The Million Dollar Christmas Painting
Christmas was always a favorite holiday because I got cool stuff. And Halloween is right up there because it’s my birthday and I always got lots of candy along with cool stuff.
And then there’s Valentines day, which tops both Christmas and Halloween with the grand trifecta - candy, cool stuff, and that little something extra. Well, hopefully not a little something. But something, anyway.
Unfortunately, Valentine’s day is only fun if you have a fella. Which at this moment in time, I don’t. So with no something and not even a little something, that pushes Christmas right back up there.
So anyhoo, last weekend a woman walked into my gallery and asked if she could commission a painting. I told her it depends on what she wants.
At this stage of my life it’s all about me. In most cases I want to paint what I want to paint, when I want to paint it. But that sounds blunt and selfish, and I wanted my guest to feel welcome so I listened to this nice lady tell me what she wanted.
And just maybe it was something I could do for her. Because sometimes it is, and then I do.
Turns out she wanted me to paint The Last Supper, but as a Christmas dinner scene - with her family members seated around the table with turkey and all the trimmings and a tree in the background. On a big canvas. By Christmas.
I’ve had some unusual requests in my gallery, but this one really took the turkey. Or ham. Or tofurkey if you’re a Buddhist monk having dinner with Gweneth Paltrow.
I asked the woman (we’ll call her Matilda) what the Christmas dinner scene was for, because maybe it was for a Little Theater comedy production or whatever and my friend Dana does that kind of stuff really well.
She replied it was for her living room, which she mentioned had burgundy couches and green curtains so the colors should match. She wanted it because it would remind her of childhood family holidays in Quebec and most of her relatives had passed on.
Now that was sad. The holidays can be lonely and I’m a compassionate person, and so for a whole minute I did my best to consider it. But during that minute the full magnitude of the request was spinning in my head like the wheels in a slot machine.
A giant canvas scene that appropriates the image of Christ at the last supper and repopulates it with the faces of her dead Canadian relatives. Whose face would replace Jesus? Or would he remain as a guest at dinner…perhaps carving the turkey?
As this train of thought cramped through my mind like a case of Montezuma’s revenge, the little devil on my shoulder was already hissing no. Just no, no, no. A slot machine, 3-cherry ding-ding-ding no.
And that’s when I noticed something strange going on with my guest. Beyond the ask for a giant living room Christmas painting that needed to match the couch.
Although she was a lovely person, Miss Matilda seemed a bit out of it - as in, she was either on some kind of meds or had gone off them. I know about these things.
I’ve had friends with that look. Over-medicated, under medicated, stopped their medications, needed to be on medications, hung over, bad breakup, fired, child in a cult, ate the mushrooms, husband came out of the closet - you name it. They all had that look, and she had it.
Matilda looked to be around 80 and had arrived wearing a mumu that looked like pajamas, and she was wearing little gold slippers with a clear plastic kitten heel (guys google it).
You wouldn’t wear those outside unless you had accidentally wandered out of the gate at a drunken cocktail party blindfolded, holding a broomstick while looking for the piñata. Or if you were incredibly drunk or had eaten the mushrooms or had mistaken those three Xanax for aspirin.
In any case she should never have made it to my gallery on the same cobblestones that routinely maimed and killed the knees of tourists wearing hiking boots. Usually because they were looking up.
Locals know better.
I wondered, was she dropped off by a friend who was parking the car? Beamed down from a UFO? Was I being pranked?
I came to my senses and poured Matilda a glass of water, and I offered her a chair in case she was delirious from wandering alone in 90 degrees at 5,000 feet above sea level where the air is too thin to bake a decent cupcake.
Because that makes some people seem like they’re off their meds when all they really need is a glass of water. Or wine. Or worst case scenario, tequila. As a last resort.
In this case, I thought water was the best option. I didn’t want to be responsible for her death if my tequila was contraindicated with whatever meds she was on. Or off.
For a moment I pondered what I would do if she collapsed and died.
A dark little part of me thought I could just sit her out on the sidewalk and hope someone else took care of it because calling the police and ambulance would be challenging and I might be arrested for murder or elder abuse and spend the rest of my life in a Mexican jail.
But of course, I’m a compassionate human being and would never do that.
But I’m not above thinking about it.
She drank it, but nothing changed as she remained seated there for some minutes staring blankly at my hydrangeas.
I myself have sat staring blankly at my hydrangeas on many occasions, and I wasn’t drunk or off my meds, so I waited a little longer to see if maybe she was just enjoying a special, private moment.
She was not.
Then I wondered if maybe I should go ahead and break out the tequila. However, Defcon "T" is generally reserved for passers through who get dizzy, and she wasn’t.
Besides, I only had a little bit of the good stuff left and I might need to make a mango margarita for myself if the alcohol interacted with Matilda’s meds and she fainted. Or died.
Or had a psychotic break and pulled a butcher knife out of her giant purse and charged at me when I told her I wasn’t going to do her commission.
I’d definitely need a mango margarita for that.
When she looked up from the hydrangeas I asked her if she needed anything or if I could call someone for her, but she said no. She remarked that she was flying back to Canada later that day as she pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
Then she asked me if I could do the commission and ship it to her in Canada.
I actually still felt guilty because here this poor woman was missing her dead relatives and possibly about to have a stroke in my gallery, and I was selfishly thinking all about me.
After waving the smoke out of my eyes I told her it was beyond my scope so I couldn’t do it, but I was sure there was an artist closer to the plaza who would be happy to paint a Dead Relatives Last Supper Christmas Dinner scene for her, if the price was right.
But as I pointed in the direction of the plaza, I told her she shouldn’t try to walk there in those shoes.
Secretly I thought to myself, because sometimes I think out loud but not this time, I wondered how much she might actually pay an artist for a painting like that. I searched the cash-register portion of my brain and decided that maybe, if she had offered me a million dollars, I would have done it.
But she didn’t.
She nodded and smiled, and with cigarette smoke trailing behind her in gold kitten heels, walked out the front door and headed toward the plaza.
As she departed, my thoughts returned to me.
It would have been nice to retire to my new home overlooking the lake with a pool and a bigger art studio, where I would spend mornings painting a Christmas dinner version of the last supper with portraits of Matilda’s dead relatives.
I’d definitely need to leave Jesus completely out of that picture, for sure - that would have been a deal breaker.
I smiled at how much good could be done in the village with what was left of the million dollars, if I was a million-dollar artist. Like Banksy.
Or whoever taped that banana peel to the gallery wall and sold it for a million dollars.
Then I looked around at the flowers that surround me and my dog lying in the sun and my collection of paintings on the walls. And as the sounds of horses hooves clopping down the cobblestones outside my gallery filled the air like a Christmas carol, I stepped inside to whip up that mango margarita.
A good day in the village is when someone doesn’t offer you a million dollars to paint Christmas. And that pretty much sums up a day in my life here in Lake Chapala.