My Canada: Booze and bears

As Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday on July 1, I’m taking a look back at my 44-odd years in the country. This is the third of seven parts.

Early in my time as Vancouver correspondent for UPI, my phone rang in the middle of the night.

“Ken,” said the overnight editor on the Foreign Desk in New York, “there’s a ship going down off the coast of Labrador.”

“Labrador is closer to you than it is to me,” I said. “For Christ’s sake, look at a map before you wake someone up.”

My Canadian education began right after I accepted the job in Vancouver, when I looked at a map and saw where it was. Since my coverage area extended east to the Ontario border, and north to the Arctic Circle, I decided I should at least learn the geography, something about Canada’s history – which seemed to be mainly about English and French fighting each other, the English always winning, and the French forever pissed off – and its parliamentary form of government, with its Liberals and Tories and the Queen still theoretically in charge.

I spent the first month in Vancouver living at the Ritz hotel – my first Canadian friend was a bartender named Joe – before finding a one-bedroom apartment a few blocks from my office.

While I waited with the landlord for the moving truck to arrive, he asked, “Do you have a chesterfield?”

“No,” I replied, “I smoke Marlboro.”

The UPI bureau was two tiny rooms, with a desk, two teletype machines and a couple of filing cabinets. One teletype constantly belched out the news from around the world, the other was for me to punch my stories onto a tape and feed them to the editing desk in Montreal. Since there was little news from western Canada, I did little punching.

On Fridays, I’d fill a bottom file drawer with ice and beer and invite some of the reporters and editors from the Canadian Press bureau next door to join me for happy hour.

Making friends in the community of journalists in Vancouver proved easy. I was a curiosity – the brash New Yorker unleashed among the genteel Canadians in the laid-back Lotus Land of the Left Coast.

On my first trip to Victoria, to cover the provincial government’s Speech from the Throne, I checked into the stately Empress hotel and made a beeline for the Bengal Room, a bar where the waiters dressed like lackeys from Delhi during the good old days of the British raj.

Dominating the room, above a fireplace, was a tiger skin, complete with head and tail.

Sitting below it were a handful of guys – and one woman – drinking beer and laughing too loud. Obviously reporters.

I walked up to them, waited for a break in the conversation, and shouted, “Okay, which one of you sons-of-bitches shot that tiger?”

They sized me up, figured I was one of them, laughed, and introduced themselves. I enjoyed their company, the business our bond, as were the hangovers we took to the legislature the next day.

Planning drinking time in the puritanical British Columbia of the early 1970s became a preoccupation, if not my occupation.

On Sundays, when you could only order a drink with a meal, I would gather with journalist cronies at the Hotel Vancouver for what we called “brunch.” The waiter would place a moldy cheese plate, a prop, on the table and we’d drink until closing time.

The rare sunny day would be passed at the poolside bar at the Bayshore. In the evening, we’d kill bottles of white wine with Dungeness crab at the Cannery, and bottles of red with veal at Mama Mia’s.

Most nights ended at the Vancouver Press Club, a hole-in-the-wall bar just south of the Granville Street Bridge, a short walk from my office in the Pacific Press Building.

I had a wonderful time with a great group of journalists, mainly from the Sun and Province, CP and BCTV. We shared an instant and easy camaraderie, talked the same language, laughed at the same jokes, got turned on by the same things – booze, sex, adrenaline – read the same books and magazines: Esquire, Rolling Stone, everything by Hunter S. Thompson.

My role was the worldly New Yorker, the adventurer just passing through. To burnish my image as a foreign correspondent, I had bought a safari suit – to wear under my genuine U.S. Air Force Artic Parka – a trenchcoat and a couple of turtleneck cashmere sweaters at Bloomingdale’s before I left New York.

I further publicized my pedigree in a story I wrote for UPI, which ran on the op-ed page of the Province. It opened with an editor’s note:

Kenneth M. Becker, United Press International bureau manager in Vancouver since last spring, previously had lived most of his life in New York City, which has one of the highest crime rates in the world. He was never mugged. This is an account of what happened to him during a trip to the wilds of B.C.

I then told of an overnight hike I took with a couple of fellow journalists to a remote lake where we camped overnight – my rum-soaked brain consumed with fear of bears – and the trek back down the mountain to my car in a parking lot off the highway.

Disbelief. It must have been the marauding bears come to the low country. The car was ransacked. All doors open, trunk broken into, battery gone, along with a set of golf clubs, a tennis racket and my baseball glove, a cherished possession from many memorable softball games in Central Park.

Drunk or sober, I thought, man is no match for marauding bears armed with wire coathangers and screwdrivers.

The piece concluded with a tow-truck driver arriving with a new battery.

“New York, huh,” the driver said as he spied the license plates on my immobile Fiat. “I guess this kind of thing ain’t new to you.

“Yes,” I said, “it’s the first time.”

I did come to love the wilderness of the west. I’d drive north on the scenic highway to the dead end of Highway 99 – passing Whistler before it was Whistler – at Pemberton; west across Vancouver Island to Long Beach; east to the Rockies.

But, after about 20 months in Vancouver, the rain and boredom of the news beat finally got to me. I asked for a real foreign assignment, in Europe, where my daughter was.

But all UPI would offer was a one-way ticket to Canadian headquarters in Montreal.

Tomorrow: Killer cat and hockey pucks

My Canada: Arriving in Lotus Land

As Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday on July 1, I’m taking a look back at my 44-odd years in the country. This is the second of seven parts.

“What is the purpose of your visit to Canada?” asked the border guard.

“I’m moving here,” I said.

“May I see your immigration papers, please.”

I reached into my briefcase and pulled out the only document UPI had given me, a couple of lines typed on company letterhead.

To whom it may concern:

Please be advised that Kenneth Becker is the new bureau manager for United Press International in Vancouver, Canada.

“Where is your work permit?” asked the customs’ man.

“This is all I got,” I said, flapping the letter in his face.

“You’ll have to pull over there,” he said, pointing to a few parking slots beside a small one-story building. “Go inside to talk to an immigration officer.”

It was January 1973. I’d been on the road for a week, driving from New York to Los Angeles, then up the coast to Washington state-B.C. border.

My transfer from New York to Vancouver had come about with remarkable speed. My colleague Emil Sveilis – we’d been pals at UPI-New York – had become Canadian news editor based in Montreal. We’d kept in touch. He ended each conversation with, “When are you coming up to work in Canada?”

I’d laugh and say, “Who the hell wants to live in Canada?”

But when he had called in late November 1972, asking the question again and saying there was an opening in the Vancouver bureau, I replied, “Where’s Vancouver?”

“Near Seattle,” he said.

“I’ll take it,” I said.

Before I left New York, my ex-wife-in-waiting, Anita, bought me a genuine U.S. Air Force Arctic Parka, guaranteed to keep me toasty in temperatures down to 30-below.

I didn’t yet know the weather in Vancouver, year-round, was 58 degrees and drizzling, more like San Francisco than Ice Station Zebra.

At least my Fiat 124 wasn’t packed with snowshoes, ice-fishing gear and big-game-hunting rifles when I pulled up to the Canada Customs’ inspection station in Surrey, B.C., to talk to the immigration officer.

I was pretty steamed, thinking these Canadians had some nerve deciding who could work in their country. I’d visited Canada twice before: once driving to Halifax to see Anita’s aunt and uncle and cousins, another spending a weekend in Montreal. Neither time had anyone questioned my right to enter the country.

But now some snooty Canadian was telling me I couldn’t go to my new job.

“You need a permit to work in Canada,” the immigration officer said.

“Okay,” I said, “give me one.”

“I can’t just write a permit for anybody who drives up to the border,” he said.

“Why not? You let any draft-dodger into the country.”

“Are you evading the draft?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “I’m here to work, as you can see.”

He retreated to an inner office.

Evening dragged into night. I suggested he call my boss in Montreal, who’d confirm my employment. He finally agreed and, after scolding my boss on the phone, wrote me out a work permit, good for one year.

I was traveling with a guy I worked with in New York – the road trip was his vacation – and two American hippie chicks we’d picked up hitchhiking in a rainstorm outside Portland.

The women, who said they were joining a commune in the B.C. mountains, waited in the car throughout my interrogation. They had no trouble crossing the border since they’d lied, saying they were tourists planning to spend only a few days in Canada.

By the time we drove into Vancouver, it was after midnight. The two hitchhikers disappeared into the night when we arrived at my hotel, the Ritz, which failed to live up to its name.

I’d been in Vancouver about three weeks when, one day, in the cafeteria of the Pacific Press Building, I stood dumbstruck at the north-facing picture windows.

“Where the hell did they come from?” I shouted to no one in particular.

I was talking about the mountains. I hadn’t seen them before in the rain and gloom of my new hometown – did not know they were there.

And while I would come to believe Vancouver was the ugliest city in the most beautiful setting in the world, those mountains would always beckon.

Tomorrow: Booze and bears

My Canada: The expat experience

As Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday on July 1, I’m taking a look back at my 44-odd years in the country. This is the first of seven parts.

When people ask me why I came to Canada and why I’ve stayed here this long, I usually say something like:

“I was working for UPI in New York and my first marriage was breaking up and I wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, because all my friends and family were in New York and I didn’t want them to think, ‘poor Ken,’ and a pal at UPI was then the Canadian news editor and, when he asked if I wanted to take over the Vancouver bureau, I said, ‘Where’s Vancouver?’

“Anyway, I went to Vancouver, and then transferred to UPI-Montreal and then to Toronto, where I met Linda, who, of course, is Canadian, and we got married and had a couple of kids who are, of course, Canadian – so I just stayed.”

The part I usually leave out is that Linda and I left Canada for a year or so, lived in a small town in Maine. But, when our first child died there, two days after he was born, we packed up and went “home.”

Yet, after all these years, I still think of myself as an American, an expat, an outsider. I’ve never lost my American attitude, which is really my New York attitude, which has always set me apart.

My first year in this country, in 1973, I was invited to spend Christmas with the family of my best friend in Canada, Joey Slinger.

I flew from Vancouver to Toronto, where Joey and I caught the train to his hometown of Guelph. When we arrived at the railway station, we were immediately confronted by a couple of cops.

What have you got in the bag?” one barked at Joey, who had stuffed Christmas gifts into a large black trash bag.

“Why do you want to know?” I barked back.

The cops looked at me like I’d pissed on their brogues. “We’re asking the questions here,” one said.

“No, you’re not,” I said, “not until you tell us what this is about.”

After a brief staring match, the cop said: “Well, you two guys fit the description of a couple of suspects who robbed a Canadian Tire store.”

I threw a puzzled look at the cops and pointed to the bag. “Does it look like we’ve got a tire in there?”

Joey broke up, the cops eventually gave up, and Joey explained to me that Canadian Tire didn’t sell only tires.

Several years later, in 1980, in his humor column in the Toronto Star, Joey wrote about his friend – me – who he called the Bronx Bomber:

The Bronx Bomber, an American, from the Bronx, has, thanks to his Constitution and perhaps genetically imprinted, a clear sense of citizens’ rights, particularly his own …

I have been with the Bomber when he sent three – three! – steaks back to the kitchen, while I sat in embarrassment at the table trying to gnaw the ungnawable.

“If I am going to pay for a steak,” he explained to the manager after the third strike, “I want a steak that Carl Yastrzemski could not smack out of the ballpark with an easy swing.” The Bomber then announced that we would dine elsewhere and that the restaurant could pay for the bottle of wine we had drunk while these indignities were being heaped upon our plates. The restaurant, to my everlasting surprise, paid and we marched out free, gratis; the Bomber vindicated, me mortified.

In this regard, if you ask my wife and children, I have not mellowed with age. But this is not a good time to be an American with attitude.

The creep in the White House appears to have given Canadians – and others around the world – license to flex their anti-American reflexes.

When the Child in Chief sulked away from the Paris Agreement a couple of weeks ago, among all the understandable and reasoned criticism, I spotted this from a friend of a friend on Facebook: Most Americans are not worldly or educated.

This comment, though obviously ignorant, still pissed me off. I wanted to shout back at the unknown woman, presumably Canadian:

Have you traveled to every province in Canada, plus the Northwest Territories, as I have? Visited every major city and hundreds of small towns, from Cow Head, Newfoundland, to The Pas, Manitoba, to Tofino, B.C.?

Could you ace a Canadian history and politics quiz, like the one I designed for my first-year journalism students at a Toronto college, many of whom knew next to nothing about their country?

Canadians love to point to that quote from Bono in 2003, and repeated by Obama in 2016: “The world needs more Canada.”

But, what does it mean?

To me, it means a generally peaceful, civil society where I can go to the doctor and not get a bill. I appreciate Canada’s people, its history and, especially, its geography.

I’d rather be Rocky Mountain high in Alberta than Colorado.

You can seamlessly substitute Canada for America in the opening lines of America the Beautiful:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

In 1976, for the U.S. Bicentennial, Canada gave the United States the gift of a book titled Between Friends, a collection of more than 200 spectacular photographs taken along our shared border, from the Yukon and Alaska to New Brunswick and Maine.

That June, I interviewed Lorraine Monk, who edited the book, as head of the photography division of the National Film Board of Canada.

It was an enjoyable conversation. She inscribed my copy: For Ken Becker, who understood what the book was all about.

I did. I still do.

Tomorrow: Arriving in Lotus Land

The rest of the story

There’s a backstory to my account of the day I could have walked away with millions of dollars worth of paintings from the Phillips Collection, a story I told here a couple of weeks ago with a version published in today’s Washington Post.

I wrote that I was visiting Washington with my first wife, Anita, back on that Memorial Day weekend in 1972.

But I didn’t mention that I was working in New York for UPI at the time, or that we were staying with a couple of colleagues.

One of them was Tom Corpora, perhaps the most intimidating person I ever worked with in all my years as a reporter and editor.

Corpora, a native Californian, was a very cool dude who had earned his stripes as a UPI war correspondent in Vietnam.

I was in my early twenties when I started at UPI-New York in 1970. Corpora was probably a few years older.

I was a rookie in the business, and looked up to the real pros in the newsroom, such as Lucien Carr, who was always kind in providing guidance and friendship.

And while I desperately wanted Corpora’s approval, I never got it.

A couple of times I went for drinks with him after work. The more he drank, the more he ripped me apart, saying I wouldn’t know a story if I tripped over one and couldn’t write it worth a damn anyway.

But I did learn one important lesson from him – that every good story told could be a story written.

When Anita and I got back from our adventure at the Phillips Collection, I told Corpora what happened.

“Did you call it in?” he asked.

“Sure, I told you, I called Mrs. Phillips.”

He shook his head in disgust. Corpora had a habit of jiggling his leg when he was agitated. He was jiggling furiously.

“No” he snapped, dressing me down with his hard, hooded eyes, “I mean did you write a story and call it in to UPI?”

“No,” I said, “I never thought of that.”

“Big surprise,” he sneered.

I don’t think I ever saw Corpora again. Or talked to him again.

I looked for him online a few years back. Not to get in touch. Just curious what he was up to.

He and his Japanese-born wife owned a winery in Virginia.

Corpora

Then, in 2015, I learned that Tom died.

I couldn’t find an obit then. Can’t find one now.

And while his UPI byline appeared in papers around the world, there is little trace of him or his work to be found.

But, as I’ve said, he made a strong impression on this kid during the brief time we worked together.

And, as any reader of this space knows, I’ve learned to turn many of my memorable experiences into copy.

It only took 45 years to write about the Phillips Collection caper.

Fellow journalists may find the Post’s minor edits to my original piece interesting, if you care to compare the two.

On celebrity memoirs

The most interesting thing I learned from reading about Jonathan Goldsmith’s just-published memoir, Stay Interesting: I Don’t Always Tell Stories About My Life, But When I Do, They’re True and Amazing, is that he’s a short, Jewish kid from the Bronx.

Otherwise, as I gathered from today’s New York Post headline – The Most Interesting Man in the World: I ‘f—ked them all’ – the book is about a failed actor and Hollywood parasite who claims to have bedded a lot of famous women, most of whom are now conveniently dead.

It reminded me of the dilemma I faced when I was writing about books and authors for the Canadian Press in the 1990s.

I understood that CP’s client-newspapers ate up stories of celebrity gossip, but I found these “authors” particularly distasteful and the content of their tales more slanderous than scandalous.

The worst was another failed actor, named Richard Selzer, born in Brooklyn, who recreated himself as the fashion maven Mr. Blackwell.

I interviewed him in the dimly lighted Library bar of the Royal York hotel in Toronto in 1995. He sipped a bloody mary and played the part of the anguished Hollywood queen bee. I gulped down a beer and wrapped up the interview as quickly as possible.

I considered not writing a story, then tried to convey my disgust in the lead:

TORONTO (CP) – Shovel some more dirt on the graves of four Hollywood legends.

A new book says Tyrone Power and Cesar Romero were bedmates, as were Cary Grant and Randolph Scott.

And the author, American fashion critic Mr. Blackwell says he slept with all of them.

“I’m amazed,” Blackwell tells an interviewer who expresses no prior knowledge of these show-biz couplings. “I thought it was well known.”

The 73-year-old creator of the yearly 10-worst-dressed-women list  — wearing a diamond stickpin in the lapel of his dark blazer and another gem in his left earlobe – says he considers From Rags to Bitches his epitaph.

I wanted everyone to know I was more than some jerk who got up once a year, crawled out from under a rock, said 10 acerbic things about 10 women who more than deserved it – because that’s not much of a legacy. I have left them a story of survival.”

I regretted writing the story as soon as it hit the wire. I felt more like a pornographer than a reporter, an accomplice in outing three beloved actors – and Cesar Romero – in an abysmal book after they were dead.

About a month later, in another hotel bar in Toronto, I sat down with Wolfman Jack, born Robert Smith in Brooklyn.

(Why did book publicists always arrange my interviews in bars? And, no, I didn’t only interview people born in New York – like me.)

“Just call me Wolf, man,” the legendary disc jockey said when we were introduced, before the conversation got going, with him chain-smoking unfiltered Camels and slurping espresso.

His book was titled Have Mercy: Confession of the Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. But, again, as with such tales by minor celebrities, it was a 362-page press release spiced with payback to ex-friends and enemies.

And, when skimming the book, I found more sex and drugs than rock ‘n’ roll: Ike Turner getting a blowjob while playing piano in a rehearsal hall; rehashed tabloid trash about David Bowie cruising for young girls at Hollywood High, Wolfman snorting coke with John Lennon.

At the end of the interview, he wrote in my copy of his book: To Ken Baby, A man who knows. Yes, you’re the best. Your friend always, Wolfman.

Our “friendship” didn’t last long. A couple of days later, the 57-year-old Wolfman dropped dead of a heart attack at his home in North Carolina.

Chasing phantom fugitives

My former United Press Canada colleague Nelson Wyatt reminded me the other day of a real fake news story we were dragged into more than 30 years ago.

Real fake news is reported when generally authoritative sources, such as police or government officials, say something that turns out to be claptrap. This can have deadly serious consequences – consider the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin “incident” that escalated the war in Vietnam and Saddam Hussein’s “WMDs.”

Or it can simply be folly – so far – as with a Fabricator in Chief in the White House.

Then there are the many instances when authorities overreact – think terrorism threats or hurricanes – and get things wrong.

This was the case with the Canadian connection to the tale of the Briley brothers, Linwood and James, who led the breakout of six men from death row at the state prison in Mecklenburg, Virginia, on May 31, 1984.

While the other four fugitives were recaptured quickly, the wily Brileys were on the lam for nearly three weeks.

It was during this time that Canadian news outlets began reporting sightings of the brothers in Quebec’s normally peaceful and picturesque Eastern Townships.

I was running the news desk at UPC headquarters in Toronto. Nelson was a reporter-editor in the Montreal bureau.

The story smelled sketchy from the get-go. I figured someone had spotted a couple of black guys, a rarity in those parts, assumed they were up to no good, called the cops and … voila!

Next thing you knew, police armed to the teeth were combing woods and fields, setting up roadblocks and generally scaring the shit out of everyone from Gaspe to the Laurentians. We dutifully reported what the police said, and the hysteria they unleashed.

(The Brileys were truly scary guys. Over seven months in 1979, in and around their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, they robbed and raped and shot and stabbed more than a dozen total strangers. They were convicted of 10 murders.)

The manhunt in Quebec went on for nearly a week. I talked daily with Nelson. The information was so flimsy we started joking about phantom fugitives.

“Where do you think they really are?” Nelson asked.

“Disneyland?”

“Vegas?”

“Probably never left Virginia,” I concluded.

I was close. Linwood Briley, 30, and brother James, 28, were cornered and captured in their uncle’s garage in Philadelphia on June 19, 1984.

The state of Virginia wasn’t taking any chances on another escape – Linwood was executed in the electric chair that October and James the following April.

Imagining the art of the steal

I could easily have pulled off the greatest art heist in history.

Millions and millions of dollars worth of paintings were mine for the taking.

No alarm sounded. No cops. No witnesses.

Today, the original of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party could be hanging above the mantel in the living room of my townhouse in Mississauga, instead of my photo of a flying wood stork.

And Dufy’s The Artist’s Studio would look good in my home office.

The Artist's Studio

Such treasures would be mine if only I’d had a proclivity for thievery 45 years ago today.

On May 29, 1972, I was in Washington with my Swiss wife Anita, who schlepped this kid from Queens through the art museums of two continents during our short-lived marriage.

So, on this hot, sunny Memorial Day in the mecca of American history, instead of paying respects to Mr. Lincoln or Mr. Jefferson, we went to see the Phillips Collection of modern (mostly European) art.

I parked my dark blue Fiat 124 sedan on the street right in front of the gallery. We walked to the front door, opened it, and went inside. There was no one there.

In the entranceway, we admired a small Braque. We walked up a staircase and stood before that large Renoir canvas of the Boating Party, in its gilded frame.

Not another breathing soul around. Just the two of us and those Parisian partygoers, Renoir’s chums from the 1880s, drinking and gabbing on a restaurant balcony overlooking the Seine.

We moseyed on, dawdled in front of paintings by Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Seurat.

“This is weird,” I finally said to Anita. “We could just take any of these paintings and walk out the door.”

“What should we do?” she asked.

Since we were leaving Washington the next day and didn’t know when we might return, we decided to spend a little more time with the paintings.

After about a half hour or so, we began to head out. “Let’s see if we can call someone,” I said.

We went back to the entranceway and found the reception desk. It had one of those sliding shelves where people often pasted lists of phone numbers. Sure enough, I found a list.

There was a number for a “Mrs. Phillips.” I dialed it on the phone atop the desk.

A woman answered.

“Mrs. Phillips?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“My name is Ken Becker and I’m inside your gallery right now but no one else is here.”

“Yes,” she said, “we’re closed today.”

“But my wife and I just walked in. The doors were unlocked.”

“That’s odd,” she said.

“Yes it is,” I said. “What would you like us to do?”

No reply for a moment. “Well, I’ll call our security company. If you wouldn’t mind waiting there until they arrive …”

“No problem,” I said, and hung up.

Anita and I stood inside the front door and guarded the Braque. When we saw a couple of rent-a-cops pull up and rush up the walkway, we met them outside.

“How’d you get in there,” one snapped.

“We just walked in,” I said, turning to demonstrate how I’d grabbed each handle of the double-doors and pulled. The doors opened.

“You’re not supposed to do it that way,” said the uniformed security man. He closed the doors, grasped only one handle, pulled, and the doors stayed locked.

I laughed. “You mean anybody with two hands can get in but you’re counting on them to only pull one handle?”

He and his partner nodded. Dumbfounded. But not amused.

They looked us over, apparently checking to see whether I had a Degas in my pants or Anita had a Klee in her purse, before dismissing us with a wave.

All these years later, I envision filling my Fiat with great Impressionist works, driving up the Jersey Turnpike, home to New York, with the Renoir strapped to the roof.

When Anita and I split up later that year, she took the Beatles albums and I got the Sinatra and Simon and Garfunkel.

But I can now imagine us sitting around the living room of our apartment in Queens with priceless canvases strewn about.

I want the Picasso.

Fine, but I’ll take the Matisse.

No, I want the Matisse.

I’ll trade you two Cezannes for the Matisse.

Deal.

Let’s divvy up the Van Goghs.

Okay, but who gets the Renoir?

Considering all the places I’ve lived since then – Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Maine, Northern Ontario, Mississauga – I would have had to hire a Brink’s truck to haul my stash of paintings from house to house.

And now I’d have that Renoir above the mantel.

Or maybe Gauguin’s The Ham in the kitchen.

The Ham

And Picasso’s The Blue Room in the john.

Picasso