In the fall of 2011, I noticed a 9 by 12 inch painting of a red toreador in the foyer I hadn't really paid attention to for some time. I can remember it hanging on the living room wall in Jericho fifty years ago, and can can still vaguely recall my parents telling me how they had met LeRoy Neiman at a party in Manhattan in the early sixties. I was eight, nine maybe. It could have been even earlier than that because it seemed like it had always been there. My mom said she never really liked that painting in the least. Even though it looked like someone had eaten a whole set of Crayola crayons and then threw them up onto a poster-board, I still liked it.
So times being what they were, rotten, financially anyway, my wife started researching the painting on the internet. Couldn't do that thirty years ago. She found LeRoy Neiman's official website and emailed a very sweet and concise letter. I was surprised that they had emailed back so quickly. They said they would like to see a picture of it, so we took two photos without a flash and tried to fix the brightness on the Kodak program. I did the best I could, and sent it off to Lynn, who is some kind of go-between to the man himself who was 90 years old at that time, if he was a day.
So then the waiting game began. A week went by without a response and I decided to check in with an inquiry email. I had heard back within a few hours. The email read:
Yes we have been studying it. There was a Toreador that Mr. Neiman painted that was reproduced in Playboy Magazine in "Man At His Leisure", Mr. Neiman feature in Playboy for over 15 years. Your painting is almost identical to this image but not as realized. Within the past few years we received an inquiry regarding a painting that was presented to us for verification. It looked very much like yours. Mr. Neiman at that time said he did not believe it was his. If you are confident it is an original LeRoy Neiman painting, we recommend you contact an appraiser to verify that this is an original work by the hand of LeRoy Neiman. We can direct you to a respected individual who is a certified appraiser and has worked with Mr. Neiman's original art for over 20 years. If you care to ship it to us Fed-Ex we will be more than happy to authenticate the painting. You can contact Jane St. Lifer at bla-bla-bla for all the details.
Lynn Quayle, Asst. to Mr. Neiman
You know how when you stick your neck out into the cosmic consciousness it always sends you little affirmations. I was just thinking about the whole painting biz, when I pressed the info button on the movie on HBO. It was called Picture Perfect. I thought, “Now that is perfect.” There was no way in the world I was going to ship that painting. What if it got lost? Even with insurance, the painting hadn't been appraised or authenticated and there was no way to tell what its true value was. I decided right then and there that I was going to NYC, and if they wanted to see the painting, they were going to have to see me, too. I sent another email explaining how I wanted to have their local people appraise the painting, and part of the deal would be, if they would be so kind, to give me a chance to meet the man himself—LeRoy Neiman! Later that week I received a follow-up email:
Dear Mr. Haymer,
We have many pressing obligations between now and the New Year. Would you be able to travel here in January or at some time convenient for you in early 2012? I understand how you feel about shipping your painting. Even though it will be in your hands, make certain that it is wrapped carefully. Let us know when you can arrange to bring the painting to the studio in New York. Once a date and time is set, we will give you the address which is very near Lincoln Center. If you don't mind using email to communicate, we prefer not using the telephone as LeRoy Neiman is 90 and his wife Janet is 87 years old. The studio shares the same telephone line and we try not to inconvenience them in case we happen to be out.
We ought to solve this mystery together.
Lynn Quayle, Asst. to Mr. Neiman
Upper West Side, Manhattan, January 11, 2012.
Seventy-three, seventy-four, At last! I turned left on seventy-fifth street and was looking for number twenty-four. There's eight. Ten. God, these numbers are so close together. There was a young woman coming out of the door on number twenty-four. It was Amy Sterling, Max's girlfriend. I think we recognized each other at the same time and she gave me a hug which I returned quickly because I had to piss like a racehorse. I saw Max standing on the wooden floors in the living room of this small but nice apartment. We hugged for a sufficient amount of time and I asked to use the bathroom. Thank God it was just to the left of the front door as you were walking in. Oh relief is such a good thing.
I sat down on the black vinyl love-seat. Max sat next to me with Amy on the chair next to the console Story and Clark piano that he had purchased for four hundred dollars because of a broken leg that was an easy fix. He still had the broken piece taped to the scarred leg. I laid out the photos I had taken with me of my mom and dad. There were two shots of Robbie an Dad in St. Louis back in the early eighties. They did a show together called Tribute about a father and son. Excellent casting. I showed Max and Amy the copies of the Woody Allen skits I had also brought with me. Woody Allen had written some material for my dad, who was a stand-up comedian in the late fifties in Tamament, a Jewish resort up in northern Pennsylvania. There was a body of water called Scroon Lake. It must have been a pleasant enough day, so Woody and his first wife, Harleen, had decided to take my sister and me out on a rowboat. Well, as the story was relayed to me, since I was too young to remember, the boat sprang a leak and was sinking. It was soon spotted by the Coast Guard and we were eventually rescued. I can just imagine Woody ranting and raving and pulling out his ginger hair (which he had a lot more of at the time), and then screaming to his wife about how he was going to drown, or worse, be responsible for the deaths of two kids under the age of five.
“Let's see the Neiman,” Max and Amy said in unison. I unpacked my case an unzipped the special compartment and was happy to see the white 12 x 14 inch gift box looking no worse for wear. I placed the box on the glass coffee table carefully removed the Scotch tape on the corners. I opened the box. Off with the bubble wrap, off with the tissue paper and there it was, back in the same city where my parents first laid there hands on it. It looked vibrant in the soft track lighting and I was overcome by a sense of guilt and remorse. Maybe I should keep it after all? It's funny how something you had looked at all your life and mostly taken for granted all of a sudden takes on new beauty. I was connecting more and more to the small work of art and dreaded having to part with it; I knew that, in the end, I probably would.
When I woke up around five the next morning, I tried to be as quiet as possible. Even though the bedroom downstairs had its own bathroom, it didn't have a door. I ground the coffee quickly in their souped up grinder and tried to figure out how the coffee machine worked, but I couldn't, so I decided I would brave the elements a little later and go looking for a Starbucks. I went into the bathroom, took a quick bath to clean up, shave and pass the time. I did a nice number two in the toilet and flushed. Not going down. Uh oh. I flushed again, this time water had overflowed and was spilling out all over the floor. I wiped up most of it with the bland guest towel they had given me to use, and then searched for a toilet plunger. Unfortunately, there wasn't one in this bathroom. I checked the front closet, but nothing but coats and woman's shoes in a plastic rack attached to the inside of the door. I said to myself, “I'll bet its in the downstairs bathroom, but I can't disturb my nephew and his girlfriend. Damn. I'll just have to go out and find one.”
I had been given a set of three keys, one for the front door of the building and two for the apartment's front door. I locked the door of their apartment and ventured out into the crisp Manhattan morning. The sun was starting to peek through the buildings on the upper east side with rays of light illuminating the tower of the Chrysler building, one of my favorite edifices. Walking at quick pace, I saw a Starbucks on Broadway and 72nd. It was starting to rain pretty heavily now so it was a good place to seek shelter. I took my coffee to go and went looking for a place that might sell a cheap toilet plunger. I new Max and Amy weren't going to be up for awhile, so I had time to peruse the area.
I found a pharmacy of some kind that had all sorts of do-dads and whatnot’s, but there weren't any toilet plungers. I asked the African/American gentleman at the counter where I might find one so he suggested someplace on Broadway past 73rd where I might be lucky enough to find one. It was pouring now and I got caught at the center island in the middle of Broadway trying to cross the street. Cars speeding by and a classic thing happened. It was like the scene in The Mask, where Jim Carrey's character is waiting to get into the Cocoa Bongo to meet up with Cameron Diaz, but gets splashed by a speeding car near the curb. That's exactly what happened to me, except for the Cameron Diaz part. I went off on a mission to find a trusty toilet plunger.
The store I was heading to looked closed, so I traveled north on Columbus to the Upper West side. Great, another Starbucks! Waiting outside the locked door of the single occupancy restroom, a big African Queen exited and I rushed in. During my pee I noticed, yes, it was a toilet plunger behind my left foot. What else could I do but hide the grungy thing under my gray overcoat and walk out. It must have looked like a rifle or something to anyone passing by. Thank God it was early in the morning and raining so the streets were relatively empty. This would be something that would happen to Larry David in the show Curb Your Enthusiasm, except he would probably get busted trying to return it. It was a good fifteen blocks to the apartment and I began walking at a furious pace. Upon entering the building and into their flat, it was still as quiet as when I had left, so I knew they were still asleep. I plunged and plunged again. Success! I later told Max and Amy the story and the toilet was snaked the very next day by the landlord. In two days time I would have my meeting with the master.
To be continued.