In November, 2000, an Israeli "art student" ran into Kelly Ann Thomas, a not so tough, but very savvy customer.

Encounter With an Israeli Art Student

By Kelly Ann Thomas

On the Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving, I was hanging out at a coffee shop in Scottsdale, Arizona. I had met the owners the prior week while working a booth for a holiday turkey drive at their store. They invited me back the next week, promising to teach me how to make a real cappuccino and get my feet wet behind the bar. The elderly owners needed a day off from their 7-day a week business and hoped that I could fill in once a week.

About 9 a.m., a man claiming to be an Israeli art student came in with some unstretched canvas paintings he did in art school. He was here in the United States, hoping to sell some art to pay for his trip. The paintings were mediocre, like the original artwork you can pick up for $19.99 at some “art expo” held at the Holiday Inn. I was a little skeptical when he mentioned he was from Israel, wondering if he was sympathetic to the Palestinians, whose plight is worse than Black South Africans under apartheid, according to Desmond Tutu. I despise Zionism. He pointed to a painting of two blue elephants with a message of peace written in Hebrew scrolled around the border. He did a song and dance routine about peace with the Palestinians and peace with the world. Maybe it was because he saw the “My karma ran over your dogma” bumper sticker on my car. The Volvo was one of two cars in an otherwise empty lot. It was enough for me. I think I gave him twenty bucks because I liked the message coming from an Israeli. It gave me hope. Hope was a fleeting moment.

He offered to put me in touch with a framer who had a store in Scottsdale and was offering a generous discount on framing, but the art student could not remember the number and offered to call me with the information, so out of forced politeness, I gave him my business card. It only had my mobile number – no address. I wasn’t about to visit a framer in Scottsdale. I’d just wait for a coupon from Michaels’, as the frame was worth more than the painting. I forked over the twenty, ready to get back to the conversation with the coffee shop owners. Then it got weird. He kept hanging around, so to fill an awkward moment of silence, I asked him something about a paint medium and right then it became obvious that he hadn’t picked up a paint brush since elementary school. I made a flip comment and he then admitted that he was traveling with friends who were art students from Israel. He was helping them to sell their paintings. He had an accent and his English wasn’t perfect - or perhaps it was and it was merely a facade, I thought to myself. I shrugged it off, but I was already uncomfortable. He spent the next two hours there, nursing one cup of coffee and talking on his cell phone in Hebrew or Yiddish, which I seem to think of as one and the same. He tried to engage us in conversation, stating that he had taken a bus there and was waiting for his friend to pick him up. He didn’t approach the other customers with his work. It was kind of odd that he would remain there caught in a lie.

Picture of elephants

Kelly Ann Thomas bought this painting from an Israeli "art student" in Scottsdale, Arizona. If it contains a Hebrew message of peace, it's well hidden. Kelly has since sold the painting.

He left shortly after 11 a.m. and the owners and I breathed a sigh of relief. Still, the painting had the message of peace, though I wondered if it hadn’t been just a scam. I just shrugged it off. The next day I received a call from the framer, who it turned out did not have a store in Scottsdale. He framed out of his car. I politely told him that I wasn’t ready to frame it. He kept insisting that he knew the perfect frame for the painting, that he knew the artist who painted it and what a special paint it was, yada, yada, yada. He then said that he operated out of a van (first it was a car) because it was best to drive to someone’s home to match the frame with the décor of the room. I said that I wasn’t about to let some strange man into my house, and hung up the phone. Later that evening, the art student poseur called, asking if I had gotten in touch with his friend. I explained to him the lie, and that I didn’t need or want the “art” framed. He became aggressive, suggesting that I had to use his friend’s services. I started yelling at the guy, telling him to stop calling me.

The following day – Turkey Day!, I received yet another phone call from the “framer”, insisting he come over and frame the painting. He said he needed money. I was screaming into the phone, asking him with a tone of incredulous facetiousness why he would be calling on Thanksgiving morning (around 11) demanding to come over right then to frame a cheap piece of art! My voice was getting a little shaky because it’s not in my nature to scream at people, at least not out loud. I told him that I would not let a stranger in my house and to stop calling me. I only wish that I could have slammed the phone down for him to feel my anger. My husband said he would answer the phone if the guy tried to call back, but the psycho got the message. No more calls.