All Over Coffee By Paul Madonna
The Eviction Series
I was invited to do a commission at the offices of a startup at Sixth and Mission. The company’s name was Picassew. “We specialize in helping artists,” the young woman who greeted me at the door said. She introduced herself as the Chief Resources Content Marketing Executive Assistant. This was after I had to be buzzed in from the street, then texted a code for the elevator to get from the abandoned lobby to the third floor. “We’ve just raised three million dollars to launch our app, which promotes artists’ work by sewing it into the community.” Then she looked at me with her mouth hanging open. “Get it?” She said. “Picass-sew. Like Picasso and—”
“I get it,” I said.
She led me into their office, a large open space with high ceilings and exposed pipes. Three rows of tables stood in the center where ten or so people sat in front of large monitors. The office was on the corner and had tall windows lining two of its walls. I guessed they would have had great light but it was hard to know since a construction crew was busy covering them over with plywood.
“These are where your art will be,” the Chief Resources… I couldn’t remember her whole title, said to me. She was a young woman of maybe twenty-two and I decided I’d just call her Chief. “They’ll be attached to light boxes to give the effect of natural daylight.”
“So you want me to cover over your view with drawings of another view?”
“Not another view,” she said. “The same view. But, you know, better.”
A high-pitched alarm went off and panic overtook the Chief’s face, but she quickly regained her composure and excused herself. She went to the row of tables, reached over the shoulder of a thin young man, and pressed a button on his keyboard. A video popped on screen of what looked to be from the security camera pointed at the building entrance.
“I think it’s just the delivery guy,” the young man said, but buried in his voice was a worried tone that said, “Or someone who wants to hurt us.”
“Zoom in,” the Chief said, and as she studied the man on screen she bit her lip. He wore a baseball cap and carried a large padded box. Both of which had the same delivery service logo on it. He reached out and pressed the same bell I had and again the alarm sounded in the office. The Chief pulled out her phone and dialed. “Hi,” she said in a sickeningly upbeat voice. “We placed an order for delivery and I just wanted to confirm that your delivery person is—yeah—” A burst of fake silly laughter. “—That’s him alright! Thank you so, so, much.” Then she hung up and told the guy at the computer to buzz him in.
She hurried past me and waited at the office door until we could all hear the ding of the elevator, then she flung open the door and bounced on her toes like a lonely suburban housewife who pretends to have been caught in the bath when the pizza man arrives.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” she said to me after handing off the food to the guy at the table. “It’s really important to us that we support local businesses. And once a month we even go out and walk to a nearby restaurant. I mean, you really have to go that extra mile to be part of the community, you know?”
“Right,” I said. “So, the commission?”
“Yes!” She clapped, then grandly gestured to the panels being erected over the windows. “All of these are your canvas,” she said.
“Okay…” I counted the panels. Eight in all. “And what’s your budget?”
The Chief’s face went pale. “Well,” she said. “I told you our model, right? How we sew your art into the community.” And she stared at me as if that should be enough. When I didn’t reply she continued. “Well, that’s your payment. Exposure. You give us your art for free, and in exhange, we get to sell it and keep the money.”
Paul Madonna writes and draws All Over Coffee, the weekly series published in the San Francisco Chronicleand on the Rumpus.net. His stories and drawings have been published internationally and exhibited in galleries and museums. He is the author of two books, All Over Coffee (City Lights 2007), and Everything is its own reward (City Lights 2011), which won the 2011 NCBR Recognition Award for Best Book. Find more of his work at paulmadonna.com. We are stoked to have his work on our site as well.