When I first saw the sideways MOMA logo on 11 W. 53rd St. in New York, I was transfixed with excitement. Moisture almost filled my eyes to know I was about to enter the cathedral of contemporary art in THE greatest city on this planet. It had been years since I was last there.
And then, when I walked into the building, I felt as if I were home. Like I just came back from a sabbatical. I knew that in a mere few minutes I would be able to move through the historic halls of this great museum – me, a Catholic kid from the south side of Chicago who always seemed to have deep desires for other things, not baseball, football or basketball, or getting drunk, or sneaking holy communion wafers from the sacred jeweled chalice in the sacristy.
I was here. And then to travel the halls and see some of the greatest works of art known to this civilization, my heart began to pound as if I just saw a beautiful woman. The fact is, I did. So my romantic muscle was confused but appreciated the puzzled reaction.
Weeks have gone by and I’m still feeling the vibrations of MOMA’s contemporary tuning fork pulsating in my brain. Then I open this month’s issue of “The New York Review of Books” and there on page 12 the title hits me, “Picabia’s Big Moment,” by Sanford Schwartz. A review of an exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich. Francis Picabia was a French avant-garde painter, poet, and typographist.
Oh, my God! I was in a teenage frenzy – I was at that very exhibit. I was there. I walked the halls, I viewed the art, I read the placards, and now the memory is as fresh as when I first saw the huge poster announcing his works were on display. The feeling of MOMA’s grandeur didn’t leave, it was just nudged aside. The highlight of life is to feel excitement, experience joy and ride the thrills so you can relive them over and over and over again. And even now that exhilarating tingle spins inside me of that one hour or so I spent soaking in his spectacle that was coursing through my muscles and nerves giving me visible goosebumps.
Sad, but I don’t get that same feeling when I walk into 12 E. 42nd St. aka Nat Sherman’s or any cigar shop – Midtown or not. Why? I’m asking myself this question as my fingers race across my computer keyboard. Don’t I love cigars? Yes. Didn’t I start my own broker business to be with them? Yes. Haven’t I met some of the most famous personalities in the industry? Yes. But there is that one glint of excitement missing and I cannot put my finger on it other than to say art trumps cigars by its staying power, its meaning, and its essence. Others will disagree with me. I can hear the holy righteousness of CFJr. telling me that my heart just isn’t in it. And I should do this and do that. The hordes of readers are chastising me for not placing the flag of freedom on the top of Mount Everest and saluting – frozen cigar between my teeth.
Go ahead write. The facts are the facts, I love my work with a sincere passion other than when I have to put up with some garbage, not even a sanitation engineer would tolerate. Yes, I love cigars. I love them enough to put my family at risk financially knowing the rules and regulations that are ahead of us are indeed to be factors that cannot be ignored and may even, in fact, destroy my livelihood. But I have planted my feet. I’m stayn.’
But there’s that small golden sparkling nugget of ambergris that places art just above the world of cigars that I can palpably feel. Anyone who says they live, breathe, and die cigars is a liar.
Yes, I’ve been to the factories, the fields, the tobacco store rooms, the rolling tables, I’ve been to more factories than most. I’ve talked with the owners and they are the most passionate men ever about their product and I truly agree with them. But know that there are other loves in this world that move men. And that one for me is art. Not to take anything away from writing – which I consider to be art’s equal, therefore one. I can love two women at the same time.
I think I shall never know what that is but will experience it each time a moment comes into my life as it did this morning when I saw the article on the Picabia exhibit at MOMA. I was there. I have breathed the same air of that moment. And even though I couldn’t wait to have a cigar afterward, I still am trying to find that nano-thin reason why art and writing give me the willies because I love them both so dearly.