"So, what would I expect to pay for something like this?" I asked, trying to strike a tone somewhere between detached interest and opulent enthusiasm - not an easy juxtaposition.
There followed some words from Tim that I don't recall, but which emphasised the unique skill and vision of the photographer, the special, rare materials used in the manufacture of this superb artwork, and the numerous detailed steps in the production process.
I do, however, remember the price.
"....you could own this limited edition proof for..... between ten and eleven thousand dollars."
There is no question that the work of Rodney Lough Jr is stunning. Somehow he manages to create photographic images with such depth, colour and intensity that I found myself completely entranced in front of his superbly captured mountainscape. A trance that Tim, the circling salesman, had clearly witnessed before as he moved in for the kill.
Not for nothing is San Francisco known as one of the most expensive places in the world to live. The voluble tour bus host with whom we had travelled earlier had proudly explained that property prices in the Pacific Heights area of the City rivalled only London in their majestic scale. I checked later. Coldwell Banker, a national real estate agent, was selling a not overly-huge 8 bed home overlooking the Bay for a cool $38 million. And there are a host of modest 2 or 3 bed apartments on offer at around the million dollar mark.
So spending eleven grand on a photo - especially one of this truly magnificent scale and quality - probably isn't such a big deal. Many of our clients could comfortably afford one of Rodney's works, and for all I know some of them already do.
But the encounter did make me reflect on how I measure value. I wasn't really surprised by the five-figure price tag, I'd seen similar works further down the coast in La Jolla on previous trips. To my English scale of value, though, this is still one heck of a lot of money to hang on a wall.
Iconic Golden Gate Bridge
I'll be honest, though. The idea of ownership did have some appeal as Tim courted Sarah, my daughter, and I in the private, computer controlled booth into which he had casually ushered us before we could protest. It would have been easy to give him my credit card there and then.
Two things stopped me. The first was the fast-action movie trailer that ripped through my head in a matter of seconds as I gazed at the glorious image before me. The storyboard went like this:
"If I buy this picture I'm going to need somewhere to put it. It won't look right in our lounge, so maybe the dining room? But there's not enough space there to stand back and view it in the way it should be viewed. Maybe the conservatory. Yes, it would look good there but the light is so strong I'd be scared my eleven grand would simply fade away before my eyes in a few short years, despite Tim's assurances of colourfastness.
"You know, to do a picture like this justice, we're going to need a bigger house. Well, we have talked about moving. Maybe a couple who can so obviously afford a picture like this should have a show home to go with it. Although if we move out of town to the sort of house I have in mind we're going to need to use the car more. Or should that be cars? And it's probably time to upgrade them, I'm not sure that a family with a picture like this should drive around in four or five year old cars. And another thing that we'll need is.....STOP!"
Suddenly this picture is dictating my lifestyle. More importantly, it's defining my whole self-image. In milliseconds I've created an enticing new world for myself and my family. One in which I, like the picture that started this thought process, am just an image. Not real. A representation of something that doesn't really exist.
And, more than anything, I want to be real.
I've noticed that this is a process that happens to many people who acquire serious money. They acquire things, and then discover that they have also acquired a self-image that requires feeding. They begin to lose touch with reality.
And yet reality is where the joy resides.
In my work, I help people to reconnect with their core values, and to make decisions about their lives and their money that are truly authentic - they come from deep within.
For me personally, life is about the experience of travelling, and stopping regularly to smell the flowers.
That's why we're here in San Francisco in the first place.
Now, don't misunderstand me. I'm not against owning stuff. If there is something that truly appeals to you, that sings to you from your heart, that every day brings you pleasure in it's appreciation, then go for it. Don't pour water on the burning flame of your spirit.
But there's a big difference between feeding your spirit and feeding your ego. I like to think that I work on one whilst quelling the other.
So thanks, Rodney, for your outstanding work which I know would look fantastic in the right home. And thanks Tim, for your excellent sales pitch.
Maybe the time might come when a purchase like this one is right. When all the ducks are in a row and the choirs are singing, so to speak.
But I hope you'll understand why, for today at least, I need to pass this particular opportunity by.
P.S. There's a second thing, too. One of the most important things in my life is sharing the best bits with someone truly special. Tim, I wouldn't even begin to make this kind of purchase without including my wife. Sue was a few moments behind Sarah and I as we entered the gallery, and she told me later that she had been stopped from entering our booth by your colleague. Something about 'light sensitivity.'
In my practice the presence of your partner when making brilliant decisions is not only considered wise, it's compulsory. If you're going to plan your life, your money or your home, you won't want to do it on your own.
So splitting us up was not a good move. Thought you'd like to know.
Hungry for more? Try Stinking of Steinbeck.