Archive: December 2004

(3 entries)

Friday, December 3, 2004

What's White Now

That is not the name of this article, but rather the name of the one I’ve been researching for the year-end double issue of Paper magazine. Contemporary whiteness is often hard to define, especially as Lenny Kravitz records and Hong Kong action movies seem to be such a stable foundation for it. However, my editors do not want excuses, but results, so I have to go to a lot of cocktail parties uptown. I feel I can talk about these issues here rather than in the magazine, because I have decided not to write the article. Mostly because I don’t like to do work.

For research purposes, my editor called in some favors and got me invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some successful professionals on the Upper East Side. It was to be a gold mine of whiteness, and I had my notebook ready. The host was the youngest partner at his bank, and the hostess was a supermodel who had just barely retired. They were wealthy, but not as wealthy as their guests, except me. Although I am ethnically white, I was there to represent the non-white perspective, by comparison.

I phoned up Kerry because I know she admires rich white people. I asked if she would be my date. I needed cover.

“Thanksgiving, Jack? You think I don’t have anything better to do on Thanksgiving than be your paid-for trophy at some job?”

“Kerry, you misunderstand: I’m doing this for you. The finest foods, the most sought-after liquors. If there aren’t drugs there, I will buy you some afterwards. Also, the people there are probably looking for a bright young thing to whom they could entrust their commodities trades. If you wear that stretchy black dress, you will get commissions. This is going to be the only time when I ask you to go on a date where you will meet better men than me. Wear the black dress. This is my gift to you.”

Eventually she was persuaded by the picture I painted. She knew she couldn’t let this opportunity slip by, even if it meant being on her family’s holiday shit list. If nothing else worked out, I wanted to see her in that dress. I picked her up in a yellow cab, even though it was out of my way, and we headed uptown to the scene of the trouble. I tried to kiss her in the back seat but she didn’t let me. The combination of white girl, black dress, and the knowledge that she was only the least of the whiteness that our evening would hold — it was almost too much for me. I had brought her along for someone to share my observations with. Now I felt I also needed someone else to tell about how great I thought Kerry was. I tried telling the cab driver, but he didn’t like white people. We soon arrived at the destination brownstone.

When I say “white”, I guess what I really mean is “square”, but in that special way that white people can do it. Someone from Malaysia can be square, but still won’t have the genetic predisposition to admire Phil Collins. (Not to single out Mr. Collins for denigration; although I was never a fan of his solo work, I do like his new band, Coldplay.) But, of course, the average white gesturings at hipness can be just as absurd. So I guess what I mean is “I hate white people”.

Kerry and I floated up, up, in the doorman building to the penthouse palace where hors d’oeuvres were already circulating. I installed Kerry on an armchair, where I could refer to her as needed, and where she could be admired but no one could sit next to her, and went off to introduce myself around. Like a gentleman, I began with the hostess, a gorgeous blonde who would have been young by any definition except that of the industry she worked in. She had the charming quality of being the only beautiful, intelligent woman at the party who was nervous and self-conscious. It turned out this was because her husband beat her. I also said hello to him. I tried to assure her it was a wonderful party, which she denied out of hand. She took me around to meet the other guests. As we chatted, I noted that all the men there had recently sold their businesses for several million dollars each, and all the women there were married to the men. I drifted over to a sofa where a young woman with a serious expression was talking at two men with hardly any expressions at all.

“I just realized I couldn’t stand by and let this go on,” she was saying. The men kept watching her noncommittally. Sensing my arrival, she turned to me and said, “We’re talking about the state of education in New York.”

“Oh?” I said, fully expressing my position.

“Do you realize,” she said, fixing me with a purposeful gaze, the way I imagine Gene Debs would have addressed an audience if he was a spoiled rich girl without two synapses to rub together, “that the majority of children in the city go to public schools?”

She turned back to her crowd of two, but instantly the half of them that was sitting on the sofa nudged me and asked, “You’re from downtown, right?”

“Yes, just near—”

“You got any drugs?”

“Sorry, I didn’t happen to—”

“It’s all right. Can you call someone?”

“Well, I don’t usually—”

By this time he was staring off into space again, in the general direction of the young activist, who was continuing her eye-opening lecture to the other guy. “I can’t believe the shit this idiot is talking,” my sofa companion said, gazing at her with real admiration. “I mean, I’ve slept with her, and I wouldn’t mind doing it again tonight. But…I mean, an idiot.” He turned to me and drew in breath. “So what do you do?”

I was contemplating how to answer that (my card, after all, read “Jack Task, downtown celebrity”) when a small silver bell was sounded to call us all in to put on the feed bag. In a complex algorithm understood by hosts alone, people were spread around the table to heighten the possibility of fascinating interaction. Seating (or “nurture”) was trumped by deeper concerns (or “nature”), as most of the men still craned their necks to keep Kerry’s antics in view. She was down the other end of the table, where I didn’t catch much of her fascinating interaction, but she seemed well-lubricated, and more sparklingly relaxed than she’d ever been when I tried to get her drunk on a regular date. I tried to keep up my end of the bargain with the Stepford Whites down on my side, but it’s hard to compete for women whose husbands just got checks for fifty million dollars. My millions are all tied up in vintage copies of National Geographic back in my mother’s house. If you want to get laid in this town, you need liquidity. I decided to push conversations onto topics where I would shine, such as alcohol abuse. But, like any great filmmaker, I knew that the best way to communicate a story was to “show”, not “tell”. I kept a heavy pour of the house red going around the house of whites.


by Jack, 5:28 PM | Link | Comments (2) | More from Drinking & Women | More from Kerry

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Snowbound on Park Avenue

One bubbly wifey in a fuzzy Burberry pullover kept watching me amusedly over her platinum rings. “You must be a cigar,” I told her in confidence, “because you are smokin’.”

“Do you like cigars?” broke in her chipper apparent husband. “I brought some great ones from our last trip to Paris. We’ll smoke them after dinner.” He patted my arm with fraternal promise. It was like wife-swapping. I was swapping him back his wife for a stogie. I want you to know that I can’t be bribed. I decided to hit on his wife more when he wasn’t sitting next to me.

We all drank our way through some uptown version of turkey and stuffing, which seemed to mostly be shellfish, and then repaired to the drawing room once again for the continued drawing-out of Kerry’s life of the party. Before the men could fully swarm her, I crouched down by her armchair and hissed, “What are you doing.”

“What do you mean? I’m having fun.” She swigged her Courvoisier and then remembered, “You wanted me to come! What’s the problem now?”

“I don’t know. I think you’re throwing off the data. We were supposed to observe, not take over. You are not following the Prime Directive.”

She looked at me and giggled, then, pointing at me with her snifter like Sidney Greenstreet, she said, “I think you’re just jealous.” She laughed to herself and settled back in the chair.

“Fine. Ruin the white people party. I don’t care.” I headed into the kitchen, looking for the sweater girl. I found her there with her husband. He had collected three snifters and was pouring out something from a flask. “This is the cognac we make at our vineyard in Toulouse,” he said. The third snifter was planned for me. He knew how to make friends. We toasted. It tasted better than the cognac we made at our vineyard. As he poured them out again, he said, “Now, for the cigars.”

The wifey got excited, but said to me demurely, “We want to go to Cuba someday, but usually we just buy them in France, since we’re there anyway.” The husband produced a leather bag with several cigar-shaped aluminum cans which each held an individual. “Are you a big cigar smoker?” I admitted I knew little. “Well, I’m having one of these. You have one too.” He gave me a giant tobacco bomb that said “Romeo y Julieta” on the band; a real literary piece of rope. The young lady selected a much smaller item. “I can’t smoke a whole one,” she said. I put the unlit cigar in my mouth and stood around wondering which way to the Yalta Conference.

“I don’t think they want smoke in the kitchen,” he said, and led us up the narrow stairs to the roof. It was brisk, and we lit up. A snifter of homebrew, an illegal smoke, and a beautiful woman. I was beginning to understand what the white people were on about. I was about to harrumph and begin, “I say, old man, now about this white business—” when the guy got a cell phone call and disappeared around a smokestack to confer about buying and selling. I smiled at his wife, who smiled at me. I handed her my cigar band. “Romeo and Julieta. Like you and me.” She rolled her eyes and stood there holding her burning cigar. “I enjoyed talking to your wife,” she said to me. “I don’t have a wife,” I said. “Your finacée,” she clarified. “Are you talking about Kerry?” I asked.


“She’s more of a beard. You see, I’m undercover. She is not beholden to me. She is a free agent, acting for her own interests.”

“That much seemed clear.” She puffed on her little cigar while I watched the world over mine. “You’re ‘undercover’, you say?”

“Yes, I’m here to observe white people. No offense.”

She watched me for a moment. “It’s a good disguise,” she said. I thanked her for saying so. “I even would have thought you were white,” she said.

“A lot of people make that mistake,” I admitted. “I find it easy to ‘pass’, since my parents were white and I was brought up that way. Now, however, I consider myself more ‘nondescript’.”

Her husband rejoined us and seemed pleased that we were not engaged in hot adultery. He offered the flask around again. “Thanks very much for your hospitality,” I said, and I meant it. “Now I had better go collect my things.”

I air-kissed my way back from the coat room, gathering up my coat, umbrella, and Kerry. “It’s time to go,” I told her. “Thank god,” she said. Her bonhomie seemed to have dissipated. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Tell you in the cab,” she said, and I bundled her into her arctic gear. I assured the hostess the party had not been as big a failure as she thought it was, left her heroically choking back tears on the doormat, and tried to kiss Kerry again in the elevator.

“Do you know what this guy did?” she asked me, when she’d got my head out of her neck.

“No, what.”

“One of those guys asked me if I was from downtown.”

“Yeah, they asked me that too.”

“Then he wanted to know how much for a blowjob.”

“He said that? Some guy?”

“Yeah. Can you believe it? Fucking asshole.”

I thought about this for a couple of dings from the elevator. “I guess up here on Mount Olympus, when they look down their telescopes at us, we must seem pretty irrelevant. They want to turn into swans and bulls and really put us to use.”

“It was gross,” Kerry said. I nodded.

“So — what did you tell him? How much?”

Separate cabs.

by Jack, 4:16 PM | Link | Comments (1) | More from Drinking & Women | More from Kerry

Friday, December 17, 2004

The end of the world with symposium to follow

I stopped into the bar last night for a few dozen quick ones. That is the nature of agency. After I had been served a couple drinks in a natural way, the bartender said, “I’m going out for a smoke. Come out for a smoke.” I had quit smoking once you could no longer do it in bars, but only outside. I spend more time in bars than outside, so it seemed prudent. But I went with him and had a smoke, because when the bartender says something, you ask how high.

No sooner had he lit our Cuthbert’s Expert Cuts than he brought up what was on his mind. “I talked to Stan tonight,” he said.

“The owner?”

“Yeah. He just called me.”

We smoked our indie cigs. This didn’t sound good.

“They lost the lease. We got to be out the end of the month. Bar’s closing after New Year’s Eve.”

I looked around the street, which was empty except for broken dreams. With the cruel caprice of a landlord, fifty million years of evolution had come to nothing. The perfect bar was doomed.

“What will you do?” I asked him.

“A friend of mine has a bar in Jersey. He’s always wanted me to partner up with him. I may go out there and see what’s going on.”

“What’s Stan going to do?”

“You know the bar wasn’t making so much money these last years. He may just retire. He’s been at it long enough.”

It all sounded reasonable, except the main part. I wanted to get on my steed and warn the citizenry: “The bar is closing! The bar is closing!” I saw my entire career of bar patronage flash before my eyes, which usually only happened with a lot more drinks in me. “This is a blow indeed,” I told my bartender.

“What about you, Jack?” he asked me gently.

“What about me?”

“What will you do? I’m most worried about you. I mean, you have that famous blog about your exploits, and from what I understand, you mostly confine it to tales set at this very establishment. Will you go on with the chronicle? Will you find a new hangout, or move on to other sorts of adventures? Or have you stored up enough anecdotes to keep running on empty for a while?”

“Those are all good questions,” I told my bartender. “I’ll have to think about it.”

He nodded and we smoked our Expert Cuts. That is one foul cigarette.

After a moment he said, “There’s one more thing I was wondering. Not to put too fine a point on it, but, if the bar is closing forever, how will you get laid?”

I smiled and patted his shoulder. “Thanks for your concern, old friend. I always worried this day would have to come eventually, so I’ve always had a Plan B.” I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out a tastefully-done flyer and handed it over.

“New York University Alumni Monthly Cocktail Party,” he read.

“Desperately lonely people wishing to relive the good old days they hated at the time,” I translated. “With endowment-subsidized drinks.”

He handed back the flyer. He seemed at a loss for what to say. “I—I never realized you had gone to NYU.”

“Well, like I say, I had to. I knew that its alumni parties, choked as they are with well-meaning women who have been unsuccessful at life, were my best bet in case dive bars started going under, which, in the downtown real estate climate created by NYU itself, was increasingly a possibility. It was a decades-long skunkworks project, and I hoped to never have to put it into action, but after what you’ve told me tonight, I’m afraid my hand has been forced.”

He looked like he was near tears. “It just isn’t right. That isn’t how the world should be.” Such a sympathetic bartender. Maybe it was better for him to get out of the game altogether.

I tried to comfort him. I said, “I know.” I said, “I’ll be all right. I’ve always landed on my feet. I’m a survivor.”

We smoked our cigarettes for a while, and then I flew screaming into the streets. The bar is closing! More as it happens.

by Jack, 5:09 PM | Link | Comments (8) | More from Drinking

« November 2004 | Home | January 2005 »