Before I had children, I was working as a flight attendant and had a remarkable amount of free time on my hands. Not to brag, but sometimes I might only fly 13 days a month, which left me with 17 days off to do whatever I wanted.
I started to paint ceramics as a fun little hobby. I had grand plans to paint bowls and picture frames and trays and vases. The trouble was, even though I thought I was a good painter, I was not a good painter.
I would spend hours on my “creations” only to have my then-boyfriend (now-husband) comment, “Is that green thing supposed to be a skyscraper or a tree?”
“It’s a cat,” I would correct him, “anyone can see it’s a cat.”
“Don’t quit United,” he would say under-his-breath, while I would think: That’s it! I am so not painting you a new car-themed tissue box holder now!
The lucky recipients of my painting treasures just marveled at the sheer volume I managed to produce. “Did you paint this dolphin figurine on a layover?” my sister, Oakley, would ask innocently after she finished unwrapping her birthday gift.
“No, no, I did it on my days off.” I would beam at her as she set the dolphin on the shelf next to the red and green tea kettle and matching Santa teacups I painted her for Christmas and the florescent jack-o’-lantern I painted her for Halloween and the ceramic “basket” I painted her for Easter.
“When do you fly? Do you ever fly?”
The Husband was beginning to wonder this himself. “Sweetie, is today the day you go to Boston?”
“Nope, I’m off until next Wednesday, so I think I might go paint something today. Do you need some Fourth of July candlesticks?”
Finally, I woke up one morning and got smart: I could get a part-time job at the ceramic studio when I wasn't flying and they would pay me to paint! Or at least give me a 10% discount.
I walked into a new local shop that had recently opened in our neighborhood. A young woman wearing faded jeans, an oversized Def Leppard t-shirt, and a tattered black baseball hat was painting a detailed circus scene on the side of pitcher. A seal was lifting a ball on its nose, while smiling elephants lined up with pink dancers cavorting around them; the colors were bright and eye-catching. It looked exactly like an ad campaign for Ringling Brothers; I was suddenly overcome with an irrationally strong craving for buttered popcorn and cotton candy.
The lady glanced up at me, “May I help you?”
“Hi!” I began overenthusiastically, in case she happened to be the owner or the manager of the shop. “My name is MOV, and I’m interested in working here!”
She looked me up and down. I was wearing my best navy blue interview suit, complete with pearls, black patent pumps, and nude opaque panty hose. My hair was pulled back in a tight bun, and I had a navy and white abstract print silk scarf tied neatly around my neck. I was ready to paint a platter, or at least serve some peanuts and evacuate an airplane.
“Uh, do you have any painting experience?” she began warily.
“Sure! Lots!” I responded eagerly. I handed her my single-spaced resume on linen paper, and a list of twenty references. I was clutching a mug I’d brought in to show her.
“Here’s one of a sample best of favorite my painting work for see you look at!” I said gleefully, tongue-tied as a foreign exchange student on his first day in America. I shoved the mug at her, waiting for the accolades to begin.
She gingerly took the mug out of my hand. It was a mug I had spent several hours on—my masterpiece: a swirl of yellow stars in a cloudy blue night sky. On the handle of the mug in thick loopy black letters it read, “MOV’s Hot Chocolate.”
She inspected the mug closely, flipped it over, set it on the counter, then laughed out loud. She pointed to the patches of white that were supposed to depict clouds. “We can show you how to fix that,” she said dismissively. “So, anyway, the owner’s name is Patty, and she’ll be in later today. You seem cheery, and I know she’ll like that, but as for the mug … uh, you might not want to show her that.”
Fast forward a week and the job was mine. Patty was a terrific (if absentee) boss, and the circus-painting Brittany was my new manager and ended up becoming a close friend. The discount was better than 10% off, it was 75% off. My previous hobby morphed into a full-blown obsession.
I gradually got better and better at painting, and now I cringe when I see remnants of my so-called painting prowess from the era before I worked in the shop. I visit my dad and he serves cheese and crackers on one of my plates. “Ack!” I scream out in embarrassment, “Please throw that plate away.”
“What?” he says, shocked, “I love it. You painted it for me, remember?”
“But I am such a better painter now. Let me paint you a new one.”
“No. I like this one,” he insists. Then, pointing at the detail around the edge, he adds, “Just look at these cute camels.”
“Those are flowers,” I murmur, “but they do sort of look like camels now that you mention it.”
(“Masterpieces Of Value”)