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(While Mike Royko is on vacation, we are reprinting some of his most popular columns. This column originally ran on Feb.16, 1987.)

We were looking for something to fill blank space on the living room wall, which is how I found myself standing uncomfortably in an art gallery on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Art galleries are not my usual hangouts because -- and I'm not embarrassed to admit it -- I have little appreciation of visual art.

Some people are tone-deaf. To them, Beethoven's music sounds like a construction crew at work.

That's the way I am with paintings. My only reaction to the "Mona Lisa" is the thought that if she went into a singles bar, she'd spend the entire evening buying her own drinks. When I visited the Sistine Chapel, I looked at the ceiling and thought: "Boy, lying on that scaffold, I bet he got a stiff neck and a lot of paint in his eyes."

But, as I said, we have this empty space on the wall. And the female person who shares the living room said that we had to find something to hang there.

I suggested a calendar, the kind that has a different picture for every month. But she said the smart set doesn't hang calendars on the living room wall.

She also rejected the suggestion that we put up a shelf and display my collection of old saloon-league softball trophies. She said they're not chic.

That's one of the things that confuses me about art. Recently, a famous artist made the cover of Time magazine when it revealed that he had spent many years drawing his cleaning lady naked. That is considered chic. But I ask -- would you rather be known for persuading your cleaning lady to remove her skivvies or for hitting a home run to defeat Wally and Helen's Tavern?

Anyway, that's how I found myself in this art gallery, trying to blend in with the yuppies by cocking my head to one side, grasping my chin with my thumb and forefinger, peering at a painting and mumbling: "Hmmmmm, interesting."

My act must have been convincing, because a woman who sold the paintings veered toward us and said: "Do you like that?"

"Yes," I said, and it was almost true. The painting appeared to be a long, thin, multicolored bird, and it wasn't bad. Actually, if a bird looking like that ever flew overhead, I'd probably dive under a porch. But at least I thought I knew what it was, which is the first step in art appreciation.

Even more important, it seemed to be just the correct size to cover the blank space on the living room wall, which is the second step in art appreciation.

The gallery lady said: "And one of the nice things about this is that you can hang it this way or that way." And to demonstrate, she turned it so that it was hanging sideways. Then she turned it again, so it was upside down. Or maybe it was right side up.

"You see?" she asked.

That's why I'm embarrassed by my ignorance of art. If I decided to put a picture of my uncle Chester on the wall, I wouldn't think of hanging it upside down. In his prime, Chester wasn't much to look at, but the sight of him with his mouth above his eyes would turn a child's hair white.

Still faking it, I told the gallery lady: "Ah, very interesting. Either a diving or a soaring effect, hey?"

Then she told me about the artist, a South American lady who now paints in New York and has been commissioned to do some posters. From her tone, I gathered that doing the posters was significant, although I don't know why. I've seen posters in Chicago that say "Elect Albert (Al) Zbygniewski Alderman, He Hates Crooks," and I wouldn't want them in my living room. Maybe the garage, though.

She also told how the South American lady worked. "She says she just gets up in the morning, throws the paint on the canvas and shifts it around until she gets the effect she wants."

My grandfather was a house painter, and if he had taken that approach, my grandfather would have wound up as a bag lady.

"It's reduced during our sale," the gallery lady said. Then she peered around the side of the frame, where they had stashed the price tag.

"It's reduced 40 percent," she said. "So you can have it for $4,800."

"Ahhh," I said. Or maybe it was more like "Huhhh?"

The fact is, it wasn't a bad deal, considering that I could point a thing that might be a bird in any direction, up, down, north or south. In an earthquake, it would always look good.

But I told her that we would have to think about it and would drop back sometime.

We probably won't, though. Next Saturday, I'm going to browse around some calendar stores.

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