Shucks (or S**t): It Can’t be Helped!

In the 1980s, I was commuting to Japan on various matters of business.

In between appointments, friends and clients took me to many sights, galleries, parks and stores.

One of those galleries had a superb pair of screens with eight scenes of Japanese daily life in the late 1700s. For example, a silk maker, a sword maker etc.; it was and is both fascinating and beautiful.

BUT the price seemed too steep-about $35,000.

I did not tumble then, but on succeeding trips year by year I passed that shop and inquired about the screens. Each time the price was less, not largely because of exchange rate changes.

About the fifth time I inquired, the price — not surprisingly — had fallen to about $15,000.

I then asked a genuine expert on Japanese art of that period to come with me to look and opine.

The dealer brought the screens out and proudly put them on stands in the middle of his shop.

My advisor very discreetly told me they were great: unusual and very valuable. The explanation of the lack of commercial interest over five years rested largely on the fact that romantic scenes, not everyday scenes, were then in vogue.

“How would you go about getting the best price?”, I asked.

I was told, “Write out a check for $7000, hand it to dealer, and say you will take them.”

I did just that. The dealer got very red in the face and mumbled — I learned later — an obscure Japanese expletive and slapped the back of his hand to the screens.

I thanked him, and we started out of the shop. As I was in the doorway, I felt a jerk on my coat. He said to come back, mumbled some more Japanese, and we agreed — in English — that my check included shipping and wall mounting.

I asked my advisor what had been said. Answer: “S**t! It can’t be helped.”

Why does this come back to mind at the moment? As we enter the period of the end games between Greece and Europe, Iran and the US, and Russia and NATO over Ukraine, both sides engage in end game tactics like that art dealer.

At the end of the day-and just before the stroke of midnight — both sides in a long running negotiation engage in screaming fits, gestures, promises and threats to try to gain some last moment advantage and possible benefit.

All it takes to get through the process is some cool calmness and a willingness to walk out the door.

I guess I was destined to get those screens and have loved them now for over 30 years!


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