Besides the art world, photographer Nat was also closely associated with the Black Panthers, going to the extent of procuring arms for them. In 1969, he began to fear that the U.S. Government was after his life, and when an arrest warrant was issued on an old drug charge, he fled the country. Excitedly, I scanned down to see if he went to India. He followed the Silk Route into the Middle East and… sold hashish to earn a living! Two Nat Finkelsteins selling dope from the same neighbourhood! But, there was no clinching evidence that they were one and the same.
One site said that Nat, the photographer came as far as Kathmandu. “That's close, isn't it?” I interrupted Rom's movie again. “Yeah, he said he sent some special breed of horse from Nepal to the U.S.” The search was getting warm, but I wanted red heat. On Nat's website, I found pictures of his Tibetan mastiff ‘Goochie'. Was it a coincidence that both Nats appeared to like Tibetan mastiffs?
Nat Finkelstein returned to the U.S. in 1982 when he learnt that charges against him had been dropped. There was no other information on what he did in those intervening dozen years abroad. After his return, Nat managed a punk noise band called Khmer Rouge, and photo-chronicled the younger subcultures of New York. He also became addicted to cocaine and flew to Bolivia to feed his habit. When Andy Warhol died in 1987, a shocked Nat cleaned up his act. He went back to photography, and today, his pictures are in several major collections around the world. He died in 2009, survived by his wife Elizabeth and a brother. There was no mention of Jill or their son. In fact, one site even said he had no children. Dead end.
I went around in circles, spinning a wider web, adding more search words, using different combinations. A local New York paper reported that in 2005, Nat and his dog (another Tibetan mastiff called ‘Bling') fell into a sewer because the manhole cover was askew. Insignificant trivia, but one of the readers commented that Nat was married to a 30-year-old woman. Could Jill have been an earlier wife? I started a new search for Nat's wives, despite protests from several parts of my brain that I was stepping beyond the limits of privacy. There had been five of them, and Elizabeth was the last.
Everyone appeared to be interested only in one tiny three-year window of Nat's life: Andy Warhol's Factory. There was little about his life after that. It was getting close to my bedtime, and although there were some tantalising similarities, the worlds of Nat Finkelstein, the animal trader and Nat Finkelstein, the photographer seemed poles apart. There was just one last page to check, before I decided to call it quits.
Uncomfortably I scrolled down his reminiscences of the wild 60s, parties, drugs, sex, and bitchy celebrity politics. Right at the very end, a name jumped out, and I slammed the desk in vindication. Rom jumped and looked perplexedly at my triumphant face. I pointed to the screen where photographer Nat Finkelstein says he was married to Jill. That was it, the only nail to hold the two disparate lives together as a whole. Nat Finkelstein, the drug smuggling animal trader was Nat Finkelstein, the photographer of the New York avant garde. Poor Rom was strangely quiet for once, and mumbled: “But he never said anything to me…”
Several hours later, I found a piece written by Nat where he mentions Jill and their child, and I knew beyond a shred of doubt that I had found my man. But nowhere in the chronicles online was there any mention of Nat, the animal trader. Did he exist only in Rom's tale?
(To be continued)
(The author can be reached at email@example.com)