Friday, July 8, 2016

An Imperfect Storm

Twin Rocks Trading Post is an always interesting and often wonderful place to work. It can be slow as a galloping caterpillar, weird as a corral full of Churro sheep, placid as the Bluff pond or tense as a summer lightening storm. Today it was busy, which was most likely due to the soft, gentle and nourishing female rain caressing our courtyard. While tourists seek shelter, we, as generally parched locals, charge outside to welcome rain drops with open arms and upturned faces. In this huge, wide-open country our museum-esque business is an obvious choice if you need to ride-out a storm.

Navajo people view moisture as a gift from the gods, a life sign that brings regeneration and prosperity. Steve and I believe that because of our close association with many tribal members we benefit as well. An afternoon thunder shower means business to Twin Rocks, that is a rip-roaring fact. Navajo people also believe storms may be bordered by chaos. I can confirm this is true, because as I watched the drops fall I was about to witness a tumultuous, aggressive and dangerous type of male rain, brought on by, of all things, a woman. The storm-front was introduced by a long-time friend and associate. To protect her from embarrassment, I will refer to her as "Marie", our Navajo sister.

Marie called the day before the rain started, reminding me we are family and that, "A brother treats his sister well and pays her a fair price for her weavings." This was intended as a not so subtle reminder that she is special and should be treated accordingly. Through the years we have bought and sold several marvelous rugs from Marie. She creates the double weave, raised outline pattern, and has been extremely successful doing so. It had been well over a year since we last heard from her, so I was happy to receive her call. This, she insisted, would be her last rug because she is now 72 years old, her eyes are growing dim and her hand-strength is failing. She maintained it was doubtful she would ever weave again.

Since I have experienced this line of reasoning before, I recognized it as a sales pitch. I, therefore, let Marie know I would be saddened if this was indeed her last rug and requested she have her grandson send images, including size and price. The information promptly arrived on my phone. After seeing the pictures and calculating what we could afford to pay, I happily advised her to come on in. Marie told me she would do so, but would be catching a ride with her sister. Time was, therefore, of the essence. "You will need to be quick about it", she said. I should have sensed the riotous rumblings right then and there.
Navajo Storm Pattern Rug - Gabriel Benally (#14)

When Marie entered the trading post, the proverbial storm broke upon the rocks, the Twin Rocks. For some unknown reason, Marie was uptight, irritable and in a fighting mood. I knew her to be a tough negotiator, but the deal had been struck before she entered through the Kokopelli doors. This was not like her. Then I saw the rug. It was, well . . . far less than I had anticipated. At that point I knew Brother Barry was about to be abused. Marie's rug, if it was in fact hers, was what I refer to as a dish rag, meaning it was loosely woven, the ends were uneven, it curled and it was asymmetric. "Dangit!", I thought. Because of so many previously positive experiences with Marie and her rugs, I had assumed too much. I had completely given up my opportunity to do a hands-on examination and made the valuation based upon a one dimensional image on my cell phone. The problem was I had agreed to buy it and was obligated to keep my word. The weaving was not, however, what we had come to expect; not by any stretch of the imagination. I was frustrated with my breakdown in protocol, and wondered why this weaving was so bad.

When Priscilla saw the offering, she knew a bad moon was rising and beat a hasty retreat to our office. She did not shut the door, but intentionally took herself out of the game. When it comes to Navajo rugs and spotting problems Priscilla is our go-to girl. She, however, dislikes confrontation. Steve was away at a wrestling camp with Grange, so I found myself staring into the raging storm without a life preserver. Marie is a force to be reckoned with. Outside the rain fell, the thunder roared and the lightning flashed. Inside I found myself caught-up in a downspout with no avenue out. I wrote a check for the agreed upon price and handed it to Marie. She refused, saying, "The price has gone-up, I need more money."

"More money", I stammered, "for what?" "It's a good rug and I need more", Marie shot back. I knew it would be pointless to argue. I looked to Priscilla for a reaction, but she turned away. Priscilla was not getting caught-up in this emotional flash flood. Marie and I stood toe-to-toe as the gulf between us widened. Danny, our Internet guy, had come down for a picture of Marie with the rug, but she was having none of it. Her new price was half again what we had agreed, and I was balking. Marie's eyes began to flash fire. Her ire was up and I was the source of her irritation. She wanted more money, period, end of discussion. She handed the weaving to her sister and said, "Take the picture with her."

At this point I asked Marie if her sibling had woven the rug. She did not answer and her level of agitation spiked. She tossed the weaving on the floor and said, almost shouting, "Take the picture down there!" I was struggling to understand what was happening. Big Thunder was in the room, and I might be flayed and fried by him/her. What I did know was this weaving was not consistent with Marie's high standard. I needed to know the truth, because we provide a certificate of authenticity and signed photograph with pieces like this. We have built a reputation for honesty and I was not about to let that be destroyed by Marie's lightning strike. On the other hand, an important relationship with my self-described sister was on the line.

Either Marie was struggling to maintain her weaving abilities or attempting to help her sister. Family comes first to Navajo people, and even though Marie refers to Steve and me brothers, we are not of the same blood. We have seen this happen before; an artist develops a solid reputation and strong demand for their product and their immediate family begins to lean on them for assistance. Family members do not have the market they need to sell their less desirable creations, so they pressure the one who does to help-out in a pinch. Was this such a situation? Was that why Marie was causing a disruption in the upper atmosphere? Was that the reason she increased the price and became upset with me and the world around her? Steve and I do not see this as being dishonest. Instead, we recognize it as the Navajo response to family pressure. That does not mean we are unaffected by it.

Whatever the case, I was being buffeted and began seeking shelter. Steve and Laurie constantly remind me I am a stubborn soul and will hold my ground whenever I believe I am being abused. I was standing there, looking into the eye of the storm and sinking fast. Willing to swallow my pride, I would pay the price Marie and I agreed upon, but that was as far as I would be tossed about. I wanted to help, but did not want to loose my shirt AND britches in the process. While we stood face-to-face, Marie gave-up, grabbed the rug, wrapped it in her towel and said, "I'm angry brother, this is bad for both of us." I tried to get Marie to accept the original check, but she was checking-out.

It is times like these I wish I had a better grip on human psychology. I watched Marie and her sister stalk out the door and wondered at the cause of the emotional occurrence. Priscilla reemerged from her hideout and I chided her about placing herself in a, "protected state". Her reply was, "I didn't cause that disturbance, you did. I know when to get in out of the storm. What you need to understand is that Marie sees you as extended family member, and when she settles down, she'll be back. What you might consider is what you will do if she brings that ratty rug with her when she returns."

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

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