Monday, February 27, 2006

Intimate and Distracting

(Thursday's post continued...)

Sixth Avenue, that tunnel of fluorescent light and Midtown melancholy, led my taxi toward the darkness of Central Park. It was early evening, when day crosses into night and vibrant hues turn a deep shade of amethyst, dime-store emerald green; the leaves have just lost their luster and hang listless from their fat, tired branches. The cab dropped me at 5th Avenue and 61st Street—the Pierre to my left, the park and its vanishing beauty to my right. I stepped out of the car and into the expensive, sweet air of the hotel lobby. My lips parted slightly. I moved cautiously over the marble floor, stepping carefully from square to square like a child trying to avoid cracks in the sidewalk. I had to stop and lean one shoulder against the cool wall. Walking into the hotel for the first time was like seeing a truly beautiful man: you feel that if you look away from the strong chin, the arresting eyes, you’ll forget exactly how it’s all positioned, how every surface glows.

“Excuse me sir,” I said, walking toward the concierge stand, “I’m supposed to meet a friend in the Rotunda for drinks but—”

“Would this be a gentleman friend?” he asked cocking his head to the side, smiling down at me. He turned on his heel and set out at a brisk pace across the lobby. “What are you waiting for Mademoiselle? He shouldn’t have too many martinis before you arrive,” he called over his shoulder. I followed his elegant sashay past reception and through the hallway. “Your suit, it looks very 1970’s Yves Saint Laurent, Ms., Ms…”

“Belle—just call me Belle,” I said, high-red creeping into my cheeks from his attentions.

“Jacques,” he said stopping in a doorway, looking me over. “It’s a pleasure to have you with us. Now go, enjoy yourself. Make him order champagne.” With that he turned and disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.

We were the only two people in the room. Christopher sat beneath a fresco of Poseidon and a vaguely Italianate landscape scene. He was disheveled and handsome. A tumbler of Scotch, neat, sat on the table before him. A silver bowl, crystal decanter and vase of peach-colored rose blossoms had been shifted to the opposite side of the table; it was as if he had rejected the precious trappings of his surroundings.

“Hello, Mr. Randolph,” I said standing before him, aware of the formality I had imposed between the two of us. He ran his fingers through his hair and looked up at me.

“I’m sorry?” he asked, squinting through his tortoise-shell frames.

“I’m Belle. And I suppose you’re the ‘unconscionable Yankee democrat?’ That’s what Granddaddy calls you, anyway,” I said, grinning.

“You’re the granddaughter? You’re Belle?” he said, slowly making his way to his feet.

“I’m afraid so.”

“Please, have a seat. I’ll get the waiter,” he said as he moved around the table and into the doorway of the adjoining bar area. He pulled at the lapels of his cutaway summer jacket and everything shifted forward. I saw him in profile. According to Pappy, he was ten years Mamma’s junior. That put him at about 45 years old. The nervous, boyish energy shaved off a decade. So did the shock of chestnut hair that showed no signs of graying.

He returned with a waiter. “The lady would like…” Christopher began.

“I’ll have a whiskey on the rocks and a glass of soda water on the side.”

“Right away, mademoiselle.”

“Now that’s an order,” Christopher muttered, raising an eyebrow. “Well, now,” he began, sliding in next to me on the silk-covered settee.

“Yes, so dear of you to take time out—”

“Oh well, anything for your grandfather—he was the last of the good ones. Nothing really quite like Bra—”

“Pappy was one-of-a-kind…” I continued to talk, I’m sure of it, because he kept staring at me, but I can’t remember a thing that I said. To be Mademoiselle at The Pierre on a Monday night seated next to an important, beautiful man… heartbreaking. Christopher’s brown, unkempt hair hid most of his features except for the nose and the chin. It wasn’t pronounced or proud, instead his chin was delicate and handsome, the nose—straight and serene. I wanted to raise his glasses and press the warm of my lips against his tired lids.

“I’m sorry that I had to get off the phone so quickly this morning. Well, no, I take that back, I’m not sorry. Much better to meet you here and see firsthand what’s been brewing down in Alabama.” He reached over and casually fingered the edge of my jacquard jacket. “What exactly are you looking to do up here in New York?”

“I suppose that’s why I’m here speaking with you,” I said, stammering, fixing my eyes on the light fixture behind his left ear. His gaze was intimate and distracting; looking at him was like gliding your legs over smooth, cotton sheets...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"Golightly" to the Pierre

I couldn’t do anything that afternoon except wait for his call. When we spoke again he insisted that we meet in the Rotunda at the “Pierre Hotel.” He was all set on having a proper cocktail with “the publisher’s granddaughter.” Insecurity set in. What if I wasn’t enough? Or, worse yet, what if I was just enough of what had driven him from Alabama? I saw our cocktail hour transformed into an op-ed piece, “Uneducated Masses Flock to City—Erudite Democrats Sought to Eradicate Redneck Émigrés.” Enough. I threw on my blue pantsuit (the color conservative, the cut liberal—I gave nonpartisanship a go), hopped in a taxi and told the driver, the "Pierre.”

Without the usual scowl, the taxi driver careened onto Houston Street and into the warm twilight air. All of a sudden, I felt like a vaguely competent Holly Golightly going to meet the right man at the right bar with just the right amount of red lipstick on. Maybe, I thought, Christopher would see me arrive at the hotel very composed, as stylish as Hepburn, gliding past the bell captain, and into the bar. I caught a glimpse of myself in the cabby’s rear view mirror: the face staring back was expectant and very, very young. A short strand of pearls laced itself around my neck and dipped into my clavicle. I fingered the little white seeds and thought of how nice jewelry always gave me confidence.

Sixth Avenue, that tunnel of fluorescent light and Midtown melancholy, led my taxi toward the darkness of Central Park. It was early evening, when day crosses into night and vibrant hues turn a deep shade of amethyst, dime-store emerald green; the leaves have just lost their luster and hang listless from their fat, tired branches. The cab dropped me at 5th Avenue and 61st Street—the Pierre to my left, the park and it’s vanishing beauty to my right. I stepped out of the car and into the expensive, sweet air of the hotel lobby. My lips parted slightly. I moved cautiously over the marble floor, stepping carefully from square to square like a child trying to avoid cracks in the sidewalk. I had to stop and lean one shoulder against the cool wall. Walking into the hotel for the first time was like seeing a truly beautiful man: you feel that if you look away from the strong chin, the arresting eyes, you’ll forget exactly how it’s all positioned, how every surface glows...

(a little fact and fiction w. a dash of whimsy... shall I finish the scene?)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The First Time

Last night, for the first time, I went back into my European journals—the pages I kept while in Paris, Rome, Ischia, Mallorca and Monaco. I was surprised… and pleased. For all the urgency and delight I felt in those far away lands as a freshly-minted adult reflects what I experience every day in New York City. When I wrote these sentences, I touched my past and unwittingly caressed my future.

The first time…For some, like you it is a job to professionally talk of youth and its experiences. The importance of everything at this stage of life! But, you forget this, all of it, in ignorance of your own past or the hardening of your senses. To you, the revelation of young life is a succession of events; nothing more than easy, insignificant moments that lead to adulthood. But, nothing is insignificant from ages sixteen to twenty-two! If only I could prevent the vanishing violent youth, the age when all is new, when everything occurs for the first time.

The first time you fall in love, the first time you lie, the first time you make love, the first time you lose an illusion, the first time you witness beauty and its foe. Time and adulthood finish by imposing the old precept: turn the other way and continue on. But, nothing can diminish the first time like no one can straighten the folds from a girls’ once immaculate sheets.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Life at the P.O.

Today, I’m waiting to mail Mamma a present from the Greene Street P.O. Yesterday, it was press clippings to my editor. Last year, sweating, worrying about Manhattan literary agents—a tall stack of manila envelopes resting on my forearms—I held my breath before surrendering my work to the black abyss, one labeled “Out of Town,” the other “Local.” Two years ago, in a fit of sentimentality, I kissed my black & white headshots, slipped them into their packets and dreamed of the day that newsrooms and temp agencies would be far behind me.

Year by year, the dreams and the realities change but I’m always here, standing in line at the P.O…

I come hopeful, scared, ecstatic. Either I’m sending off my likeness and my thoughts in a metered envelope or I’m receiving over-sized packages of pecans and fleece-lined slippers and bundles of “Southern Living” and “Gourmet.” Tucked in between the folds, I used to find a little check from Granddaddy and Grandmother. I was to use that money expressly for cabbies and never, ever take mass transportation. The subway and everything else difficult up here could be rectified with that a touch of money and sweet words from back home.

Interesting things—remembrances or dreams—are spurred on by the yellow bricks and bright room at Greene…

“But oh, I like it here [at the P.O]. It’s ideal, as I’ve been saying. You see, I’ve got everything cater-cornered, the way I like it. Hear the radio? All the war news. Radio, sewing machine, book ends, ironing board and that great big piano lamp—peace, that’s what I like [about the P.O]…”

Eudora Welty’s “Sister” made the post office her home, far away from the worries of Stella-Rondo, Pappa-Daddy and Mamma. She was happier sleeping among the stamps and cubbyholes and in-coming parcels. Maybe I’d like to live at Greene. Everyday would be different and every night there’d be hope. Everything could be mine.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Two-Bit Hookers & Cons

“It’s a pool of sharks. Get ready for the bite,” Pappy told me over a finger of whiskey one sweltering August evening several years ago. The next morning my mother and I were to drive a U-Haul across the Mason-Dixon, over a river and into the teaming center of life, corruption, pleasure and sorrow. But I just knew that I could handle it. New York City was to be my city (as I’ve said time and again).

“No, no, no!” I told him. I could spot the cads, the fakes, the poor girls from far away lands without good sense or two honest dollars to their name. Intuition and just enough intelligence would save me from every two-bit hooker and con-artist in the Big Apple…

The wider my eyes grew and the more ardent my rhetoric became, the deeper the lines grew in Pappy’s furrowed brow. Granddaddy was a wise man.

I care deeply, I love deeply. And, at times, this has meant that I’ve put my trust in the wrong people. Even the most immoral characters I have imbued with hope and faith. No longer. I leave this week and go into the next a bit hardened… and, of course, saddened. Who were they to take away my naivete?

Time to wisen up or leave this town.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Angelika & God

I’ve been saved by the “Angelika.”

That should be Christ’s job, I suppose. Where I’m from, anyway, church and Jesus Christ (Jesus H. Christ, depending on your mood…) and Sunday socials are a way of life. What would Mamma and all the rest do if I likened (although didn’t equate) a left leaning art-house movie theatre to the confines of our Episcopal church? Think about it… cool air amidst the summer heat (either from the stone walls of the sanctuary or the overactive air-conditioner at the Cineplex), refreshments (waifer & wine or buttered popcorn and a Dr. Pepper), life’s sins and joys distilled into one grand narrative (either the preacher’s sermon or Fellini’s yarn).

I don’t like dwelling on my sins. I’d much prefer to go to the theatre and watch the sins of others up on the big, wide screen. Maybe the Angelika is dank and the ushers are preternaturally grumpy and the subway moans uncomfortably close to the foam wall next to me. I’ll take it. I’ll also take the frayed brown carpet and the occasional mouse. Living up here in the city of chaos and sin, I enjoy watching a “Valentin” or “City of God.” Give me one of Francois Ozon’s scandalous flicks—“Swimming Pool,” “5 X 2”—any day of the week. My mind relaxes, I drop my guard, I escape.

When the weather or a friend or a co-worker turns on me, I turn to the “Angelika.” Two hours within its smelly confines and I’m born again. Oh Lord, have I turned into a Yankee heathen?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Head Back, Spine Arched, Chest Lifted

The city was changing me… At some point, I began to believe in extreme wealth or extreme poverty. It was as if New York were a third-world country complicit in its own military dictatorship. While people were ambitious, they accepted their fate in the hierarchy just so they could watch the truly rich make fools of themselves in the “Post.” God, where was my place?

White-collar Manhattan was an overly sanitized urban bazaar and I was a country girl more accustomed to the smells of the county fair than to the rarified air of the Ritz. The personalities and daily pitches could be distilled down to a push, a cry, a scream; there was a crush to get ahead in their world and I wasn’t quite prepared. The only person I remember from those first weeks was the six o’clock happy hour girl, some ravishing brunette or slender blonde that I would inevitably pass on my way home. There she was at dusk with her skinny jeans and stilettos on Prince Street or West Houston—head tilted back, spine arched, chest lifted—swilling martinis in front of Raoul’s or sipping bright pink margaritas at Dos Caminos. I wanted to be frivolous, silly, ordinary—just like her. At that point, I didn’t realize that it was a blessing to be different, to sit in quiet on my ivy-covered terrace and drink Pinot Noir from a fat wineglass and think…

Friday, February 10, 2006

Third World Metropolis

The city was changing me... At some point, I began to believe in extreme wealth or extreme poverty. It was as if New York were a third world country complicit in its own military dictatorship. While people were ambitious, they accepted their fate in the hierarchy just so they could watch the truly rich make fools of themselves in the "Post"…God, where was my place?

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Lingerie and Laptops

I  am one of six ladies featured in yesterday’s “Fashion Week Daily” Blogger Pajama Party photo spread. Just to fill y'all in a bit, "FWD" is one of the bibles of fashion big wigs and well dressed New Yorkers during the Big Apple's Fashion Week. The mag also just happens to be the in-house hot read at Conde Nast’s 4 Times Square building—home to such fabulous magazines as “Vogue,” the “New Yorker,” “Gourmet,” “Vanity Fair,” “Glamour” and “Esquire”…just to name a few.

While my picture is absolutely horrendous (I'll placate my wounded ego by posting a nicer picture here), the shoot was a fabulous foray into a New York City that had heretofore only existed in my dreams. Champagne, room service, handsome fashion photogs--who couldn't get used to that?!

In the article, we divulge such little tidbits as why we began blogging, what we nibble on while typing away our thoughts, the perks we’ve received (ooh la la… ummm, actually, no perks at all) as a result of our Z-list celebrity and where we like to kick back, unwind and have a glass of over-priced bubbly (I’ll take a “Cipriani’s” bellini any day of the week).

Thank you to my wonderful audience, for caring and reading about this Southern gal's misadventures in the big city!

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

SOMEONE, please

What really happens when you settle down? Certainly, the champagne and caviar can’t last forever… Come on, tell me the truth. If y’all don’t, well… My single girlfriends are dwindling, my sisters are married—I’m afraid no one will tell me the essentials, the things I don’t want to hear but must. Everyone gives me a different story: good and lovely or nasty and ugly, uplifting or gut-wrenching, complete or broken, unbearable or joyous. In vino veritas? Fine, I’ll send each of you a bottle or two of wine, just please tell me what goes on behind the dense, seemingly impassable, mahogany doors of matrimony.

I want to know the truth about looking at your partner and feeling complete, turning on your side at night and not wanting them to touch you, catching a glimpse of them across the room at a crowded party and wondering how the dear Lord bestowed you with so many blessings, kissing them goodbye at the subway platform and wishing they would never come home… Is it really that good? Do things actually get that bad?

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Blogger Pajama Party

(NEW YORK) Except you don’t have to work for an editrix to get published—all you need is a laptop and a hell of a lot of nerve. We gathered six of the most talked-about women bloggers, coaxed them into their pj’s (isn’t that what they all wear when blogging?), and headed for the Bryant Park Hotel to chat about how a simple online diary can make you a star.

Just your standard everyday slumber party
I was talking to Michael Malice of the blog ‘Overheard in New York’ and he said, ‘I feel like we’re Z-list. We’re sort of famous, but at the bottom of the bottom of the barrel.’ Do you guys ever feel famous?
Melissa: Well, I think better a Z-list celebrity than an A-list lawyer! Everything is relative.

Rachel: Every so often I’ll meet someone—like, I met Jake Weisberg, the editor in chief of Slate and he was like, ‘You do what? Huh? Um, okay…?’ I was like, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ [Laughs]

Why do you think people read blogs?
Jessica: Me, I’ll read and be like, ‘So? Who is this person? I don’t care!’ It’s like reading their diary. That’s how I felt about mine, that it was this Live Journal bullshit, and I couldn’t imagine anybody would care or want to read it.

Melissa: Never underestimate the power of schadenfreude and voyeurism. That is what they are reading for. They either want to see into your life or they want to laugh at your misery, or both.

Mimi: Definitely voyeurism and fantasy. I get so many e-mails from people fascinated with my life and convinced it’s fiction because to them it’s so extreme and removed from their own experience. Personally, I read blogs to escape my own life. If I’m homesick I’ll read blogs by expat Brits.

Do people who start blogs do it for therapy or for their 15 minutes?
Jessica: I started Washingtonienne as a way to keep my friends up-to-date on my life as a single girl on Capitol Hill. Thirteen days later, thousands of people were reading it. Most bloggers would love that kind of traffic, but I wasn’t one of them. I have a new Web site with a blog, but it’s not a publicity device so much as a vanity project.

Mimi: Sometimes people do it because it’s a way of communicating thoughts and feelings they don’t share with people in their lives. It’s to appease their own loneliness, and also it’s quite egotistical. We’re all flaunting our egos every time we write.

Brooke: My blog started out as a means to tell my crazy dating stories! That, and to help me warm up in the mornings before I set out to write my novel.

What’s the reaction to your blogs?
Melissa: I’ve been called pretty much every name under the sun.

Heather: Mine comes in e-mail form. That’s way more personal. It’s just like, ‘I hate you!’

Jessica: Someone sent me [hate mail] and I saw their IP address—they sent it from their work address at a law firm. So I forwarded it to the partners of his firm and said, “You should know that this guy is reading my blog.”

Melissa: Men refuse to believe I’m a woman. They’re like, ‘Well, obviously a woman would never say these things.’ I said something about going on dates and the reaction is, ‘Well that’s too much self-awareness for a woman.

Heather: Didn’t we invent neurotic?

Jessica: After I got fired I applied for a normal job the next day and they sent all my contact info to the Washington Post and Wonkette.

Rachel: Wow, that’s really ethical.

Agent Provocateur

My sexiest Valentine's Day? I'll have to look back in my files... Though, this year isn't shaping up to look too bad.
(I don't think they do store windows like this down South...)

Monday, February 6, 2006

Manhattan Media Whirl

In case you've forgotten where it all began...

Before there was Chef, Yankee friends that actually liked me, news articles written about me, I had my singular dream of the newsroom--my shot at the big time. The Manhattan media whirl beckoned like the tinkling of a a carousel's tune and I was enraptured by its sweet melody...

My producer, Guy, was juiced, sweating through his “Moody Blues, Tour of 89’ t-shirt and furiously drumming his fingers on the desktop.

“Belle, what am I going to do?” he whined. “You know this place busts my balls.”

“Ask to be transferred to dayside, like Susan.” Hell, I don’t know—if I had a good enough plan, I’d use it, I mused to myself. I tried to focus on the computer screen and the breaking news updates but I was worried—the sweating, and the dilated pupils, scared me. Two hours into the overnight shift and he had already made five trips to the bathroom.

Guy shoved his hands into his pockets. I knew that the right side was where he kept it. He would finger the small, Ziploc bag in his trouser pocket and then take it out, play with it when he thought no one was looking. It’s as if he were a five year-old boy that had just discovered something hanging between his legs; he touched it just enough to reassure him, make him feel good. For a split second he’d be calm and his eyes would roll back in his head.

“It’d be fuckin’ fantastic if Arafat died before daylight,” he blurted out.

“And then what? You’d get a raise based on the Nielsens’?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow.


I considered what was now the obvious: working the overnight shift at a 24-hour news station means that you are new, incompetent or crazy. It doesn’t matter if you are the anchor or tech support, lower management has scheduled you to work the between the hours of 1a.m. and 11a.m. because upper management thinks you’re worthless, or at least unproven.

“What about the networks?” I offered. “Why don’t you leave your set up here and go to one of the big three? Better hours, better pay…”

“Three marriages in nine years,” he cried.

I stopped typing.

“Did you hear me? I’m averaging a wife every three years. And, I’m supposed to be on top of my game? Give a shit about producing 90-second news cut-ins?” His enlarged pupils looked at me incredulously.

We all knew that the bitch of a vice president couldn’t stand him but, he was staff. Staff (as opposed to freelancers) were never fired—too much paperwork and too many man hours for the fat cats on “17” to prove him incompetent. He was doomed to a career of graveyard shifts, distant time zone news, collapsed nasal passages. I stared at him and imagined his body slowly adapting to the lack of sunshine and rest, thriving in the dank newsroom air. Soon, he would resemble a blind sewer rat, a thin flap of skin covering his small, red eyes.

I sat back in my swivel chair, rocking, back and forth, back and forth. We looked at each other and then I shifted my gaze to the Ziploc bag next to his computer. A single wrinkle cut into the otherwise taut plastic surface.

“What? What?” he said, grabbing my shoulders. “We’ve got shit for coffee in the Green Room. You think that’s the same shit they feed Henry Kissinger and Dick Morris when they come to flack for Bush? Fuck no.” Guy stood up and began pacing between a row of deserted workstations and the War Room. A string of clocks hung on the far wall: London, Paris, Moscow, Baghdad, Kabul, Beijing…

“We’re so proud of you workin’ up at that station in New York City—you’re at the center of the thinkin,’ conservative world,” Mamma had said at the end of our phone conversation. I liked the way she pronounced “New York”—all vowels and minted iced tea. Her accent imparted an exoticism on the city that otherwise belonged to those distant time zones on the wall.

“I just can’t imagine the wonderous things you see…”


G. dropped the bag of cocaine onto my keyboard. It sat upright, looming large on the keys. Letters danced across the screen ruining my 3:30am script.

“This might do you some good,” he said, smirking. “You gotta wake up, my little Dixie Dorothy, you’re not in Mobile anymore.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Chef on a Platter

“What do you want to do for the rest of your life?” I ask him, taking a long sip of Nebbiolo. I’m digesting the delicious creature in front of me as well as his dinner.

Cook for you,” he responds without hesitation.

“Come on, what do you really want to do? Head a 5-star kitchen? Be a Food Network Star? Do an Anthony Bourdain and travel the world in search of the perfect meal?”

“Why don’t I fix you the perfect meal? Hmm?” he says leaning back in his chair, lacing his fingers behind his head. “I’d do something fresh and unpretentious and, well, PERFECT. It’d be me on a plate."

I raise an eyebrow.

"Wanna know the best part? The next time, we’d do it together. We’d recreate the passion and flavors—”

“—honey,” I say, rubbing the back of my neck, feeling my cheeks flush.

Uhhum,” he clears his throat impatiently like he does when he's onto something, "Like I was saying, we'd recreate the passion and flavors, then write it all down, bind it between two hard covers..."

Driving Into Babylon

"Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world…"

“Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all…” --F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Great Gatsby”

Last night, I crossed that same bridge, marveled at the beauty and remembered that I left behind a warm kitchen, the love of my life, my mother's quiet tears over our loss. Back to business as usual. Wild promise, mystery and beauty beckon...