Don’t Talk Sh*t at the Art Show

A Realistic Art Teacher (Image from the movie Ghost World, 2001)

It was the first day of the annual school art show. Little Phil (i.e. me) of 15 years and his best friend, whom we’ll call Slurm, had decided to drop by to take a look, because, why not?

I first led Slurm to my drawing of a frog sculpture, done masterfully in multiple perspectives. A little ribbon of silvery paper was stuck just beside it. “Second Place,” it said. The golden ribbon was on the wall a few feet away next to another, worse drawing. First place went to a similar multi-angle drawing, but its subject matter was one of those goofy 90s rubber troll dolls with the wispy hair rather than an elegant frog.

The winner, in fact, was Slurm’s own ex, a flamboyant gay boy whom she had convinced to make out with her on at least one occasion. Neither party was too bothered over the break-up, and Slurm might have even taken some pride in the fact that she had once dated an art show First Place winner.

With that, we had had just about enough of looking at art and were ready to call it a day. But we figured we should loiter around just a bit longer, so we could at least pretend we tried to appreciate the effort put into the show.

We went over to a random display table. It hosted a colorful array of sad, misshapen clay pots. We slowly made our way around the table, pretending to be interested in the sculptures.

As we our dead, vacant eyes scanned apathetically over the artwork, Slurm’s expression was brightened by a spark of life. Apparently, at that moment, Slurm had been reminded of an art-related memory, and she was going to tell me right away.

“Oh my god,” she started. “I remember in fourth grade we had, like, this hippie art teacher name Mrs. Gladney…”

I listened intently.

“And, ha haaa, she would, like, never wear a bra. I remember Jeff Turley would always stare at her boobs, like, drooling…”

“Ha haa,” I laughed.

We both chuckled for a moment. Then there was a moment of silence as we tried to think of a new conversation topic.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, a new and unfamiliar voice chimed in, “Slurm? …Do you remember me?”

Slurm looked up and her eyes met a middle aged woman in a loud, colorful dress, dangly gold earrings and a necklace of chunky turquoise beads.

I looked at the woman. Those were things an art teacher would wear, I thought to myself.

No. It couldn’t be. That would be highly unlikely, I assured myself.

I looked back at Slurm. Her mouth was open. She looked shocked.

Then I knew. It was.

“Oh…hi, Mrs. Gladney…” Slurm responded, her voice meek and small.

“Slurm… … that isn’t true.” Mrs. Gladney obviously wasn’t amused by what she had overheard.

“Oh…” was all Slurm could manage.

I had had enough. I scuttled away at great speed, like a scared crayfish. My brain shut down, and I just stared at a random painting on the wall. Life had no meaning. Nothing was real, I comforted myself.

A moment later, Slurm shuffled over just behind me.

We looked at each other and there was a moment of silence, and then we broke into laughter. I’m not sure it was the kind of laughter that comes after something genuinely funny happening, but rather it was a kind of pained laughter that can only come after experiencing something utterly ridiculous and terrible.

“This is Murphy’s Law at work, right?” Slurm wondered aloud.

Fin.

This story is true, and I still cry a little when I take a moment to visualize it unfolding in full. This might have saved me somewhere along the way, though, as I learned never to talk shit about someone at an art show — or anywhere else that there is even the most remote possibility that they could be listening.