Nat Weinstein: Memorial and Oral History

Who Was Nat Weinstein?

Presentation at the June 22, 2014 celebration of Nat Weinstein’s life

By Kevin Sheppard

Who was Nat Weinstein? Was Nat a lifelong fighter for socialism? Was he a fighter for union and workers’ rights? Was he a fighter for civil rights? Was he a fine artist? Was he a family man, husband, father, grandfather and mentor? Or was he a young Jewish stickball player and pool shark from the streets of Brooklyn? He was all of these things and more. Nat was my constant throughout my life. He was there whenever I needed him; there was no problem too small or too big that I couldn’t talk to him about. He would always lead me in the right direction, whichever choices I made, or he guided me through it.

When I was in grade school he would pick me up from school almost every day and we would play handball, tennis or plain old catch for a good half-hour or 45 minutes after school. That’s when he taught me how to throw a knuckle ball, which he actually threw very well. He would tell me stories of how good he was in sports when he was a kid. After we were done playing, which ever sport, on the way home in the car, then it was time for the timetables; he did them over and over and over again—9 x 8, 8 x 8—every one of them, because he believed that you should know these, second nature. You should just be able to say them and the answers should just pop out of your head. So this was every day, never a break.

Nat believed that you were never too young or too old for learning; he thought you should gather as much knowledge as you possibly could, no matter what the subject. As I grew older, he never stopped being my teacher. He took me under his wing and taught me my trade—his trade—painting. While working with him, I also learned to play checkers, which we did often during lunch. He would actually let me win once in a while; he was a great checkers player. One of the things I knew that would always get me a longer lunch break was towards the end of lunch, when I could tell he was getting ready to make us go back to work, I would ask him a question about Trotskyism—I’d get at least 15 more minutes, if not longer. But the reality is that Nat knew his trade and he knew it better than most.

Other trades people would often tell me that although Nat may not have had the best techniques to do a particular job, he had a great sense of how things should look and feel, and the balance of what he did was better than most. This is what made him so good. He created his own techniques out of necessity. As a matter of fact, I just learned today—Darrel Myers just told me a story about once, when Nat couldn’t get a material to work on a job site they were on, he took it to the bathroom and peed in it and then the material worked—I just learned that today. No matter what someone asked him to do, it didn’t matter, he would figure out a way to do it and get it done.

He once did a room for a famous designer named Michael Taylor. Michael wanted the entire room to look like old knotty pine and when Nat was done it was knotty pine. Michael told him, “Nat, I never knew what knotty pine was until you came into my life.” We worked on antique sculptures, antique paintings and other antiques. We made the new look antique and we made the old look fresher. There was nothing Nat couldn’t do with paint or plaster. One of his favorite jokes he would tell his clients, and I stole it from him and use it pretty regularly to this day, is he says, “What did Michaelangelo say to the Pope before he painted the Sistine Chapel—What-a color you like?” Nat would always get laughs with this. It is because of Nat that I have never told any client, “No I can’t do that.” I always can figure out how to do it, or at least make it look like I know what I’m doing. Nat instilled in me the belief that if someone made it, someone can fix it, so why not me?

One of the things that made Nat so special was his willingness to listen to your ideas and he could put his views aside and understand your point of view. This by all means does not mean he agreed with your views, just that he could understand them. He took great pride in this. He would always tell me that to win an argument you need to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and show them they are wrong using their point of view.

Growing up, I was at Nat’s house almost every day and it was like visiting a farm. Nat always complained about all the animals Sylvia would bring into the house. She had rabbits, chickens, goats, birds, fish, cats and dogs. He would complain, however, as he was building the new cages for the birds outside, or the fence to keep the animals off his deck so he could read in peace. Through all this complaining, when no one was looking, he would be the one in the corner petting the dogs and cats or talking to the birds as they sang. That was Nat. He cared about everyone and everything.

If you were visiting from out of town he would insist you stay at his place rather than a hotel. Although he cared deeply about his politics he cared even deeper for family and friends. This is what I will remember the most about Nat. His devotion to his wife and our family and that he never wavered from his beliefs. He was a socialist to the core, but he was also a husband, a father and a grandfather and no one could have been better at that than him.