR girl sat me at the front table, across from Michael Crichton, earshot from Steve Martin, and right beside John Baldesarri. I tried to act older and feigned experience and could hardly eat from nerves. It was great. But the greatest part, greater than listening to Steve Martin talk about the beat up car he used to drive around LA, better than Michael Crichton enlightening me on the myths of global warming, better than John Baldessari claiming to me that his paintings mean nothing and that he has no clue what he's doing, was the moment I turned around and saw the director of the S.U.T.B. gallery, staring at me from her table at the nosebleed back of the courtyard, in disbelief. Yes, I waved languidly, it's me, your gallerina. And I waved again to make sure she knew. Sweet satisfaction.
The best end to the worst job.
Yvonne Georgina Puig is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She tumbls here. You can find an archive of her work on TR here. She last wrote in these pages about her metabolism.
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