Hair Brush with Fame

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My dad did hair. Ladies came to him to get their hair “done.” My dad’s salon was called Preston Hairdressers and it was in the Park Cities, the Beverly Hills of Dallas. The heyday of this magical place was during the 1960s-70s, when big hair was big business in Texas. The customers included some of Dallas’ most famous: the former mayor, Annette Strauss. The real estate icon, Ebby Halliday. Dallas Morning News editor, Lee Cullum. And finally, Lulu Roman, the star of “Hee Haw.” It was Lulu who read my fortune when I was 10 and told me I would do “big, important things” in my life. See her picture below with her husband, Woody, who worked for my dad, or as my dad referred to him and others he employed, “they are one of my operators.”

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Nevertheless, for some mystical reason – perhaps it was growing up in this fanciful, glittery milieu – I have found myself popping up time after time in the company of the famous – and in the most bizarre, awkward of ways.

These are my stories.

Learn more about me here.

Email me at lisa.johnson7@gmail.com.

 

Stark Reality

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It was Christmas in the mid 80s in chilly New York City. I had been invited to an invitation-only party at a club in midtown with my friend, Henry. He had been invited by a (now) wildly successful Hollywood movie producer, Scott, and his wife. I don’t recall who exactly was sponsoring the party. But it was packed and suitably festive for the holidays. I think we breezed past the doorman, which in those days, was a task and an event in and of itself – it required a pre-arrival strategy, i.e. what to wear, how to position one’s body, how to make or not make eye contact, and so on. However, we were on the list, which meant we’d sail right in. No need to rehearse what would happen, whose name we’d drop, if we didn’t get in immediately.

Inside the music seemed to have a 60s theme, as did the entire place.

I sauntered up the bar, elbowed my way to the front, albeit with lots of smiles and words of apology (“Oh, ‘scuuse me) and grabbed a few drinks for me and my friend. Nothing fancy. Two chardonnays, house brand, thank you very much. Then made my way back to chat with my group.

Seems that the movie producer and my friend had known each other for a while so I was an outsider to all their shared pleasantries; however, the focus of their conversation was about a certain guest, a friend, who they had met during a Caribbean vacation and was the son of a famous Beatle. He was standing nearby, alone, and soon all eyes in our group turned towards him. His hair, dark and straight, hung perfectly down his back – all the way to his waist. He had a distinct profile, a Roman nose, whose DNA was unmistakable. He was clothed in black, head to toe, as was de rigeur in the 80s, and for all times, I might add.

Being in my 20s and in those days, generally fearless after a few drinks, my liquid courage, I decided upon an approach.

I took a deep breath and walked up. I was a bit taller, but not too much so.

He smiled. I smiled. We began our conversation with short bursts of elevated voice pitch. The place was ridiculously noisy so we decided to move to a quieter venue.

“My name is Jason Starkey.”

“Oh it is not.”

“Oh, yes it is.”

“No, your last name is Starr.”

“My father’s name is Richard Starkey.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s Ringo Starr.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is.”

This became somewhat of a game, enhanced with lots of giggles, and it continued for a good while until I realized I was dead wrong – my face turning a thousand shades of red, but who knows what color it was, really, amid the flicker of the disco balls and club lights.

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As if queued by the gods, the song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” came on, at which point I grabbed his hand and attempted to dance with him.

“I can’t dance…I can’t dance,” he said repeatedly in his cute, clipped English accent, so I figured I should stop the campaign, which I did.

We stood there, me toggling between acute awkwardness and total elation. He was the picture of perfect cool and calm.

Seems we were growing tired of the scene – the cigarette smoke, the noise, the elbows of crowd folk in our backs – and he asked if I wanted to go to the Hard Rock. In those days, there were lines that were leagues long and it was all the rage.

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We grabbed a cab to 57th street, and when we arrived and zipped past the hideously long line and went upstairs to meet his mother, Maureen, who had been married to Richard, Ringo, and now was married to Isaac, a railroad baron’s son from Tennessee, and owner of the Hard Rock Cafes and a devoted follower of a guru in India. (See Maureen and Jason below.)

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Maureen was stunning. Her beautiful dark eyes were made up with thick, dark eyeliner to accent her mystique, and she was dressed in all black of course. Like mother like son. She was holding a cigarette in a long, slender black holder and on her pointing finger sat a silver skull ring.

We sat down, ordered drinks and spoke a few words. I introduced myself. Jason began to engage her in conversation. Then up walked Yul Brenner’s son (un-bald with a nice rug) who was the manager. He made sure we were all taken care of. Had our drinks and weren’t wanting for anything. And we weren’t.

We were set.

We stayed there for a bit, then the moment happened:  Jason found out I had MTV at my apartment. “I want to watch the telly,” he said. I am not sure if he could see it in London, as my memory escapes me, but the net net, as they say, was that we HAD to go to see it. At my apartment. Right then.

We arrived at my illegal sublet on the cusp of the East Village and tip-toed in, past the room of my Parisian roommate with OCD (another story) and proceeded to stay up all night watching MTV.

There we were, positioned on the floor, propped up against my bed, watching all the videos. We heard from the celebrities of those days on the channel: Kurt Loder. Martha Quinn, and a few more people whose names escape me.

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We talked all night.

Daylight broke and we were still up. I began feel a bit scared, like some official Beatles Police was going to show up, banging on my door, demanding his release. So I shooed him out and put him in a cab to go back to the hotel, apartment, or wherever they were staying.

After he left, I believe he called me a few times from Martha’s Vineyard, where he and his mum and family were going up to stay at Dan Ackroyd’s place. After this trip, they all went back to London.

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Cut to a day or two before my birthday in August, 1985.

Jason called and said he was going to be in town. I told him it was my birthday. So out we went to dinner. It was my treat, I told him, and this was not negotiable. Upon reflection, what was I thinking? Low self-esteem much?

First we went to Petrosian for champagne and caviar.

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Then we went to a place that had light blue, pink and yellow lights that illuminated the walls. We ended the night by going to a record store – yes, dinosaur that it was – and looked through the records.

Somehow, the guy who worked there figured out who he was and next thing we knew he was chasing us out – he was right on our heels – waving a cassette of his band’s  latest song in the air. As we got into the cab, Jason politely said he’d share it with his dad. And off we went.

After that, he went back to London.

For a year or so, he would call me – late at night, as it was after he had been out and about, so he was coming in, around 5 or 6 a.m. We’d talk for hours. We’d talk about music, film stars, and more, His favorite singer at the time was Paul Rogers. He then told me about going to Michael Caine’s house.

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“I sat in his chair. I sat in Michael Caine’s chair,” he said. We laughed about that, and a lot, actually. But who can say why? It’s not particularly funny. I know I served up a few courtesy laughs just to get us off the subject.

He told me once that he had been out with Julian Lennon. I then took the opportunity to ask him about John Lennon on the anniversary of his assassination. It wasn’t good. The walls came down. The conversation stopped. He could barely choke the words out. I felt awful. I never brought it up again.

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I never asked him about Ringo either. I think I just knew that since his father was so famous, most of his existence was that of living in the shadows of his limelight. And that probably didn’t feel very good.

However, Jason could stand his ground in any social circle on any world stage. He was excessively witty and terribly bright. Best of all, he was sweet and kind. I enjoyed our phone calls. We talked about our lives, our histories, our woes. I knew it wouldn’t last forever.

Cut to my birthday in 1986.

In those days, without cell phones and internet, it was a miracle if anyone ever got together, or so it seems now.  Jason and I had exchanged a few phone calls prior and he said they might be travelling to Dallas for the opening of the Hard Rock in Dallas. How fortuitous, as I was planning to go home to Dallas for my birthday about the same time.

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When I arrived home, I decided that I wanted to go to the Hard Rock to see if he was there. Again, it was risky since as we all know now that without instant access to someone via text or phone, it was miracle if a connection would be made.

But I took my chances, and showed up. He was there.

We enjoyed a few drinks at the bar, had some dinner, and then I had the bright idea to give him a tour of Dallas, which included a Lisa Retrospective.

Now, my dad had a penchant for buying old, foreign cars. They were in a variety of stages of disrepair and the one I had for the night (as I didn’t have a car anymore living in New York) was a brown 1975 Peugot. It had a few dints but at night, they were negligible, thankfully.

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So off we went, cranking up the radio. I think even a few Beatles songs came on as we sped down the winding streets of my youth.

It was about 2 a.m., as per our preferred time of hanging out, via long distance phone and now, as we were together in the flesh.

As we approached my high school hangout, Woodrow Hill, which was positioned atop a raised hill area by a city lake, White Rock Lake, the car began to make some weird noises and yes, wait for it… it died. But I wasn’t worried. I knew how to start it up and it took one particular act: you had to get out and push it while someone turned the key. An act I had honed to a fine art.

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Next thing, I knew, Jason had jumped out and was pushing the car and I was turning the key.  I thought of the ridiculousness of this event: the son of Ringo Starr pushing my car in Dallas, Texas. How was it that I got this point in time? I had no explanation.

Soon the car started, and we got in with much laughter and went on our way.

Cut to the next few years.

Jason and I continued to talk on the phone in the wee hours of morning. But the calls waned. I don’t remember exactly why. I missed him, the calls, the fun.

In the early 90s, mom and I went to Scotland. I had won a trip (for two) after T. Boone Pickens picked my name out of a barrel or hat, can’t remember, at the Women’s Service League luncheon (that’s another story). During our trip, we went to London. I had Jason’s number and gave him a call just to say “hello,” and to per chance, meet.

A stern voice came on the recording and said something to the affect that if you didn’t have any real business calling, you better hang up. I think it was Ringo. Or at least, this is what my mom recalls.

When I was a child, my first record was a 45 of the Beatles songs: on the A side, “Come Together.” On B side, “The Long and Winding Road.” Though I liked the A side, as an 8-years-old, I certainly didn’t understand the meaning of the song. However, it was the B side that I really liked, the slow, sad, melancholy of the minor keys and the first line, “The long and winding road…that leads to your door.” Even as an 8-year-old, it evoked a sense of memory and a past that I didn’t have yet, but knew that someday I would.

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When I think back on meeting and knowing Jason, this song makes sense of me, and my life – and that night.

As a child, I seemed to sail down winding roads with laughter and abandon. A sharp contrast to my 20s and beyond that, which included the death of my father, countless failures and health problems. The stuff of aging. But despite, the bumps, bruises, and break downs, I found ways within the recesses of my soul to summon courage, give myself a push and go on my way. To live in my reality, stark, though it may be at times.

My end thought about this magical, absurd night, and relationship with Jason is rather simple, and yes, clichéd, but clichés exist because they are true:  get in. Buckle up. Enjoy the ride. Heaven knows, it won’t last long.

 

 

 

 

A Royal Mistake

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It was 1982 in New York City. I was working as a secretary at Wells Rich Greene in the sales promotion department. Mary Wells Lawrence was the chairman of this agency. Mary was married to Harding Lawrence CEO of Braniff. It was her idea to paint the planes and dub them the “Flying colors”.

Braniff The Pucci “Airstrip” was her idea, too. Stewardesses started off in long pant suits and ended up in sassy, bootiliscious hot pants, mini skirts and go-go boots upon landing. AIr Strip   Air Strip 1 She also coined the classic Alka Seltzer jingle, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz” …

Plop Plop

…along with the Benson & Hedges “Cigarette Break,” a campaign that demonstrated the extra long length of the ciggies by having them burn holes through newspapers as businessmen held them up in front of themselves as they read or have them break as a result of a hippie’s necklace.

Benson and HedgesShe was an ad legend. Creative guru. The first Mad Woman and could beat the pants off of any Mad Man alive.

imagesI met her because her daughter was in my sorority in college, and who is still a very dear friend –  stunningly beautiful,  inside and out. When her mom, Mary, came for initiation I bossed her around the Theta house.

“No smoking in the house please and please put it out. You can’t come into the chapter room with a cigarette.”

I had no idea who she was.

I later found out from her assistant that she loved my moxie. Every one in her steed kissed her behind, daily. I am guessing my naïve, forthright manner amused her, as she was used to people kowtowing to her. Me? Not a kowtowing cell in my body.

After an internship in Dallas that Mary offered me and an SMU interterm in NYC at her agency during which I had made connections, I packed a bag and jetted off to find my fortune in the Big Apple. So here I was working for her, Mary Wells Lawrence, on the 28th floor of the GM building, right across from The Plaza and Central Park.

GM building One day she called me down to her office. I was scared I was getting fired. One too many days showing late. Or maybe I had insulted one of her staff from her South of France villa, Fiorentina, that she brought over to work at the agency.

Fiorentina Fiorentina 1 One in particular named Gumersindo seemed to be perpetually perturbed by me as I would every Monday like clockwork forget to turn on my boss’s lunch order that was wheeled in on a lunch trolley for him every day.

But here’s the rub: he (my boss) would always go out to Madison Ave to eat at a French cafe so he gave his catered lunch to me. I would sit at his desk and gaze out across Central Park from my bosses corner office on the 28th floor of the GM building. So in effect he was upset at ME for forgetting to turn in what would be MY lunch order.

During the Fall, the leaves would turn colors in Central Park and I could see a breathtaking view from my boss’s office, a corner office…the scene was brilliant and simply unforgettable, the Park awash with a tapestry of burnt orange, red and gold.

Fall in NY I took all of this utter fabulousness in as I ate with anxiety for fear of being discovered by Gumersindo, should he come back to fetch my boss’s lunch tray and scold me like a naughty child.

But back to my being called down to Mary’s office. I was not being fired. Au contraire. I was being extended an invitation to a Valentine’s Day party that would be honoring Prince Albert of Monaco.

AlbertHer assistant told us it would be casual. Great no problem. Back in those days, casual meant a little silk dress and pearls. A vestige left over from my sorority days.

So the night before, I just couldn’t sleep. I was so excited about meeting Prince Albert of Monaco. I had seen him around the agency, as Mary employed all of her client’s kids as interns as summer interns and now, her neighbors in the South of France. The Prince was about to be a Senior at Amherst.

Amherst-CollegeI had seen him flash down the stairs and past my secretarial station a few times. I was shaking in my cowgirl boots! I was told that we’d get limos to pick up us.

As fate would have it, it snowed the night before. February in Manhattan can be treacherous. So at 6:30 sharp up pulls a limo. We didn’t have cell phones in that day so I think I clomped down the eight flights of stairs in my black patent leather Ferragamo flats (especially slippery on the cold, marble stairs) to the front door and waited, shivering behind the glass-paned door. I was wearing a hot pink Talbots dress with a high neckline and a sash at the waist. A string of pearls (of course) and thin white hose, as was the fashion back then. FlatsSo up pulls the limo. I gingerly make my way in my size 10 Italian boats across the sheet of ice that had formed and over the huge snow banks and into the limo. Next to me sat State Lawrence, Harding’s son.

“Next stop, Park avenue. Albert Grimaldi, ” State said.

Hmm, now why does that name sound familiar? I just couldn’t place it but I was certain I knew it. We pull up to a tan Park avenue brownstone.

Then it clicked: PRINCE Albert Grimaldi…the Prince! Prince Albert!

Of course! He got in and was quietly pleasant, but not your typical over-friendly (sometimes annoying) Texas kind of guy. No smile how are you, my name is…nice to meet you. He just sort of nodded to State, with whom I had quite a spirited convo with on the way to Park Avenue. Albert, the Prince, was wearing a light blue jacket and was very distinguished. I then played the Texas Do-You-Know-Game, i.e. where do you work, where did you go to school, etc.? For some reason Goldman Sachs came up and I asked him if he knew some guy, the name of whom I can’t remember. He didn’t know him.

Silence….and more silence,  so much so that it hurt.

We inched along like we were in a funeral procession as we approached our final destination, Mary’s penthouse on East End Avenue. Inside there would be no caskets – only those who were shining and electrically alive.

When we arrived, there was a long line of limos in front of the building. When we got into the elevator, we stood appropriate distances apart, observing only the most conservative of personal space boundaries.

As the doors opened, I was puzzled. There was no front door. It just opened up, right up into, the penthouse. Mary was standing at the door, greeting and hugging everyone. The first thing I see is an amazing painting or etching by Picasso or some famous artist. Pan left and there she is, Mary Wells Lawrence dressed in a shimmering gold short dress, a shiff.

Mary 1She greets me with a glowing smile and a hug. She welcomes me inside and after a few pleasantries, I hear, “Lisa, will you please introduce Cecelia around the party.” Who? Cecila, Peck, as in Gregory, as in Gregory Peck.

CeciliaUh. Oh. Okay. Sure, let me not throw up as I am doing it, I thought. I knew no one there. Please come with me, Cecelia, I’ll show you a good time! And off we went, me in my shock of pink and Ms. Peck in her proper Chanel attire, and descended into a sea of black. Everyone was wearing sexy black. Everyone. And then there was me, this in a blinding hot pink Talbots dress with a Puritanical high neckline.

I would clear my throat with an “ahem” or get in direct eyesight with the ring leader of the group and then say something, a spirited hello, or a sweet ‘Scuse me, so as to break into the conversations at hand. I might have touched an elbow or two to garner attention. But it felt like everything I did was stunningly AWKWARD.

I finally manage to get her, Cecelia, talking to some folks and then just shrink away to find Pam, Mary’s daughter. My only friend there. Soon it was time for dinner, the casual dinner. We were guided into a grand room with floor to ceiling windows with a breathtaking view of Manhattan, the kind you see in movies by Scorcese or Woody Allen.

ManhattanIn the room there were two round tables with white, perfectly pressed table cloths. The total number in attendance, perhaps around 20. I was seated next to William Doyle. Of the famous art house a la Sotheby’s and Christi’s on Madison Ave.

Doyle According to the Wiki, “William Doyle gallery – one of the world’s most foremost auctioneers and appraisers of fine art, jewelry, furniture, decorations, coins, Asian wroks of art and a variety of specialty categories,” from their web site. They have auctioned off possessions by the rich and famous: James Cagney, Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, Rock Hudson, Rex Harrison and Ruth Gordon.” Oh and Beverly Sills, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. You get the picture.

At each place setting were a dizzying number of utensils and at the square center top above my plate was a little box. A party favor. Each of us had one. We all oohed and aaahed and commenced opening them….to our delight and amazement they were baubles from Tiffany’s. Men got a money clip – I can’t remember whether it was gold or not. The women, a classic Tiffany floating heart necklace-definitely in gold.

TiffanyI glanced over at the other tables. The guests were tickled and enjoying their gifts. I was told later that at this table sat a guy who was the son of Zeppo Marx and Barbara Sinatra (see below.) Name: Robert aka “Bob” Marx, pictured below with his mother. Barbara and Zeppo Bob Marx

So next the food came around that was dished out so perfectly with nary a spill by the attendants from Fiorentina. Now, the dish that was being dolloped onto my plate was supposedly some French chicken soufle. To me, it looked like Mamaw’s chicken pot pie.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it and afterwards they all swooped in like clockwork and scooped up the plates and were gone.

The next thing that happened was most interesting.

I was served a bowl of clear broth soup, but no one acknowledged this course, and the conversations continued.

I thought, well, I’ll just dip my spoon in and take a small taste. No big deal. Just casually enjoy it. So I dip my spoon in and stir it around casually. I then take a sip.

Hmmm. Interesting. Kind of lemony…but also, there’s another taste I couldn’t immediately put my finger on. I wanted to gag and it took all the strength I could muscle to stifle a throaty “UGH.”

Just as I was about to take a another sip of this odd concoction, my spoon in the bowl, the next thing I saw was most odd: people were putting their fingers INTO THE SOUP.

Now I can assure you that I was most embarrassed of my thinking that this was a food item. It was not. It was, as you’ve already guessed, the finger bowl.

FInger bowl

“Will you please retire to the butler’s pantry for the duration of the meal? Clearly you do not know how to conduct yourself among the civilized.”

This is the voice I heard in my heard.

Instead, what I heard was a distinct, loud clearing of the throat, a Man Throat. I turned to my upper body to the left ever so slightly to see the source of this grunt, and it was Gumersindo, my arch enemy, standing sentinel. His eyes narrowed and he mouthed, “Put the spoon down.”

“What?” I said.

Gumersindo reached towards me, grabbed the spoon out of my hand, slipped it into his pocket, and returned to his post as Table Guardian. We locked eyes for a second, and he gave me a smug smile.

I quickly looked away from him, and glanced around the table. From what I could tell, I was home free with Mary and the Prince, as they were in deeply engaged in an eye-locked conversation.

But then I saw her, the lone, stern faced, Margaret Hamilton society matron at the table who had spied me taking a sip. Her lip was upturned like she had just smelled a bad fart.

I broke into a full fake smile, then averted my eyes up to the white rose centerpiece, and looked at it as if I was looking into a crystal ball searching for meaning.

I wanted to instantly combust and disappear.

Needless to say I quickly dipped my finger tips into this bowl, this lemon soup, and wiped them on my stiff white napkin. It the bowls were removed and we were served coffee and dessert. The perfect ending to a sumptuous feast. Along with my pre-dessert lemon soup.

It was nightfall and in the picture window were the iconic lights of the Manhattan skyline, a constellation of stars that relentlessly twinkled and seemed to flutter in tempo with my quickening heart.

Night sky We were then lead to another floor via elevators where a famous guy – might have been Michael Feinstein, the then-famous Broadway entertainer – was playing show tunes on the piano. He was in a tux.

Feinstein We marveled at the gorgeous room, rich in silk upholstery in deep moody hues of gold, brown and green. On the walls, more paintings by Modern geniuses, art masters. I think Leger, Mondrian. Picasso.

Then in came my good friend, Gumersindo, with a tray bearing various after dinner drinks, cognac, brandy, and more which was followed by chocolates on one tray and cigarettes on the next. He was sick of me by then, I’m sure. I may have caught a turned up lip, a snarl, but as he was walking away from me, I grabbed his sleeve and whispered, “Thank you,” to which he softened and returned with, “But of course.” I think I had finally made a friend.

The piano player broke into a rousing rendition of “One” from Chorus Line and everyone swarmed the piano. I started singing with the group and all of a sudden, I felt an arm intertwine mine and there she was: the spectacularly glamorous and beautiful Mary Wells Lawrence.

MaryWe were locking arms in square-dance style, kicking our legs, singing our guts out. We sang and laughed and then, just as quickly as Mary slipped in, she vanished. And was gone. Like a puff of smoke.

It got to be around midnight and most of the guests were leaving. It was time for my shuttle limo to leave. I said my goodbyes, offered my most sincere air hugs and air kisses, got my modest winter coat I got on sale at Neimans Last Call and off I went.

I don’t think I slept that night. I kept thinking how did I get here? And for that matter, get there, where I was for a brief moment in time? However or whoever put me there to absorb such finery was an evening by which I sort of pine for and subconsciously judge all other occasions and parties…it was, for me, my shining moment among the stars. One that when I open up my heart, I smile, giggle and fawn over. One that is in a room in my soul…where memories live, like this one, untouched, magical, and yes, eternal.

Class Act

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So I was working in NYC at Ogilvy & Mather. I was 26 and it was 1986. I was right in the smack dab middle of the Madonna-rising, Andy Warhol-at-Studio-54-Swan-Song, dirty urine-soaked subways, heyday of Pyramid, Area, Limelight nightclubs – the glorious cluster of insanity that would be Manhattan in the 1980s.

It was, in a word, perfect.

My group at Ogilvy & Mather was the United Nations of the agency, the Rainbow Coalition, the United Colors of Bennetton. Hispanic, white, British, young, old, Asian, gay, black. To top it off my boss was from Kuala Lumpur (so exotic) and the now famous ad legend Tracy Wong (of Wong Doody in San Francisco) was in my group briefly.

In our midtown office, I sat in this weird, dingy interior hallway sandwiched between the producer, Paul Dewey (as in “Dewey Defeats Truman”) and Reggie Hudlin of the famous filmmaking Hudlin Brothers who wrote “House Party.” He was on a summer internship from Harvard. He also had a cameo in Spike Lee’s seminal film, “She’s Got to Have It”. He had invited me to the premier at the Black Filmmakers Foundation (one of maybe two white faces there), and it was there I saw him perform, and beautifully, his line, “Baby, it’s got to be you and me.”

One day Paul asked me to join a group of his friends for drinks. In the select group was the most handsome and literary Peter from New Canaan, Connecticut. A blue-blooded Duke grad who had studied English and was working at the rag Manhattan, Inc. 

We hit it off and dated we did. We ran with a crowd straight out of Whit Stillman’s movie “Metropolitan.” Everyone suitably boarding school pedigreed, coiffed and destined for a life among the top 2%. And then there was me with my too-big size 10 Texas feet kind of trailing along after, trying to keep up, with my public school education.

I had a particularly wonderful 26th birthday with Peter up at his grandmother’s compound in Nantucket on Miacommet Pond. By day, we ran around in the buff, splashed in the cold waves and by night, savored cool sunsets with champagne and raspberries on the deck followed by quiet nights in knobby sweaters by the fire.

We also enjoyed evenings at Lincoln Center, specifically, John Guare’s, “House of Blue Leaves.” He was bright, spirited, sexy and well-bred.

Nevertheless, there is one evening in particular that stands somewhat head and shoulders above rest.

One summer night, Peter and I joined his frat brothers (Betas, I think) at a TriBeCa café. I think it was the latest spot. Indian in theme and menu. 

We all sat down and said our “hellos” and had our introductions.

A stunning blonde sat down next to me. She was Nicholas’ date. She was a thoroughbred and had that kind of hair that was naturally straight and naturally beautiful, unlike my dark unevenly wavy hair, which was ash brown, a color “perfect for coloring,” according to my dad, because it was so unremarkable. She smiled and was cordial not too revealing. I am sure I was vomiting my whole life all over her after a Chardonnay or five. She was still in college. Brown University. And was in for the weekend to see her boyfriend.

She and I exchanged benign pleasantries. We smiled. Laughed a bit. Nothing out of the ordinary. We talked of where we’d summered (“summer” was a verb in this world, as was “winter.”)

I asked for a cigarette and she went into her purse and withdrew a gold monogrammed (from what I remember, or maybe I just want it be) cigarette case. She opened it and happily offered me a smoke. I was not a smoker. I TRIED to start smoking for 20 years. But I just never quit got it.

I was always burning myself or others and on one occasion at Café Luxembourg, in a fit of laughter and great gesticulation, my cigarette went flying out of my hand, over the partition and into the bar. Luckily, no one was harmed. For tonight’s event, I was going to keep my laughter and hands bound to my person, so as not to have a firey, dangerous eruption.

Next thing I knew the waiter appeared with a telephone. This was in the days before cell phones. The phone bore an extension cord that stretched for days and the waiter brought it right to the table.

Next thing I heard was “Miss Von Bulow, phone call.”

As in Cosima, the daughter of the billionaire, Claus, from Newport who was accused of trying to murder his wife, and her (Cosima’s) mother. The newspapers said she had sided with the father as her mom lay in a coma.

Here’s what the Wiki said about her dad: 

Claus von Bülow (born Claus Cecil Borberg on 11 August 1926), is a Britishsocialite of German and Danish ancestry.[1] He was accused of the attempted murder of his wife Sunny von Bülow (born Martha Sharp Crawford, 1931–2008) by administering an insulin overdose in 1980 which left her in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of her life, but his conviction in the first trial was reversed and he was found not guilty in both his retrials. 

A movie was made about it with Jeremy Irons, “A Reversal of Fortune”, years after it happened.

Here’s more:

Von Bülow graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, and worked as personal assistant to J. Paul Getty after having practiced law in London in the 1950s. Though he had a variety of duties for Getty, von Bülow had acquired a familiarity with oilfield economics. Getty wrote that von Bülow showed “remarkable forbearance and good nature” as Getty’s occasional whipping boy.

Von Bülow remained with Getty until 1968. On June 6, 1966, von Bülow married Sunny, the American ex-wife of Prince Alfred of Auersperg. Von Bülow worked on and off as a consultant to oil companies. Sunny had a son and a daughter from her first marriage; together, she and von Bülow had a daughter, Cosima von Bülow, born 15 April 1967 in New York City.[3] She married the Italian Count Riccardo Pavoncelli in 1996.[4]

In 1982, von Bülow was tried for the attempted murder of Sunny. The main evidence was that Sunny had low blood sugar, common in many conditions, but a blood test showed a high insulin level. The test was not repeated.[5] A needle was used against von Bülow in court, with the prosecution alleging that he used it and a vial of insulin to try to kill his wife. The discovery of these items became the focal point of von Bülow’s appeal. 

Anyway, here I was Sue Vanilla aka Lisa from Dallas, once again, turning up like Forest Gump in the midst of high society, but not just in the top tier, but sitting next to a paparazzi darling, or so she was during the height of the trial.

As I remember, the trial dragged on for years. Claus appealed and was acquitted, like the Wiki said. I can’t imagine how she must have felt. So alone, I bet. Her loyalty and love for her father was touching. I could relate. My dad wasn’t a Count, but he was my hero.

But back to the evening and the irony of it all:

There was this club in town called the Junior International Club. They fancied themselves very elite. They would have their glittery affairs at a restaurant or a club and there was always a line to get in.  My friend and I were finally admitted, albeit suspiciously and begrudgingly by the doormen – we didn’t have an accent. Inside, most of the people were, yes, International. European.  And every time we’d try to engage in conversation, it was be met with stares and turned up noses. They’d turn on their heels and disappear. We weren’t up to snuff.

But my friend and I concluded that these so called “IT” people were those who couldn’t make it in Europe. That the real European importantes were still in Europe. This group was using their broken English as a prestigious Calling Card to create an air of superiority when, in fact, they were merely the hoi polloi. We speculated that their folks/kin were bakers, dry cleaners or street sweepers. But since they had an accent, they were automatically elevated ABOVE us lowly Americans. 

This feeling and experience was in sharp contrast to this evening, when here I sat with a true high society icon. She was humble, kind and charming… even shy.

She was, as they say, a real class act.

My take: people are people. We are more alike than we are different. This is comforting. It creates unseen connections.  Even if they exist on a String Theory level, if you dig, you can find them. In a world that seems at times to be so foreign, and distant, the truth remains: we are human. We laugh. Cry. Die. No matter how society – or class –  divides us, we are the same.