Written by: David Garber
“You okay with doing this?” Shelby asked as we drove west along the Sunset Strip to Holmby Hills and her boss’s exquisite mansion. Shelby boasted, “His house used to belong to Tony Curtis and Sonny and Cher.”
“Kinky. I didn’t know they were a threesome.”
Shelby wasn’t amused. I knew why. We had stopped for drinks along the strip. I thought it might lessen the pressure on her, but truthfully, I think it was loosening me up even more. Now she was nervous that I might slip in some politically incorrect humor at tonight’s dinner and this was a big occasion for her. No other paralegal was invited to the managing partner’s mansion. This is a first at the law firm of Likma, Beever & Crotch.
“That’s Crouch. It’s Likma, Beever and Crouch! So I’m begging you, don’t embarrass me. See what a few drinks can do to you?”
“Trust me. I’ll be on such good behavior that by the time the evening ends, they’ll be changing their letterhead to Likma, Beever, Crouch and Seymour.”
She looked at me, incredulously as I defended, “What? Seymour is your last name.”
“Oh, God, what am I getting myself into?” she exasperated. She reminded me how important this dinner was. She’s hoping it meant Howard Beever, the law firm’s managing partner, wanted her as his personal paralegal assistant. That would be a big step. “Please don’t screw it up.”
You didn’t need a chainsaw to cut the underlying tension. And this being the first time Shelby and I had gone out together as a couple to any company function meant a lot to both of us.
“What do you know about fine art?” she asked me. “Mr. Beever’s a collector. He owns some of the world’s most famous, original artwork. His collection is priceless.”
“How much does ‘priceless’ cost?” I wondered aloud.
I could see Shelby’s eyes roll. “The only thing I know about art is what I recently saw on the Internet,” I said. ” Some guy nearly got away stealing some paintings from the Louvre. But they captured him two blocks away when his van ran out of fuel. Asked how he could mastermind such an intricate theft and then make such a stupid mistake, he replied: ‘I had no Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh.’”
Shelby’s stare could have thawed Alaska in the wintertime. “Promise me you won’t ever repeat that one again.”
We pulled up and buzzed at the gate of this magnificent estate. As we walked to the impressive front door we noticed it had a stained glass inlay. Shelby commented that it’s probably a Chagall. I was so tempted to ask if Chagall wasn’t the new shortstop for the Cubs, but I didn’t.
Howard Beever opened the door, greeting us. As we entered, he indicated a decorative, Persian rug in the foyer. On it were a few pairs of shoes. As Shelby started removing hers, I looked at Beever, “You got anything in a size 9½ D?”
He chuckled and I thought that I could actually like this guy. I followed Shelby’s lead and slipped off my footwear and placed it near the others. He offered to have his valet bring us slippers but Shelby and I both passed. I was impressed that he had a valet, though.
As we entered, Mr. Beever introduced us to his stunning, Persian wife, Seema. I couldn’t help thinking I hope she uses her maiden name, whatever it was, because it had to be hell going through life as Seema Beever. Tonight she was cooking us an authentic Persian dinner — her husband’s favorite — Khoresht Fesenjan. She excused herself as she headed off to check its progress. “Wouldn’t want to burn my Khoresht.”
I couldn’t help myself and replied, “Of Khoresht.”
Before dinner we were taken on a tour by Howard. He insisted we call him that, but Shelby just couldn’t bring herself to calling one of the partners by his first name. As we walked through his stately and well-decorated living room, various uniformed servers offered us appetizers which were amazing. It was like a mini-parade of delicious Persian delicacies on silver platters.
I have to say this was the height of decadence and Mr. Beever made us feel quite at home. But honestly, how can you feel at home living in what was comparable to a fine museum. You just wouldn’t feel at ease knocking back a brewski or two, watching a Laker or Dodger game. Come to think of it, there wasn’t a TV anywhere in sight. I asked our host about that and he replied, “With all of this art, who needs TV?”
I guess he had a point there.
We suddenly stopped in front of a magnificent painting. Colorful. Interesting. I have to admit I liked it but had no idea what it was, exactly.
“This,” Beever said, “is Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. I feel most fortunate to have it on loan from MoMA.”
“Picasso?” semi-asked Shelby.
“Very good. Yes, this is from his proto-cubist period, around 1907. My understanding is these are five women who Picasso made love to. This was his homage to them.”
“What a moron. That’s four bitches and me in the bottom right! And they were whores, all of them! But that was some night!
That Spanish accented voice startled me. I looked over at the nearby male server, quite a bit older than the others. Instead of a silver tray he carried an artist’s palate and brush.
I looked at him, disbelieving. Picasso?
Beever seemed confused, thinking I was talking to him. “Yes, you know him?”
I smiled uncomfortably, “Like he was standing right here.”
The old man nodded to me, “Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso. Call me Pablo if it’s easier. And your friend over here, the art collector? He doesn’t know his abstract from his El Greco. Those four strumpets lived below me in Paris when I first moved there. I painted them because I couldn’t afford the rent.”
Awkward. Here’s Picasso next to me and Shelby’s boss regaling us with legends that aren’t really factual. But I decided to keep my mouth shut, for Shelby.
Beever remarked I looked a little distracted and I told him that all his remarkable works were taking my breath away. I couldn’t tell him standing next to me is the greatest artist of all time – and I certainly couldn’t tell him that the painter thinks he’s full of crap.
The lawyer continued giving us the history of this particular work, declaring it was this very painting that transitioned Picasso into his African-influenced period.
“Bullshit,” came a reply from Picasso. “I went through my African-influenced stage because I was given a few statues from the Dark Continent, gifts from one of my whores. I tried Black and I went back… often.”
At this moment, I was being torn between Picasso and Howard. For everything Beever would say, Pablo would contradict it. Then it happened. The unthinkable. I called out Howard on one of his statements. He had said Picasso had the greatest respect for women, hence so many lovers.
“He may have made love to many women, but I hear he actually disliked them,” I said, egged on by the master painter.
Beever wasn’t used to being challenged. “Then how do you explain his fondness for his best friend and benefactor, the great Gertrude Stein? She was a woman.”
“She was a dyke,” Pablo said, “and more of a man than this guy will ever be.”
I was able to stifle the latter part, but the first part slipped out and drew Shelby’s attention.
“Kyle!” Shelby shot to me.
Pablo goaded me on. “Then how do you interpret his contempt for women when he questioned them as being goddesses or doormats? Picasso is but a Minotaur in a canvas-and-paper labyrinth of his own construction.”
The room went silent. Profound, I thought. Hey, I was just repeating what I was told. The head of the law firm, growing ever defensive, said his artwork showed Picasso’s true love of mankind, especially women.
I looked over to Picasso. He just shrugged, “I loved to shtup.”
Then the painter leaned in and challenged me to ask, “If he loved humanity so much, why paint the carnage and gruesome images of The Guernica?”
Beever thought about it for a moment. He upheld, “The artist was moved by the slaughter.”
“Moved, or repulsed?” I echoed Picasso’s exact words. “He said it’s the public who look at the picture who must interpret the symbols as they understand them, not you.”
“Kyle!” Shelby was a bullet short of shooting me.
“When did he say that?” asked Beever.
“Just now.” After a confused, awkward beat, “I mean, everybody knows that.”
Picasso was thrilled with me and the vigor in which I aped him. I can’t say Shelby or her boss shared that same enthusiasm. I ranted for a moment longer, filling the air with more words the great artist was putting in my mouth. I was like the ball in a ping-pong match. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Shelby looked over to her boss and apologized for my behavior.
“All I was doing was trying to let the light in so that the art could survive,” I revealed. Those were my words, by the way, not Pablo’s.
Then I heard a duet of, “I’m impressed.” Both Picasso and Howard were speaking to me at the same time.
I didn’t know what to do. Maybe I hadn’t screwed things up all that badly for Shelby after all.
Then something went off in Beever’s head. During an epiphanous moment he looked over to Shelby. “Now I get it. Someone at the firm got you to invite this talented, young art genius to test me.”
“Genius?” I was never called that before.
“I’m right, aren’t I? Who put you up to this, Likma or Crouch?” He broke into smile. “You both had me going, there.”
Shelby uncomfortably looked over to me, “Maybe we should be going.”
“Are you kidding, and miss Seema’s Khoresht?” Shelby’s boss proffered. “Not a chance and during dinner, you and your boyfriend are going to share your other insights into my art. What a pleasure to have someone so knowledgeable to speak art with. What gallery do you work for, Kyle?”
“Big Buy’s Electronics,” I reflexively replied.
Howard’s thigh-slapping laughter at what he perceived to be my joking was broken up when we heard Seema ring the dinner bell. As we headed into the dining room we passed a framed Picasso sketch — a pen and ink doodle. Our host asked my take on it. So I confidently looked over to Picasso to get the skinny, but he was gone. I obviously didn’t know anything about it. So after a slight hesitation, I did what any young “art critic genius“ from Big Buy’s Electronics would do — I made up an elaborate story. Beever swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
On the way home, Shelby was so happy – and impressed with me. Over dinner, Beever did ask her to become his personal paralegal protégé and that made her feel really significant. She thanked me and asked why I had never demonstrated such knowledge of art before. I told her I had a lot of secrets yet for her to learn.
“When we get back to my apartment, and if you’re good, maybe I’ll share with you something from my ‘private’ collection.”
She playfully smiled, “And what if I’m not so ‘good’?”
“Then you’ll definitely get to share it!” I couldn’t wait to get home.