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A $139-Million Tear

ROB LONG, whose weekly commentary "Martini Shots" airs on KCRW-FM (89.9), is a contributing editor to National Review.

FAIR WARNING: When you check into the Wynn Las Vegas hotel, be careful with the mini-bar in the room. It has an electronic sensor, so that when you remove an item — a $20 bar of chocolate, for instance, or a $5 bottle of water — the sensor immediately notices your action, sends a message to the central Wynn mainframe and adds the charge to your bill. Even, just so you understand, if you put the item back. That's the way the Wynn works. Every action, no matter how casual — "Hey! Peanuts! I think I'll have some. No, wait, maybe I'll just go downstairs to the bar instead. Let me just put these back" — has clear financial implications.

It's comforting, though, to learn that Steve Wynn, the owner and impresario of the spectacularly fun and glamorous Wynn Las Vegas, lives by the same rules.

He is a passionate art collector and has spent many years assembling a knockout collection of paintings. It's an eclectic gathering of Old Master, Impressionist, Modern and American masterpieces, and it really is something. Recently, though, while showing off one of his Picassos, "Le Reve," he, somehow, some way, managed to poke a hole in it.

Wynn suffers from a degenerative eye disease. And the people who were there — people such as Nora Ephron and Barbara Walters — report that he was gesturing to the painting, pointing out some of its dazzling masterstrokes (or something) and just misjudged the distance between his elbow and the $139-million canvas. Perhaps.

It's also possible, of course, that Wynn was so entranced by the simplicity and voluptuousness of the shapes and colors in Picasso's erotic masterwork that, in turning back to his guests, among whom numbered, let us not forget, Barbara Walters, his shock at the contrast caused him to recoil from his guests and into the painting itself.

My guess is, he just didn't know how close he was to the canvas.

Wynn is a rarity. He's an art collector with incredible taste, but he is also an art lover (these aren't always, or even mostly, the same thing), and he has an infectious and charming enthusiasm for his eye-popping collection. At the time of the incident, he was probably pointing to one spot — the delicate, almost mottled background pattern — and suddenly also wanted to point out the gorgeous neckline of the painting's subject, got his internal wires all crossed and rip! Elbow into canvas.

Much in the same way that I, as a recent guest at the Wynn Las Vegas, removed a Diet Coke from the mini-bar before noticing that they also had ginger ale, but I misjudged the amount of time I had to make a final decision before the sensor pad alerts the food and beverage accounting department (guest room division) of the central Wynn server that the guest in Room 1100 has selected both Diet Coke and ginger ale and charges the guest accordingly.

Here's how I handled it: I complained. I told the incredibly efficient and polite person at the front desk what had happened, and she happily took it off the bill. Emboldened by this, I then proceeded to tell her that, earlier in the casino, I had mistakenly placed certain monies down on certain bets at the craps table — monies, I told her, that were actually better applied elsewhere in my life — and simply misjudged the amount of time I had to retrieve those bets, and the distance between me and the person throwing "garbage numbers." She laughed and pretended it was a joke, and so I laughed too, humiliated, got into my car and drove home through the desert. I cheered myself up with some outlet shopping.

Here's how Steve Wynn handled his episode: He took it like a Buddhist. In the first place, the painting had been sold to someone else a few weeks before. The agreed-upon price — somewhere around $139 million — was the largest price ever paid for a painting, and all that was left was to crate it up and send it to the buyer. But Wynn had mistakenly punctured the canvas, and now he had to call the art dealer, tell him that the sale was off and swallow a $139-million loss. Which he did, with incredible grace and humor and — I'll say it — class. Later that day, at dinner with his guests, they shared a fantastic bottle of Bordeaux and he waxed philosophical: "It's all about scale."

No outlet shopping necessary. Steve Wynn is, as they say in the South, a man.

And I'm down there haggling with the lady over a ginger ale. I've got a lot to learn.

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