Authors: Lynn Schnurnberger,Janice Kaplan
“I’m supposed to be in L.A. again next week. And it gets even worse. He’s hosting my next show. The pilot I’m doing. We’re going to be thrown together all the time. What am I going to do?”
“You seem to have decided. Unless you’re buying this lingerie to try to rekindle things at home?” I ask hopefully.
The color drains from Lucy’s face and I can tell I’ve made her feel
awful. She stands upright as the padded hanger drops to the floor with a thud. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. I want to go home and catch the last half of Lily’s soccer game.”
For once, Lucy’s going back to the suburbs and I have a reason to stay in the city. We say a quick good-bye and I head over to Fifth Avenue, making sure that I’m holding my head up high, despite my cheap lingerie. I walk briskly north to Ninety-second Street and when I get there, I’m slightly sweaty and breathless. Damn. Lucy would never arrive for a business meeting this way. The building is one of those old, elegant Fifth Avenue addresses that requires you to be certified by five old-monied WASPs and the right interior decorator before you’re granted the privilege of plunking down a cool three million bucks to nab an apartment.
It requires the skill of three doormen to get me inside—one guy opens the door and asks who I’m visiting, the next one announces me via intercom to my hosts, and yet another leads me to the elevator and discreetly whispers my floor to the white-gloved elevator operator. This is an up-to-date, fully automated elevator. So after the attendant pushes the button marked “14” he doesn’t have anything else to do. I figure his job now must be to stand ready to meet my every need. But I’ll be damned if I can figure out what to ask for on our twenty-second ride.
The elevator door opens into a gracious foyer, complete with a Chinese rug and a white lacquered Parsons table, which boasts a tastefully huge, but not too huge, bowl of fresh-cut peonies. Thick mahogany doors at either end lead to the only two apartments on the floor. They’re unmarked.
“Fourteen-A is to the
,” the elevator attendant says, smirking. So this is why he was put on earth. He waits while I ring the bell and is still standing there when a maid in a gray-and-white uniform opens the door.
“Okay?” he asks her, as if his bringing me up to the apartment may be a greater intrusion than she could really bear.
“Yes, fine. Mrs. Beasley-Smith is expecting her,” she says.
Thank goodness. I’d hate if she’d forgotten about me in the three minutes since I was last announced.
I follow the maid into a sweeping persimmon-colored living room dominated by a huge trompe l’oeil frieze of naked cherubs circling an English garden. Uh-huh. On the far wall, another sensibility prevails and a silk-screened Warhol soup can screams for attention. Now I’m ready for anything.
“You can wait here while I see if Mrs. Beasley-Smith is ready,” the maid says. She seems to like saying that name. Maybe she should go with Mrs. B.S. for short.
But after all the pomposity, I’m not really prepared when a thirtyish woman in Levi’s and a white T-shirt glides in, cradling a baby in one arm and trailed by a golden-haired little girl of about four. Mom is sweetly pretty in a well-scrubbed way, with light brown hair pulled back into a ponytail with a dime-store scrunchie and just a trace of lip gloss.
“Hi,” she says, shifting the baby to her other hip so she has a hand to offer. “I’m Amanda. This is Taylor.” She bounces the little boy until he grins and then says, “And behind me is Spencer.”
“Hi,” Spencer says in a teeny, tiny voice.
“Nice to meet you,” I say, bending down to her eye-level. “I’m Jessie.”
When I stand up again, Amanda thanks me for coming. “I have four friends joining us. I hope that’s enough. We’re all really excited about getting involved.”
“That’s great,” I tell her. “I’m thrilled to be working with you.”
Within a few minutes, the room fills up with moms and various-sized toddlers, and I’m introduced in succession to Pamela Jay Barone, Rebecca Gates, Allison von Williams, and Heather Lehmann. I can’t place any of the names, though I have a feeling any money manager would know them. The women are cookie-cutter perfect—pretty and slim, with well-highlighted blond hair (except for Pamela, whose auburn mane is swept off her face by a paisley headband), and they sport huge
diamond rings. But they’re dressed casually and there’s an easy familiarity as they play with each other’s children.
Just as I’m beginning to wonder how I’m going to integrate a gaggle of toddlers into my presentation, a girl who I quickly realize is the au pair appears in the doorway. She’s about eighteen or nineteen, with luminous skin, curves in all the right places and hair that gleams like it’s spun from pure gold. In a room full of almost-blondes, she’s the only one who looks like she’s never had to pay for it.
“Ilsa and I could take the children now,” she says to Amanda in a lilting Swedish accent.
“That would be great, Ulrike,” Amanda says. “There are only five kids and Heather’s nanny is coming in a few minutes, so you can take them into the playroom.”
“Or to our apartment,” Pamela offers.
“Either way,” Amanda says, then turning to me, she explains, “Pamela lives right across the hall and our au pairs are friends. We’re so lucky. Half the time we don’t even shut our doors so the kids can play everywhere.”
Ilsa comes in—she’s pretty, but not as drop-dead gorgeous as the sensuous Ulrike—and the two au pairs round up the children, who happily follow them out.
“I don’t know how you can bear to have that girl in your house,” Heather says bluntly to Amanda, as the moms settle into various leather wing-backed chairs, damask-upholstered sofas, and cushiony velvet love seats. “I wouldn’t want her within a mile of my husband. Why bring the chicken to the fox?”
“Well, Alden’s never home, so it’s not a problem,” Amanda says lightly.
“And Alden would never run off with an au pair,” Rebecca says, trying to be supportive. “It would be way beneath him.”
“She could definitely end up beneath him,” Heather says smugly. “You’ve got a girl who looks like a Swedish porn star prancing around in the next room, and a husband can’t be blamed for getting ideas.”
“I think we should start the meeting,” Pamela says, in a slightly
high-pitched voice. “We’re here to talk about charitable work, so let’s get to it.”
“Absolutely,” says Amanda while the rest of us try to banish the image of a sweaty Alden and Ulrike going at it under the gaze of the trompe l’oeil cherubs. “Well then, you’ve all met Jess, who works with the Arts Council for Kids,” she says affably. “Alden and I …” she pauses for effect, then repeats, “Alden and I always make a contribution, but this year, I thought—writing a check isn’t enough. What really matters is getting involved. And that’s why we’re here. To form a committee that can do something to help this wonderful charity.”
I’m glad to hear why Amanda thinks they’re all here. I was worried that I was the post–Pilates class entertainment for a group of rich, bored women who weren’t quite rich enough to be on the boards of the New York City Ballet or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But these women aren’t the social-climbing piranhas I’d feared.
I launch into my spiel about what we do and how many inner-city children we reach. How we provide free dance, drama, music and art classes to kids who can’t afford them. I tell them about a boy named Rodrigo who came to our music classes every day after school for years to escape an alcoholic mother and who just got a scholarship to Juilliard. They all nod. They’re on my side.
“So how can we help?” asks Pamela.
I’m ready. I suggest an auction benefit they could run. An afternoon luncheon-cum-fashion show where we split the proceeds with the designers. If they want to put some sweat into the endeavor, I say, reaching for a joke, five-K runs seem to be in vogue.
“I’ve got a much better idea,” says Rebecca, the one supportive voice in the imagined au pair scandal. I’m prepared for it to be loopy … and it is.
“Why don’t we put on a show!” she says.
“Just like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland?” I quip. They look at me blankly. If I want to keep working, I’ve got to stop referring to things that happened before my clients were born.
Rebecca forges ahead. “What I mean is, why don’t we take all the kids in your program and put on an opera—like
and that way we can combine music and drama and art. And we could do it at Lincoln Center. Off-season, of course.”
Allison, who hasn’t said much yet, is suddenly excited. “I love it! And our kids—the older ones of course—could be in it, too!” Quickly realizing she doesn’t want to sound self-serving, she adds, “They don’t have to have the starring roles. We could get a couple of professionals.… If you think we need them.”
How do I explain that Placido Domingo isn’t taking on any more gigs and that the logistics of their kids, the Arts Council kids and a performance of any kind—let alone an opera at Lincoln Center—is just not going to happen in this lifetime? I hate to be a wet blanket, but I think I better rein in their plans.
“A performance is a great idea,” I say cheerily. “But maybe we should do something small and intimate. We have a lovely stage at the Council Center.”
Allison roars. Five heads snap around to her direction. “We have to dream big. Isn’t that what your organization is all about? Lincoln Center.
. All our kids together, rich and poor. If we think it can happen we can
How many therapy sessions has this woman had? Luckily, having said her piece, Allison retreats to her former docility, and the others quickly agree to ditch
on the grounds that not all of the kids speak Italian. However, as bad luck would have it, one of their husbands plays tennis with the chairman of the board of City Center, and she’s sure there’s some small stage she can secure for the event. Great. The ideas keep brimming forth. They know which designer should make the costumes, which caterer will provide snacks after rehearsals, and who should choreograph the routines. I’m in the cross fire of five overexcited women who act like they’re the ones who put the exclamation point after
After twenty exhausting minutes of inspiration, the ideas start slowing down. In the end, it’s decided. A musical show starring all the kids. Tickets will cost one thousand dollars. Ten-thousand-dollar-and-above donors will be invited to a preshow dinner party with real-life underprivileged kids. Whether to hit up Kate Spade or Donna Karan for the goody bag gifts is left undecided.
They look at me expectantly. “It’s going to be wonderful, isn’t it?” asks Amanda.
“Wonderful,” I answer numbly.
As I collect my coat, say my good-byes and stumble into the foyer, I’ve thought of what I can ask the elevator attendant to do for me. Fetch two Advil.
LUCY TOOK OFF
for Los Angeles two days ago without even calling me. I’m betting that she’s ticked off because I didn’t play the expected role of trusty sidekick at the lingerie store. But I happen to like her husband and I don’t happen to like what she’s doing. Doesn’t she realize this has to end badly? I know she’s a TV producer, but didn’t anybody ever make her read
But not talking to her is driving me crazy. We’ve talked almost every day for the past ten years, since Lucy first spotted me sitting alone in the Pine Hills playground and came over to offer a welcoming smile and a chocolate chip cookie. Lucy appeared so exotic in her white, fur-trimmed Dior parka—which frankly did stand out in a sea of blue peacoat–clad moms—that I suddenly felt like the most popular girl in seventh grade. But it didn’t take long to get beyond the faux fur and find her good heart. And boy does she have one. She always seemed to have a sixth sense about what I needed—late-night calls when I was lonely, Friday-night fix-ups that I complained about but secretly enjoyed (well, at least sometimes), and a calm voice when I was sure that Jen had scarlet fever. No, Lucy assured me. Pink cheeks are actually a sign of good health.
So what’s going on with her? She’s always been the one with the strong moral compass. After all, wasn’t it Lucy who absolutely
me to have what I told her would be “just an innocent drink” with my accountant—who just happened to be married? But I’m still her best friend and she needs to know I’m here for her no matter what. She needs my advice. She needs my support. And since I’ve sworn off
All My Children
, I need my daily dose of drama.
When I can’t get through to Lucy’s cell phone, I call her New York office and speak to her trusted assistant Tracey, the latest in a long line of just-graduated-from-Vassar protégées. In a mere six months on the job, Tracey has morphed into a mini-Lucy—she talks as fast as her boss and wears Club Monaco versions of Lucy’s designer clothes. She can’t afford take-out sushi so she eats tuna fish. She’s almost ready to conquer the world, but first, she has to answer the phones.
“I’ve been having trouble tracking her down this trip, too,” Tracey says. “Maybe her cell phone’s not working.”
No way. Don’t TV producers have their Nokias surgically implanted in their ears? If Lucy’s not answering, something’s up.
“You could leave a message at her hotel,” Tracey suggests. “That way she’ll get it when she comes back tonight.”
she comes back tonight, I think.
I glance at the clock. Ten-ten in the morning, which means it’s only seven-ten in L.A. That’s when Lucy has champagne, as I remember. “Maybe I’ll call the hotel now,” I say. “Do you have the number?”
Tracey gives it to me, adding, “But I tried her room a while ago and she’s not in. Must have been an early meeting that I didn’t know about.”
And what kind of meeting would that be? Television execs don’t typically rush to the office before sunrise, as far as I know.
“Doing this pilot is really keeping her busy,” Tracey says, as if aware that she needs to explain something.