Ken goes on a mission to find some beat up wood panel on the cheap for art

Things sometimes turn on a dime. Recently, with only three days’ notice, my summer job as a kiddie-train engineer suddenly vanished in a puff of steam-engine smoke. I won’t dwell on the details, except to say I was disappointed. I really loved the job, and its loss kicks a hole in my budget for the next few months.

That’s not to say there’s no upside to this sudden shift in fortunes. Truth is, there’s enough going on in Geezerville that a 45-hour weekly commitment (plus commuting) already presented challenges in terms of time management. There’s the garden, for one thing. My modest urban plot has reached the stage where it’s less about seeding and weeding, and more about watering, eating and devising strategies to cope with staggering amounts of romaine lettuce. That doesn’t mean I can slack off. I’m still on squirrel patrol 24/7 and every day requires several hours to stand and observe the silent miracle of green emerging from brown.

On top of that, I’ve just begun rehearsals for a one-act comedy I’m directing, a Faustian tale concerning the eternal struggle between evil and stupid. Last weekend, that project inspired a bizarre bit of real-life dialogue in a local lumber store.

Me: “I’m looking for a sheet of the cheapest and ugliest fake wood panelling you have.”
Clerk: “How cheap? How ugly?”
Me: “Ugly enough to give you nightmares of a 1950s motel room. Cheap enough that you’ll pay me to take it off your hands.”
Clerk: “May I ask what you’ll be using it for?”
Me: “I need to build a coffin.”
At this point, the stage directions would likely indicate the clerk calling a manager about a potential problem in the wall panel department.
Clerk: “Did you say coffin, sir?”
Me: “Yeah. But it has to be the crappiest-looking coffin ever made.”
Clerk: “Is this for yourself, sir, or someone else? A mother-in-law, perhaps?”
Me: “Good heavens, no. It’s for a play. That’s why it has to be cheap. We’re artists, you know.”
Clerk: (Warming to the task.) “Exactly how ugly, sir?”
Me: “Really, really ugly. The kind of thing you wouldn’t be caught dead in.”
That’s when the lightbulb went off and he led me to a dusty corner full of things that might never find a forever home.
Clerk: “Worst I can do is this, Sir. I can take $10 off because of its condition.”
Me: “It’s a bit prettier than I wanted, but I can add more scuff marks and use something ghastly for the handles and trim. How about $15 off?”
Clerk: “And two comps for opening night?”
Me: “Deal.”
That’s how art works in a small town.