Valuation by Jason Grossberg


Response to Writing Prompt Twenty Six:

Three steps up the clay staircase to a cobalt door. A brass knocker, a brass door knob. And inside the woman who stole my bag. I mean, the artist that stole my bag. At least I think I do. I climb the steps with trepidation and confusion and all the uncertainty and ambiguity…

***

I received a postcard in the mail from Halley Franks for an art opening that occurred downtown two weeks prior. On it, a photograph of a collage of arranged, assorted objects, all of them recognizable to anyone, all of them personal to me, some of them private, each of them missed for four months. Even prior to the postcard, I still bristled at the memory with regularity.

Halley took a detailed inventory of the bag:
-two decks well-used red and blue plastic playing cards
-A lined notebook only six pages used
-An unlined notebook, dog-eared, 3/4 used, extensive color
-An iPad mini, locked, with a still from Little Shop of Horrors as the wallpaper
-A dented metal water bottle  with warn decal “p…s..s.orts”
-Two pens
-Two joints, one thin; a fattie
-Highlighter sunglasses

***

When I did drag my ass downtown to see what had been made of my stuff, I saw the perpendicularly ordered arrangement of my messenger bag with water bottle carribeanered; the joints photographed, with the smoked roaches pinned atop. The lined notebook torn out with its few written pages on display. The filled unlined notebook pasted along the cover with the insides fanned out for discovery; the pens tacked orderly alongside. The iPad plugged in with the wallpaper displayed behind a message “iPad is disabled, try again in 23614974 minutes”. A king of one deck and queen of another peeked through the set up sunglasses. 

I saw the red circle sticker designating my bag had been purchased. The gallery advised me the name of the buyer is confidential. The gallery inquired as to my interest. Upon learning that it was my insides that were exposed, all red, wet, and pulsing, they gave me the address to Halley. She wanted me to have it, they said

***

I don’t know what I expected in coming to the door and not coming to the police. I don’t know what Halley expected in allowing me the address to her home. I don’t know if I am only one of many. The idea of my belongings being first elevated (by me) in their absence and second elevated as art (by everyone) complicated my perception of its value and my ownership.

I took her art as something personal, something she could recognize as sacred and serious and important. I didn’t diminish its value as its victim. Worse, I fear I might too easily cave to her coercion.  

All this before I touch the cobalt door. It knocks cold and heavy. Halley knows of my arrival already. She opens the door and shows a soft face but speaks far more icily. “I sold the piece that derived from your bag. I would like to compensate you for the value its contents.”

There were no formalities and off balance: what are the value of my contents? What is the depreciated cost of my $75 messenger bag, worn $8 decks of cards, an underused and an overused notebook, my dented, slowing Mini, my pens-sunglasses-waterbottle-joints? God I missed those fucking joints. 

“Well, uh, it was worth more than the resale value of its constituent parts.”

“Of, course.” with a hint of irritation.

“I mean, my art is in there, things I’ve written ideas drawn out.”

“You hardly used that notebook-“ I burst through, raised voice, haven’t even crossed the threshhold-

“If one sentence on that paper holds value to me…”

Halley, calmly, “Oh, I agree. That wasn’t my suggestion.”

Space falls in around us, and she turns around and motions with her hip for me to follow her inside which has more life than outside does. crawling vines climb through the loft. 

“My question is what do you consider fair compensation?”

“What if the compensation exceeds what you made on the piece? What if I press charges on my stolen bag? What if I say the only things I’ll take is my bag back?”

Still calm, Halley says “You can’t get the bag back without the owner of the piece’s permission, a woman who chose my work based off of the red spray-paint collage on page 32 in your notebook. “A gem within a gem” she said I think.

“The threat of arrest and jail is, too, part of the risk and part of the piece from its inception. How does the value of your goods changed when re-appropriated at aesthetic markup, while attached to risk. If jailed, and I on the hook for the $250 in goods I stole or the $7500 that the constituent parts sold for when seen through another frame?”

“You should be on the hook for the perceived value of the victim. There are a series of sketches in the art notebook that mean a whole lot to me. I deem these priceless, honestly, to me. They’re trash to just anyone. I knew they were important to me. I didn’t know they were priceless until I couldn’t touch them.”

Halley’s cool face slackened slightly at the comment, a feeling she imagined but was hopeful to avoid; yet it was one to complete her work. “I want to say I’m sorry for what I did to create this as its what I would want to say if someone had done this to me. I am not sorry because I knew the consequences and did this because these consequences are the piece I wanted to create. One thing I can give you whatever money you deem fair to compensate you for your bag, plus these high resolution stills of everything that was taken, page-by-page. The other thing I can give you is one priceless thing of my own, be it of your choosing.” She lead me through another room that flashed, sparkled, shook. It evoked. 

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Jason can be reached at jasonfgc@gmail.com