The kitten was especially menacing, mewing at me from within the blue painted wooden frame, a single gray paw crossing out of the canvas as if it coulmx3kgE_mn807hBWLQvvE19wd leap from it’s confinement and onto my face. Beside it hung a handmade patchwork quilt featuring blond, pointy-hat-wooden-shoe-wearing dutch children holding hands, eyes lifted to a large twisted pretzel design embroidered across the top. It made me thirsty.

In the throws of career ambivalence I found work as an assistant for Dan, a tall handsome Wall Street Guy/ Folk Art Enthusiast who wanted to open a gallery on Manhattan’s swanky Upper East Side.  I would let contractors into the store for renovation, help choose the fonts for the awning and glass doors, and run paperwork to his Central Park West apartment.

“Everyone says opening in summer is a bad idea, but I’m doing it anyway” Dan confided, placing an Amish painted footstool under a large wooden barn door etched with the American Flag.  I affixed a tiny price sticker onto the side of it: $350. At this time of year the store’s target audience traded their duplexes and penthouses for beach cabanas and ocean dunes, anyone willing to buy Shaker furniture for Scientology prices would be gone for months.

Dan wanted another manager to work alongside me, and Chickie was smooth on the phone, poised and professional in person.  With her long, artfully draped dreadlocks, cocoa smooth skin and shiny red fingernails it was easy to believe that she was as awesome as she claimed.  With the silence of Madison Avenue screaming through the July heat and stagnant air hovering above the deserted sidewalks, we opened the gallery and sat, day after customer-free day, alone. So, we talked.

I told her about my restlessness, leaving a career without any ideas about the future. She had a  boyfriend who worshiped her, knowing she didn’t love him the same way and tolerating her wandering eye.  She enjoyed high end beauty products only found at department stores, large leather handbags and sharp, lemony perfume oil. She was particular about brands and labels, and thought my ignorance of them was as quaint as a wooden whirligig of a farmer milking a cow.

I started receiving credit cards I didn’t apply for in the mail, and soon our days were filled with untangling the mess. My voice speaking with customer service representatives echoed in the open space.  My card had been stolen and was being used to open accounts all over town. Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue….it was like the plastic was traveling abroad to exotic lands it would never see from my wallet. Every day brought more, and I was increasingly frustrated and impatient. Chickie watched and listened, sympathetic to my rage, assuring me the nightmare would end, eventually. It took weeks, the only benefit being that it offered more mental stimulation than staring at ceramic milk jugs.

I ran screaming one day in late August, quitting because I was unable to face another eight hours staring at chairs stenciled with roosters, but heard from Dan two months later.

“Do you know where Chickie is?” he asked in breathless, aggravated bursts, “I got a call from her PAROLE OFFICER after she stole my credit card” he huffed in all caps.  His voice cracked as he said the words, like a child bullied out of an ice cream cone.
“No. What was she in jail for?” I asked.
“Um, credit card fraud” he said, his tone steeped in a “stop being an idiot” vibe.
“She watched me go through hell when that happened to me,” I replied, shocked. “How could she do it to someone else?”
There was a short, judgmental pause.
“SHE stole your card” he spat, not even trying to hide his contempt for my dim stupidity, “She stole mine, and she stole yours.”
Suddenly there was a click, like a projector coming to life in my brain, and I saw myself sitting at the table in the empty store, exhausted by another day spent tracking down information and filling out liability forms. I leafed through the mound of papers detailing the stolen merchandise I had paid for.

“This is like if you went on a shopping spree” I said to Chickie, reading from a receipt from Lord and Taylor.  $600 of her brand of face lotion, her brand of perfume, her brand of jeans.
“Hilarious” she laughed through taunt lips as she applied $55 lipstick, using the reflection in the store window as a guide. “That thief has good taste.”

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