As congress debates the gun laws of this country, past, present and future, it gets me thinking about the art of negotiation. My old man always said "If both parties are happy, it's probably a good deal." It seems simplistic, but think about it. If one party comes away thinking he's gotten over and the other party thinks he's been steam rolled, the deal's not going to stand. Gloating and bad blood do not make for a lasting agreement. I pride myself in being a good negotiator. Here's a few deals I've made (or not made) over the years.
I used to write a monthly column for the trendy downtown magazine PAPER. I started out as religion editor at PAPER. If that wasn't ridiculous enough, when I wasn't picking apart the authenticity of shroud, I wrote about TV, guns, hunting or movies. One such column slammed the hit Tom Hanks movie FOREST GUMP. Everyone loved this movie. I found it sappy and boring and spent the entire column ripping it apart. Well, I guess I wasn't alone. I received a call from a producer in LA for a short- lived TV show on ABC, that came on after NIGHTLINE. I forget the name. They wanted me to come on air and read the column. I had one question. How much will you pay me? "Oh, we don't pay." the young woman responded. "You can promote your act on national TV." Act? I had no act. The negotiations began.
Over a week of phone calls (this was before email) we went back and forth. Negotiating for money while really broke is like deer hunting with an empty stomach- no fun. Through this week long process I had them right where I wanted them. "How about car fare?" I moaned. At this point I would be happy to take any token, just to save face. "We can't set that precedent." the producer explained. Like my cab fare issue would someday be before the Supreme Court. I dug in my heels. "No money. No column. NO TV." "OK" the producer relented. I had them where I wanted them. "Sorry for wasting your time." the phone went dead. Maybe this isn't such a good example.
Recently my old friend artist and writer WR has been contacting me for memory help. (We all need it these days.) "Do you remember 1993?" he asked "I was at Art in America and remember you coming in and out of the office for something." I did remember. In those days the building on the corner of Spring and Broadway housed the downtown Guggenheim Museum. Attached to the big structure was a beat up old Newsstand, holding on like a parasitic fish. I was always looking for unusual spaces to do something. With a little digging I found out that paper/timber mogul Peter Brant owned the building. I called his office in Ct. and was floored when his secretary put me through to him. Thinking on my feet, I pitched an idea for "the world's smallest museum" in the little shack. To my amazement he liked the idea and we set up a meeting.
This is what started the walk by WR's desk at Art in America a couple of times a week. Big Schnabels hung in the office and I eventually found out that not only did Peter Brant own the building, he owned Art in America, a string of polo ponies and a shit load of art. AND his wife Sandy was the editor-in-chief. Luckily Ingrid Sischy, editor of Interview was in the meetings with me, Peter and Sandy. I'd written for Interview and Ingrid was in my corner. Sandy and Peter didn't have a clue who I was. One thing you can say about the rich is they like to control everything. $100 worth of sheet metal and 2x4s on a tiny patch of sidewalk, next to a billion dollar structure, warranted all PB's attention. I'd stop by WR's desk in complete frustration, only to be filled in on all the dish. Peter was doggin' supermodel Stephanie Seymore and rumors had it that Ingrid and Sandy were.....you get the picture. I didn't care about any of this. All I wanted was the green light to play artist in the little newsstand.
Our last meeting was on a wed. After months of discussion, this was the day that it would be decided. My upstairs neighbor at 7&C had been playing his drums for half the night and I was in no mood. I grabbed my empty briefcase and donned my "going to court" suit. As I headed for the door the phone rang. It was Peter. I thought he was going to cancel the meeting, but to my surprise he had a request. "Listen, you're coming down Houston aren't you?" he asked. "Could you stop by the Korean deli and bring me a turkey leg and a cup of coffee?" I couldn't believe the request. I must've been stunned into silence. "Ahhhhhhh......sure. How do you take your coffee?" was all I could muster.
I set the greasy brown bag containing Peter's lunch on his desk and took a chair. Sandy and Ingrid had opted out of this meeting. One could only speculate what they were up to. As Peter poured sweet 'n low into his coffee and bit into that big, brown turkey leg I somehow knew it was over. Mouth full of leg meat, he wiped his hand on a napkin and stuck it out. "Thanks for all your ideas but I think we are gonna pass on the newsstand. I don't want to rush into something and start a precedent with this sort of thing. For now we're just going to sit on it." I can't say i didn't see it coming. I shook his hand and headed for the door. "Oh Mike." he said, stopping me "Thanks for the turkey leg and coffee." he smiled with turkey stuck between his teeth. I smiled back and left, realizing he didn't even offer to pay for it. On second thought maybe I'm not such a good negotiator. Gun control doesn't stand a chance. I think the newsstand now sells muffins.