Should you meet your hero?

British comedian Alan Carr famously said that meeting Paul Newman was a crushing disappointment. He said Newman looked old, frail and all too human. But I received an invitation to meet someone I’ve admired for years and had I declined, I think I’d have regretted it.

*     *     *

When you’re young and living in Manhattan and you meet someone new—for instance, a pretty girl—there’s a dance whereby you search for a common thread with which to start a conversation. You look for a shared experience to build a relationship and when you’re in your early 20’s, that shared experience, more often than not, is college. When I’d meet a girl and she’d ask what college I went to and I said I never went to college she’d start looking over my right shoulder to see what was behind me. And trying to land a job without a degree on my resume was extraordinarily difficult. They were debilitating years.

I’m a low-level rare book dealer. I could never make a living by dealing. I’ll see an undervalued rare book on the market and buy it with the intent of flipping it and making a few quid, but once it’s actually in my hands, I can’t bear to part with it. So I’m more of a collector. I began collecting to bolster my image and self esteem. Collecting books is seen as an intellectual pursuit so I decided to wear that mantle. It helped. I’d find a way to wedge it into a conversation and I’d get some mileage out of it.

Then something unexpected happened. I started to enjoy collecting for what it was. Not just for the visceral reasons, but because it’s interesting. I enjoy trolling used bookstores and rare book fairs. My favorite fragrance has changed from a sizzling steak to paper, ink and glue. I became interested in their history, construction and preservation. I fell in love with books.

The first author I collected was Charles Bukowski. This was long before he attained mainstream popularity and his rarities became prohibitively expensive. I felt a kinship with Bukowski’s difficult childhood and hardscrabble existence. I worked in a breadcrumb factory once. It felt like something Bukowski would’ve done.

Bukowski was discovered, nurtured, edited and published by a guy named John Martin. He built his Black Sparrow Press on Bukowski’s success. I wrote to Mr. Martin many, many years ago and asked a series of neophyte questions about collecting Bukowski. He took the time to patiently answer each of my idiot queries. Over the past 20+ years he has continued to provide valuable guidance about two things that I care deeply about; books and life. You’ve probably never heard of him before but Mr. Martin is a pretty big deal in the independent publishing community and the fact that we correspond regularly is something I never could have imagined when I first read War All the Time all those many years ago. I certainly never thought we’d meet.

In September, I took my bride to Napa Valley for her birthday. As it turned out, we stayed not far from Mr. Martin and his lovely wife Barbara’s house. A dinner invitation was extended and OF COURSE I accepted. I was nervous and worried that what has been sustained over the miles and years could not be replicated at a dinner table. I thought there would be long, uncomfortable silences. I thought our chemistry only existed in the ether. That, as it turned out, was piffle.

The conversation flowed as freely as the Pinot noir. It was a joyful evening. One I’ll never forget. The four of us were comfortable in each other’s company. As you can imagine, he told incredible stories and, after dinner, knowing my Achilles heel, showed me some stunning books and original artwork.


When you collect books, it’s all about the signature. I brought one of my collectables for them to sign. My Bride questioned the appropriateness, but when I asked permission I was told to bring as much as I could carry and they’d sign anything.

This is Bukowski’s novel Factotum. It’s a limited first edition signed by Bukowski with one of his oil paintings bound in. It’s dedicated to the Martins. Having a copy signed by the author and inscribed to me by the dedicatees is deeply meaningful to me, for the right reasons.


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 Grape harvest, St. Helena, CA, September 19, 2013, 8:15 a.m.

Autumn for Sale

I work in an office tower on 6th Avenue in the middle of Manhattan. As you might expect, there aren’t many residential buildings nearby. It’s almost exclusively pencil-pushing, paper-shuffling edifices. Other neighborhoods—Chelsea, the Upper East and West Sides, the Villages—are more resident-oriented. But that’s not to say there aren’t ANY residential buildings in Midtown.

Directly across the street from my office is an apartment building. Architecturally, it’s a quiet affair; not at all like the soulless glass and steel structures that surround it. Its facade is brick with some flourishes.


Central Park, which is on fire right now with autumnal splendor, is just three short blocks away. Aside from immediately after a gigantic snowstorm, fall is when the city is at its most pastoral and beautiful. People come from all over the world to stroll through Central Park in the fall. These fortunate few, these denizens of the better addresses, can simply walk out their door, turn left, and in a matter of minutes be enveloped in Manhattan’s rustic beauty.

But sometimes, you don’t want to make that three-block walk. It may be too early in the morning. You might not look your best. In that case, you take your coffee and your iPad and sit outside on your sun-drenched terrace.


And that’s no reason to miss out on the splendor of autumn. You can always spend a small fortune to have a landscaper haul autumn up the service elevator and reconstruct it right outside your terrace door.


*     *     *

Within a 48-hour period last week:

  • At a jewelry auction in Geneva, the Pink Star diamond fetched $83,000,000, a record price for a gemstone. At the conclusion of the auction, the auction house played The Theme from the Pink Panther by Henry Mancini. Get it?
  • Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142,000,000 at Christie’s, the most ever paid for a work of art. Wild applause broke out after six minutes of frantic bidding.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 both achieved record highs.

Those first two points are intrinsically linked to the third. I wonder what it’s like to inhabit that ionosphere? Do you think they’re aware of the rare air they breath? Do they possess the proper depth of appreciation for their circumstances or are they blissfully blasé about it? I’d like to be blissfully blasé.

I’ve entered the prices realized from last week’s Post-War Modern Art auction at Christie’s (scroll down). It was a phenomenally successful event. The results far exceeded their wildest, sugarplums-dancing dreams. I read an excellent commentary on how it was difficult to actually see the art through all the dollar signs. The author found the auction

“…painful to watch yet impossible to ignore and deeply alienating if you actually love art for its own sake.”

 *     *     *

Here’s an interesting little doodad by Camille Norment that was on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art recently.


Triplight. 2008

It’s an old-timey Shure microphone—the kind that Sinatra and Billie Holiday used—with the guts replaced by a small, slowly pulsating light.


The shadow cast is supposed to be a “luminescent rib cage” that calls to mind the absent performer; the pulsating light reminiscent of breathing. Well, I don’t know about all that but it was mesmerizing to look at.


Museum of Modern Art, Wednesday, October 30, 12:55 p.m.

Art auction addendum: A piece that disgusts me

Typically, I don’t do back-to-back auction posts but there are extenuating circumstances. Some of the galleries at Christie’s were vacated after an auction last week so they put more pieces on display from this week’s Post-War and Contemporary Art auction. Here are a few more high (low?) lights and one piece that I found deeply offensive and depressing.

This frivolity is by Maurizio Cattelan.


Frank and Jamie. $1,500,000–2,500,000
Sold for $965,000. What a deal!

This was good for a laugh but, again, I have to wonder about the practicality of a piece like this. Where would you put it? In the foyer? The estimate may provide the biggest laugh.

But this isn’t the one that offended me.

This beauty is by British bad boy (no, not Banksy) Damian Hirst


Inviolability. $900,000–1,200,000
Sold for $1,205,000

I saw one of these in the Cleveland Museum of Art over the summer. A security guard yelled at me for taking a picture of it. You know what is is made of, don’t you? Butterfly wings.


Thousands and thousands of butterfly wings. He breeds them specifically for these pieces. Here’s the center.


The materials used are listed as “…butterflies and household gloss on canvas mounted on panel.” Here’s another piece that’s smaller.


Psalm 28: Ad Te, Domine. $150,000–200,000
Sold for $305,000

And the detail.


They’re beautiful but cruel. Yet, they didn’t offended me.

This sculpture is by Antony Gormley and I loved it.


Domain LXVI. $400,000–600,000
Sold for $545,000

There’s something about the way it stood in a pool of light and glistened when you walked by that really worked for me. It somehow manages the trick of being both slight and powerful at the same time. Obviously, this isn’t the one that offended me.

I was offended by this.


3-Meter Girl. $2,000,000–3,000,000
DID NOT SELL. Of course, it didn’t.

Horrible. This ugly objectification of women is courtesy of Takashi Murakami. Do you know how you’re supposed to respect other cultures and not criticize what they might consider art? That it’s okay to not like something, but to condemn is it in poor taste? Well, in the words of Le Clown, fuck that noise. Can anyone tell me what’s wrong with Japanese men? They seem to have a proclivity towards sex-up little girls. Do they feel threatened and intimidated by adult women?


All I kept thinking was that I’ve got two beautiful daughters at home and how, no matter what age, I wouldn’t want them looking at this. I wondered what it would do to their body image and self esteem.


Or, do I just need to lighten up? Go ahead. You can tell me. I can take it. I do like how this last photo came out, though. Good composition and shadowing.


Grab a paddle and $1B. It’s auction time.

It’s time, once again, for my semi-annual lunch hour trip to Christie’s to review a few choice lots from the upcoming Impressionist & Modern Art sale. Here’s a cavalcade of outrageously expensive works whose quality ranges from the sublime to the truly terrible. Remember, these pieces are passing from one private collector to another. In most cases, they haven’t been seen in public before and, after the auction, won’t be see again. They’ll hang above the mantle of a 1%-er in Aspen or Dubai or Beijing. As always, I’ll come back after the auction and post the prices realized. There’s lots of ground to cover so let’s get going. We’ll start off with this beauty by Mark Rothko.


No. 11 (Untitled). $25,000,000–35,000,000
Sold for $46,085,000

I’m dissatisfied with this photo. It doesn’t capture the painting’s vibrancy and movement. I must have stood in front of this thing, unblinking, for five minutes. It washed over me.

Our old pal, Andy Warhol, is here with a few pieces.


Mao. $3,000,000–5,000,000
Sold for $3,525,000


Mercedes-Benz W 196 R Grand Prix Car (Streamlined Version). $12,000,000–16,000,000
Sold for $13,045,000

I don’t see many Mao paintings coming up for auction and this one is particularly bright. The Mercedes piece is HUGE. I might be able to fit it in my garage but my living room is out of the question. One of Warhol’s grand jokes he played on the art world is here, too.


Brillo Soap Pads box. $700,000–1,000,000
Sold for 725,000

It’s a flippin’ box of soap pads. That’s all I ever see when I look at these. A+ Andy! You got em’ good that time! I call bullshit on this one. I don’t really understand this next one, either.


Coca-Cola. $40,000,000–60,000,000
Sold for $57,285,000

I believe the stratospheric estimate might be because it’s from 1962 and, hence, very early in Warhol’s career. Perhaps it has both aesthetic and historic significance? I don’t know. I don’t see where the value lies. As long as I’m feeling feisty, here’s another real head-scratcher.

Have any of you ever heard of Christopher Wool?


Apocalypse Now. $15,000,000–20,000,000
Sold for $26,485,000

I’m going to confess that prior to reading about an exhibit of his work that just opened at the Guggenheim, I had never heard his name. The quote in the painting is from Apocalypse Now, hence the title. I don’t like it. It’s lazy and it leaves me cold. But SOMEONE must be paying attention. $15M ain’t cow feed.


Seductive Girl. $22,000,000–28,000,000
Sold for $31,525,000

That’s better. Lichtenstein. Seductive girl. I’ll say.

This is kind of an unusual Pollock.


Number 16. $25,000,000–35,000,000
Sold for $32,645,000

He usually didn’t go for those reds and teals. I like it. Not for thirty-five millions dollars, but I like it.

I have a love/hate relationship with Jeff Koons’ work. His sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles the Chimp is awful but I like his balloon dogs. They’re playful and dopey.


Balloon Dog (Orange). $35,000,000–55,000,000
Sold for $58,405,000


There are only five of these balloon dog sculptures. Each is a different color. This orange one is owned by newspaper magnate Peter Brant. Wall Street thief Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital owns the yellow one, although probably not for much longer. Heh. There are also versions  in blue, magenta and red. The art world is not-so-quietly snickering at the $35–55M estimate. He who laughs last, etc.

Get ready to barf. I hope you’ve finished your lunch/breakfast/dinner.


Untitled. $25,000,000–35,000,000
Sold for $29,285,000

Jean-Michel Basquiat sucks eggs.


Untitled. $2,000,000–3,000,000
Sold for $1,925,000

Hideously ugly. I have tried over and over to understand what this guy was trying to do but I just don’t get it. I believe his work trades not on its merits, but on the cult of personality that arose after he ODed.


Untitled (Head of Madman). $7,000,000–9,000,000
Sold for $12,037,000

Even uglier than the first two, which didn’t seem possible. I wouldn’t give you seven bottle tops for this, much less $70,000 Benjamins.

Margaret Thatcher once called Francis Bacon “That horrible man.” That’s good enough for me!


Three Studies of Lucian Freud. Estimate on Request.
Sold for $142,405,000. Oh, my.

Holy shit. If some estimates run to the $35M range, how high is Estimate on Request?! Actually, I did some digging and they think it might sell for as much as $80,000,000. Can you imagine? Good thing they don’t give that money to poor people. They’d just waste it on stupid shit.

Details from Three Studies.



I like it. It’s a triptych, so you have to buy all three. You can’t just say, oh, I’ll take that middle one. You’d be surprised how much this actually does look like Lucian Freud. Fun fact: Freud was Sigmund Freud’s grandson and a great artist in his own right.

I guess it wouldn’t be a proper Impressionist auction without a Monet. This is a fine example, don’t you think?


Entreé de Giverny en hiver, soleil couchant. $5,000,000–8,000,000
Sold for $5,205,000

I don’t really dig Giacometti’s paintings and drawings, but his sculptures are killer.


Femme Debout (Figurine). $2,500,000–3,500,000
Sold for $5,429,000

Here’s a painting by William de Kooning, an overrated hack if ever there was one.


Untitled VIII. $20,000,000–30,000,000
Sold for $32,085,000

Just look at that mess. I told one of the security guards that I’m pretty sure it’s hung upside down. Could you live with that? Could you live with anything that guy did?

I heard a clinking clanking sound off in the corner of the gallery. I traced it to this sculpture by Jean Tinguely:

Untitled. $80,000–$120,000
Sold for $75,000

It’s kind of interesting to watch for a minute or two but if you had this thing sitting on a coffee table or kitchen counter at home, it would drive you mad.

Some people think Edward Hopper is kind of pedestrian but, man, I love him. And this painting, especially.


East Wind Over Weehawken. $22,000,000–28,000,000

It reminds me of the old neighborhood back on the near west side of Cleveland where my grandmother lived. Again, the photo doesn’t do justice to the painting. Funny thing…the title card with the description and auction estimate also stated “Do Not Touch.” I don’t recall ever seeing that on a title card before.



Only the best and brightest run for office in New Jersey

New Jersey recently held a special election to replace our Senator, Frank Lautenberg, who died in office unexpectedly at the age of 167. His constituents never saw it coming but the candidates weren’t caught off guard. They leapt into action before rigor mortis set in on poor Senator Lautenberg’s corpse. We don’t mourn for long in the Garden State, especially if there’s power to be grabbed.

Instead of waiting a few weeks for the November 2nd elections, which is what any rational, sane municipality would have done, the State spent $12 million to hold a special election. There’s a lot of bullshitty reasons being bandied about over why this happened but the truth is that our illustrious Governor, Chris Christie, who has presidential aspirations, didn’t want anything distracting from his reelection coronation. This was a fairly high profile Senatorial election and it would have hogged some of the spotlight, so he moved it out of his way. And that’s the truth.

The election was won by Corey Booker, a charismatic 44-year old with presidential aspirations. Does EVERY politician in New Jersey have delusions of grander? Running against Booker was a right-wing zealot named Steve Lonegan. During the campaign, when asked to comment on the Affordable Care Act, he said, “I have no interest in paying for your health care. I’d hate to see you get cancer, but that’s your problem, not mine.” Nice. He also said that being white is now “a handicap” and he made multiple campaign appearances with Sarah Palin, which is never good for your credibility.

Lonegan further endeared himself to the populous by accusing Booker of being a closeted homosexual. He made a bizarre statement claiming that there are rumors “…about how he likes to go out at three o’clock in the morning for a manicure and a pedicure.” I have a bunch of gay friends and to my knowledge, none of them have ever gotten a manny/peddy at that hour. To establish his macho bona fides, Lonegan went on to say, “As a guy, I personally like being a guy.” He lost the election but, FRIGHTENINGLY, was able to garnish 44% of the vote.

But those weren’t our only two choices on the ballot. Also running was this guy:


That’s right. The Alimony Reform Now party. Here’s a guy who got burned in his divorce settlement but isn’t taking it lying down. “I’ll fix them bitches once and for all. I’ll become a U.S. Senator and gut the alimony laws. They’ll get nuthin’ when I’m done with em’.” Mr. Roll-With-The-Punches, he ain’t.

If that’s a little too angry for you, you could’ve always voted for this guy:


The Ed the Barber party?! What does that even MEAN?! What’s his platform? Hair restoration for all? How did these two clowns even make it onto the ballot?! Don’t you have to get, like, tens of thousands of signatures in order to be added? I’m going to run under the I Couldn’t Be Any Worse party.

I voted for Ed the Barber. Admit it, you would have, too.

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The Bacon Mobile made an appearance at the local outdoor fall festival. Hayrides. A corn maze (or, as my daughter pointed out, a maize maze). The usual. And this culinary delight. Mmmmmm. Bacon.


Only $10 bucks for chocolate covered bacon!? I’ll take two, please.