13% [chapter 25]


It is said that the average American has about12 different jobs during the course of their career. Having worked since you were 13 years old, most often at 2 jobs simultaneously, you've had no less than 48. Clearly you're still unsure as to what constitutes a so-called career. But there was one job that was unlike all the rest -- a part time position as an archivist at a sculptor's studio in Oakland.

The paid internship began in 1996 while you were in art school. For 10 hours a week, as the artist assembled steel sculptures, you were left alone in the office to catalogue slides, transparencies and photographs, organize press clippings and prepare checklists of pieces for exhibition under the guidance of his wife's publicity campaigns. This soon led to assisting in the shipping and receiving of artworks to and from museums and galleries and later, upon the advent of the digital age, creating a database of the sculptor's 50+ year portfolio.

You also began taking photographs of his newest works upon completion. Each year, the images got imported into bigger fancier mac computers and his works mutated in medium and scale, swelling from 24 inch lacquered constructions to 14 foot towers of shining stainless steel. Your hours, pay and responsibilities also increased to include designing book layouts and shooting videos of the artist at work to be shown at his exhibitions.

At lunchtime, the two of you would discuss art or current events and laugh about some of the crazy stunts he'd pulled in his youth with the other stalwart figures of 1960's London from which he'd hailed. Barbara Hepworth, David Hockney, Stanley Kubrick -- these were not icons,  they were his friends. In fact, that black monolith in the beginning of the film, "2001: A Space Odyssey" was one of the sculptor's inventions.

While he was teaching at Ealing College in London, an impromptu raucous debate on rock music lacking opera's gravitas of the human condition planted the seeds of both "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Tommy" into the minds of his young impressionable students, Freddie Mercury and Pete Townshend -- whose habit of destroying guitars wasn't just to have a wank; it was performance art, a symbollic act of deconstructing the establishment.

You felt genuine love for the sculptor. He was not only your mentor but the supportive father figure you'd never had. You could tell him things most other people would never understand. A kid during WWII's bombing blitz, he'd been through his own battles with addictive habits, abusive relationships and good thoughts gone wrong. He'd been further than that, done more than that. You actually trusted this man. And for many many years, you were happy as an uncorrupted clam.

Every spring and fall, the sculptor and his millionaire heiress wife would take vacations to their second home in the south of France, leaving you to man the phones at the studio, pick up the mail and pay the bills during their month long absence.

In September of 2014, while completing the video editing for the sculptor's latest documentary film, you decided to take advantage of this quiet time at the studio to record something that would augment the soundtrack. Pressing record on your android phone, with your face pushed up against hollow stainless steel columns, you sang random vocal tones. Fairly obsessed with this natural reverb effect, you recorded 3 short takes.

By now, deep in the throes of PTSD, you'd become completely isolated from all other people. Daily, you were held in the grips of your eclipsing drug addiction. And with an increasing dependence on this one last remaining job, this one last remaining person that still spoke and listened to you, the rawness of all that had fallen away flattened your entire past into this one glimmering instant.

Humming alone under the studio's large arching skylights, the late afternoon's soft dying light shimmered against vibrating steel plates. An irreversible sense of loyalty to the sculptor engulfed you. He was the only person, in all these 20 years of living in San Francisco, who had not abandoned you. So those notes sang an elegy of torrential gratitude.

Tears dried, you arbitrarily pasted the 3 takes together into a single wav file. But the random tracks fell into a seemingly preordained sync. Too strange. Pushing Save, you stuck it on the soundtrack immediately, not giving yourself the chance to screw up something so weirdly self-contained.

Sadly, after that culminating autumn, everything changed.

Gradually, pecks on the cheek and a "see you next week," mutated into a giggling hand sliding up your thigh or shifting down the back of your pants. Frozen, your dissociating reaction was physical absence. Then came his confessions, "I love you." "I really do love you." "I'd love to fuck you, you know that?"

Maybe since turning 80, he felt this was his last chance to shag a younger cunt. But that did not soften this insult's impact. Nor did it prepare you for the final collapse.

On the drives back to the BART station after work, the sculptor shared with you the wet dreams he'd been having. As if you should be psyched about that. He had no idea that he sounded just like your dad.

You said nothing. Just turned you head and stared out the window at the blaring sun as it bled dry this droughted land, cadmium plated colorless and bland. All the same repetitive torturous dooms from 4 to 45. Come home to roost. Damned. This one man you thought you could trust,who perhaps had some platonic respect for you being a fellow artist, who supposedly cared about you, nah...he just wanted to fuck you too. Just like all the rest. Sinking found you back down in the oubliette.

Heartbroken with unveiled eyes, you could now clearly see all the ways in which merits were being withheld from you. How horribly exploited was your true usefullness. Of the literally hundreds of photos you took at his studio, not a single one was credited to you. Others in your position would make triple what you were paid. But a simple pat on the back and some verbal approval was all they needed to give poor sorry stupid you. An invoice from another employee proved this inequality: the $150 hourly rate was happily paid in full plus another few thousand in "creative fees", whatever the fuck that means.

The gallery that represented the sculptor said your book designs were too amateurish, so a mound of money was spent on professional designers who then published a book that looked identical to yours. He then admitted out loud, while you sat slackjawed in the room, "Why should I pay a designer thousands of dollars for good work when I can get HER to do it for me for free?!" He considered $20/hr "free", apparently.

Ultimately though, it was your own fault for not knowing your own worth, squirt. Or for thinking that The Art World would somehow be better than The Corporate World or The Music World or Any Other World. They're all bollocks. People like us don't belong for long in it.

But the money didn't really matter, you could get over that. It was the sexual harrassment you could no longer put up with. So you told the sculptor one day as he squeezed your knee, "Please stop. This makes me uncomfortable." He excused himself, stammering something about how he was raised. Then he stopped taking you to lunch or updating you on what tasks needed to be done that day. Communication simply ceased. Now his wife was your new boss, telecommuting.

The recovering junkie in him always assumed you were doing shady shit behind his back, but in your blind loyalty, you never did. Whenever he misplaced something, he'd go on a rant about it being stolen until you'd find it laying in the place where he'd left it. Every one of those tantrums compounded this upcoming fracture after so many faithful years of working unstiff. His flexibility and easy going attitude suddenly vanished. Now he was threatening to fire you when you showed up hollow-faced and 15 minutes late, wearing extra layers, tucked in, buttoned up to the nape.

Many more insulting insights floated down the pike in the following months. In response, hints were constantly being dropped that you wanted to move away, that your meth infested house was killing you, that California had worn out your deluded gullible ass, that you just couldn't take it anymore. He said, "No, you have to stay here for the rest of my life and carry on of my legacy." Meanwhile, his wife told you to train the woman they'd hired for a large living wage to take over your soon disappearing position.
Not even gone, but already replaced.

The ice was thinning. Cracking had come at last, turning your harrassed rosey-eyed hurts into downright obliterated justice-hunting rage.

So while they vacationed in France the next May, you secretly planned your big escape. Adding an extra zero onto your final measly paycheck, you left a note that this was your "creative fee". You deleted all records of your labors, wiped harddrives free of your presence, shredded every scrap of paper that once held traces of mutual respect or artistic kinship or well-crafted catalogued crap.

Soon after they returned from France, with the employee gas card in your wrathful hand, you charged every gallon of diesel fuel from the Bay Area until Chevron stations no longer populated this ever-widening cross country scam. Just beyond the Rockies, the paper trail of your helpless fury and well guaged betrayal fell off the map.

Now all of those shady assumptions could satisfy themselves to their heart's content cuz you no longer gave a creatively collated fuck. And there could be no question in his mind, when he received his credit card bill the following month, that you were never coming back.

Art was dead.

Your big career. Fork stuck. Done.

Maybe now the sculptor sees you as more than just a pair of fresh tits typing out his commands. Maybe now he has some kind of twisted bitch respect for your vengeful third act. Maybe now he understands the pain of being a whole human being that refuses to get shafted down into their lowly station, regarded as nothing more than a usefully cheap snatch.

Yet, in all of my foolish wisdom, I somehow doubt that.

*u can call me ph!*