Haven’t you been in a store such as a curio or antique shop and found a nasty sign that says “you break it you bought it?” It is more than intimidating even for serious buyers. Perhaps they are referring to children or pets, but the sign doesn’t make that clear. In fact, this policy is just plain insulting. I suppose they want to make sure you don’t move things around which could knock something valuable off a shelf. Then why make them hard to reach and so far apart?

I used to bristle at such signs and would stop frequenting that store, but something happened in the gallery where I work which changed my tune. While we want people to feel comfortable walking around and approaching the works of art, they can bump into something by accident. Now I question how I would respond? Would I make them pay? I think the director would but it depends on the person who perpetuated an ugly scene. Imagine pieces of a ceramic statue all over the floor. Imagine the look of horror on everyone’s face—the boss, the receptionist, and mine. True destruction is infrequent and sometimes you can repair an object. I must say that is not often and it is quite expensive. There are fine artisans who can do it for a hefty price. If the client or visitor wants to buy it, he or she can pay for the repair.

I saw my boss get livid and start seething. I was afraid he would start lecturing the person to be more careful. In the end, he made the man pay. There was no loss to the gallery but self-respect. It seemed greedy to me in the long run. Meanwhile it was my job to clean the mess up and I quickly grabbed the vacuum in the utility closet in the kitchen. We have a simple, inexpensive model that cost less than a hundred dollars but it has good suction and performed its task well. All the pieces, large and small, were in the bag inside. It was a thankless job because I could see that the person who had obliterated the statue was upset. He even offered to vacuum it himself. Of course, that was absurd. Patrons, no matter their evils, must be respected. I went on to finish the job and proceeded to empty the bag in the kitchen and inspect the pieces. Nothing was salvageable but the head. It was a nice artwork executed by a local artist with talent galore. I kept the head in my pocket. After I returned the vacuum to its storage place, I packed up my things to go home.

I put the ceramic head on my work desk where I do sketches. It made a nice paperweight. Something good came out of the gallery fiasco. At least the artist’s work lives on. I may do some sketches of it to send to him, but I was loath to reveal what had happened.