When I attended college, I was invited to an informal apartment/gallery opening from a group of female artists called, "The 7" even though there were only five members.
Right then, I was captivated due to my affinity for the absurd.
The apartment was crowded with other invitees, all college students. I guess in today's parlance, they would be 'hipsters.' Back then, they were simply cool.
I wasn't. I was anything BUT cool. I fit in with the other students as well as I fit in with people today: not at all. That's because I speak my mind without tact or diplomacy, skills I never learned growing up in a household of feral dogs, wayward siblings, a crazy-ass scientist of a father and a delusional mother who believed she came from European royalty and not middle-eastern riffraff.
When I was a teenager, my mother pulled me aside. "You're precisely like your father's mother," she told me.
"What're you talking about, Mom? I look precisely like you." I was the white version of my mother with her deep chocolate brown skin, black hair and eyes.
"That's not what I meant," she sighed. "Your father's mother was a lovely woman who cared about people very deeply. It's just that she lacked tact."
"Tact? What does that mean?" I asked, bewildered.
"She had devoted customers at her store," my grandparents had a high-end women's boutique named Stone's in Bergen, New Jersey, "because she was honest. Instead of telling them how terrific they look to push a sale, she'd say things like, 'No, you look fat in that.' While her honesty guaranteed her dedicated clients, she hurt many people's feelings inadvertently."
Right at that moment, my father walked by and interjected, "Your problem is you lack tact and diplomacy."
Peering into my mother's eyes, I said, "Guess I'm not the only one in this family. Another Stone trait." My family had tons of genetic characteristics I inherited outside of Asperger's: lack of tact, selective hearing, selective memory, carrying a grudge to the grave, perfect breasts and a tipped uterus.
I've no idea why I was invited to these private university functions. Although I've a sneaky suspicion it's because I voice out loud what people think, but aren't courageous enough to say. Most of my time after these events was spent agonizing over ostracism until, miraculously, I was invited to another. Of course, I attended to repeat the cycle.
Which brings me to the apartment gallery opening of The 7's artwork; I decided to state noncommittal comments to get off the roller-coaster of social banishment. For such a tiny apartment, there were tons of intellectuals pontificating about what each piece represented, stroking goatees, patting gnarly hair, cadging smokes. The artists suspended paintings and mobiles from the ceiling, sculptures on top of cabinets, tables and on the floor. There was not one space in the entire apartment including the bathroom which didn't have some sort of piece mounted on top.
Tired of wedging my body between such cerebral giants, I took advantage of an empty seat in the living room. I sat down on a white chair in front of a white table filled with objets d'art and listened to the comments. One of the artists approached me. "What do you think of our work?"
That was one of the worst questions to ask me as I struggled to be tactful and diplomatic. Not only that, I kinda knew about art as my mother was an artist and educated me in European/American art as well as global works. I just returned from studying art, art history, literature and architecture in Paris where I also traveled to the greatest museums throughout Europe. I may not be able to draw a line, but I was trained with a critical eye. So, when she asked what I thought and I did NOT like the sub-par quality of these sophomoric works, I hesitated.
Arranged on the table in front of me were several white ceramic pieces: a squashed multi-leveled pitcher, a ewer of sorts, a plate with a painted ceramic piece of cake and a giant ashtray overfilled with cleanly cut cigarette butts.
She pressed on. "Which work do you like the most?"
I pointed at the ashtray. "I believe that best sums it up."
Enraged, she yelled, "What the hell's wrong with you? That's our ashtray!" Heads swiveled and conversation stopped on a dime.
Now with an audience, I responded in astonishment, "You mean to tell me it's not art?"
Incredulous, she said, "That's the ONLY piece in this apartment which is NOT on display as art."
With barely mustered tact and diplomacy, I said, "You gotta be kidding! That's the cleanest ashtray I ever saw in my life!"
In retrospect. it's amazing I lived this long, considering the amount of people I managed to offend with my honed and refined tact. Still, I've gotten better. Over the past two years, I learned to say only one thing at social events: "You look marvelous." That's all anyone wants to hear. It took me this long to realize no one's interested in what I have to say. It's what I write that gets to them.
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