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Mr. Renoir, You Paint a Lovely Picture


by Peter Cherches


            The man: he calls himself Renoir the Impressionist.

            The time: it's the 1970s.

            The place: Shelley's, an unpretentious little nightclub in the borough of Queens. This is where Renoir the Impressionist works four nights a week, filling in when the band, a group of obscure swing-era section men who call themselves the Swing Dings, takes a break.

            The band is playing their out theme, a rendition of "Moonlight Serenade" taken at breakneck speed. When they are finished, Vinnie Lambrusco, tenor sax man and leader of the band, makes an announcement: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the band is going to take a short intermission, but please stick around, we'll be back to play some more of your favorites. And while we're gone, we'll leave you in the hands of a really talented guy, a really great entertainer, Renoir the Impressionist." Renoir takes over the stage and does his act. He does all the old standards: John Wayne, W.C. Fields, Ed Sullivan, Humphrey Bogart. But he also does some offbeat ones: Noam Chomsky, Jean Arp and Anton Webern. Some of these impressions are totally meaningless to many members of the audience, but they bear with Renoir because they like him so much. Most of them are regulars.

            The regulars like Renoir, but none of them really know him. He keeps his distance. Never talks to the customers. After he finishes his act he always goes straight to the dressing room. Renoir values his privacy.

            Renoir can hear the sounds of the band seeping into the dressing room. They are playing "Shine." If you were in the audience you would see Maury Belkin, the Swing Dings' portly trumpet star, step forward for this, his feature. Renoir can hear Maury's solo, but he pays no attention, for he has heard it all too often. Maury has been playing the exact same solo, note for note, day in and day out, for years. Renoir picks up a magazine. It's the latest issue of Today's Health, the only magazine received by the club. It has been coming in the mail, month after month, for as long as Shelley's has been in existence, addressed to Dr. Samuel Firestone, the previous tenant, an ear, nose and throat man. Renoir starts reading an article and falls asleep within minutes.

            Renoir is awoken by an insisting knocking on the door, accompanied by the insistent voice of Vinnie Lambrusco: "Come on, Renoir, what are you doing in there?  You're on." Renoir pulls himself together and saunters onto the stage. This time he does his impression of William Butler Yeats reading "Sailing to Byzantium," followed by Johnny Mathis doing "Chances Are." With this he is through for the night.

            It is pouring outside, and by the time Renoir reaches the subway he is soaking wet.          

            It is still raining when Renoir gets off the train, and by the time he reaches his building he is totally drenched. The doorman looks at Renoir and says, "Looks like you could've used an umbrella." Renoir ignores the doorman, as usual, and takes the elevator to the 6th floor. As he is unlocking the door to his apartment, 6G, he notices that there is a hell of a lot of noise coming out of 6F. Yes, he remembers, the Placids are throwing a party, I was invited, I will not go, I hate parties.

            Once inside his apartment, Renoir proceeds to get out of his wet clothes, stripping down to Jockey shorts and T-shirt. Renoir's walls reverberate with shock waves sent out by the Placid stereo, by Sid's eighteen-inch woofers. Renoir is about to complain, but remembers: I was invited; I'll have to bear with it. He decides to do a little reading. He picks up a copy of Advertising Age. Renoir does not pay for his subscription to Advertising Age. It has been coming ever since he's been there, week after week, addressed to Doug Kramer, the previous tenant, once a successful copywriter with Foote, Cone and Belding. Renoir's apartment had become available after Kramer's suicide.

            The party next door: a leisure-suited Sid Placid is adjusting the bass and treble, trying to get the perfect sound.

            Sid's wife Pamela, the former Pamela Lake, starlet, now Pamela Lake-Placid, housewife, is standing by the punch bowl talking to Dr. Kalman Sutra, the eminent sex therapist. "Doctor, Doctor, I have a problem," she tells him. "The only time I can have an orgasm is when I masturbate."

            "You too?" he says.

            Sid's cousin Lois is talking to Clarissa Davis, the young actress whom you may remember as Muffy on the long-running television sitcom "Accidental Father."

            "It must have been wonderful working with that nice man, Keith McClean," Lois says.

            "He was a dirty old man," Clarissa replies. Lois is about to say something else when Clarissa, who is stoned on a combination of Seconal, Quaaludes, Valium, Dexedrine, Cocaine, Codeine, Canadian Club and ginger ale, collapses. Lois, frightened, calls Sid over. After determining that Clarissa is dead, Sid picks her up and throws her into the bedroom, which is being used as a coatroom. A few minutes later, Dr. Sutra, who has entered the room to get his coat, violates the corpse of Clarissa. On his way out he winks at Pamela Placid.

            Sid's cousin Lulu is very drunk and very bored. She staggers out of the Placids' apartment and decides to knock on 6G, Renoir's door. She knocks insistently. Who's that knock-knocking at my door? Renoir wonders. "Who's there?" Renoir asks.

            "It's me, Little Lulu," Lulu replies. "Let me in, let me in, or I swear by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin, I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your door in."

            Renoir decides to open the door. "What do you want?" he asks Lulu.

            "I just had to get away from that horrible party," Lulu says. "Will you make me a drinkie?" she adds.

            "Why don't you go back to the party and leave me alone?" Renoir says.

            "It's no fun in there. I need a drinkie," she says.

            Renoir figures he might be able to get rid of her if he puts a drink in her hand, so he asks, "What are you drinking?"

            "White rum and soda. That's what Liza drinks."

            "I wasn't expecting Liza," Renoir replies. "I have Scotch and beer."

            "Gimme Scotch, then. Neat," she says.

            Renoir hands her a Dixie cup, filled to the brim with a very cheap brand of Scotch, some kind of Dew. "Now that I've given you a drink will you go away?"

            "Doesn't the nice man want to go to bed with Little Lulu?" she asks.

            "No, the nice man does not want to go to bed with Little Lulu."

            "Come on, I think you're handsome," she says, and starts nibbling on his ear. Renoir figures maybe if he sleeps with her he'll be able to get rid of her after.

            "All right," he says, "you win."

            As Renoir is already in his underwear he doesn't have much to take off. "Aren't you going to help me take my clothes off?" Lulu asks.

            "No."

            Lulu starts taking her clothes off. "What do you do for a living?" she asks.

            "I'm an impressionist," he says.

            Renoir's response sets Lulu to thinking: a performer. They're probably fucking him over like they fucked me over. "Lunchtime with Lulu" was the best damn children's show of its day. Better than "Ding Dong School." Everybody said so. So why did they have to go and cancel it? There's nothing like it these days, that's for sure. They all tell me I should give it another try. Maybe they're right. Maybe I should give it another try. Yeah, I'm going to do it. I'm going to get my shit together and find me a producer.

            "Jesus, what a relief to get out of that girdle," Lulu says.

            The two of them now in the buff, they hop in the sack, no foreplay, Renoir wants to get this thing over with; he fucks her dispassionately. Lulu is out of it, really out of it. Her breath stinks of booze. Thrusting with a vengeance, Renoir notices that Lulu has fallen asleep. He pulls out, picks up Advertising Age, reads a couple of articles, then goes to sleep himself.

            The first thing Renoir notices when he wakes up is a horrible stench. He looks around and notices that Lulu has puked all over herself in her sleep. Renoir is pissed. He begins to shake Lulu, violently. She comes to. "What's going on?" she says.

            "Get out of my apartment," Renoir says.

            "Ooh, I must have had an accident," Lulu says.

            "Just get out of here. Pronto," Renoir says.

            "Okay, okay," Lulu says, "just let me wash up and get dressed."

            "You can wash up at the Placids'," Renoir says, puts Lulu's clothes in her hands, and shoves her out the door.

            Renoir prepares himself some breakfast. Four eggs, sunny side up. All four yolks break. Renoir turns on the radio and listens to the news while he's eating. More trouble in Iran. More trouble everywhere. A young actress named Clarissa Davis has died of an overdose at a party. The weatherman says it is a sunny day. Renoir looks out the window.

            It is a sunny day and outside Renoir's window a woman is being raped and murdered. It must be 2 PM. For the past two weeks a woman has been raped and murdered outside Renoir's window every day at precisely 2 PM. It is a redhead, as usual, it is the same perpetrator, a greasy, pimple-faced little creep, he is stabbing the woman in the chest, as usual, he stabs her one two three four five six times and leaves. Renoir recognizes the victim this time. It is Pam Placid, his next-door neighbor.

            Renoir pulls the shade and begins to muse out loud:

            "The city is a jungle. This is no place to live. I have to get out of here. I think I'll go to Tahiti. Tahiti, where the air is clean, where life is elemental, where the women go about naked, unashamed."

            While Renoir is speaking, Paul Gauguin appears, all of a sudden, mysteriously, out of thin air, deus ex machina.

            "Tahiti, a tropical paradise, a glimmering jewel, the last…"

            Gauguin snaps his fingers and Renoir freezes in mid-sentence. Gauguin walks around the apartment, admiring Renoir's paintings. Did I forget to mention that Renoir is also a painter? Well he is, and quite a good one at that. Renoir is not very well known as a painter, but he did once have a one-man show, self-financed, which was reviewed by the third-string critic of the Times, who described the paintings as being "not without a certain warmth." Gauguin snaps his fingers again and Renoir continues.

            "…frontier. Yes, that is the answer. I shall go to Tahiti." Renoir notices Gauguin and asks, "Who the fuck are you?"

            "I am Paul Gauguin. And may I say, Mr. Renoir, you paint a lovely picture."

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