It was a slow day—the type of show where artists and craftspeople spend most of the time talking to each other. My booth neighbor was Josh, a ceramics artist. We were trading art and craft business horror stories. We both had some good ones. There was the poorly planned show on Plum Island. By noon everyone demanded show fees back, and by three, the producer had fled the show. Josh added his stories to mine, and we spent an hour talking. At some point, I mentioned how a client had stiffed me on final payment. Josh smirked and told me, “that doesn’t happen to me much anymore.” “Oh?” I asked. Josh settled back in his chair and related this story:
” Back about three years ago. I was reading a post from a guy in New Jersey who had trouble getting paid. The client ignored all payment requests. In frustration, He sent a note saying that he’d activate the curse at the end of the week. The curse? Yes, the jinx, he’d placed just for this sort of eventuality. A week went by, the second week, no cash. Week three rolled around, and he got paid. The client had a pinched nerve, his dog bit him, and he had shingles. He cashed the check and called the client to tell him they were square.”
I asked Josh If he had ever thought about doing something similar? Then he told me the rest of the story:
” I went down to a local Botanica and asked about having something like this done. After buying lots of candles, incense, and oils on my fourth visit, the owner admitted that something might be arranged. From the backroom, his grandfather emerged. The owner asked about my request. The older man looked at me and primly shook his head no. The translation from the owner was that his grandfather would never do such an evil thing. After much discussion, grandfather agreed that he could whip up something that translated as ” a certain avoidance of good fortune.” No ill-wishing, no tragedy in the family, just a particular avoidance of good fortune. I smiled, paid the requested cash, walked away with the bit of scribble and the activating ritual.
But Josh, I asked, have you ever used it? “Once. The client laughed at me. Then I told him where to find the mark on the bottom of the piece. I described the effects of the curse – nothing dramatic, but that raise? Instead of five percent, it was two. Instead of a great steak, it always came out overcooked. Forget about good weather on vacation or finding out that your auto repair was under warranty. Just a certain avoidance of good fortune; He paid later that week.”
I thought about this lot. Sailors and their wives made up a good percentage of my clientele; they can be superstitious. They replace old coins in mast steps when rerigging, do arcane things when changing a boat name, and I’ve even seen men surreptitiously pour libations to Neptunus Rex. If I told a client to look for a scratched rebus on a boat portrait of an eagle, they’d assume that I’d cursed their boats. I’d have an unfortunate accident in a boatyard.
I’ve thought about his little squiggle and the certain avoidance of good fortune a lot. But, in the end, all I’ve done is increase the size of my down payments. And I ask for cash in advance for anything under a thousand. It’s safer this way.