“You can’t afford it.” I knew it was
a mistake the second I said it. I was hoping to end the conversation,
but at that moment I realized I had extended an invitation, a challenge.
Brock was a Hollywood-type, an agent nicknamed ‘Nego’, short
for ‘The Negotiator.’ His girlfriend Downee, who sat between
us, leaned back in her chair like a referee dancing out of harm’s
way at a boxing match. I swear his eyeteeth grew longer and more pointed.
The contact-enhanced blue eyes, below Brock’s carefully coiffed
eyebrows, turned dead black, like a shark’s. Brock smiled. I gulped,
hoping it wasn’t noticeable.
been a lovely evening. I was a guest at a Los Angeles arts fundraiser,
an elaborate dinner dance designed to raise money for more fundraisers. I was
seated between two blondes, one in her early twenties and the other in her
The old gal, Maggie,
had been a contract player in the Forties and Fifties. She had small parts
in some films that allowed her to bed hop with some very big
names. The notches in her belt were a source of great pride and many hilarious
stories. The provenance of her beloved Picasso is a jaw-dropping tale but I
had to swear to secrecy. Earlier in the evening, she had been the ideal dinner
loud, lively and entertaining. But after two hours of double drinks, dinner,
dull speeches and forty milligrams of oxycontin, Maggie was quietly mumbling
fond memories into her lap.
Downee, to my right,
was an actress who spoke more of celebrity and less of craft. Her role models
were actresses who had married well. I like meeting new people
and learning new things. Downee was delighted and chatty about her recent vaginal
cosmetic surgery. I’ve seen many Labia Majoras before but I just can’t
comprehend the criteria for beauty; I always thought it was a matter of good
grooming. It’s not like a honkin’ nose or inverted breasts… I
was curious to see her before and after pictures but I thought it too rude to
ask. I concluded that vaginal beauty must be in the eye of the beholder or in
the wallet of the surgeon. Regardless, her boyfriend, agent and surgery sponsor,
Brock was quite pleased.
This evening’s event took place six months before the debut of the iPhone
and Downee had a Beta version of the revolutionary gadget, a gift from Brock
who made it very clear to everyone within an impolite shouting distance that
he was extremely well connected.
With the iPhone, we were able to get online and I showed her some of my recent
work. When I mentioned that I was in the collection of a certain actress who
had married well, Downee took a big fancy to a big, bright painting. She grabbed
Brock’s crotch and whispered ‘Two Month Anniversary” into his
an intimacy in making art. Often times the physical, emotional and psychic
effort is Herculean. How do you price it? What is the value? Forty
the stretcher bars, eight for the canvas and six for the paint? One hundred
million for the idea and seven hundred thousand for the execution? How do
you price an
artwork? You can’t.
That’s why I find great dignity in the beau geste of giving it away.
to me and asked, “How much?”
We were sitting outdoors and he was smoking a thin cheroot. With his Italian
cowboy boots, I knew he was going for a Clint Eastwood. There was a glint in
his eye and I swear the cigar started to grow fatter, longer and more erect.
In the film business, there is a simple caste system called ‘Above and
Below The Line.’ The folks who toil ‘Below The Line’ tend
to be the salt of the earth with an interesting edge; they actually make
The swells that live ‘Above The Line’ take credit for it.
They adamantly know everything about anything with the greatest of authority.
A casual conversation
is a fight for ultimate superiority. A simple observation becomes a death
match. An opinion draws blood. Hollywood peacocks are the less productive
spawn of the
Wall Street bond trader; it’s Triple A-Alpha Male.
I lost my taste for sushi in a Japanese restaurant. Once I was sitting
within earshot of Michael Ovitz during his last days as a ten-percent titan
No one knew more about fine art than this talent broker. The blowhard was
bragging about an artist that he was backing. It went something like “Handsome face.
Top grad school. Good use of color. But we’ll have to cap his teeth.” He
spoke of the abstract painter like a horse trader regards a thoroughbred. The
agent was dreaming of standing in the Winner’s Circle at the Whitney wearing
the garland of good taste and refinement. I haven’t had sushi since.
An artist can only focus on the creation of the art. When you start to
think of how much dough, where and with whom the piece may end up, artistic
can go awry. How does a mother abandon her baby? Only with great difficulty.
like to love the collector with the same passion that went into the work.
There was no way in hell I’d be Brock’s bitch.
He was smiling slyly. “How much?” Brock asked. Downee was clapping
her fingertips in silent victory.
I replied, “You can’t afford it.”