Jonathan Richman provides the soundtrack as block after block of palm-trees and stores slip by in the sun: all is good. We make the turn off Ventura onto Sepulveda, Jake at the wheel leans forward and turns the clock forward an hour.

“What are you doing!”
“I’m adjusting the clock”
“It was right”
“It was right”
“What time is it?”
“Half Eight”
“You’re joking!”
“What are we doing!”
“Well, we said we wanted an early start”
“I know but…”
“We said last night we’d finish there and start early today”
“Well I don’t mind”
“I thought we were all ready to go”
“If you didn’t want to come this early you should have said”
“I didn’t know what time it was!”
“This is ridiculous, why don’t we talk to each other more!”
“I’m quite happy, I’m glad we’re early”
“I’m fine”
“so am I”
“Maybe we should just drive around for a bit”

We arrive at Skirball earlier than some had expected and take the opportunity of a coffee in the venue’s beautifully sculptured gardens. Graeme scribbles in his notebook. We strategise rice and the morning.

First up all missing labels are printed, guillotined and stuck down. We tidy away mess, sweep up dust and stray grains, replace plastic with metal, digital with balance, lose random chairs, tables and empty rice sacks, pallets and pallet jacks vanish. Key missing stats plug gaps of logic and layout. Then we tour the rooms together, sharing reasoning and context, clarifying sources and ratios, tweaking positioning, questioning wording and correcting spelling. We discuss how the themes and connections work, where they could be taken and how far they could be pushed. We propose test cases and through our intuitive responses to these cases we shape provisional rules of what can and can’t go where.

With half an hour to go we set off in search of costumes. Karen has had an ironing frenzy, rows of shirts, trousers and dustcoats hang immaculate, ready for action in our improvised dressing room. The Skirball Catering team have gone berserk, a huge table is set out with white linen, a rank of thermoses, cheeses, biscuits, fruits and cookies, lemon wedges, ice and all kinds of drinks in ice. This is magnificent, I take photos, from now on this is on the rider!

At twelve the show opens. After fifteen minutes the first visitors start percolating through from the top room. The first guy up comes straight out with it “I saw it last year and I loved it. I don’t know why but it isn’t as powerful this time”. Great! After that things pick up.

In typical Stan fashion no one is prepared to be the first to go to lunch; everyone is fixated on their current statistical project. Showing my renowned leadership skills I announce I am going to go to lunch if no one else will. Karen’s cracked the system, we have pre-ordered, got a staff discount and as much delicious salad as anyone could hope to eat in a single sitting.

I call home, then spend an extended period with a newspaper journalist. She’s intelligent and interested, which always makes things easy. Eventually conversation drifts to Birmingham, Simon Rattle and the conductors of symphony orchestras (are they getting younger these days or are we just getting older?). We realise it’s time to call a halt, this is now just chatting. Susan in the Skirball bookshop has been putting together an elegant display of books thematically related to the show. I take up a copy of the catalogue, we agree a price and a split and it is added to the display.

Time to iron my suit, scribble some words of thanks and present myself at the opening function. Jordan says nice things about first seeing the show. Uri says nice things about counting and being counted, biblical references and a shared values between Skirball and the show. Apparently he trained to be a rabbi, you can tell, it’s great. Jordan says further nice things, it’s my introduction so they’re about me. I say my scribbled thing – I wish I’d scribbled it earlier and learnt it. Jordan says a final nice thing. Everyone claps intermittently throughout, usually in the gaps between people saying nice things.

Food at the reception is all rice based. I’m developing a healthy respect for this catering department. I talk too much to eat much but nothing will keep me from the miniature rice puddings with cinnamon and Californian raisins. I wander slowly back through the galleries listening, talking and mulling over the wonder of how this thing touches people.

The team look tired. It’s been busy. The clock ticks down. The Getty Gallery empties. We call time. Back in the dressing room the Skirball Catering team elevate themselves to cult status by, in our absence, laying out a delicious chicken and rice dinner.

Car. House. Bed. Sleep. Jet-lag. Wake. Blog.


One thought on “Opening

  1. You’re food mad, you are. It does sound great though, and it’s so heartening to see some old school Yarker dialogue on here.

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