Odd Jobs; part two -- AN ARTSY JOURNEY #10
Six blocks from my apartment sat the Elan Gallery in downtown Bismarck. I was wishing it was six hundred as Annie, the playful pup, and I were guardedly going – Annie with spunk, me misgivings.
We were about to meet Greta Johansson, executive director of the Bismarck Art and Gallery Association, BAGA. Because I had negotiated the sleep-over contract on the phone with Greta, I officially hadn’t met her. I had only heard her reputation: small and mighty.
“Folks call her Groucho,” Marge, my landlord, had told me. “But to me she’s Cricket - nicknamed after Jiminy Cricket. She’s a pipsqueak like that little guy, but she has no kind-hearten conscience. You’ll never catch her oozing with warm fuzzies.”
The Elan Gallery was in the same neighborhood as the big old house that my basement apartment was wedged. Like the apartment, it stood shoulder-to shoulder among other two-stories trimmed with dignity. The Elan, once the home of poet-journalist, James Foley, was built in 1907.
Annie and I pranced up the front walk on 6th street. I opened the heavy wood door and announced our presence. “Hello. It’s Kate Moynihan,” I said. My voice echoed off the polished wood floors and high ceiling of the foyer.
A petite, fair skinned, blond haired, lady strutted toward us as she came from the back of the house. Her cold blue eyes fixed on me. Annie must have sensed the tension as she plopped her furry butt down and growled in a snit.
“I’m Greta Johannson,” she said with a cool edge to her voice, her eyes still drilling me and not even blinking at Annie. She was dressed in heels and a tailored suit that was as crisp as her words.
I figured my phone bartering went well with Greta because I had something she needed and she took her role as executive director very seriously. I admired her laborious efforts to stimulate the study and presentation of the visual arts.
“Nice to meet you, Greta,” I said, extending my hand.
Greta just stood for a few seconds, leaving my hand hanging there. Then, real slow, she extended her own hand. We gripped into a firm handshake.
“I just finished setting up the cot in the kitchen,” she said, spine and syllables staying stiff. “It seemed the most private space and there’s a small bathroom nearby.
I nodded. There was merit in Greta’s logic. Presently we were standing in the large open room of the main gallery, which had once been the Foley’s living room. To the north was the old parlor and to the south the original dining room. All the rooms were devoid of furnishings except for the exquisite and expensive wall art being displayed. For this event the staircase leading to the rooms upstairs was roped off, leaving the second floor eerily empty.
Whereas when we stepped into the small kitchen, it felt warm and cozy with floor to ceiling wood cabinets. It was tucked in the back corner of the house, giving me privacy. The kitchen was still operational for simple serving needs of gallery openings, and it also accommodated Greta’s office.
Suddenly we heard a ruff-ruff from outside. Instantly Annie was tugging at the leash, dancing on her hind legs, and yipping at the back door.
“Uh, that’s Arctic,” Greta said, her face flushing red as she opened the door to a pint-size, white marshmallow of a mutt.
“The Elan is a professional place of business,” she added, planting her hands firmly on her hips and dropping her head to the pooch. She spoke to the dog when she added, “So during operating hours,” she spat out the words, “Arctic stays outside.”
As Greta barked out this order, I was ready to answer: Sir, yes sir!
Annie and Arctic took a quick sniff at each other and then yapped like giddy schoolgirls. “Well, since the Elan is officially closed,” Greta snipped, yet softening just a bit. “I suppose we can let these two visit while I give you the rest of your responsibilities.”
After thorough instructions, Greta and Arctic walked home using a shortcut through the Veterans Memorial Library parking lot on 5th street.
Diligently I locked up the front door and checked the security on the back door. “We’re buttoned up good and tight,” I said to Annie.
Back in the kitchen I noticed a copy of The Greeter Magazine posted up on the cork board above Greta’s desk. It was a monthly publication that honored entrepreneurs and prominent business leaders in the Bismarck community. I stared at my headshot plastered on the front of The Greeter. That was my article! Being interviewed for The Greeter had been an honor, but I never dreamt important people, like Greta, would think this much about me. And then to save it, too!
Next I noticed a pink sticky note attached. It said: Kate’s show is coming here!
I had been so intimidated by Greta’s business success that I never imagined she saw something in me! My heart fluttered.
I skipped to the bathroom and got ready for bed.
Annie curled up on the kitchen floor directly below the cot, and she began snoring. The cot was army-stiff and wool-scratchy. It was impossible to get comfortable, and I wondered if this hair-brain idea of house sitting was worth the effort. But the thought of a show at Elan soothed me to sleep despite listening to every thump and bump of the creaking old house.
Hours later I was startled as a single bark cut through the air from somewhere in the neighborhood. I looked down and Annie was still asleep. I fidgeted in the cot. Through a half-awake haze, I periodically heard several more ruffs in the night.
Then at two o’clock Annie was yapping in my face indicating she wanted to go outside to do her business. I dragged myself to the door and let her out. Annie squatted, and then fled back inside. I shuffled back to the stiff cot. Just as I lay down a yelp exploded.
“Arctic!” I screeched. “How did you get inside this bed?”
Of course the white puffball couldn’t answer me, but Annie and Arctic were yipping like long-lost pals.
I stared at Arctic and my head began to focus. You were the bark I heard throughout the neighborhood during the night. How long have you been - -
I gasped. I was certain Greta wouldn’t let Arctic roam the streets.
“Greta must be worried sick about you!” I screeched at Arctic. I had to call Greta. The clock glowed 2:30 a.m.
Did I risk disturbing the mighty, pint-size, CEO of the arts in the middle of the night, waking her from a deep sleep? I could lose my commission. I could lose my show. I could lose my career.
I paced the room. 2:37 a.m. The lovable pups frolicked. “I’m glad you’re having a good time,” I muttered.
Then I put myself in Greta’s shoes, and decided if my dog were missing I would be worried sick.
My fingers clenched the phone, and I dialed.
Greta answered on the first ring, and she was at the back door by 2:46 a.m.
“Artic never runs off and he always comes when he’s called,” Greta wailed, frantically waving a flashlight. “I’ve been searching for hours. He’s been gone since we left you!”
Greta was still dressed in her business suit, and her heels were scuffed and soaked from racing through the dewy grass.
“Finally I stopped searching and printed this flyer,” she sighed. A paper wad with MISSING DOG and Arctic’s photo was clutched in Greta’s hand. “I’ve been posting them all over the neighborhood.”
Arctic gazed at Greta with his puppy dog eyes, and his furry little butt wagged in unison with his tail.
Greta melted. It turned out the small and mighty executive director of the Elan Gallery ended up hosting me a big and mighty show. And, I didn’t have to spend another night on that miserable cot. I was thankful to be done with that odd job. Little did I know how many more there would be.