Wednesday, August 11, 2004

fingers

I somewhat shredded my fingers yesterday, that's what working in a glass store will do to you. I just recieved the job from a friend of mine, someone i interned with for a time, not too long ago; she called me while i was in Vegas to let me know she had some work for me again, if i wanted to come by the shop for a few hours, during the next few weeks. when i appeared yesterday i saw immediatelly why she was asking for the extra help: on the table lay a gigantic mosaic, depicting a vast and complicated pile of fruit; intricate down to the seeds in certain places, and at least 4 by 6 feet in dimension. I also could see immediatelly why her current interns are not enough: while it seemed they had done a good job so far, a few hours in the company of these kids made it blatantly clear to me that that's what they were-- kids-- high school kids to be precise... Now, I've known my share of talented high school kids to be sure, but it's true that when doing very expensive and exhaustive projects for professional clients, one starts to get a little nervous when one thinks how permanent- and prominent- a mistake made due to a lack of skill or experience could potentially be... I had been told, in months before, that my employer was having trouble now that I and her other, older interns had taken leave of the shop, and now she had all these kids with spare time coming in to intern with her... She's a perfectionist, to say the least, and pours over one's work when one is working on something that's going to be labelled "her" product... We were trying to determine a proper background color for the cluster of fruit; one of the young interns suggested white-- cut up a few bits of glass and arrainged them in the spaces between the globes of color, and the group of us stared at the result for a minute, before gluing them down, trying to imagine the whole 4x6 feet of it completed that way. It was hard to say... I myself, just happy to be being paid to be doing anything these days, was willing to take any color decided upon by the shop, and stayed silent while our employer and the high-school graduate debated over whether the white looked good or not. they finally settled that it looked fine, and i was selected to glue the pieces down. So i set about chopping up plates-ful of tiny pieces of triangular, white glass, and methodically snapping them down into place, onto the board. In time, I felt the shadow of my employer over my shoulder; lingering there the way she does when she's peering deep into the job you're doing, examining your every move, although it's often hard to tell what exactly she's looking at in your work. I looked up and saw her staring down at the mosaic right under my hands with a hard quizzical look. I shrugged and asked "well? Is it ok?" She didn't answer for a while. Then she shook her head and said "no, it'll be fine." and abruptly turned and left. At times it's a little spooky figuring out whether something looks great or rotten to our fearless employer, you get left with this shaky feeling at times, when you know SOMEthing's awry about the piece-- perhaps glaringly wrong-- that just isn't glaring at you...
So about 20 minutes pass and i've filled in the spaces within a half foot of space on the mosaic, stand up to wash my hands, and then it's when i'm walking back, and i see the whole mosaic spread out over the table from a distance, that it hits me: the white is currently the boldest color in the composition: standing out against the field of reds and yellows and purples, muting them and making a foreground of the intended background; and my stomach turns. I go up to our employer: "I can see what you mean now by the white." She looks at me intensely for a second, then down at the mosaic, then back at me, and in a very serious tone, like we're on a military mission, "yeah?" I answer: "Yeah. I mean, it CAN work; it might just mean we might have to wrestle with it more--" And that's when she unveils her true thoughts: "Yes! your eye has to wrestle with it-- that's the problem. It's like your eye is thinking: 'do i look at the colors, or the white between the colors?' it won't work! we need to take it off." I knew it. Our employer vanishes to have her picture taken by the local press, next to another huge, public work of art created in our shop, and I sit down with the pliers. You've got to pick those things off fast, when they've been glued down, since the stuff is meant to be permanent, and once it dries it's pretty much impossible to get it free again... So i vigorously start ramming the tool against possibly hundreds of tiny little glass triangles.
We have a saying in the shop: that you're not fully "initiated" until you've accidently wound up with a bloody cut from the glass. Everyone gets cut sometimes, no matter how experienced. It's just a matter of the constant exposure to thousands of edges of pieces of glass, and all the tools used to clip and shear and break up the glass expose you to more. It's when you're going at it with less caution, though, that you get torn more often than necessary... In my head was spinning my need of this extra money, my fortune in being given this job, and my extreme need not to screw it all up by permantly uglifying a prominent studio masterwork... And so when I ripped some of my nuckles, i just cursed and kept at it, with more ruthlessness than before; determined that the horrid white pieces would all be off the thing by the time my employer got back. And we have another, unofficial saying in the shop, which goes something like: "one day you're just working along and suddenly you look down and think, 'hey, why is all this white glass suddenly red?... oh my god!!!'" this is intended as a shop joke, of course... Many times you're working on something yellow or orange or some other color and suddenly there's these mysterious red spots on it and you have to think "Damn! now where are those coming from?" and look around your fingers to see if it's bad enough to stop working and get a band aid-- you really never think of your fingers as that big of an area, until you get down to all the trillions of ways fingers can be nicked and scratched to become really difficult to use...
Our employer returned with another, famously local artist, and was showing him around the shop in a sparkly and cheerful way, and i had to avoid being on the same end of the shop as him, to avoid him even SEEING my hands, let alone shaking them... I had a pretty nasty tear on the top of my right index nuckle, which had saturated 2 band-aids and which i was currently stifling with a paper towel around it... not a pretty sight, i was just greatful that hands turn out to be easy things to hide if you try... I overheard her explaining to him why we were removing the white background from the work; describing the reason with a vast artistic vocabulary... and he was nodding and saying "ah" and doing all the appropriate motions and reactions, the way visiting artists always do when they come in our shop... Our employer has a knack for impressing the hell out of people, and she always manages to show off the studio, and all its inner workings, in a way that still leaves a visitor with a sense that they have witnessed something just a little mystical and mysterious; she maintains that particular air, even as she is seeming to describe-away the secrets of how things are done and made here. There's still that sense of something-else-unseen going on between these walls, after all the steps have been explained and all the tools and actions pointed out. I've seen her do this time and time again: she becomes suddenly a glowing show-person when a visitor appears, especially an important one, and suddenly we're like a behind-the-scenes show on TV; each of us a stage in a process, ready to explain what we're doing, as well as what we're working on, to a guest. The visitors are almost always wowed, whether it is by how intricate or difficult it looks to them, or how pretty the colors are, or how massive the object is, or how impressed they are by our hard work etc. It is an unsaid rule not to let a guest see huge gorey lesions on one's flesh... And it is also a little embarrasing, like something which doesn't make sense within these purple walls, to let a guest see that we've made a mistake: and that we have to undo something that we have done. That's part of the illusion-- the magic: the idea that we just don't make mistakes in the shop. For the most part, that illusion remains intact; we get rid of errors relatively fast... Or shrink them down to maneagable size by the time a visitor appears. It's good for business to look like what you're doing is at least a little bit inexplicable... Just a little impossible; astound the viewer, with creation that's just too perfect to be real...
It is possible to create something too perfect to be real; all you have to do is divert that little imperfections that occur, make the errors go elsewhere, so they stay out of the public spotlight. Glass is hard; it's stiff and sturdy and can stay in place for thousands of years, if cemented down in stone... And the morning after the first day after coming back to the glass shop, i always have a number of wounds on my hands, and soreness in several my fingers, hidden and far away from the masterpiece, where those thousands of years worth of viewers will never see...

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