That Uncomfortable, Awkward Silence. . .

By John Stillmunks in Misc > Art Opinion

Whenever I do a show in a city farther than about 3 hours away I usually just stay one more night in a hotel. It’s not that I love hotels—William Shatner books me in some really creepy places at times—but I stay the extra night because it’s just not worth the effort and the risk to drive home late.

(It’s hard enough to stay awake, but I also harbor a severe contempt, if not hatred, of deer on the highways. Just vermin with horns and Bambi eyes, if you ask me.)

Anyway, when I’m in St. Louis, I usually go have dinner with a good friend of mine then head back to the hotel to do business stuff for the show. Sales sheets, books and taxes—that sort of thing.

The next morning before I leave, I love to go to one of those breakfast restaurant places—they are all over the South. They have kind of a charm to them. They’re not clean, but they’re not dirty. The food isn’t bad, but it isn’t good either. The waitresses are usually friendly, but they never stand in one place for more than a second or two.

The food’s not why I go though. I’m an artist. I go to these places because I can watch a living, breathing vignette of Americana. When you sit in these places and let everything unfold, you are given a gift of looking into their world for 15 or 20 minutes.

The ladies working there tend to have roving discussions with each other as they bounce from table to table and back to the kitchen area, then to the dishwasher area, then over to the cash register.

They carry on full blown conversations over the sound of the grill, the waffle irons, the dishwasher, and the customers. They never miss a beat—one will stop to ring a customer out, another will leave the area (probably for a quick cigarette), another will have a sidebar conversation with a customer, then they will all return to what they were discussing—punctuated with “Honey” and “Darlin” and quick orders clipped out in code for the cook who usually is the one waitress with the most seniority.

I am exhausted after 15 minutes of it all, but I love to watch what goes on there. I have to remind myself that this is what they are doing for at least 8 hours a day, every day. Then they go home and attend to their children and families.

One conversation last spring consisted of the waitresses all discussing how warm it was over the weekend, since it didn’t rain and the temperature cracked 70 degrees.

“Girl, I was out sunbathing and playin’ the Frisbee and stuff, you know. . . “

“Oh that sounds like fun!”

“. . . Uh-huh and we had us some amaretto too!”


“Yep, ’twas dayumm good too. We both finished off that whole bottle.” (This is when I really started paying attention, because it didn’t know what they mixed it with and I was waiting for someone to ask.)

“The whole bottle?”

“Yep! Hey, it was nice out, girl!” “More coffee hun?”

I nodded for her to warm up the cup and pretended to not be listening while I looked at the newspaper.

“There you go, baby.” “Yes, girl it was so nice out!” “Ready for your check, hun?”

I nodded and reached for my money while still looking at the paper.

“There you go, hun—thank you!”

“Girl, did you have anything else out there at the lake?”

“Like what?”

“You know what I mean!”

The waitress smiled at me as she picked up the dishes and didn’t miss a beat talking.

“Girl, you know I can’t be doing that stuff!”

“How come?”

“I’m still on probation, I gots to stay off that stuff!”

At that point, there was an uncomfortable, awkward silence.

I’ve gone back there several times and watched these ladies do what they do. On another occasion, my waitress got angry with her co-worker who took my order, thereby “stealing” her customer—me!

My official waitress was out on a cigarette break. The unofficial waitress stepped up where she shouldn’t have. When the first waitress got back, things were not peachy. I left 2 dollars for each of them because I didn’t want to see either of them get in trouble and $2 seemed an easy way to make sure they all felt love for each other again. They both looked at me like I was Warren Buffett.

Again, there was an uncomfortable, awkward silence. . .

The last time I was there, I was quietly eating and reading the news on the Droid phone at the lunch counter when 2 guys sat down a couple of seats away from me.

They politely gave their order in between the waitresses’ conversations. One asked for a glass of water, but the waitress kept forgetting to bring it to him. On his third request, she apologized and, while running to get it, asked, “Does he want a glass of water too?”


“Your friend.”

“I don’t care about him.”

Uncomfortable doesn’t cut it. . . that silence was very awkward.

She ended up smiling politely, and brought him his water, but I knew that when those two guys left, the waitresses were going to have a heyday with them. If they tipped well, the heyday would be less severe. If they didn’t tip at all, the thrashing will be intense and focused.

Those waitresses work for sales and tips. I’ve never dared thank them for the free entertainment I get from listening to their conversations. It would be insulting to them and would have caused one of those same uncomfortable and awkward situations. Sales and tips—that’s how you show your appreciation.

And in a way, artists are the same.

Artists work for sales. Their time in the studio is spent making paintings or photographs or pottery or sculpture for people to purchase. And yet, almost every show I’ve ever done brings out at least one person, and sometimes quite a few, who walk into the booth and look around exclaiming how much they love the paintings, how beautiful they are, how wonderful, how “clever.”

Then—looking me straight in the eye—they thank me for sharing my work with them on such a beautiful day and so forth and so on.

These people are “Thank-ers.” “Thank-ers” enjoy viewing the art, but don’t have enough sense to quietly view the art. They came to be entertained as well. And they need to let everyone know it.

The world is a strange place and we all know how odd people can be. Frequently at shows artists are approached by “BC’ers” (“BC’ers” are people that come into the booth and ask for business cards) or people trying to learn how to be an artist, or people that are “just looking,” etc.

But the “Thank-ers” are my Achilles’ Heel. If a shopper goes to a store for underwear, and decides the store did not have the underwear she wanted, does she say “thank you for sharing” to the clerk at the store?

This “thank you for sharing” thing will always perplex me. Can you imagine if one of those “Thank-ers” went into the restaurant I go to in St. Louis, sat at the counter, looked around, and then thanked the waitress for sharing?

The restaurant and the waitresses are not there to share anything; they are there to sell. The art show, and the artists at the show, are there to sell their work as well.

Not every artist will be able to sell to each customer, and every artist knows this. If you want to buy a piece of the artist’s work, please do so. If not, that’s OK as well.

But really. There is no need to thank an artist for “sharing.”

If you do, trust me—you’ll just get one of those uncomfortable, awkward silences.

To learn more about John and his art, please visit


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