I went into the 7-11, got a can of Pringles, a bottle of water, a NY Post, and went to the cashier. I asked her, “have you ever been robbed?” She said, “no.” “Well,” I said, “now you are.” She was silent for a few seconds. I was silent. For about three seconds. One. Two. Three. “Just kidding,” I said.
“That was a really bad joke,” the cashier said. I was with some friends of mine. They were embarrassed. They aren’t my friends anymore. What was I thinking?
Fifteen years later in a column for The Financial Times I was writing about a good friend of mine. One of my best friends in fact. We practically grew up together. Playing chess for years, fighting our way up the ranking system, then playing cards. He stuck with it when I went on to pursue other things.
He had gotten into some trouble with the legal system and needed some help. He had no money to hire a lawyer so that morning I went and sat with him at the courthouse in Brooklyn just to keep him company. He liked almost all of the female lawyers who were walking back and forth. He said, “thats what you want. Someone aggressive like that.” Pointing out the different lawyers. The judge had to loudly “shush” us.
We listened to the cases before my friend’s case. One woman had a restraining order against her husband but the husband lived in the same house. He had to stay in the basement and only enter through the basement entrance. He couldn’t go near the kid. And, disturbingly, he wasn’t allowed to ever carry a baseball bat on the premise. But that guy, as miserable as he was, was well behaved in court. And my friend and I were giggling like we were in first grade and the judge had to shush us. Meanwhile, my friend was up on serious enough charges that he could potentially go to jail. Its amazing to me now that he had such a weight on him.
“What am I going to do?” he said. “I have the World Series of Poker tomorrow in Las Vegas. I’m in debt to all my backers, I have no money, and my mind is going to be on this.” We talked and walked for hours going through all the ways he could regain confidence. In other words, we drank until we couldn’t think straight. Then he got on a plane to Las Vegas and won $3mm and changed his life.
I was proud of him and wanted to get the story out. So I wrote it all (I changed one letter in his name), and what charges were being leveled against him, in a Financial Times column. And while he was pitching some clothing line to sponsor him in his next poker tournament, the owner of the company happened to be reading my column. “What. The. Hell,” the owner said and showed my friend the column. My friend turned bright red. The deal was over.
Six months later when he finally spoke to me again he said, “you blur the line between friendship and business.” Then he said, “you need to look at yourself in the mirror and if you like what you see then we can talk again.” We didn’t speak again for another year.
Another time I met a girl in the Barnes & Noble on 16th Street. She was sitting next to me drawing in her pad. The drawings were beautiful and I told her so. She told me what she did for a living. She helped a world famous artist forge all his paintings. “He doesn’t even know how to draw or paint at all. Its all a scam and he sells his paintings for hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Apparently, this painter takes photos of nudes in rather exotic positions. Then he blows up the photographs to be the size of a huge painting, and prints them on a canvas, and then my new friend would paint over the photograph with oils. So it would look like a masterful realistic oil painting. But if you scraped the paint off you’d see the photograph underneath and realise it was a fraud.
“Nobody’s ever scraped the paint off,” she said, “and his stuff is in museums everywhere.” Don’t tell anyone, was the last thing she told me.
So that was the topic of my Financial Times column that week. One of the artists’ customers saw my column, scraped a little paint off the painting he had just paid $40,000 for, and discovered the fraud. As they say in the highest echelons of society, some serious shit went down that week. Everyone working for the artist was now in physical danger. The girl was freaking out. One of her friends wrote me a note saying he was going to carve my eyes out and tear out my tongue because of what I did to her.
She contacted me a day or two later and said, “you owe me.” I felt really bad. Why would people in the art world be reading an obscure column in The Financial Times? Its not even an American paper. I asked her if I could take her out to dinner to make up for it. “No way,” she said. “this is serious.” So we met at a cafe. Apparently she had somehow escaped being accused by the artist of revealing his secrets. He was suspicious of other people working for him. But by the time we met at the cafe she said, “you know, things have a way of working out for the best. I shouldn’t be helping him anyway and I should focus on my own art instead. Fake art was keeping me from doing real art.” (see below).
[As a sidenote: its interesting what you find in your gmail when you search the phrase “you owe me”. Brings back a lot of memories.]
After we left the 7-11, some 17 years ago, my friend Peter said to me, “you know, you really can’t do things like that. Its not good.” But when I wake up in the morning, and the sun is just barely peeking out over the sky, the snow a white, cozy blanket on reality, my memories still stuck between dreams and the responsibilities of the day ahead – sometimes in my ignorance about such things I feel as if nothing is impossible.
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