A Punishing Society

Some of them were the stereotype, fat fingered, liver spotted, men, swaddled into a designer suit were watched over by glittering nannies-turned-harpies.

Lay the black tissue. Horizontal-diagonal. Pinch, Flick the arm upwards in a kind of ‘flourish’. Place in bag, bouquet style. We ruffled ruffles, pulled taught, and pushed into place. Placed the tiny golden gilded crown inside. 200 times.

The ribbons were requested by the artist. Cut across, no fluff. Sometimes we went back over them, because they weren’t quite perfect enough.

“Camilla Vermechelle-Marcus” loudly popped into view, gesticulating wildly towards ‘…..AND SIR DAVID’, an anonymously well dressed man, in the fading of life, graying and looking confused. I showed them toward the cloakroom they wanted and she led him there, waving ‘darlings’ as she went.

Her frozen expression, etched in eyebrows, warped nostrils and the full-to-bursting leeches she’d employed as lips for this evening; all created a terrifying effect on me. Like the satisfaction of a cartoon face, but with that uncanny valley feeling. Her coloured-in eyes looked through me at the poster for the exhibition; ‘The Symbol of the Crown in 1990-2030 Oriental Art, Re-imagined in Neuvo-Pop-Art style by Gaia Tiffany-Hughes’.

I’d walked through the room before, carrying some flyers, and the catalogues, to and from various places according to different well-dressed women’s wills. It was a large, blank, room that I have seen many times before. This time the walls had several meticulously distanced canvases in bright primary colours, particularly red, then lots of gold, gems that changed hue when no one was looking, that new glitter that came out 5 inches from the canvas and hung in the air. We were told not to walk in to the glitter, but to encourage visitors to do so. They didn’t want it used up.

I looked back at the woman from uncanny valley, as more flooded in, with their anonymous looking, well suited, male escorts. The odd one was more flamboyant – with a coloured shirt or too much hair oil or a hue changing gem on his lapel. It appears my expression isn’t conveying the blank smile I practiced properly (or maybe, too properly?), as the woman’s raising volume implies she thinks me simple.[1]

Thanking them both, for their very presence in front of me, I met their gestures with an arm out of my own, first asking if they require information about, or would like to donate to, the charity, whose name no one remembered[2]. Met blankly, maybe an impression of my own expression before, I launched straight into ‘the exhibition is down the hallway, straight ahead. You will find the cloakroom on the left. Have a Good Evening’ with arms like an air stewardess from old films, before it was all automated. As I got to ‘have’, they were gone.

There’s something to be had in really performing, over-acting wildly, a ‘role’ (job, if you must cling so strongly to reality). Effusive politeness, huge grins, pure obsequience; mix with 1 part intentional misunderstandings. There is no list, this is the case at more high profile events now than you or I would expect (or at least I didn’t). They have sent their invitations, the events are invariably badly organized and done by computer systems programmed by programmers who couldn’t get a better job – which really is the worst, because everything needs programming now – so they don’t really work. Yet the risks of getting people left off the list who really should be on it are too high. So everyone gets in. Some people know this, and walk straight in. Others, people I like better, come and offer their paper invitation to me, once or twice even tentatively. This is when I’d throw in some strange comment with my ‘Good Evening’, i.e ‘Everyone’s expecting you’. Others just brandish furs, expecting them to be dealt with. I told one woman the cloakroom was full and her eyes nearly killed me. I could barely hear her words of ‘oh, well what am I supposed to do ??! carry my own coat around?’. I personally do this quite a lot, it’s not that bad. She was chewing one of those Fireman Gumdolls™[3], which scared me a little more. The bloody bits were in her teeth, unless that was lipstick.

I wish I hadn’t bothered to make those ribbons so neat. 90% of the people here will never look in their bags. They’ll be pawned off on someone, left at the after party, or in the cab. They contain a gem polishing robot, inlaid with rubies, made to look like a Ladybug[4]. No one will use this. It’s one of those pointless beautiful objects. There are already gem polishers built in to most good jewellery cases and bags, and these visitors would surely own such bags, I think I saw some. If they noticed the trinket, like the crown, they may laugh at it a little, wear it somehow, then leave it with someone or somewhere.

A lady, shrouded like a soft cloud in purple furs was clearly abandoned by her husband, engages me in conversation about her bag. It’s from South Korea, in 2010, making it more worthy of most of the exhibition in validity to the ‘concept’. The exhibition had many crowns, identikit plastic ones from princess parties, decorated by various famous and rich people, with their embellishments. These were selling for thousands, but this ladies bag, she was proud to tell me, was only £10 back in those days. Surrounded by the uber elite confidence that fills the room, along with the chemical smell of that skin tightening tan lotion Fix Up™[5] mixing with designed scents, the woman shrunk. She was larger than most of the other women, and certainly carried more weight, but she seemed much smaller looking up at me from the desk. Elsewhere, clematis covers the exhibition room, sticking to each other and themselves. The gushing purple woman was worthy company.

As she showed me the bag, its history, how it intertwined with hers, and the world at large, I’m afraid any understanding on my part was due to immersion. Clipped, painted, collected, primped women in screamingly hideous fitted jackets kept leaving their champagne, and tiny gold pots of caviar, on the desk. While occasionally attempting to take catalogues, which were a recommended £20 donation. Initially eager to please[6], I tried. I arranged their glasses in clever places that would remind me of the wearer. It was an office desk by day, so had lots of hard, shiny, objects for splicing, punching holes and shredding things, as well as glittery post it’s. I abandoned this method when one flute fell, behind a keyboard. Desks also tend to have lots of paper, and electric devices; sharing a hatred of water. Mick ran over, he actually worked the gallery in the day and had been made to stay late to babysit us on the desk. Probably in case of this very event. He managed to help out, while ignoring all those around the table demanding and placing things and so on. Clearly practiced.

I fret less. Still, fret though, itching in my natural desire to manners and my natural desire to punch many of these people, or at least shout at them for a while.

‘Straight ahead, on the left. Good Evening, have a fantastic evening’

Woman arrives, tries to take catalogue, then after I explain the fee shows me her ‘PR’ for the event on her blog. I refuse. She doesn’t buy one.

‘Straight ahead, on the left. Good Evening, have a wonderful time’

knees and feet not liking me right now.

‘Straight ahead, on the left. Welcome, have a good evening’

Parched, but kind of need the toilet. Given questions I’ve fielded, I reckon now would be a bad time. Maybe we have a different toilet? But there’s no one to ask, all the well dressed ladies from before have disappeared.

‘Straight ahead, on the left. Welcome, let me know if you need any further information. Have a good evening.’

One of the ladies returns, a little after the allotted time of leaving, and we move the large amounts of left over flyers, catalogues, caviar dishes (there’s another team we bring them to, who also deal with the glasses, and look exhausted and pissed off). She pays, well, directly into my watch and into my account, it’s tax free this way.

We did a quick dash through a, now mainly dissipated, glitter cloud, in front of a light box copy of an ‘Oriental’ drawing of a crown, from a Chinese newspaper, gone over in gold leaf liquid. Surrounding it were figures that, if this all wasn’t for charity, would definitely have been seen as racist. With the room all used up, it reminded me of Brighton Pavillion.

We left past the after party. Some people were wearing their tiaras. It was just a big social club, with the exhibition having been another meeting. Any polite outsiders, like the purple woman, were long gone now. These were the people who did this. Looking at it, it looked exhausting too. At least I’d stood all night in flat trainers, and hadn’t had to talk to everyone with any enthusiasm. The blessings people were jealous of in these empty peoples lives, that they gossiped over in the papers, seemed like self-flagellation in well lit spaces. Particularly looking in at that bright gesticulating window display. Still now. Rings and rings, just in different places. I heard later that the gallery had been rented out, they had not asked the artist, for the exhibition. It must have cost sums I can’t imagine. Our sales were not great with the catalogues, not for lack of trying. I hope some of the girls get something. You can’t really criticise charity. I hope I find my bus soon.

[1] I later realized that this wasn’t the expressions fault (necessarily, it may not have helped). It was just how many of these people talked to ‘the help’/everyone. No expression could have repelled it, from me, standing on that side of the desk.

[2] The charity was called ‘One More Life’ and paid for the education of specifically chosen young girls in ‘less economically developed’ countries. They were chosen by an equation involving level of poverty vs. ‘proven intelligence’ shown by exams and good behavior. The founders of the charity visited later, also didn’t donate, and seemed perfectly content with how the exhibition had been constructed. I did judge them a little, but it’s hard to judge charity. I’m down for young girls getting good educations, even if I would rather it be all of them and a different fundraising plan.

[3] Fireman Gumdolls™

They were created as an appetite suppressant. Like Gum. Or a stress ball, like those retro boob shaped ones. They were little figures coming in different characters. First the ‘sexy lady’, that was popular. You chewed her for months, violently squishing her head, hoping for that break. Foolishly trying to snap elastic arms and legs. Some gymnast. Then came the ‘sexy man’ – big cock, topless – not naked like the lady. Then there was ‘boss’, in a little pinstripe suit and all. A little later ‘lady boss’, another big seller, came along. Pantsuit and bitchy expression came free. Then ‘fashionable lady’ in Jimmy Choo’s, clutching a clutch, sunglasses of course. I once knew a boy who was still chewing his 2 years on. Then the pay off? What it’s all worth? (we know it’s the chewing that it’s worth, but the accessorized, stereotypical versions went beyond this normal impulse to chew, into a different human impulse).

[4] Another bug now extinct, only alive in cloth prints and jewels.

[5] £400,563 per 30cl bottle, which means for one human woman you would need more than one per application, if you wore it as intended. Not intended by an advert, it had no advert I had seen until I looked it up. Again, no guest list really but still exclusive. It claimed to reduce aging and increase

[6] A mistake I should have learned far earlier than this, being my 8th hour or so of working for the event.